A few months back, I sold off my open-wheeled racer and added an A. Homer Hilsen. In one sense, it’s a curious type of bicycle and I’ve found myself explaining it to folks - both cycling knowledgeable and not - using very non-standard phrases, at least as far as typical bicycle hoo-haw verbiage is concerned.
That’s because its design - optimum clearance for big honkin’ tires, tough enough to handle diverse and rattly terrain, versatile enough for CX racing or brevets, errands or just toodling around - isn’t very standard these days. It takes a little more description for people to understand; most can easily comprehend or test “light”, for example. But, if you tell them that the design allows for large diameter tires, you probably have to explain why that’s a good thing, which usually uses the example of taking the bike offroad, which quickly has most (sane?) folks wondering aloud just why anyone would want to do that with what seems to be a road bike.
Sometimes I get them to understand the “why” of that - afterall, life does not end at the edge of the paved areas, and the best rides always seem to be the ones which start at your backdoor. Since I’m lucky enough to live somewhere the roads end at trails, and the trails continue unabated, the versatility makes complete sense. You just need to point that out to them.
Riding more once again, I’m starting to learn the Hilsen a bit. The more rides and miles I put in with it, more things reveal themselves about the design and resulting behaviors. It’s a bit like when you first listen to an album - on some, everything sounds good and nice and accessible. You find youself humming along with songs you’ve never heard even before they end. All those songs are often quickly forgotten. Others start off a bit more opaque - you probably didn’t buy it just for the single you heard on the radio. After a first listen, you probably aren’t wild about it. But, there’s enough there that you go back a few times, begin hearing and enjoying the dissonances and pauses, make some sense of the impenetrable moments. It continues to demonstrate deeper layers, and all-too-rarely, becomes supremely important.
Which is kinda what Homer seems to be doing. It started out comfortable and stable, one of the traits that I’d enjoyed on the Quickbeam. I didn’t really have to make any corrections, other than relearn shifting a bit. (Flip-flopping a rear wheel is a much more specific act…) Just before getting sick/injured and off the bike, I began to push things a bit, bringing a little more speed into corners. Invariably, the clear thought rose up while exited the turn, “…could’a held a little more speed through that….”
Now, I’m not encouraging anyone to try cornering in a way that makes them uneasy or is beyond their skill set. In fact, diving into corners is a quick way to get an asphalt-assisted dermal abrasion treatment. Bicycling rarely takes place in a test lab, and streets have oil, sand, glass and more, while tires and tubes can fail.
But, riding bikes in my geographic area means that you spend some time going downhill through turns. You either get passably good and reasonably comfortable with it or have such a witty demeanor that ride partners will wait for you to catch up.
November brought a minor hiatus in learning the bike - Homer’s been waiting for me to catch up. I’m past the “laying off the braking” step and am beginning to actually pedal harder into the corners. On Sunday’s longer ride and Monday’s post-work errand runs two things became pretty obvious - 1) Grant’s design - with a nice low bottom bracket height, balanced rider position and favorable dimensions - really handles well, and 2) big honkin’ round profile tires utterly rock.
The design part probably has enough variables to be beyond my ability to ken. The result, however, is like a refined tool. As with any tool worth using, there’s a bit of technique involved. But, when the two mesh, things move effortlessly. It’s like swinging an axe - done right, the axe seems to do all the work. (Of course, you end up a little sore the next day…) When I’m heading down Camino Alto, only minor inputs are necessary. It seems to carve corners easily and still isn’t breathing hard, patiently encouraging me along, trusting that I’ll make sense of things the more miles we share.
Tires play a big part in this, and Jack Brown is becoming a name I trust. On the last two rides, I’ve looked down to recognize what is clearly a reasonably silly amount of lean angle, but the tires stay tacked down and smoothly transition from side to side during S-turns. The ease with which the bike drops into the turn, then swaps side for the opposing turn feels like a motorcycle - I don’t feel like I need to give any power input at all, and the momentum just smoothly sings through weight shifts and changes of angle.
So, there I am, still increasing velocity into turns while the bike just patiently replies, “is that all you’ve got?” We’re definitely developing a connection - not in any airy-fairy way of auras and such (although I won’t discount that possibility - I mean, what happens on long rides stays on long rides….). More like the memorable album, where you keep finding more that you like with each repeated listening.
I’m liking this bike.
There may have been mist coming down when I walked the dog earlier, but if there are still dry patches on the back patio, then it’s not raining. It can’t be raining. Sure, the roads were wet, but I’ve got a two hour window and need to ride. No fenders on the Hilsen, but that’s the one I want to ride. Last night I swapped the CX knibblies back to the Jack Browns, finally admitting that the chances of racing this weekend have slipped somewhat south of Slim/None. Even put the bottle cages back on and went back to the bigger Brooks which has the Banana Bag on it. It’s ready to head onto the roads.
Well, except for the fenders. But, hey, I’ve put more than a few miles down without fenders, and have the still-visible negative skunk stripe ingrained in the fabric of a couple jerseys and tights to prove it. Yes, I washed them. Must’ve been oil in the roadway or something. Check out the window. Can’t see individual drops. If you can’t see the individual drops, it can’t be raining. So, get dressed and get out the door dummy. Shorts. Wool zip neck. Thicker socks. Tights. River City Jersey. That’s gotta be too much. Especially if I wear my rainjacket. Well, it isn’t like I’m going to go very fast today. Use the clothing as an exertion monitor. If you feel hot, ease up. You gotta get a real ride in.
Another check out the window. Individual drops. Crud. But, they are small. Can’t hear them hitting the roof. If you can’t hear them hitting the roof, it’s not raining. I hate starting a ride in the rain. Good thing it’s not raining. Get the bike. Bottles into cages. Put on the jacket. Get out the door. Was that 5 minutes? Felt longer. Gotta get out the door in 5 minutes. Won’t always have the luxury of time. Don’t see any drops anymore, and nothing flecks my glasses. It’s not raining. Well, it’s kinda misting. Misting, hell, not even. This is a thick fog. You’re dressed and ready. Go already. Out to the road and wait for cross traffic. Cars don’t have their wipers on. If cars don’t have their wipers on, it’s not raining. Road is wet though. Not sloppy wet, but damp. I can deal with damp.
Now moving away from home. Hit a slight hill and breathe more heavily. Too heavily. Man. How long’s it been? If I feel like this on a little incline, there’s no way I have any business on a race course this weekend. At least I’m not coughing anymore. Some cars pass me. Some errant rain drops hit my cheeks. My butt already feels damp. Pull down yer jacket and quit yer whimperin’. This is good weather for a lot of people. Oregon people, for example. I am such a freakin’ wimp. Pedal, pedal, pedal. Find a rhythm. It’s in there. Klunky and crunchy, but it’s in there. Throw it down a gear and raise the cadence. That’s better. A couple more cars. Their wipers on. Well, on “intermittant”. There’s no sound of water splashing as they drive. If they aren’t sending up a spray, then it’s not raining.
Onward. Further. Fewer cars now and only the odd person here and there. Still in a low gear but things begin to smooth. Ok. It’s raining. But, hey, what am I , gonna melt? Thoughts begin to fall away now. That’s the drug kicking in. The calm. The rhythm. The stasis of effort against windchill. The glimpse of bliss that dances tantalizingly on the furthest edge of our peripheral vision.
Down towards the south a bit, now out of the protection of the point. I look down and see dust on the downtube. If there’s still dust on your bike, then it must not be raining. Well, maybe not a hard rain. But it’s wetter now. Dampness trickles into my feet now. I may not need the fenders, but they sure make things a bit more comfy. Especially that fancy tweed rainflap on the front one. Safely in the garage today. Briefly obsess about the Brooks in the rain. Hey, cows get wet. Yes, I know that’s a little different. But, I buy this stuff to use it. Luckily my butt seems to still be the sacrificial anode for the wetness. Take a spur off the main road, climb a bit and roll under a stand of trees which provides some shelter and take a short stretch break. Should be drinking more, but for some reason I’m not thirsty. That’s a bit odd. Maybe I’m absorbing moisture through my skin. That’s more odd. There’s a little lump of road grit on the tail end of the saddle, which means there’s probably a more stantial one attached to my tail. Dig out a Clif bar. Should’ve eaten more. But, hey. I’m riding.
Wipe the grit off the saddle and get going. It’ll be a tailwind most of the way home. Today is a good day.
The sun had pushed through the last day’s haze and things were good. Oh, it did feel clumsy and wrong for a bit, as all the reasons I’ve mentioned recently have had me mostly not riding for the past few weeks. Leaden legs and weird, chewey coughs at inopportune moments. But, the first slug of rain had passed and it felt like I was getting back on track, riding to work and all. Indeed, I’d sent in my registration for the SFRandonneurs 200K, which is less than 60 days away. Mileage of any kind would be good.
Felt a little better as I hit the last climb before work. Pedaling out of the saddle, nothing punchy or sudden as the calf is still weird and quirky. Just hitting that nice fixed-gear body wieght low cadence rhythm. Going uphill under my own power. Resetting the needle, carefully, so it wouldn’t skip.
An odd image popped into my head about halfway up. The road is narrow, at its worst about 10″ or less to the right of the fog strip. It’s not exceptionally dangerous, as line-of-sight is unobstructed, but it is a place to be careful. It’s not a place to contemplate the image of tires sliding out and falling into the way of traffic. Yet, that was the picture that played out in my head right then. Sort of freaky, but concentrated on breathing, balance, not riding on the still-slick-with-rain painted stripe. As the thought passed, I chalked it up to being off the bike for too damned long, the product of being a little stiff on the bike.
Another 100 yards or so pass. I’m maybe 3/4’s of the way up now and suddenly things fall badly amiss. The bike lurches oddly, my left leg is up in the air as I try to correct. The distinct sound of traffic is audible from behind me. Something kicks in and the bike goes right and everything falls left. I hit pretty hard, but land well, hand still on the bar, rolling up my arm to my shoulder and then on my back. I’m actually on the ground, completely off the roadway, and look back to see three cars which have come to a stop behind me. Thank goddess for a trifecta of non-multi-tasking drivers. I get up as quickly as I can, spy my left pedal and a little nubbin of crank out in the roadway. Fetching that, I encourage the drivers to come around, but to my suprise, two of them pull over to make sure I’m OK. The more tenacious person asks specifically if I’m alright and won’t leave until I thank him and assure him it looked worse than it was.
I do a quick waning-adrenaline system check, and everything seems intact, other than a single knuckle of the little finger. Digging out the pencam, I find the batteries have drained, so no ActionNews on-the-scene images…
But here are a few from later, after I talked my wife into extending some errands she had been running. I used my better camera, so you can click through and see it with pretty decent resolution (click “All Sizes” once you jump through to Flickr)
Pushed the bike over the crest of the hill and then eased into work with one pedal and a brake. The few folks who noticed gave me an odd look.
For those of you who are keeping score, it was a Campy GS (Grand Sport) crankarm. It appears that the failure started right at the end of the inletting near the pedal. I guess it’s a nice place to obscure cracking and certainly a fine area to create stress risers.
Dang. I was really looking forward to a nice, easy scenic loop home tonight.
Dropping off some stuff down at Recyclery tonight and bumped into Marilyn Price as she threaded her way through the small knot of folks digging through derailleurs, fenders, forks and other for-the-project items. As she went past, she called that anyone could take a second and vote on the computer that was set up in the work area.
Turns out that Trips for Kids director Marilyn Price is a finalist for the national Volvo for Life Award. Winners are determined by online voting and if she wins in her category - “Quality of Life” - TfK will receive $100,000. This is a good thing for them, obviously, as it gives them a pretty good hoist in their efforts to run a cycling projgram for underserved youth.
You can click here, then choose “Marilyn Price” and click “Submit”. Go ahead. It’s free. You don’t have to register. It’s a good thing. That’s step 1 of 2.
If you don’t know anything about Marilyn or the Trips 4 Kids project, go here for more info. It’s pretty simple to start one in your town - she’s drawn up plans and everything. More than 40 chapters now and growing!
Step 2 of 2 is to email three friends who are cycling interested/obsessed, have them vote and contact three more friends to do the same. It gets all viral and everything and pretty soon everyone is doing it!