too much rain for roadside tea
We had high hopes for today's ride. Ainsley's email set the stage nicely - he was bringing his Sierra stove, fuel, a mess kit and a folding camp stool. He offered to make some tea sandwiches "and really freak out anyone that rides with us."
I agreed it was a good plan, and packed some Earl Grey Creme loose tea - none of those sissified tea bags for the roadside brewup, thank you very much - and laid out some wool for the ride.
The sky was grey and cold-looking, but the temperature was somewhere in the 40s and the forecast called for a warmer world, followed by rain in the afternoon. At ten past nine, I rolled up in front of the fountain. Ainsley's car radio was playing Steppenwolf's "Born to be Wild," and we took it as a sign.
Time was not on our side. Ainsley's front tire had blown, probably while sitting in the back of his car in the sun yesterday. The small drizzle that had started falling about the time I arrived stepped up to a light rain as he replaced the inner tube. I pulled on my rain cape and found the perfect angle to loll at, shielding the bars and the saddle while sitting on the top tube.
After making repairs, Ainsley showed me the cooking kit, and the bag he planned to carry everything in. "It's as ugly as home-made sin," he said, "but since it is
home-made, that's to be expected."
"Actually, it looks a lot like my Carradice," I said. It did, too - until he wrapped it in a white plastic trash bag.
"Didn't get around to water-proofing it," he said. "If it don't do this, it'll get soaking wet and pick up another 20 pounds."
We set off - only to stop to readjust some handlebars. Then it occurred to us to double-check Ainsley's car door locks. It was 10:00 by the time we hit the rail-trail conversion. The rain picked up. We rode down the trail side-by-side, talking easily. There were no pedestrians.
I couldn't see it for the rain cape, but I could feel my feet were dryer for the mudflap I'd rescued from a broken old Bluemels fender and ziptied into place. By the time we turned off of Florida Avenue, I had warmed up enough to be comfortable again.
There were no dogs out on Briarwood - they had enough sense to come in out of the rain. We turned left onto Whitehall Road, and I thought again about how it was one of the older roads in the county - it's on the 1825 Robert Mill map, from back before there was a Greenwood, or a Greenwood County.
"Up on the left is Greenwood Mills Farm Road," I said. "It's a dirt road that'll dump us out onto 221."
"Well, if you go maybe half a mile down 221, it connects with Cowhead Creek Road, which takes you to Rock House," I said. "I've looked at it on maps, but haven't done it yet. It may be too damp to do it today."
We slowed as we approached the road and looked down it. There was a lot of standing water. Not today. We pushed on.
Straight across 221 and down the hill to the bridge we went. My hands were feeling a bit numb now from riding on bu
mpy roads with my hands pretty much in one position. Every so often I'd slip a hand out of the thumb loop and wipe my nose, then fish around under the cape for the loop again. My gloves felt soaked through from the water seeping through the thoroughly saturated canvas.
"It's really too wet and messy to do tea today," Ainsley said.
"Yeah, but at least we know how to carry the equipment."
"True," he said. "And so far, it seems to be working pretty well."
We were at least prepared for doing without roadside food, though. We had the verbal exchange in a bad Scots brogue that accompanies all of our fixed-gear rides in the winter, which runs something like -
"Didja eat yeer oatmeal, lad?"
"Aye, that I did, lad. And yerself?"
Do this on enough rides and you'll agree with Ainsley that we should call these our "Oatmeal Rides."
We turned onto Rock House Road. Despite the leaves having fallen, we still managed to ride right past the famous house without seeing it. We did spot some daffodils, and Ainsley decided to break out the camera. We snapped shots of each other and headed on.
"It feels like the temperature is dropping," Ainsley said.
He was right. I zipped my jacket back up and closed up the neck of the rain cape again to conserve heat. My feet were wet, my socks soaked clean through. My gloves felt like they squished when I moved my hands.
We were climbing one of the brisk little rollers when the subject of motivation came up again.
"You know, we're nuts to be doing this," Ainsley said.
"I've been thinking about that," I said. "The late Ken Henderson is my model here. I am convinced that, whenever confronted with the choice of either taking an action or not taking an action, he would choose to do something purely because if he didn't, he couldn't tell the story later."
Ainsley thought about it for a minute. "I can see that. My usual first question about those things is, 'will I get killed or serious injured?' If not, it's a lot more tempting," he said.
We passed McFerrin Road, then Cowhead Creek. At the intersection with Stillwell, the pavement became dramatically smoother. We made a quick detour onto Feed Mill Road and stopped for the last nature break of the day, then took a right onto Scotch Cross (another really old road) and headed back towards town.
I finally figured out I could hook the thumb loops over my brake levers, freeing my hands to move around to different positions on the bars. Almost immediately my hands felt better. Stray thoughts crossed my mind about the danger of getting tangled up somehow in the fabric. Then I thought, what isn't dangerous? If you're that scared, why are you riding a fixed-gear bike in the rain?
Ainsley looked over at me and said, "I'm glad we're almost done here. Another ten miles and I would have started whining."
I nodded. It was getting colder, and the rain was coming down harder. Weather like this makes you appreciate the old British cycling gear and traditions. Fenders make s
ense, mudflaps and rain capes and waxed cotton rule, and a nice hot cuppa would have been very nice.
When we reached the fountain, I said goodbye and headed on home. Only when I got home and had the bike up on its pegs did I get a chance to check the cyclo-computer. I felt manly - I had gotten 31.5 miles in, at a leisurely pace, in bad weather and on a day when lots of our associates chose to stay indoors. It was a good ride, and next time we would
make tea, dang it.
midnight test pilot
I found what I wrote immediately after my first fixed-gear ride after my crash. Reading it now, nearly five years later, I think it still says it all. Oddly enough, scans of the photos I took of that bike turned up this week. Here it is ...
It was, of course, a few minutes past midnight when I finished building up the Falcon. I had to replace the tube in the front tire. I seem to have very bad luck with tubes these days. In the course of that, I broke another of those plastic tire tools. Plastic tire tools are not a case of plastic improving something, if you were wondering.
I stood and took stock of what I had assembled. I had started with a late 60s Falcon San Remo frameset, full 531 double-butted Reynolds tubeset, in somewhat timeworn but quite attractive flamboyant green enamel. It had cost me a whopping $45 at the Cirque du Cyclisme, including the Campy Record headset with a scratched but functional locknut and serviceable cones and races. The wheels were my good old Maillard track hub that I re-laced to a used rim, a Maillard front hub laced to its mate. The Continental 28mm tires provided a little more ground clearance and a smoother ride on bad surfaces – the fact that they were barely used and free didn’t hurt. A Nitto Technomic Deluxe stem got my bars high enough for my taste and held Nitto 42cm Maes bend bars - complete with the cool Japanese "ding-ding!" bell that my cats hate. I wrapped them with red Tressostar cloth bar tape, and the bike suddenly looked right. Old SunTour Superbe non-aero levers with Shimano hoods operated Universal Super 68 sidepull brakes, and I felt vaguely Italian every time I stopped. Intellectually, I know a single brake is sufficient on a fix – but some days I join the belt-and-suspenders crowd, and brakes bring out those tendencies in me.
The crankset was the Stronglight 93 I modified a couple of years back on Brother Dave's drill press for fixed-gear use, complete with the track bottom bracket I assembled from bits scavenged from different sources. The black Brooks saddle with the scars from the last time I rode a fixie was fitted to a seatpost I picked up at the Anderson jockey lot. For pedals, I fitted a set of the ancient French Lyotard Berthet platforms, one of the most brilliant designs in history. Those came from the back room of a shop in Greenville. All in all, way cool, and better still when finished with a Minoura handlebar mount bottle cage adapter.
I pumped up the tires, locked up my apartment and stuck my keys in the waistband of my patched cycle shorts. Throwing my right leg over the top tube, I reached down and cinched the toestrap tight on my foot - once moving, NEVER put your hand near a fixed-gear drivetrain, unless you think you have too many fingers. Then I was pushing off, and finding the left pedal on the fly, snagging the toestrap and cinching it on the second crank revolution, once more loving Marcel Berthet for the pedals that bear his name.
I stepped firmly on my fear – I had broken two ribs last year on a fixed-gear when a clipless pedal released at 25 mph. “Clips and straps,” I muttered, reminding myself to stick with things I can readily inspect for safety. Sheldon notes that bad things ensue when
a foot is suddenly released, and I am exhibit A. It was nearly a year since I had been on a bike that doesn’t coast. I’d put in well over 1,000 km last year on fixed-gears, though, and I was surprised at how quickly it all came back to me.
I rode down to the end of the street and turned into the church parking lot I call the local velodrome, riding slowly at first, then with more confidence. The concrete divider that juts in two directions creates a big letter L; I rode around its perimeter. The end closest to the church calls for a very sharp turn, which is ideal for testing pedal clearance on bikes that don't coast. The Falcon passed with flying colors, tracking straight and smooth. On the long straightaway at the bottom I found that if I have enough speed it tracks perfectly when ridden no-hands.
After a few minutes of this, riding and testing the bike's capabilities, the temptation grew too strong. I pulled back out onto the street and rolled down to the intersection. I almost managed a perfect track stand without ever touching my brakes. No traffic was anywhere on the block, and I rolled across and went down the hill on Jennings, my hands finding the drops. The first time I rode down that hill on a fixie, nearly four years ago, I had a split second of near panic; tonight it is smooth, silent gliding. I balanced my legs turning the cranks with the cranks turning my legs to a nicety, slowing gently for the stop sign at the bottom of the hill. The coast was clear, and I went on out to where the street dead-ends. I marveled at how much I've missed the exquisite slow speed handling of fixies as I turned around and started back.
I turned right onto a side street and went up to Cothran, testing how well I can storm the climb. I was out of the saddle in an instant, and found I had set the bars just right for holding onto the hoods but could also do a standing climb on the drops as well. Then a left onto Cothran itself, and I slipped past all the houses with the lights off, and a left now, onto the street that returns me to Jennings. Silently, so silently the dogs don't hear me pass, I rolled along. I used the quieter rear brake to scrub off some speed, then letting my legs kick in and resist my movement, bringing the bike to a standstill at the stop sign. All was clear, and I took a leisurely spin around the area, trying out handling tricks, learning how the bike behaves when ridden no-hands, hearing the tires on the pavement.
Finally, it was time to
go home. I made the transition from street to sidewalk at the little ramped area, my left hand reaching down to expertly flick the little tab on my left toeclip in a movement I learned a quarter of a century ago; a movement like love, involuntary and essential as breathing itself. I gently squeezed the brakes as I lifted out of the saddle and brought my foot down, my wheel less than a foot from the bottom step. Life would be perfect if my sweetie was waiting on the stairs with a cool drink in her hands, saying, "I take it you enjoyed your ride." As it is, life is pretty damned good as I stand over the Falcon for a moment, breathing the cool night air, a midnight test pilot, a fixed-gear rider, a two-wheeled centaur once again.
the call of the cog
Earlier today, the question being discussed on the iBOB newslist was, "are you addicted?" Not to controlled substances - to fixed-gear cycling. I started to respond to the thread, then I changed my mind. This is a better place for that story.
I'd been curious about fixed gear bikes since about 1984 or so. I was putting things together to move to Ohio to attend graduate school. I remember looking at my '63 Rudge Sports 3-speed and thinking about converting it. Graduate school turned out not to be what I needed, and in the course of figuring that out, I forgot about bikes for a while.
I didn't really think about fixed-gears again until I returned to cycling in 1997. In the course of reading Sheldon Brown's web pages about British club bikes, I read about fixed-gears on the road. I thought about it a while and ordered an 18T SunTour cog from Harris Cyclery.
My first fix was built on a battered Raleigh Lenton frameset I got from Jim Cunningham at CyclArt for cheap, paying more for shipping than for the frame itself. It had been repaired a long time ago, and had mismatched head lugs under incredibly worn layers of dull dark blue paint. The plain-gauge 531 tubing was a bit hefty, but built up with old tubular wheels and parts scavenged from a dead Raleigh Record, it was a light, nimble bike.
I eventually swapped most of the parts over to a dented Gitane Professionnal Super Corsa; from there they went to a Gitane Tour de France frameset briefly, before being fitted to a very early red Trek 620. The Trek was a bit small for me at 56 cm center to center, but it had a high bottom bracket that was ideal for use with the 170 mm Stronglight 93s I was using by that point.
Commuting and puttering around was about the limit of my fixed-gear riding - until I read about the new Bianchi Pista shown at the '99 Interbike. I looked at photos online, admired the flat black with Celeste accents finish, and took the plunge. It was my first (and to date, only) road bike that wasn't lugged. I kitted it out with Celeste bar tape, a Minoura handlebar mounted bottle cage and Shimano 105 sidepulls (the very first batch had drilled seat stay bridges).
I showed up for a club ride one Saturday aboard the bike and discovered I how versatile a fixed-gear can be in rolling terrain. I rode the bike a couple of times a week, putting about half of that year's mile on the Bianchi. Everything went well until the crash.
The stock pedals on the original Pistas were Wellgo copies of Look clipless units. They had never felt smooth, especially compared to the Looks I was using on the Bianchi road bike I was riding that year. I used the cleats that came with the pedals, but I never could dial in a good setting on them. It always required a brutal effort to unclip from them.
You can imagine my surprise when the left pedal spontaneously released on me on a Saturday club ride. My hands were nowhere near my brake levers. All of this happened at 25 mph on a normally mild descent. Unfortunately, my right foot was still quite firmly clipped in. The right pedal levered me up out of the saddle and began pitching me forward.
I hung on for three crank revolutions, enough time to think about how much it was going to hurt when I landed. It was about as bad as I expected. The left side of my body was pretty much completely road rashed; worse still, I broke two ribs when I initially landed on my back.
I sold the Pista - possibly foolishly, but the juju was all wrong, all of a sudden. I converted my hack fixed-gear back to gears. I started riding again, but not as much, and to this day I've never quite felt as fast or as strong as I did the week before the crash.
I convinced myself I didn't need or want a fixed-gear bike. They were just too dangerous and all that. They spooked me. In my heart of hearts, I knew that if I used toe clips and straps again, and not clipless pedals, I would be all right, but I wasn't willing to test that theory just yet.
Ten months after I went over the bars, I went to the 2001 Cirque du Cyclisme. I shared a table with Jeff Slotkin that year, and we took turns roaming the hall looking for bargains. I had already made several rounds through both rooms when I saw an old green frameset lying on its side. It was a circa 1965-70 Falcon San Remo frameset, it was Reynolds 531 throughout, it was cheap, and it was almost my size. I thought, "fixed-gear."
Then I bought it.
another cold fixed-gear ride
The weather was beautiful for much of the last week, with sunny skies and temperatures in the mid to high 60s. Of course I was working and couldn't ride then. By the time Ainsley and I started swapping emails and plotting Saturday's ride, the predictions were for highs around 40 and rain.
Rain doesn't stop us anymore. After I agreed that we would ride rain or shine, Ainsley responded, "And again if I find icicles on my beard I will think about calling it quits, not that I will, but I will think about it. See you at ten."
I prepared for the ride with a hearty breakfast of oatmeal made with organic milk instead of water, and laden with organic peanut butter and raisins, followed by dressing in multiple layers of wool. The rain cape was rolled up and strapped to my saddlebag, and spare gloves and other impedimenta went inside the main compartment of the bag itself.
Ainsley was already mounted up and ready to roll when I got to the fountain. We discussed which direction to take before deciding we'd just head "out there somewhere." It was an uneventful ride at first, but halfway down the rail-trail conversion we flushed a good-sized hawk from the edge of the pathway. He flew low, maybe four feet off the ground, carrying away whatever small animal he'd captured for breakfast, before swooping up and taking refuge in a tree.
We reached Florida Avenue, and on a whim we turned right and crossed the 225 Bypass. Down the hill, over the bridge, and back up the long hill as it curves steadily to the right until it crests at Alexander Road. Left, and a long steady descent carries you down to another little bridge, another climb, and another stop sign. We turned left and headed out Briarwood.
Along the way, we had stopped a couple of times for Ainsley to shed a layer of clothes, then his balaclava, while I needed to remove my windbreaker and stuff it into my saddlebag. The cloud cover was initially very thick, so much so it made the sun look like the moon. As we rode on, the sky cleared and the world warmed up, just a little at least.
We passed the point of county maintenance and bumped and rattled our way to White Hall Road, turning left and heading out along the flat, deserted route to yet another ghost town. The 28 mm Continental tires soaked up much of the rough road surface, but I still could feel it vibrating against my palms through my gloves.
We were comfortable now, riding at a conversational pace. We crossed Highway 221 and continued on our way to the dead end into Rock House Road, site of the legendary haunted house. Another quick discussion and we turned right onto Breezewood, sparing us several miles of bumpy chipseal road, but condemning us to fighting headwinds on the way in.
As we passed a long, thick hedge by the roadside, we could see movement and hear some sort of growling sound. I wondered, "what in Hell is that?" for a moment, before the man in the tractor hat straighened up with his chainsaw from behind the shrubs. We exchanged hellos and we rolled on.
A moment's rest, then left onto Callison Highway and back towards Greenwood. We both stood to spin up one of the rollers, and were in a strange synchronized dance, my left foot and pedal descending in time to his right. I wondered how long it would take for our rhythms to sync, as Ainsley was riding a 65-in gear, and I was on a 67. We crested the rise and both sat down and the question was shelved.
Back in towards town now, feeling spooked as we found the intersection onto Highway 25 clear, then made the turn onto 225 without having to wait for traffic. We worked our way back in through the Wisewood subdivision and back to Florida Avenue and the rail trail. The hawk had moved on, but there were half a dozen or so pedestrians we got to greet as we passed them by.
It was noticeably colder now, and the clouds were rolling in. About the time we pulled up at the fountain, it was cold enough to warrant pulling my jacket back on. The riders from the 11:00 ride pulled in now, and while they discussed having lunch at T.W. Boons, I gave my regrets and headed home. I found myself wanting another layer, and there was a headwind that hadn't been there earlier.
My final mileage for the day was 32.88 miles.
Five minutes after I got home, the rain started.
The last time I did a serious ride was in 1983, when I attempted the Mt. Mitchell ride. By the end of that summer, I bought my first car. Soon afterward, I was spending time at the classic juke joint, and it wasn't much longer before I started smoking cigarettes.
My bike gathered dust. When I went to grad school the next year, I took it with me. Somehow it didn't get stolen when my apartment got burglarized, and it came back to Greenwood with me when I walked away from the scholarship and the stipend. The white Puch moved with me through several apartments, in the way, with flat tubulars and scratches and faded bar tape. I finally sold it in 1987 to buy a vintage Fender amp. I regretted it, and a couple of months later contacted the guy I'd sold it to. It had been stolen from his back yard.
When I moved back to Greenwood in 1991, I owned two bikes that I didn't ride. The Bianchi Volpe wasn't a bad bike, but it was really a bit small for me. I rode it some, then I sold it to buy a vintage archtop guitar. The Raleigh Sports gathered dust. I smoked a lot of cigarettes and played my guitars.
I wound up being the eyes and driver for the late, much-missed Ken Henderson. A lifelong collector of vintage firearms, Ken's eyesight had gotten so bad he needed someone to drive him around. One of the places he had me drive him was the Anderson Jockey Lot, the enormous, sprawling flea market in the middle of nowhere.
The Jockey Lot has dozens of buildings that stretch on forever, full of junk and crap you can't believe anyone would buy, surrounded by concrete tables and marked-off spaces for vendors who show up with trucks full of stuff they sell every week. Over on the side are the spaces that the occasional sellers show up, cleaning out garages or store rooms. It was there I met the Dawes.
The first thing I saw was
the fancy lugs. I walked over closer and saw the headbadge and thought, "wow, that's pretty!" It was rusty, dirty, and neglected, wearing cheap chromed fenders and sitting on flat whitewall tires. I looked it over, and unbidden came the thought, "you could build a great fixed-gear bike on that frame." It was a strange thought from nowhere. I'd never ridden a fixed-gear in my life.
I walked on. Ken and I wandered around the place, past scrap and junk and stuff that belonged in the recycling bin. We talked to a guy who had a Krag-Jorgenson action that had been shortened into a pistol with about a 4-in barrel, complete with a bad pistol grip stock. The seller wanted too much for it. Ken quietly suggested he might want to remove the pistol grip and sell it as an action, noting that converting rifles to pistols is a violation of federal laws. On our way out, we saw local cops confiscating the Krag.
The guy with the Dawes was packing up to go home. I stopped and looked at it again. It called out to me. I hauled out my wallet. I had one lone ten-dollar bill. "This is all I've got on me," I said to the guy.
He rolled his eyes, then reached for the money. "Beats taking it home."
As I rolled it away, his helper looked over at me and shook his head. "Man, that's a rare one," he said. "That's a four-speed!"
I looked at the shifter for the first time. Hmm. Surprise number one. I'd heard of 4-speeds, but I'd never seen one, much less owned one.
I got the bike home and started dismantling it. My buddy Paul stopped by and we talked as I gently removed the junky, non-original fenders.
"Uh, Russ ... those aren't 26-in wheels," he said.
I looked closer. Surprise number two. The rims were 27-in steel rims, with 27 x 1 1/4-in tires. I sat back, wondering what I had bought. A quick online search on my new computer, hooked up only a week earlier to a dial-up internet connection, landed me on Sheldon Brown's site, where I learned I had acquired a classical British club bike.
The FW four-speed Sturmey-Archer gearhub offered the best shot at dating the bike - it was marked October, 1962. The gears ran from a low of 46 to a high of 87, with the normal gear being a 69-in. Even with the upright bars and sprung saddle, it felt much more like a high-performance 10-speed from the 70s than the classic English sports roadster. It was surprisingly zippy, but still comfortable and controllable.
Over the next few months, as I cleaned and refurbished the old bike, I started rediscovering older bikes. I bought a Peugeot PX-10 like I wanted in 1974, then another one. Vintage bikes came and went, and I started riding again. I commuted on the Dawes on pleasant days, slowly reaquainting myself with what it was like to ride a bike on a daily basis.
As time passed, I sold off all the vintage bikes and focused on getting a Rivendell. Along the way, I sold the Dawes to a nice guy I'd sold a 50's Raleigh Lenton Gran Prix to at the 1999 Cirque du Cyclisme.
In early 2003, I realized I missed the Dawes. I contacted Chris and we made arrangements for me to buy it back in the summer. I went ahead with my wedding plans. All went according to schedule until Chris passed on after a quiet battle with cancer.
At his request, a friend of his had agreed to broker the sale of his bike collection. I bought the Dawes back. When it arrived, I found some of its original
parts were gone. Since I had started that by having the wheels rebuilt with stainless spokes on alloy Mavic rims, I didn't complain. I decided to take the bike into full-blown club rider mode, replacing the upright handlebars with dropped ones. The original Brooks B66 was gone, so I fitted a black B17 I had ridden on several different bikes. Finally, I mounted a set of Lyotard Berthet platform pedals with Christophe toe clips.
Fitting dropped bars and a narrower saddle actually took the bike closer to factory specification. I learned from a nice English gentleman named Reg Dennis that the Realmrider was introduced in 1953. While the Sturmey-Archer FW four-speed gear was an option, the majority of these bikes were derailleur equipped 4, 5, 8 or 10-speeds, depending on the year.
I finally took it out on a club ride. Surprise number three. More than four decades after it left the factory in Birmingham, England, this bike still handles beautifully out on the road. I promised a friend I would ride the Greenwood Cycling Club's Bee-Buzzin' Tour on the Dawes.
The heart attack threw off my plans for a year - but in June 2005 I rolled up to the start line on the old black and red bike. The red Bluemels fenders were the only fenders on the ride; I had the only non-derailleur bike. I wondered how things would go.
A few miles out I hooked up with a couple of friends who were feeling frisky. On a long descent, I reached for the shifter and flicked the trigger forward, eased up on my pedaling until I felt the gears re-engage, then began turning the bikes's 87-in top gear. The long bike sprang forward under me like an older racehorse tired of the pasture.
My friends turned off towards Ninety Six and the short route. I went left and headed out for the metric century, and turned in a respectable (for me!) time on the course.
I don't ride the Dawes much. It comes out on nice days and more laid-back club rides now, mostly to keep it rolling smoothly. Generally, it sits on its pegs on the rack in semi-retirement. I don't own this bike. I am its caretaker and its curator.
On a good day, my commute takes about 4 minutes door to door, assuming I take the bike. Driving takes roughly 8 minutes. Walking requires about 15 minutes. Even adding the time needed to don cycling cap, helmet, gloves and trouser clips, riding the bike is the quickest way for me to go from home to work and back again.
Living close in means I go home and eat lunch with the love of my life every day. I get to eat nutritiously, instead of the nasty junk I used to consume when I was single. It's a lot closer to classical small town living, almost a version of the schedule of my grandparents 60 years ago.
My colleagues don't get it. They're always freaked out when they see me riding in on cold days, or rainy ones, or in the brutal heat of summer. I'm used to it, though. It helps that I try to be properly equipped. The sad thing is, most of the proper equipment has to be special-ordered. None of it is available in bike shops in South Carolina.
One of my best purchases was a used Carradice rain cape, a waxed cotton poncho-like device complete with a waist tie-down to keep the back from riding up and thumb loops to keep the front from flying up. It's not completely water tight, but it helps, as it basically functions like wearing a tent of warmer air. Windy days with rain are challenging, but not impossible.
It helps that my favorite daily rider has fenders. They keep most of the water off my back. My feet are another matter. I need to make some mudflaps, and in particular one for the front fender. The old English Bluemels patterns came stock with them; the old French ones went down further, closer to the ground. Both gave better protection than the modern SKS models Julius currently wears, but mudflaps may make all the difference.
The accessory that makes it possible is the Carradice saddlebag. I switch back and forth between two different models. For years I've used a Nelson Longflap. It's huge. I used to joke about being able to sleep in it if I got lost on the road. For the last year I've been using the dramatically smaller, but still capacious Carradice Pendle. Either way, I can put layers of clothes I don't need in the bag, carry food in to stash in the break room, or carry books home. Sometimes I'll switch over to one of my Rivendell Banana Bags, slightly larger versions of the classical French bags sold by Gilles Berthoud. That's pretty much a summertime thing, though, as the reduced carrying capacity just won't cut it. I get razzed about my saddlebags, but they're just too useful to leave at home.
Thursdays I work till 6:00, and for a couple of months it's dark when I leave work. For those evenings, I acquired a Shimano Nexus generator hub and a Lumotec headlamp. I laced the hub to a Mavic MA rim I got in a trade several years ago. The Lumotec goes on the lamp boss on the left fork blade, at least for now. One of these days I need to get a BOB trailer skewer and fit the adjuster nut onto the hub's quick release, shorten the wires, and set the wheel and light up as one unit for quick transfer of the wheel and light from bike to bike.
I could list all sorts of reasons for these arrangements, and they would even have some truth to them. Sure, it is more environmentally sensitive. Yes, every little bit of exercise stolen during the work day counts towards keeping me and my bypasses happy and healthy. Politically, it cuts down on the amount of gasoline I use, which means a little less money going into the coffers of Islamo-fascists. All of these are good reasons, but they're not the real one.
I like riding my bikes. Any chance I get to ride my bike, any opportunity to steal a bike ride in a work day, is an opportunity I don't want to miss.
how it began
Every story starts somewhere, even if it is an arbitrary start. This one started in 2004.
I had been looking forward to the first weekend in April for months. Every winter club run ridden shivering under layers of wool had been preparation for the sunny warmth of the season’s start. I’d about convinced myself to do Jubilee Joy Ride once more, just for fun. Instead, I spent the first weekend of April 2004 getting ready for what turned out to be quadruple bypass surgery.
I first thought I had pulled a muscle somewhere in my upper chest. I’d driven from Greenwood to Atlanta to Macon to Savannah and back again one weekend, and thought I’d overextended something and pulled some muscles. What I thought were muscles spasms were actually bouts of angina, and probably some small heart attacks. I could say the symptoms were atypical, but let's face it - I was in full-blown denial.
Saturday came, and I was up early. While my wife Ana still slept, I got dressed to go on a club ride. I felt twinges as I put on my multiple layers of wool. I remember standing in the bathroom, looking at myself in the mirror, wearing leg warmers and cycle shorts and the Mercian jersey I'm wearing in the picture at my first post. I wanted to ride my bike so much, but I just couldn't - I felt sore, I felt old and weak, and I felt vaguely scared. So I took off my wool and went back to bed.
I apparently had the heart attack in the early morning hours of Sunday, March 21. It woke me up about 5:00 or so, and I completely misinterpreted what was going on. I still thought it was freak muscle spasms, despite the fact that, in retrospect, it was pretty close to the classical elephant-sitting-on-my-chest situation. I decided to take it extremely easy and see my doctor the next day.
I expected my physician would double-check some things and give me a prescription for muscle-relaxants. He was not in denial. He ran an EKG on me. He compared that with my EKG from a stress test three years earlier and made arrangements for me to have an echocardiogram and some more tests – to be done immediately.
So, off to the hospital I went, still thinking he was just being cautious. Uh huh. The folks at Self Regional drew some blood and sent me off to do my echo. The tech was very calm and relaxed as she ran the sensor over my chest – and I now know never to play poker with her. They sent me home after the test.
I was home for maybe ten minutes. I walked into the house and immediately sucked in a double lungful of the home-made spaghetti sauce with kielbasa Ana had on the stove. I hadn’t even finished telling her about the day when the phone rang.
If you ever feel the need to have something grab your attention and really sharpen your focus, let me suggest receiving a telephone call from a cardiologist, one you don’t know from Adam’s nigh mule, who out of the blue calls you and says, “We have a bed here for you. Come on in. Right now.”
Within an hour, I was in a bed in CCU with all manner of monitors, sensor
s and IV drips hooked up. We were still in shock, and we joked about doing a blog as we went along. The joking stopped as we found out just how serious things were. We even took pictures of me in my hospital bed in CCU, and here's one of them. This is the last picture of my chest before it had the nice long scar.
The next morning's heart catheterization revealed just how blocked up I truly was, and the joking stopped.
I’m not complaining, don't get me wrong. I am extremely lucky to have had an alert physician. The 60% blockage towards the rear was bad enough – but worse still was the 95% blockage in the anterior descending artery, which could have made itself known, say, on the second climb on Klugh Road, or on some stretch of 505 in the back of beyond. That one was apparently the source of the mischief, as under load I had a chamber of my heart that wasn’t getting anything to work with.
This freaked everyone out. Ana was a pillar of strength in my presence, and stunned and shocked out of my sight - but she also kept everything on the rails. My parents and her parents popped in regularly to boost our spirits. Messages of support poured in from many directions, and I wound up on prayer lists on at least two continents, thanks to folks on the iBOB and Classic Rendezvous and fixed-gear internet newslists.
Not a complaint - but hospitals don't do much to help families when someone has a heart attack. Fortunately, Ana is an exceptionally bright and resourceful lady who believes in doing some research, and she snapped up a book entitled HeartMates: A Guide for the Spouse and Family of the Heart Patient
, which helped somewhat - but a support group of some sort of people who had been in her shoes would have helped a great deal.
So, I cooled my heels for a while, as they pumped interesting medications into me to ward off the next heart attack they were sure was on its way. Further tests showed that instead of losing 30 percent of my heart’s real estate and function, the damage was less than originally thought. They moved the surgery date forward.
I am told the surgeon came out of the operating room with a grin all the way around his head. That was good - well-meaning but not terribly sensitive folks had been regaling Ana and my mother with horror stories about people dying and being revived on the table, etc., in the hours I was in surgery.
We'll talk about recuperation soon.
mud, sweat and fixed-gears
There was a message waiting for me from my buddy Ainsley when I checked my email at work yesterday - "We are still riding no matter the weather, right?"
"Hell yes, we'll ride no matter what the weather is, and all will know we are the hardcore slaves of the road we truly are," I responded. "Do we need to break out the passage from Shakespeare's Henry V, the one about 'we few, we happy few,' etc.?"
I shouldn't say things like this to Ainsley. He's the only person I know who can match me in hardcore zealotry. When I introduced him to fixed-gear cycling a couple of years ago, I didn't yet know he was the sort to make his own recurve bow with horn, hide glue and hardwood. Now we just reinforce each other's more fanatical tendencies.
Of course it was raining this morning. I ran an errand early on, long enough to think about the temperature (30-something degrees) and the precipitation (a steady heavy drizzle). I went back home and dressed appropriately - wool sleeveless undershirt, longsleeve wool undershirt, longsleeve wool jersey, wool socks, cycling shorts, tights, windbreaker, Rivendell cycling cap and warm gloves. When I rolled Julius the Mercian Vincitore fixed-gear out of the garage, I added the waxed cotton Carradice rain cape to the outfit.
I got to the fountain right at 11:00. I had time to experiment with the cape, and found just the right position where I could sit on the top tube and loll. After 10 minutes, I began wondering if I'd been stood up. Then Ainsley drove up and started unpacking his fixed-gear Schwinn. None of the other cyclists who had expressed an interest in riding had showed up, the lazy sods.
Ainsley had a good route in mind - we'd go down the rail-trail conversion and work our way over to the Canadian Mist highway (so-named for hundreds of empty CM bottles that used to line the roadside), then hook a right onto the first dirt road of the day - Norris Road. So it had rained a lot in the last few weeks - what's a little mud?
Within a mile, Ainsley commented, "I really need fenders." About a mile later, as water sprayed off his rear wheel and onto my glasses, I agreed with him. He was getting a great skunk stripe.
About the fourth mile, I pulled up alongside him and said, "Have I mentioned lately that it is both cold and wet out here?"
"Pride," he said. "My wife tells me it is simply pride that brings us out here. We're the only ones who ride fixed-gears, we're the only ones who would do such rides, and we take great pride in it." Ainsley is married to a very perceptive lady.
When we turned onto Norris, I rapidly learned I had no business feeling smug. I looked down and saw my shoes and tights were rapidly picking up mud spatters. "I really need mudflaps," I called over my shoulder.
"Yes, you do," Ainsley said. "I'm not complaining. It would be worse without fenders at all." I looked down and saw my fork tips and bottom bracket were awash with mud; every time I touched my brakes, I could hear the grit on my rims and brake pads. As long as I could find hardpack, all was well, but every so often I'd hit a squishy bit and Julius would squirm beneath me.
"Funny thing," I said. "This sort of riding used to be the norm."
"Well, everybody gets so hung up on performance," Ainsley said. "Fast isn't everything."
When we stopped so I could stash the rain cape, I found the rain-soaked canvas had depressed the reset button. We decided we'd covered five miles and turned down Scotch Cross. From there we turned down Lowden, then hooked a right onto Tillman Territory Road. There was still a faint mist in the air, and water kept beading up on my glasses.
Warner Road beckoned, maybe 5 yards beyond Highway 78. We turned up it, climbing along what looked like a farm road. I had warmed up now, with only my toes complaining about the temperature and the moisture. I picked up the pace, Julius rolling smoothly despite the mud under and all over the bike.
We stopped at a lonely intersection and I looked around and thought of Robert Johnson selling his soul to the Devil - it was that kind of scenery, only really wet. After consulting the map, we pushed on straight, eventually running into pavement again.
It got colder and wetter. We rode along, swapping stories, bad jokes, and (as we got hungrier) food tales. I don't eat panchetta or prosciutto anymore, but I figure as long as Ainsley tells me about it, it's like devouring it myself. Another map stop, and we turned right onto Forest Service Road 589.
"Oh, I LIKE this," Ainsley said. I agreed - it was hardpacked clay, not much mud, and we made good time, eventually dumping out onto Kirksey-Pitts Road. Left would have taken us out onto more dirt, but time was not on our side, and we turned right, almost immediately turning again onto a small dirt road that took us to Scotts Ferry Road.
I saw her first. "Dog right," I said, watching the tawny beast streak along the fence line towards us. She hit the shoulder of the road and began loping along beside us, not barking, tail wagging, just glad to gallop alongside. A medium sized dog, probably a mix of some sort of Golden Retriever and German Shepherd. We rode on, then hit a descent. No good - the dog was still with us, catching up easily as we climbed up after a bridge. When we hit Kinard Road, we stopped to call home. The dog drank from a ditch, then loped into the woods. Within a minute of our resuming the ride, the dog had popped out of the brush and was running alongside again. She finally turned off right before we took a left onto Tillman Territory for the ride back.
It was definitely colder now, or maybe my shoes were just soaked through, but my feet felt like blocks of ice. About that time, Ainsley said, "You know what I haven't heard today, even from myself? Complaints about the weather."
"Well, we kinda knew what we were getting into," I said, and pondered once again John Lake's dictum of mountain biking - when you get hurt riding mountain bikes in the woods at night, no one has ANY sympathy for you, figuring you got what you were asking for.
In the interest of time, we crossed Scotch Cross and headed up Lebanon Church road, with its long, steady, but gentle climb back towards Greenwood. The Jack Russell terrier that chases bikes did his thing, and even my comment that his mother wears a flea collar didn't stop him - but he lost interest and headed back home.
Then back on the Canadian Mist Highway, listed on maps as the old Ninety Six Highway, and back in the way we came.
"First thing I'm doing is going over to my office and changing clothes. It'll be a long, cold drive home otherwise," Ainsley said.
I nodded dumbly, thinking of the mile and a half more awaiting me. Shortly afterward, my feet ached in the shower, needing a good 15 minutes to feel normal again. I know our British cousins ride in this stuff all the time, and I bet cyclists in Oregon would giggle, but I'm Southern and still not used to this yet. The temperatures never got above 42 degrees, my bike is still filthy, and it was a great ride.
I want to do it again soon.
My surgery was April 5. I wasn't allowed on a bike until August. Obviously, I was weak and in need of every advantage I could get. I needed a wide gear range, a comfortable position and stable but not stodgy handling. The obvious choice was my Rivendell.
Belle was my first custom bike. I'd been riding early 70s Peugeot PX-10s and Gitanes, then a modern Bianchi Alloro. None of those bikes quite hit the mark. Grant Petersen's writings in the Rivendell Reader struck a chord with me. After polling Rivendell owners on the iBOB list and getting rave reviews, I bit the bullet and ordered a frameset. I told Grant I wanted the bike that Jacques Anquetil would ride in his retirement if he were still alive and riding brevets. Since my teenage years, I've wanted to ride Paris-Brest-Paris, and this bike was designed for it. I pretty much wound up with what was then known as the LongLow, but with the modern short brake reach - the last is my only regret about this bike.
The down side - about two weeks after I placed the order and paid my deposit, half of Rivendell's building capacity evaporated when match bicycle works closed down. The wait for my new bike doubled, from August to December. While I waited, I acquired components. I originally planned to use Campagnolo 8-speed ergo parts, complete with a set of sewup wheels. I changed my mind, though, and went with SunTour bar end shifters and some vintage Dia-Compe sidepulls worked by aero Gran-Compe levers. The sewups went when Rivendell introduced the Roll-y Pol-y tires late that year and I discovered the joys of light, fat tires.
About a year later I realized it was time to set the bike up the way I originally envisioned it, so I acquired a Campagnolo Olympus mountain bike rear derailleur, a T.A. Zephyr triple crankset and T.A. sealed bearing pedals. The fenders soon followed, fastened with zip-ties in Riv-approved fashion to maximize tire clearance. I keep dancing back and forth on the issue of fitting a Berthoud rack and classical French-style handlebar bag.
I've got other bikes that are faster - but last year, when I decided to ride MS-150, this was the automatic choice. The first day's ride was 90 miles in 2005, rather than the usual 70 or so. Writing this, I realize that was my longest day in the saddle since I crashed my Bianchi Pista in 2000. The big blue bike cruised on in, fenders and all, and was comfortable and stable and perfect the next day, too.
One of my goals for 2006 is to ride a full English century again, at least one. I'm still pushing the limits outward, thinking about '07 and trying for a 200 km brevet - and maybe even a 300 km brevet. And this bike figures prominently in those plans.
A windy Saturday
Today's club ride didn't go quite as planned. It rained until maybe an hour before the ride was scheduled to start. The forecast called for 18-20 mph winds, so I rode Stripe the Mercian Colorado in all his fenderless glory. Unfortunately, I went downtown without a windbreaker or full gloves, trusting to a longsleeved wool undershirt and the classic crochet back cycling gloves. Bad move. We were late getting away from the fountain, giving me time to chill down dramatically. Halfway down the rail-trail conversion, I bailed out and went home to add clothes.
It was a shame, really. Speedy Young Zac was with us, fighting off some nasty respiratory junk, and the opportunity to be on a ride with someone coughing up blood should not be missed, if only for its story-telling potential, but my fingers were turning blue, so there you go.
About 20 minutes later I was back where I'd left them, grateful for warm gloves and amused that the sun had broken through the clouds. I pointed Stripe towards Ninety Six, taking what is normally the return route in hopes of intersecting my buddies. The wind was at my back, and I shifted up onto the big chain ring and spun along in the mid-20s. I was struck once again by how well-mannered the old Mercian is at speed.
The favorable wind and the (for me) big gear drove the old racing bike along like a bomb down the length of the old Ninety Six highway and along Lebanon Church road. No sign of the crew, so I turned left and headed for town. Going past the old Star Fort course, I saw golfers staring at me. I couldn't decide which of us were dumber to be out in the wind, and kept rolling.
No sign of other riders at the 3-way stop, so I kept rolling. The wind was quartering now, still at my back, but sweeping right to left and carrying my scent away from the dogs that live along the main drag. I rolled along to where Scotch Cross road finally dead ends into Highway 246 at the Hardee's. No sign of anyone, so I turned and headed back.
Immediately, I was down in the drops and shifting onto the small chainring, grateful I'd ridden gears. My speed dropped rapidly - but I kept rolling along. I could remember a time when this wind would have had me gasping for breath. Today, I just dug in and kept going.
I came back in the way I went out, just a lot slower. Every so often the winds would slacken, only to come roaring back. When I made the turn back onto the rail-trail, I was finally sheltered by the trees and rode along taking it easy, glad not to be buffeted about.
I never did catch up with my buddies, but I did manage to get in 33.5 miles.