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.

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.

Escape.

Thank goodness for good weather and an opportunity to get outside on my own to ride for a couple of hours. I needed to be away from the three ring circus that is our political system, broadcasting from every media outlet 24/7. Never in my memory have we been so divided as a country as we are at this moment. Social media is fuel on a raging fire, too. Had I left my iPhone at home I’d have escaped the lunacy…but no. I heard it ping, letting me know I had a message, and made the mistake of checking it. I wish I hadn’t. I was getting trolled on Facebook by a smug “why can’t you live and let live, get over it because we won it all” nutball.

Sad. Just sad.

It bothered me for the rest of the ride, and on into the night. Don’t ask me why. I’m usually good about ignoring stuff like this. Maybe, arriving as it did in the middle of an otherwise enjoyable JRA outing – maybe I was resentful of the interruption. Cycling is meditative to me, a means of decompression, to escape… it’s a strategy for reconnecting with me. Getting insulted and criticized like that … gosh, I’ve got a lot thicker skin than most people. But what a soul suck it is when a person feels the need pulverize someone else with their opposing political views, to bathe them in guilt by “Bibling” them, to presume that their world view is, indeed, an override of another’s.

Like wheels on a bike, life and things propel forward. Life goes on.

But dang it all. I thought I’d escaped that crap for a while yesterday.

 

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.

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.

 

Idle hands

Brief, beautiful side light in the studio…

…and then it was overcast again. I’ve been hard at it for the past nine hours, engrossed in writing. From time to time I noticed that despite the heat churning out of the small furnace I have out here, my feet seem to be bone chillingly cold. The day is a murky gray for nearly the entire time, and my eyes are suddenly growing weary just as I am almost ready to wrap up. Then suddenly I hear a bird singing and the day turns bright and looks quite cheerful through the glass – this, despite the December cold I know is on the other side. From my perch at the drawing table, I look up and notice the sun has bathed the tubes on my bikes with a beautifully diffused light. Time to knock off work for the day.

Knocking off work, but not  elbow grease. A quick sandwich of leftover turkey and a bit of muscle applying and rubbing out Mother’s, this nice long point GB Hiduminium stem is nearly ready to be used on my Hobbs. I’m going to pull the bolts on Christmas afternoon to tidy up any grunge under them, then polish the bolt head best I can while they are out.

This next week holds the promise of riding weather and there’s no school, of course, due to the holiday break. I plan to get a bit of riding in to make up for the past couple weeks of below zero temperatures and boring revolutions mounted to the indoor trainer. The GB Hiduminium stem should be a nice pairing on the Hobss. I look forward to installing that, along with the Williams 1200 crankset I picked up recently; I trust they will occupy a pleasant few hours of my time one morning this coming week.

It’s winter and time to do a little reorganizing as bikes gather in the studio. It seems that access to the south entrance is a little difficult to negotiate at the moment. The 2016 frame purge continues and these are the bikes I plan to keep. A couple more have been set aside – the last three, in fact – to be photographed and put up on the auction block. As the hooks go vacant, I try not to get too excited about the frame that will be coming my way in February. (More about that when the time comes.)

I find myself overly rich in components and wheels. Shall I auction some of those off as well? Or hang on to them on the off chance some worthy frame comes my way? It’s a tough call. Generally, soon after I pass along a particularly choice part that I “will never have a use for,” I find myself in great need of that very thing.

In my sedentary state I find myself pondering many things that aren’t top of mind during my more active riding months. For instance, it occurred to me to look over the rando-style bag I designed and constructed over a year and a half ago. I used a really lightweight cotton duck on this prototype bag: the result is absolutely minimal heft. However, I worried (needlessly, as it turned out) that it wouldn’t hold up in use.

The bag doesn’t rely on a decaleur at all. Instead, I have fashioned a solid and relatively “quick release” system that mounts the bag to the Jim Blackburn rack on the underside.

These are the sort of things occupying my thoughts at the moment. I’m in no real hurry to work on the Hobbs because until my new project arrives in February, I really have no other to busy my idle hands.