Friday 22 June 2007

Tour d'Alsace 2007--We're There!

Our official T-shirt design

Summer is here today and my summer holidays start tomorrow! Whee! The plan is to fly to Berlin for a week and hang with friends and then head cross country by train to Alsace where a group of us will collect and ride in the Vosges Mountains for a week of fun, with lots of wine-tasting as well as hill climbing. We have our official Tour d'Alsace 2007 t-shirts from the Retro Image Apparel Company (thanks, Roger, for the fast work!) and are mentally set to ride the Ballon d'Alsace, the first mountain ever included in the Tour de France. (The French text on the poster design says: "She climbs everything!")

The following week will see a different group of us in Bad Krozingen, near the Black Forest metropolis of Freiburg in Germany for yet more cycling and wine-tasting. Looking forward to great weather, great riding and great company. And you, faithful readers of the Tin Donkey, will get to see lots of photos on my return.

And the big mystery: will I return from Europe still a contender in the Fat Cyclist B7 Challenge or will the pastries and wine do me in? Stay tuned!

Tuesday 19 June 2007

My New Wheels

Pretty, pretty--rolling bling
(photo by James Huang,

You have to be some kind of gearhead to write an entry about your new wheels, but here I go. After some issues with the inexpensive wheels I had put on the Tarmac, I decided to go all out and ordered a set of top-of-the-line Shimano Dura-Ace WH-7801-SL wheels.

There was a good report on which I only discovered after buying the wheelset. I chose it for the reasonably light weight--1600 g--although I did not realize it uses weird proprietary stainless steel spokes. Mr. Informed Shopper also did not realize that it is the only wheelset compatible with the new Hutchinson Fusion 2 tubeless tires. These would appear to be quite revolutionary. They work much like a car tire, fitting snugly against the rim and not requiring a tube. These are not to be confused with tubular tires, which are more or less just like inner tubes without an outer casing. The tubeless tire weighs the same as a traditional tire and tube, so you don't save any weight. The difference is that the tire is only inflated to 95 psi so there is excellent road contact and enhanced cornering capability as the rubber along the sides is stiffer. Rolling resistance is claimed to be no different and of course there is no way to get a pinch flat since there is no tube. Hutchinson, which is, in spite of the name, a French company explains this all in amusing English on its website.

When the wheels came I looked at the instructions and carefully inserted the valves, which fit onto the rim. Then I applied a bit of soapy water and was able to get the tire to sit against the bead of the rim fairly well, but I had to use a tire lever for the last little bit. The instructions warn that using a tire lever except the special Hutchinson one will result in damage but the Crank Brothers SpeedLever works very smoothly and I had the tire mounted in a moment. Pumping it up--you really need a floor pump for this-- takes a bit of effort and it seemed to me a lot of air was leaking out of the sides as I began to work but suddenly the tire bead popped into place and voila! air in the tires. I left them overnight to see what would happen and they were fine, so on Saturday I went to Rock Creek Park and rode 62 km as a test.

The Shimano wheels are pretty stiff and very responsive. Best of all, unlike the old wheels they made no creaking sounds and the cassette body was not binding. Hooray! The Tarmac rides now in total silence, as it was meant to. The tires are fabulous--silky smooth and with amazing cornering grip. Compared to the 140 psi I was used to in my Vredesteins they seem pretty comfortable as well. I have ordered some sealant and once that is in the tire I apparently do not need to worry about flats unless the tire is actually cut. It is then possible to put a tube in it to get home. You can even ride on the rim if you have to, but considering what these things cost I do not find that to be an appetizing prospect.

If these things work as advertised, I think we are looking at the future of cycling. Look, Ma--I'm finally an Early Adopter!

Le Cirque du Cyclisme: Part Three

Sunday, June 10, 2007

On Sunday morning I had planned to participate in the Tour de Guilford bicycle ride around Greensboro, with lengths of up to 60 miles offered. Unfortunately, since our hotel checkout was 11 am, I felt that going for a long ride in the North Carolina heat, followed by a visit to a bike show and then finished up with a six hour drive back to Washington without a shower was singularly unappealing to me, let alone to my passenger Jeff, so no ride. Instead we had a leisurely breakfast at the K&W–$5.09 this time!–and went to the local recreation center to enjoy the bike show and swap meet.

The look of the New: Tarmac SL and Roval wheels

The parking lot was already well patronized by the time we arrived. After a brief hike past the tennis courts we looked at the marquee set up by Cycles de Oro and featuring a new Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL with those great-looking Roval wheels. The latest, and perhaps not in accordance with the spirit of Le Cirque, but as a recent Tarmac owner I was quite entranced anyway. Through the doors of the rec center and we were in Olde Bike Heaven.

We walked around looking at the neat things that people had for sale, ranging from really obscure bicycle parts from the 1950s to frames and complete bicycles in various stages, from pristine to woefully dilapidated. I had made Jeff agree that I was not allowed to buy bicycles of any kind, even a pretty good Bianchi Specialissima needing some nice period Campy parts. So instead of reaching into my wallet, I just kept walking around, taking photos of some great bikes and chatting with people.

I met up with Mike Barry, a very quiet person who was taking in all the sights. He was happy to meet a fellow-Canadian and I asked him about his son, Michael, who will not be participating in the Tour de France with T-Mobile as he has come down with a bad case of pneumonia, although it seems to have improved greatly. I told him that I serve my guests the biscotti made from the recipe on Michael’s webpage. We talked about the trip down from Toronto and I mentioned to him the excellent cycling I had found in West Virginia and encouraged him to try Pocahontas County, near the radio telescope in Greenbank, for some really glorious riding. I gave him a copy of my West Virginia roadmap and pointed out the areas where I had been.

Since I was clean and neat and not tired out from cycling, Jeff dragooned me into doing a series of interviews for his video blog. I have to admit I had a great time, and meeting the people I have known only by reputation and getting them to talk about their passion was fun for me.

Now, these are water bottles!

We first spoke with Chris Kulczycki of Velo-Orange in Annapolis, Maryland. A few years ago I bought a set of wooden kayak plans from Chris when he still owned Chesapeake Light Craft and someday I will build one of these but I fear that my building skills will not result in the kind of beautiful “showboat” I dream of. Chris has gone onto other enterprises and now is immersed in the “randonneur” business of cycling, exemplified by the great French touring bicycles produced by Rene Herse, and which is appearing to grow in the United States. These bicycles are built for comfort and durability but are handsome in their own right and ideal for people not obsessed by racing’s fashion dictates. Chris had two bikes on display, and I particularly liked the blue one, with its traditional bottles and 650B tires. I have only read about the latter and never seen one outside the pages of Bicycle Quarterly. Chris has a range of wonderful accessories, including Amish wooden baskets, all-enveloping chainguards and great-looking hammered-out fenders.

Jeff filming, me holding the mic and Dazza concentrating

Next we spent some time with Darrell McCulloch, who had spoken about the meticulous way he builds lugged steel bikes at the seminar on Saturday. He seemed a bit nervous when I began the interview but quickly relaxed and pointed out the features of the bicycle he had brought, which was so beautiful it made my eyes hurt. He had some of the lugs with him that he developed for the sloped-top tube frames and we talked about his customers and their interests. His order book means a 18-24 month wait for a Llewellyn bike but he wanted to sell the bike he brought with him rather than ship it back to Australia. The price for the frame was US$6,000, and built up with full Campagnolo Record it was US$ 10,000. It is clear to me that Mr. Campagnolo is doing a lot better out of this than Mr. McCulloch as the frame took 180 hours to construct before being painted. This works out to US$ 33/hr, including costs of material, amortization of the elaborate tools and all the time put into developing the lugs for what is a rolling piece of sculpture crafted by a true artisan. The service rate at my local Mazda dealership is nearly three times this.

Peter Weigle and the Drillium time trial bike

Next on our list was Peter Weigle of Lyme, Connecticut, who went to England to apprentice as a framebuilder and eventually opened his own shop in 1977. His current wait list is over five years and looking a the gorgeous dark green frame at his stand I could see why. He talked about his developing interest in randonneur bikes but when he showed us one of his bikes on display in the show area it was clear to me that his heart was still with racing. This lovely white bicycle, with the racing number “13," was a wonderful time capsule of early 1970s cycling. He had built it to race time trials in the UK and it had a single chainring with no front derailleur and a five-speed rear. No aerobars in those days, of course, but the bicycle had Drillium: carefully drilled-out components to save weight. The rear derailleur looked about half the weight it must have been when the Italians made it, and there were holes elsewhere on the bike, including the stem and the chainring and the bottom bracket. He said that he was doing a lot of travelling when he built the bike and he would just take it into his hotel room and bore holes into it with a hand-drill to pass the time. He won the Connecticut state time trial championship on this bike and it was displayed with his jersey and medal. The bike hung around in his shop for years but I for one was enchanted by it and glad he had brought it. The workmanship was superb and the bike, in spite of all the Swiss-cheese-looking parts, was very elegant to look at. Rather than order one of the randonneur frames, I was tempted to see if he would do another “13" for me but then I thought about all that hand drilling. Peter Weigle was also a bit nervous at the start of the interview but his pride in his bicycles was obvious and deserved and he quickly warmed up. A very charming man and very easy to interview. I even got him to talk about his Framesaver product, used to treat the interior of steel frames!

Here I am (l.) with Richard Sachs (r.)

On to Richard Sachs, one of the best-known custom framebuilders in the United States. Also located in Connecticut, Richard Sachs, like Peter Weigle, apprenticed with Witcomb Lightweight Cycles in the UK and was building frames at that company’s US operation before he opened his own shop in 1975. Referred to as the Stradivarius of the Bicycle, he builds road frames that are truly exquisite to look at, with their exacting Joe Bell paint finishes and gorgeous lugs. They are apparently wonderful to ride, although I have not had the opportunity to do so. You can expect to wait five years for one.

For someone who wanted to go into creative writing, Richard is quite entrepreneurial and in addition to the bicycles he has developed several lines of lugs, the names of which refer to the glorious past: Newvex, Singer-Herse, Nuovo Richie. And he also has his own tubing made to spec by Columbus: PegoRichie. He had an example of one of his frames in an unfinished state and instead of a head tube decal it has a badge formed right into the tube. Richards Sachs is a unique talent, and he has a very entertaining and comprehensive website.

Lastly, Jeff and I called on Steven Bilenky and looked at some nicely fillet-welded bikes and he showed us an old Raleigh that he had retrofitted with S&S machine torque couplings, which allow the bike to be taken apart easily. He had a short length of steel tube with a coupling so that he could demonstrate how it worked. And not only could he retrofit it to steel bikes but to titanium frames as well.

One more tour of the show area, a few pics of great bikes like the Rivendell with the harlequin handlebar tape pattern and the Hetchins that was used to win the 1956 Tour du St. Laurent (two months after I was born!) and Jeff and I called Le Cirque du Cyclisme a wrap for 2007. We had an uneventful drive back to Washington and I looked forward to adding all this stuff to my blog. Jeff, on the other hand, will have some issues: each episode of A Billion Bikes is five minutes and he shot a total of 3 ½ hours of video during Le Cirque!

It takes patience to wrap two rolls of handlebar tape to look like this!

It was a very enjoyable event, with a friendly family atmosphere since everyone seemed to know everyone else and was pretty keen to talk bicycles. I see on E-Bay there are offerings of NOS (New Old Stock) Campagnolo parts and I could even buy a brand new lugged Cinelli Supercorsa frame if I wanted. I appreciate the shape of my Tarmac and the engineering that has gone into it, but you would have a heart of stone not to fall in love with a Vanilla, a Weigle or a Sachs bike. And even though I successfully resisted buying another bike, I did buy a set of four limited-edition postcards of Daniel Rebour technical drawings from Brett Horton so I was not entirely unscathed.

Monday 18 June 2007

More Time Trial Madness

Even though it meant getting up at 3:45 am yet again, I returned to Carlisle, Pennsylvania today for my second time trial through the countryside between Shippensburg and Carlisle with the intention of improving on my previous time of 1:03:47. It was a beautiful morning and the hot temperatures promised for the day were not in much evidence when I rolled out on the course at 8:00 am. The wind was a bit less than on the previous run and I had some hope of reaching the 60 minute mark for the 40 kms. I started out strongly on the three little hills that mark the beginning of the course, and even passed my 30 second man a mere 2:43 into the course--he had to be having mechanical issues--but I could feel that I was running out of steam halfway through the course. I reached the 2o km mark at 34 minutes and I thought that I would have a big fight on my hands to do the return stretch in 26. Almost, but no cigar as I crossed the line in 1:02:53. My average heart rate was 160 bpm, max 175, which was about 10 bpm higher in both cases than the previous race. Considering that one of the other riders clocked a time of 1:00:02 and hence did not get the special "40 km in 1 Hour" t-shirt, I guess it could have been worse!

Getting ready to roll out (left)
(all photos courtesy of M-J Oboroceanu)

The slow recovery ride back after the finish

When I rode last month I met Joao Correia, a former pro rider in Europe who is now Associate Publisher of Bicycling magazine. He came second in the time trial last month on his beautiful Pinarello Montello and this month he won the time trial with another outstanding performance.
He was very helpful in answering my questions about time trialling and is certain that with a skinsuit and a better front wheel I will make good the time to get me to an hour. He was very generous with his advice and I have a lot of things to think about now. Joao had not raced for ten years but has lost 30 pounds in the last 18 months and clearly has not lost any speed.

Joao and me: bike guys talking equipment (left)

The latest Pinarello: the F4:13, as supplied to Joao and Alejandro Valverde

Saturday 16 June 2007

Le Cirque du Cyclisme: Part Two

A serious workspace...

After enjoying the seminars, everyone left to get ready for the evening’s banquet. I asked Jeff about the Cycles de Oro shop next door and he told me that he had already seen it and was quite impressed, so I decided to see for myself. This place is amazing! It must be the best bike shop that I have ever seen anywhere. There was a lot of high-end material, including the full range of Specialized Tarmacs, including one with the intriguing Roval wheels. The wheels were also being sold separately at $900 a set (aluminum rims, there are carbon as well) and I was suddenly overcome with buyer’s remorse since my new set of Dura-Ace wheels is on its way. Should I have sprung for the extra $200 for what must be the coolest wheels of recent memory? On the other hand, that $200 would pay for my weekend in Greensboro at Le Cirque du Cyclisme...

Frank Kramer's bike, and a Tarmac frame

Roberts time trial bike

Besides the wonderful Tarmac collection, there was a full range of drool-worthy Colnagos, a Canadian-built Argon 18 Mercury time trial frame and lots of other great things, along with a huge service area in the back. But unique to any shop I have been in was the great collection of classic bicycles that were mounted on the walls. One of the first things to strike me was a Pierce-Arrow bicycle from 1915, built for World Champion Frank Kramer (positioned above a new S-Works Tarmac SL frame). Other interesting bikes ranged from a dark brown Richard Sachs to a Roberts time trial bike with a curved seat tube. There were even bikes that the Dale Brown, who owns the store, had designed, including a child’s racing bike for his son.

Steven Bilenky and his handiwork

As we left the store, we came across the crew from Bilenky Cycle Works in Philadelphia. Steven Bilenky was sitting next to a gorgeous green and white fixed-gear bike, with the same kind of curved seat tube as the Roberts in the store. It looked great and we chatted for a while with him and one of his crew who had built up a town bike–with a front carrier ideal of a case of beer!–that was also on display. The green and white bike went on to win the People's Choice Award and the Best Fancy Lugs at the show the next day.

We drove back to the hotel, organized our stuff and headed out the door by 6:45 pm to get to the Painted Plate, a banquet hall where the evening’s dinner was being held. Although there were not a lot of vegetarian alternatives, I did quite well with salad, green beans and mashed potatoes, and in recognition of my superb riding earlier in the day I treated myself to two pieces of lemon cake, Fat Cyclist weight loss competition or not!

Dale Brown spoke about the ten years of Le Cirque du Cyclisme and his regret that it was coming to an end for him. There was not a dry eye in the house as he thanked all the people who had made the event possible. A group of cyclists who have ridden with him then got up and announced that in recognition of all of Dale’s work they had passed around the hat and they presented him with a cheque for $4000 so that he could join them on a cycling trip to Italy.

At this point, an introduction was made of the guest speaker, Brett Horton, of the Horton Collection, not unknown in these pages as I reviewed the recently published book on the collection here. A large, jovial man who, as he himself admitted, does not look much like a racing cyclist, Brett and his wife Shelly have amassed the largest collection of bicycle racing memorabilia ever. Brett brought some of his latest acquisitions to le Cirque, including the matching Belgian national jerseys (Nos. 1 and 2!) used by Patrick Sercu, the most successful Six Day racer ever, and Eddy Merckx, when they raced track as a team. He also had the rainbow jersey World Champion Paolo Bettini wore on the stage finishing in San Jose in the 2007 Tour of California. He spoke a bit about the other items in the collection, which includes 200,000 photographs, and his hunt for an elusive bicycle once owned by five-time Tour de France winner Jacques Anquetil.

The Horton Collection Vanilla--the only bike Brett Horton owns with fenders! (photo by J. Huang,

The Horton Collection Llewellyn (photo by J. Huang,

What I found particularly interesting was his commissioning of five lugged steel bicycles from a group of builders around the world to demonstrate that steel still has a place in the world of carbon fiber and aluminum bicycles. In many applications, steel is still an excellent material and to show this he had frames made by Richard Sachs and Sacha White in the United States, Ron Cooper in England, Darrell McCulloch from Australia and Dario Pegoretti from Italy. He encouraged them to build whatever they felt would be the best expression of their building philosophies. The completed bicycles were displayed at EICMA, the big trade show in Italy, as well as the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS) in March 2007. The photographs of these bikes that Brett Horton showed were spectacular and I hope that they might be issued as a portfolio of art prints, although it sounded that the work involved in producing the first book might have put the Hortons off of publishing for a while!

Le Cirque du Cyclisme: Part One

For the last decade there has been an event dedicated to classic lightweight bicycles: Le Cirque du Cyclisme in Greensboro, North Carolina. Starting as a swap meet hosted by the Cycles de Oro bicycle shop, the event has expanded to include guest speakers prominent in the hobby, a big bike show, a banquet, old parts for sale and, of course, the chance to go for a ride around Greensboro.

I was accompanied on this trip by Jeff Cook, he of, and he planned to cover the event for his blog and brought some amazing video equipment that while perhaps not yet classic was certainly lightweight. Our drive out of Washington on Friday was pretty slow as we were caught up in a wretched traffic slow down for the first thirty miles and then we were out on the open road. In Carson, Virginia, just past Petersburg, we stopped for gas and bought some of the excellent local peanuts. We soon realized that we had driven a bit too far and had missed our exit, but no matter: we were on holiday! We had a break at a nice rest area just inside the North Carolina boundary and enjoyed ice tea and our sandwiches, and then headed cross-country, eventually reaching I-85 and the route we had originally wanted to take. We easily found the Microtel in Greensboro, checked in and collapsed. But not before having some of those Carson peanuts and a bottle or two of Creemore Springs Lager.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

We packed up the car but before heading off to le Cirque we stopped for breakfast at the K&W Cafeteria located directly behind our hotel. I explained to Jeff that these kinds of places were a fixture in the South and I expected offerings from breakfast to be much better than in our hotel, which had the typical “Continental breakfast”–muffins and doughnuts on styrofoam–typical of budget accommodations. And sure enough, it was good at the K&W–fried eggs and grits and oatmeal and melon pieces and hot tea and toast and all sorts of things, a very good deal for $5.49.

Feeling well-fed, we drove down the highway to find the Cycles de Oro shop and the parking lot in front of it where the Saturday rides were scheduled to depart. I unpacked the Marinoni from the trunk and put the wheels on and almost immediately received comments from other riders. I had brought my Marinoni as this was a celebration of classic lightweight bikes and the Marinoni, with its lugged Columbus steel frame and Campagnolo parts, is pretty classic for a bicycle of the 1990s. I looked at the bikes the other riders had. It was a delightful assortment of rare marques: SOMEC, de Rosa, Hetchins, Richard Sachs, Masi.

We were offered either a 16 mile easy-paced ride around Greensboro, or a 30 mile “fast training ride” covering three counties. With some trepidation I chose the latter and we formed up into a peloton behind the ride leader, a young racer wearing a Cycles de Oro jersey and riding a Specialized Allez. Jeff introduced himself and shot footage of the group about to leave. Everyone seemed pretty excited about the possibility of being included on a video blog. The predominant look of the riders was more collector than racer and this was amply demonstrated as we came to the first hills and I found that I had to move up to the front or risk being stalled back behind slower riders. I looked down and was surprised to discover I was doing most of the climbs in the big ring (the Marinoni has a triple). I guess all those hours of high-intensity training in the gym have paid off.

We rode up and down the gently rolling hills around Greensboro, heading out into the suburbs and I rotated through with a few other riders, always staying among the first six. The leader of the group was very smooth but I had no difficulty maintaining his speed. I did notice that we were losing a lot of people as we made our way over the hills and after 20 miles or so we pulled off into a big parking lot at a local fire hall. We stood around and waited for the group to reassemble, and one of the riders had to find a spoke wrench and readjust the tension in his rear wheel. I chatted with someone riding a Hetchins, with the famous “curly stay” chainstay that were the trademark of this brand. Off to one side were two riders on Richard Sachs bikes chatting and someone told me that the rider with the black jersey was Richard Sachs himself.

Eventually–and I do mean eventually–everyone meandered in and we set off for the last part of the “fast training ride,” with some more little hills. I introduced myself to Richard Sachs, who recalled when I had written to him to include his link on my old Tin Donkey website and was interested to learn that I had a new blog.

The ride leader said that there would be no more stops until we returned to the bike shop so we took him at his word and opened it up a bit. I moved up to the front to set the pace for a while, holding a steady 34-36 km/h. The Marinoni is very comfortable for long, fast rides, particularly with no panniers and on this excellent day on smooth rides it felt in its element.

We passed a very nice golf course surrounded by elegant old houses and before we knew it we were riding back into the parking lot at the bike shop. I got my keys from Jeff Cook, who had been busy shooting video footage, and headed back quickly to the hotel, where I showered and got dressed, jumped back into the car and drove swiftly back to the bike shop or, more precisely, the empty building attached to the bike shop where the day’s seminars were being presented. I actually arrived in time to hear everything.

Proceedings began with some comments from Dale Brown, the Motivating Force behind the whole Cirque du Cyclisme. He talked about the charity auction that had been held on Friday night, where more than $12,000 had been collected. Then he introduced the first speaker, Darrell Llewellyn McCulloch, who had come to Greensboro all the way from Brisbane, Australia. He builds bicycles which he markets under the Llewellyn name and on the stage was one of the most gorgeous bikes I have ever seen. Fitted out with all-Campagnolo Record parts, it featured a steel frame, in candy apple red, with stainless steel lugs, including a lugged stem.

Darrell has worked as a racing mechanic for teams in Europe and for the Australian national training centre but it is clear that his first love is building gorgeous bikes. He showed slides of his workshop, located under his house and quite well-equipped, and talked about his clientele, which was seeking a modern-looking steel bicycle rather than a reinterpretation of an old Italian or English racing bike. He had taught himself how to use CAD/CAM to prepared lugs suitable for a bicycle with a 6 degree dropped top tube and had the lugs cast in Taiwan. This whole aspect of the operation already sounded like a painstaking adventure. He hopes to sell these lugs to other custom framebuilders and recover some of the costs involved.

His painstaking work was reflected in the bicycle in front of him, which he said took 180 hours to build, before the painting. He had built it for himself and it had never been ridden yet. In fact, he hoped not to have to bring it back to Australia but to sell it during the show. I was mentally measuring it out for myself (as was probably everyone in the audience), although luckily Darrell is a bit shorter than I am so it would probably not fit!

Hilary Stone

After Darrell, the next speaker was Hilary Stone from England, who writes the monthly article on vintage lightweights for Cycling Plus magazine. He spoke about the history of lugged English bikes. This was pretty obscure but interesting as there was a great variety of lugwork featured by celebrated English firms, most of which were located in South London, as well as particular individuals who worked for different companies. Of course, Hetchins was one of the best-known and Hilary noted that the owner of the firm and the chief builder were not shy about self-promotion.

Deconstruct-able Rene Herse

1938 Claud Butler

There was a brief break for sandwiches, and we had a chance to mill around and chat and look at a number of interesting bikes. There was a great 1938 Claud Butler track bike, with an adjustable “Major Taylor” stem (named after the African-American cycling world champion) and wooden rims. Someone demonstrated an obscure shifting system on an old bike and I admired a whole collection of gorgeous bikes–several Mariposas, a Legnano and a Gardin with Campy Delta brakes with a matching Gardin faceplate–that had been brought by Mike Barry, a well-known framebuilder from Toronto, and father of T-Mobile team pro Michael Barry. There was a particularly beautiful old Masi, pale blue with yellow handlebar tape, and a 1983 Rene Herse touring bike, with the shifters under the seat and quick releases on the frame so you could take it all apart for a trip. Bicycle Quarterly has a nice illustration showing how it works here. I saw the Hetchins that had been out on the road earlier and a range of other terrific bikes.

Hetchins, with the "curly stays'

Here is the Wikipedia entry for Hetchins:

Hetchins is a make of bicycle. It takes its name from the founder of the firm, Hyman Hetchin, who had a shop in Seven Sisters Road in South Tottenham, north London, UK. The frame builder was Jack Denny. Hetchin was active in supporting cycle racing and won the World's and Olympic Championships in 1936. After Hyman's death in 1961, the firm continued under the son, Alf Hetchin, moving to Southend-On-Sea, Essex in the 1970s. Hetchins frames are known for two things: their distinctive "curly" stays (patented in 1936), and elaborate lugs. The firm is still in production in 2007, under the control of the former Southend shop manager David Miller.

Sacha White

The next speaker was Sacha White, proprietor of Vanilla Bicycles, and someone who looked about fifteen years old. He had come into the framebuilding business from being a bike messenger, with a vision of providing great bikes for anyone who wanted one. Commercial realities are somewhat different, however, and he has a three year waiting list now, in spite of having five people working with him to handle various aspects of the business. He was unhappy about this as he did not wish to be committed to building the same bicycles as today three years from now. Someone in the audience suggested that he just raise his prices but he said that every time he did this, more customers signed on and the wait list became even longer!

Alexander von Tutshek

The last speaker also came from England, in spite of having the rather un-British name of Alexander von Tutshek, and he spoke animatedly about the passion of bicycle collecting. He was extremely entertaining and very knowledgeable as he described trekking throughout England to find rarities. There is no question that the most important attribute of the collector is tenacity, and we were regaled with his attempt to get a particular English bike out of a museum. It had been donated by a gentleman and when, unexpectedly, the museum went broke and was shut down, the donated items were returned to the original giver and Alexander was able to get it then. He also obtained the time trial of his boyhood hero who had ridden it 100 miles on open roads in 4 1/2 hours. His particular challenge is that he is very tall, so finding the right size frame was not so easy. He also enjoys riding his bikes and his wife Sharron, who had accompanied him to Greensboro, also participates in their two-wheeled excursions.

Friday 8 June 2007

The Joy of Eiskaffee

Dornstetten: the kind of place where you want to stop for coffee...

The Sprocketboy enjoying the Great Outdoors

Since my last post was about losing weight, this one is about a food that is guaranteed to make you gain it. Unless of course you are spending the day on your bicycle, riding up and down the hills of the Black Forest. I was in that fortunate situation last summer and had the opportunity of introducing Eiskaffee, that summer drink of drinks, to my friends Dr. Chef and Steve Z. We all quickly agree that nothing made a rest stop at an outdoor cafe in Germany better than an excellent Eiskaffee, and I have the photographic evidence to prove it. And Germany really does look like this.

Dr. Chef enjoys his Eiskaffee

Keep your chain-store Frappucinis and Mochialoonies away from me! Making an Eiskaffee is pretty easy, although you would not suspect that from the huge number of recipes on the Internet, some calling for chocolate ice cream, others for hazelnut coffee. Pshaw! Here is the simple recipe, always reliable:


1 scoop of really good vanilla ice cream
1 cup of strong coffee (I like to use espresso for this), chilled
1/2 cup of whipped cream
1 tsp of grated chocolate, as a garnish
1 wafer cookie, the fancier the better

Dr. Chef and Steve Z. enjoying an Eiskaffee break

Place the ice cream scoop in a tall glass or wine goblet
Add coffee until the glass is 1/2 to 3/4 full
Add whipped cream until it reaches the rim
Sprinkle the chocolate shavings
Stick the wafer into the whipped cream

Serve with a straw and a long spoon. Bliss.

Monday 4 June 2007

The Fat Cyclist

In January I entered the Banjo Brothers' Big Bad Bulky Biker Bodyfat (B7) Challenge, featured on the Fat Cyclist's blog. The idea behind this was to challenge the Fat Cyclist (who is really not very fat at all) to a bet as to who would lose the most weight by August 1, 2007. If you beat him, you get a Fat Cyclist jersey and if he beats you you have to ante up a suitable prize. I offered him an autographed copy of Peter Nye's excellent book on the Six Day Bike Races in America (see my review on this blog), along with a copy of Tim Krabbe's wonderful novel, "the Rider." The formula for determining the winner is weight loss + 3 mile time trial improvement and the Fat Cyclist has even come up with a little on-line calculator to determine your score.

After a few months of watching everyone shed weight like falling snow, I was feeling disappointed that I was not keeping up in the least. But patience is indeed a virtue and I have moved from nowhere to mid-field to third place to, possibly, the top of the current podium in the passing months. I have dropped from 191 pounds to 169, and from 15 per cent bodyfat to 10. I feel great and my cycling has improved markedly, especially in hill climbing. Even if the Fat Cyclist beats me at this point, I will gratefully pay up as this has been a pretty cheap way to lose weight! And it has been fun as the entire group of perhaps 40 contestants has shared the pain and the gain since January in exchanges on the blog. I even have a sidebet with Tom in Pennsylvania, the winner to pay for beer. And believe me, beer has not been as high on my list of consumables for the last six months as I would have liked. Nor pizza. Nor pastry.

What has been the secret to my success so far? Years ago, I read a magazine article about losing weight. It was called "Half the Man I Used to Be," and the author had gone from nearly 300 pounds to 175. He said that losing weight is easy and any 5 year old can learn how to do it following a two-part process. Which is: a) eat less and b) exercise more. It all comes down to this. Of course, he did not talk about things like willpower and focus and all that but he was entirely right. I have been keeping track of everything I eat at and although it is a pain to do the entries, reviewing them has been most educational. All kinds of food are the Enemy in that they will give you lots of calories and no food value. Better to load up on vegetables and fruits and feel full than the empty calories of sugar and white flour. I also consume a lot of smoothies as I discovered that my protein intake was too low for a person training seriously for cycling, so I have been buying protein powder, frozen fruit and soymilk in big quantities.

The Special Edition FC Jersey

Returning to the Fat Cyclist, his blog has been very motivational for me and it was sadness that we all learned that his wife, Susan, is battling breast cancer. As I grow older, I am shocked to realize the number of people that I know or have known that have suffered from cancer in different forms. I have worn a LiveStrong wristband for years and it reminds me of people gone and people who will make it through this terrible illness. The Fat Cyclist has a new version of his orange-and-black jersey: this one is in pink and black and is a special edition and will raise money for his wife's treatment, for the Lance Armstrong Foundation and for a trip to Italy when she is strong enough to go. I'm buying a jersey and I hope that lots of other people will as well. They are made by Twin Six and you can get them through here for late June delivery.

Sunday 3 June 2007

The Santiago Road: The Eighth Day

Day 8–Friday, May 31, 2002
Leon to Rabanal del Camino
74.14 km, total for trip 683.84 km

Leaving in the cool morning air, I headed out of León, ever westwards. Just before crossing the bridge over the Río Bernesga that would take me out of town, I passed an enormous establishment on the right side. I stopped in front of it to consult my map and the guidebook. I was standing before the former monastery of San Marcos. It was built on the site of a 12th century pilgrim hospice and had been taken over by the military Order of Santiago. This group was first organized in 1160, and Pope Alexander chartered it in 1175. Their purpose was to eliminate Islam and they were active in fighting the Moslems in Extremadura but do not seem to have been particularly supportive of the pilgrim traffic. The King of Spain took control of the Order in 1476 and decided to build a huge monastery but things moved pretty slowly and it took 200 years to finish it. By then, the Spanish monarchy had turned what could have been a political and military threat and turned it into an honorary organization. In 1837 it lost its function as a monastery and went through a series of incarnations: high school; Jesuit residence; cavalry barracks, veterinary college; military warehouse; hospital. In 1961 it was converted into a parador luxury hotel and a museum. As I rode by this huge building, there was no trace of this uproarious past in the morning silence.

I rode onwards through another series of small villages: Trobajo del Camino; la Virgen del Camino; Valverde del Camino; San Miguel del Camino; and San Martín del Camino. At least there was no doubt that I was on the right road! The little villages were not much to look at and I rode swiftly over the dry flatlands, arriving fairly quickly in Hospital de Órbigo.

Now, this was something interesting to look at ! The road into town took me over the Río Órbigo via a wonderful Gothic arched bridge, with no fewer than 19 arches. Since its construction in the 13th Century, floods have washed away some of the arches, while two others were destroyed by the British in the Peninsular War against Napoleon, but the reconstruction was always done in the same style so that while portions are from the 13th, 17th and 19th Century they all appear correctly medieval. I rode carefully over the cobbled bridge, enjoyed the view, if not the bumps.

As I crossed into the town, I saw a series of tents had been erected. There was going to be some jousting here, in commemoration of a great tournament held in July 1434, possibly the last true medieval tournament in Europe. It was a battle by a knight from León, Suero de Quiñones, who challenged all comers on the bridge. He was disappointed in his lady and wore an iron collar as an indication he was a prisoner of love and his challenge spread like wildfire through the European nobility as a chance to reclaim that mythical Age of Chivalry they had all been raised with. Not only was there a huge band of knights and their retinues but it was Holy Year and two weeks before St. James’ Day, so the place was full of pilgrims as well. Suero claimed victory, after two weeks, as he had kept his oath to break 300 lances and he gave his iron collar to the judges and became a pilgrim himself. Great stuff–the anti-Quixote, perhaps.

I rolled through the little town and found a sign that advertised a particularly nice stamp for the credencia and made my way to a little store where I received the promised stamp and bought something to drink as well.

The scenery was quite lovely as I continued on my way although I could see that there was going to be work ahead. At this point I could see in the distance two mountain chains, one to the north and one directly in my path to the west. I was coming to the end of the great plain of Castile and ahead were the Montes de León. The soil looked pretty barren to me, but apparently there are trace elements of gold in it and the Romans had actually operated some mines in the region. After 17 kms of easy riding, I reached Astorga and I could see the clouds forming ahead in the distance.

Astorga was originally a significant Roman city, gateway to the mines in the mountains beyond, and eventually, as the pilgrimage assumed greater importance, the city’s location ensured its prosperity. Not only was it a staging post on the road west from France, but a second road from the south joined here. Pilgrims prepared themselves for the difficult passage of the mountains as they headed towards Santiago de Compostela, or they recovered in Astorga on their return journey. At the height of the pilgrimage, Astorga boasted no fewer than 21 hospices, many of them devoted to particular professions or nationalities.

The city is rather compact and I rode into a park, where the Visitor Information Office was located, where there were traces of the original Roman walls and a map that I used to orient myself. I rode a bit further along, turned left past an adobe structure that was once a water reservoir, and climbed a hill past another section of Roman wall before turning into the city proper and locking up the bicycle near the very impressive cathedral. I then went by foot all over Astorga.

First stop was the cathedral itself. This was begun in the mid-15th Century, with most of the work being completed in the 16th. The impressive Baroque west facade is somewhat later and is extremely ornate and detailed.

Nearby stands the Bishops’ Palace and Museum, which looked vaguely like the Casa de Botines in León. It turned out that in fact it was also designed by Antonio Gaudí, with construction beginning in 1889, but the death of the sponsoring Archbishop and various other issues meant that it was not completed until 1913. It is a charming building and now houses a large museum devoted to the pilgrimage.

The Ayuntamiento is the Baroque city hall of Astorga, standing on its own square and very horizontal in appearance. There were many visitors the day I was there, including what appeared to be a local marching band wandering around the square. The whole city was very striking in appearance and in spite of its small size one of the highlights of the Camino. I would leave the main road, following quiet LE 142, as the Camino moved away from the A6 highway at Astorga.

Castrillo de los Polvazares

I also could see that the weather was not improving, so I went back to the bicycle, rode downhill and off to new adventures. The first of these was riding into the village of Castrillo de los Polvazares, which seemed almost entirely deserted. The buildings were unlike any I had seen so far, being of light brown stone. There are small windows to shelter from the heat–which was already tiring me–and overhanging balconies. It looked like some sort of Wild West town, except for the stone corrals that you could see everywhere.

The Camino, with heather and pilgrims

The Donkey at El Ganso

Following the quiet road, I passed pilgrims walking along the original dirt Camino. It was starting to rain, but extremely lightly, and it was a relief from the oppressive heat. Everything smelled fresh and there were wildflowers to be seen. I passed through the village of El Ganso, which had a little church with a one-dimensional steeple, and there was only a sole donkey to greet me. The road was climbing gently now, and the landscape had become scrubby, with heather and wild thyme in abundance. Soon there would only be brush to be seen.

The rain was a gentle mist and as it was approaching 6 pm I thought that I would stop in the next town of substance. This was Rabanal del Camino, which had been founded by the Knights Templar in the 12th Century to protect pilgrims and the red cross of the Knights was still in evidence as a sign of local pride. There is a hostal here administered by the Confraternity of Saint James, who had issued my credencia, but instead I pulled into a small stone hotel and found a room for the night. I began to sort out my gear in my little room when I heard an amazing sound: the sky opened up and the rain was hammering down on the roof as if it was a hurricane outside. I looked outside and saw what must have been the heaviest rainstorm I have seen outside of Asia when the typhoons come.

The dining room

The rain showed no sign of letting up and the hotel was obviously prepared as huge plastic garbage cans had been set up in various spots, including the dining room, to deal with the leaks. I had a simple dinner, but it was like sitting near a waterfall with all of the drumming noise of the water. I was glad not to be out on the road!

Eventually the rain passed and after dinner I walked around the village. Everywhere under the eaves were swallows, flying to and fro and fiercely concentrating on their nest-building. It looked as if hundreds of generations of swallows had come to Rabanal.

Views of Rabanal