Monday, December 28, 2020

Hindsight is 2020

As 2020 comes to a close, now seems like a good time to look back at a year like no other.

It's been a while since we've had such
a "White Christmas."
I'm going to start this by mentioning that I don't know how much biking material will be in this post. We had a big winter storm come through our area beginning on the night of Christmas Eve, dumping over a foot of snow, and that meant no Christmas bike ride this year. Even now, on the Monday after, my street is still a thick sheet of ice since no city snowplows ever rolled through my neighborhood. We are low priority, I guess.

Sorry to say, but the Covid-19 pandemic will NOT be over when the new year is rung in. It's crazy to think about the fact that it started almost a full year ago, first being reported in China last January - though it didn't really come to dominate our news and our lives until March when everything shut down. More than 300,000 people have died here in the U.S. since then, and the spike in cases is far beyond what it was back in March. Hospitals across the country are overwhelmed and healthcare workers are exhausted and desperate. Yet somehow there are huge swaths of the American public who refuse to even believe that it's real - even when they're dying from it. Without getting too specifically into the politics of it, I'll just say that the national-level response has been a disgrace. And the state-level response, depending on the state, has been equally pathetic. I felt pretty good about the response by our Governor here in Ohio, at least early on. But when our state's excellent health director started getting death threats and had to resign as a result, the state response has become much more anemic.

Prior to the coronavirus, most of my posts at the beginning of 2020 dealt with my project of restoring this beautiful vintage Specialized Sequoia. I had just finished it when everything "hit the fan."

I was looking back at my blog posts from the past year, and mentions of the virus come up in the majority of them, beginning in March ("Corona Virus Blues") and continuing right up to now. There are posts about working from home, working on bike-related projects during the shutdown, a Covid-19 bike boom, and escaping the quarantine by bike. It's kind of funny to think that someday those posts could be part of some future historian's study of life during the pandemic. A modern Journal of the Plague Year, if you will, as I'm reminded of Samuel Pepys, or Daniel Defoe, in that regard.

The pandemic has already changed many things about our culture and society - both for better AND worse. I'm saddened to think of all the businesses, particularly restaurants and small family-owned businesses, that have either closed or will close before it's all over. I'm frustrated at the way fake news and conspiracy theories have replaced reputable news and common sense as the guiding forces of so many people. I'm concerned that the pandemic has really exposed the serious weaknesses and inherent inequalities in our systems, including economic, political, and healthcare - and I fear that the people who benefit from those weaknesses and inequalities will prevent anything from making them better. I'm not an optimist, and I haven't been since 1992 (yes, I can actually pin it down that specifically).

But have there been any good things to come out of this dumpster fire of a year?

Well, I think it has made people (at least some people) consider what is really important. For every one selfish and ignorant person who refuses to wear a mask because of a twisted and self-indulgent interpretation of "freedom," there are perhaps several more who are making sacrifices to help an elderly neighbor. I think a lot of people have gained more appreciation for family, and cherishing whatever time they are able to spend together.

I've hated many aspects of trying to teach remotely - but I've loved the fact that I've been able to see my wife and my own children so much more during the day (in between our various zoom meetings, etc.). I know that when I do have to return to work, that will be something I will miss.

And, as was mentioned in the post about a pandemic "bike boom" - it seems that a lot of people have come to rediscover the joys of riding a bike. Being stuck indoors has made people crave some kind of release, and bicycling turned out to be a great way to find it. Living so close to a national park, I could see firsthand how people were flocking to the park to enjoy the simple pleasures of a hike or a bike ride through our natural resources.

Here's another thing: people have been driving less, and there has been a marked improvement in the quality of air and water in some places. I wouldn't be surprised if car-related fatalities for 2020 show a significant dip compared to previous years, too.

There is a vaccine now, which means we can almost see a light at the end of the tunnel. But the challenge, as I see it, is staying healthy until one can actually get the dose, and that could take months. When that time finally comes - maybe some time next summer - when we can feel comfortable enough to sit in a theater, or a restaurant - when we can hug that friend or relation without hesitating - when we can begin to feel "normal" again - what will we do? How will we respond? Will we be ready to to make serious changes to our addiction to oil? Will we finally be ready to address issues of inequity and very real weaknesses in our safety net and access to health care? Will people keep riding those bikes they bought - or shove them back down in the basement?

The Anglo-Saxons of the so-called "dark ages" believed in something they called "Wyrd." It's from this word that we got the modern-English word "weird" (and why, incidentally, Shakespeare's witches in Macbeth were called the "Weird Sisters"). The belief in Wyrd was essentially that the skein of any person's fate was woven long before they were born, and nothing they do can change the outcome. But even as we cannot change the outcome of our fate, we can control our response to it -- and it is our response to it that determines what kind of person we are, and the way we will be remembered. This past year has been a reminder that life can sometimes deal us things that we simply can't control. But we can always control how we respond to them. How will future generations view our response to this very weird 2020?

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Bike Safety 101: "This Is Johnny's Car"

Covid is surging. There is a vaccine currently making its way to the highest-risk folks - but the rest of us still have a long wait. Schools are "online" again as our region has reached the "purple zone" on the state's risk-level color chart. I'm working from home, alongside the RetroKids and my RetroWife. We're all on computers in separate rooms fighting for internet bandwidth and distraction-free zones for our various Zoom meetings. 2020 is drawing to a close.

Damn, that sounds almost post-apocalyptic, doesn't it?

So I'm digging around through some old boxes in my basement, looking for what, I don't even remember, when I came across this:

I have no doubt that this little bike safety pamphlet is older than I am. I don't even recall where I got this nostalgic gem, but as usual, I couldn't throw it away. It's a voice from a much simpler time. In the context of our current realities, from pandemic to political, finding this felt a bit like Charlton Heston finding the statue of liberty at the end of Planet of the Apes. This faded little pamphlet is clearly evidence that our world was once a different place.

"This is Johnny's car" and "Johnny is a safe 'car' driver . . ." the pamphlet proclaims. You see, while ostensibly promoting safe bicycle riding, the true message is pretty clear. A bike is something for kids - just a step on the way to the real goal of any true-blue (and staunchly non-socialist) American - Car Ownership.

The safety advice is pretty typical for the time, which I assume to be pre-Bike Boom, and relatively benign - mostly phrased as what Johnny does or doesn't do.

"Johnny Doesn't . . . "

Johnny Doesn't Wobble - on purpose or by accident. "Be sure you ride your bike well before you go out on the highway." Well, at least they admit he's allowed on the roads - but I'm a little surprised they encourage kids (the obvious target audience) to ride on the highways

Johnny Doesn't Let Anyone Sit On His Lap - Ever.

Johnny Doesn't Hog the Road. "Always ride single file. And just like slow cars . . . keep right so faster cars can pass."

Johnny Doesn't Hitch a Ride. "Ever run head-on into a wall? You will if that car stops"

"Johnny Does . . . "

Johnny Observes All Traffic Signs. "For extra safety, he walks his bike across busy intersections. You should too." A bike is "equal" to a car -- but don't go getting any ideas now. 

Johnny Looks Before He Leaps. "Cars don't barge out of driveways and alleys into traffic. You shouldn't either." (except when they DO!).

Johnny Uses Directional Signals. That's nice -- I encounter a lot of drivers who don't.

Johnny Has Lights for Night Riding. "And a horn or bell, too." Funny thing, when the CPSC started regulating bikes in the 1970s, they specifically decided NOT to require lights. But yes - definitely use them.

The tailfins on that car give a clue as to the age of this thing.

"Safe Bike Riders Like Johnny Make Skillful Drivers"

Now there's something I can definitely get behind. I'm convinced that people who routinely ride with traffic are generally more observant and better able to predict the behavior of other road users. I sometimes describe it as "Spidey Sense" - and it comes from knowing how badly most drivers drive, and how clueless (or even aggressive) they can be when it comes to cyclists. I also recognize how much that carries over when I'm in my car.

The pamphlet also explains that according to state law (Pennsylvania, in this case) a bike and a car are the same - and subject to the same rules. Good to know as a cyclist - but it's something that probably bears repeating to drivers more. Equal in the eyes of the law - but the real problem to us as riders is getting drivers to recognize our rights - or even to respect us at all. Especially when their attention is compromised by that addictive attention-sucking cell phone. But then again - such things were the stuff of science fiction when this pamphlet was published.

In that same box, I found a few other old pamphlets with similar, and sometimes dated, safety advice.

The Bike Riders Rules for Safety from Employers Mutuals (sounds like an insurance company to me) suggests that kids only ride on streets where traffic is light, dismount and walk at intersections, always pull over to allow cars to pass, and (oddly, if you ask me) always park your bike on the sidewalk. 

The ABC of Safe Bicycle Riding from the Bicycle Safety League looks to me like something that would have been hanging from the handlebars on a new bike in the early '50s.

There was another one that was more like a little handbook than a pamphlet: Fun on Wheels from The Insurance Office.

This one has so much to it I may have to save it for another post. But it all begs the question, where the heck (and when, and why?) did I get all these things?

Thursday, November 26, 2020

An Interesting Development

Happy Thanksgiving, folks!

Just a super short post today. Readers might recall it wasn't so long ago that it was announced that Bob Jackson Cycles in Leeds, England, was closing down. Apparently, there was such an outpouring of interest in the marque that plans had to be changed. This notice is currently on their website:

It sounds like someone stepped in to keep the place going financially, and I'm assuming some new, younger staff have come to learn the framebuilding trade. I'd call that encouraging.

As I had mentioned in my earlier post about Bob Jackson Cycles, they offer some excellent traditional "keeper of the flame" steel bikes - built and painted to order - at very reasonable prices. I guess it isn't too late, after all.

Fans of classic steel bikes, let's give thanks!

Monday, October 19, 2020

Peak Fall

It had to happen eventually. After several weeks of gorgeous riding weather, our good-weather-fortune seems to be coming to an end. I'm sitting here on a computer at work on a chilly, rainy, miserable day - and the forecast looks like more of the same this week.

This past Saturday was glorious, though, and I got out on one of my vintage Mercians to enjoy brilliant blue skies and sunshine, cool temperatures, and vibrant fall colors.

I stopped for a photo on a quiet road that winds its way through the woods where the light just looked like gold filtered through the fall leaves.

There may still be some nice riding days left this season, but I've got no doubt that trees will be far more bare and a lot of the color will be gone. I'm reminded of a line from a well-known poem by the renaissance poet Robert Herrick, "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may." I'm glad I got to enjoy it while I still could.

That's all for now - just a short post today.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Sad News - Bob Jackson Cycles Closing

It's sad to say it, but another great name in classic bicycles is about to disappear. Bob Jackson Cycles, also known as JRJ Cycles (for John Robert Jackson) is expected to close their doors later this year. Between an aging staff and a global pandemic, the company decided that the time has come to call it quits. 

I contacted the current owner of the company, Donald Thomas, who tells me "It’s as simple as this: we are very much an aging workforce and over the last 10-15 years we have not been able to find younger members of staff willing to take on this kind of light engineering work and get their hands dirty. So we are simply retiring. We have four key members of staff, including me, who have said 'enough is enough - let's stop and have some quality time while we can'." He also noted that sales have been trending downward for a while now, what with aluminum and carbon fiber frames dominating the market.

Thomas cites the current pandemic as another factor - if not due to its direct effects on the business, then because of the way it changes the mindset and rearranges priorities. All in all, I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise - but it still saddens me a bit.

In terms of quality and style, I've always felt that Bob Jackson Cycles were a lot like Mercian, which has long been a favorite of mine. The bikes and the companies just always seemed to have a lot in common: lugged steel frames, made to order with traditional methods and traditional materials. There were also some similar frame models, and paint schemes, etc. But JRJ is/was a bit older than the brand from Derby.

Bob Jackson began producing bicycles in 1935, with a hiatus during WWII while Jackson served in the RAF. Frame production resumed after the war, and over the years the company has produced other brands as well. In the 1950s, they acquired South London-based Merlin Cycles which they produced until some time in the 1980s. In the late 1970s and '80s, they built bikes for Hetchins, which was for a few years under the same ownership as JRJ. Even after Hetchins and JRJ were separated and Hetchins resumed building their own bikes, JRJ retained rights to produce the famous and distinctive "vibrant" or "curly-stay" designed frames. 

The Bob Jackson "Vulcan" (from their 
current website) is the only bike other than
Hetchins authorized to use that "vibrant" rear
triangle design. Brand new, starting at only £850.00 
(about $1100!). Sorry, too late now.

Bob Jackson had retired in 1986, and according to their own history page, the company had some troubled years following. In 1993, about the time that the Hetchins and JRJ companies separated, Donald Thomas took control of JRJ Cycles, with Bob Jackson as an advisor, and brought new energy for improvements and expansion. All building and painting operations were updated and brought in-house for better quality control. Mr. Jackson died in 1999, but the company continued.

I suppose signs that the company was "winding down" have been popping up for a couple of years now. They had a retail shop which I'm told was closed a few years ago, though frame production continued. Frames could be ordered through their website, either fully custom built or "off the peg." But custom orders were recently halted, and they had stopped taking new work for frame renovations and repairs, which was another thing they were known for. Their website still says folks can order an "off the peg" frame, but that needs to be updated because Thomas says they are not accepting any more new orders at this time. "We have had orders flood in since the word (about the closing) got out, so I would say now, no, sorry we will not have enough time left to build more orders."

Thomas told me the plan is to finish the last of the orders that have come in and close the doors by mid December. When it's all done, he added, "We are going to build ourselves new frames each, the last ones to leave the factory in the 85 years and 30,000 frames we have built."

There really aren't many of the old traditional builders left in Britain any more. Woodrup is still in business, with Kevin Sayles as the builder, and Mercian is still going. I believe one can still get a Hetchins as well. If someone wants a new "keeper of the flame" British-built lugged steel frame, the options are are really thinning out. Such a shame to see it happening. I'll be wishing all the best for the folks at Bob Jackson. You'll be missed, lads.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

A Beautiful Autumn For Biking

There's been lots in the news lately about wildfires in the West, and hurricanes in the South, but for the past few weeks here in Northeast Ohio, we've had just about the best weather for riding a person could ask for. We've had very little rain, mostly sunny days, cool temperatures overnight (down into the 40s typically) but up into the 50s and 60s by afternoon. I've been riding to work nearly every day. In fact, I've only driven my car once since Labor Day.

Early in the morning on my ride to work on Oct. 1st, the clear skies were lit by the harvest moon - seen here, just getting ready to dip below the horizon. It looked huge to my naked eyes, but I only had my phone for a camera, hampered by the limitations of that tiny wide-angle lens. This was one of those times where having my SLR camera with a telephoto lens would have given a much more impressive photo, but that's not something I normally carry with me on my ride to work. October this year will see a second full moon, the "blue moon," on Halloween.

At this point in the season, my rides are in darkness all the way to work, so I'm really relying on my lights for the morning commute.

Our weekends have also been beautiful, and the roads, paths, and other facilities of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park have been booming with cyclists. This morning, which was perfect and clear, with temps in the low 60s, I got up fairly early and suited up for a ride into the valley. The Saturday morning farmers market is still going on in the middle of the national park, and I made a stop for some goodies. There are only a couple more "outdoor" farmers markets scheduled for this year before they move to an indoor venue for the winter. I brought my orange Mercian, which has an assortment of small bags (most of them made by Berthoud of France) which would be useful for carrying my purchases from the market. Vendors have a lot of nice produce to offer, as well as meats, fresh pasta, and bread and other baked goods.

I stopped at the train depot near the historic Botzum farm for a photo on my way through the valley.

The "orange pearl" on the Mercian is a great color for a fall ride. The headtube is done in a cream color that looks very similar to the paint on the train depot. Coming back from the market, those bags will all be full.

Our leaves are only just beginning to turn color for autumn, but I anticipate they will be spectacular in another week. Hopefully our excellent riding conditions continue through that peak of color. 

That's all for now . . .

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Retro Raleigh Replica Revisited

Earlier this month, the Raleigh Team Replica bikes that I talked about back in July started making their way to buyers. They are being produced in a limited run of 250 bikes - some sold as framesets, while others are complete bicycles with a mix of Campagnolo, Cinelli, and various retro-styled components. I don't know if many (or any?) of them ended up coming to the U.S., as they were never actually offered for sale here officially. (Keep in mind that Raleigh in the U.S. is NOT the same company as Raleigh in the U.K.). But now that the actual bikes are getting "out there" into the public, it seemed worthwhile to check back on them.

This was one of the promotional photos from Raleigh's website. The bike looks pretty good from "back here."

Just to remind readers, the framesets are being sold for £1500, while complete bikes are £2500. No prices were given in U.S. dollars (like I said, the bikes weren't actually offered here) but those prices would work out to about $2000 and $3200 respectively, assuming a U.S. buyer could get one shipped stateside. That didn't sound too out of line for a limited-edition frameset built from Reynolds' legendary 753 tubing. So, now that the bikes are getting into customer's hands and people are getting a closer look, what are they saying?

Sorry to say - but reactions seem to be mixed.

The folks at reviewed the bike, and overall their review seemed mostly positive. They called it "A safe and thoroughly enjoyable ‘Sunday best’ ride whether you remember the original or not." They liked the bike's iconic and retro styling, its great steel ride, and "surefooted" handling. Their negatives mostly seemed to center on the things most modern bike reviewers seem to focus on with any bike built with classic/vintage appeal: downtube shifters, toe-clip/strap pedals, skinny handlebars, etc. Other folks who have posted about the bike have also complemented the classic "steel bike ride" quality.

Harsher criticism of the project is coming from folks who are the most familiar with the original team bikes, which were built by Raleigh's Specialist Bicycle Development Unit (SBDU). One such expert on the SBDU bikes is Neil McGowran, who has recently taken delivery of one of the new framesets and has posted photos and his observations on his blog, As one might expect, any close comparison between the new, made-in-Taiwan replica and an original SBDU vintage bike is not going to go so well for the new bike.

Photos of Neil McGowran's frame. (from his blog, used with permission). 

Some critique has been leveled at the new bikes for things like decal placement and size (the new graphics, lettering, etc. are a bit smaller than the old). I suppose those are the kinds of things that might bother a person who is really familiar with the original bikes, and who hoped beyond hope that the new bikes would truly replicate the old. Speaking for myself, I think those are pretty minor concerns and I probably wouldn't make too big a deal about the decals being slightly "off" in comparison with the originals - and I'm guessing that a lot of the target buyers, many of whom may have only a passing acquaintance with the vintage versions probably wouldn't even notice the difference. As long as the bike basically "looks the part," they'd likely be satisfied. On the other hand, a lot of the marketing about the bikes prior to their release hyped the level of research that was done into the original bikes, and how much painstaking effort was put into getting the details right and making the new bikes "faithful" replicas. If a person took them at their word, then those little details might justifiably be an annoyance.

Decals and graphics aside, there was at least one area where I know I would be disappointed if I plunked down $2000 on a new bike frame -- and this would be true regardless of whether the bike was supposed to be a faithful replica of an iconic racer or not. McGowran shared some close-up photos of the area around the rear dropouts, and the joinery of the seat- and chain-stays to the dropouts. I was shocked, to say the least.

Featureless frame ends and lumpy joinery mar the new bike. The front fork ends are similarly disappointing. (used with permission from McGowran's blog)

The rear frame ends are apparently laser-cut from thick steel plate. They look like chunky featureless slabs. The Cyclingnews review chalks that up to "modern safety standards," which leaves me shaking my head in wonder. In what way is a chunky slab of a dropout safer than a proper forged steel one (which would be stronger, lighter, and better-looking)? Obviously the forged Campagnolo-brand dropouts of the vintage bikes are no longer made - but nearly identical versions (without the Campagnolo name) are still made and readily available, almost certainly from the same source that provided the new bike's lugs.

Besides the chunky dropouts in and of themselves, the way they are joined to the stays leaves so much to be desired, as well as a lot of questions. The lumpy, unfinished joints would not look out of place on a cheap steel bike selling for $500 (for the complete bike!) - but are a serious disappointment on a frame in this price range. My first thought was they look like they were welded, not brazed. McGowran says they were, indeed, welded - which surprised the hell out of me. Everything I've read and heard about Reynolds 753 tubing says that the only acceptable method for joining the tubes is low-temperature brazing, usually with silver instead of brass. Folks who know much more about framebuilding and metalworking than I ever will have said that welding with 753 tubing would either destroy it, or at the very least, eliminate its heat-treatment properties. Now I learn that Reynolds apparently says it can in fact be TIG welded. Call me puzzled. But also, even if they were indeed welded, could the welds not at least have been "cleaned up" to make them look smoother?

Another area that raises some questions is the weight of the frame. One of the features of a classic 753 frame - and what made them so sought-after - was the low weight, which was due to the extra-thin wall thickness of the tubes (said to be as thin as .3 mm in some versions!). Putting the new frame on the scale (56 cm frame with all fittings, etc. removed) showed a weight of 2027 grams, which is about 250 - 300 grams more than what one should expect from a vintage 753 frame in the same size, and making it closer in weight to a vintage frame built with venerable 531 tubing. What's going on here? If I had to guess, I'd say that while Reynolds may have produced a limited run of their heat-treated 753 tubing, they must not have drawn it to the ultra thin-walled dimensions that were used in the past. If true, I have no doubt that the decision was made in the interest of longevity, safety, and reducing future warranty claims. Once the tubes are built into a frame, it's nearly impossible to accurately measure the wall thickness, but the extra weight provides a strong clue. 

Will most of the people who buy the new Raleigh Team replica bikes notice or care about these things? I don't know. I assume that a lot of the potential buyers are looking for a nice steel bike with some vintage appeal and the right amount of "cred" but don't want to deal with whatever hassles they may perceive would come with finding an actual vintage bike. Maybe the target buyer is someone who wants a "new" bike, with "modern" components that looks and feels like a vintage one. If they've mostly cut their teeth riding aluminum and/or carbon fiber bikes, then little things like chunky dropouts with lumpy welds probably won't even catch their attention. It's hard to argue that the bike doesn't look good (at least from a few feet away) and that it will definitely stand apart in a sea of bloated popped-out-of-a-mold carbon fiber bikes. And there seems to be no disagreement that the bike does offer a nice classic steel ride, which is a very important consideration for any bike (that is, if you're not a snob - which I think I probably am). 

I mentioned at the end of my previous article on the Raleigh Team replicas that I would not be in the market for one. And now that the bikes are out there, I'm more convinced that people like me probably aren't the "target market." If I were really interested in a Raleigh Team replica, I would take my time and search the vintage market to find one of the original SBDU bikes. And if I were looking for a new bike with vintage-style construction and appeal, I'd get something built by a custom builder here in the States, or (as I've done several times over the years) get it built by a "keeper of the flame" builder in the U.K., like Mercian. Heck, Mercian might even have a couple sets of the original 753 tubing still on hand. If not, one can get similar characteristics from 725 (heat treated chrome moly) and 853 (heat treated and air-hardening alloy) - both of which are readily available.

Wrapping it up - I still think it's pretty cool that Raleigh saw fit to make a bike like this -- a bike that should be a retrogrouch's dream. More power to them. But it's important to remember that while the Team replica attempts to imitate the look/style of a vintage bike - it is NOT a vintage bike. Rather, like most other bikes built today, it is a modern bike built to a "price point" in one of the same Taiwanese factories that cranks out mass-produced bikes by the the millions. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Back To Work - Back To Biking

Well, I'm back to work.

After schools had shut down due to the virus back in March, I was working from home for a few months, followed by summer break. Other than our family camping vacation (for about a week) I spent almost the whole summer painting my house and not riding as much as I might have otherwise.

The entire summer was full of uncertainty as we waited to see what/when/how schools were going to reopen in the fall. Ultimately the decision was left up to every individual district in the state (and probably across the country) to come up with their own reopening plans. Some school districts went full-steam-ahead in mid-August with in-person classes, and no mask mandates, and then made national news when they were forced to quarantine within days due to viral outbreaks.

In my area, every school is on a different schedule and different opening plan. Many have delayed the start date by a few weeks. Some are entirely online. Others are in-person with certain "precautions" (like maintaining "social distance" - which is nearly impossible to enforce with kids in a school setting). My district delayed the start be several weeks, and is beginning with some kind of split schedule where half the kids are in school, while the other half are online, and then they switch on alternate days. We'll just have to see how that goes.

Anyhow, this means I'm back to commuting by bike as often as possible, which is great since that's how I get most of my biking miles. The weather this first week back has been and looks to be favorable for riding.

When we would start back to school in mid-August as normal, there would actually be a hint of daylight when I'd set off for work. Starting after Labor Day, as we did this year, means it's still pitch dark when I leave the house. But within the last few miles I can see the dawn breaking through.

I emerged out of the darkness of a long stretch of woods to see this misty sunrise scene.

This misty field is soon (unfortunately) to be filled with luxury McMansions. Looking closer I could see something moving off there in the distance (just a little black speck near the horizon).

Zooming in, it's a pair of deer. Probably a mother and fawn.

Readers might recall that I'm testing out a Brooks saddle. I moved that over to my commuting mule, figuring that that is the bike that's going to get the most miles on it for the next nine months.

The "Imperial" (B17 with a big cutaway in the top) temporarily replaces the all-weather, rubber-topped C17 on the commuter bike. The dark brown saddle doesn't look bad on the all-black bike - but ultimately I don't much care what the commuter mule looks like. In many ways it's kind of an assault on my retrogrouchy sensibilities, but that's why I got it -- I don't hesitate to ride it in bad weather, and I don't worry about riding through the salty slush of winter the way I would on a classic steel bike. I'm still withholding judgement on the cutaway saddle until it gets broken-in. However, I will say that the C17 I had been using was, in my opinion, a very nice saddle. Count me a fan of that one.

That's all for now. Welcome Back.

Monday, August 17, 2020


Long before Europeans settled the part of Northeast Ohio which is now Akron and Summit County, Native American tribes lived and moved freely about the area, using the rivers as almost a natural highway. Shawnee, Iroquois, Delaware, Wyandott, Huron, Ottawa, and Miami Indians are among the tribes believed to have traveled by canoe between the Great Lakes and the Ohio River, and from there, to the Mississippi and possibly all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

There was one hitch, however, to making the trip entirely by canoe: there was no waterway connection from the Cuyahoga River, which flows to Lake Erie, to the Tuscarawas River, which flows to the Muskingum and Ohio Rivers. Perhaps thousands of years ago, Native Americans made an overland trail to connect the Cuyahoga and Tuscarawas Rivers -- an 8-mile stretch known today as the "Portage Trail." Today, the ends of the trail are marked by matching sculptures depicting a Native American carrying (or portaging) a canoe. One of these stands a couple miles from my home, at the edge of the valley roads I routinely bike on.

Riding through the valley the other day, just a couple miles north of the bronze Indian portaging his canoe, I had to do a version of some portaging myself. I got to a "Road Closed" sign blocking the way north along the main valley road and decided to ignore it, as I frequently do. Well, a little further up the road I found why it was closed. A huge tree had fallen over, completely blocking the road.

Couldn't go around it, so I just hoisted the bike up onto my shoulder and started climbing over the fallen tree. As I scrambled out of the tangle of branches with my bike, I saw a police officer on the other side, sitting in his SUV watching me. "Can't do that with a car," I told him, as I remounted my bike and rode off.

OK - so it wasn't anything like an 8-mile trek, but still. . . that's one of the great things about a bike, isn't it?

Rarely am I deterred on a bike ride from a closed road, unless I know for certain that it's truly impassable. On a bike you can almost always find a way to get through. Bridge out? I've been known to scramble down riverbanks and ravines, wade through streams, and climb back up the other side with my bike on my shoulder. Once, on a ride many miles from home, and on unfamiliar roads, I got to a bridge that was in the process of being rebuilt. Turning back and following a detour was going to add many miles to what was already a very long ride, so it was portage time. There was no roadway - just I-beam spans across a stream. Being a Sunday and no workers around, I picked up the bike and walked carefully over the spans to the other side. A bit foolhardy, perhaps, but no regrets.

I recall some years back when a major flood hit the Cuyahoga Valley. Sections of the two main roads that flank the east and west banks of the river were under water - at least a couple of feet deep in some parts. Car travel was impossible. I went for a ride the next day, and there were several stretches where I was wading knee-deep - with shoes in one hand, and bike on my shoulder. I remember one section where I could see a car stranded in the deepest part, with water half way up to the windows. Obviously some idiot thought he could make it across. On the other side I found a lady in a minivan watching me wade across the flood, and she was actively contemplating whether she should attempt to drive through. The stranded car was apparently not enough of a deterrent. 

As I emerged from the water carrying my bike, she asked me "Do you think I can get through?"

"I don't know," I answered, and pointing to the bike on my shoulder, I asked "Can you do this?"  

She didn't press the issue.

Being able to go where cars cannot, or ignoring signs that say "Road Closed," feels not only a bit rebellious, but also like getting a free pass, or like being part of an exclusive club, or knowing a secret handshake.

Portage-ability. Just one of many awesome things about a bike.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Trying Out a New Brooks

Last month I got an email from the folks at Brooks Saddles informing me that I'd been selected to test one of their new saddles. When I got back from my camping vacation last week, I found a box had been delivered from Brooks, and I eagerly opened it up to see what they'd sent. What I got was a bit of a surprise: a B17 "carved" or "Imperial" - the one with the big cutaway in the center. Why was that a surprise? Well, I was under the impression that they were testing a new model, but to the best of my knowledge, the model has been around for over 10 years. If there's something new about it, it must be something that isn't obvious to casual observation. Regardless, I'm happy to use it and give them my impressions, and I may post a bit here, too.

I've got several bikes equipped with Brooks B17 saddles. It's safe to say that they're a favorite of mine. The shape works really well for me, and I typically find them to be pretty comfortable right out of the box - even before they've "broken in" (despite all the mythical horror stories about the brutal break-in period). I've tried the "narrow" version (didn't like it as much) and I've got the "standard" and "deluxe" versions, but I've never used the version with the big cutaway. Another difference is that this model comes with holes punched along the bottom skirt, ready to be laced. Lacing is supposed to firm up a leather saddle by keeping the bottom skirts from splaying out. People will sometimes drill the holes and lace up an old Brooks saddle if the top starts to sag too much (that method is less likely to accidentally damage the saddle than over-tightening the adjustment bolt at the nose). The "carved" or "Imperial" saddle comes laced right out of the box.

The saddle I received is in their antique brown color - and it came with blue laces. I decided to install it on the Sequoia for now, since that bike has been getting more use than most. By the way, I really liked that paper the saddle came wrapped in.

The brown color and blue laces make it a natural fit on the Sequoia. After I start back to work, I may move the test saddle over to my commuting mule because that will be the bike getting the most miles at that point.

Okay - so about that big hole. If you're a man and you've spent any time on a bike in the past 20 years or so, you've no doubt heard warnings about bike saddles leading to impotence. And there aren't many words that strike more fear into men, or make them cross their legs more self-consciously, than "impotence" (I assume it is second only to "castration"). I don't remember who the doctor was, or exactly when the report came out, but 20 years ago seems about right, and the scare stories were all over the news. There were articles in all the bike mags, and I think it was even on  20/20, or 60 Minutes or something like that. Since then, saddles with big "pressure relieving" holes have become common.

Interesting fact about the "pressure relieving" cutaway is that Brooks introduced saddles with that very feature back in the 1800s - for the very same reason as today - The ads said "preventative to all perineal pressure."

Here's the thing: I've always been skeptical of the fear mongering, and I'm generally skeptical of saddles with cutaways, grooves, nose-less designs, or other methods for reducing pressure. I believe there were some serious flaws in that original study that linked biking to erectile disfunction, and there have been numerous studies conducted since then that are far less dire in their conclusions. It really seems to me that a quality saddle that is wide enough to support the "sit bones," and is positioned optimally for the rider (proper height, and angle, etc.) will eliminate most issues, with or without the gimmicks. Also, sensible riding style can make a difference too. Using handlebars that put a rider low and forward can lead to problems, and staying in one position on the bike for too long doesn't help either. But seriously, if you're on a long ride and you start feeling numb or tingly "down there" - get out of the saddle for a bit! And if it keeps happening, re-examine things like saddle shape, angle, and position.

Now, having said all that, I know that suddenly I'm going to start getting emails from people telling me that a grooved or cutaway saddle saved their sex life. Okay - that's cool. But just like diagnosing the source of a creaking noise on a bike can be tricky and inexact, pinning down the exact reason or proper cure for erectile issues can be similarly speculative. Heck, I think I'd rather pin down the creaking noise, as there are far more limited variables.

One concern I've had with pressure relieving saddles is that I wonder if some of the designs might not actually be worse than a traditional design. It's just speculation - but what I mean is that if you look at the nose of a traditional saddle, the curve of the top surface is usually one large, broad curve, with a radius of maybe an inch or so. But on some saddles with a big groove in them, that broad curve over the nose is replaced by two narrow ridges, each with a much smaller radius. So instead of one broad "pressure point," you get two much smaller, sharper pressure points. Does that make sense? I don't know. . .

So getting back to this test saddle. I'll be interested to see how it feels, and what differences (if any) I might be able to detect between this one and the ones I'm more familiar with. I've been on a couple of rides with it already - including two brief rides with unpadded shorts. Was it my imagination, or could I feel the edges of that slot? Not sure. With padded riding shorts, I haven't noticed much difference so far, except that with the skirts being laced, the saddle may have a bit less "give" to it, even accounting for its brand-new, non broken-in condition. Maybe I'll loosen the laces a little. However it feels right now, it's important to remember that it will likely change as it breaks in.

Last thing - and again, I really have no idea, so I'm just curious. Brooks was sold to the Italian company Selle Royal back in 2002, but the Brooks website says that their leather saddle models are still made in England. So why did the shipping label on the box this sample came in list Italy as the point of origin? Curious.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Vacation Biking

COVID19 has no doubt changed a lot of people's plans this year. The most recent plans to be changed for me were vacation plans. Our original (fairly elaborate) plans, which involved airline tickets and passports, ended up being cancelled, and so our backup became a camping trip in one of Ohio's state parks. Hey - no complaints.

We were at Salt Fork State Park, a couple hours' drive south of Akron, in the Southeast part of the state. And since we were driving, it was easy enough to bring some bikes with us. I brought my Specialized Sequoia, which has been getting a lot of use since completing its restoration, as well as my daughters' bikes. The hope was that we could go for some rides together, and they might be able to ride around the park.

That part of the state is pretty, though maybe not as natural for biking as the area I live in (at least not for road riding). In fact, I barely saw any cyclists anywhere, and found a noticeable lack of bike shops in the area. It could be the roads. It seemed all the roads I encountered were narrow, twisty, and extremely hilly, with high speed limits (55 mph was common) - or they were narrow, twisty, extremely hilly, and gravel

Did I mention hilly? Living near both the Cuyahoga and Chagrin river valleys, I always thought we had a lot of hills nearby. But in Southeast Ohio, you start getting into the foothills of the Appalachians, and the hills are non-stop. Around home, there are lots of long, steep, tough climbs, but there will be miles of relatively flatter roads in-between. Riding in Southeast Ohio, it's constant up and down, and it wears a person out! I found myself dreading the downhill descents because I knew that as soon as I reached the bottom, the road would immediately turn skyward again. No rest for the wicked.

Even within the boundaries of the park, the roads were so hilly that the girls weren't able to enjoy riding to the pool or the beach. We did get in some riding, nevertheless.

Not far from the park, in the city of Cambridge, there is very nice trail on a converted rail line that turned out to be a good choice for biking with the girls. At about 6 or 7 miles, the Great Guernsey Trail just might have been the longest stretch of flat/level pavement I encountered in the whole county. It was paved and also seemed to be well maintained.

A couple miles of the trail passed a wetland area that offered some nice scenery.

The sleepy town of Lore City sits near the other end of the trail. There didn't seem to be much to see or do there, but the town has a park, playground, and some porta-john facilities for trail users.

Downtown Cambridge features a picturesque old courthouse, and a large Civil War monument out front. We stopped in town to get some ice cream after our ride on the Guernsey Trail. Anytime I'm out traveling, I like to visit the local bike shops. There had been a bike shop in downtown Cambridge, but it was empty and looked like it has been closed for a while. I checked Google for others but couldn't find any listed. 

As mentioned already, the roads in the area were not ideal for biking. Narrow, twisty, and hilly - with big rig trucks, and massive diesel-spewing pickups (many sporting MAGA and confederate flag stickers) flying past, I found riding within the boundaries of the state park to be a less tense alternative. The roads were still narrow, twisty, and hilly -- but at least there was less traffic, and it moved a lot slower. And with the various roads within the park, it wasn't difficult to put together some loops for a challenging ride of an hour or two.

There was at least one ride outside the park I wanted to do, however. I learned there was an old covered bridge about 20 miles northwest of the park that I thought I'd like to find. With the ever-present hills, I thought a 40 mile round trip ride might feel like 60 or 70 miles. So I drove about half-way out, parked the car, and went exploring. 

After leaving the main road, I had about 6 miles of gravel roads to get to the bridge. It was a challenge because the fine-tread 32 mm tires on the Sequoia weren't really ideal for the loose surface. Downhills (which could get pretty steep) were nerve-wracking and I feared washing out in the curves, and climbs required staying low in the saddle to keep traction on the back wheel. It was awfully pretty to look at, though.

Often these old covered bridges are closed to car traffic. This one, built in 1855, is still open for one-way traffic -- though how much actual traffic it sees I couldn't say. I only saw one other vehicle on the road leading there and back. It did not disappoint.

On the whole, the vacation was pleasant and relaxing, even if it was nothing like what was originally planned. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Retro Raleigh - A New Team Replica

Forty years ago, Joop Zoetemelk won the Tour de France on a Raleigh, built of Reynolds 753 tubing and painted in the Raleigh Team's classic red, black, and yellow scheme. This September, Raleigh will be releasing a new Team replica that pays homage to the past, but also nods to the current era.

Zoetemelk had the unfortunate experience of having a career that straddled the eras of Merckx and Hinault. He raced the Tour 16 times (and completed it every time), finished 2nd six times, and won it in 1980 (at age 33). Zoetemelk would go on to win the World Championship road race in 1985 at age 38. He doesn't get nearly enough credit as one of the greats of the sport.
So, about the new bike:

Honestly, it's amazing that any major bike company is making a bike like this in the year 2020. And I like it. Reynolds 753 tubing. Downtube shift levers. One-inch fork steerer with Cinelli quill stem. Traditional non-aero brake levers. Selle Italia Turbo saddle. The "modern" comes in with the 10-speed cassette and 50/39 chainrings.

From a few feet back, it sure could fool a person that they're back in 1980. Except for the derailleurs (modern Campagnolo) and brake calipers (dual-pivot - also Campagnolo), it could possibly fool a person up-close, too.
Did I mention Reynolds 753 tubing? Yes, I did. Seriously, I didn't even know that Reynolds was still making it. Some years back the tubing company released a "limited run" of their classic 531 tubing. Perhaps they did something similar with the special heat-treated, thin-walled 753. But the tubing choice sets this bike apart from most other vintage re-creations I've seen over the years -- in other words, some substance to go with the style.

A fun detail - a vintage-styled crank. Squint a little and it looks like '70s/'80s vintage Campy. The 39-tooth small ring offers gearing a good bit lower than the 42t ring of the old Campagnolo cranks, though. I can't see a brand, but it looks a lot like the cranks that are sold by IRD (their Defiant model, maybe?). Though shown here in the studio photos without pedals, I read that the bike will ship with traditional quill pedals with toe-clips and leather straps.

Rivendell "Silver" downtube shift levers - a remake of a 1980s SunTour design. And yes, they will work with modern 10-speed gearing. Notice the homage to the 1980 TdF win on the sticker.

Though the bike uses modern Campagnolo dual-pivot brakes, the levers are from DiaCompe. I'm not sure anyone else still makes traditional non-aero road levers. The levers also have a built-in quick release, which is a good touch with the Campagnolo brakes, since those no longer have a quick-release built into the caliper to open them up for wheel removal. (Campy's Ergo levers have a small quick-release button to open up the calipers). Another fun detail is in the wheels. Yes, they are modern hubs and current Mavic Open Pro rims - but someone had the clever idea to put old-style Mavic stickers on the rims.

On the whole, it seems like Raleigh took the retro/replica idea seriously. The frame seems to be a good classic design with no obvious shortcuts (and 753 tubing - wow!) and the components are well-chosen to combine good quality with the right "look" for a vintage-styled bike -- or at least, as close as one can get with modern-production parts. There was another Team replica released a few years back (2015?) but this new one seems a little closer to the target than that earlier attempt.

The bikes will be available direct from Raleigh starting Sept. 1 - through their website:

Prices only seem to be listed in Pounds or Euros - but I expect the frames to sell for somewhere around $2000, and complete bikes to be maybe a little over $3000. A lot of money, yes, but comparable to other high-end steel frames/bikes today. I know I won't be lining up to buy one - I'd probably keep my eyes open for an original Raleigh SBDU if I were really interested. But I expect there are people out there who want vintage style without the hassles that can come with true vintage bikes.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

A New Bike Boom

Been to a bike shop lately?

If you have, you probably noticed a lot of empty racks. If you were actually looking to buy a bike, you may have been told you'd have to place an order and wait indefinitely for a bike to come in. If you needed repairs on a bike you currently own, you may have even found a longer than usual wait to get the job done.
Our local shop had a few rental bikes on the rack, and a handful
of others with "sold" tags on them.

It's uncertain how long the situation will last, but for now, it seems that we might be in the midst of a new "bike boom" - or more specifically - a "COVID19 Bike Boom." What's going on seems to be what one might call a "perfect storm," of increased demand, and reduced supply -- and a lot of it has to do with the reaction to the corona virus, both at home and abroad.

I was talking with the folks at my local bike shop, and what they have been experiencing seems to fit the stories that people are sharing all over the country. More people are buying bikes (along with helmets and other accessories), and others are getting long-neglected bikes road-worthy again. As far as the shortage goes, what the experts are saying is that there are several factors that have led to the supply/demand issue.

First, bike shops (in most states) remained open even as many other businesses were closed. The need for transportation meant that many states declared bicycle shops "essential businesses" - and if you're reading this blog, you probably agreed with that notion.

Second, people have been "cooped up" with little to do - but outdoor exercise has generally been permitted, as long as people try to maintain some "social distancing." Many people have discovered - or re-discovered - bicycling as a great way to get some exercise and enjoyment. The fact that fitness centers were closed (and may still be closed) fits right into that as well.

Third, the supply of new bicycles has been disrupted - first because of economic uncertainty, and second because of the virus. According to bicycle industry insiders, many manufacturers had already reduced their production in the last couple of years because of concerns about the current president's trade war. One source I found said production had been down as much as 25 - 30% even before the virus hit. Remember that China accounts for a huge percentage of the world's current bicycle production. If you factor in Taiwan and Japan into the figure, you'll find that the vast majority of bicycles and components are made somewhere in Asia - regardless of what brand might be on the frame. And Asian countries were among the first to shut down because of the virus - and to take the most serious measures to contain its spread.

The last time we had a drastic increase in demand for bicycles was the bike boom of the early 1970s. In that "American Bike Boom" sales of bicycles jumped from about 7 million in 1970 to 14 million in 1972. And the biggest part of that increase was in adult bicycles which had previously been only a small market segment. The tremendous spike in demand meant that American and European factories could not keep up, which proved to be a major opportunity for Japanese bike and component manufacturers who had been eager to break into the American market. Within a decade, they would dominate the world.

There are a few things that are different this time time around. As mentioned already, most of the world's bicycles are now being made in China and Taiwan. As their factories closed down due to virus concerns, there's really nowhere else that could pick up the slack. Most bike "brands" that we might associate as "American," "British," "European" are now nothing more than names on decals that get stuck on the bikes. So when the Asian factories shut down, nobody else had the production capacity to crank out bikes to meet the demand, and that has meant empty racks in the shops, and a waiting game for new bikes to come in.

Another difference is that in the '70s bike boom, the biggest chunk in sales was in "adult" bicycles -- but especially for lower priced, entry-level "10-speeds." From what I understand from talking to both sales people and buyers is that this time people are buying everything and anything they can get their hands on. If they've got the means, they've even been buying the high-ticket items like bikes with electronic and wireless shifting. While it can be a little harder to track accurately,  I've heard anecdotally that even sales of used bicycles are up. Whatever people can do to satisfy their current itch.

One thing that remains to be seen is how long before things go back to "normal." Demand could remain high as long as there is uncertainty about the virus and there are restrictions on what people can do for exercise and entertainment. I understand that factories in Asia are starting up again, so production should soon start meeting the demand.

Another thing that remains to be seen is how long will all these people who can't wait to get their hands on a new bike stay interested in biking. Not long after the boom of the 1970s, an awful lot of those bikes that were sold ended up collecting dust in basements and garages all over America. One can still find them today at garage sales for bargain prices, or (if you're really lucky) out on the curb on trash day, free for the taking. Will the current buyers be different? Will they keep riding even after everything is reopened and concerns about social distancing are just a memory? Or will the later half of the decade see tons of used bike bargains?

Only time will tell.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Fathers Day 2020

Today is Fathers Day, and I spent part of it with my kids, part of it with my father, and a good bit of it riding bikes.

Since I planned to spend the bigger part of Sunday with my 80-yr-old father, the RetroKids and I did our traditional Fathers Day bike ride on Saturday. Our usual "go-to" for bike rides is the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath, but this time we opted for some different scenery. The Towpath is a great biking destination, and very popular - but it isn't the only game in town. We are fortunate enough to also have a very nice trail on a converted rail line, known locally as the "Summit Bike & Hike" trail. The trail follows what was once known as the Akron, Bedford & Cleveland RR (also known as the "ABC Line") which went out of service in the 1930s, and spans the north-east quarter of Summit County, but also continues well into Cuyahoga County to the north, and Portage County to the East. It's a paved trail, well maintained, mostly flat, and a good place to ride with kids.

One of the best spots to stop and explore is Brandywine Falls. The path crosses a bridge directly over the falls, but it's a great place to get off the bikes and follow the boardwalk down into gorge.

The boardwalk path winds down along the rocky ledges, and to a couple of observation decks to see the falls.

My favorite part of the trail is a few miles south of the falls, where it passes through a corridor of steep rocky ledges. The ledges are so tall, covered in mosses and ferns, and it's always noticeably darker and cooler. I don't know if it was a natural formation, or if it was blasted out to make way for the railroad (it appears to be natural - but it's almost too perfect for a rail line to assume some blasting didn't happen). Anyhow, as we ride through that mossy green cathedral, I keep expecting a Hobbit or Golem or some other Tolkien creation to make an appearance.

While passing through the rocky corridor, we stopped for a drink and my daughter happened to park her bike in a perfect little spot of dappled sunshine.

So that was Saturday. For Sunday, my plan was to drive up to my father's (it's about an hour's drive away) and make him dinner. But before making the drive, I got up early for a ride on my own. The forecast was for temperatures in the 90s, but it was still in the upper 60s when I left.

I took the red Mercian, which hasn't been ridden since I finished renovating the Sequoia. The Mercian's shorter wheelbase and slightly thinner tires means it doesn't have quite the ride of the Sequoia, but the handling is "snappier."

I stopped for a photo by the old covered bridge.
By the time I got home (after making the usual long climb out of the valley) it was already noticeably hotter outside, and I was thoroughly drenched in sweat.

That's all for now - to all the fathers out there, Happy Fathers Day.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

A Better Match

I've been putting a lot of miles on the Sequoia that I finished restoring earlier this spring. The bike has become a new favorite for its superb ride and handling. The frame is well-designed and beautifully built, the 32mm tires handle all kinds of road surfaces, and the gearing (50/36 chainrings, 13/28 freewheel) offers great range and really helps on the long steep climbs out of the Cuyahoga valley.

I also love the way it looks - but there was one thing that kept distracting my eyes. I had wanted to match the bar tape and the saddle, but the match was just a bit off and it was really bugging me! I'll bet a lot of people might not have even noticed, but my eyes were instantly drawn to the difference. Yes, I know - I get obsessive about things like that. I probably need professional help. That doesn't change the fact that I felt like I needed to unwrap the bars and try again.

Re-wrapped bars are a much better match this time.
I have two other bikes with Brooks saddles in the "Antique Brown" color, and my "recipe" for matching the bar tape was to use brown cotton tape with several coats of blonde shellac (it's usually sold as "clear," but "blonde" would be a better description). That gives a nice chocolatey brown color which usually matches well with the brown leather saddle. But whether it is due to the kind of natural variations that can occur in leather, or quality control at the Brooks factory, or whatever, the saddle I selected for the Sequoia has a decidedly "reddish" tone to it. The chocolatey brown just wasn't "right" this time.

Amber and garnet shellac flakes. Grind them in a coffee
grinder and dissolve them with denatured alcohol.
Before undertaking the time to re-wrap the bars, I did some experimenting with different colors of tape and different colors of shellac. The most common colors for shellac are the aforementioned "blonde," as well as "amber" - and those are usually the only colors available at most paint/hardware stores. I checked around the internet and found "garnet" (very dark red) shellac flakes from a place that usually supplies violin-repair shops. I made up a jar of garnet shellac, along with the other two colors I already had. Then I mounted a few short strips of bar tape (brown, yellow, and white - a couple of each) onto some card stock and started applying shellac in different combinations. Though it seemed doubtful at first, it turned out that white tape with garnet shellac gave me the closest match to the saddle. However, it took a lot more coats of shellac to get there.

Here are some progress pics:

This was the white cotton tape with two coats of garnet shellac. It's just a light buff color, and it's hard to believe it will ever be a match for the saddle. My experiment convinced me it would work.
A few more coats, and you can see it's starting to get closer.
It probably took twice as many coats as what I typically use for the desired effect - but it did get there. That also means that the bars have more "shine" than what I usually go for. After a few rides, some of the shine will get knocked down a bit and they should have the soft satiny look of nice tanned leather.

Finished. I think it took about six coats to get this rich reddish brown - and it's a spot-on match to the saddle this time.

Now when I look at the bike, the only thing that's going to catch my eye is how well the bars and saddle go together.

Thanks for indulging my obsession.