Saturday, November 20, 2010

Over the River and Through the Wood: the Season of Lone Travelers

Yesterday I cycled to a wooded area 15 miles away to take pictures for a backdrop for a painting I am working on. I needed some detailed shots of birch trees, and November is the perfect time to get them - With most of the foliage gone, the birches stand out tall and lean, every detail of their beautiful bark crisply outlined against the bare landscape.

All in all, this is such a quiet time. A deep hush has fallen over the forest as it braces for the fury of winter storms. There is even a particular sound that goes along with this state of things - like a very quiet ringing.

Now that we are getting into late November, the number of cyclists out there - especially outside of the city, on the hilly roads and on the trails - has dwindled down remarkably. And those who remain apparently feel a sense of comradery with their fellow lone travelers, as I have never gotten so many comments from passing roadies before.

First I was asked by a cyclist where I got my Moser and how I like the bike. We discussed that for a bit, with him concluding that he must find a vintage Moser frame for himself (he-he, I am such an enabler!). Later, another cyclist (of the "pedantic retrogrouch" variety) was indignant that I was not only riding an Italian racing bike as a fixed gear, but that I fitted it with "rando-bars" (a French style of drop handlebars with a curvature better suited for long distance touring). I did not really know what to reply to that accusation except "yes".

And later still, I was complimented on my "trackstand" at a traffic light, which made me question whether I understand what trackstands are. I was pretty sure that a trackstand is when you are actually able to stand still, as a sort of balancing trick. I cannot do that at all. But I play games at intersections, where I cycle so slowly that I am basically moving forward mere millimeters at a time until the light turns green. It may look like a trackstand to an unscrutinous eye, but I am definitely cheating. But anyhow, my point really is that I haven't had verbal exchanges like these with other cyclists until now - whereas yesterday alone I had nearly half a dozen. The few cyclists who are out there this time of year must be feeling especially lonely.

On the way back from my photo trip, I stopped by the Ride Studio Cafe that I wrote about earlier, when I saw through the window that their coffee bar was open. I just want to say one thing: If I could count on their in-house coffee shop consistently being open, I would go out of my way just to go there. They serve good coffee and hot chocolate - and they have back issues of Bicycle Quarterly! Once settled in, I had to almost forcibly pry myself away. Funny, because I remember reading Bicycle Quarterly last year and finding the articles difficult to understand, whereas now everything makes sense and seems terribly interesting. I should probably start subsrcibing to it.  And for those who have been reading BQ all along: Could you tell me in what issue I can find Jan Heine's review of a Rivendell? I am pretty sure he wrote one, but haven't been able to locate it.

As I needed to run some additional errands in different parts of town, I ended up spending the entire day on my bike  - which made me realise just how quickly both the temperature and the light conditions can change this time of the year. I am paranoid about getting stranded in the dark, so even for my sporty bicycles I carry at least some battery-operated lights that I can quickly attach to the handlebars and to my saddlebag. As winter approaches, I somehow find myself riding this particular bike more and more - so maybe it is time to find a more permanent and attractive lighting solution for him (bottle dynamo on a fixed gear, anyone?).

And it is surprising how much stuff my tiny saddlebag can fit, as long as I don't need to carry my laptop around. Perfect for a short trip by a lone traveler on a late November day.

31 comments:

  1. Pedantic Retro-grouch? Hey now you are pickin' on my hobbies! Seriously Francesco looks Mah-vo-lus as is and is that VO croissant bag you are sporting under the saddle?

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  2. Reviews here. Issue by issue contents here.

    It was a Quickbeam in Vol 3, No 4 (2005). Absolutely indispensable magazine.

    Jan is also opening an independent e-tail outlet for the componentry - Grand Bois, SKF, etc - he imports and distributes.

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  3. RoadieRyan - Yes, it's a VO Croissant. I reviewed it here earlier, and linked to the review in the text now. Oh and I didn't mean to imply that I myself am not a pedantic retrogrouch : ) But I wouldn't go as far as to make that sort of comment to a cyclist on the road whom I didn't know! My theory is that as he cycled behind me, he grew increasingly indignant at the enormousness of my tire and lack of rear brake, until he felt that he just had to say something!

    Phil - Thanks! But was it only the Quickbeam? I was sure that he evaluated some 650B bike and pronounced it "not a true randonneur". I wonder what I am thinking of...

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  4. I have to laugh about that pedantic retrogrouch. If only he knew who he was talking to!

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  5. ha, this pedantic retrogrouch remembers asking you why you had rando-bars on a fixed-gear, but oh well...

    sound like a nice ride. i was just at spy pond today with my daughter on the tandem! i recognize those backdrops. our new ritual is to make a detour off the path and stop at que brada bakery... yum!

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  6. somervillain - Yeah, but it's okay if you do it. For the record, I have those bars on the bike simply because they were the only ones I could get my hands on at the time without having to buy new ones. They are comfortable enough, but eventually I do plan to change them to Noodle-like bars.

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  7. Sounds like you had a glorious day. I had to laugh at the trackstand comment as it's mostly a term used commonly amongst mountain bikers when biking and balancing on trails, especially with lots of switchbacks. And yes, I do the same thing when approaching a set of red lights - waiting for it to turn green - that it almost mimicks a trackstand. Sounds to me like you have great balance after all :).

    SM

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  8. Velouria - Yes, only the QB. I have vague memory of the bike you mention, but I won;t hazard a guess in a public forum and don't have the time to go through the back issues at the moment. Have to trade the cycling helmet for a toque until Thursday. ;-)

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  9. v -- your description of a trackstand sounds like what you're doing completely qualifies. trackstands evolved from track racing, where riders would have to all stay behind a start line before the start of the race, but would need to stay perched on their pedals for maximum acceleration advantage once the race starts. It doesn't mean being absolutely still but shifting back and forth on your pedals so that you can stay in balance.

    I generally trackstand by moving slowly and incrementally forward and, when I'm comfortable, pushing back so that I tend to rock back and forth across an invisible line. It sounds like you're doing something similar. I also do my best trackstands when I'm not thinking about it -- so it sounds normal for you to be surprised when someone points it out to you. If someone did that to me, I'd probably go, "oh, I am? Oh, yes, I suppose I am."

    I should also say that I'm not sure where you went exactly, but if you don't know about it already, I'd point out that, at the Bedford terminus of the Minuteman, there's an old narrow gauge railway track that's been converted into a nice little unpaved path that goes on for a couple of miles. It's generally unimproved loose gravel and dirt, mostly trafficked by walkers and baby carriages from Bedford and Billerica, but the surface is perfectly suitable for most bicycles with decent tires.

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  10. Phil - Someone who actually checks their sources before posting on the internets! (Swoon.)

    cris - I don't go backwards, just forward, very slowly. I went past the end of the Minuteman trail and a bit toward Concord. I do know about the off road trail (though I read it is being paved in 2011!), but have never cycled through it. If you're feeling more adventurous, there is also this.

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  11. I have run a B&M Dymotec 6 bottle dynamo on my fixed gear mountain(now turned city) bike commuter. It worked well if it was well adjusted and the sidewalls dry. If it was wet it would slip, and if it was knocked out of perfect alignment it would wear out the rubber roller within a couple of miles. With cheapish dyno hubs available from Peter White and Velo Orange, it's something I would recommend for fair weather riding only - and only after having it set up by someone who really knows sidewall dynamos. I also took to carrying a spare roller, just in case.
    Mark

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  12. velouria, i questioned why you had rando bars on a fixed-gear because i was curious, not because i thought they were "wrong" for the bike. i figured you'd have a plausible reason. for the record, i'm a fan of rando bars on lots of road bikes, even if one isn't doing long-distance riding. i've put rando bars on my raleigh, and i may put rando bars on my racy trek.

    oh, and if you want to get rid of them, i'd be happy to trade them for something :-)

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  13. ah, yes, I've been meaning to check out Landlocked Forest and what NEMBA's done with Vietnam ... sad to hear that it's swampy at this time of year and while the British Columbian in me is has to squee a bit to see some North Shore style trail features in suburban Massachusetts, it's a little disappointing to see them so sad and neglected.

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  14. oh, and I have to leave for a party soon, but just wanted to note that I believe Phil is right that the only Rivendell bike that Jan reviewed was the Quickbeam. I have a copy of Vol. 5, Issue 1, where a fellow extolled the virtues of his 1999 Rivendell Long Low and told an excellent story of how it mutated and was reconfigured over time from drop-bar sport tourer to an Albatross winged city bike to a Noodle equipped brevet bike, etc. afaik, that's the only other article discussing a Rivendell in VBQ, but I've also let my subscription lapse over the last couple of years so can't comment on recent entries.

    Perhaps you were thinking of the review of the Velo-Orange randonneur? Jan noted there that he found the lack of lights on the complete version disqualified it as a randonneuse and the non-integrated design generally detracted from the overall appeal of the frame. It was a 'fine production frame', but didn't offer any advantages that one would normally attain from a constructeur bike where gear choices (ie lighting setups, racks, fenders, etc.) were specifically channeled into the design of the frame.

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  15. This may be my favorite, of all the articles of yours I've read.

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  16. parties! Oh, I get it - it's "the weekend" for some people : )

    cris / Phil - I often read second-hand references to Jan Heine's criticism of Rivendell's (definitely Rivendell's) geometry, especially the trail. I had assumed this was from a review he wrote, and I vaguely remember the model being something 650B that he compared to his own Alex Singer. But I could very well be wrong, or perhaps he did make such a comparison, but only conversationally and not in a published review.

    Mark - Oh I know dynamos, I just meant that I wonder how it would feel on a fixed gear as opposed to freewheel bicycle. So you feel any difference pedaling?

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  17. I ought to fix the dynamo on my mixte. I had to get over my fear of the battery light dying on me tonight, since even though it was nice and bright last night, it went dead as a doornail tonight. Luckily there was a big bright full moon out there to light my way!

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  18. Oh! Lucky about the full moon. I was really joking about putting a dynamo on this bike. But lately I have been spending a lot more time riding it than I thought I would, so I began to imagine doing all kinds of crazy things to it. Somehow this bike works especially well for me now that it's so cold - possibly because I warm up on it faster than on other bikes.

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  19. I would just feel the added resistance when I flip it to contact the wheel, then hear the hum and see the light! Pedaling-wise, I don't think there's a difference.
    Mark

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  20. If you're worried about resistance, how about the forthcoming velo orange dynamo with the clutch? Then you only "suffer" when you need the lights.

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  21. I guess the real answer to the Retro-grouch is - Who cares ?! You are out riding your bicycle and he(or she)is out riding there bicycle and criticizing fellow cyclists for not having the "correct" parts on their bike. What is the point other than to feel some superiority in pointing out such things ? Ride your bicycle because you love to do so not because of some ridiculous notion that we must all be riding our 20 + year old bicycles with the original factory parts on them.

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  22. Nice pics.

    Sort of agree with anon above (re: who should care) and luckily most people out and about are more concerned with riding than how other person's bikes are configured. However, having said all that, should I be passing by in the other direction I think the cream white tires might catch my eye and cause a double take, rather than randonneur bars or single spd/fixie set-up. You don't see those much out on the open road.

    Speaking of bumping into retro grouches though. A couple weeks ago I'm on the street corner catching rays with my bike and a cup of coffee and this old guy walks up and asks me what year the DL-1 is. We get into a conversation, and then his offer to buy my bike, and he tells me he's been collecting bikes for decades and has 200 of them. I'm thinking this is BS but he tells me to stop by. Well I did, last weekend, and sure enough. I'm thinking old bikes don't die as much as we think, but rather eccentric retro geezers are squirreling them away like acorns. If true then I find this reassuring, however I might start watching out for estate sales more closely.

    (BTW, no I did not sell him my bike)

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  23. Interesting that you can feel the resistance; I've had a bottle dynamos on several freewheel bikes and don't feel any at all when the dynamo is activated.

    Bif said...
    "...old bikes don't die as much as we think, but rather eccentric retro geezers are squirreling them away like acorns. If true then I find this reassuring..."

    Oh, definitely. I have seen some jaw-dropping collections. And I was just talking to someone last week who described being in a guy's house - where the house was falling apart but the basement was full of rare bikes in pristine condition - collectively worth hundreds of thousands. I am hoping that won't be me in 30-40 year's time!

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  24. velouria said: " I am hoping that won't be me in 30-40 year's time!"

    i'm actually kinda hoping that will be me in 30-40 year's time!

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  25. It sounds like you had a beautiful ride and the coffee house was an added treat. A really nice day.

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  26. velouria said: " I am hoping that won't be me in 30-40 year's time!"

    somervillain: said "i'm actually kinda hoping that will be me in 30-40 year's time!"

    LOL, from what I imagine, that may well be the case for the both of you. Though, at least we know that Velouria sets a few free every now and then. :)

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  27. Well, maybe once I get my house in Maine, with the barn and the secret bunker...

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  28. This time is year is beautiful in a kind of austere, if melancholy, sort of way. I can recall a ride I took, years ago, at this time of year. The gray sky spread over hills that surrounded me. Most of the trees were bare, or nearly so. But at the base of one of those hills, a flowering bush that looked oddly like a lilac was blooming. Its light purple buds were all the more striking, woven as they were in the gray fabric of that day.

    Any cyclist you see on a day like that (I saw one other on the day I'm recalling.) carries the essence of a day like that within him or her. Perhaps knowing that is the reason why I can cycle by myself at this time of year and not feel alone.

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  29. So, you've heard about how back in the day that Italian road racers used to ride fixed gear for off season training? Do you think they bought a new bike just to do that?

    No.

    They "converted" their road bike. I think your Pedantic Retrogrouch may really have been a Nu-Fred.

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  30. kfg - Priceless information that will now equip me with the perfect come back. Thank you for enabling me to out-retrogrouch the retrogrouches!

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  31. A lot of reasons are given for why this was the common practice, but as far as I've been able to tell these are all post hoc. So far as I've been able to gaze through the unwritten mists of time to the origins of the practice it was born of simple economic necessity.

    Bicycle racing until very recently was a working class sport. It was labor. There wasn't all that much money in it and the people who took it up didn't have much money in the first place. The reason so many ex racers ended up making bicycles was because they still had to make a living, not out of any love of it, and their name was all they had to trade on.

    When derailleurs came on the scene they made the fixed wheel obsolete, but the equipment was expensive, finicky, fragile and wore out quickly, particularly in the rain, snow and mud of fall through spring - but there were all these fixed wheels already paid for just lying around . . .

    Why burn up expensive, good equipment that offers no advantage for training? That's for rich amateurs with more money than brains, not poor pros who have to keep a smart eye on the budget.

    When the season is over, strip all that stuff off the bike and throw on some cheap but sturdy fixed wheel.

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