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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Smiles

If you haven’t read the Autumn 2017 issue of Bicycle Quarterly, well shame on you – you’ve no idea what you’re missing. Go out right now and find a copy, or get online and order one.

I enjoy BQ because the content focuses on so many of the aspects of bicycling that interest me. The current issue reports on the 2017 Concours de Machines, a revival of the annual event in France that introduced many cycling innovations we tend to take for granted today.

I’ll occasionally watch bicycle racing on television, or if I’m in the right place at the right time I’ll do so in person. But most cyclists – most especially, me – are not racers. We ride. Period. And for me that means my interests are in those things making the experience of the ride more enjoyable. Thus, the bikes I consider to be my primary riders reflect those attributes: wide, supple tires; a more upright riding position; responsive frame; low trail, etc. I enjoy the stories BQ shares about epic rides, and I don’t mind living just a little bit vicariously through the eyes of Jan Heine and his crew. BQ conducts fairly exhaustive real-world in-the-saddle reviews of bikes and equipment, and those articles allow me to geek out on the mechanical side of my cycling obsession. Arriving in my mail box quarterly, it allows me the opportunity to step outside my normally quite conservative approach to the hobby and dream a little, perhaps even obsess a little more than usual over things I already tend to overly obsess about.

Their fascinating report on the Concours de Machines included photographs of the various entries, and a story about the joint entry of BQ’s Jan Heine and legendary constructuer Peter Weigle. One thing I seldom obsess over is weight, but Peter’s story shared the weight of his award winning bike – a remarkable 20 pounds, not including the bag. For a bike outfitted with fenders and rack and such that simply astonishes me. I read that the entries were penalized if the overall weight – as ridden! – wasn’t at or below a particular weight, and it got me wondering how my bike measured up. Never having actually put my Boulder onto a scale until now, I was heartened to discover I would (barely) squeak by with an even 24 pounds. For the sake of comparison that is actually a few ounces lighter than my ’66 Paramount – which does not have the wide tires, racks, or fenders I use on my Boulder. Does this information mean anything substantial? Well, only that any real ride deficiency I might notice probably isn’t attributable to the bike.

I’m mulling over such thoughts as I ride down deserted country roads this morning. Ride time is “reflective time” for me. As I pedal, I solve – or at least puzzle over – the various issues of the past and coming weeks. If I’ve a writing assignment, my thoughts are often a sort of word stew, and if a particularly interesting arrangement of thoughts and words appeals to me I’ll pull out my iPhone and dictate them into the Notes section. Some of my favorite turns of phrase have initially occurred to me as I’ve ridden up a hill or over a long stretch of gravel. Time in the saddle often gives me the opportunity to focus my thoughts on upcoming lesson ideas; with no other intrusions in sight I can usually come up with a plan, test out the “what if’s” in my head, and return home with a well formulated learning experience planned for my students.

Regardless of how my bike compares to any others, if – as it does this morning – it disappears under me as I ride; if I can myself disappear into my world of thought experimentation, then I’m more than content. I’m happy. And as I draft a few new ideas into my iPhone this morning, I realize I’m smiling.

Whimsical evil


Out on my 1989 Waterford-built Schwinn Paramount this early Sunday morning, I managed to stay just ahead of the incoming thunderstorm. After a hilly second half of yesterday’s BikeMo 2017 I woke this morning feeling a little stiff, but not at all sore. In fact, I felt chipper enough that a spirited ride seemed in order, so I pulled out of the drive way atop the Paramount.

Most of my riding is done on brevet-style bikes, sometimes for long distance comfort, but mostly for the “any distance” comfort. Fat tires, drop bars, stretched out position, granny gears for the hills – it’s all part of my daily bread and butter. My speedier bikes, quite frankly, don’t get nearly as much ride time.

When I refer to “speedier” bikes, by the way, it’s relative to me and my small collection. Notice that the Paramount sports a triple with a wider range cassette, and it really shouldn’t be confused with an actual competition racing bike. But it’s a fast bike for me. See? It’s all about context.

And I’m always happily surprised at how responsive and quick this bike seems to be when I’ve jumped off my regulars to give it a spin.

In a couple of days we celebrate the Paramount’s 29th birthday. For as long as I’ve owned it, this bike has always been fully dressed out in an evil looking black kit, offset only by the silvery graphics. For its birthday, I’ve replaced the black handlebar wrap with a much happier and decidedly more whimsical lime green. This one change is jarringly different to my eye, but I think I rather like it.

A couple of other mods have taken place as well. I swapped out the 3ttt racing bars for a Nitto B135 randonneur handlebar. A lengthier 3ttt stem allowed me to inch the saddle forward a little bit, which more accurately mimics the fit of my brevet bikes. As I get older, I find a stretched out and longer cockpit to be more and more comfortable. My bikes have been correspondingly refitted.

The other mod was pedals: Much as I used to like SpeedPlay, I’ve grown to appreciate a larger and more stable platform. Sometimes I’d experience hotspots on the flat of my foot if I rode with SpeedPlay pedals for more than an hour or two. I’ve had excellent experience with VP-001 Vice pedals, and with an extra set already on hand I reasoned that these might better encourage more ride time on this terrific bike.


Now, as the thunderstorm has caught up with me and I sit in my studio typing this missive and staring out the window as fat drops of rain smack against the glass, I ponder a shower as well as the various projects I’ve set aside until the winter months arrive. September will be here in just a couple of days and I grow antsy, knowing that daylight is already growing shorter. I glance over by the wall of books and see the Paramount leaning against the shelves. I smile at the whimsically evil bike.

Misty Light


Let’s be clear about something right off the bat: Given the thick and cloudy moisture in the air, my iPhone camera picked up one heck of a lot more visibility than was apparent to me on this morning’s ride. Perhaps it has a particularly sensitive method of capture, but more likely it’s because I was almost constantly wiping the watery mist from the lenses of my glasses.

Considering that this was one of the final days in June, a time we normally experience as hot weather on the cusp of transforming into really hot weather, this morning was unusually foggy, damp, clammy, and chilly. In fact, at 49 degrees and the air at nearly 100% moisture, my fingers were actually cold. The loose, long sleeve jersey I was wearing had a hard line of water droplets on the front of my arms where I had sliced through the atmosphere as I descended the first hill.

The unusual weather also created an oddly ethereal light. It was as if I was viewing the world through the translucent surface of a plastic milk container. Everything was mysterious and extremely quiet, the normal sounds even of passing cars on the nearby highway dampened almost into nonexistence.

Heck yeah, I had a flat tire this morning!

This photograph was posted to The Early Morning Cyclist on April 14, 2014, which means I’ve been running the Compass Chinook Pass tires on my Boulder Brevet for about three years and three months. They have been comfortable and steadfast during that time, and in my mind are hands down the best 700 x 28 tires available.

This is the scene that greeted me this morning. A flat! And frankly, I was very excited to see this development. Earlier this week I rode in the Big BAM Ride. It was unbearably hot, and the ride was made more difficult by unrelentingly heavy headwinds and a constant barrage of hill after hill after hill. I had tossed two spare tubes plus a patch kit into my Swift bag, glanced doubtfully at tires worn slick by use. In three years and three month, I had never experienced a single flat, regardless of the chip seal roads and gravel paths I ride upon. At just a rough guess, these tires have close to 18K on them. That has to be far and away more miles than Compass ever planned to see on a single set of tires.

I had other commitments, so I only pedaled the first 180 miles of the Big Bam Ride. I have no regrets about not completing the remaining 130 or so – the conditions were bleak and, frankly, the ride itself wasn’t especially enjoyable. But my tires held up on those sun baked roads, and only gave up the ghost after getting back home. That’s more than I can say for myself!

So why was I excited about seeing a flat this morning? First off, understand that it was clear to me that I was living on borrowed time with this set of tires. And secondly, there’s a certain degree of relief to see this comfortable, invincible, supple tire has lived out a really full life. But finally, I’m excited to be able to quantify how much riding I’ve gotten from a tire that, frankly, is pretty expensive. Heck, that’s less than a penny per mile… cheap, cheap, cheap!

And, by the way, I’m going to inspect the tire for damage, probably put another tube on the rim, and see how many more miles I can squeeze out.

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.

I love June.

I love this first week of June. I love pausing at the edge of town before heading out into the hills. I love pedaling up those hills in a gear perfectly matched to my cadence. The mulberries are ripe and plump and sweet, not to mention plentiful. I love stopping under a tree to pluck handfuls of the berries that I stuff into my mouth, and I love how my fingers are so sticky and Burgundy-stained that I am compelled to lick them as clean as is possible.

Dirty Kanza took place a couple days ago and I periodically ask myself if I feel up to that sort of challenge. Do I feel a real pull toward gravel? The answer is: Occasionally. But more to the point, I feel drawn to old roads, those country lanes that are often crumbling and bandaged together (or not much at all), those paths that meander past farmland and boxy farmhouses and barns, through woods and over hills. I love stopping to sketch when the muse visits or when I simply feel like taking a break for water, a snack, or another handful of mulberries.

I realized yesterday that I’ve neglected my 1946 Hobbs of Barbican Superbe these past few months. I love this bike for completely different reasons than the reason I love my Boulder. I love heading out into the flats, the fixed gear compelling me to pedal without stop, unless, in fact, I’m actually stopped. I love the feeling of being pulled along, and I realized I missed experiencing that feeling from time to time. So this was my bike choice yesterday morning, running ten-mile “time trial” loops, and loving the tug on my leg muscles that comes from these rides. I also realized that the installation of Lauterwasser bars aligned with the time that I stopped riding the Hobbs regularly. I wonder if that has anything to do with it? I love the look of these bars, but I’m not sure they are the most comfortable ride choice for me and my hands. Perhaps I will return to traditional drop or rando bars, which meet my riding and position needs better. I’m sure I’ll love the change, because, after all, it’s June and what’s not to love?