Tweed Ride

I look forward to our annual “Tweed Ride” every year. First off, I get to combine two of my passions – sketching and vintage bicycles. But more to the point, it’s just a cool, genteel event. Kindred souls get gussied up in their best thrift store version of 1930s and 40s era attire. We ride bicycles, slowly and leisurely. It’s a celebration of quieter, bygone time, a day when the bicycle was a very important mode of transportation and two thousand pounds of steel didn’t rule every paved road.

Our local Tweed Ride begins and ends in the old Northeast section of the city, adjacent to the Kansas City Museum. The neighborhood is a rich subject by itself – the museum, the houses… someone could spend months documenting the great architecture. Our gathering place is a park next to Cliff Drive, with some interesting architectural follies that provide a great spot for milling about in tweedy high fashion, lean vintage bicycles against tall stone columns, and socialize in well-mannered, courteous, and decidedly polite company. After the ride, we picnic and perhaps enjoy a cup of tea (or a glass of wine from a wicker basket that – in our case – also housed a luncheon of goodies from a local gourmet eatery.)

Turns out that I’ve sketched several of the musicians providing entertainment at previous events. I started with pencil and quickly decided those drawing had already been done and didn’t really interest me to do again, so I focused on the one guy I’d not seen before – the accordion player.

(Also published on my sketcher’s blog, Just Sketching.)

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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.

The Curse of Winter Slothfulness.

I went out to ride a route of hill after hill after hill after hill yesterday morning. The photograph is maliciously deceptive – they’re not especially long but they are devilishly steep in places. My legs are not yet hill-hardened after a winter of wanton slothfulness, and I found myself regularly dropping into the lowest of the low gear combinations.

I love the land. And I was in a “black-and-white kind of mood this morning.” In fact, I love being in that mood with a camera – or in my case these past several years, an iPhone. Every so often, the topography would level off and I’d stop for a photo op and a tank of oxygen.

Gazing out across a field, it all seems so benign. But I know this route well: It’s my HTFU route, the one I pedal through every spring. It’s the route that gives me a moment of respite before winding back toward the hills and the Missouri River bluffs again, the one that I regret taking. The one that I actually love.

It’s a lonely trek, but clearly someone has been here before me. There’s an empty bottle in the freshly turned soil – a window tossed remnant of a previous night’s revelry? All I know is that it mars my view, the one imperfection in an otherwise perfect scene.

Each stop for image making – and they are frequent and welcome – each stop gives me a chance to breathe in the loamy fragrance of tilled land, to be scolded by a chattering jay perched on a branch behind me. There’s not even a hint of highway noise. That paved monstrosity is many miles away and I enjoy that for the moment this particular country road and moment belongs just to me. A single pickup truck passed me earlier but otherwise mine is a solitary outing.

The rollers begin again, gently at first, but with little fanfare each subsequent wave increases in contrast, and before long I’m struggling in the granny gear. No stopping for photographs now: That would mean having to initiate a climb mid-hill and there’s no way I’m giving up the momentum of riding down the previous wave! I’m satisfied with those taken from the flatter crest of this route.

For now, it’s time to grit my teeth, enjoy the short climbs, and HTFU.

 

 

B. Carre

Yes, I know I swore off French bikes forever. I know the objective is to thin the herd. I know I’m susceptible to the guiles of a  French beauty, especially one that’s “been around the block” more than a few times.

I also know I’m guilty of impulse purchases.

I know all of these things all too well. What I don’t know is much about this frame, and until this object of my horse trading arrives in the USA, it’s not likely I’ll know a whole lot more for a while.

Here are the facts, as I know them. This is a Bernard Carre frame. Every Carre frame I’ve seen – at least those I know for certain were built by Carre – are embossed with “B CARRE” on the seat stay caps. The frame is nominally my size at 58cm square.

I’ve no idea what tubing was used. Many French bikes of the 1970’s use a 26.4 seat pin; this one purportedly uses a 26.2.  The dropouts are spaced at 122. The frame is showing up with a TA bottom bracket. I’ll measure the spindle after it arrives to see if it matches any of my French cranks.

I’m a fan of Stronglight headsets, one of which accompanies this frame.

The dropouts are Campagnolo, as are the cable retainers along the top tube. The bottle holder appears to be a TA, or similar. The cantilever brakes are Mafac Criterium models. I’ve never used them before, but others assure me they are much easier to adjust and fine tune than earlier model cantis.

Cantilever brakes mean a couple things. For one, I’m locked in on the wheel size the frame was designed for. So if that size turns out to be a 27 inch wheel, there’s not a whole lot I can do about that. (Whereas, with center pulls or side pulls, one can often fit 700c or even 650b with a little luck.) The other thing is that cantilevers raise the question of whether or not this really is a randonneur. Cantilevers are a favored brake for cyclo-cross bikes, so the possibility is that this bike was designed for that purpose. I am leaning toward cycle-touring at the moment, but not a full bore touring model.

I’m left with a slight dilemma here: I’m in the queue for a Jeff Lyon frame. I’d planned to have that frame painted in a pale lavender or lilac color. Yet here I find myself with a frame in that color range already. Is that a problem, I wonder? (As I type these thoughts, it occurs to me that I have a pair of NOS toe straps that are the same color as this frame, just waiting for a new home. Hmmmm.)

Exploring a New Rail Trail

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Less than three months ago, the Rock Island Spur Trail officially opened. Yesterday being the most incredible February weather I can ever recall, my day was devoted to exploring a segment of this Rails-to-Trails initiative that connects the southern most section of the Kansas City area to the Katy Trail.

Still in its infancy, the Rock Island Spur Trail (like the Katy) offers snapshot views of scenes not always obvious or accessible by car. Combined with the Katy, the two trails will eventually nearly double the current mileage to form a 450 mile loop from one side of Missouri to the other. I love to explore and discover new places, especially small towns, “discardia,” and architectural elements. In this respect, the new trail does not disappoint.

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On this day I’m riding my 1971 Raleigh International. The 700 x 38 Compass tires provide a comfortable ride on a trail surface of packed gravel and clay. From time to time, the path becomes washboard, and I welcome the wide, supple tires that are not fully inflated.

This also offers me a chance to test out the revised contact points on the International. The bars and stem have been replaced, and only just this morning I’ve pulled the Brooks Cambium C17 from a bike that doesn’t see many miles and installed it onto this bike. I enjoy the feel of the Cambium on my Boulder Brevet, and because I’ve tried to closely mimic the cockpit and contact point dimensions it made sense to me to use the same model saddle also.

Emerging from a bank of trees, the trail crosses a paved road a few miles along the route out of Pleasant Hill, Missouri. There is an unimproved trail head at this location that abuts a property I imagine to be a “personal” salvage yard. In other words, it doesn’t appear to be a commercial operation; a pungent, thick smoky fire was burning – tires perhaps? – and the land was very overgrown and littered with wrecked and inoperable cars and trucks and other “discardia.” Trees had taken root and sprouted from the midst of literally everything. This 60’s era sedan has an orange New York license plate attached to the front.

I find “discardia” interesting. Such things, whether they be architectural, vehicular, or simply everyday detritus, are signs of human touch – of human impact. There’s history to be found in these artifacts of our existence … but it’s fleeting, because they are quickly disintegrating. As they return to their constituent elements, whatever sights they’ve born witness to are also disappearing.

Small towns throughout the Midwest are often an intriguing mishmash of architectural styles, with a few extant examples of Federalist style and Antebellum homes to be found if one searches, along with a smattering of Victorian “Painted Ladies,” Art Nouveau, and – more often than not – cautiously woven together Art Deco elements. Of course, bungalows and later box style structures still are the predominant structures, but they bore me and I choose to ignore them unless there is something unique to pique my curiosity about them.

Locating the trail head in Pleasant Hill, Missouri was challenging. No permanent signs have been installed yet. The online map was only generally helpful and provided little context once I arrived in town. In fact, I wound up misinterpreting the map and driving miles out of town in search of a turn off, only to have to circle back again. Siri couldn’t find any reference to a “Rock Island Spur trailhead” and tried to direct me to another town about a hundred miles away on the Katy.

Once back in town I turned toward the older commercial district, planning to stop at the police station for directions. Instead, I came upon  a group of four young adults on bikes. Figuring them to be likely trail riders, I asked if they knew where the trail head was located. With a shake of his head and a grin, one guy laughingly acknowledged that things weren’t marked very well. He told me to park in the commercial district (no parking at the trail head???) and pedal down the road I was already on another quarter mile.

Easy enough. Following his directions, I noticed a couple of small temporary directional signs – literally 8 x 10 cards with small lettering stapled to wooden stakes – encouraging riders to “go this way.”

Which I did.

And which, ultimately, led me to a farm, down a farm path, and onto the trail proper. Whew!

Fortunately, I filled my water bottle before heading out. At least along the first twenty-five miles there are no towns, no places to refill water – and no restrooms. (Fortunately, there are plenty of trees though.) The trailheads I encountered are also still very primitive. Although there is parking (except at Pleasant Hill), there is little else. This differs from many trail heads along the Katy, and I’m sure this will change as the trail is further developed. And to be fair, such inconveniences didn’t seem to mar the enthusiasm of trail users yesterday – I encountered an abundance of cyclists and hikers. (Horses are also welcome on the trail, but leave your ATVs and dirt bikes at home.)

Perhaps I read the mile markers (and the website, and the GPS) wrong, but I should have encountered a town at one point – in fact, I’d planned to make that my turnaround point. But I arrived at the designated mile marker and found…more trees, and a field. Hmm. I decided to keep going another mile. And another. In fact four more. I crossed a couple of roads but I never found that little town, and the afternoon growing late, and me having yet to make any sketches, I turned back toward Pleasant Hill. Having scoped out a few interesting places on the short journey out, my plan was to stop to make photographs and sketches as I leisurely pedaled back toward the car.


Eventually, the Rock Island Trail will be 272 miles in length, from Lee’s Summit in the west to Labadie on the east side of the state. There are plans to extend the trail from Lee’s Summit further into Kansas City, creating even more urban access points. As of this writing, a nearly fifty mile segment is open from Pleasant Hill and connecting to the Katy Trail at Windsor.

Adjusting the Fit

Yes, I’m fiddling around with things again. Although I really love the look of the gold anodized bars, stem, and levers that have graced my 1971 Raleigh International, I’ve run into a problem recently: The stem no longer wants to snug down. Now I don’t know about anyone else, but having the bars come loose as I’m barreling down a steep hill is not a thrill I want to experience. In fact, having them come loose as I pedaled from a dead stop through an intersection at about 2 MPH was freaky enough. (For those interested in a first hand account, let me just say that I felt like I’d hit an oily or soapy patch on the road…no control whatsoever.)

I gritted my teeth and pulled over. This was the third time in a couple of days and I had finally come to the realization that if I wanted to ensure a future where I could grit my teeth at other things, I’d better reconsider my cockpit. I already knew that my optimal setup, like my Boulder, involved randonneur handlebars and more rise. I prefer the feel of rando bars while I ride. And as it happens, I had an unused set of bars and a long rise stem hanging about.

The first bike tool I reached for was my camera. I needed to make some precise comparisons between the control (my Boulder Brevet) and the bike I wanted to adjust. After a lot of adjustment and experimentation, the Boulder fits me better than any other bike, so it operates as my baseline.

In this photograph, notice that I’ve placed guidelines to indicate the top of the bars and saddle position, as well as the location of the bottom bracket. These the the relevant points of contact for me. The bottom bracket, regardless of location on the frame, isn’t a variable. The pedals meet my feet, and that simply doesn’t change so I make two photographs of the bikes in exactly the same position, then superimpose the images with the bottom brackets oriented to the same location. Because everything else is a variable, I can compare the bike I want to adjust to the variables on the bike I want to adjust.

Notice how in this superimposed image the two bottom brackets are aligned, but that the other points of contact – i.e., the saddle and bars – are clearly located in different places relative to the bottom bracket. Because I already know that the Boulder is an optimal fit, I can begin my analysis with this information.

A couple of notable observations can be made here. First, the saddle is lower on the International. Raising it is easy, of course. But doing so would play havoc with the reach and drop to the bars. But that’s ok because the second thing of note is that the bars need to be raised in order to better match the fit of the Boulder. Seems simple, but there’s not enough rise on the gold stem…and heck, it’s not staying secure anyway.

Assuming I had adequate rise with the original stem (which I don’t), simply raising the height doesn’t come anywhere close to matching the rise or grip points of contact on the Boulder. This is where the randonneur handlebars come into the picture: because the curves rise and the bars themselves have a more forward position, my points of contact are higher, with a more stretched out and longer reach. I happen to like longer reach, and raising the original bars would effectively shorten the reach.

All of which takes me back to the photo at the top of this post. Replacing the lovely, but unworkable gold bars and stem with a tall Nitto and rando bars combination left me with a ride that rivals my Boulder. The superimposed photos are precise enough to have helped me adjust the new setup with almost no additional adjustments after the initial installation. Yesterday, I pedaled up and down the street feeling like I was riding a completely different bike. Please remember that I already liked the ride of this International, so discovering that the comfort and bike position was now almost the duplicate of my Boulder, and then realizing that this adjustment left me with a significantly more efficient pedal stroke… well, let’s just say that I’m more than pleased.

An afternoon shakedown ride today confirmed my initial assessment, by the way. A quick fifteen mile route of hills, mixed terrain, and flats; stopping and starting, curves, etc. takes away some of the chagrin I feel at having to put the gold stuff up on the wall.

Think I’ll celebrate this win over an excellent glass of wine. Enjoy your Valentine’s Day.

 

Time to Layer Up

32 degrees. Wasn’t it almost 80…umm… day before yesterday? My face is actually windburned, my cheeks a rosy, warm, cherry red; my nose and forehead are matching dumplings of scarlet. I had to dig around in my drawer of cycling duds to find the warm stuff buried underneath cotton t-shirts and shorts. Happily – and surprisingly – I came across two thermal under layer shirts I bought on clearance last May, and then forgot about. So, an undergarment, a top layer, then a lightweight jacket. My arms and core are in good stead; a similar approach for my legs, a wool cap and a pair of gloves, and I’m off and down the road.

Somehow, when it’s cold, every bump in the road seems to be magnified until my legs and ears warm up. Pedal, pedal, pedal. Head up a hill. Soon enough, I’m no longer aware of the cold except on my toes. They’re always cold, it seems to me.

No need to fill my water bottle with ice today – my water is cold enough as is. I’ve a small chunk of Genoa Dry Salami and some Brie in my bag, a snack for when I stop in a remote spot along the railroad tracks near the river. A few minutes to enjoy my tiny repast, take in the sun, and peel out of my top layer.

Then I’m off again.