All Hail the Bicycle Gods!

The seasons, they are a changin’. A few days ago, the skies were filled with mile after mile after mile of bird migration – columns of them as far as I could see in both directions, generally coming out of the north in their southward bound trek. The ground is blanketed in dry leaves that crunch like potato chips as I wheel through them, hiding anything and everything that lies beneath. This would, by the way, include a rather more than gigantic fissure a few hundred yards from my driveway, a four foot long by four inch wide gash, deep enough to swallow even a moderately wide tire and wheel, the better to toss a rider from his or her perch. I discovered this chasm last night, returning from a late afternoon ride on what will likely be the last marvelous day of the year. I also discovered how terrifyingly fast one can be unceremoniously dismounted and thrown headfirst into the pavement.

Say what you might about the wars that exist between cyclists and drivers, I’ve had overwhelmingly polite encounters with the vast majority of motorists. The few trolls who have somehow managed to elude the highway patrol and maintain a valid driver license – obviously – stand out in my memory. But I’ll forever recall those drivers last night who immediately pulled over to check on a guy they saw take a flying leap over a pair of bicycle handlebars. One fellow helped me to my feet, concerned that I must be badly hurt, and was visibly relieved to discover I could walk and talk coherently. Another brushed off my back. Good people.

Today began with light, cold rain and gusts of wind that lowered the wind chills down into the 20’s, despite the mid-40’s temperatures. Gingerly, I felt my arm, my wrist, my fingers, my shoulder. Stiff. I’m pretty stiff, but nothing broken. Definitely a bruised deltoid. Definitely some abrasion on my right palm and hip. A couple of fingers feel stiff or jammed. I probably won’t attempt pull ups for a couple of days. But otherwise no damage to me – or, to my bike.

Naturally enough, that was the first thing I checked. Would my fork be bent? My wheel a taco? But no – just a slight abrasion to the braking surface of the rim. The wheel is still true for some reason. Considering the prone position I found myself in, which involved my legs somehow being higher than my head and just as inexplicably somehow lying over a low stone wall, I feel like I got lucky. My wife, who was out for a walk, and who saw my acrobatic dismount, cannot believe I’m so cavalier about the event. I know it could have been much worse – probably should have been much worse – but it’s all good. And that’s the way it is.

But my shoulder is stiff and the weather is crappy. And my studio needed cleaned and reorganized. So I spent a good portion of the day indoors, vacuuming errant dog hair and moving things around and recycling an unbelievably huge pile of things that had stacked up since the last time I cleaned up the studio.

My L’Avecaise hung in one corner. An annoying noise had been driving me just a little crazy and I decided that until I tracked down the source I would keep it off the road. No sense in tempting the bicycle gods by riding a clicking bike.

Like every other time I’ve had to track down a distracting sound, it appeared to be emanating from the bottom bracket. Of course, that’s never really the source. One time it was my saddle rails, another time the stem. Yet another time it was the lace of my shoe! I’ve invested a ton of time investigating each and every possibility and in what has proved to be an absolutely maddening experience, failed to identify the root cause.

But today was a perfect day for nailing that bastard of a sound to the proverbial wall. What was left to check though? Only the bottom bracket, it seemed, and clearly it wasn’t the bottom bracket because it’s never the bottom bracket.

In fact, it was the bottom bracket.

Specifically, the fixed cup was somehow not fixed at all. It was loose enough that I could turn it by hand. How this came to be I cannot say, but what I can say is that it’s not even remotely loose now.

Maybe the events of the past eighteen hours were purposely put into motion by the bicycle gods. I speculate they might’ve grown weary of watching me pedal past, grimacing at the cyclical tick-click tick-click tick-click! Perhaps they felt this afternoon would be an excellent time for me take time out of the saddle and heft a wrench or two. Who knows? Maybe the congestion of a studio filled with detritus and bikes and art supplies dishonored them.

But there’s no doubt in my mind that I must now perform a ritual sacrifice to the gods by killing a bottle of dark beer. Or maybe even two. After all, who am I to take chances with the bicycle gods?

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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.

Into the wild.

Yes, the L’Avecaise has been released into the wild. The build is complete for now, and my initial shakedown ride went well yesterday morning. I stopped frequently to check and recheck bolts and tires and clearance and all manner of things – as I swoop down that first long descent after a new build I’m suddenly thinking to myself, did I tighten down the stem? Oh crap…what about the front wheel? 

No decaleur installed for now – I’ll need something with more drop than the VO version I have on hand if I’m going to move my Swift Ozette bag back and forth between this and my Boulder…I should have measured first. The other option is Berthoud bag, the GB28 size looks to fit the space just about perfectly but at a $270 price point I have a great deal of difficulty not grimacing. I’d much rather have one bag traveling back and forth.

Counting this morning, I’ve escaped on the L’Avecaise twice and neither ride was long or especially spirited: About twelve or thirteen miles each time out, with a few climbs and a few descents, and one very deceptively steep false flat. Essentially, I haven’t attempted to push it much at all yet and won’t until I know I’ve got everything dialed in to my satisfaction.

So, out of the box just a few observations:

  • I like the “float” of supple 650b x 42 tires quite a bit. I’m using Hetres at the moment, which while a bit heavier than the Compass tires, still feel great. The cost point between the two is negligible, and Compass had the Hetres in stock so my. tire selection was narrowed by availability. I’ve made no secret how much I like Compass tires as evidenced by the fact that I have them on three other bikes.
  • Installing the VO Noir Zeplin fenders and nailing down a perfect fender line was a snap. Jeff Lyon’s frame and fork are perfectly designed to make set up so much less painfree than other installation experiences. What totally pissed me off though, was the damn VO front rack. It came nowhere close to fitting and required extensive bending to even make an adequate mating. During the process of dry fitting I managed to bodger up the front fender. With a bag in place, no one will ever see the scratches or no the difference. But I will. I’ll never use another of these racks.
  • I went with Tektro CR720 cantilevers for the brakes and I’m very happy with them, and let me explain why: When I built up my Boulder I used Avid Shorties. I heard so many good things about them that I was really taken aback at how difficult I found them to set up. In fact, I jiggered around with adjustment for over a year, and to this day they work only adequately. They stop, and that’s about the best superlative I can apply to them. By contrast, the Tektro cantilevers installed and were adjusted quickly. They are very grabby, and stop very well. I like how they modulate on descent. And quite frankly, when it comes time to replace the pads on my Boulder I’ll probably just yank the Avids and install a pair of Tektro CR720’s.
  • When it comes to saddles, I’m a Brooks fan boy. My favorite model continues to be the Cambium C17, but I also have Brooks Professionals on several of my bikes. Having a couple of NOS vintage Pros on hand, I installed one, presuming I’d eventually replace it with a black C17. And while that may still be the end game, I’m very pleased with the saddle position. The overall frame geometry and set up of the cockpit matches my own body geometry and ride positioning. I’ve made extensive measurements and comparisons over the years, so I’ve got a great baseline as a starting point for set up. I’m very pleased that I was able to use this data to easily position the main points of contact: saddle, relative to the bottom bracket and pedals; reach, relative to saddle, bars, bar height, and hand position.
  • For handlebars, I’ve been very pleased with my experience with the VO rando model. On two other bikes, I’ve gone with a pretty wide size. On a whim, I ordered a pair that are a size narrower. I don’t notice an appreciable difference, and if anything, the difference is positive rather than negative. This is the second set of bars on which I’ve used the rubber Brooks Cambium wrap. I appreciate the slight “give” the Cambium wrap has on my palms, yet there’s still a confident foundation. In contrast to the bars on my Boulder – also VO rando models, by the way – wrapping the bars on my L’Avecaise was a real bitch. I’m pretty good at wrapping bars using cotton, leather, or just plain old cork, so I found this experience both challenging and frustrating.
  • I’ve currently got my favorite style of clip in pedals installed, the dual SPD/platform Shimano M-324 model. However, I’m likely going to replace them with flat platform Vice pedals, which I have on both my International and my Bernard Carre. I like how grippy the platform is with just about any shoe, and that I can just hop on and take off without going through the motions of outfitting in cyclist clothing and togs.
  • I’m going with rechargeable lighting in front and battery operated tail light. After running out of charge on the road a couple of times now, I like the convenience of just being able to stop at Quick Trip for a pair of AAA batteries. Plus, I am finding the battery operated tail lights outlast the USB charged options. Go figure.