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?

Shakedown Ride.

This is the finished build following my initial shakedown ride this morning. Panaracer Pasella tires sure “look the part” but I will probably go with something a little less stodgy feeling once I’ve rebuilt 700c wheels around the high flange Campy hubs still waiting in the queue.

I found that the saddle needed a slight adjustment, and the front brake required a tiny bit of fiddling with the tension. I must be getting pretty good at eyeballing my builds, because otherwise this build came together quite effortlessly.

A few years ago I wound up getting a screaming good swap meet bargain on a box of Brooks leather bar wrap. The funny thing is that the box specifies the color as “honey,” which this is decidedly not. I bought the bar wrap about the same time that the notion of white tubing began to bounce around in my head, so in one sense the misidentified tape seems to have been paired up with the Paramount from the start. I’ve wrapped it over a coat of cotton wrap to give the bar diameter just a little greater heft.

Taking the bike out for the first ride this morning I was a tiny bit nervous. Had I forgotten anything? Was everything tightened down? Going down the first hill I hoped I had adequately snugged down the handlebars. I glanced down to check the quick release levers on both wheels were as they should be. I wiggled my foot to see if the crank set wobbled. The saddle, as I mentioned before, needed adjustment so I stopped for a moment to lower it slightly and to play with the front brake cable. Mark Twain stood there watching – fat load of help he was.

I’ve a pretty standard route I follow on each inaugural ride that involves downhills, curves, flats, and climbs. Since it’s the first time out the gate, everything seems new and I’m generally hypersensitive to noises, clicks, wobbles, sways, and literally anything a bike might do. This first ride is really important for identifying problems and dialing in things. Aside from the sluggish nature of the Panaracer Pasela tires, I’m very happy to acknowledge that everything seems to be clicking for me.

Speaking of tires, I’m also very happy to note there were no flats because I completely forgot to mount a frame pump this morning!

Fresh Coat on a Classic Paramount

Aside from my Boulder Brevet, my favorite bike – in other words, the one that comes closest to matching the Boulder for fit, comfort, and ride quality – is a 1966 Paramount P12. It came to me misidentified as a P13 model with an ancient Silver Mist repaint. Judging by the patina of the waterslide decal, the repaint had probably taken place very early in the bike’s life.

Normally I like to enjoy the scrapes and bruises sported by a nice bike. I figure they’re all a part of the bike’s history. But the Silver Mist was a repaint, and one for which I never possessed any degree of fondness. To me, this is a special frame and I felt a fresh white coat would lend it some of the dignity it deserved. (Not that the color choice ever needed justification, but it came at the suggestion of Richard Schwinn, whose opinion on Paramounts is definitely worthy of consideration.)

The build up has been long determined, and includes an mix of favorite components. Those parts have been cleaned and polished and are sitting in a box, awaiting tonight’s build. For purists looking for an all Campy drive train…look elsewhere.

For now, here’s the bare frame to enjoy.


As a follow up to the Motobecane mixte that was built up for the boss, despite her clear request for drop bars that cockpit was vetoed. Since I had built up with bar end shifters, I wound up with a fairly significant revision to what had been an essentially “finished build.”

But upright bars were demanded, and the bosses demands were heeded. She gave it a test ride, asked for some saddle adjustments, then gave it a thumb’s up. Because changes nearly always take place, I leave fine tuning fenders to the very end. Having the bosses blessing on all the rest means I can now tidy up the fender line, and get them secured. At the moment the fender line is making my OCD go into overdrive, and the rattle of loose bolts is driving me crazy!

Nevertheless, she now has a decently low geared, classier and much lighter bike than her Cannondale “round about town” ride.

Know-it-all

“Great looking chromed Capella lugs!”

“Thanks – looks pretty good for a mid-60’s bike.”

“Sure does, but I think you’re mistaken about the date – I’m pretty sure those Capella lugs place the bike at a 1973 model.”

OK, so maybe that’s not a verbatim transcript of the conversation, but it’s close enough. Our local tweed ride took place this past weekend, an event I always look forward to just because it’s fun to geek out gawking at the appearance of many vintage bikes all in one place. I was catching up with a fellow geek buddy when the gleam of chrome and electric green tubing caught our eye. A Raleigh International? A Carlton? We wandered over and found a Carlton-built Huffy, a bike I would’ve sworn was a Raleigh International.

In point of fact, I did swear it was Raleigh-built, and matter-of-factly stated it was built in 1973, the year Raleigh used those lugs on several models. Turns out I – Mr. Know-it-all – was off base by the better part of a decade. At least I was on target with the country – the All American Huffy Bike was built in England by Carlton.

Nathan, the bike’s owner, and I exchanged contact information. I promised to send him some of the online resources I frequently reference, and he provided me with some excellent background that he’d researched. Here’s what Nathan shared with me:

Hi Mark!

It was a pleasure meeting you as well. I thoroughly enjoy conversations with anyone who appreciates vintage steel!

After doing some homework, here’s what I was able to come up with:

  • As you stated, Raleigh bought Carlton in 1960.
  • 1973 was the only year Raleigh used Capella lugs.

However, from 1958/9 through the mid ‘60s Carlton still used Capella lugs:

http://www.classiclightweights.co.uk/catalogues/carlton-gittins-cat.html

On the May 18th post of this blog, under the illustration of the Capella lugs, the author states:

“In 1959 Carlton reorganised their range. Out went all the various lugs and in came a new style of lug designed for Carlton – the Capella lugs. A new range of models utilising these lugs were announced and these models – the Catalina, Clubman, Continental and Constellation – were to continue through to 1965. The other models in the range used either Carlton or Italian long-line lugs, although Capella lugs could be fitted to the Flyer if ordered.”

This was the first of many references I found to Carlton bicycles having the same model names as the imported Huffy’s. 

Here is a ’64 Carlton Catalina with Capella lugs:

http://classiccycleus.com/home/1964-carlton-catalina/

Just over half-way down this page there is a little more info on early ‘60s Carltons, and this was also the page that had the link (now dead) to the Huffy catalogs:

http://www.nonlintec.com/carlton/

Per this site:

“The Carlton Cycles site, which didn’t exist when the project was undertaken, has a list of serial numbers and corresponding dates. The serial number is M5992, which similarly dates the bike at 1964. It also notes that the Capella lugs were used only through 1965. 

Previous to this, I knew the following:

  • The bike was built after the Raleigh acquisition of Carlton, 1960 or 61. Raleigh continued to make bikes under the Carlton name for some time, although I’m not sure exactly when they stopped. In the 70s, some had both the Carlton and Raleigh names; eventually, though, the Carlton name was phased out. 
  • A 1967 Carlton catalog does not show the Catalina.
  • Pages from a mid-60s Huffy catalog (Huffy rebranded and imported Carltons in the 60s) show a very similar Catalina with quick-release hubs and the same color, brakes, and drive train. My bike has nutted axles, so it must predate the bike in those pictures.
  • The Weinman Vainqueur 999 brakes, of the style on my bike, were made from the mid 60s to the early 70s.
  • The serial number is nonstandard for Raleigh, indicating that the Carlton manufacturing process had not been fully integrated with Raleigh’s at the time the frame was made.
  • The Reynolds 531 frame decal is a very early one, common in the 1950s.”
  • Lastly, some of the Huffy catalog images themselves (at the bottom of the page, per Mr. Hufford): http://www.classicrendezvous.com/British_isles/Carlton.htm

A few Carlton Constellations:

http://spokessmann.tripod.com/id70.html

http://spokessmann.tripod.com/id32.html

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Vintage-Huffy-Carlton-Constellation-Frame-Rear-Wheel-Rare-Chrome-and-Green-/251957434420

http://vi.raptor.ebaydesc.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItemDescV4&item=361289723925&category=22679&pm=1&ds=0&t=1447001022784

And some lugs on eBay with a little more info:

http://www.ebay.com/itm/NOS-Vintage-1960s-Carlton-Capella-Seatlug-/380828751860

http://vi.raptor.ebaydesc.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItemDescV4&item=361289723925&category=22679&pm=1&ds=0&t=1447001022784

Not exactly a smoking gun, but at least enough to challenge the Huffy being a ’73 Raleigh. Let me know what you make of all of this!

I’ll tell you what I think – I think Nathan’s got himself a damn cool 1964 Carlton.


 

Thanks to Nathan Lathrop for sharing photos of his Huffy Constellation. Incidentally, it turns out Nathan is a fellow graphic designer – learn more about his design firm, Tandem Creative Studio here.

Independence Day Service

It’s Independence Day, and after a couple hours of riding this morning decided this was a good opportunity to dig into a job I’ve been putting off for a while. My fully chromed Katakura Silk is a real eye catcher but the wheel set that came with it has been very much neglected. The spokes need cleaned and inspected, but I was more worried about the hubs in particular. I wondered if they’d ever been serviced in their lifetime. Pulling off the freewheel and the cones, my fears were confirmed: I was confronted by the ugliest jellied-looking grease I’ve ever seen. It’s no wonder they felt sluggish; I doubt the grease has had any lubricating effect in years!

Perhaps thirty minutes was all it took to tear the hubs down, clean them up, apply a generous coat of new grease and replace the loose ball bearings – thirty very productive minutes, and a good investment of that time. Apron still tied around my waist, I hopped on the bike and rode up and down the street, marveling at how much smoother the wheels spin now.

The spokes will take a fair bit more of an investment in time. Perhaps I’ll scrub those this afternoon.

Or perhaps I’ll enjoy a cold beer out under one of the shade trees in the yard instead.

Toss, replace, move on.

I’ve flatted four or five times over the past couple of weeks – enough that I’ve actually lost track of the precise number. Flats, like Karma, really are a bitch. This is especially true if one has neglected to check and ensure there’s adequate kit in the road bag to facilitate a remedy for said flat. Or when a flat occurs, say, two kilometers from home and one becomes engaged in that internal debate over whether to fix the flat right there on the spot or to sling one’s bike over the right shoulder with a profound, robust, and totally disgusted, “Well fuck it. I’ll just fix it at home.” That long, fuming walk up the hill, bicycle hanging upon one’s torso always seems a whole lot longer in this situation.

I’ve had a really great run of good luck, apparently. If memory serves, it’s been over two years since the last flat. This leads one to become somewhat delusional. One begins to feel downright bulletproof, to believe that “it won’t happen to me.”

But of course it does. Eventually, the odds catch up.

It’s at this point I begin to worry about the odds catching up in every facet. Dammit, I don’t want to have to change a road flat on the rear wheel of the fixed gear, especially since I’ve got that thing so nicely aligned and the chain so perfectly tensioned. And double dammit, I don’t want to think about road changing a flat on the three-speed. I’m too big a wuss to properly adjust the cable after putting the wheel back on without a bike stand.

Another issue with flatting is money. I’m cheap. Tubes, which used to  seem to me inexpensive – at least in my rose colored memory – have gotten to be expensive. Ten bucks for an inner tube? Yikes! In my cheapness – heck, let’s give me the benefit of the doubt and refer to this characteristic as “frugality” – well, in my frugality, I’ve always patched tubes that were patchable, and even made a valiant effort to patch a few that weren’t even close to repairable.

Patches were, at one time, a nearly permanent solution. They were made of rubber, and used rubber cement or something very much like it. I had the art of patching down to a deliberate science. I actually rather enjoyed patching a tire, feeling like I had crafted my repair. Feeling like I had extended the life of the tube.

But the tubes I buy today seem to have fallen victim to a philosophy of planned obsolescence. Don’t repair them – toss them, replace them, and move on! This grates at my craw. The patch kits no longer come with rubber patches. They are self-adhesive stickers. No tiny tube of glue. No rubber – they’re made of thin vinyl. They are a far cry from permanent: I imagine their sole purpose is to simply get you home in a dire emergency, where one is then expected to remove the repaired tube, toss it, replace it, and move on.

All winter long I rode on bikes that had patched tubes. All winter long I had nary a problem. On two occasions this spring those bikes were in the back of my car, basking in the interior warmth from sitting in the parking lot at work all afternoon. And on both occasions, the tubes failed. The adhesive on the patches warmed enough to soften, allowing air to leach out; the tire flatted. This, without actually having moved an inch.

Toss, replace, move on.

Dammit.

 

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.