Home is the Best Vacation

I’ve been working a lot this year. So much so that I had neither the time or the inclination to take any kind of a holiday. Until today. Monday was the first day of my five-day “stay-cation”. Bob needed to work and I couldn’t afford to go anywhere– mentally, physically or financially. So I packed up my suitcase for adventures of a diminutive nature. I packed books to read and knitting projects to finish. I packed paper and envelopes to write of my adventures. I packed notebooks and lots of colored pens to document my world and then set off on my first day of local adventuring.

I rode my bicycle to the Country Club Plaza, the fancy outdoor shopping area built in the 1920s and 30s with a distinctly Spanish look to the architecture to it, and toodled around. The weather was glorious and I needed to pop in to see my dentist anyway. Afterwards, with a trusty gift card in my hand, I splurged on a frappucino and brownie at the Starbucks with the most beautiful tree covered patio and doodled in my notebooks.

I then rode up to the grocery and purchased all the fixings to make a lovely chicken and barley soup (Thank you, Everyday Food!) and actually went home and made dinner. This wouldn’t seem all that spectacular if I were someone else but I am not of the cooking persuasion. In fact, I pretty much avoid cooking altogether though, on occasion, I’ve been known to bake as if I must eat, I’d rather it be cake.

My evening was spent lounging on the couch with not a care in the world. As I fell asleep, I had to wonder if  everyday could be so easy and adventure-filled?

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Better than Betty?

She's done!

Except for shellac on her grips, my beloved Robin is finished! I, of course, would now like to add the “bling”. In this case “bling” would be an actual “bringgg, bringgg!” in the form of a bell and either a saddle bag or a pannier so that I can carry a few things with me on my rides. Maybe eventually I’ll have both a pannier and saddle bag but right now I’d be happy with one or the other.

The Groody Bros. did such a spectacular job that I can’t stop staring at her. I brought her home yesterday afternoon in the pouring rain. Can you believe it? The one day all summer that its just pissing down rain is the day I have a shiny new bike and a desperate urge to ride. So I twined her grips, thanks to the lovely YouTube video from Riv Bikes. Easy peasey. Unfortunately, finding amber shellac is proving more challenging.

Speaking of Rivendell bikes (which I think are beautiful though I’ve only ever seen them online), I was thinking this morning while looking at EcoVelo that maybe, just maybe, Robin is prettier than Betty Blueskies. What do you think?

I do have some pretty serious front rack and basket envy though! May have to be my next purchase! I told you Robin needed bling!

I did ride a few blocks around my neighborhood in the drizzle but my brake pads squealed atrociously. So much so that people commented “Those are really squeaky brakes!” So embarrassing. They are brand new Kool-Stop Continentals on brand new rims. I went home and wiped the rims with cleaner in hopes of removing any grease or oil and Bob checked to make sure they were seated at a good angle but they were still squeaky. I’m hoping I just need to “break them in”. Anyone have any suggestions?

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Really big bike news

I was recently informed that KC was home of a fabulous pair of bike-loving brothers that did a rockin’ job powder coating old bikes and making them beautiful. I love my Raleigh mixte but was not so thrilled with her 80’s fade. So, I decided to contact the Groody Bros and have them hit my girl with the pretty stick. Luckily, the boys also handle the disassembly and re-assembly and were kind enough to take my bucket of parts that I’d been collecting and re-assemble her with her new parts.

So, here’s the before and almost-done photos:

BEFORE:

ALMOST DONE! Just needs her cork grips, cables with white housing and me!

When I saw the photos on their Facebook page, I literally wept with joy! I’ve been shopping for a front rack for her so that she might have a lovely little Nantucket basket just like Betty Blue Skies.

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My own Summer Games

I totally missed LGRAB‘s Summer Games which, if completed and documented, would result in prizes and accolades. Sadly, I had my nose firmly planted on the grindstone at work over the last several weeks and have just recently been able to pull my head up and see what I’ve been missing.

LGRAB’s Summer Games had so many interesting challenges, some of which I had even started!

Here’s the list:

  • on vacation? rent a bike and go for a ride!
  • write a letter advocating for bicycling infrastructure (bike lanes, bike rack, etc) to your alderman/council representative, mayor, or a local business.
  • take a picture of something along your commute that says “summer” to you, and explain why
  • commute to work by bike or bike/transit if you don’t already
  • perform a maintenance task on your bike
  • explore a greenway or bike path in your city that you haven’t previously visited
  • test ride a different type of bike than you normally ride (road bike, mountain bike, etc.)
  • read a book about cycling
  • ride your bike somewhere new in your city
  • go on a group ride

I think I did write a letter (albeit a form letter) grousing about bike options in Kansas City but didn’t document it. Heck, its been so long I can’t even remember the specifics. I started reading Bike Snob NYC but have yet to finish it. I’ve been itching to test ride a road or touring bike since I’ve been riding longer distances faster.

Also, I’ve been doing all sorts of repair work on bikes from simply inflating tires to complete teardowns of some of the more recent acquisitions but I haven’t had time to organize photos or write about my adventures. Here is a shot of Edgar mid-restoration:

Edgar, under the knife

I have discovered the tail end of the local Trolley Trail which winds through a beautiful and often much cooler wooded area. I ride from the “H” at the top of the photo all the way to the south-west end and back which is a lovely 10-mile ride roundtrip. And I have to admit I never in a million years imagined that I would ever say a 10-mile bike ride was no big deal!

I took a gorgeous picture on the trail but I can’t find it for the life of me. So annoying.

I attempted a “dry run” of my commute to work one evening to see how long it would take and whether I could make the trip without being completely wiped out and I stopped about 5 blocks short at a 7-11 for a huge bottle of water and a power bar because I had never realized that the route to work is almost completely uphill. And it was hot! I rode The Pigeon which is my gateway bicycle and I’m realizing now that I’ve basically outgrown it. It was perfect when I got back into biking because it was upright, comfortable and easy to mount and dismount. Now that I’ve been riding my Raleigh Mixte Robin, I’m discovering that The Pigeon does not make the best use of my energy and is not comfortable for rides over about three miles at a time. It was meant to be a comfort, bike path kind-of bike and I’ve moved past that. (Again, not in a million years would I say that I’m more comfortable on a bike with a more aggressive riding position that goes faster!) I’d like to attempt the ride to work again on Robin to see if I can make it. She’s much easier to accelerate on hills.

I guess that’s really only three out of the ten games in the LGRAB challenge. My goal is to complete several others before the end of the month as my own personal challenge.

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The latest bird

I promised a more in-depth profile of my newest bicycle, AKA Edgar “The Raven” Poe.

I have taken to cruising Craig’s List looking for interesting bikes. With this one, I struck gold. The photo above was the one featured in the ad. You can see why I was smitten, can’t you? Look at the light bathing his subtle black beauty and glinting off his rims! Not just a chintzy little cell phone shot, the guy who listed this bike genuinely loves bikes and you can tell with the photo.

View from the cockpit

Edgar is a 60s-era Sears Austrian-made 3-speed. According to my research, the bike was produced by Puch. Puch was  known more for the scooters, motorcycle and mopeds that they produced after World War II than their bicycles.

Front badge

Edgar has all the earmarks of an English roadster with the disposition of an Eastern European prince. Jet-black paint accented with gold pinstriping on the fenders and backgammon-like graphics on the seat post make him deep and a bit mysterious. The chain guard, 3-speed internal hub, lightly dinged fenders with cotton tail and dignified upright riding position make him English-at-heart.

Seat tube decal

The frame is lugged and weighs a ton so I suspect its a steel frame and not cromoly. The lugs aren’t beautifully sculpted but simple and totally utilitarian. Only the lug at the seat cluster has a little cut-out which I find charming– just a little flourish.

Backgammon detail on the fork

Subtle lug detail

The internal 3-speed hub is labeled Sears and “made in Austria” with the number 65 which I assume is the date of production. Everything I’ve read online suggests that the hub is a clone of Sturmey-Archer and parts are interchangeable which is excellent news. The shifter is basically stripped so it doesn’t stay in gear and makes it difficult to shift. I ordered a SA shifter and I hope it will work.

Shifter

It has the original 26×1-3/8 tires which will be swapped out soon with new cream Delta Cruisers.

Grippiest pedals ever

The pedals are the grippiest flat pedals I’ve ever had. I have never loved pedals before but I love these!

The brake pads and cables with housing are being replaced ASAP. I am waiting for new white cable housing to arrive in the post. My first batch of coveted Kool Stop salmon pads are also hurdling across the country to me too. I may have to replace the brake levers as one is very loose and wiggly but they are so perfect looking I’m hoping that new cables and pads will make the brake snappy enough that I won’t notice the wiggly brake lever.

Cottontail fender

For the time being, I am going to keep the cream hand grips until I figure out what will make a decent replacement. And I ordered a Pletscher-style mousetrap rear rack which should be installed this weekend.

My dream is to add a bottle dynamo, lights, a wicker basket and a Brooks saddle to it at some point but it will have to wait as finances are kind of tight at the moment.

I bought the bike for a whoppin’ $50. So far, I’ve calculated the following expenses:

  • Schwalbe Delta Cruisers $52
  • New tubes $15
  • Kool Stop salmon Continental brake pads $20
  • Pletscher style rear rack $16
  • White cable housing $6
  • SA shifter $12
  • Cables $20

So, that’s about $140 invested into it. That makes my total investment $190 for a vintage 60s 3-speed masterpiece. I think Velouria of Lovely Bicycle is right that a vintage bike is often the cheapest way to afford a great, classic, lovely city bike.

Cottered crank

Edgar "The Raven" Poe

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Adding to the Aviary

As I’ve continued to acquire vintage bikes, I decided the poor creatures needed names. The first to earn a name was my modern bike, the 2008 Giant Transend, which is functional but not very pretty. I call it The Pigeon. Yes, its a bird but just barely.

The Pigeon

Then there’s my beloved Raleigh Mixte which was immediately named Robin since it started life in Nottingham, England. Yes, that Robin. Her full name is Robin of Loxley, of course.

Robin

As the Fleet Wing started life as a bird, naming has been more amorphous. Its a solid steel frame, single-speed with a coaster brake. Fleet it is not. But it is the childhood dream of a bike and wholly American so lately, we’ve called it “The Eagle” as in “the Eagle has landed.” Makes me want to salute everytime I see him.

In all her glory

My newest acquisition is a 60s era Sears-branded Puch 3-speed. This has been one of my dream bikes so I was practically giddy driving across town to pick it up. As a frequent cruiser of Craig’s List, I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for a classic step-through 3-speed. When I saw the photos on posted on Craig’s List, I just thew this was the one for me. Its the first non-blue bike I’ve owned (unless you count the beater MTB I rode in Chicago which started its life red but was covered with stickers to obscure its brand until I honestly didn’t remember it had been red originally). Such a regal looking black frame with gold pin stripes on the fenders and a backgammon pattern on the seat tube. As an Austrian-built bike clad in a shroud of black, I though this bicycle would need a name that reflected its roots. Something dark and brooding. So, Edgar “The Raven” Poe is born. There will be more details about Edgar coming soon.

And last weekend, my kind surrogate KC family gave me a vintage Motobecane folding bike! It is going to need a lot of work as it has sat unused and scummy for decades but it satisfies one of my bike desires — to own a folding bike, as nerdy as that sounds! Its also not blue (woohoo! Yeah for variety!) and will probably get a dorky name related to its ostrich-like looks. Maybe something from Seuss?

Motobecane Riviera Folding bike

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Test riding internal hubs

Though I have no intention of turning this into a bicycle-focused blog, I thought I’d put some notes here about my biking experiences, both physical and technical as they link to my more vintage-y lifestyle.

So, onward….

Over the last two weeks, I’ve had the chance to test ride three different internally hubbed bicycles: a Shimano 8-speed, a Sturmey-Archer 8-speed and a NuVinci CVP.

The Shimano 8-speed Nexus Inter-8 installed on a Jamis commuter-style bike–I can’t remember the exact model as it was quite a stretch to call it a commuter bike. The bike had no fenders, rack or other standard accessories one would associate with a commuter bike and the riding position (at least for me) was considerably aggressive. While the geometry and fit of the bike was all wrong for me, I loved the Shimano internal hub. The gears clicked quickly and cleanly with the twist shifter whether stopped or pedaling and so quietly. It made it feel like I really was flying. When coasting, there was no clicking like a standard rear hub which made the experience all the more surreal.

Saturday, I got to test the NuVinci installed on a large cruiser bike. Again, I totally flaked on the make of the bike but it was probably an Electra brand cruiser — big, heavy, 26″ balloon tires. The bike itself was as slow to go as a beachbum but it was a good way to see if I could adjust the gearing enough to pull the bulk up a hill. With some finagling, I managed to find the proper gearing to help haul me and the bike up the hills and curves of western Missouri. As mentioned in several other reviews, the graphical representation of flat land or hill for the gearing took a bit of getting used to. The NuVinci is definitely a unique hub system. Being able to adjust incrementally, with a slight twist in one direction or the other was a tweaker’s dream. It did click when coasting like a traditional 7- or 8-speed rear hub though which was disappointing. Having never ridden internal hubs I hoped that they were all as silent as the Nexus. For me though, the additional cost of the NuVinci in order to micro-tweak the gearing did not seem like something I would need or want and oddly the graphic symbols confused me with as much frequency as the open and close arrows on elevator panels.

(Photo from Gentleman's Bike)

Finally, I took a vintage Raleigh installed with the Sturmey-Archer 8-speed hub. The bike was a standard diamond men’s frame and probably much too large for me. It had only been partially built with no front brake or grips installed yet but I was desperate to try the hub so I was willing to risk it. The Sturmey-Archer hub required a little bit of adjustment to the shifting as it needed a little back pedaling to activate each gear or it wouldn’t engage. In practice, it felt as if I needed to not pedal while switching gears. Once I figured that out, I so enjoyed just riding the vintage Raleigh that I forgot I was test-riding the hub not the bicycle. There will definitely need to be a vintage Raleigh in my future.

As I’m planning the modifications to my Raleigh Mixte getting to actually try these internal hubs before buying and installing them really made a difference in solidifying my decision to go with the Shimano 8-speed. Kansas City is way too hilly for anything less than the 8-speed. The great thing about the internal hubs are they are all enclosed and need considerably less maintenance than exposed cogs.

If you’re in the market for a new bicycle or upgrading an older bike, I highly recommend trying an internal hub. You’ll definitely have to hunt around though to find a shop with even one bike on the floor with an internal hub, especially if you live in a largely suburban area like I do but it’ll be worth the hunt. Internal hubs provide a cleaner line on your bike while still providing a range of gearing for tackling all those hills and less maintenance.

(Thanks to Elite Cycles and Pace Bicycle Haven for letting me test ride bicycles!)

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The Mixte Fix-up

Last weekend, I found a gem on Craig’s List. It is an 80s era steel lugged Raleigh 10-speed. This model was made in England and was exactly what I was looking for as my first project bike.

Full view

Front wheel off and ready for restoration

I wanted a bike I could get into good riding condition that might get me ready to ride the Katy Trail this summer and this little bird is just the ticket.

We spent the weekend cleaning her up: replacing the chain, running new cables, replacing the drop bars with upright “North Road” style bars and shifters, new brakes, new seat and cleaning everything up. She still needs a new rear derailleur which we discovered after our first voyage out and a new rear cog cluster (on a scooter we call it a Christmas tree but I’m not sure what the correct term is on a bicycle) because the original parts are slipping.

I also still need grips and a kickstand. I was considering the elk hide grips from Velo-Orange or maybe cork. Eventually I may upgrade to 700c wheels and maybe switch to an 8-speed internal hub but I want to ride it for a bit before investing anymore money into it.

Robin, the wonder Mixte

Cleaned up and almost ready to fly

A clear shot of her headbadge

Her beautiful head badge

Price of bike: $125

Parts: $90 so far

All in all, I will spend about $275 on the bike without including the cost of the Brooks saddle.

Robin's saddle

My first Brooks saddle

I’ve decided to name her Robin since she is from Nottingham and she going to be quite the adventurer.

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Vintage transportation: Bicycles

Gazelle Tour Populair

Even before I started dressing in mostly vintage and vintage-inspired clothes, I loved all things old. I love old furniture, office supplies, knick-knacks, music, cars, scooters and even bicycles.

As the weather has finally turned warm, my focus has returned to one of my favorite modes of transportation: bicycles. Thanks to my purchase of a lovely bike three years ago, I lost 20+lbs (to you Brits, that’s about a stone) and bicycling won its way into my heart and my lifestyle. I ride it about 5 days a week. In the winter, my little granny bike spends its days on a bicycle trainer designed for bicycle racers and keeps me fit and out of the cold. In the summer, my bike is set free to ramble on the streets of my neighborhood, shuttling me and a mess of books back and forth from the library and up and down the trolley trail which is my exercise “circuit”. I am not at all an athletic rider. I usually don nothing more than bermuda shorts, a cotton blouse and sneakers for my fitness ride. I don’t ride long enough or hard enough for spandex, not to mention that I’m not fond of that look at all.

My daily rider

After three years though, I am wishing for a more classic-looking bike. I have drooled over the Pashleys and the Dutch bikes I see online. I do have an old vintage bike but more about her later. Yes, the Dutch-style bikes are big and heavy but I just enjoy riding and if I can do it stylishly, all the better.  I have been considering adding some new features to my bike to make it look more classic rather than investing in another bicycle. But I’m on the fence about adding too much to the bike. Its an aluminum frame rather than a comfortable steel frame so no matter what I do, the ride will still be a bit stiff.

I just ordered a Brooks leather saddle from my LBS (that’s “local bike shop” like LYS is “local yarn shop”) and he promises it should arrive in a couple weeks. So, whether I keep riding my Giant (which has been donned “the Pidgeon”) or I upgrade to another bike, I can finally appreciate a Brooks saddle.

I’ve been devouring The Lovely Bicycle blog which has piqued my interest in some cream tires which I think will make the Pidgeon look even nicer and some nice panniers which will make me more inclined to run local errands on my bike. Again, both can be moved to another bike if I decide to upgrade.

The 8-ply bent wood rack

My favorite thing about the Pidgeon is the 8-ply bent wood rack on the back. Gorgeous!

Me and my Fleet Wing

As for my sweet vintage bike, its a Fleet Wing single-speed with coaster brakes — the brakes are the one thing that still aren’t working quite right. I think we may have to replace the whole hub. I know very little about the Fleet Wing. Online, people say they were manufactured in Cleveland, Buffalo, Germany and England but I suspect mine was definitely an American-made design. I’m guessing its late-50s or early 60s. It has some rust spots on the chrome but otherwise its beautiful.

Fleet Wing in Action

In all her glory

The original seat is not particularly comfortable. There is a couple of slots in the front fender to install a headlamp and there is even a button on the “gas tank” to turn the light on and off (I think). I’ve been on the fence about how much money I should spend on the restoration of the Fleet Wing. She was originally purchased for $35 and we’ve already replaced the chain, tubes and tires as well as cleaning it up. Add in the cost of a new coaster brake and I’ve already put a good $150 into repairs. Is it worth spending more on new wheels, front brake, and a new seat? Its a beauty but I’m not sure it will ever be more than a show piece. Or could it?

(For more photos of the Fleet Wing, check out my Flickr set)

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Bike Love

This is my new bike. Its a Giant Tran Send. Its a women’s frame in the medium size. I’m so happy. It’s easy to ride, beautiful and my new best friend.  Even with the U-lock on the back, the bike is light and easy to maneuver. The only complaint I have so far is that the position of the pegs for a water bottle mount are very high on the bar. It seems unlikely that I could put a water bottle on the bike or remove a bottle from the mount without serious exertion. As a commuter bike, this might not be a huge deal but it does get hot around here. Water would be nice.

Now I just need to get into shape so I can ride it for longer than 20 minutes without bonking.

Next up is a basket on the front and some lights so I can ride in the evening.

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