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.

Time to Layer Up

32 degrees. Wasn’t it almost 80…umm… day before yesterday? My face is actually windburned, my cheeks a rosy, warm, cherry red; my nose and forehead are matching dumplings of scarlet. I had to dig around in my drawer of cycling duds to find the warm stuff buried underneath cotton t-shirts and shorts. Happily – and surprisingly – I came across two thermal under layer shirts I bought on clearance last May, and then forgot about. So, an undergarment, a top layer, then a lightweight jacket. My arms and core are in good stead; a similar approach for my legs, a wool cap and a pair of gloves, and I’m off and down the road.

Somehow, when it’s cold, every bump in the road seems to be magnified until my legs and ears warm up. Pedal, pedal, pedal. Head up a hill. Soon enough, I’m no longer aware of the cold except on my toes. They’re always cold, it seems to me.

No need to fill my water bottle with ice today – my water is cold enough as is. I’ve a small chunk of Genoa Dry Salami and some Brie in my bag, a snack for when I stop in a remote spot along the railroad tracks near the river. A few minutes to enjoy my tiny repast, take in the sun, and peel out of my top layer.

Then I’m off again.

Tweed Ride 2016

5 October, 2016. This year’s Tweed Ride was fun, but just a wee bit disappointing. Why? Well, I sure wish there had been more vintage bikes on hand – other than my own, of course. Modern bikes and dress up. Hmmm.

I do look forward to this event though. It’s fun to get out and ride one of my vintage bikes, get all duded up in something resembling period attire, and join a group of others of similar mind. This annual ride is sort of turning into a hip, fashiony event. But still cool. Folks are out on bikes, enjoying themselves and the day.

My bike of choice today was a 1946 Hobbs of Barbican. It’s a fixed wheel time trial bike. Staying true to the form of the time I was dressed head to toe in black as British time trialists would have done in the 30’s and 40’s. (An alpaca jacket would have been required – which I don’t have. Fortunately, it was a warm day so no harm, no foul.)

I arrived early, hoping to get in some sketching. Unfortunately, I found out the damn ink was running low in my pen.

Well crap. (Pentel Pocket Brush Pen in Canson 180 sketchbook; Kansas City, Missouri.)

I Like to Tinker.

Shiny. I’m like a crow when it comes to chrome frames and parts. I love the stuff.

At the moment I’ve got two chrome frames left in the herd. There’s my Freschi Supreme Super Cromo, which is a fun, quick racing bike. And then there’s this one, my Katakura Silk.

It was very nearly original when I acquired it, save for the saddle and the handlebars. In the beginning I was set on keeping the bike as close to original as possible, but I like to tinker. The more I tinkered, the more components got switched around, swapped in and out. I was surprised and pleased when I discovered the bike easily converted over to 650b. I ran that configuration for a while, then put everything back onto my Cycles Toussaint Velo-Routier.

Well, the Cycles Toussaint didn’t make the final cut and I sold the frame and fork. The component kit and 650b wheel set are back on the Silk, and I’ve been taking the rebuild nice and slow to avoid any temptation to take short cuts along the way. Besides – and I may have mentioned this before – but I like to tinker.

I’ve no idea why I began this iteration with a Vetta saddle installed. I know it doesn’t fit my sit bones correctly. That’s why it’s in the parts cabinet and not on a bike. I sincerely hate padded saddles, and I know that Brooks Pro and Selle Regal and Brooks Cambium fit my butt like a glove. Should’ve started there, but I didn’t. In fact, I tested out several Vetta saddles I have on hand. And while they looked pretty cool, that, in fact, is simply not the point. So, with several Brooks Pros to pick from, I finished tinkering with Vetta saddles and mounted one that was nicely broken in.

Lightweight randonneur bars with MAFAC levers. Damn, I love how MAFAC lever feel in my hands! I set the bars up pretty high, so this is a very upright riding bike.

The fender line is almost right, but I still need to correct it where the rear fender meets the stays. A longer bolt and spacer solves that problem. I’ll tinker with that a bit more this weekend. I probably also need to add a chain link.

So, cool! More tinkering!

Rambling.

It’s Autumn, which means it’s time for a bit of rambling. Appropriate, I guess, because this post will pretty much be nothing but rambling.

The leaves are turning and the weather, albeit mighty slow in coming, is turning toward the colder months. One would hardly be aware of it though, the days being as nice as they are. A few have been more appropriately seasonal and I’ve gotten to wear long sleeves as I crunch through fallen leaves that are beginning to blanket the less traveled roads. But for the moment I’m mostly togged out in shorts and a t-shirt, nearly ideal riding wear for the girth-challenged road tire bikes I’ve come to prefer.

To say the least, my rides have been enjoyable. It’s frightening how quickly the passage of time takes place. It seems like just last week I was hitting the just melted off streets for a quick Spring outing. Summer, and the subsequent months of classes is now a blur; I realize nearly all of my riding has been solitary during that time.

Welcome, indeed, have been the recent overtures to get out and enjoy these days in good company. More than one friend has wheeled up to the house and it’s with glad heart I’ve accompanied them down the lane for a pleasant hour or two.

The herd of bikes and frames that line the ceiling of my studio has slowly dwindled. I’m reaching a point where it’s become extremely difficult to decide which stays and which goes. With mixed feelings, I passed along the Cycles Toussaint Velo-Routier most recently. And with a certainty, the next to go will be one of the racier frame sets that, with equal certainty, likely enough won’t put rubber to road more than once a year.

I’ve deliberated between building the sharp looking Katakura Silk back up, or finding a new home for it. With the Cycles Toussaint gone, I’ve decided the Silk will go back to 650b so that I have a bike to fit that niche.

That build has been moving at a purposely slow pace. I want to savor the mechanical nature of the build up. I enjoy working with my hands, making things. Spending most of my time teaching drawing and painting these past eight weeks, rather than doing any drawing myself means looking for a creative surrogate. The build satisfies some of that urge.

A few weeks ago I was asked to complete a survey and offered a substantial gift card for my carefully considered opinions. I promptly forgot about that until it arrived in the mail last week. Ever since my 1946 Hobbs of Barbican arrived in the studio I had envisioned it with Lauterwasser bars. Gift card in hand, I ordered a reproduction pair from Soma and installed them over the weekend.

I recall reading somewhere that these are very comfortable handlebars. Frankly, I was dubious. I briefly had a pair of mustache bars and found them to be simply awful. The resemblance to Lauterwasser bars left me in doubt. But hey! The gift card meant I could get a pair with no real cost to me. I figured I had little to lose.  And after a few rides Sunday and Monday, I can say with certainty that they are indeed surprisingly comfortable.

Meanwhile, the other wish list item for this bike has been an appropriate cottered crank set. One of the terrific members of BikeForums reached out to me this weekend with an offer of a Williams that would fit the bill quite nicely. Yes, this bike has turned into a money pit, but it’s such a joy to ride a seventy-year old time trial bike. The ride quality is excellent. And how do you put a price on that sort of experience?