Riders on Saturday were encouraged to ride their Smolenski-built bikes, though not everyone could do that (myself, for instance) and so the ride was an opportunity to see a bunch of examples of his work together in one place, and for people to share memories and swap stories about the builder. I heard a lot of them, and all I can say is that Randy must have been a real character - extremely knowledgable about bikes, perhaps a little "gruff" about it at times. Didn't suffer fools. Heart of gold. If he gave advice about bikes, it was best to follow it because he was very nearly always right. My kind of guy. All I can say is I wish I could have visited that shop and met the man.
According to my pal Jim T. who organized the ride, Randy started building bikes back in the early '80s because he was increasingly dissatisfied with the quality of bikes he was dealing with, and that included the workmanship on expensive Italian bikes from very prestigious names. Alignment issues, poor brazing or mitering, etc. He just knew he could do it better, and so he did. Looking at some of the examples on Saturday's ride, it was clear that Randy had developed a very distinct style in his frames - most of which were for racing. Super tight geometry, close clearances, fastback stays, clean and simple lugwork - the bikes just looked fast. He didn't build a lot of bikes - Jim estimates the number to be no more than about 150 - but it's hard to say for sure because Randy didn't bother with things like serial numbers, meticulous records, or anything like that. It's possible he couldn't have given a more accurate estimate himself.
The ride was about 60 miles, mostly flat, with a lot of it on the White Pine Trail which is a former railway line converted to bike trail. That much of the ride pretty much followed the same course as another group ride I participated in last year. But then the route took us away from the trail, through some pretty countryside and out to place called Baptist Lake where Jim has a cottage beside the lake. There we had a nice lunch, prepared by his wife, then we rode back the way we came. It was super hot - upper 80s at least - but with a good breeze to make it tolerable. We were joined on the ride by Randy's widow, Deb, who was happy to see how well Randy was remembered by riders in the area. It was a real pleasure to meet her.
A Look at the Bikes:
|This pink Smolenski is one of ride-organizer Jim T's bikes. Built with a mix of old and modern parts. That forward-facing rear brake is found on a lot of Randy's bikes as you'll soon see.|
|Here's another small-framed Smolenski owned by John B. - like the pink bike above, it has a tight wheelbase, forward facing rear brake, and fastback seat stays.|
|The lugs on this one are a little different than most Smolenski bikes - notice that little scroll detail.|
|Henry James fork crown is interesting. And this bike also has the top-mount shift levers.|
|According to Jim, this would have been among the first few bikes that Randy built for sale. Even as an early example, it has a lot of distinctive elements that would become part of his style.|
|Top-mount shifters, clean short-point lugs. Almost no graphics. The bone-white with black components looks pretty awesome.|
|Here you can get a really good look at that seat stay/seat lug joinery. That is just so tight. This early example has a very short straight seat stay bridge - a lot of later bikes would have an inverted "v" bridge.|
|Here is a real showstopper belonging to Jason P. It features a gorgeous two-tone paint scheme and lots of gold-plated components. The bike was immaculate and just gleamed.|
|Awesome gold-plated highlights on this old Superbe Pro derailleur. Even the cable housing is gold-tinted. That derailleur was state of the art in the late '80s, and as far as I'm concerned, is state of the art today, too.|
|Gold plated and pantographed Superbe Pro crank, and highly polished pedals.|
|Super clean looking seat lug, and a very excellent Dia Compe Royal Gran Compe brakeset - black and gold from the factory.|
|Jason even sports a special "Smolenski Bikes Etc." wool jersey with 1947 - 2017 memorial dates on the sleeve. Very nice.|
|Another example of super tight-radius fillet brazing on this "not quite complete" Smolenski tandem.|
|Skip M. brought this beautiful Jim Holly-built Griffon up from Chicago. Griffon cycles originally hailed from Santa Monica, CA. This one looks almost new and has a beautiful set of early generation SunTour Superbe components.|
|Someone brought this modern era lugged steel Bianchi with 80s vintage Campagnolo components.|
|A nice old Mercian King of Mercia model - probably '80s vintage if I had to guess.|
It turned out that my choosing a fixed gear bike had an unintended good consequence for the ride. Because I have my rear wheel attached with track nuts instead of a quick release, I always make sure I have a wrench packed in one of my bags in case I need to remove the wheel to fix a flat tire. And though there are smaller, more compact tools for that eventuality, I just make a habit of carrying a Campagnolo crank bolt wrench - aka the "peanut butter wrench," which is useful on crank bolts and track axle nuts alike. About 25 miles into our ride, one of our group suddenly discovered, to his horror, that one of his crank arms was coming loose. In a lot of instances, that would be the end of someone's ride. In fact, Jim was in the process of dialing his wife on the phone to see if she could drive out to the rescue. Once I realized what was going on, I yelled out "Oh my god - I've got this!" We got the crank bolts tightened up solidly and were back on the road in minutes. Peanut butter wrench saves the day.
Once again, it was great to get up to Michigan to ride with some old friends and meet some new ones. A big "thank you" goes out to Jim T. for putting it all together.