50+ Miles on a 50 year old bike on my 50th Birthday

Thanks to Nicki of Bikes@Vienna for taking the pic.

The idea was simple: Ride 50 miles on a 50 year old Peugeot PX-10 on my 50th birthday. I like to refer to my birthdays as an ‘accomplishment day,’ as the concept of being lauded just for being born on that day seems weird. So I came up with the 50-50-50 to make it interesting, and to start down the road to doing a L’eroica one of these years.

I’ll write a lot more on the bike and the things I learned  about riding a vintage bike in a week or so. I had never ridden a bike this old that far before … one thing I will definitely need to do is find my box of old 80s and 70s cycling shoes so I won’t have to wear sneakers again!

I am also curious to see how my first real bike that I rode all over creation, a 1980s Peugeot PSV-10, compares. That will be my L’eroica bike I suppose. I think the bars are a bit wider and the brakes are better, so the bike will feel a tad more modern. The Mafac center pulls on this 1968 bike just don’t work that well. I will have to ask more experienced vintage riders what I might be able to do in terms of brake pads etc on this score. And the reach to the lever requires longer fingers than I have!
I averaged a bit over 15 mph on my ride from Bethesda down the Capital Crescent Trail, and then up the long hill of the Custis Trail before the rolling but generally flat W&OD Trail. The turnaround was just past Vienna. The pic is from about mile 28 of the endeavour, in the parking lot of Bikes@Vienna.

I felt much better on the bike than I anticipated.

More later on bike specifics and things I learned. Work calls now, and then two big rides on the weekend.

Now, I  have to write about audio!!

Calling the Slightly Silly!

If anybody out there reading this is already signed up to race the US Brompton World Championships (BWCs) in Laguna Seca, California, on Saturday, April 21, there’s still time to join the Philadelphia Fliers Brompton Racing team. The Fliers are a Mid Atlantic-based team that took 2nd in the team competition at the 2017 BWCs in Harlem. This year, due to conflicting schedules, we need a few more riders to form a team.

If you’re racing, join us! Anybody can join if you’re already signed up to race – just go in to amend your registration and type in Fliers and it should still be possible to join the team. We don’t care if you’re not from PA or the Mid-Atlantic. The team is just a lighthearted attempt to break the stranglehold the New York teams have over the fledgling sport. Why should they get all the glory and endorsement deals?!

Most ‘racers,’ at this event use it as much as a parade as a race – you do not need to ride hard or push your limits for the team. We just need bodies, and bikes. See this video of the 2016 race to see what it’s all about. Yours truly can be seen at around the 41 second mark as a two man, tuxedo-only chase group.

And if the timing is not right for you this year, note that next year’s race might be on the East Coast. E-mail me at redbrickbikes@gmail.com and we’ll talk! I even have one spare bike I could loan out if the event doesn’t involve an airplane flight.

Not only do the top three teams win medals, there are also nice prizes courtesy of the good folks at Brooks . Each member of the team won a Brooks B-17 in Harlem last year. It now complements one of my vintage bikes nicely, and is just getting more and more comfy over the months.

For the unitiated, and borrowing heavily from the race registration page, the Brompton World Championship is a racing event featuring only Brompton folding bikes. Initially held in Barcelona in 2006, the BWC has grown to comprise qualifying heats in fifteen countries with a final in the UK. The races feature a Le Mans style start in which participants sprint to their folded bikes, unfold as quickly as possible and start racing. Riders must follow the strict dress code which reflects the common use of the amazing little folders as city commuters: All participants must wear a suit jacket, collared shirt and neck tie, with no visible sportswear (such as Lycra) allowed. Formal wear or militaria is also allowed: Twice I have worn my high school tuxedo, and in Harlem I wore my Great Uncle’s World War I tunic, about 100 years after it was first worn!

There is also a fashion competition. Many don elaborate and fine or silly suits in an attempt to win ‘best-dressed.” While most use stock Brompton bikes, many are souped up with clipless pedals, Ti tidbits, modified bars and racing slicks. Brompton has now or will imminently launch a quick version of its bike aimed at faster riding. Maybe there is a future in Brompton Racing!

The course at Sea Otter consists of five laps around Laguna Seca Recreation Area for a total of eleven miles. Race categories include Men, Women, Veterans (age 50+) and Teams (3 – 5 members), with the fastest overall man and woman winning entry into the BWC final in London in July. Somewhere between 75 and 100 racers typically compete in the US BWC.

As Directeur Sportif of the Philadelphia Fliers, I fear I may fail to field a team this year unless we get a few late additions. On an individual basis, I hope to take a podium spot in the veterans category in my first year as an old man, and maybe a top 20 overall.




Learning from the Spring Classics

I rode a quick 19 miles recently, and it was drizzling a bit as I headed out the door. This always reminds me of ‘The Rules,’ from the sometimes-crude, always-amusing and often spot-on cycling guidelines espoused at the Velominati website.

Rule #9 states something along the lines that those who ride in foul weather are badass, with a link that clicks through to Merckx motorpacing in a presumably cold rain. This is true, and it’s something we need to be reminded of now and then.

Such was the case a few Sunday’s ago on the day of the Sourlands Semi-Classic. It’s always a crap shoot what kind of weather a spring classic will have — gorgeous 55 degrees with sun at the start is ideal, cold rain and 42 degrees is daunting but manageable, and sometimes there’s a big enough snow to make the ride impossible.

I knew a few days out that this year’s ride would be cool and moist. I was hoping for high 40s with wet roads and dirt sections with just a bit of mud. We got temps a bit south of that and a steady rain for the first few hours of the ride. Despite that, the dirt road sections were very easily managed at speed with my fairly fat 32s. Perhaps the organizers had gotten together with whoever manages the NJ roads and picked out just the right type of gravel to use.

When I pulled in to the parking lot the light drizzle I had experienced on the drive over became a nasty, heavier rain. I texted my friend who was still presumably on his way there letting him know how bad it was. I know this was weak on my part: If he had said ‘I bagged it,’ I might have never gotten out of the car and just driven home. But I got an auto-text saying he was driving so that meant he was on his way.

I got out of the car, got the bike together and got registration done. The first two hours or so were in a cold rain, but it was not so bad with a rain jacket. It was a good ride and I almost didn’t do it. And once again they had soft pretzels and mustard at a rest stop, which seems to be a Kermesse Sport  tradition. Love it.

This ride reminded me of something I learned on a ride long ago: Very often in life, if you just get something started it will feel better soon enough and become tolerable. Whether it’s a bit of work that needs to get done or some retooling for the modern job market or a dreaded visit to the in-laws, cycling teaches us.

Sport teaches us, really. Just get started:  A journey of a thousand miles begins with one pedal stroke.

There are so many things I have accomplished or suffered through that I owe to the physical and mental benefits of competitive cycling and just plan hard riding. When I think of what I want to give back to cycling, it’s about teaching people the value of suffering and how it makes a person stronger.

Our nature and the softness of our lives today worries me. It bothers me that we don’t celebrate overcoming challenges and excellence as we once did. In the not-so-distant past life was a challenge. Sport and sporting events are a way to add something a bit more primal back in to the mix.

For about six years now I’ve used the Sourlands ride and/or the famous Hell of Hunterdon as my early season benchmarks. The Hell of Hunterdon is this coming weekend, and although the ride is likely all filled up, the organizers made a late announcement just last week that they’ve added a bit of celebrity to the early packet pickup option they offer the night before the ride.

Even if you couldn’t get in before registration filled up for the challenging 85 mile ride on Sunday, all are invited to come to the Elks Lodge in beautiful Blawenburg, NJ, on Saturday, March 17th,  for a Q&A session with former professional cyclist and PA-native Floyd Landis. Floyd will talk about his cycling career, his life after professional cycling, and his “Floyd’s of Leadville” business, among other subjects.

The event is free of charge, but donations to the Elks Lodge Charity Fund are suggested. It is also open to the public; you do NOT need to be registered for the ride in order to attend.

As I write this I just received notice from Kermesse saying that the normal final instructions e-mail for the HoH ride would be delayed a day. The recent weather with downed trees and powerlines, and washed out roads, has prompted some late course corrections. Sounds like we’ll have some good challenging dirt roads Sunday!





A Suggested Winter Sojourn in Tucson

Many of us all over the US have had a rough month of weather. You know it’s bad when an occasional day above freezing seems like a thaw. I’ve managed with a lot of one hour Fat Bike rides in the safety of the woods where winds aren’t too bad, and a bit of tedious trainer time, and of course the gym.

But my brother put an idea in my head when I nagged him in to joining RUSA and starting some longer rides: Let’s do a ‘Permanent’ 100K ride in Tucson, AZ, up Mt. Lemmon. He had done this climb on his own before when visiting the area, and loved it. So we set out to do a very enjoyable, very scenic 100+ kilometer Mt. Lemmon Permanent ride in late January.

It was perfect weather to wear my new PA Randonneurs merino wool short sleeve jersey, albeit with a snug underlayer. The start was almost 50 degrees, and the temps went up a bit as the day went on, even if they simultaneously dropped from the altitude gain during the long, long climb of something like 24 miles. We don’t have long gradual climbs with switchbacks like they do in the west.

I didn’t know how I’d fare. Our East Coast mountains are steeper, but I don’t think I’ve ever climbed for more than 20 minutes. Mt Lemmon took something under 4 hours to climb. I’d say the perceived exertion was moderate—something akin to sitting on the back of a group of stronger riders doing a century.

The hardest part for me was the descent. Again, this was something neither I nor my brother had much experience with, a long long descent. I descend like a track racer with one balance nerve and two mortgages, as I like to say. One of the many things this descending wimp liked about The Rider was the fact that the protagonist was a lousy descender. It always hurt me in the road races I did. I could bump shoulders a bit on the track or thread the 45 cm gap between two riders with my 40cm handlebars, but don’t ask me to let it roll even on a long straight downhill.


My brother ended up being much much faster on the descents than I was. If we could combine my climbing (not bad, not great) with his descending (better than mine at least!) we would have had an impressive ride. As I waited for him quite a bit at the top, and he waited a bit for me in the last miles before I hammered well up to him after my white knuckle descent, we had a longer day than expected.

I suggest this ride — and Tucson in general — for Northeners who want a winter break. Between the scenery and the nice Tucson area, it will likely become a semi-regular cold weather break for me.








Next Stop: The Sourlands Semi Classic

As a child and teen I vacationed at Chincoteague on Virginia’s Eastern Shore once or twice every year. I loved the island and the whole Delmarva peninsula, as the riding was good and flat and the area was nicely rural with great seafood. Then at the age of maybe 20 I was looking at a map and was dumbfounded to realize that Delmarva really was DEL-MAR-VA, for the three states that make up the peninsula: Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. I had thought it was named after some early settler named Joseph Delmarva or something. Every now and then it is good to be reminded that you aren’t as smart as you think you are.

I had the same experience about a year ago. I was looking at the website of the Sourlands Semi Classic and it struck me: SSC. That logo looks like the red logo on a pair of Mavic SSC rim wheels I bought off Clydesdale Eric Lepping back in about 1988. The acronym for the Sourlands Semi Classic is the same as for Mavic’s Special Service Course (SSC). Duh.

Not recognizing the duality of the SSC logo for two or more years after I first saw it is point three of me not being as smart as I might think. Hmmm, you’re thinking, point one was the Delmarva epiphany, what was point two? That would be buying used wheels off a Clydesdale. That rear wheel was never quite round and I only used them as cross wheels a few times. The Campy hub wheels are worth quite a bit on Ebay, however …

All of this inside-baseball talk is just a reminder that SSC meant extra tough back then: Today, it means that you might not want to do the the SSC ride on your lighter race wheels with expensive oh-so-supple race weight 700x23s. Some do, but I want a less stressful ride so I suggest wider tires and wheels that might be a bit tougher.

What should be used if this is your first foray in to a mixed gravel/dirt/pavement event?

I’ve done all of my several (3?) Sourlands Semi-Classic rides the easy way: On a relatively modern 10 speed cyclocross bike with 700×32 Performance brand Gotham tires. I like these tires because they are cheap, they are pretty much ‘true’ 32s in a tire world where some 32s look more like 28s and some look like 35s, and the tread is somewhat more road-ish than a full knobby cross tire. And did I mention they were cheap?

If you have a cross bike with room for these tires, or a more modern road bike that has disc brakes, these tires will likely fit your frame. If you have traditional caliper brakes on a road bike, 32s likely will be too fat/tall. Most bikes that aren’t extreme race bikes will, however, take 28s. But what brand and model? I’m still experimenting and Googling on this, and welcome suggestions at redbrickbikes @ gmail.com. I know I need to try Vittoria open Pave CGs, perhaps in a 27mm width and at 85 or 90psi. Hutchinson has some options too, I think.

I was on this event a few years ago in a semi coherent pack of maybe a dozen riders, navigating a stretch of dirt road. I wondered aloud or said to my brother what I think would be the perfect tire for a spring classic: “I wish Continental would make a GatorSkin that actually had some tread.”

A woman a few bikes back chimed in her agreement, and others agreed. Somebody tell Continental. Maybe they’ve made such a tire — I am just not on top of the rubber market. Otherwise, somebody let the frauleins who make the brand’s tougher tires know what we want!

For this year’s SSC I am making a change. My recreational rider brother has a conflict and can’t do it, so I am free to ride at a bit of a faster pace. I have decided that I will use one of my favorite, and fastest regular old road bikes. This may go out the door if there’s been a lot of snow and rain in the  two weeks before the event.

I believe the road bike I am considering has a 26 or 27 big cog on the back and just a 39 on the front — that is enough for these hills. But what 28mm tires should I use? Maybe even 25s? I have more than a month at this posting to decide and test some options.

What is the SSC event? It’s the first Kermesse Sport ride of the year, set for Feb. 25, 2018. It is designed to showcase some of the wonderful tough, beautiful paved and gravel roads of New Jersey’s sourlands region. It’s also aimed at paying tribute to some of the lesser known one day Belgian spring classics. It’s 60 or so miles is tough, but not as tough as the 80+ miles of March’s Hell of Hunterdon. Both events fill quickly by the way — they may already be filled!

The SSC is a great first event for those wishing to get a taste of gravel or dirt. It is hilly and you may get muddy. Finishing it will make you feel tough. That’s good. It will prepare you for rides like the Hell of Hunterdon and the famous Tour of the Battenkill in upstate New York, an April event.

I have done each of my SSCs on a cross bike with 32s — most experienced riders would say this is overkill, but I have played it safe until this year. Many use road bikes with thinner tires with less tread. I’ve seen hybrids and mountain bikes as well, on the other extreme. Whatever you choose, practice a bit on some slop roads or gravel trails. I play it safe and a bit slow on fast dirt downhills, but that is just me.

Practice. Mountain biking and cross skills such as quickly evaluating the trail and gently finding the good, safe, fast line matter, and can best be developed by riding off road once or twice per week in the Fall and Winter. You’ll also learn to use momentum to get through slop, and that turning and braking aren’t always the best thing to do once you’ve hit the mud.


The Fat Fifty: An early miss on the 2018 goals!

The point of highlighting a failure is to remind newbies to the way of the wheel that an occasional miss is OK. Pick yourself up and do something to make up for it. My failure to do my second Marty’s Fat 50 fifty mile Fat Bike ride/race* on January 13 was partly due to some freelance writing work I needed to stay on top of, but really due to the fact that I just wasn’t up to another ride that started at 10 degrees below freezing and ended hours later after it had ‘warmed’ to just about freezing at best.

The cold is also why I failed to do my first ever Rapha Festive 500, which is basically riding 500 kilometers total between Christmas eve and New Years eve. This would have been nice to do as it could have involved a few rides from Rapha’s new, evolving Washington, DC, presence, but the sting of missing this was offset by what still ended up as my longest mileage December ever, or at least in 30 years.

And that was on top of my longest Q4 ever, which reflects the fact that I became a randonneur in October, joining RUSA, the PA Randonneurs, and also the DC Randonneurs. NJ may follow. But more on taking up Randonneuring later, including some advice on extreme cold weather riding and riding through the night from these folks.

So no Marty’s Fat Fifty. Next year probably, and see my recount of last year’s ride from a bike industry perspective here. This story is aimed at encouraging bike shops to get Fat, but it also highlights just why a Fat Bike would be a good addition to the stable. I am still glad I got the Fat Bike on the first day of a big snow period two years ago, as I hate the damned trainer and indoor riding.

Now on my medium-term radar I have the 200K/120 mile D&L Fat Epic Fat Bike ride, probably not this year but maybe next year. One of the reasons this is of interest is that it starts in Yardley, PA, right near Newtown, PA, where I grew up and still frequent. But 200K in February, on a Fat Bike?! I sent the organizers a message that people like me would do it at 80 miles, but 120 is just too involved in terms of prep, the logistics of the event itself, and recovery … not this year.

As an alternative to the Fat Fifty, I’m flying to Tucson, AZ, to do a metric century (an RUSA permanent populaire actually, which will be 25% of my P-12 goal) that involves climbing and climbing and climbing up Mt. Lemon for hours, followed by a long descent.

* It’s really not a race unless it has a sanctioning body that provides you a license. Bike racers sometimes get annoyed when people call bike-a-thons and such races. Bike racing is different. Now bike racers more and more are ‘racing’ events and people often note the fastest finisher of course, but bike racing is different.



Long Weekend: Fall Classic Populaire and Oktoberfest

For the first time in months I really slept last night, maybe a full 10 hours or even more. The cause? A very long weekend of riding comprised of PA Randonneurs Fall Classic 15o kilometer ‘populaire,’ and Kermesse Sport’s 100K fall classic Oktoberfest ride. Doing a bit more than 150 miles over two days is something I haven’t done in at least 5 years, Continue reading “Long Weekend: Fall Classic Populaire and Oktoberfest”

Hot Day in 100 Year-old Wool!

No time to write now so some pics will suffice. Check back later this week … The Philadelphia Fliers Brompton Racing team got 2nd somehow in the team competition in our first outing, and more importantly I met at least 2-3-4 people who want to race for us in the future. Perhaps getting three people to form a team may not be so difficult next time. Next time I will exchange the century old wool uniform for something fast and cool—perhaps a double breasted semi-aero black or orange jacket and aero helmet. Nobody races in double breasted anymore, maybe I can start a trend. And no massive front 15 lb. front bag to push against the wind. That was tough. And the silly WWI Brodie M1917* plastic copy helmet I wore over my real helmet would slide back at least once per lap, as seen in a picture below. Not made for racing!


* Reading from Wikipedia, the Brodie helmet is a steel combat helmet designed and patented in London in 1915 by John Leopold Brodie. In modified form it became the Helmet, steel, Mark I in Britain and the M1917 Helmet in the U.S. Colloquially, it was called the shrapnel helmet, Tommy helmet, tin hat, and in the United States the doughboy helmet. Worn by Australians during WW2 and sometimes known as Panic Hat. It was also known as the dishpan hat, tin pan hat, washbasin, battle bowler (when worn by officers), and Kelly helmet. The US version, the M1917, was copied from the British Mk 1 steel helmet of 1916. The German Army called it the Salatschüssel (salad bowl).[1] The term Brodie is often mis-used. It is correctly applied only to the original 1915 Brodie’s Steel Helmet, War Office Pattern,[2]