Saturday, September 21, 2019

RetroMod

With school back in session, and with a new schedule and new teaching assignments, it seems I haven't had a lot of time for blog writing these last few weeks. But I have been riding to work as much as possible. Usually I ride a decidedly non-retro-grouchy bike to work, fully decked out with racks, panniers, fenders, bags, and lights - and with an aluminum frame, modern Shimano components, and even (gasp) disc brakes. I see it as utilitarian pack mule that gets the job done without inspiring much passion - and riding it in rain or winter's salty slush doesn't make me cringe the way I would if I were on a nice classic steel bike.

The last couple of days have brought us fantastic weather -- warm, sunny, and with no hint of rain in sight. I haven't had to carry a lot of gear back and forth either, so for my last few commuting rides I decided to skip the pack mule and take something a little more lively: my black & blue Mercian "retro-mod." Since I haven't really featured it on the blog much, I thought I might take some time today to rectify that.

This was a frame I had built back around 2010 - a King of Mercia model in Reynolds 725 heat-treated chrome-moly. The "retro" comes from the lugged steel frame and vintage-inspired paint scheme with contrasting panels and bands on the seat-tube. The "mod" comes from its modern (well, modern for 2010) components - including 10-speed cassette and Campy Ergo brake/shift levers. Prior to acquiring the pack mule with its disc brakes, this was the most "modern" bike in my collection.

In the Mercian color palette, the main color is called Black Pearl - it has a fine metallic sparkle that catches the light. The contrasting color on the head-tube and seat-tube is called Blue Intenso Pearl. I had Mercian finish it off with red pinstriping and lug outlining. The bar tape, from Fizik, was a near-exact match to the blue contrasting panels, while the saddle has a center stripe in the same shade. The red cable housing picks up the red in the pinstriping. It's very matchy-matchy, but it all fell together so easily that I couldn't resist it.
The bike was built with clearance for reasonably large tires - those are about 28 mm, though I think 32 would fit without difficulty. Most of the components are Campagnolo, but Campagnolo doesn't make a "medium" reach brake as the clearance on this frame required. The brakes I ended up using were made by Tektro, but they have a beautifully polished finish and first-rate hardware (like the barrel adjusters and the eccentric quick release) much nicer than their low price would indicate. I was "snobby" enough to carefully remove the Tektro name from the calipers, though. I upgraded the pads with top-quality ones, and the brakes look and work as well as the best. 
The tubing on the frame is slightly oversized, but that meant an oversized 1⅛ steerer, too. Yes, I think 1⅛  is overkill on a steel bike, but apparently the available lugs made it necessary. So I had to get a threadless headset (Chris King) and stem. The stem from Velo-Orange is a decent-looking one with a nice polish, but honestly I think a traditional quill stem looks better on a steel bike. Another thing - commonly available aluminum headset spacers tend to be really thick, making the already large steerer tube look even bigger. I had a friend who owns a machine shop turn down some nice thin spacers for me on his lathe. It helps the look. What would be ideal would be to have someone craft a nice, slim stem out of steel, but that's an expensive option.
I've used or at least tried the integrated brake/shift lever systems from the three main component makers - Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo, but of the three, I really prefer the Campagnolo Ergo.  The Shimano shifters have a "lighter" touch, but the Campagnolo have more "feel" or "feedback." The paddles for shifting need only a small "throw" to execute a shift, and can make multiple gear shifts with one press of the lever. By contrast, the Shimano take a much longer sweep of the lever to make a shift. The lever shape is a little weird-looking (at least they are if you typically use more traditional or vintage-styled levers), but they feel nice in the hand. The bodies are long and offer plenty of room for big hands.
In this shot you can see the sparkle in the black and blue paint, and the little hand-cut heart detail in the lugs.
Campagnolo Centaur 10-speed drivetrain looks good in silver. The crank looks a little like the late-'80s C-Record but has the Ultra-Torque bottom bracket system. There can be issues with that system (I wrote about that HERE), but mine was set up well to make it smooth and trouble free. Fun detail: my bottle cage is carbon fiber. It's the only carbon fiber thing I have on any bikes.
The light, nimble, and racy bike made for a fun change of pace on my commutes for a few days.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Americane Vintage Road and Track Bike Show

This weekend I took a drive up to Rochester Hills, Michigan, near Detroit, for the 11th annual Americane Vintage Road and Track Bike Show, organized by Vintage Velo Rendezvous Michigan (VVRM). The show was held at the International Velodrome at Bloomer Park and included free admission to the track in addition to the vintage bike show. Having never actually ridden on a velodrome before, I was eager to give it a try, so I loaded up a couple of vintage bikes for the show, including my track bike. It's about a 3½ hour drive from Akron to Detroit, which means I was probably the farthest from home of any of the event's attendees. But I knew there'd be some familiar faces at the show as I've met a few Michigan vintage bike fans over the last few years as I've been traveling there for other vintage-oriented bike rides.

Weather for the event could best be described as tenuous. Rain in the morning made for a wet track that needed to dry out in the earlier hours of the day. But the sun came out to dry things off in time for the main event, and eventually it got into the upper 80s (though someone said it was close to 100 on the track!). But then more storms rolled in for the afternoon and cut things short. By the time the show judges were announcing winners, people were rushing to pack up their bikes as lightning could be seen (and heard) moving closer.

A view of the velodrome at Bloomer Park.
There's two riders on the track - Tim P. on one of the "loaner" track bikes, and Mark A. on his lovely vintage Masi Pista.
The velodrome facility had someone on hand to provide free one-on-one lessons on track riding, so I took advantage of that. It didn't take long, and after a couple of laps, I was up on the banking and having a ball.
There I am on the banking, riding my vintage Mercian track bike.
There were some awfully nice bikes brought in for the show. It was great to see what people entered - and lots of bike-lust opportunities. There were awards given for Best British, Italian, French, North American, Japanese/Asian, and "Other" European, as well as a "People's Choice - Best in Show" and "Judges Choice."

This red and white Atala, owned by Jon A., was the winner for best Italian bike.
My Mercian track bike was part of the show - with my green and red 753 Mercian just behind it. 
I liked this blue Colnago - and I also enjoyed talking with its owner, Bob B. I'm going to take a moment here to plug his charitable organization FB4Kdetroit (Free Bikes 4 Kidz) which gets bikes to kids in need. If you're in the Detroit area and have a bike to donate, or would be interested in helping out in some other way (like building or repairing donated bikes), contact them at fb4kdetroit.org. It sounds like a great cause.
I got a few pictures of this beautiful example of Mark Nobilette's work, owned by Phil K. Elegant lugwork under shocking purple paint. This was the winner for best North American entry.

I really liked the seatstay/seat lug treatment on this bike.
Beautiful old Gios Torino pista. Stunning.
This old Rochet would have been my pick for best French bike. One doesn't see many of these - and this example has some really nice details.



I think this was the French category winner (photo by Tim Potter) - A very nicely detailed Peugeot PX-10, owned by Phil H. 
Tim P. won "Best Japanese/Asian" for this wonderful Nagasawa keirin racing bike. Fun fact: I learned at the show that Tim's father-in-law was a championship keirin racer in Japan. He had some  magazine articles, news clippings, and plaques to display.
Just look at that clearance under the fork crown! Tight!
Okay - so, like a dope, I forgot to get a decent picture of my own 753 Mercian at the show. But this is the bike that won both "Best British Bike" and the "Judges Choice" awards. Wahoo!
Accepting one of the two awards for the green Mercian from event organizer Jon Albert. (photo by Tim Potter).
If you're a Facebook user, there are a bunch more photos on the event page - including more of the bikes, and more of the prize winners (sorry - I didn't get pictures of all of them), with photos uploaded by several participants. Maybe more will be added over the next couple of days. Anyhow, check those out HERE.

So as the last awards were handed out, thunder was rumbling and everyone was packing it in. Too bad, as I was hoping to get back out on the track again before heading home. All in all, it was a fun day (even if it was cut a little short) and I was feeling pretty good at getting some recognition for one of my own bikes at the show. I understand VVRM is hoping to see the event grow - I'll be keeping an eye out for another invite next year. Thanks, guys!

Monday, July 29, 2019

Biking in Canada: Part Trois

At this point, our family trip into Canada is done and we're back home. But our last visit was to the City of Quebec, several hours drive northeast of Montreal. I had mentioned in the previous post that the older parts of Montreal give a person the impression of a European city - and Quebec is a lot like that, but even more so. The "Old City" is reportedly the only fortified or "walled" city in North America (at least north of Mexico), and some parts of it date back to the 1600s. Our lodging was in rented house in the borough of Beauport, a short drive away from downtown. We spent about three days there - a lot of it exploring the "Old City" as a family, though I did get to do some riding on my own.

I had been warned that Quebec was not as "bike friendly" of a city as Montreal, but I wouldn't totally agree with that. There were numerous bike lanes, both on-street and separated, and there is a very nice bike path along the riverside. But the "Old City" is very compact -- conjested with cars and huge tour buses,  the streets are narrow (which apparently is not a deterrent to the buses), and crowded with tourists, and overall it seems really better suited to exploring on foot. However, having said that, because it is such a fight to find parking around the "Old City," I would at least suggest getting there by bike if at all possible, bring (or wear) walking shoes, find a good place to lock your bike, and then go walking.

This was on the steps leading from the "Upper Town" (or Haut-Ville) to the "Lower Town" (or  Basse-Ville). You can get a sense here of why getting around on a bike would be a bit tricky.
It's easy to forget you're not actually in Paris.
As I said - lots of narrow streets and alleyways - bustling with people. This alley was brimming with artists selling their work to tourists.
There are so many little cafes with tables on the sidewalk or on the street - and tons of interesting shops.
So, all of that was fantastic to see, but trying to get through much of it with a bike would be a pain. So for a much more peaceful ride, I decided to head over to the Ile d'Orleans, which sits right in the middle of the Saint Lawrence River, just to the east of the city.

The bridge to the isle was only about a 15-20 minute ride from the house where we were staying.
But first I rode over to Montmorency Falls, which was just a short detour from my route to the bridge. It was early so I got to enjoy seeing the falls pretty much by myself. The falls are reportedly 272 feet high, which is actually 99 feet higher than Niagara Falls.

Those cables going across the falls are a zipline. Not for me. Merci, NO!

From up on the observation deck by the falls, I could get a good view of the bridge and the Ile d'Orleans. I'd have a nice, fast downhill ride to the bridge.
(Gratuitous bicycle shot)
Approaching the bridge, which is a fairly delicate-looking suspension bridge.

I was up early so there was very little traffic on the bridge. But it's a very narrow roadway, and the walking/biking "lane" on the side is also very narrow. You wouldn't want to encounter someone coming the opposite direction.
At the mid-way part of the span. Did I mention that I really do not like high places? What's worse is that a truck would drive by and I could feel the whole roadway bounce. Oh, my stomach.
Nice view, though.
Once onto the Ile d'Orleans, there is one main road, Route 368, which encircles the perimeter of the whole island. It's about 42 miles all the way around. Orleans is sparsely populated, and primarily agricultural. There is not much in the way of development - and it's really peaceful as a result.

(Shadow "selfie")
I'm told that the island can get pretty busy with tourists this time of year, but again, I was out there pretty early. One of the big draws of the island is the produce. I saw farms of all kinds - fruits and vegetables, poultry and eggs, dairy, and there are produce markets and lots of little roadside fruit stands all along the 368. There are also vineyards and some small wineries, little cafes here and there, and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns.

I spotted this beautiful little cottage overlooking the river. There were lots of others like it.
One of many strawberry farms. OK, just for a frame of reference, try to imagine the powerful perfume of strawberries filling your nostrils. It was so strong I just had to stop. The downside of being out so early was that the markets and roadside stands weren't open yet. I was sorely tempted to run down there and pick a handful, but couldn't bring myself to do it.
Another farm with a great view.
After a great ride around the island, it was time to make my way back to the bridge.
There's Montmorency Falls, as seen from the bridge. The house where we were staying was at a similar elevation as at the top of the falls, so you can see I'd have some climbing ahead of me.
Before making the climb back up to the house (and the climb was a doozy) I enjoyed a leisurely ride for a few miles on the bike path that follows the Saint Lawrence, then started climbing. Did I mention that before leaving for Canada, I had put a different freewheel on the Mercian? I found an Ultra (narrow) 6-speed to replace my 5-speed. My low gear went from 24 to 28 teeth, with a 42-tooth chainring. That was helpful. And my smallest cog went from 14 to 13 - while picking up an extra gear ratio in the middle. Nice.

The following morning, we got the car packed up and started making the drive back home. All told, we had an excellent week in Canada, and it was nice to be able to experience at least some of it on two wheels. I hope the readers enjoyed it too.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Biking in Canada - Part Deux

As I mentioned in the previous post, my family and I have been enjoying a week with our neighbors to the north in Canada, and I brought one of my vintage Mercian bikes to do some two-wheeled exploring during our stay. Our first stop had been in the Niagara region, and then we headed around Lake Ontario and up to the Province of Quebec to spend a couple of days in Montreal.

Now, I've been to Canada many times - mostly in Ontario, but also a visit to British Columbia some years back. One of the things that's pretty obvious when visiting Canada is that almost all signs (road signs, etc.) are in both English and French. I had assumed that this would still be the case in Quebec -- I mean, I thought maybe French would be first, with English second -- but I assumed signs would still be "bi-lingual." Turned out I was wrong. Quebec is pretty much "full-immersion" French. I should also mention that currently about half of Montreal seems to be under construction, with road and lane closures at just about every turn, and lots of detours. Believe me, it was an exciting (and nerve-wracking) experience trying to navigate the city while struggling to understand the road signs.

Let me back up a moment. So, in high school and college I had taken a little bit of Spanish, and a little bit of French. Not enough of either one to become even remotely proficient. And that was about 35 years ago. When reading in either language, especially if I have some context, I can usually get a decent gist of what something means, albeit slowly. But when someone actually speaks to me it's really difficult for me to process what they're saying. Hell, I can't even identify most of the words they're saying. So all over Montreal, every time someone would speak to me in French, I'd have this panic-stricken moment of indecision, kind of like a squirrel in the middle of the road with a car bearing down on it, then a confused verbal mess would pour forth from my mouth in a tangled combination of English, French, and Spanish. "Excuse me, parlez vous English, por favor?" Yeah - it's embarrassing. (However, one of our nights in town we had dinner in a great little Mexican restaurant where my unique SpaFraEnglish dialect worked out really well - just saying). Thankfully, most people we encountered were incredibly pleasant, patient, understanding - and bi-lingual. Friendly and pleasant - Canadians, this is why the world loves you.

Anyhow, Montreal has a reputation for being a very bike-friendly city, with miles and miles of bike lanes, paths, and other bike infrastructure all around the city. Unfortunately, a lot the previously mentioned construction is currently affecting the cycling infrastructure almost as much as for drivers, but I couldn't help but notice there are still bicycles and riders just about everywhere you look. It's clearly not stopping any riders.

My family and I were staying in a hotel near McGill University and just a few blocks from one of the most significant landmarks in the city - Mont Royal. On my first opportunity to get out on my bike, I did some exploring in the area near the hotel and the district known as "Le Plateau-Mont-Royal" which is a pretty laid-back, funky neighborhood. I managed to find a couple of bike shops that got my attention.

One was called Bikurious . . .


. . . Where I spotted some terrific eye-candy hanging around inside . . .

. . . Like this Gardin track bike hanging from the ceiling . . .
. . . And this gorgeous old Gios track bike.
Later, riding along a bike route on Rue Cherrier, I came across Le Grand Cycle which practically begs a cyclist to stop in.


"Halte Cycliste" - Yes, I recommend you do.
Just inside, hanging over the door was this nice vintage Campagnolo-equipped Marinoni. . .

Marinoni cycles are built not too far from Montreal in the town of Terrebonne, Quebec.
There were also vintage jerseys, and some fun retro-grouchy items on display in one of the glass cases.
When I walked into Le Grand Cycle with my vintage red Mercian, I immediately got compliments from several people inside. One of the associates was having his lunch when I walked in (poutine, of course) but was eager to take time out to talk bikes. I told him a little about my Mercian - he wasn't familiar with the marque - as he was admiring the details of the lugwork, vintage components, and its original paint. We had a nice chat, then he gave me a detailed map of Montreal and its network of bike routes, and gave some recommendations for places to see. What a great little shop! I was really glad I had stopped in.

One of the places he recommended I ride was the aforementioned Mont Royal.

Mont Royal, as seen from the roof of our hotel. You might notice that cross at the top. More about that later.
There is a network of trails all over the mountain, and it's a popular spot for hikers and cyclists alike. 
One cool bit of cycling-related history is that Mont Royal was a significant feature of the 1976 Montreal Olympic bicycle road race. The race course circuit had the racers climbing Mont Royal 14 times. And American rider George Mount finished in 6th place overall -- one of the first hints that American cycling was finally starting to come of age. You can watch a few highlights from that race here:


The video quality isn't great - but notice near the beginning of the coverage that the commentator points out George Mount and then says "he's not expected to do much." Nice to know he had to eat those words. From watching the video, it seems that when it was raced in the '76 Olympics, the main route up to the summit was probably paved. Today, the route is a mostly firm-packed gravel (if someone knows more about that, feel free to leave a comment).

It's nice and wide, and mostly firm, but there are plenty of loose patches to be careful of. The main route winds its way up to the summit in such a way that the grade is fairly mild, but steady - probably somewhere between 5 - 10% and it works out to around 8 miles of steady climbing. I climbed it like a beast. Twice. But descended it more cautiously because it was really easy to lose traction in the curves. I could feel my relatively narrow road tires breaking loose at times on the descent, and I did not want to wash out and end up spending the next couple of weeks digging gravel and cinders out of my legs.
The area all around Mont Royal is a scenic park, with a lovely lake . . .
. . . and a little more than half-way up there is a nice chalet where drinks and snacks are available - and an observation deck offering excellent views of the city skyline.

(Had to get a bike picture in here somewhere)
Right near the summit of the mountain is this cross (you could see it in one of the photos above, looming over the city). The path takes you right up to it.

You might not be able to see him, but when I snapped this photo, there was a workman climbing up the inside of the cross, presumably to change lightbulbs. Yes, the cross is lit up at night.
Another place I got to explore was the Old Port area, where Montreal might easily remind one of a European city. Cobblestones and narrow streets and alleyways. Lots of sidewalk cafes, with artists and performers at every corner, interesting shops, and lots of "people watching" opportunities. It was also packed with tourists. It was, I regret, an area perhaps better explored on foot than on wheels.



After a couple days and nights in Montreal, we made the drive up the Saint Lawrence River to the city of Quebec.

More to come. . .