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 @ 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]




My Brompton Outfit: From 1917 to 2017!

This is a lithograph of my Uncle George Carl Schmidt in 1917, likely taken as he was getting ready to ship off to France and WWI almost exactly 100 years ago.

To the right is that exact same uniform today, which I am wearing in the 2017 Brompton World Championships USA, to be held in Harlem on June 18. I am wearing the jacket and will sport the plastic helmet acquired through History on a Shirt, who makes them for the WWI museum. Yes the helmet will be on top of a real helmet for the actual race.

I need to determine the shorts to wear. I must wear shorts as it will be hot, and I am wearing a woolen tunic that is so tight I have had to add button extenders. Pictured below are his ‘puttee,’ leg wraps for the trenches, all rolled up presumably in 1918 or 1919 and never opened up again. They seem new, and I will leave them wrapped. Maybe they can be worn when I use the uniform as part of some future Halloween or remembrance event costume?

I have no boots, but my SPD mountain bike shoes will suffice. The SPDs will help me if my instincts kick in and I decide to race the event. For my first time at a BWC, I fully intend to ride this race as a parade, as most do. I’ll leave the racing to a few of my Philadelphia Flier brompton racing team members and a horde of NYC-based fast Brommie riders. I am a racer at heart and would race, but it will be hot and I don’t want to crash on pristine century old wool.

I think my Great Uncle Carl died when I was perhaps 5 years old. I have distinct memories of him sitting in a stuffed chair I still own, and I think he used to give me $1 bills. In my head I picture him as a mix of Fred Mertz and the Uncle Albert character from Mary Poppins. This picture on the right, taken some time between 1945 and 1970 I would imagine, proves my memory to be pretty good. That’s quite a flounder on the left.

Below are a few other pics below from the WWI era my brother found and sent to me. Family lore says he was an infantryman who got some sort of trench-based illness and was sent to hospital. There a visiting officer (we’ll say Pershing!)  visited and found out that he was a steamfitter by trade. Because of that skill, he was transferred to an engineering division possibly to work on the steam trains hauling people and supplies around France. That would explain the castle insignias, or so I’m told. I’d love a WWI military insignia expert to tell me what division he was in and such from these pictures. E-mail me at


Several more pics are below. As of this writing team member #3 of the brand-new Philadelphia Fliers Brompton racing team got called in to work an overnight weekend shift at the hospital. So we are no longer a team as you need three.

Anybody, join us! I have a spare bike and there is a transferable entry.

I have asked people directly and posted fliers at Brompton shops and nothing. The New York teams will remain dominant and take home the massive prize list and glory it seems. Maybe next time, or maybe I will get an 11th hour miracle.

Special thanks to Dan K. for providing his Brompton as a rental via bike and gear rental site Spinlister.



With some buddies before shipping off?
I have no idea who the civilian is. I will need to ask my brother if anything was written on the backs of the pictures.


PUTTEE, PUTTY, s. Hind. paṭṭī,
a: A piece or strip of cloth, bandage ; especially used in the sense of a ligature round the lower part of the leg used in lieu of a gaiter, originally introduced from the Himālaya, and now commonly used by sportsmen and soldiers. […]



Seeking Teammates for the US Brompton World Championships in New York

I think this shot of me at Laguna Seca is on the famous ‘corkscrew,’ downhill section.

The US edition of The Brompton World Championships are in New York on June 18, part of the Harlem Skyscraper Cycling Classic. I need teammates to join my new team, The Philadelphia Fliers. This is a low stress offer — just show up and ride!

This race is the US leg of the Brompton World Championships (BWC) series, which includes events all over the world culminating in a ‘Final,’ event held in Brompton’s hometown, London.

The rules are simple, you must be riding a Brompton, wear a helmet,  and wear either business or formal attire with no visible lycra. Continue reading “Seeking Teammates for the US Brompton World Championships in New York”