The plan comes together

Following the anticipation of my recent conversion of a Katakura Silk to a 650b road bike I was anxious to get all the bolts tightened down and get the bike out for a test ride. The afternoon being a model of wonderful Autumn weather, we loaded up and headed to the paths around Smithville Lake. Smithville Lake has one long and continuous paved path around a portion of the lake’s perimeter that yields about 42 miles of moderately flat riding, there are branches of trail with loose gravel, and about a million miles of forested single track. Add to that the low trafficked and hilly roads, and you’ve got a pretty good choice of surfaces on which to conduct a shakedown ride.

As it turned out, our shakedown ride was a bit shorter than planned but I still managed to put in some mileage on both paved and gravel surfaces, with a couple of steep, but even climbs. (One thing I like to check out on a shakedown ride – but didn’t yesterday –  is how a bike handles on undulating climbs.)

I’m always very surprised and happy to ride upon high volume/low pressure tires that are supple and forgiving. I’ve ridden the Katakura Silk on 700c x 25 tires enough that I know what to expect when I get on the bike, so the difference is marked and profoundly startling. It’s truly a “magic carpet ride.” I guess I need to compare known times over a distance, much as I hate that sort of test, but I seldom feel as if I’m going fast on 650b tires. That characteristic is usually deceptive though, and normally I am surprised to discover there’s little or no difference in overall speed. Spin up may be slower and – oddly – pedal strokes on climbs seemed less responsive than I might have  otherwise imagined. But fit and comfort are impressive. I need to get out on the open road now to find out how “spirited” the ride feels when I kick things up a notch.

Moving off pavement and onto gravel was a different experience. The first few hundred yards of pathway had very deep and loose gravel, and the bike handling was squirmy. Steering was difficult as I sank into the gravel. Further along the path the surface changed to much gravel and the pack was harder; the bike handled admirably well on that section.  Riding off road briefly – not something I do a lot of – the bike handled the transition from gravel to bushwacking to pavement with little fanfare.

There’s plenty more ride testing to be done, and some fine tuning I want to make, but I’m happy this grand experiment has been largely successful. The Katakura Silk is now a more useful member of my bicycle family, a nice compliment to my primary rider, the Boulder Brevet, and to my early morning Raleigh International three-speed rider. It’s nice when a plan comes together.

Advertisements

It was fun.

Well, so much for two days of riding. All week long the forecast called for a pretty spectacular January weekend, but Sunday has arrived cold and miserably windy. I will likely bundle up, get outside, and put in a few miles on the Boulder, and pretend that I’m enjoying myself. It looks and feels like January out there.

Yesterday, by contrast, was more like late March or April. The sun moved in and out, one minute gloomy and the next cheerful. Despite the cool, blustery conditions, it was pleasant enough and I took the 1946 Hobbs of Barbican Superbe out to the downtown airport for an initial test ride.

The downtown airport was at one time the Kansas City International airport. KCI moved twenty miles north decades ago, but this place still operates for small jets and aircraft. Located right next to the river, there’s little in the way of windbreak – but it’s also relatively flat, with only two rises along the 6 kilometer route that laps the grounds. Traffic, other than bikes, is almost nonexistent and accordingly it’s a popular spot for area cyclists to ride, especially those who live and work downtown.

“Flat” was what I wanted for testing out my fixed wheel build and so this location was as good as any for the maiden voyage.

I’m always excited to try out a new bike build. Because this is the first fixed wheel I’ve built up, I was a little apprehensive, hoping I hadn’t forgotten to tighten up one of the components. (I sincerely hoped I had been diligent – the only tool I had on me was a 15mm box wrench…!)

Gingerly pedaling out of the parking lot, I was immediately aware of everything: pedals in motion, getting seated, hand position. I was listening for any suspicious noises from the chain, the crank, the pedals. And unlike bikes with a freewheel, the fixed gear isn’t particularly forgiving when it comes to one who forgets what bike one is riding and attempts to coast!

For about the first 5km I found myself learning to ride all over again. My pedal strokes were deliberate and my cadence kept going up and down. After the first lap, I found myself settling in and  the crank began to revolve smoothly. After forgetting myself and attempting to coast on one of the two short descents, the bike reminded me that I needed to keep pedaling at all times. I relaxed and pedaled with the bike from that point onward.

Weaving in and out of the carbon fiber crowd felt good, and checking my iPhone app I was even a little surprised at the pace I was making. Two of the six laps clocked in at just over 30kph. Considering that I am not particularly fast, wasn’t particularly trying to go fast, and riding a 70 year old racing bike… well I felt pretty good about it.

My immediate take away was how much fun it is to ride this bike. Yes, I was riding in circles. Yes, the route was almost entirely flat. Yes, I got passed by every single racer wannabe out there. But it was fun.

And that’s what it’s all about.