A Weeklong Cornucopia of Bikes

Last weekend was my first ride on my baby since doing an endo a few days earlier. I’d been terrified to get back on my favorite bike because I didn’t want to discover some catastrophic problem. Hell, let’s be honest – I didn’t even want to face up to a scratch. So imagine my relief to get back on the bike and find there are no issues. Even my own bruises have healed up. Life is fine!

(OK, turns out there is a small bite out of my Cambium C-17, and a scratch on my front rim. I’ll ignore the bite, and I’ve polished out the rough spot on the braking surface. It’s all about the patina, right?)

This is a great time of year. I couldn’t care any less about tight jerseys and logo wear. Give me a sweatshirt and a wool cap!

I am sensing a location trend in photo opps this week. My Raleigh International was feeling a little lonely, so I took her out for a spin late one afternoon and found myself stopping for a “water bottle shot” with my iPhone at the exact same spot as I did with the Boulder in the photos above.

I’d been swapping around some components on bikes, so this was an opportunity to dial in the saddle position of the Brooks Pro that was finding its way back onto the Raleigh. I needed the Cambium C17 to better fit the saddle set back on my L’Avecaise, and the Brooks Pro set back is a little closer to my ideal on the Raleigh. Regardless of how precise my measurements are, I still have to finagle the positioning of things so they feel “right” to me on any particular bike. This was no different – I’d ride for a mile, get off and adjust. Repeat. I don’t think I ever even broke a sweat.

Last Sunday started out cold and windless, but by the time I arrived at the downtown airport with my 1966 Paramount – where there are absolutely no windbreaks, incidentally – there was a cold, stiff wind coming up out of the southwest. The airport loop is almost entirely flat, with only two tiny hills. Flags were furiously flapping from poles, nearly straight out, and as I pedaled in a generally northward direction I was flying. Coming into the two hills that mark a turn to the east, and then to the south, I found myself immediately reminded that my bike is outfitted with a 52/42 crank. (And, by golly, that’s the “old man” set of rings I replaced the original 53/48 rings with!)

The white Paramount is a pretty sharp bike and it rides very nicely. Even though it’s a racing bike, the geometry is much more generous when compared to today’s standards of design. Limping into the parking lot, I encountered this wonderful old TWA jet and set up my white and red-trimmed Paramount for a photograph in front of the red with white-trimmed aircraft. Pretty cool visual, I think.

Living near the Missouri River means the geography isn’t especially flat. The roads are replete with undulating hills the closer one gets to the river and the river bluffs. My legs are feeling pretty good as the summer and fall riding draws to a close and riding my fixed gear Hobbs along country roads, particularly on still days, isn’t as challenging as it will be a couple months from now.

This being the case, I am enjoying these rare, nice December days to ride my 70 year old bike. I discovered that fixed gear actually works pretty well on loose gravel, where a rider will pretty much be pedaling the entire time anyway. I don’t know about anyone else, but I seldom find myself coasting along on the freewheel in such conditions.

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Bike Surgery

The diagnosis. Remember this? The L’Avecaise build that went together so easily, so smoothly…until I got to the front rack? I went with a Velo-Orange front rack because I’ve had excellent experiences with their product line and even with a previous version of this same front rack. But no amount of bending was going to level out that damn platform; the stays simply needed to be extended or the center bolt needed to be shorter.

The operation. One of the terrific members of the BikeForums community of classic and vintage enthusiasts reached out to me with an offer to surgically alter the stock rack by cutting the stays and adding material. After bending the center bolt to level the rack, I made several very precise measurements. The rack, along with this illustration (above), got shipped west to Seattle, and prepped for surgery.

The prognosis. This morning, a box awaited me on my front porch. I admit that I removed the rack with a little apprehension. Did I measure correctly? Did I forget to provide some critical detail? Would it fit? The straight and simple answer is that not only does it fit, it slipped right on and bolted down without a bit of muscle, bending, or drama. The platform has the very slight backward tilt that I wanted (rather than the bulldozer angle that the original rack had.) It’s elevated more than one might specify in a custom rack, but I was aware this would be the trade off for extending the stays. No worries there: I’ll build a custom sized spacer between rack and fender – I rather like having that additional one point to secure the fender anyway.

Time to fit a front bag.

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.

What’s up?

So what’s new? Well, nothing actually. I’m still surrounded by old stuff in my studio – old bikes, old furniture, old baseball cards, etc. But it’s the old bikes that concern The Early Morning Cyclist. And my newest old bike is a Bernard Carré that as is par for the course, I continue to experiment with.

I am extremely pleased with the overall fit. It feels great to ride, and for those reasons alone it’s worth it to me to continue playing around. I pulled the 27 inch wheels off that I’d been riding on and replaced them with lighter, sportier 700c wheels. Something about the beefy 27 x 1 1/4 tires appealed to me, but the wheels never seemed to want to spin up as quickly as I wanted. I installed a pair of 700 x 28 Gatorskins; combined with the slightly smaller wheels the bike was noticeably faster off the starting blocks. Meanwhile, I wound up horse trading for a pair of 700 x 32 Compass tires – this bike just feels better on wider tires – and I’m happier still.

With the narrow bottom bracket axel, I’m still running a 52/42 racing crank, but that will soon be remedied. I finally located the longer Stronglight spindle I knew I had in my parts storage. I’ll pair that with a 48/34 crankset, which will replicate the same gear range as my Boulder Brevet (albeit with fewer cogs and larger jumps between them… that’s the trade off you get in comparing five speeds to nine.)

I noticed an odd jump on the chain yesterday as I was fine tuning the shifting. Only closer examination it turns out that one of the teeth is missing on the rear derailleur jockey wheel. No big deal – I’ve got others, so replacement is relative easy.


I’d planned to ride the Carré in yesterday’s Tour de Bier but I’m not content with the gearing yet, and my bad knee might have objected simply out of spite once I hit the first climb. So I’m waiting on the replacement crank to arrive before heading out on any long hilly rides. I’ve got some traveling to do this summer and it would be tough to carry my Boulder along with me. But the Carré should break down to fit into my bike bag, and is light enough that it can be my rider while I’m gone. Plus it’s pink and “old,” so there’s a better chance thieves will ignore it.

So yesterday’s ride was astride my Boulder Brevet. Even though I was intentionally trying to maintain a leisurely pace so that my wife could keep up, I found myself constantly out in front by a long measure. Fortunately, I brought my sketching pen and book along to make really quick scribbles in the West Bottoms and Stock Yards . This allowed adequate time for her to catch up, pass me, continue on, and then for me to leap frog forward. Repeat.

The area is a good one for urban cyclo-touring, and the road surface, although crumbling in places, was no match for my wider tires. Yet another good reason to sport fatter, supple tires!

An event like the Tour de Bier is a good one for cyclists who enjoy bikes and beer. The route meandered past many of the former brewery locations in Kansas City, and stopped for sampling of golden fare from the various microbreweries thriving in our urban core and northern corridor. The wind was a bit fierce, and grew stronger as the morning evolved into midday. Coming back across the Missouri River, going uphill into the stout and unyielding breeze, I heard a lot of bitching and moaning. I chalked that up to cyclists who’d sampled too much golden fare. Me, I’d sampled and enjoyed too, but by this point the end of the ride was nigh and within two or three miles there was a tall, cold brew waiting for me, along with a locally sourced meal. My stomach grumbled, then roared, and I ignored the wind.

Bernard Carré Confessions

My expectations were that this might turn out to be a fun and interesting curiosity. I mean after all, I was done – finished – with French frames. I’d sold off most of my French components, bars, stems, and pedals. A small voice in the back of my head whispered, “Hey dummy. You’ve got just enough French stuff left to build up a bike.”

Turned out, as a matter of fact, that the voice was wrong. I had unloaded more individual items than I remembered. Where, oh where is that perfect Simplex seat pin that would fit this frame perfectly? I really don’t remember selling or trading it, but I must have done. It’s nowhere to be found. (Surprisingly to those who know me well, my parts are moderately organized.)

So here I find myself – once again – with another fun and interesting curiosity. It’s a ‘cross bike. Heck, what I know about cyclocross is pretty much limited to the correct spelling. After my initial attempt to build up an all French roadie stalled, I started to poke around to find out more about how a cyclocross bike from the 70’s might have been built up. Did you know that there’s plenty of information available about contemporary ‘cross, but that there’s a dearth of anything resembling detail prior to the last twenty years?

I blame America, in part. We figure the world revolves around us. So despite the fact that ‘cross has flourished in parts of Europe for a very long time, it really didn’t existed at all until Americans “discovered” it a few years back. At least that might be the conclusion one could reach from researching the internet. I’ve tried to located images of cyclocross bikes that date to the 1970’s without much success. Sure, there are photos of events and riders, but most are those ubiquitous images you see of herculean guys covered in mud and carrying their bikes up a steep hill. Hard to tell what the heck components they’re using when everything is bathed in three inches of dripping goo.

After a brief fling with a kit of Zeus Criterium parts, I settled on something I definitely hadn’t anticipated putting to use: Suntour Superbe. After muddling around, I’ve managed to get it to shift my 13-26 five speed cluster very smoothly. The 52/42 road crank that was paired with these derailleurs in the early 80’s also functions very well. I began to compare popular contemporary ‘cross gearing to the recollections of a few people who were involved in the sport prior to 1990. 46/36 is often cited as a starting point for a crankset today; 39t singles are also popular. Comparatively speaking, that’s not a whole lot different than the 40t and 42t kits I’ve been told were used back in the day.

Obviously the rear cluster has changed a lot since the mid 70’s. This bike is spaced at 122, so a five or ultra-6 fits comfortably and easily. (I may see if a 7 or 8 will pop in without much fuss.) Today’s cross bikes have a much wider range of gearing, in 10 and 11 speeds. A lot of discussion focuses on using singles up front as opposed to compact double, and apparently it’s not a new conversation. I’m told that singles were popular in the past as well, their simplicity an attractive feature.

There’s also a fair bit of dialogue regarding single speed drive trains. I imagine it’s a lot easier to avoid huge clots of mud if you don’t have derailleurs hanging down and dragging through all that muck, so I kind of get the idea. I even considered that approach myself for the briefest of minutes. But we’ve got hills in these parts, so I’m not excited about the prospect of a bike that has such limitations…especially one that I’ve viewed from the start as a curiosity.

I was interested to read that bar end shifters were popular in the ‘cross crowd. I’ve got quite a few sets of these myself, my favorite of the bunch being the Suntour friction shifters. So the current version of this bike has a pair installed now.

So back to the confession. Despite having acquired this frame on a whim, and despite “knowing” all along that it would be an odd little curiosity that might get ridden occasionally, something odder still occurred to me this past week. Turns out I really like how this bike rides and how it fits me. I confess that I really enjoy taking it down the road. And now that I’ve (finally) got the MAFAC Competition brakes dialed in, I feel confident bombing down hills or turning onto one of our boulder and ravine strewn gravel paths that we use for country roads in Missouri.

I confess that I’m happily surprised to discover this isn’t anything at all like an odd curiosity after all.

Happy/Unhappy

I’m happy that the Bernard Carre frame is now built up and ready for a test ride. I’m not happy to discover the rear brake is so stiff as to be nearly unusable.

I’m happy to have remembered I have been storing four brand new KoolStop “four dot” brake pads. I’m not happy realizing there’s no way to “toe in” these particular brakes and that I have to listen to the high pitched squeal until these new pads are properly seated.

I’m happy to have also remembered a Zeus Criterium “69” rear and front derailleur, and shifter. I’m not happy to discover my cool-as-shit Zeus Criterium “69” rear derailleur only wants to throw the four outbound gears, and won’t budge any further inboard regardless of how much I adjust the B limit screw.

I’m happy the frame arrived with a TA bottom bracket. I’m unhappy that the spindle is too short for my Stronglight crank.

I’m happy to discover the frame has a nice light and responsive ride quality. I’m happy to have another bike project to play around with. I’m happy to have a complete Campy gruppo to throw on in place of the Zeus kit if things don’t work out.

Hey, I’m just generally happy today.