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?

Somewhere Other Than Here In Missouri

As a whole, the population of classic and vintage lightweight bicycle enthusiasts is fairly limited. Not only limited, but also pretty widely dispersed as well. Without the internet, and all the tools that come with it – email, forums, blogs, Flickr and Instagram … even eBay – well, there’d be very little community to speak of.

It’s that sense of community, or at the very least connectivity, that very often enriches this odd pastime of riding and restoring classic bikes. How often does one find one’s self in search of an esoteric, but necessary, bit of bricabrac, that oddment needed to complete a build? And where might one find such esoterica? As I trade or buy or sell components, that community grows ever wider for me. I find myself horse trading parts and frames with others of similarly arcane interests, often from far and obscure corners of the globe – certainly from places a goodly distance from here, somewhere in Missouri.

I have my own personal interests relating to the bicycle, and thus The Early Morning Cyclist exists for no other reason. And while my interests and those of others often tend to run in tandem, that sense of parallel absorption only goes so far. Indeed, it’s more accurate to describe those interests as overlapping in places. Nevertheless, I’m genuinely interested in the passions and motivations that drive my fellow enthusiasts.

I sold a saddle not long ago. I’d had it for quite a while, always hoping I’d have a bike to use it with. The leather covering is quite interesting, looking like some kind of exotic surface – a faux rhino or something. The purchaser was a patient man in Ireland who was tolerant of my fumbling attempts at setting up international shipping. And it’s during the ensuing conversations that one learns a bit about the other, which is what I’d like to share today.

Pat is building up the doppleganger of the bike Gianni Bugno rode to win the 1990 Giro. It’s a work in progress for him, and by researching period magazines he learned that the saddle he was in need of matched the one I had recently placed on eBay. Coming from Sean Kelly country, he rides in a part of Ireland where cycling enjoys a great deal of popularity. His F Moser Leader looks like it’s shaping up to be an interesting project, and so I share his “in progress” work here today.

The Curse of Winter Slothfulness.

I went out to ride a route of hill after hill after hill after hill yesterday morning. The photograph is maliciously deceptive – they’re not especially long but they are devilishly steep in places. My legs are not yet hill-hardened after a winter of wanton slothfulness, and I found myself regularly dropping into the lowest of the low gear combinations.

I love the land. And I was in a “black-and-white kind of mood this morning.” In fact, I love being in that mood with a camera – or in my case these past several years, an iPhone. Every so often, the topography would level off and I’d stop for a photo op and a tank of oxygen.

Gazing out across a field, it all seems so benign. But I know this route well: It’s my HTFU route, the one I pedal through every spring. It’s the route that gives me a moment of respite before winding back toward the hills and the Missouri River bluffs again, the one that I regret taking. The one that I actually love.

It’s a lonely trek, but clearly someone has been here before me. There’s an empty bottle in the freshly turned soil – a window tossed remnant of a previous night’s revelry? All I know is that it mars my view, the one imperfection in an otherwise perfect scene.

Each stop for image making – and they are frequent and welcome – each stop gives me a chance to breathe in the loamy fragrance of tilled land, to be scolded by a chattering jay perched on a branch behind me. There’s not even a hint of highway noise. That paved monstrosity is many miles away and I enjoy that for the moment this particular country road and moment belongs just to me. A single pickup truck passed me earlier but otherwise mine is a solitary outing.

The rollers begin again, gently at first, but with little fanfare each subsequent wave increases in contrast, and before long I’m struggling in the granny gear. No stopping for photographs now: That would mean having to initiate a climb mid-hill and there’s no way I’m giving up the momentum of riding down the previous wave! I’m satisfied with those taken from the flatter crest of this route.

For now, it’s time to grit my teeth, enjoy the short climbs, and HTFU.

 

 

To Hell With The Groundhog.

Waiting in the wings was Baby, my 1966 Schwinn Paramount, holding out for an afternoon ride in the country.

And what an afternoon it turned out to be! Not a puff of breeze, completely still except for the trill of birdsong and quiet voices of couples and families out for a walk on an incredibly pleasant day.

Heading north, the sun disappears behind a thick cloud cover. It’s cool enough that I’m barely breaking into a sweat, but pedaling at a nice steady pace my legs quickly warm. All around me the world seems to be bathed in ochre and sienna and umber. A closer look reveals fresh sprouts of green peeking through the underbrush and dead leaves that blanket the ground.

Trees, not yet laden in foliage allow a view of the lake and land and hills beyond.

It’s weird. I’m riding through rural Missouri, about as far from the ocean as one could be, smack dab in the middle of this land mass we call America. But high above the water, dipping and swooping, are gulls. At the end of one small body of water, in the shallows, a school of some kind of small fish is breaking the surface, the water boiling, making quiet popping sounds as they do.

To hell with the groundhog. Spring is on the way.

Yup. Or something.

Cyclists are – or at least they should be – kindred spirits. At our core, we’ve made a conscious decision to ride on two wheels under our own power. No doubt, our reasons for doing so are legion: healthy lifestyle choice, going fast, racing, environmentally sound decision making, etc.

Pretty much any time two people (guys in particular) line up next to each other, they see an opportunity to compete. “My lawnmower has more horsepower than yours.” “I can shave faster and smoother than you.” “Hey, want to see who can fart the loudest?” And so it goes with bicycles as well.

It shouldn’t puzzle me how often even the smallest effort gets viewed through that competitive lens, but maybe I’m not especially bright. Because it does. One almost laughably – certainly, lamentably – odd behavior that I bet you’ve noticed before is when two cyclists approach each other from opposite directions. You know they see each other because almost immediately they rearrange themselves from the most comfortable riding position they’ve been in to the much more competitive-looking spot, riding in the drops. It’s silly, but I’m confident in my opinion that we do this to look more bad ass. Right? The clear message is: “You aren’t nearly as bad ass a rider as I am.”

I’m riding through the middle of nowhere this morning, exploring some of the gravel around here that until now I’ve neglected. It’s a beautiful day, the third in a row on a holiday weekend, no less. The roads are narrow and flat, with a few requisite bumps and holes, but nothing really challenging. It’s been miles and miles since I passed the last farmhouse, and not one single vehicle of any kind in probably an hour. I haven’t even seen a train, so it’s remote. Reclusive. Secluded. Isolated. In the freakin’ sticks.

In the distance I see a small figure moving towards me. The dot on the horizon gets larger and eventually resolves into the image of another cyclist. I laugh to myself because he does “the thing” as he draws closer, hunching down over his bars in the drops, and suddenly becomes seriously intent on the road. I notice that his cadence changes, having dropped into a higher gear despite the fact that he’s on a skinny tire road bike and we’re both on a gravel road. But this approaching cyclist seems to have a need to impress anyone in sight that he’s A Serious Cyclist. Out here in the middle of nowhere. “Hey. I’m a pretty Bad Ass Serious Racer Cyclist. Or something.”

Yup. Or something.

As we pass, I raise my finger in a small wave and simultaneously nod in his direction.

From my fellow cyclist: Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Not a glance. No acknowledgement at all.

And this really chafes me.

I really believe cyclist are kindred spirits, despite our different reasons for riding. A simple acknowledgment is de rigueur, or at least it is here in the Midwest when two solitary riders, drivers, hikers, or UFOs pass. Out in the middle of nowhere. In the sticks.

I know two farmers – old farts, really – who haven’t said a good word about the other in fifty years. But they always wave as they pass one another on a remote country road. This concept of being so intent on your riding that you can’t even nod at your fellow rider is really puzzling to me. It doesn’t happen often because the vast majority of cyclists are courteous, but when it does the little thesaurus in my head fires up, looking for words of description as I try to make sense of this tiny little event: detached, aloof, cool and reserved, uninvolved, withdrawn, frosty, unapproachable.

Oh. And puzzling.

The first one is on me.

So I’m pedaling up one especially long and kind of steep hill toward the end of BikeMo when I come upon a cyclist stopped at the roadside.

“You doin’ ok?” I ask.

“My legs have cramped. I can’t move this one off the top bar.”

“Anything I can do to help?”

“No man. Thanks. Just let me die.”

“No prob,” I say, continuing up the hill. “Rest in peace, dude.”


You just couldn’t ask for a nicer day for a long bike ride. BikeMo starts and ends atop the tall bluffs that line the Missouri River outside Rocheport, Missouri at a local winery. It’s not a huge crowd, but I figure we eventually wind up with around 125 riders or so.

The first SAG stop at Boonville always seems to come quickly. Although I’ll ride about ten miles further, my route this year will kind of be one that I invent in order to loop back around and meet my much slower moving wife. We’ll ride together at a leisurely pace, returning by way of the KATY Trail.

Some riders seem to breathe a collective sigh of relief as they roll into Rocheport through the old railroad tunnel. But I know there’s still another couple miles to go, almost entirely up, up, and up before those fantasies of chilled wine and cold beer can become reality. I like those climbs, as perverse as it might sound. But they tend to really whack some of the other riders.

That’s ok. The first beer is on me.

It’s the light.

Yeah, it’s the light I think. Heading out in the morning, just before the sun breaks the horizon; the roads are dusky but the light changes rapidly. Mornings like this morning are a gift in a way. The world is shrouded in fog, moisture glistens on my arm hairs as I roll downhill, a bead of it is just visible on the nose of my helmet – then the droplet falls and spins away, lost as momentum propels me forward.

The fog is magical. It turns the everyday into something mysterious. I truly cannot decide whether I prefer the saturated color in which the world is momentarily painted, or the wonderfully smooth gradations of tonality that gets rendered in black and white on this day.

So why choose? I shoot both ways. And yeah, it really is the light.