What’s up?

So what’s new? Well, nothing actually. I’m still surrounded by old stuff in my studio – old bikes, old furniture, old baseball cards, etc. But it’s the old bikes that concern The Early Morning Cyclist. And my newest old bike is a Bernard Carré that as is par for the course, I continue to experiment with.

I am extremely pleased with the overall fit. It feels great to ride, and for those reasons alone it’s worth it to me to continue playing around. I pulled the 27 inch wheels off that I’d been riding on and replaced them with lighter, sportier 700c wheels. Something about the beefy 27 x 1 1/4 tires appealed to me, but the wheels never seemed to want to spin up as quickly as I wanted. I installed a pair of 700 x 28 Gatorskins; combined with the slightly smaller wheels the bike was noticeably faster off the starting blocks. Meanwhile, I wound up horse trading for a pair of 700 x 32 Compass tires – this bike just feels better on wider tires – and I’m happier still.

With the narrow bottom bracket axel, I’m still running a 52/42 racing crank, but that will soon be remedied. I finally located the longer Stronglight spindle I knew I had in my parts storage. I’ll pair that with a 48/34 crankset, which will replicate the same gear range as my Boulder Brevet (albeit with fewer cogs and larger jumps between them… that’s the trade off you get in comparing five speeds to nine.)

I noticed an odd jump on the chain yesterday as I was fine tuning the shifting. Only closer examination it turns out that one of the teeth is missing on the rear derailleur jockey wheel. No big deal – I’ve got others, so replacement is relative easy.


I’d planned to ride the Carré in yesterday’s Tour de Bier but I’m not content with the gearing yet, and my bad knee might have objected simply out of spite once I hit the first climb. So I’m waiting on the replacement crank to arrive before heading out on any long hilly rides. I’ve got some traveling to do this summer and it would be tough to carry my Boulder along with me. But the Carré should break down to fit into my bike bag, and is light enough that it can be my rider while I’m gone. Plus it’s pink and “old,” so there’s a better chance thieves will ignore it.

So yesterday’s ride was astride my Boulder Brevet. Even though I was intentionally trying to maintain a leisurely pace so that my wife could keep up, I found myself constantly out in front by a long measure. Fortunately, I brought my sketching pen and book along to make really quick scribbles in the West Bottoms and Stock Yards . This allowed adequate time for her to catch up, pass me, continue on, and then for me to leap frog forward. Repeat.

The area is a good one for urban cyclo-touring, and the road surface, although crumbling in places, was no match for my wider tires. Yet another good reason to sport fatter, supple tires!

An event like the Tour de Bier is a good one for cyclists who enjoy bikes and beer. The route meandered past many of the former brewery locations in Kansas City, and stopped for sampling of golden fare from the various microbreweries thriving in our urban core and northern corridor. The wind was a bit fierce, and grew stronger as the morning evolved into midday. Coming back across the Missouri River, going uphill into the stout and unyielding breeze, I heard a lot of bitching and moaning. I chalked that up to cyclists who’d sampled too much golden fare. Me, I’d sampled and enjoyed too, but by this point the end of the ride was nigh and within two or three miles there was a tall, cold brew waiting for me, along with a locally sourced meal. My stomach grumbled, then roared, and I ignored the wind.

Shinier.

Winter riding is hit or miss in Missouri. We’re pretty much central in every way possible – geographically, politically (well, maybe not so much as we’d like to believe), climatologically. The weather either cooperates or it doesn’t… and when Mamma Nature decides to get ornery, I find myself pacing around the house, walking in and out of the studio, desperate for something – anything – to keep me from going stir crazy. I hate being house bound.

Setting up shop at a table in my studio, I arranged an old toothbrush, clean rags and paper towels, and a container of Mothers Mag and Aluminum Polish near at hand. Situating myself comfortably in a chair, I pulled my 1966 Paramount over beside me and set myself the task of making the shiny bits and pieces just a bit shinier.

This is such a fun bike to ride, and the restoration underscored a particularly understated elegance. The white frame harmonizes well with touches of red, and it’s all nicely complimented by the classic silvery components. And doesn’t a clean, shiny bike simply go faster?

There are times when I truly enjoy keeping the ride simple: No bags or extra gear, just a lightweight frame and downtime shifters, something that responds quickly, and I’m off and down the road. This is a bike for those times.

As the morning waned, the afternoon promised warmer temperatures – albeit with a bone rattling wind. Flags whipped straight out from the poles – not lazily, but with incredibly violent energy. Layers were definitely called for!

I enjoyed a chance to christen my new wool Paramount jersey by using it as a top layer. Bob Freeman of the venerable Elliott Bay Cycles organized a group buy of these jerseys and I jumped at the opportunity. He wanted an appropriate jersey to wear when riding his early 60’s Paramount, and who am I to argue with that sentiment?

When the thermometer is hovering around the freezing mark, I find my normally long, luxurious rides tend to evolve into something that is faster paced and shorter. And so it was on this particular afternoon. Only two other cyclists to be seen, one of whom caught up with me on the return route. Breathing out gouts of steam and sniffling wetly, we chatted about different roads, steep climbs, and warmer days – exactly the sort of conversation in which cyclists tend to engage. I’d made a few small adjustments to the Paramount before heading out, and I was pleased to suddenly realize that no further adjustments seemed necessary. Often enough, I find myself hyper-aware of small changes and this simply wasn’t the case: the adjustments were “invisible,” which means everything felt in perfect alignment.

Back in the studio later that afternoon, I opened my email and read the first of what has developed into a rather remarkable correspondence these past couple of days. Unexpectedly, I’ve been gifted with some very interesting background information relating to my 1946 Hobbs of Barbican Superbe. I need to get my thoughts together about how best to organize this information, and will be sharing the story soon.

 

The Third Life of a Phoenix

“The Phoenix.” Hmm. I typed that title on a whim, but I like it. Maybe I need to have that in subtle, elegant calligraphy across the top tube? It’s a thought.

Why “Phoenix,” though? Well, I consider this the third life of my 1971 Raleigh International. She came to me a few years back in pretty sad condition, paint flaking off in strips, generally abused and neglected over time. The previous owner rode it as a touring bike for many years, through all sorts of conditions. He had eventually aged out of the bike and out of riding, and she sat in his workshop for a long time until  I adopted her. Her second life was as a long distance three-speed.

This morning was the inaugural shakedown “third life” ride following last week’s rebuild. During her second life she was a wonderful reimagining of a club racer – a venerable British lightweight drop bar frame with a three speed internally geared hub. I’ve loved that configuration, but in honest self reflection I find that nearly all of my riding is done on my Boulder Brevet. I asked myself why that was, and the answer – not surprisingly – was: Fit, gearing, build, and ride quality.

Hence, the third life is a return to the roots of this bike, with more than a few nods towards those things that make my life feel better on two wheels.

So, the inaugural shakedown ride is a short twelve mile route of hills and flats that I use to test new builds. My initial assessment? A/A+…and now I’m REALLY jazzed about  installing 700 x 38 Compass Barlow Pass tires that I can run at lower pressure.  (I’ve got 700 x 28 Gatorskins on the rims at the moment, and while they are definitely the most bullet proof tires I’ve ever ridden, they are far from being describable as “supple.” And they are a total bitch to get over the lip of the rim. God help me if I ever have a frickin’ flat out on the road…)

To say that I’m pleased with this rebuild would be a gross understatement. The bottom bracket is perfectly tuned and the Stronglight 48/40/28 triple yields a very nice range of low and middle range gears when paired up with the 13-30 Ultra 6 freewheel. A Mountech FD handles the jump between 40 and 28 without blinking an eye. And the Mark Pace-built rear wheel turns out to have been an outstanding decision. It’s riding very nicely indeed.

While I wait on tires to arrive I’ll head out to the studio to engineer a nicer looking light bracket. I also need to camouflage/protect the exposed wiring running from the dyno hub to the light unit. That’s (mostly) cosmetic, but I appreciate a well designed system.

The Standard “Kit”

I field a fair number of emails originating from readers of The Early Morning Cyclist. Every now and then I get questions about gear I’m using, or my “kit” – the stuff I wear when I ride. With three questions fired at me in as many days I’ll go out on a limb and call this a trend that needs to be addressed.

I don’t write about these things much because, frankly, I really don’t think about them much. (At least not nearly as much as our local groups of matching-kit Lycra roadies apparently do.) Oh, I certainly have my share of jerseys. Some commemorate events, others were picked up as mementos on vacation, and at least one was a gift from my wife and is emblazoned with an “Old Farts Cycling Team” graphic.

I just don’t wear them all that often.

I dress for comfort when I ride. Knickers and sweltered layers when it gets cold. And although my “kit” isn’t set in stone, during the summer it’s kind of standardized:

The Lid. I know I should probably be more diligent about wearing a helmet, but likely as not I’ll be found cycling in a grungy, sweat-stained cycling cap. I’ve got dozens of ’em, but my favorite is a gray cap made by Swift, the same fine craftspeople who made my Ozette bag. I rather think this hat was a “one and done” project, and that they were only available for a really short time. This is why I sort of freak out when I misplace my lid: there’s likely no way to replace it.

The eyes. I need glasses to read signs, or a map, or my phone. A couple years I ago I invested in a pair of prescription Ray-Bans and those have become a de facto part of my outdoor adventures. The other item that I feel a bit naked without is a Bike Peddler “Take A Look” Eyeglass Mirror. I really want to know what that smoke chugging truck creeping up behind me is up to, so I won’t leave home without my eyeglass mirror.

The hands. For short jaunts I won’t wear gloves at all. I really like the feel of my bare palms against shellac-coated bar wrap. But if I’m going to be out for more than an hour, the gloves will definitely be part of my kit.

The jersey. It’s a 100% cotton t-shirt, occasionally stained with smudges of paint, or chain grease, or both. I spent too many years as a graphic designer to be able to stomach the truly awful graphics that adorn most shirts, so I consider the embarrassing designs to be optional.

The legs. Instead of Lycra bicycle shorts, I’m rather partial to lightweight padded under shorts – as in “worn under normal shorts.” I like hiking, camp, or cargo shorts. Lots of pockets for important stuff like money, fountain pen, sketchbook, etc.

The feet. I’ve got a pair of mountain bike shoes for when I ride clipped in. A recessed clip is the only pure cycling shoe I care to wear because it allows me to walk around off the bike without looking like I’m in a Monty Python skit. I also like to use trail runners or my Keene sandals. That way I look semi-normal off the bike, and I can stroll in and out of a diner or grocery store or even a bike shop. I’m kind of picky about socks though, and will avoid cotton at all costs.

What’s nice about this “kit” is that I don’t have to pack a lot of specialty clothing when I travel. My ride clothes and my “everything else” clothes are pretty much one and the same. As a matter of fact, it’s also pretty much what I’m wearing as I type these words, and pretty much what I’ll be wearing when I begin cooking dinner tonight. It’s pretty much the only thing I wear from the time summer vacation begins until the time I report back to school.

Four Years.

Four years. I realized today that it’s been four years since I finished building up my Boulder Brevet and took her on that first inaugural ride. In that time I’ve made numerous adjustments and a few changes, but the bike is largely the build I started with.

Out today, heading directly into thirty-plus mile per hour headwinds and trying like crazy not to overstress the knee I nursed back to semi-health over the winter, there’s no question in my mind that this is the perfect bike for me. Four years down the line and I have never once considered trading or selling this bike. With all the hundreds of bikes I’ve owned and ridden, all the thousands of miles I’ve put in on them, I can make that claim about no other bike. My list of excellent frames is, I think, pretty substantial: Bob Jackson, Colnago, Paramount, Holdsworth, PX-10, Raleigh International (OK, I stand corrected – that one isn’t going anywhere either), Bianchi, Puch, Shogun 2000, Freschi, Gazelle, Follis, Mercier, and so on.

I hate to act like a fan boy, but I’ve simply never owned another bike that fit me the way this one does. Nor have I ever owned another bike that simply felt like it wanted to keep going the way this one does, even when I was completely spent. Over time, I’ve gone through a couple of different saddles before settling upon a Brooks C17. I’ve changed out pedals until settling upon those I’ve been using for the past three years. Pumps have been swapped out in favor of smaller and lighter. The dyno-hub is now on the front of my International, as is the light; now I sport a rechargeable light that better meets my needs since my night riding is limited to very early mornings for the most part. The Velocity rims were a nice move last summer, and the Compass EL tires have proven to be superb.

In four years I’ve gone through five changes of handlebar wrap. On most of my other bikes the shellac-coated cotton bar wrap is a labor of love for me, but for some reason I used Salsa wrap on the Boulder from the very start and can’t bring myself to use anything else. I’ve got Brooks leather wrap in a box and as nice as I’m sure it would look on this bike, I don’t want to mess with the feel of things: why screw around with comfort?

VO rack, fenders, and a home made decaleur. A Swift bag – which I would recommend to absolutely anyone who asked. From time to time I think about changing my VO compact double, but once again: it seems to work and meet my needs so why jack around with it?

I own quite a few bikes, and they all get ridden, depending upon my mood. The International, especially, gets the nod a lot. But at the end of the day there is one bike I keep coming back to, and that is my Boulder. There’s something very comforting about that thought.