dawdling.

Dawdle.

What a great word! And it is, as I think about it, precisely how most of my bike rides tend to go. Take one’s time, be slow, waste time. Describes many of my rides to a “t,” as it were.

Especially on days like today.

Especially on days when I’m carrying a kit of watercolors and the forecast calls for 0% chance of rain…yet I’m riding along, pleasantly enough, in a shower.

Especially when I pass a donut shop on my way out of town and the sign reads “no donuts. No Baker showed up. Would you like to be our Baker?”

Especially when the bite in the air reminds me so much of Ireland, and there is a faint glimmer of a rainbow peeking out of a stormy and darkened western morning sky.

Especially when as I prepare to cross the Missouri River I notice off to my right a freshly combined field with a flock of 50 or so wild turkeys strutting about, picking over the chaff.

Especially when it’s harvest time and the crops are morphing into fields of gold and brown and orange.

Especially when, despite the intense greenery of the foliage, the morning feels like the first legitimate day of autumn.

Excuse me now. I’m pretty busy.

Dawdling.

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Smiles

If you haven’t read the Autumn 2017 issue of Bicycle Quarterly, well shame on you – you’ve no idea what you’re missing. Go out right now and find a copy, or get online and order one.

I enjoy BQ because the content focuses on so many of the aspects of bicycling that interest me. The current issue reports on the 2017 Concours de Machines, a revival of the annual event in France that introduced many cycling innovations we tend to take for granted today.

I’ll occasionally watch bicycle racing on television, or if I’m in the right place at the right time I’ll do so in person. But most cyclists – most especially, me – are not racers. We ride. Period. And for me that means my interests are in those things making the experience of the ride more enjoyable. Thus, the bikes I consider to be my primary riders reflect those attributes: wide, supple tires; a more upright riding position; responsive frame; low trail, etc. I enjoy the stories BQ shares about epic rides, and I don’t mind living just a little bit vicariously through the eyes of Jan Heine and his crew. BQ conducts fairly exhaustive real-world in-the-saddle reviews of bikes and equipment, and those articles allow me to geek out on the mechanical side of my cycling obsession. Arriving in my mail box quarterly, it allows me the opportunity to step outside my normally quite conservative approach to the hobby and dream a little, perhaps even obsess a little more than usual over things I already tend to overly obsess about.

Their fascinating report on the Concours de Machines included photographs of the various entries, and a story about the joint entry of BQ’s Jan Heine and legendary constructuer Peter Weigle. One thing I seldom obsess over is weight, but Peter’s story shared the weight of his award winning bike – a remarkable 20 pounds, not including the bag. For a bike outfitted with fenders and rack and such that simply astonishes me. I read that the entries were penalized if the overall weight – as ridden! – wasn’t at or below a particular weight, and it got me wondering how my bike measured up. Never having actually put my Boulder onto a scale until now, I was heartened to discover I would (barely) squeak by with an even 24 pounds. For the sake of comparison that is actually a few ounces lighter than my ’66 Paramount – which does not have the wide tires, racks, or fenders I use on my Boulder. Does this information mean anything substantial? Well, only that any real ride deficiency I might notice probably isn’t attributable to the bike.

I’m mulling over such thoughts as I ride down deserted country roads this morning. Ride time is “reflective time” for me. As I pedal, I solve – or at least puzzle over – the various issues of the past and coming weeks. If I’ve a writing assignment, my thoughts are often a sort of word stew, and if a particularly interesting arrangement of thoughts and words appeals to me I’ll pull out my iPhone and dictate them into the Notes section. Some of my favorite turns of phrase have initially occurred to me as I’ve ridden up a hill or over a long stretch of gravel. Time in the saddle often gives me the opportunity to focus my thoughts on upcoming lesson ideas; with no other intrusions in sight I can usually come up with a plan, test out the “what if’s” in my head, and return home with a well formulated learning experience planned for my students.

Regardless of how my bike compares to any others, if – as it does this morning – it disappears under me as I ride; if I can myself disappear into my world of thought experimentation, then I’m more than content. I’m happy. And as I draft a few new ideas into my iPhone this morning, I realize I’m smiling.

Illuminated Ride

Predawn hours. It’s black as night.

Oh. Maybe that’s because it is still night.

Country lanes are devoid of illumination, save for the thin sliver of a crescent moon and the distant twinkle of yard lights. The headlight on my bicycle has an adequate charge and the lane before me reveals bumps and sticks and stones in a narrowly channeled beam.

There are no other headlights. None from cars – mercifully, none from trucks either, not even as I roll through town on my way into the rural hills of Clay County.

The absolute quiet of night is a fallacy. A complete fabrication. In fact, on this early and wondrous September morning, the air is filled with sound: billions of crickets and other insects are playing a tune, singing their song. A light breeze buffets my helmet.

To the east a faint, rosy glow emerges along the horizon; night wanes and the dawn approaches.

Misty Light


Let’s be clear about something right off the bat: Given the thick and cloudy moisture in the air, my iPhone camera picked up one heck of a lot more visibility than was apparent to me on this morning’s ride. Perhaps it has a particularly sensitive method of capture, but more likely it’s because I was almost constantly wiping the watery mist from the lenses of my glasses.

Considering that this was one of the final days in June, a time we normally experience as hot weather on the cusp of transforming into really hot weather, this morning was unusually foggy, damp, clammy, and chilly. In fact, at 49 degrees and the air at nearly 100% moisture, my fingers were actually cold. The loose, long sleeve jersey I was wearing had a hard line of water droplets on the front of my arms where I had sliced through the atmosphere as I descended the first hill.

The unusual weather also created an oddly ethereal light. It was as if I was viewing the world through the translucent surface of a plastic milk container. Everything was mysterious and extremely quiet, the normal sounds even of passing cars on the nearby highway dampened almost into nonexistence.

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.

Heck yeah, I had a flat tire this morning!

This photograph was posted to The Early Morning Cyclist on April 14, 2014, which means I’ve been running the Compass Chinook Pass tires on my Boulder Brevet for about three years and three months. They have been comfortable and steadfast during that time, and in my mind are hands down the best 700 x 28 tires available.

This is the scene that greeted me this morning. A flat! And frankly, I was very excited to see this development. Earlier this week I rode in the Big BAM Ride. It was unbearably hot, and the ride was made more difficult by unrelentingly heavy headwinds and a constant barrage of hill after hill after hill. I had tossed two spare tubes plus a patch kit into my Swift bag, glanced doubtfully at tires worn slick by use. In three years and three month, I had never experienced a single flat, regardless of the chip seal roads and gravel paths I ride upon. At just a rough guess, these tires have close to 18K on them. That has to be far and away more miles than Compass ever planned to see on a single set of tires.

I had other commitments, so I only pedaled the first 180 miles of the Big Bam Ride. I have no regrets about not completing the remaining 130 or so – the conditions were bleak and, frankly, the ride itself wasn’t especially enjoyable. But my tires held up on those sun baked roads, and only gave up the ghost after getting back home. That’s more than I can say for myself!

So why was I excited about seeing a flat this morning? First off, understand that it was clear to me that I was living on borrowed time with this set of tires. And secondly, there’s a certain degree of relief to see this comfortable, invincible, supple tire has lived out a really full life. But finally, I’m excited to be able to quantify how much riding I’ve gotten from a tire that, frankly, is pretty expensive. Heck, that’s less than a penny per mile… cheap, cheap, cheap!

And, by the way, I’m going to inspect the tire for damage, probably put another tube on the rim, and see how many more miles I can squeeze out.

The Rules.

After teaching a three day workshop with a singular subject focus last weekend, my sketching this week was sporadic and decidedly UN-focused. A bit of randomness felt good after having stayed on target for the entirety of my workshop, as well as the Urban Sketchers International Day in the Life event that followed me.

I realized, too, that I hadn’t been bike sketching for a while, or added a sketch to The Early Morning Cyclist for even longer so it felt like it was time to do so. There’s nothing earth shattering about the location pictured above, and no dramatic story that I know of that accompanies it. It’s simply a structure along one of my regular routes, a picturesque place that I like to stop and look at for a moment before I continue on my way.

Stopping to sketch at this spot was a pleasant moment in time. Later, after posting it to my Instagram account, the image spurred a brief online conversation with a fellow artist who follows me there. In a nutshell, the discussion centered around my desire to eliminate everything that is unnecessary in a sketch, while still remaining unquestionably drawn by hand. It’s a very “Bauhaus-ian” approach, and purposely so. I teach design, following Bauhaus principles and (hopefully) passing along those tenets to my design students.

Not incidentally, these ideas are notably at the core of what I find especially appealing about cycling. Sometimes as I pedal, I like to ponder such things. Somewhere along the way I began to formulate some rules of thumb. And somewhere further along the way, those began to take shape as a list… an as yet incomplete list, I’ll grant you, but a list nevertheless that I’ll share here:

The Early Morning Cyclist Rules of the Road

Article One. Always wave whenever you encounter another cyclist. Regardless of what the other cyclist is looks like, regardless of what they are riding, regardless of what they are wearing, and regardless of whether or not they acknowledge you – as you pass one another, greet the other rider.
Article Two. Don’t be a dick. It’s true that there are a plenty of Bad Ass Serious Racer Type Cyclists (BASRTCs) out there on the road. But even if that happens to be you, don’t be a dick.
Article Three. Sport a bell on your handlebars or stem. Nothing makes a BASRTC less intimidating and less threatening to the world than the tinkle tinkle tinkle of a little bell as one’s bike approaches other riders or pedestrians from behind. When you tinkle that bell, you, my friend, are officially a friend of the world and everyone smiles with you.
Article Four. Wear clothing of threads that are made at least partially from something found in nature. Both you and the viewing public will thank me for this advice. Form-fitting Lycra isn’t for everybody… In fact I would argue it’s not for anybody who is not racing in the Tour de France or something of similarly serious ilk. Try cotton, smart wool, lightweight wool – something that at least partially grew on a vine or a bush or a tree originally. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that stuff a whole lot more comfortable. Want to wear a diaper? Fine. I usually do. But put it on underneath a pair of cargo shorts. Life isn’t a race…oh, and unless you’ve got an actual sponsor, ditch the logo covered jerseys. 
Article Five. Install the widest, most supple tires that will (a) fit on your bike, and (b) that you can afford. Go ahead. Do the research on wide tires if you feel like adding them is going to slow you down. Or better yet, just trust me. Get them.
Article Six. Your hands should be stained… With the juice from the mulberries you have plucked from a tree along the side of the road. Or blackberries. Or blueberries. Or strawberries that you bought from a roadside stand and stuffed into your mouth while straddling your bike. The point is, stop and smell the roses. And while you’re at it, eat a handful of berries.

See? Doesn’t that look like it’s worth stopping for?

Oh, what the heck – stopping at a farmer’s market for a blueberry pastry does the trick too.


The Big BAM Ride (Bike Across Missouri) kicks off tomorrow, and I’m nearly ready to go. The bike is lubed and tuned. I found an LBS that stocks actual tube patches using actual glue instead what I can only imagine to be remnants of bumper stickers punched out into stupid little green circles. Sun block, on-bike snacks, a small sketch kit, etc. are all spread out on my floor for a final check.

The ride starts on my side of the state, with the first day’s stopping point just a couple miles down the road from my house. And the route passes right through my home town on Day Four. Hot weather and stiff breezes are forecast, and I can only hope to discover that wind will be at my back. But it probably won’t be.

Live music each night at the campsite. Hot showers and cold beer. Stiff breeze, be damned.