Friday, June 27, 2014

650B and Acadia National Park - an Uncommon Pair for Cycling

650B is an uncommon bicycle wheel size in the U.S. and Acadia National Park in Maine is an uncommon national park but they were made for each other. Acadia is one of the few national parks east of the Mississippi River.

It was created in a very unusual way... totally from private land donations. Maine has always been a vacationland for the east coast.

There are lots of summer homes of the wealthy on the rocky coastline. Around the early 1900s, a group of these landowners, including George Dorr and his father along with Charles Eliot and John D. Rockefeller Jr., decided to try and save a portion of Mount Desert Island by donating land and promoting the idea of making it a park. They had quite a time convincing the government of the day to accept it!  In addition, Rockefeller financed the construction of over 50 miles of gravel carriage roads with 17 beautiful granite bridges. Rockefeller was a horseman and wanted the carriage roads free of the new noisy automobiles. A man after my own heart.

I am western born and bred and a national park, for me, is a wild place with critters that might eat you if you don't behave. So I was quite disappointed at Acadia having the moniker of national park when I first arrived. It felt more like a giant New York Central Park to me than a wild place. But, as a cyclist, I could not deny that the carriage roads, with no cars allowed, were awfully nice for riding and perfect for a 650B randonneuring bike with it's wide cushy tires. But don't expect anything flat. The carriage roads are either a climb or a fast ride down with not much in between. However, the roads are graded for carriages and the climbs are never too steep but you might want to bring your triple. Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on the east coast so many of the carriage roads have great views.

When the summer sun is making other parts of the country uncomfortably hot, Acadia provides considerable shade and cooler temperatures for riding.

The stone bridges are an amazing display of the stone mason's craft. Rockefeller wanted them to blend in with the natural environment so the local granite was sculpted rough to match the natural rock.
I was pleased to find so many families riding the carriage roads together and the Park Loop road is nicely paved and a lot of roadies were out riding that loop.

Even though I would guess that cyclists are now the number one users of the carriage roads, the Park Service has not made it easy for us.

You can camp at the Blackwoods Campground on the east end of the isle but there are no bike trails that go directly from the campground to connect with the carriage roads. You can ride from the campground on a little trail to the main Park Loop road but the Park Loop road is one-way and you can't get back to the campground the same way.
The Park Loop Road - paved but no shoulders.
The public road "Highway 3" can be reached via the east entrance, for your return, but it is a bad road for cyclists with fast traffic, no shoulders and rough edges to the road. We did find an alternative on a small, quiet and beautiful residential road (Cooksey Dr.) that gets you most of the way back without using much of Highway 3.
Cooksey Road bypasses the worst of Highway 3/Champlain Rd

In late June, a shuttle bus starts running that you can use to get into and out of the park with your bike but it would be nice of the Park Service to recognize the value of cyclist visitors and to provide a basic bike path to get them to and from the campground safely.

For those of us interested in expanding our cycling to gravel forest roads the opportunity to ride in Acadia National Park should not be overlooked.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Glenn Eames' Old Spokes Home in Burlington, Vermont

I realized today that I was a cultural refugee. My culture is rich in traditions, art, stories and heros. But I don't live in that culture. I am a foreigner in the culture I live in. It is not my home. I really don't know where the home for my culture is either. But, very rarely I get to meet someone who is from my home culture. Someone who knows my traditions and the stories and the heros. Such a person is Glenn Eames.

Glenn set out to bicycle around the world in 1982 on his Holdsworth Mistral. He flew to Amsterdam and cycled through Europe and then headed south to north Africa. He caught a boat to Greece and cycled in Asia Minor. Then to India, Thailand and China ending up his tour in San Francisco two years later. After another 3000 miles in the U.S., he landed in Vermont where he started work in a bike shop.

 After 14 years, he opened his own shop and named it the "Old Spokes Home." 

He sold used bikes at first and fit right in supplying the fixie crowd until the interest peaked.

He grew and sold new bikes, too. 

He chose the Jamis brand because they still believe in steel. He also sells Surly and the "Long Haul Trucker" is a touring bike he can get behind with his personal interest in bike touring. But he says he "never met a bike he didn't like" and so sells Fat Bikes because they are where the bicycle is now being invented. He says this because he knows the bicycle has been continuously reinvented since the beginning.

And Glenn can prove it.

Upstairs in the "Old Spokes Home" is part of his incredible collection of bikes. He has created a high-class museum of bicycles that chronicle the beginnings of cycling with dozens of bikes, just part of his collection, made all before the turn of the century.

The pre-1900s bikes are organized to illustrate the evolution of bicycle design and innovation in the bicycle's first 40 years.

He has created professional looking plaques that tell the story from the earliest days of the hobby horse to the rise of the high wheeler and the safety bicycle.

Direct-drive, chain-drive, shaft-drive, wooden spokes, steel-spoked and adjustable spokes, steel frame, wooden frame and aluminum all show the variety of designs that indicate the excitement that the bicycle brought to the masses.

Here was true independence for the masses, for the  first time in human history. The collection also shows that so many so-called "new" designs were first done 100 years ago.

As Glenn said, he never met a bike he didn't like and the more modern part of his collection confirms that philosophy. With names like Hetchins, Masi, and Colnago he has the requisite standards. But then there are the 50s Peugeots, the Raleigh RRAs, the Rotrax, the two Cuban utility bikes and the Bottecchia with a link to Greg Lemond.

Each bike with its story. Some with a hero and others that echo the bespoke artisans that spent their lives building bicycles. All telling the tale of the rich culture of bike people.

Friday, June 6, 2014

A 1963 Peugeot 650B conversion

What does that mean? The 650B is a designation of wheel size. Bike tire/wheel measurements are about as messy as any measurement made these days. The same exact wheel/tire can be measured many different ways. To make things worse, some tires/wheels are only talked about in one measurement system or the other.

Most "racing" bikes used these days have 700c wheels. That is a size label not a measurement. The rims are 622mm in diameter. The old classic mountain bike rims referred to as 26" are 559mm in diameter. So why would I care about a size in between?

Jan Heine, in his magazine Bicycle Quarterly, has done a lot of research into cycling in Europe in past decades beginning around the 1930s. He discovered a few interesting things about the equipment they used and what long distances the riders commonly were able to ride in a day: hundreds of miles.

One item of interest was the wide tires Europeans used. Most Americans have been brought up believing that narrow, high-pressure tires are fasssst. But Jan started to question this due to the ride reports from early randonneuring in France. He decided to do some scientific tests and found that wider tires with compliant side-walls were actually faster than the same model of tire in a narrower version. What he decided was that, on real roads, that are rough and not anything like the steel drums used to test tires indoors,  high pressure tires bounce off every imperfection in the road. The whole time they are airborne they are not moving the bike forward. He found that wider tires that conform and smoosh around the imperfections stay in contact and keep driving the bike forward. So the wider tires can actually be faster than an identical design in a narrower version.

So back to our story...  After coming to this conclusion he found that there really were not available any good quality tires, for typical American road bikes in the 700c size, that were wider. But the old French size of 650B, at a diameter of 584mm, was still in use and wide high quality tires were available. So the 650B size gained a fan club because of the comfortable ride that they afford without a loss of speed or efficiency.

The interesting thing is that older 700c sport touring bikes of the 1970s, that can't use wider tires, are good candidates for a conversion to 650B. Since the 650B wheel is smaller it gives more clearance on the same bike that did not have any clearance using the larger original 700c wheels. So you can give new life and purpose to an old bike doing a 650B conversion.

There is some fine print tho'. First, when you put smaller wheels on the bike the bike gets closer to the ground. If the original design was low to the ground in the first place then lowering it even more can cause your pedals to hit the ground. The other issue is that caliper brakes have to be longer to reach the smaller rims and so you probably will have to get longer brakes or have a frame builder braze on cantilever studs to use "mountain bike" style brakes. There is only so much range of longer brakes available so it just depends on the candidate bike you want to convert. If the original bike used "short reach" brakes then it will be easier to find longer reach brakes for the conversion.

I wanted to do a 650B conversion for my wife to use for gravel road riding and vintage rides. My choice of "donor" was a 1963 Peugeot PA10 (probably). I disassembled the old wheels and bought new 650B rims from Velo-Orange. They make rims that look vintage but are modern construction. I used a french Nervar crackset and bought new Velo-Orange chainrings for a wider range of gearing because the bike came originally with a narrow range of chainrings on a cottered crankset. What this means is that the crank was steel (i.e. heavy) and pinned on the axle with a cotter pin making it difficult to remove and clean. Which is a real pain in my opinion. I wanted a little easier bike to maintain.

Then I found Dia-Compe brakes that were long enough to reach the new position of the rims. Remember that this distance is different for every bike even if they all use 700c wheels originally. It depends on the original clearance for fenders and such.

I tried to keep most everything else original or looking original but I am not slave to tradition. I used a sealed bottom bracket and got rid of the original simpex plastic derailleurs and as mentioned before the steel cottered crank. I used fenders and Panaracer 40mm Col de Vie tires from Velo-Orange.

 I just finished the build  today and the verdict was that she could easily tell how comfortable the tires were! It was a big hit.

For more information on 650B conversions check-out "650B Conversion Guidlines" on the bikeman site.

The new owner approves!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Minnesota Randonneurs: Long-Distance Unsupported Riding - the Apple Valley 200K Brevet

Randonneuring is a French word for wandering or traveling. Not easy to translate into English. The tradition of long distance cycling was born in Europe and became popular after WWII when people needed to forage for food in the country and escape the bombed-out cities for a weekend. Because cars were not available, the bicycle became the vehicle of choice. Cyclists would ride 100 miles to get to the destination, then ride for fun for 100 miles and, lastly, head back home. Long distance cycling was promoted by Frenchman Paul de Vivie, nicknamed Velocio, who published a cycling rag in the early 1900s called "Le Cycliste," where he wrote about the health benefits and equipment that would allow people to enjoy the fresh air and mountain vistas by bicycle. Velocio was one of the first cyclist to understand the value of gears for cycling up hills. He used his magazine to argue in favor of dérailleurs but met considerable resistance. In the end, he would win the argument of course.

Unlike racers who fixate over every ounce on the bike randonneurs tend to be more concerned about fit than weight. They spend time refining the fit of their bike so that every  little irritating pain is eliminated because what is a minor  annoyance at 30 miles can be a ride killer at 200 miles.

Randonneuring, also called Audax riding, has a worldwide following these days and the queen event in the world is the Paris-Brest-Paris ride held every four years. In PBP, 5000 riders from around the world join together to ride the French countryside supported by large numbers of locals who cheer them on and stay up all night providing food and support along the 1200K route that riders must complete in 90 hours to officially finish the event. A few strong riders will compete to be the first to finish but they fail to understand that the event is all about the camaraderie and personal achievement of just finishing the event.

In order to qualify for PBP, riders must ride a series of 200k, 300k, 400k and 600k (that's 120, 180, 240 and 360-mile) rides sponsored by clubs around the world and sanctioned by the Audax Parisien bike club in France.

This leads us to the Apple Valley 200k/300K event on May 31, 2014,  sponsored by the Minnesota Randonneurs. Starting in Apple Valley, the event winds it's way south through the Minnesota countryside and turns to return at Zumbrota. The riders must ride unsupported, except at the three checkpoints. They can help each other but not be assisted by outside help during the ride. The ride attracted about 15 riders for the 200k distance and 19 riders for the 300k distance.  They assembled at the AmericInn in Apple Valley for the start at the crack of dawn. It was a tough ride with unstable weather bringing heat and squalls for some unlucky riders.

It is a great accomplishment to finish such an event and I congratulate all the riders who participated.
Rob Welsh gives the pre-ride info/safety speech.

Veteran randonneur Mark Olsen from Rochester, MN with his Rivendell Homer Hilson.

Doug Dyer and Bill Johnson and the rising sun at 6am
Doug Dyer's  Chris Kvale

Bill Johnson's thrift-store find, a 1975 Masi.

Cannon Falls, the location of the first check point.
The Hawk-eyed ride marshals make sure the rules are followed.

Barb Kelly, Dick Anderson and Ronald Hillberg at checkpoint one.

Kelly Hines rides into checkpoint two in Zumbrota.

Checkpoint two, about the half-way point for Doug Dyer and Bill Johnson.

Erv Berglund at checkpoint two.

David Marsh

A cheerful attitude keeps you going.

Rob Dixon, from Onalaska, WI
Noboru Tomonari arrives at checkpoint two.

Mike Achor

Keith Willard rides his Baccetta recumbent.
David Johnson powered by home-made peanut butter and honey sandwiches.

Barbara Kelly checks her time into checkpoint two.
Samantha Carroll reloads her electrolyte drink supply.
Mike studies the route to checkpoint three.
Extra fluids for Tomonari-san.

Checkpoint 3, 95 miles ridden, 31 miles to go!

Sometimes it's important to cool down your feet.

Barbara Kelly heads off on the last leg.
Everyone's a Winner!
David Poulter and Scott Weinberg congratulate each other for finishing the 300k.

 David Johnson with his completed Brevet Card!
Barbara Kelly completes her first Brevet.