A Weeklong Cornucopia of Bikes

Last weekend was my first ride on my baby since doing an endo a few days earlier. I’d been terrified to get back on my favorite bike because I didn’t want to discover some catastrophic problem. Hell, let’s be honest – I didn’t even want to face up to a scratch. So imagine my relief to get back on the bike and find there are no issues. Even my own bruises have healed up. Life is fine!

(OK, turns out there is a small bite out of my Cambium C-17, and a scratch on my front rim. I’ll ignore the bite, and I’ve polished out the rough spot on the braking surface. It’s all about the patina, right?)

This is a great time of year. I couldn’t care any less about tight jerseys and logo wear. Give me a sweatshirt and a wool cap!

I am sensing a location trend in photo opps this week. My Raleigh International was feeling a little lonely, so I took her out for a spin late one afternoon and found myself stopping for a “water bottle shot” with my iPhone at the exact same spot as I did with the Boulder in the photos above.

I’d been swapping around some components on bikes, so this was an opportunity to dial in the saddle position of the Brooks Pro that was finding its way back onto the Raleigh. I needed the Cambium C17 to better fit the saddle set back on my L’Avecaise, and the Brooks Pro set back is a little closer to my ideal on the Raleigh. Regardless of how precise my measurements are, I still have to finagle the positioning of things so they feel “right” to me on any particular bike. This was no different – I’d ride for a mile, get off and adjust. Repeat. I don’t think I ever even broke a sweat.

Last Sunday started out cold and windless, but by the time I arrived at the downtown airport with my 1966 Paramount – where there are absolutely no windbreaks, incidentally – there was a cold, stiff wind coming up out of the southwest. The airport loop is almost entirely flat, with only two tiny hills. Flags were furiously flapping from poles, nearly straight out, and as I pedaled in a generally northward direction I was flying. Coming into the two hills that mark a turn to the east, and then to the south, I found myself immediately reminded that my bike is outfitted with a 52/42 crank. (And, by golly, that’s the “old man” set of rings I replaced the original 53/48 rings with!)

The white Paramount is a pretty sharp bike and it rides very nicely. Even though it’s a racing bike, the geometry is much more generous when compared to today’s standards of design. Limping into the parking lot, I encountered this wonderful old TWA jet and set up my white and red-trimmed Paramount for a photograph in front of the red with white-trimmed aircraft. Pretty cool visual, I think.

Living near the Missouri River means the geography isn’t especially flat. The roads are replete with undulating hills the closer one gets to the river and the river bluffs. My legs are feeling pretty good as the summer and fall riding draws to a close and riding my fixed gear Hobbs along country roads, particularly on still days, isn’t as challenging as it will be a couple months from now.

This being the case, I am enjoying these rare, nice December days to ride my 70 year old bike. I discovered that fixed gear actually works pretty well on loose gravel, where a rider will pretty much be pedaling the entire time anyway. I don’t know about anyone else, but I seldom find myself coasting along on the freewheel in such conditions.


Obsessive Compulsive Bike Nerd

OK, I’m a nerd. I obsessively ponder and analyze the personal fit of my bicycles. Having settled upon my Boulder as the analysis “control” because it meets my personal fit criteria better than any other bike ever has, I’ve set up a controlled visual comparison of the geometry. Using a static, controlled camera position and a controlled location for each subject, I’ve photographed several of the bikes I ride on a regular basis. In a digital imaging application I’ve traced the primary lines of geometry, points of contact, and spacing from my Boulder. That drawing has been layered on top of each bike for comparison, and then each bike repositioned to align with the bottom bracket of the Boulder. At a glance, there isn’t a lot of difference in points of contact. Reach is not exact, but similar. Saddle position, the same story. Spacing is significantly different, as is trail. Once again, it’s startling how very small differences can make for a completely different cockpit and ride experience over distance, road conditions, and time in the saddle.

In this analysis, we’re looking at a 1966 Paramount. This is a particularly comfortable riding bike for me, although it feels a bit more aggressive than my Boulder. The comparison indicates a great deal of similarity between the set up of the two bikes, which explains to me, in large part, why I enjoy riding this one as much as I do. The comparison also suggests that if I were to raise the stem about the width of the stem, and to use rando bars to achieve the difference in rise I might better replicate the riding experience of the Boulder. The Brooks Pro is well known for an inability to achieve greater set back than many other saddles, my Cambium C17 saddles included. Still, I like the way they fit and am willing to make the compromise.

Here we are comparing to a 1989 Paramount. The wheelbase is shorter and the overall frame more compact, and obviously racier. Both this and my Boulder are Waterford built frames and both have a difficult-to-define ride quality that I enjoy. I find myself having to settle into a different ride position on this bike, which is unsettling at first – it takes me a while to get used to the different balance and stretch if I’ve been primarily riding the Boulder.

In considering this 70’s (?) era Bernard Carre frame and arrangement, I run into a curiosity. One might think the steeper steerer would result in a completely different ride experience than on the Boulder. And while that’s not inconsistent with my own riding experience, the curious thing is that it’s not so different as to be noticeable when I switch riding between the two bikes. In other words, I can easily jump off one and onto the other without my body rebelling. The leverage of the MAFAC levers requires a grip of steel and I will likely swap them out for something that provides greater ease of pull from the hoods – perhaps a pair of 105’s?

The International is a comfy, all-day-long kind of rider, so it’s a little unsettling to notice how much difference there is in the trail between it and my Boulder.

The Lyon continues to be a bit of an enigma for me. Despite an almost identical configuration to my Boulder in terms of spacing and contact points, I’ve yet to feel like I’ve “nailed” the set up. First off, there is a nagging “ting ting ting” that sounds like it’s coming from the brand spanking new bottom bracket. This is far from my first rodeo, and I know that weird sounds are almost never actually coming from that location. I’m exhausting all the possibilities first: saddle, seat pin, pedals, crank, crank bolts, headset, and so on. But sometimes, a duck really is a duck, and after a weekend of riding on smooth paths so I could test all the options, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have a bad bottom bracket. Spinning up to speed is a chore, so maybe it’s binding under load. My wheel set might also need to have the hubs serviced. Long story short: This bike should feel a lot racier than it does. In my mind it’s an issue with something in the set up that I haven’t yet identified. It’s frustrating, to be honest, and that frustration means I cannot yet make a fair comparison to my Boulder.



Speaking of obsessing, I’ve been agonizing over the Lauterwasser bars I put on my 1946 Hobbs of Barbican last year. Agonizing over what? They look cool as hell, and they are certainly the right look for this time period. There’s a great example on the Classic Lightweights site with Lauterwasser bars.
But jeez, I just can’t get comfortable riding with them. They always feel awkward for any distance greater than a couple of miles. So I changed them out for drop bars, a little longer stem – and while I was at it, I swapped out the Weinmann center pulls for dual pivot side pulls.

Gonna have to use your imagination here. The fields of soybeans yesterday were dusty yellows and browns, with a brilliant blue sky framing far off hills of caramel, olive, and bits of sunset orange. The 1946 Hobbs is blue with red accents, and is a blast to ride fixed wheel over miles of pretty flat river bottom highway surrounded by miles of those hues.
And that is the bottom line. Despite my obsessive compulsive tendencies, at the end of the day the ride is really all that matters to me.


Urban exploration

I stopped along my meandering urban route yesterday to sketch a few non-human-made things. It was a pleasure to discover there are trees, and even large “unimproved” areas of woods sprinkled along the river, between the downtown airport and the North corridor of warehouses.

I wanted to get out and ride fixed wheel, and there’s a 6km circuit around the airport that is relatively flat and attracts a lot of cyclists. It was fun riding light, fast circles on my 1946 Hobbs of Barbican, but after a while circles get a little old. And I’d noticed the underpass, so I figured the opportunity was ripe for a little urban exploration.

This sad little neighborhood seems entirely forgotten. In fact, I had no idea it even existed. I love coming across hidden gems, but frankly there seemed to be no charm whatsoever in Harlem, Missouri, and it took quite some looking to find anything I wanted to draw. Yet, as I mentioned before – there’s still a certain pleasure in the knowledge that amid all of the urbanization a small pocket of trees can exist, albeit situated within a corridor of blight.

Today began with much needed rain, but as the precipitation trickled to a stop and the winds began to kick up, I decided to explore the south side of the river, just opposite Harlem in downtown Kansas City’s River Market. There’s a river front trail that meanders some 15 miles or so, crossing from Missouri into Kansas, and I was interested in discovering what there was to be seen along the way.

Not knowing if the path was gravel or paved (it’s well paved), or if sections of the trail followed city streets (it does), I took my Cycles Toussaint Velo-Routier. The 650b tires are not only a good choice for gravel, they do a nice job absorbing the crappy road conditions in downtown Kansas City, not to mention the urbanized neighborhoods I had to pass through to get from small town Liberty to my city destination.

The trail sounds like it would be fun, if not especially long. But alas! The exploration wasn’t to be. So many roads are under construction in the area, sidewalks and streets completely blocked off, and I could only get so far before finding myself at an impasse. The trail is bisected, and sliced and diced and literally shredded apart: I never found a safe way to cross the midpoint to continue. I wound up riding around on streets familiar to me, pedaling around the farmer’s market, and then taking a slightly circuitous and definitely leisurely route back again.

Tomorrow is, of course, a new day. Maybe I’ll ride out and explore another part of the city after work.


It was fun.

Well, so much for two days of riding. All week long the forecast called for a pretty spectacular January weekend, but Sunday has arrived cold and miserably windy. I will likely bundle up, get outside, and put in a few miles on the Boulder, and pretend that I’m enjoying myself. It looks and feels like January out there.

Yesterday, by contrast, was more like late March or April. The sun moved in and out, one minute gloomy and the next cheerful. Despite the cool, blustery conditions, it was pleasant enough and I took the 1946 Hobbs of Barbican Superbe out to the downtown airport for an initial test ride.

The downtown airport was at one time the Kansas City International airport. KCI moved twenty miles north decades ago, but this place still operates for small jets and aircraft. Located right next to the river, there’s little in the way of windbreak – but it’s also relatively flat, with only two rises along the 6 kilometer route that laps the grounds. Traffic, other than bikes, is almost nonexistent and accordingly it’s a popular spot for area cyclists to ride, especially those who live and work downtown.

“Flat” was what I wanted for testing out my fixed wheel build and so this location was as good as any for the maiden voyage.

I’m always excited to try out a new bike build. Because this is the first fixed wheel I’ve built up, I was a little apprehensive, hoping I hadn’t forgotten to tighten up one of the components. (I sincerely hoped I had been diligent – the only tool I had on me was a 15mm box wrench…!)

Gingerly pedaling out of the parking lot, I was immediately aware of everything: pedals in motion, getting seated, hand position. I was listening for any suspicious noises from the chain, the crank, the pedals. And unlike bikes with a freewheel, the fixed gear isn’t particularly forgiving when it comes to one who forgets what bike one is riding and attempts to coast!

For about the first 5km I found myself learning to ride all over again. My pedal strokes were deliberate and my cadence kept going up and down. After the first lap, I found myself settling in and  the crank began to revolve smoothly. After forgetting myself and attempting to coast on one of the two short descents, the bike reminded me that I needed to keep pedaling at all times. I relaxed and pedaled with the bike from that point onward.

Weaving in and out of the carbon fiber crowd felt good, and checking my iPhone app I was even a little surprised at the pace I was making. Two of the six laps clocked in at just over 30kph. Considering that I am not particularly fast, wasn’t particularly trying to go fast, and riding a 70 year old racing bike… well I felt pretty good about it.

My immediate take away was how much fun it is to ride this bike. Yes, I was riding in circles. Yes, the route was almost entirely flat. Yes, I got passed by every single racer wannabe out there. But it was fun.

And that’s what it’s all about.


1946 Hobbs of Barbican Superbe

I’ve made considerable progress with the 1946 Hobbs of Barbican Superbe model that I’ve been working on this winter. As I’ve previously noted, I will not be repainting the frame. To do so would, I think, dishonor the history of those scratches. Although not as clearly evident as was once the case, the box lining is still very much a part of the bike’s surface; their faded glory is at one with the patina of years and wear.

I did recreate the Hobbs “crest” in water slide media to cover the stupidly hand-painted job someone had done with model paint at some point in time, and I feel no guilt for having done so.

The headset required cobbling together various parts, but in true MacGyver fashion I’ve managed to put together a working combination. I confess that it really does bother me ever time I see that modern Cinelli stem on this bike and will be actively searching for a “proper” replacement. Funny thing though: the modern handlebar doesn’t upset me nearly as much, and I like the way they fit. Still, I’d really like to come into a period correct set of bars and stem.

You’ll notice this fixed gear bike is fitted with brakes. I’m no hipster. And I have no interest whatsoever in the “fixie craze.” I want the bike to stop and not have to fumble around trying to figure out how to get it to do that. Path racers of the era would also have been fitted with brakes, and this one is drilled to accept them – so there you have it: my bike has brakes.

I’m happy to have gotten the toe-in on the brakes nailed on the very first try. The front center pull grabs very nicely, yet when I back off on the pressure of the levers I am left with a very comfortable  degree of modulation. It’s one of the things I enjoy most about center pulls, quite frankly.

When I unboxed the crankset, I was a little on the fence about it. Was it too modern looking? Was the drillium too garish? Too over the top for a vintage British path racer? Regardless, once I installed it, I found I liked it. Perhaps when that Chater Lea crankset finally falls in my lap I’ll reconsider, but for now there’s no rush to replace it.

I am having to get used to switching between the freewheels on my other bikes and then the fixed gear of this one. Muscle memory is a funny thing and my body still expects to be able to coast when I come to a stop or make a very tight turn at the end of a road. I’m taking the old girl out for a decent shakedown ride later this morning, so perhaps I can use that ride time to get used to the constant cycling of the pedals.

I have had this ancient Brooks B-17 Narrow on various bikes over the years. None of them seemed to feel right to me: The saddle always looked a bit out of place for some reason, and I never managed to get the fit dialed in. So how ironic that the Brooks seems to be right at home on this bike! And wonder of wonders – purely by happenstance, the saddle angle and height has needed almost no tweaking to feel like it’s hitting my sit bones where it should. It makes me wonder if this has something to do with the slack angles of the frame.

I’m heading to the co-op this afternoon to see if I can dredge up a set of fender stays. Barring that, I’ll simply order a set of SKS stays to fit this NOS pair of Bluemels Popular mudguards. I think they’ve found the right home on this bike.