Be Invisible.

This is my Sunday morning plea. I won’t call it a “rant” – I haven’t gone on one of those in a while, and frankly they do little other than to make me even more hyper-aware of whatever obscure topic happens to be bothering me at that moment.

So, a plea it is. Cyclists, if your riding is primarily JRA outings (Just Ridin’ Around, please consider wearing comfortable, every day looking clothing. Unless you are a BASC (Bad Ass Serious Cyclist) – and really, unless you’re actually a racer out racing, or at least training for a race, you’re probably on a JRA ride.

Where I live, nearly every cyclist I encounter is garbed in skin tight Lycra, covered in logos or eye-melting colors and patterns, or both. (Well, not my friend Bob. I don’t see him often, but when I do he’s comfortably sporting shorts and sneakers. Thumbs up to you, Bob!) But here’s the thing: If you’re riding around the block or doing a two mile stretch through the park on your “townie,” do you really need $75 padded cycling shorts and an equally pricey wet suit-like microfiber jersey that weighs less than a quarter ounce just because it has a couple of pockets aft?

Please understand I’m not arguing against common sense cycling gear. A good quality shoe that meets my needs is something I personally value, especially if I’m riding for distance. In yesterday’s cool 40 degree weather, a decent base layer was the right call. Sometimes I wear a pair of purpose-made cycling knickers with knee socks; yesterday it was Levi 501’s. In the wind, a good shell makes sense… mine is a windbreaker I picked up on the cheap at an Eddie Bauer outlet. Even cheaper still is the black wool cardigan I got from a thrift store (three or four bucks, if I recall correctly.) A wool cap from Walz. A Dollar Store bandana purchase.

I ride a lot, but not everything I do is riding. I get off the bike to sketch. (A lot.) Or on my return ride, stop on the square at the pub. (Actually, I do that a lot too.) I feel oddly conspicuous clacking across the floor of the pub in skin hugging super hero tights. And let’s face it, I’m no longer built like Ryan Reynolds. (Don’t you like how I implied that I once was? Fact checker: I never was.)

I think it’s just plain weird that cyclists feel the need to go through an entire ritual of dressing in special clothing just to ride a bike. (Weird? Yes. Also the result of great marketing.) So my plea: Go for a ride today. Need to change your shoes or put on a windbreaker? OK. But beyond that, just hop on your bike and take off. Go ride. Enjoy the day. Turn on your blinky. In all other ways be invisible.

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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.

 

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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.

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.

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.