Bicycle tires: The opposite of supple is ok, too.


Chrome on a cloudy day.

Chrome on a cloudy day.

If you’re a fan of Bicycle Quarterly, like I am, you know the drill on good tires: generous width, lightweight and supple casings. Oh, yes: supple.

Now, think of tires that come up short. Thick tread. Stiff sidewalls. An extra layer of material that adds weight while, admittedly, doing a fine job of fighting flats.

That’s what I put on the Bianchi Pista today. Reasons? 1) They were free and 2) See number one.

I’m not going to share the manufacturer’s name–though it’s similar to that of an English monarch from the 19th century–because makers make a variety of tires, and riders ride, some, quite happily, that same variety.

But you know what? These tires were ok. They were a little wider than the tires I replaced, which is a good thing, and they didn’t go flat, which is a great thing, especially in colder weather.

But the main reason they were ok was I mounted them on a fixed-gear bike with a 64-inch gear. (Imagine a tricycle with a 64-inch front wheel; a road bike will have a top gear over 100 inches, and you can coast going downhill.)

Better tires wouldn’t have helped me go any faster. The tires were no slower than the bicycle.

Or the rider. Let’s not forget the rider. Not quite as supple as he used to be, either.

Posted in Equipment, Other bicycles, Report from the road | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

In the shop: Austro-Daimler Vent Noir

In the mid-to-late 1970s, an Austrian bicycle manufacturer went upscale in hopes of capturing the enduring loyalty of bicycle enthusiasts.

Steyr-Daimler-Puch made it to the 1990s before disappearing into the parts bins of several other corporations.

The company goes back to a gun maker in 1855. Before the end, employees could reflect on a rich history that included bicycles, motorcycles, airplane engines, mopeds, cars and trucks. (And an infamous history that included such things as Nazis and the Sears Free Spirit bicycle.)

This particular piece of Steyr-Daimler-Puch history, an Austro-Daimler Vent Noir, arrived at the shop with a seized freewheel and a good bit of rust. Here’s what I found about it on one amazingly exhaustive website:

The 1976 specification ‘Austro-Daimler’ and European market ‘Puch’ Vent Noir ten speed bicycles were originally provided with the Shimano Dura-Ace components gruppo with a 42/53 tooth crankset and Shimano Crane rear derailleur. Most distinctively, some of the gruppo components were anodized black. These bicycles incorporated ‘Regina Oro’ cassette and chain in gold finish, the pedals were MKS-URK2 (Mikashima Industrial Co., Ltd. of Japan) with toe clips. The hubs were Dura-Ace, with Fiamme #1 wheel rims and Inox 2mm spokes. The tires were Clement Strada 66. The saddle was a Gilux 3000, the bar and stem were by GB. The set included a bicycle tire pump with Campagnolo ends. This was listed as weighing 22-½ lbs. with a price then of $540.00.

austro-daimler frame collage

This particular Vent Noir (French for Black Wind) was in rough shape, but most of the pin-striping and head-tube decal were still present. It features a Reynolds 531 frame with Shimano dropouts and, except for the tubular wheels, all its original parts.

mikashima pedal collage

When Bushwhacker mechanic Robert Woo first showed me this pedal, I thought the dust cap was gone because of all the rust inside, but no, he had just removed the cap to inspect the bearings.

You can imagine the bike sitting in a pile of dirty snow outside a New York brownstone, though you cannot imagine how it was never stolen.

Note the Presta valve adapter screwed to a toe clip bolt inside the pedal cage in the lower picture.

dura-ace collage

Here you go: Shimano’s best parts group back in the days before aero levers, clipless pedals and indexed shifting.

Note the pierced or drilled holes in the brake lever and chain rings–and the big remaining advantage of a 1970s sidepull brake caliper: room for wider tires.

Finally, get rid of the rust and the Crane rear derailleur is a beauty, though, as Disraeli Gears points out: “The only fly in the ointment was SunTour’s patent on the slant parallelogram. The Crane never changed gear quite as well as the much more lowly SunTour V series—despite Shimano’s puff about the efficacy of their ‘servo pantagraph’ design with its two sprung pivots.”

Hmph. At this date, it’s enough to say of the Crane and the rest of the bike that eppur si muove. 

Sometime soon, one hopes. Like the wind.

Posted in Equipment, History, Other bicycles | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Right from the start: the Trek Precaliber

  Nice build for young riders at the shop: a Trek Precaliber with 24-inch mountain-bike wheels, direct-pull cantilevers, and seven cogs to shift among.

The cranks offer two pedal positions, which make it easy to accommodate growing riders. Bolt the pedals in first position for a short crank throw. Then, as the rider gets older, raise the seat and move the pedals to maintain proper fit.

That’s smart design. 

 Many parents shop for bikes their children can “grow into.” In the past, that meant a lot of beginners learned to ride on bikes way too big for them.

Not fun.

But no longer a problem. Not with adjustable-throw cranks and one of the more important mountain-bike innovations: the sloping top tube.

I also like the instructions printed on the handlebar stem cap: Ride. Eat. Sleep. Repeat.

Maybe the words are too simple for grownups overwhelmed by the complexity of work, relationships and all the other navigational challenges of adult life. 

But they’re pretty much all you need to get started.

And starting is what it’s all about.

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Beer-view review. Flatlander mirror


IMG_7080This may be it: the best bike mirror I’ve used since the old Bell Biker days when I could easily clip a mirror to the helmet’s hard shell. That doesn’t mean the Flatlander mirror is the best solution for you, but it’s worth looking at if you’re dissatisfied with your current options.

  • No moving parts, so it doesn’t lose its setting between rides.
  • Helmet mounted, so it doesn’t weigh down one side of your glasses.
  • Mounts without double-sided tape, a source of much frustration with other helmet-mounted mirrors.
  • Rotates with your head, allowing you to scan a wider area of the road behind you, unlike handlebar-mounted mirrors.
  • High-quality mirror is large enough for a good view, small enough that it doesn’t create a forward blind spot, and held just the right distance from the eye, so you can quickly shift focus from the mirror to the road in front of you and back again.
  • No structural plastic. The mount is as rugged and simple as it gets: a bicycle wheel spoke. Plastic mounts are bulky and, well, plastic.

What caught my attention? The New Belgium Brewing bottle cap, of course. Looking for a different brand or no brand at all? Custom caps make it easy to get the look you want.

Drawbacks? Compared to other mirrors, it may take more time to set up the Flatlander, though if you have the time, it’s set it and forget it. And you need to be careful when attaching the mirror to avoid helmet damage, so adjust the mirror when it’s not connected to your helmet.

IMG_7056Illinoisan Mike Hauptman makes two versions of the Flatlander mirror: for helmet (in two widths) or sunglasses. I bought mine from the man himself during the 2015 Midwest Tandem Rally in Rockford, Illinois, though he sells most of his mirrors through Etsy.

Questions? Email Mike at

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A quick stop to say only you can prevent Pumpkin Spice Latte

IMG_0880Pumpkins. I asked my tandem’s stoker to take a picture of a field of pumpkins.


Because we’re always riding through corn and soybean fields, even though we sometimes reverse our routes to ride through soybean and corn fields.

And yet pumpkins aren’t exactly rare in central Illinois.

Twenty-eight miles south of this Chillicothe pumpkin field, Libby’s Pumpkin processes more than 80 percent of the world’s canned pumpkin, according to the folks behind the Morton Pumpkin Festival.

I haven’t done a lot of research into this, but I believe the other 20 percent is label.

Or leftover soybean and corn fields.




Posted in Co-Motion tandem, Report from the road | Tagged | Leave a comment

Filling a hole with money. Or, two-buck luck

Well, there's your problem. What IS that? A nine-speed?

Well, there’s your problem. What IS that? A nine speed?

Here’s what to do when you have a blowout on the back tire of a Co-Motion tandem on West Pine Street between North 3rd and 2nd streets in Chillicothe, Illinois, at 10 a.m. on a Saturday.

I’d write Saturday, August 29, 2015, but I’m going to take a wild guess and assume you have not completed work on your time-travel machine. No problem, these instructions hold for any Saturday, and, who knows, you may be able to go back in time at some future date.

1) Identify the firecracker sound coming from the rear of the machine. Confirm the flat by sensing the rim squirm on the unsupported sidewalls of the tire as you come to a stop.

The second sound you hear almost immediately comes from your stoker; recall her making a similar sound in 2005 on the way back from the Midwest Tandem Rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, when the Mazda Tribute’s side air bags blew for no good reason as you shut down the engine at a gas station just off I-80.

Almost forgot, you want to be going about seven miles per hour when the tire blows because you just pulled away from a delightful stop at Happy Thought Coffee on North 2nd Street, and now you’re slowing for the railroad crossing.

Pro tip #1: If you’re going to have a blowout, travel at a reasonable speed, not the 36 miles per hour you were doing on Blue Ridge Road an hour and a half before the tire registered its complaint.

Pro tip #2: It would be better if you had the blowout in your basement workshop, which is eight miles away, and even better, if you weren’t riding your Co-Motion tandem at the time, which you wouldn’t, because who would?

Cartoonist Richard Guindon once drew a man tossing cash at the flat tire of his car. The caption was "Liberal throwing money at a problem."

Cartoonist Richard Guindon once drew a man tossing cash at the flat tire of his car. The caption was “Liberal throwing money at a problem.”

2) Listen to your stoker explain that the problem is not the tube but the tube and tire. Be thankful she’s no longer making that sound.

3) Understand your reasoning for continuing to use an obviously bald, and now, obviously flat, tire 300 or 400 miles ago–that you didn’t feel you’d gotten enough miles out of it—is evidence of a misinformed frugality, willful ignorance of cause and effect, a more systemic thought process gone haywire or some causal combination. Don’t spend a lot of time on this; it doesn’t matter. It’s time to Take Action.

4) Turn the tandem upside down. Mourn the gravity of the injury to the tire. Remove the rear wheel.

5) Get grease on your hand from the chain. Ask your stoker for a Wet Ones Sensitive Skin Hand Wipe. Remove grease. (You’ve done this before.)

6) Remove tire and inner tube. Don’t bother inspecting the tube; you won’t be using it again. You’re kind of stuck with the tire, though. Confirm that the casing has a major cut and a minor one. You must take care of both injuries to continue your journey awheel.

Wondering what all the fuss is about disc brakes these days? Consider the advantage of retaining a brake even when the rim is unavailable as a braking surface.

Wondering what all the fuss is about disc brakes these days? Consider the advantage of retaining a brake even when the rim is unavailable as a braking surface.

7) Ask your stoker for money. (You’ve done this before, too. Oh, hell: you’ve done all of this before, but you weren’t riding a tandem; now there’s a witness.) Specifically, ask for two paper bills.

8) Retrieve your spare tube. Position the bills between the inner tube and the inside of the tire, covering both casing cuts.

9) Assemble tire, bills, tube and wheel. Inflate to 65 to 75 psi, not the usual 110 psi. Use the tire gauge that no one carries in situations like this, not even you.

10) Exhibit total confidence in the repair by reinstalling the Presta valve nut and cap. By the way, actual total confidence is not necessary, just its exhibition. How do you do it? Same way Jon Lovitz does it: “Acting!”

11) Install rear wheel assembly.

12) Walk tandem one-half block southwest to the True Value Hardware store at 307 West Walnut Street.

Pro tip #3: It’s always a good idea to break down a half block from either a bicycle shop or a hardware store. Plan your blowouts accordingly.

13) Ask stoker to buy electrical tape so you can cover the external wound and prevent the entrance of debris (or even derock). Thank her for reemerging from the store instead with the miracle product that is Gorilla Tape To-Go.

My crossing to bear.

My crossing to bear.

14) Wrap Gorilla Tape To-Go around tire. This is a good time to consider how lucky you were to spec a rear disc brake on the tandem 10 years ago. You may have a paper-thin tire, but you still have two brakes.

15) Police your brass. Nobody likes a litterer.

16) Ride eight miles home at moderate speed. Walk tandem across railroad tracks. Use brakes to moderate downhill speed. Roll into driveway. Inspect rear tire.

17) Write Gorilla Tape a letter. Use this one as a template, or refer to the original, if you’d like.

Edelstein, Ill
29th August
Mr. Gough Rilla
Cincinnati, Ohio

Dear Sir: –

While the bald rear tire of my tandem still holds air, I will tell you what a dandy duct-tape product you make. In the past, I used electrician’s tape to make emergency repairs to tires that shouldn’t have been repaired. Sometimes I even made it home. And while I will never again ride a tire that is so clearly suicidal, should I need to make such repairs in the future, they will be with your fine tape. I don’t know where you get your stickum, but it must be a magical place that no English sparrow can enter and survive.

Yours truly

Samuel “Cheated Failure Again” Joslin

Eight miles later, the tape is still in better condition than the original tread.

Eight miles later, the tape is still in better condition than the original tread.

Posted in Co-Motion tandem, Equipment, Report from the road | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

The things we carried: Door County 2015

IMG_0816What’s a cargo bike? It’s a bicycle that carries things not directly related to the support of rider or machine during the ride.

To determine whether you have a cargo bike, consider what you’re hauling around with you.

Bananas? If you’re eating them on the go, you may not be riding a cargo bike. Couch? Unless it has wheels, you’re riding a cargo bike. Common bicycle tools? Not a cargo bike. Park repair stand? Cargo bike.

Books from two businesses on Washington Island, Door County, Wisconsin, back to your bed and breakfast in Ephraim?

Cargo bike. It just looks like a tandem.

Let’s see what we pulled out of the handlebar bag—and why we put them in there in the first place.

IMG_0817Picked up this book at Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm. The author is quite the celebrity, though in true masters-of-awareness style, we’ve never heard of her. Instead, we judged the book by its cover and a judicious skimming of its contents. Did you know a healthy blackcurrant bush produces nine pounds of fruit?

IMG_0819Here’s the first of three books from Fair Isle Books, formerly Islandtime Books. Michael Perry writes cleanly about the world he moves through and the people he lives among. And this year the Wisconsin pig farmer came up with a novel. Buying this book breaks the rule one of us has about fiction: either the author must be dead or the work must be short. (The other of us has read every stinking Harry Potter book.)

IMG_0822Dervla Murphy’s book, Full Tilt, Ireland to India With a Bicycle, is the most important bicycle book we’ve never read, even though it’s been in our library for years. So we had to pick up On a Shoestring to Coorg. This book will remind us to read the other one—or the other way around.

IMG_0824One of the uses of literature is to keep us curious about the uses of literature. It’s possible that an Italian born in Cuba in 1923 may have come up with a use we hadn’t considered.

IMG_6727A Sister Bay business owner once said that the Door County peninsula was unique in that everyone there meant to be there, because no one was on the way to somewhere else. What a great observation. It really stuck with us.

The next year, his store closed.

He went somewhere else.

You can carry a lot of things on a bicycle with a rack, bag or basket, but you don’t need any of those things if your cargo is time. Here are a few of the years we’ve picked up, pondered and carried around with us while riding a tandem in Door County.

1848:  Wisconsin becomes a state, and because of the shape of the border, this is probably the first year someone says it looks like a mitten, kind of like Michigan looks like a mitten with a bad toupee. Door County is Wisconsin’s thumb.

1859:  Ephraim’s Moravian church is built. The church is later moved to the first hill we ride when leaving town in the morning, maybe because someone thought we should have something to look at as we’re gearing down. (Wisconsin folk moved a lot of buildings up hills or across frozen lakes more than a century ago. Imagine: “I like it; I just don’t like it there. Hitch up the horses.”)

IMG_67381906:  Wilson’s Restaurant is established. Today it’s where you get ice cream before you cross the road to watch the sun set over Eagle Harbor because the sun sets over the harbor, not where you get ice cream. And if you think that sounds ridiculous, you need to take a look at your own commute.

1941:  As world events heat up across both oceans, a giant coffee pot is installed on Washington Island. It wasn’t that long ago that the pot served as an information booth. Whatever, it’s still hot.

1989:  The Washington, one of a fleet of ferries that connects the north end of the Door County peninsula with Washington Island, is launched around the same time we first visit the area. Not in our honor, mind you: sheer coincidence.IMG_6705

2007:  Ellison Bay’s Pioneer Store reopens, replacing the original 136-year-old building leveled by a 2006 gas explosion. The road into town is anything but level. At the bottom of the hill we’re going 40 mph. Pure coast–no pedaling.

2014:  It’s happened again. We’ve arrived in Door County after Wimbledon has wrapped up. But we’re not tennis fans. So why are we disappointed that it’s not playing on the screen at the Bayside Tavern?

2015:  First time we have dinner outside the Cornerstone Pub in Bailey’s Harbor. Unrushed. Calm. Delightful. How has this not happened before?

Notes: 1) Yes, that was my thumb in some of the pictures. I like how it kept you guessing. 2) If you missed the first external link in the story, you missed the story behind the design of New Belgium Brewing’s couch bike. Here’s another chance to catch a slow ride.


Posted in Co-Motion tandem, Report from the road | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments