dawdling.

Dawdle.

What a great word! And it is, as I think about it, precisely how most of my bike rides tend to go. Take one’s time, be slow, waste time. Describes many of my rides to a “t,” as it were.

Especially on days like today.

Especially on days when I’m carrying a kit of watercolors and the forecast calls for 0% chance of rain…yet I’m riding along, pleasantly enough, in a shower.

Especially when I pass a donut shop on my way out of town and the sign reads “no donuts. No Baker showed up. Would you like to be our Baker?”

Especially when the bite in the air reminds me so much of Ireland, and there is a faint glimmer of a rainbow peeking out of a stormy and darkened western morning sky.

Especially when as I prepare to cross the Missouri River I notice off to my right a freshly combined field with a flock of 50 or so wild turkeys strutting about, picking over the chaff.

Especially when it’s harvest time and the crops are morphing into fields of gold and brown and orange.

Especially when, despite the intense greenery of the foliage, the morning feels like the first legitimate day of autumn.

Excuse me now. I’m pretty busy.

Dawdling.

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The Rules.

After teaching a three day workshop with a singular subject focus last weekend, my sketching this week was sporadic and decidedly UN-focused. A bit of randomness felt good after having stayed on target for the entirety of my workshop, as well as the Urban Sketchers International Day in the Life event that followed me.

I realized, too, that I hadn’t been bike sketching for a while, or added a sketch to The Early Morning Cyclist for even longer so it felt like it was time to do so. There’s nothing earth shattering about the location pictured above, and no dramatic story that I know of that accompanies it. It’s simply a structure along one of my regular routes, a picturesque place that I like to stop and look at for a moment before I continue on my way.

Stopping to sketch at this spot was a pleasant moment in time. Later, after posting it to my Instagram account, the image spurred a brief online conversation with a fellow artist who follows me there. In a nutshell, the discussion centered around my desire to eliminate everything that is unnecessary in a sketch, while still remaining unquestionably drawn by hand. It’s a very “Bauhaus-ian” approach, and purposely so. I teach design, following Bauhaus principles and (hopefully) passing along those tenets to my design students.

Not incidentally, these ideas are notably at the core of what I find especially appealing about cycling. Sometimes as I pedal, I like to ponder such things. Somewhere along the way I began to formulate some rules of thumb. And somewhere further along the way, those began to take shape as a list… an as yet incomplete list, I’ll grant you, but a list nevertheless that I’ll share here:

The Early Morning Cyclist Rules of the Road

Article One. Always wave whenever you encounter another cyclist. Regardless of what the other cyclist is looks like, regardless of what they are riding, regardless of what they are wearing, and regardless of whether or not they acknowledge you – as you pass one another, greet the other rider.
Article Two. Don’t be a dick. It’s true that there are a plenty of Bad Ass Serious Racer Type Cyclists (BASRTCs) out there on the road. But even if that happens to be you, don’t be a dick.
Article Three. Sport a bell on your handlebars or stem. Nothing makes a BASRTC less intimidating and less threatening to the world than the tinkle tinkle tinkle of a little bell as one’s bike approaches other riders or pedestrians from behind. When you tinkle that bell, you, my friend, are officially a friend of the world and everyone smiles with you.
Article Four. Wear clothing of threads that are made at least partially from something found in nature. Both you and the viewing public will thank me for this advice. Form-fitting Lycra isn’t for everybody… In fact I would argue it’s not for anybody who is not racing in the Tour de France or something of similarly serious ilk. Try cotton, smart wool, lightweight wool – something that at least partially grew on a vine or a bush or a tree originally. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that stuff a whole lot more comfortable. Want to wear a diaper? Fine. I usually do. But put it on underneath a pair of cargo shorts. Life isn’t a race…oh, and unless you’ve got an actual sponsor, ditch the logo covered jerseys. 
Article Five. Install the widest, most supple tires that will (a) fit on your bike, and (b) that you can afford. Go ahead. Do the research on wide tires if you feel like adding them is going to slow you down. Or better yet, just trust me. Get them.
Article Six. Your hands should be stained… With the juice from the mulberries you have plucked from a tree along the side of the road. Or blackberries. Or blueberries. Or strawberries that you bought from a roadside stand and stuffed into your mouth while straddling your bike. The point is, stop and smell the roses. And while you’re at it, eat a handful of berries.

See? Doesn’t that look like it’s worth stopping for?

Oh, what the heck – stopping at a farmer’s market for a blueberry pastry does the trick too.


The Big BAM Ride (Bike Across Missouri) kicks off tomorrow, and I’m nearly ready to go. The bike is lubed and tuned. I found an LBS that stocks actual tube patches using actual glue instead what I can only imagine to be remnants of bumper stickers punched out into stupid little green circles. Sun block, on-bike snacks, a small sketch kit, etc. are all spread out on my floor for a final check.

The ride starts on my side of the state, with the first day’s stopping point just a couple miles down the road from my house. And the route passes right through my home town on Day Four. Hot weather and stiff breezes are forecast, and I can only hope to discover that wind will be at my back. But it probably won’t be.

Live music each night at the campsite. Hot showers and cold beer. Stiff breeze, be damned.

The Curse of Winter Slothfulness.

I went out to ride a route of hill after hill after hill after hill yesterday morning. The photograph is maliciously deceptive – they’re not especially long but they are devilishly steep in places. My legs are not yet hill-hardened after a winter of wanton slothfulness, and I found myself regularly dropping into the lowest of the low gear combinations.

I love the land. And I was in a “black-and-white kind of mood this morning.” In fact, I love being in that mood with a camera – or in my case these past several years, an iPhone. Every so often, the topography would level off and I’d stop for a photo op and a tank of oxygen.

Gazing out across a field, it all seems so benign. But I know this route well: It’s my HTFU route, the one I pedal through every spring. It’s the route that gives me a moment of respite before winding back toward the hills and the Missouri River bluffs again, the one that I regret taking. The one that I actually love.

It’s a lonely trek, but clearly someone has been here before me. There’s an empty bottle in the freshly turned soil – a window tossed remnant of a previous night’s revelry? All I know is that it mars my view, the one imperfection in an otherwise perfect scene.

Each stop for image making – and they are frequent and welcome – each stop gives me a chance to breathe in the loamy fragrance of tilled land, to be scolded by a chattering jay perched on a branch behind me. There’s not even a hint of highway noise. That paved monstrosity is many miles away and I enjoy that for the moment this particular country road and moment belongs just to me. A single pickup truck passed me earlier but otherwise mine is a solitary outing.

The rollers begin again, gently at first, but with little fanfare each subsequent wave increases in contrast, and before long I’m struggling in the granny gear. No stopping for photographs now: That would mean having to initiate a climb mid-hill and there’s no way I’m giving up the momentum of riding down the previous wave! I’m satisfied with those taken from the flatter crest of this route.

For now, it’s time to grit my teeth, enjoy the short climbs, and HTFU.

 

 

Happy/Unhappy

I’m happy that the Bernard Carre frame is now built up and ready for a test ride. I’m not happy to discover the rear brake is so stiff as to be nearly unusable.

I’m happy to have remembered I have been storing four brand new KoolStop “four dot” brake pads. I’m not happy realizing there’s no way to “toe in” these particular brakes and that I have to listen to the high pitched squeal until these new pads are properly seated.

I’m happy to have also remembered a Zeus Criterium “69” rear and front derailleur, and shifter. I’m not happy to discover my cool-as-shit Zeus Criterium “69” rear derailleur only wants to throw the four outbound gears, and won’t budge any further inboard regardless of how much I adjust the B limit screw.

I’m happy the frame arrived with a TA bottom bracket. I’m unhappy that the spindle is too short for my Stronglight crank.

I’m happy to discover the frame has a nice light and responsive ride quality. I’m happy to have another bike project to play around with. I’m happy to have a complete Campy gruppo to throw on in place of the Zeus kit if things don’t work out.

Hey, I’m just generally happy today.

Adjusting the Fit

Yes, I’m fiddling around with things again. Although I really love the look of the gold anodized bars, stem, and levers that have graced my 1971 Raleigh International, I’ve run into a problem recently: The stem no longer wants to snug down. Now I don’t know about anyone else, but having the bars come loose as I’m barreling down a steep hill is not a thrill I want to experience. In fact, having them come loose as I pedaled from a dead stop through an intersection at about 2 MPH was freaky enough. (For those interested in a first hand account, let me just say that I felt like I’d hit an oily or soapy patch on the road…no control whatsoever.)

I gritted my teeth and pulled over. This was the third time in a couple of days and I had finally come to the realization that if I wanted to ensure a future where I could grit my teeth at other things, I’d better reconsider my cockpit. I already knew that my optimal setup, like my Boulder, involved randonneur handlebars and more rise. I prefer the feel of rando bars while I ride. And as it happens, I had an unused set of bars and a long rise stem hanging about.

The first bike tool I reached for was my camera. I needed to make some precise comparisons between the control (my Boulder Brevet) and the bike I wanted to adjust. After a lot of adjustment and experimentation, the Boulder fits me better than any other bike, so it operates as my baseline.

In this photograph, notice that I’ve placed guidelines to indicate the top of the bars and saddle position, as well as the location of the bottom bracket. These the the relevant points of contact for me. The bottom bracket, regardless of location on the frame, isn’t a variable. The pedals meet my feet, and that simply doesn’t change so I make two photographs of the bikes in exactly the same position, then superimpose the images with the bottom brackets oriented to the same location. Because everything else is a variable, I can compare the bike I want to adjust to the variables on the bike I want to adjust.

Notice how in this superimposed image the two bottom brackets are aligned, but that the other points of contact – i.e., the saddle and bars – are clearly located in different places relative to the bottom bracket. Because I already know that the Boulder is an optimal fit, I can begin my analysis with this information.

A couple of notable observations can be made here. First, the saddle is lower on the International. Raising it is easy, of course. But doing so would play havoc with the reach and drop to the bars. But that’s ok because the second thing of note is that the bars need to be raised in order to better match the fit of the Boulder. Seems simple, but there’s not enough rise on the gold stem…and heck, it’s not staying secure anyway.

Assuming I had adequate rise with the original stem (which I don’t), simply raising the height doesn’t come anywhere close to matching the rise or grip points of contact on the Boulder. This is where the randonneur handlebars come into the picture: because the curves rise and the bars themselves have a more forward position, my points of contact are higher, with a more stretched out and longer reach. I happen to like longer reach, and raising the original bars would effectively shorten the reach.

All of which takes me back to the photo at the top of this post. Replacing the lovely, but unworkable gold bars and stem with a tall Nitto and rando bars combination left me with a ride that rivals my Boulder. The superimposed photos are precise enough to have helped me adjust the new setup with almost no additional adjustments after the initial installation. Yesterday, I pedaled up and down the street feeling like I was riding a completely different bike. Please remember that I already liked the ride of this International, so discovering that the comfort and bike position was now almost the duplicate of my Boulder, and then realizing that this adjustment left me with a significantly more efficient pedal stroke… well, let’s just say that I’m more than pleased.

An afternoon shakedown ride today confirmed my initial assessment, by the way. A quick fifteen mile route of hills, mixed terrain, and flats; stopping and starting, curves, etc. takes away some of the chagrin I feel at having to put the gold stuff up on the wall.

Think I’ll celebrate this win over an excellent glass of wine. Enjoy your Valentine’s Day.

 

Escape.

Thank goodness for good weather and an opportunity to get outside on my own to ride for a couple of hours. I needed to be away from the three ring circus that is our political system, broadcasting from every media outlet 24/7. Never in my memory have we been so divided as a country as we are at this moment. Social media is fuel on a raging fire, too. Had I left my iPhone at home I’d have escaped the lunacy…but no. I heard it ping, letting me know I had a message, and made the mistake of checking it. I wish I hadn’t. I was getting trolled on Facebook by a smug “why can’t you live and let live, get over it because we won it all” nutball.

Sad. Just sad.

It bothered me for the rest of the ride, and on into the night. Don’t ask me why. I’m usually good about ignoring stuff like this. Maybe, arriving as it did in the middle of an otherwise enjoyable JRA outing – maybe I was resentful of the interruption. Cycling is meditative to me, a means of decompression, to escape… it’s a strategy for reconnecting with me. Getting insulted and criticized like that … gosh, I’ve got a lot thicker skin than most people. But what a soul suck it is when a person feels the need pulverize someone else with their opposing political views, to bathe them in guilt by “Bibling” them, to presume that their world view is, indeed, an override of another’s.

Like wheels on a bike, life and things propel forward. Life goes on.

But dang it all. I thought I’d escaped that crap for a while yesterday.

 

It’s the Light.

I am what is termed a “teaching artist,” an artist who teaches others to make and consider and appreciate art. A good part of my professional life prior to education was as a designer, creative director, photographer, and illustrator, so it’s pretty safe to say that I’m fairly fine tuned toward and aware of the visual world around me.

Light, in particular, catches my attention, as do patterns, and colors, and textures. Typography, and the rhythm of letterforms. But light! The contrast of light against shadow. Light upon a reflective surface, carving a highlight along an edge, disappearing or emerging from murky shadow.

My studio is a workspace rather than a display area; it’s not a gallery but a place of books and tables and shelves. A sofa filled with lounging black labs, and a cat or two. Floor-to-ceiling windows and diffused light entering from a side door. Various of my bikes lean against book shelves or hang from a rack, and these tend to rotate out with those hanging from ceiling hooks out in the workshop – their number varies dependent upon what bike I rode last, the one I just dismounted from, the one that saw road time yesterday.

They lean there, waiting for the next ride, directly in front of my drawing table, immediately before me as I sit, pen in hand. The late afternoon light enters at an oblique angle, bathing things in a soft glow. It doesn’t take much for me to become engulfed in the sight. I am obsessed with bikes of a certain ilk to begin with, and the light simply renders an already attractive subject even more so.  The lines, the design. It’s the light.