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?

Glow

Sub-atomic, nuclear glow; snowy whiteness, bleached and silvery – like the hoar frost that only days ago crusted the windshield of my car; pallid, colorless, ashen, and pasty…washed out and waxen, entirely bereft of warmth or color, pale and anemic looking  legs that haven’t been kissed by the sun since last November, when old Sol simply wasn’t even at his best even then, betraying my Gaelic-Nordic ancestry.

Yesterday was the very first “shorts day” of 2017.

Biding my time

It’s 9:00 am, Sunday morning. I’ve been up since a little after four, grading art history essays; the bank of windows that line my wall next to me have gradually changed from a densely black night through the various colors and values of a rosy dawn. And now the day beyond the glass looks marvelous. The sky is blue with only a few wisps of cloud. Nary a branch moves; there is not a hint of wind. A quick check of the internet informs me that the outside temps are hovering – for the moment – just below freezing.

I’ve set aside my rubrics and finished reading art history essays, and I could easily layer up and hit the road, but I linger. There’s no question I will get in a few hours of saddle time today. The question is when.

Do you ever do this? Bide your time until the “optimal” conditions present themselves? Well, I certainly have done…and from time to time it bites me in the ass to do so. Not so many weeks back the January weather promised a late afternoon window of opportunity. The morning had been freezing drizzle and the evening looked equally forbidding. But that afternoon of promise was forecast to be a small slice of heaven.

So I waited, and bide my time. The morning drizzle never appeared. In fact, the temps weren’t at all as miserable as the published forecast. Still, I knew that the afternoon would be terrific, so my bike continued to lean against the wall. The morning passed by, and as mid-day turned to afternoon, and the sky began to turn gray, so too did my mood. Rechecking the online forecast, I was shocked to see that the world had turned upside down. Instead of an incredible afternoon, conditions were only going to get worse. The morning freezing drizzle arrived late and by the time I realized what I’d missed the road was glazing over with ice.

I see that this afternoon promises to be in the upper forties. I could bide my time and wait for things to improve, but I can already hear a bird chirping outside my window. Squirrels are racing up and down one of the huge cottonwoods. And I think I’ll take what I’ve got right now.

Cold New Year’s Day Ride.

It’s New Year’s Day, and brunch with good friends ran long. I’d planned on joining one of the local clubs for a 2017 kick off ride, but that wasn’t to be. By the time we’d parted company, the ride had already begun. I was looking forward to a ride from the River Market, through downtown, and looping around The Plaza, followed by an hour of libations.

After brunch, I spent a few hours in the studio finishing up an illustration. The sun that had promised a better looking day was hidden behind gray banks of clouds. Although not as windy as the past few days, nevertheless the breeze felt cold. I knew my ride wouldn’t be a terribly long one before I gave up the ghost, but I needed to get outside and put in a few miles of road time.

Heading out, my first thought was “Brrrrr!” Almost immediately my stocking cap crept up on top of my head and my ears were exposed. I can’t seem to keep the darned thing low enough on my head when I ride. Coasting at speed down the first long hill, the cold air rushed in around my eye glasses and I immediately teared up. My nose was running like a faucet, and my fingers were only passably warm, despite the heavy gloves that covered my hands. But my saddle position was excellent and I felt comfortable spinning on the big ring. Before long, my legs were starting to warm up as the revs added up.

Near the edge of town there’s a small lake. There are literally no cars on the road today – perhaps people are at home, in bed, nursing a hangover or catching up on lost hours of sleep. I pause briefly to make a photograph, to document the ride. The temps are hovering just above freezing, although the breeze makes it feel a lot colder. I enjoy stopping here beside the water, if only for a moment. A short stop and then I’m off again, spinning quickly, feeling pretty darned good, moving along at a decent clip.

So 2017 has arrived. I’ve shared a meal with good friends. I made artwork in the studio. My Chiefs won the Division. And I got in a good ride. I figure it would be pretty tough to top that as a beginning to a new year.

 

Adieu 2016

After an hour or two of reorganizing, the studio is looking a bit less like a bike shop and more like…well, like the artist space it is supposed to be. With the holiday season drawing to a close I need to get more than my work space sorted out: Students return from break next week, I’ve got drawing and design lessons to organize, and there are a couple of design commissions that I really should begin working on.

Semester break passes very quickly. I’ve enjoyed the luxury of keeping my own schedule, with a few large chunks of that time having been dedicated to bicycle mechanics. Three more frames were placed on the auction block after Christmas, and because they were completely built up I needed to strip them down, then clean and store the components and wheels. It always amazes me how much less time it takes to tear down a frame than it does to build one up!

And so we come to the last day of 2016. Yesterday was another blustery, blow hard kind of day. But aside from gale force head winds, Dame Fortune blessed us with surprisingly nice riding conditions for late December. Not so much today though, and I’ll be back to layering up again for a therapeutic ride following the annual Anderson family holiday feast. Three generations of food will be in attendance – mercifully, the final gorging of the season. I look forward to the traditional Molloy fare that my mom contributes: sausage rolls, cheese straws, and of course the Yorkshire pudding. A hearty beef brisket prepared by our daughter, pastries and pie are in the final stages of prep in my wife’s pastry kitchen. Brothers and sisters, and very likely at least a glass or two hoisted in good cheer as we bid adieu to this bastard of a year.

And after the dishes have been wiped clean and the leftovers divided up, I’ll head out for a few miles to settle the digestion and stretch my legs.

I took full advantage of yesterday’s opportunity to do a little local exploration. Having felt like the stem height was off I had made a slight adjustment to my 1971 Raleigh International. While everything looks good in the stand, and feels good test riding it up and down the road in front of the house there’s simply no substitute for a shake down ride that takes in a variety of road conditions. What feels acceptable for five minutes may actually turn out to be quite unacceptable after leaning on the bars for ten miles. And as it turned out, I stopped on the town square, leaned the bike against a corner of the Jesse James Bank Museum, and tweaked the height up a tiny bit more.

Earlier this year I installed 700 x 38 Compass Barlow Pass tires with the option of extra light casing. I experimented with tire pressure for several weeks before identifying a front/rear combination that works well for me. The ride is cushy without feeling like things are dragging. The larger tire diameter with 700 x 38 doesn’t seem to spin up as quickly as 650b x 38, or even 650b x 42. But the configuration isn’t a dog either. I’ve got Compass supple extra light casing tires on this and my Boulder Brevet and have really come to appreciate these as my tires of choice.

I’ve previously hinted at a new frame. All I’ll say at the moment is that Jeff Lyon is working on a L’Avecaise 650b project for me, and that it will most certainly be sporting Compass Baby Shoe Pass tires when it hits the road this spring.

My Raleigh holds its own in many situations. The geometry and choice of tires work well for riding the gravel pack of the KATY Trail, it’s a good choice for leisurely road miles through the hills of Clay County, and I like it for running errands or just riding around town. It’s this latter purpose where I feel it excels. But sometimes I really feel the need for simplicity: moderately speedy and responsive riding. And that’s when I roll down the driveway on my 1966 Paramount.

After wiping down the Raleigh, I pointed the Paramount directly into the wind and pedaled down the road. I really enjoy riding this bike, and at least in this case the Paramount reputation seems well deserved. First off, one of the most important considerations is that the frame and points of contact fit. I’ve engaged in quite a bit of action research over the years and know very precisely what my optimum target measurements are. Making the base adjustments are easy for me, assuming that the starting point – the frame – will accommodate those adjustments.

Every bike needs to be fine tuned though, because geometry and compliance are variables. None of my bikes – this Paramount included – are nearly so compliant as my Boulder Brevet. It simply responds the way I anticipate. My Paramount does come close though, and it provides a racier, “sportier” ride.

The Paramount’s original tubular wheels have been boxed up for years. The high flange Campagnolo Record hubs are quite beautiful, light, and spin smooth as silk. I’ve been thinking about re-lacing them to clincher rims so I can pair them back up with the bike. I’m pretty certain they will polish up nicely.

I’d set out on yesterday’s Paramount ride with 35 or 40 miles in minds, but the stiff 35 mph head winds really beat me up. There were times I felt like I was standing still, particularly when I came to a point where no natural windbreak existed to ease my ride. I buckled a lot sooner than planned, and turning down a road that put the wind at my back I immediately felt like I’d been fired from a sling shot. The wind behind me, I quickly began to chew up the miles.

One thing about a racing bike – I really don’t have anywhere to store things, other than in my jersey. Stopping to catch my breath, I peeled out of one underlayer and stuffed that shirt into my jersey pocket. It’s a functional solution, but crammed in with a spare tube and tire levers, I always feel a little like I have Quasimodo’s hump on my back, and that it has somehow slipped down near my butt. I’d much rather have  the weight on my bike.

40 miles is no-brainer for me, but yesterday I settled for somewhere around 25. Tomorrow, day one of 2017, there is a New Year’s Day club ride out of the River Quay with a planned stop for a pint at the end of the run. I’m thinking there are a lot worse ways to begin the year.