All Hail the Bicycle Gods!

The seasons, they are a changin’. A few days ago, the skies were filled with mile after mile after mile of bird migration – columns of them as far as I could see in both directions, generally coming out of the north in their southward bound trek. The ground is blanketed in dry leaves that crunch like potato chips as I wheel through them, hiding anything and everything that lies beneath. This would, by the way, include a rather more than gigantic fissure a few hundred yards from my driveway, a four foot long by four inch wide gash, deep enough to swallow even a moderately wide tire and wheel, the better to toss a rider from his or her perch. I discovered this chasm last night, returning from a late afternoon ride on what will likely be the last marvelous day of the year. I also discovered how terrifyingly fast one can be unceremoniously dismounted and thrown headfirst into the pavement.

Say what you might about the wars that exist between cyclists and drivers, I’ve had overwhelmingly polite encounters with the vast majority of motorists. The few trolls who have somehow managed to elude the highway patrol and maintain a valid driver license – obviously – stand out in my memory. But I’ll forever recall those drivers last night who immediately pulled over to check on a guy they saw take a flying leap over a pair of bicycle handlebars. One fellow helped me to my feet, concerned that I must be badly hurt, and was visibly relieved to discover I could walk and talk coherently. Another brushed off my back. Good people.

Today began with light, cold rain and gusts of wind that lowered the wind chills down into the 20’s, despite the mid-40’s temperatures. Gingerly, I felt my arm, my wrist, my fingers, my shoulder. Stiff. I’m pretty stiff, but nothing broken. Definitely a bruised deltoid. Definitely some abrasion on my right palm and hip. A couple of fingers feel stiff or jammed. I probably won’t attempt pull ups for a couple of days. But otherwise no damage to me – or, to my bike.

Naturally enough, that was the first thing I checked. Would my fork be bent? My wheel a taco? But no – just a slight abrasion to the braking surface of the rim. The wheel is still true for some reason. Considering the prone position I found myself in, which involved my legs somehow being higher than my head and just as inexplicably somehow lying over a low stone wall, I feel like I got lucky. My wife, who was out for a walk, and who saw my acrobatic dismount, cannot believe I’m so cavalier about the event. I know it could have been much worse – probably should have been much worse – but it’s all good. And that’s the way it is.

But my shoulder is stiff and the weather is crappy. And my studio needed cleaned and reorganized. So I spent a good portion of the day indoors, vacuuming errant dog hair and moving things around and recycling an unbelievably huge pile of things that had stacked up since the last time I cleaned up the studio.

My L’Avecaise hung in one corner. An annoying noise had been driving me just a little crazy and I decided that until I tracked down the source I would keep it off the road. No sense in tempting the bicycle gods by riding a clicking bike.

Like every other time I’ve had to track down a distracting sound, it appeared to be emanating from the bottom bracket. Of course, that’s never really the source. One time it was my saddle rails, another time the stem. Yet another time it was the lace of my shoe! I’ve invested a ton of time investigating each and every possibility and in what has proved to be an absolutely maddening experience, failed to identify the root cause.

But today was a perfect day for nailing that bastard of a sound to the proverbial wall. What was left to check though? Only the bottom bracket, it seemed, and clearly it wasn’t the bottom bracket because it’s never the bottom bracket.

In fact, it was the bottom bracket.

Specifically, the fixed cup was somehow not fixed at all. It was loose enough that I could turn it by hand. How this came to be I cannot say, but what I can say is that it’s not even remotely loose now.

Maybe the events of the past eighteen hours were purposely put into motion by the bicycle gods. I speculate they might’ve grown weary of watching me pedal past, grimacing at the cyclical tick-click tick-click tick-click! Perhaps they felt this afternoon would be an excellent time for me take time out of the saddle and heft a wrench or two. Who knows? Maybe the congestion of a studio filled with detritus and bikes and art supplies dishonored them.

But there’s no doubt in my mind that I must now perform a ritual sacrifice to the gods by killing a bottle of dark beer. Or maybe even two. After all, who am I to take chances with the bicycle gods?

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Biding my time

It’s 9:00 am, Sunday morning. I’ve been up since a little after four, grading art history essays; the bank of windows that line my wall next to me have gradually changed from a densely black night through the various colors and values of a rosy dawn. And now the day beyond the glass looks marvelous. The sky is blue with only a few wisps of cloud. Nary a branch moves; there is not a hint of wind. A quick check of the internet informs me that the outside temps are hovering – for the moment – just below freezing.

I’ve set aside my rubrics and finished reading art history essays, and I could easily layer up and hit the road, but I linger. There’s no question I will get in a few hours of saddle time today. The question is when.

Do you ever do this? Bide your time until the “optimal” conditions present themselves? Well, I certainly have done…and from time to time it bites me in the ass to do so. Not so many weeks back the January weather promised a late afternoon window of opportunity. The morning had been freezing drizzle and the evening looked equally forbidding. But that afternoon of promise was forecast to be a small slice of heaven.

So I waited, and bide my time. The morning drizzle never appeared. In fact, the temps weren’t at all as miserable as the published forecast. Still, I knew that the afternoon would be terrific, so my bike continued to lean against the wall. The morning passed by, and as mid-day turned to afternoon, and the sky began to turn gray, so too did my mood. Rechecking the online forecast, I was shocked to see that the world had turned upside down. Instead of an incredible afternoon, conditions were only going to get worse. The morning freezing drizzle arrived late and by the time I realized what I’d missed the road was glazing over with ice.

I see that this afternoon promises to be in the upper forties. I could bide my time and wait for things to improve, but I can already hear a bird chirping outside my window. Squirrels are racing up and down one of the huge cottonwoods. And I think I’ll take what I’ve got right now.

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.

And so I spin through the fog.

It’s Sunday morning and I get up early as I am wont to do. Looking out the window, it’s immediately apparent that a dense fog has settled over the landscape. It’s eerily quiet outside and as I roll down the driveway and out into the road, the silence is punctuated by a single bird, cutting through the mist with astonishing clarity, then fading to nothingness almost immediately as I pedal away.

The temperature is surprisingly moderate – it looks colder than it is -but the feeling of chill on my arms catches up to the appearance of the conditions as moisture beads up on every hair. My beard is dripping within minutes, and I pull out arm warmers when I realize I left my lightweight windbreaker at home.

Somewhere the sun is coming up. I know this because the mist has brightened, though the low visibility remains constant. Also: a chorus of birds have joined in to accompany the original lone soloist. The din is almost jarring as I pass a small lake and stand of trees, both of which suddenly emerge from the blanket of white through which I travel.

Before long my body has warmed and I begin to peel out of the layers. My arm warmers, which fit snuggly, are rolled down toward my wrists. I enjoy the sensation of escape and the breeze rushing over freshly revealed skin. The air is heavy and thick, a bit like trying to breathe underwater I suppose – the humidity is 100% at the moment, and with the chill I decide it’s better to ramble than race. And with that thought in mind I take route options that circumvent the steepest climbs: my purpose today is to pedal, to spin, and forgo mashing.

It took time for my knee to heal. It no longer rebels when I climb, but every once in a while I feel a slight twinge and for a moment I panic. But the twinge always goes away. So far, anyway.

And so I spin through the fog, enjoying the moment.

My refuge…

The final semester assignment for my Drawing students is a self portrait in charcoal and chalk that illustrates the theme of “Where’s my refuge?” As usual, I draw along with my students so I can model the kind of decision-making that artists engage in through the development of an artwork. To exemplify the theme, as it applied to me, well of course I would illustrate my refuge astride a bicycle, wind in my hair, sprinting along a lonely road a million miles from anywhere.

For the past couple of months my riding has been pretty limited. School seems to have kept me busier than usual. More worrisome than that, some sort of weird knee issue has emerged. I’ve been an especially strong climber this year, so suddenly finding myself with minimal saddle time, and scared to test the knee to much with climbing has left me a grumbly old fart. The few miles I’ve put in have been almost entirely flat and residential. Ugh.

My knee has felt very tentative during each ride. Walking up stairs has felt very tentative too. So I was overjoyed this cool, overcast December evening to pedal out of my driveway, both my knees and legs feeling strong. Zooming down the first hill was exhilarating, the brisk air harnessed more than a few tears, the moisture slid around the side of my face and quickly dried, leaving salty tracks in the wake. My first climb was a short one, but I did it sitting, as is my wont. In fact, the thing I’ve missed most has been seated climbing: I really don’t care to stand. Strong pedal strokes through town, and then up a longer hill, and another, and then finally the long climb back up to my house. The ride was relatively short – why tempt fate too much? It was probably a good idea using the past several weeks to rest whatever has been ailing me, and it is probably a good idea not to push too hard for a while longer, but it sure feels good to be back in my refuge, if only in short bursts.

Progress

Suddenly, the afternoons and evenings are much cooler. As the temperatures begin to drop and I find myself wrapping up a week so incredibly long that  I haven’t had even the slightest instant to pedal a single stroke, a shroud of anxiety falls over me. Each day is shorter than the next. My work area is illuminated as I scramble to shoehorn in a little time here and there on my 650b build. I should have ridden more this summer, I tell myself as Autumn further encroaches upon my dwindling daylight hours.

The Katakura Silk 650b build progresses. There’s a lot of finessing and fine tuning left to make, but I was very impressed with the quality of the short ride I made up and down our street yesterday evening. OK, so I suppose I did manage a couple of revolutions of the pedals after all – but no more than a couple hundred yards: Five minutes under cool night skies. Had I not been feeling such exhaustion at the time, it would have been more than perfect for a night ride.

My goal to mimic the ride quality of my Boulder – but in 650b – has moved one step closer to reality. The rough fit is surprisingly close to my Boulder Brevet and really cushy. I’m disappointed with the initial lack of “grabbiness” of the Tektro 559 calipers. I also am unhappy there’s barely enough reach in front…close enough that I’m concerned and will likely investigate center-pulls instead. (This, of course, I should have done in the first place.)

 

Terminus

The chorus of a million frogs, crickets, insects engulf me as I coast down the hill at 4.30 am. Behind me lightning flashes on the western horizon, its telltale reflection in my mirror followed by the rumble of thunder. A cool, persistent breeze: But it’s difficult to say, really, from what direction it hails. Fallen leaves – a premonition of Autumn, that beacon of days to come as arrived earlier than I would have imagined; they swirl at the edge of the road, spinning and dancing a wild dervish. Rain drops fall, eerily ghostlike, briefly tracing glowing white trails across the beam of my lamp, coating my arms with moisture. The road is still mostly dry but the canopy above me betrays Mother Nature and a staccato beat of falling rain slowly grows more insistent. A jogger comes into sight, raises a hand of greeting, then disappears, engulfed by night. Summer ends.