Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Triumph in a Winter Hour

The sunny, clear morning that gave way to this strange day seems like a distant memory now. But at the time, it lulled me into a springtime mood. With the sky a rich blue that matched perfectly the crocuses in the garden, the day seemed ideal to put some air in the tires of my new 60-year-old Triumph and take it out for a maiden spin. The weather forecast was iffy, but then it almost always is. What could possibly happen in the course of a 2 mile ride up and down the winding farm lane?

Proper snowfall is so unusual here, that even when the first flakes began to float, landing on my coat and hat playfully, I did not think much of it and kept pedaling the eagerly creaking machine. These flurries would not last long.

But it did not take long for the stray flakes to turn into a full blown snow storm. Tentative, sparse and watery at first, the snow grew drier, chunkier and denser by the second. Soon it fell like a veil, covering the grass, hedges and trees with a gauzy whiteness in the course of minutes. In the time it took me to put my camera away, the accumulation was dramatic.

And by the time I came to terms with the seriousness of the situation and turned around to return home, visibility was almost nonexistent. Surrounding mountains disappeared into porridge-like fog. The vast fields, bleached white, blended with the horizon. One by one, trees and other markers of distance disappeared, until, for the final mile back, the furthest I could see in front of my tantalisingly non-functional headlight was a few feet.

The weathered cement lane, with its occasional outbursts of moss, became now a soft swooshy path, pristinely white. With my tire being the first to disturb it in this state, I felt a twinge of regret over ruining such unspoiled beauty. But this regret was short lived, as the bicycle took to the snowy surface as if they were meant for each other. The expression "like a ton of bricks" comes to mind. In a good way. Heavy and slow to react, the beast pushed onward persistently, its tattered tires gliding on fresh snow with an air of even-tempered striving. A complete unknown to me, this machine could have let me down, and I'd been fully prepared to walk it home. Instead, it almost seemed to savour the harsh weather conditions, enjoying the opportunity to show its mettle. "I am no novelty bike. Just look at what I can do!"

An hour later, the snowfall ended, the fog dissipated and the temperature rose. The snowdrops began to peek out again. The sun made a tentative re-appearance. Only the white caps of the mountains showed evidence of what had gone on. Soon, they too will melt, like the thin crust of snow now sliding off of the Triumph's spokes and chaincase, liquifying into puddles in the shed. A short, but intense winter burst that leaves me curious to ride this old bike in good weather.

31 comments:

  1. The worst snow storm I have ever been caught in began as a glorious sunny spring day. Nature is temperamental!

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  2. Cement lane, really? Is that typical of the area?

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    1. Not on public roads, but on narrow private farm lanes. They call it cement, not sure what the actual consistency is. There' a striped texture to it too, you can see it in some of the pictures.

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    2. The road is Concrete. Often used on farm tracks as its cheap and strong. Can be strengthened with steel re-bar. Lasts well but frost kills them eventually and they become pitted lanes of hell.

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    3. Whatever is meant by "cement" here, it's actually considered expensive and is chosen for durability and longevity. I think my lane was paved 20+ years ago.

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  3. "Ah, young one. I have been here before. You were right to trust in me."

    Wild, stirring scene there.

    I bet that post-ride cup of tea was especially delicious.

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  4. What a nice 'maiden voyage' out on the Triumph-it's a beautiful bicycle!

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  5. Yep. Old Raleighs (and cousins) are good in the snow.
    Please try to keep the old dear away from the salt. When she gets wet let her warm her feet by the fire.

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  6. We've had a bit of winter in Montana (-20F last week and snow measured in feet) so riding to work hasn't been feasible, even with studded winter tires. Slightly off topic: I've been scoping out Miller lights on ebay recently. Is that what's on your bike? It's very handsome, if I do say so.

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    1. I don't see any name stamped on them, but will have a more thorough look. I'm sure you know this, but those vintage lights are not bright by modern standards even at their best. Are you planning to rewire the Miller with LEDs?

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    2. Yes, the old incandescent bulbs aren't that bright, and they blow out regularly when powered by a generator, although I like the warm yellow glow of their light. I have seen a few different schemes for rewiring LEDs and plan to give it a try. One potential option is repurposing an LED headlight whose case I dropped and broke.

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    3. Practical Cycles UK sells LED bulbs that screw into vintage bases. A little brighter and a little blue over the standard bulb. There are different types for different types of generators / dynamos. I have a pair and like them.

      vsk

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    4. On the '90s Gazelle I used to own, we replaced the halogen headlight bulb with an LED. The light was definitely cooler, but the difference in brightness was remarkable.

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    5. V- The ambered condition of your headlight lens will probably warm up the light from an LED bulb.

      vsk - thanks for the suggestion; I am looking up the bulbs to upgrade my own vintage roadster headlight.

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  7. What a handsome bike this is and the baby loop frame is adorable! Have you named them yet?

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  8. Nothing better to ride in one of these unpredictable old snowstorms than an old, reliable, heavy british bicycle.
    British people did not invent the snow, but they invented the best man powered machine to deal with It.
    I am from Argentina, and as a kid, I used to ride one of those in a little town near the Cordillera de Los Andes, where snow and ice on the roads was an everyday issue. I remember having lots of fun rolling over the first traces of snow in autumn. (sigh!)
    Good weather, and nice rides for everybody, from Argentina

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  9. Steel is reliable - in windy conditions, too. A good waxing or a spray down/wipe with GT85 will keep some moisture away from your Triumph.

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  10. Some of the poise that your Triumph displays in the snow is the machine and some is due to a rider who has changed quite a bit these past few years.

    This is as good a place as any to thank you for steering us all to NFS. I've been adding one drop to the chain for every two or three hours of complete salt marination and that is really more than is necessary. The rest of the winter bike is getting the oily rag treatment with NFS and the absence of winter rust is unprecedented in my 55 winters of riding. The ability of that oil to creep and spread is keeping rust from nooks and crevices that would never see protection on a casually maintained winter bike.

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    1. NFS? Could you please explain what this product is.

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    2. TRY IT! TRY IT NOW!!

      Absolutely the only lube I've ever used that was BETTER than I hoped it would be. A little pricey but worth twice what I paid, although if I can figure out why it smells familiar maybe I can discover what they are buying by the bucket and pouring into little bottles and refill my own. Pneumatic hammer oil? I know I've smelled it before...

      Spindizzy

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  11. Sounds like a normal day around here (minus the small amount of snow, the melting, and all that). Colour me sick of winter :)

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  12. good weather, bad weather, i doubt this bike will be used for more than an occasional sentimental ride. bikes have evolved to better meet our needs.

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    1. An "evolved" bike is my everyday rider. Still I enjoy and appreciate vintage bicycles.

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    2. In a fetishtic, non-operational, new/old same experiential way.

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    3. The hardcore are out riding the latest evolution of Fatbikes today in the 16" of snow we got last night, maybe they'll still be able to ride tomorrow after we get the second wave tonight. But I doubt they'll be riding them in a week when it's all melted. Back on the winter commuter for a month till they can break out the fenderless 'cross bikes, then in another month the super evolved carbon roadbikes will emerge again for 6 months and the cycle will begin again. Of course by then evolution will have made at least one of the bikes from this year seem a bit long in the tooth if not downright obsolete.

      I'm trying to figure out where the fulcrum is on the see-saw of evolution v sentimentality, I hope at least one of my bikes is still in the viable end of the gene pool...

      Spindizzy

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  13. I really love those photo's. We get very similar 'here today, gone....er.....today' snow here in West Wales. We live on a quiet lane and whilst I enjoy being the first to stomp my way through the newly fallen snow, I know exactly what you mean by the 'twinge of regret' when I glance behind me. Thanks

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  14. lovely writing,ah, tantalisingly non functional headlights, I have one on a sunbeam, an LED bulb would do it, but wiring can be a complete mystery on these things

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  15. This reminded me of my '58 Raleigh Sports which has an identical (if not the same) ladies frame and headlight - I've been biking at the University of Michigan all winter long and this bike just takes it like a champ! It's reassuring to know that someone else shares this experience and it's not just me being all delusional just because I love my bike, haha.

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  16. Nice piece!
    The weather can turn on you in an instant. I remember going cycling in completely fine weather - a bit cloudy, but nothing special- and ending up in the middle of my trip in the middle of a huge storm with lightnings and heavy rain. Wasn't the best trip as you can probably imagine :)

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