Monday, April 24, 2017

Michigan Steelhead Ride

This past weekend I managed to get out with my new Mercian 753 Special, just recently completed, and I got to enjoy it with a group of fellow vintage bike nuts in Michigan.

Steelhead Trout (Oncorhynchus Mykiss)
Dubbed the Michigan Steelhead Ride (after the popular game fish) the ride was organized by a Retrogrouch reader, Jim T., who is also a friend on the Classic Rendezvous Google Group. Although driving about four hours (from Akron, Ohio to Lansing, Mich.) is a long way to go for an informal bike ride, I'd been looking forward to getting out with some like-minded retro riders now that winter seems to have relinquished its hold on us. There wasn't a huge group to ride with - about eight guys altogether - but there were some nice bikes to enjoy and swap stories about.

The group met at a nice little café in the quiet town of Dewitt, just a few miles north of Lansing. There we had a tasty breakfast - corned beef hash seemed to be popular with the group, and the coffee was quite good. The folks at the Family Tree Café were kind enough to allow most of us to keep our cars in their small parking lot while we went for our ride.

Weather was kind to us. We had beautiful clear skies, but a bit of a chill in the air with only about 45 degrees when we were ready to depart. Almost everyone on the ride had some vintage wool to wear, but most of us also had a light shell to throw on for the first half of the ride. It was one of those mornings where it felt too warm with the shell, but too cold without. But the temps rose as the ride continued, and by the half-way point, most of us were stuffing the shells into our back pockets. I think it must have gotten into the mid 50s by the time we got to the end. Jim had named the ride Steelhead - but I joked we could have called it the "hockin' phlegm" ride since the cool air, combined with the fact that a lot of us were probably getting over colds, meant there was expectoration a'plenty. Sorry - too much info?

The roads were in decent shape, though there were stretches where winter's freeze and thaw had thrown some cracks and holes in our path. Traffic was fairly light on the whole, and the group kept a nice pace and mostly stayed together. Occasionally some show off would take off on a sprint to the top of a climb (alright, that was me), or we'd wait up at an intersection for one or two folks to catch up. Really though, it was a good group of riders. Along the route we found a little bakery that had some fantastic oatmeal raisin cookies which were worth the stop.

As mentioned, there were some cool folks on the ride, and some fun bikes to enjoy. Around the mid point we stopped for a break at a little gas station/party store (called Spagnuolo's - a name that reminded us a little of Campagnolo) and I snapped some pictures of the bikes:

Most, but not all the bikes were vintage. Those that weren't were at least "vintage inspired."

Marc I. brought this Rivendell Sam Hillborne on the ride, with wide upright bars, and a well-broken-in Brooks saddle.

Marcus H. brought a recently completed Terraferma, a very pretty randonneur-style bike. I believe he said this was one of the first rides he'd done with it. We really enjoyed his build choices, which included a cool mix of new and vintage components.

We had this one-owner Maserati with complete Campy Nuovo Record along with us.

There's my Mercian 753. Other than a short "sorting out" ride to make sure everything was adjusted properly, this was the first chance to really put it through some paces.

Jim T. brought a very sweet custom Randy Smolenski. Yes, it has modern shifters, but also has a beautiful Zeus crank, and fabulous vintage SunTour Superbe Pro brakes. Notice the rear brake mounting. Slick.

Steve C. had this vintage Frejus fixed-gear which was a real treat to see. Steve must be a pretty strong rider, as he had no trouble keeping pace despite the single speed.

Mark A. brought this vintage Torpado which had an interesting set of black-anodized 
Super Record parts on it.

We also had this one-owner Raleigh Professional from about 1977. Apart from the wheels and pedals, it appears to be mostly original.

As I mentioned, this was an inaugural ride for my new-old Mercian. I was really curious about how the bike would ride. A couple of impressions: it is stiff, and the angles are pretty steep, so it's very responsive. It does have decent compliance, but it's always been hard for me to tell if something like that is more from the frame or from the tires. I can certainly say I wouldn't want to go narrower on the tires. The tires I chose for the bike are Schwalbe One tubulars, and they are listed at 28 mm wide, but in reality they probably measure more like 26 or so, at least for now. There's plenty of clearance under the fork crown and the seatstay bridge for them, but between the chainstays, it's pretty clear I couldn't go any larger. I'll have to always make sure my wheels are nice and true.

I've also decided that the vintage Cinelli Campione del Mondo (mod. 66) bars have a really deep drop -- yes, I knew they were deep when I installed them, and I put them on because (A.) I had them available in my stash, and (B.) they seemed to fit the "theme" and "period" of the build that I was after. But in actually riding with them, I'm reminded that I'm no longer as young as I used to be, and I really just can't ride very long in that low position. I spent most of the ride up on the ramps and the lever tops. I may have to set those bars aside and put on something a little "friendlier" to my current riding requirements.

The bike got many compliments for its Emerald, Ruby, and Gold paint scheme, as well as the "like-new" Campy Super Record gruppo.

When we finished the ride, the group hung out for a while until people needed to move on for the day. A few of us stayed after and re-visited the Family Tree Café where we had either a late lunch, or an early dinner. The waitress recommended their burgers, and all of us took her advice. She was right, as the burgers were truly first-rate, as were the fries. I also got to try Bell's Oberon ale from Kalamazoo, which was a nice discovery for me, and I need to look around to see if anyone near me carries it. It was a great complement to the burger.

Eventually I needed to head home, facing another four-hour drive back to Akron. It was nice meeting some folks up in Michigan, and I had a really good time.


  1. Sounds like a great ride with some great bikes. I like yours the best, though--and not because I'm partial to Mercians! ;-)

  2. BTW--Bell's Oberon is really good stuff. A couple of years ago, it was hard to find here in NYC, but now a lot of stores carry, and bars serve, it.

  3. Nice ride report; thanks.

    Deep drop bars: I feel your (aging neck) pain. I swapped out my Nitto 185s and original issue Giro d'Italias (only 140 mm drop) to Maes Parallels (125 mm drop but longer reach), and raised my bars (road bikes; dirt road bike bars are slightly higher) from about 75 mm below to 30 mm below saddle. The added reach, besides giving you a range of very much nicer ramps positions than the severely sloping ramps of the 185s or G d'I, compensates for the higher hooks and hoods when you are riding into a headwind, but lets you choose how low you want your back and neck.

    "Almost everyone on the ride had some vintage wool to wear, but most of us also had a light shell to throw on for the first half of the ride. It was one of those mornings where it felt too warm with the shell, but too cold without."

    Isn't this a perennial problem? Me, during those "in between" seasonal periods where start temperatures can be far lower than return temperatures (I'm in high desert NM, where one can often see 30 degree differentials between 9 am and 1 pm), instead of ls wool jerseys, I often choose a sl wool jersey with arm warmers, and I have a selection of gilets, from an ethereal light one that is merely a wind breaker, to a thickish one that is like a winter jacket sans sleeves. And my winter jacket has zip-off sleeves, making it even more versatile.

    Also, I've found that good, wool dickies help a great deal during "in between" seasons. My 2 were made from medium weight wool turtlenecks: cut off sleeves and body, leaving the neck and a chest panel and enough in back to drape over your shoulder. Wear under a wool jersey -- they can be pulled off when things warm up.

  4. I have been to this place several times. The perfect event starts with an extraordinary location, like this. Thanks to my friend for introducing me to this venue NYC. I will definitely be coming back.

  5. Sounds like a nice get together.

    I'm with you on a shallower drop bar. I still ride in the drops a fair amount of the time but e 66-40 is too deep. I'm a big fan of the 64-40 and the 3t Merckx Mod

  6. Really like the new paint on your Mercian. One correction, the Rivendell is a Sam Hillborne, not an AHH.

    1. aaaggghhh! I admit that I cant keep the Hillborne and the Hilsen straight in my head - they seem very similar to me. But it's not like the name isn't right there on the downtube. Jeesh.

  7. Thanks for the ride report! That's a nice bunch of bikes, and I can't help but note that a couple are probably my size... (temptation is never far away). Congrats to everyone for coming out for the ride, and especially to Jim for organizing it.

    Once or twice a year, I travel about 3 hours to join some fellow vintage fellows in the Chicago area. It's a pleasure to meet them and see what bikes they've been tinkering with. Yeah, it's a lot of driving for a few hours on the bike, but it's worth it.

  8. Glad to hear that you liked cycling in the mid-Michigan area. I have lived here for the last 40+ years and stayed here when I retired. I now only appreciate vintage bikes visually because the riding position & gearing no longer fit my abilities. Take cycling as/at a most leisurely pace now-a-days. Thanks-once-again for taking the time & effort in sharing your love of cycling.