Monday, July 20, 2009

And sometimes they just show up unexpected...

By now, regular readers have figured out that I have a pretty sizable collection of bikes, most of them older, "classic" road bikes of one sort or another. And I'll admit, I find it really hard to resist buying a bike if it comes my way at a good price, especially when it's a bike that I've always wanted. And it's been my good fortune that a number of such bikes have come my way over the last 5 years or so. But as far as plain good fortune goes, this one may take the cake.

A few months back, a customer called and asked if I had the tools and knowledge to do a few things to an old Peugeot PX-10 that he'd recently bought. Being old and French, there are a few odd things about such bikes, and in this case, he needed someone who had the fairly obscure crank removal tool for an old Stronglight crank. Being an old bike geek (um, I mean, I like old bikes, I don't think of myself as old), I had long ago squirreled away that very tool, so I told him to bring it in. When he dropped it off, I casually mentioned that I was a little jealous, as I'd always wanted to find a PX-10 in my size. We chatted a bit and I took care of the work he needed a day or so later.

Fast forward a couple of months, and we get to Le Cirque du Cyclisme, an event all about classic bikes. I ran into Dave and his wife there, and we chatted about some of the great bikes we'd seen. A few days later, he arrives at the shop with his latest find... an early 80s Colnago Italian road bike, a very fine machine, and one that is pretty highly sought. While we were talking about the work he needed to have done to it, I asked if he had seen a really nice PX-10 that I had seen for sale at Le Cirque.. it was a pretty bike, in very good condition, but didn't have all original parts. Granted, the "new" parts were upgrades, technically speaking, but I have always wanted an "original" PX-10 or similar bike, as I told Dave. Next thing I know, he casually says he has a second PX-10 frame that he bought for parts to use on the one I worked on... and he says he'll bring it in and give it to me! You could have knocked me over with a feather. It's not every day someone comes by and offers to GIVE me a classic old bike.

So last week, in he walks with the frame... and a bag of parts. From what he'd originally said, I thought maybe there would be one or two spare parts thrown in, but in the L.L. Bean bag and on the bike were almost all the parts needed to make it complete. The only thing missing was the wheels, and he offered them to me in return for doing a bit more work in the Colnago. I couldn't say no, and now I have that PX-10 I have wanted since I first read about the bike in Richard's Bicycle Book when I was a young teenager. As you can see from the pictures, it's not the prettiest bike ever, and the paint is pretty rough, but then Peugeot was never famous for their paintwork anyway, and I'm happy to have it as a "rider", not a museum piece.

So what is it about the PX-10 that made me want one all these years? Back when I first got bitten by the cycling bug, the PX-10 was often the first racing bike "serious" cyclists would buy. It was lightweight, built from high quality Reynolds 531 double butted tubing, and equipped with moderately priced but serviceable alloy racing components. And it was one of the more affordable bikes to come from the factory with "sewup" tires... if you look at the rims you can see there's just a curved surface and no side wall for a tire bead to hook to.... you glue the tires to the rims. Today's wired on tires have come a long way, and are arguably as good or nearly as good as sewups, but back when this bike was built, there was no comparison... sewups were the enthusiast's choice for their light weight and supple, fast ride. So when I was a young teen of 13 or 14, knocking around on my all steel Raleigh Record, it was the PX-10, among other bikes, that I'd look at in books and catalogs and dream of. Not as lofty a bike as the hand-built and Campy-equipped Schwinn Paramounts and Raleigh Professionals I also craved, but still a "real" racing bike, and in team colors to boot. Many a great rider rode in the black and white colors of Team Peugeot, and their bikes weren't so different from the standard PX-10.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Overnight on the C&O Canal

(Or how to have fun even when plans go awry)

Well, I've had a strong urge to sleep outside and wake to fresh air and bird song for quite some time now, so I set my sights on an overnight cycle-camping trip on the C&O Canal this week. I'd had it in my head to load the bike and my gear up in my truck on Tuesday morning and head out to a spot fairly far out... at least mile 60 or so, out around Harper's Ferry, WV. Once I got there, I'd ride until I felt like stopping, and camp in one of the free hiker/biker sites which are about 5-10 miles apart on most of the canal. Then on Wednesday, I'd ride back to the truck and head home.

Then my truck failed the state inspection because of an exhaust leak. No problem, they said they could get it back to me no later than noon on Tuesday. Tuesday morning comes, with news that I am the lucky owner of a "California" Toyota, with a totally different system, which they're having trouble finding the parts for. At first I thought I'd just give up on the trip, but while I was out with Tybalt that morning, it was just too lovely a day to give up on it so easily. So I figured out Alternative Plan B - ride right from my door, up the W&OD rail trail, crossing over the Potomac River at Leesburg on White's Ferry. So that's where our story will begin.

White's Ferry is a small, privately owned operation that has a small, open ferry boat that chugs its way across the river, back and forth, all day long. It's pretty much the only way across the river upstream from the Beltway in this area, so it's suprisingly busy. You can see the ferry, the Gen. Jubal A. Early, in the picture to the left. The trip only takes a few minutes, and it's actually a pretty crossing on a nice day. And the weather was spectacular the whole time I was away. July in this area can be miserably humid, but not this week.

Once across the river, I was right at the canal, around mile post 36 of 184.5. But before hitting the trail, I needed to visit the small store and snack bar at the ferry landing, since I hadn't stocked up on bug repellent or food beforehand, and somehow missed the Safeway that I thought I would have passed on my way to the ferry. Just my luck... cash or checks only, and I had a whopping eight bucks with me. And the selection of food and other goods was mighty slim. I ended up getting some Chef Boyardee ravioli, figuring if all else failed, I could heat that up for dinner. Good thing I picked that up, as I encountered no other open stores along the way! I couldn't afford the bug repellent and the food, so I braced myself for a buggy night.

On the towpath, I quickly fell into a rhythm and began to really enjoy the ride. Up until that point, I really didn't feel like I was "away" yet, but once the tree canopy closed in, it felt a lot more like a getaway. And on top of it all, I got an early chance to do a good deed. No sooner had I gotten rolling on the canal, than I was passed by a large group of teenaged girls and their group leader, who called out "do you have a bike pump?" I said yes, and asked who needed it... they said "she's in back"... but the young lady was nowhere in sight. I rode on about another mile and a half before I finally came upon the girl walking her bike, and stopped to help. Imagine my surprise when it turned out she was from England, and here with some sort of camp activity group. Quick work with the bike pump and she was on her way, and I continued along my journey.

The towpath is really pretty all along its length, but I like it better the farther I get from DC. Fewer people, more trees, more critters. While I wasn't as far out as I'd hoped at the start, it was still beautiful. And there are lots of cool remnants of the heydey of the canal, such as the lock keeper's houses, and the recently restored Monocacy Aqueduct, both of which you can see below.

The ride up was beautiful, with the sun slowly sinking in the sky, casting longer shadows through the trees. By the time I got up to Harper's Ferry, I was ready to call it a night. After an abortive attempt to get more food or some bug repellent in town (who knew everything closes at 6:00????), I set out for the next campsite, just two miles upriver. The only problem being that a group of kids and their two adult leaders and pile of canoes and gear had taken over the entire site! Looking at my mile-by-mile guide, it looked like the next site was about 13 miles further up, and light was fading fast, so I hopped back on the bike and rode pretty hard. Luckily for me, it turned out there was a campground a mere 7 miles up, at Antietam Creek Recreation area (mile 69ish). A bigger campground than I had planned on... I like the seclusion and lack of car access of the hiker/biker sites, but at this point, I was just ready to get off the bike and set up camp. It turned out to be a nice and quiet location, with very few other occupants, although one group had actually dragged a couch out to their campsite, as you can see to the right. Not really my style of "camping" but what the heck, we all have our ways.

After a lovely and remarkably bug free evening, and a good night's sleep, I was all set the next morning to roll on back to DC. It was such a pretty day that I made what some would think was terrible time, as I kept stopping to look at things and take pictures and just enjoy being outside so much. The river above Harper's Ferry has a bunch of little islands and low, tree-shaded spots along the shore, and I just couldn't resist a short rest beside the river in one of them. The river exposes some amazing root systems along the banks, and I find them just fascinating.

I finally managed to have some good food in Brunswick, MD (mile post 55), at Beans In The Belfry, a cafe and coffee shop in an old church. I'd been there once before while riding the canal, so I knew there would be good food and good coffee. It's a really cute little town, and a fun cafe. All the stained glass windows are still intact and you can choose to sit in the choir loft is you choose. The turkey sandwich with cranberries on panini really hit the spot, since all I'd had to this point was that ravioli and some Clif bars (note to self, bring more than one flavor...).

Fortified the time being, I continued down the trail, only to almost immediately encounter the most interesting bit of wildlife I saw on the trip... the snapping turtle you see to the left there. When I saw him in the middle of the trail in the distance, I assumed it was just a pile of horse poop, which you see fairly often along the trail. As I got closer though, I figured out what it was. He stayed pretty much stock still the whole time I watched and photographed him, which was fine by me. Those jaws and claws look pretty imposing, and I'd just as soon not find out how potent they are.

The rest of the trip went smoothly, with just a lot of pretty scenery to see and a gorgeous day with blue skies and puffy white clouds overhead. I spent a good long while at the Monocacy Aqueduct, which is an amazing structure and a great restoration job. Take a look at some of the photos in the link below if you want to see. I also stopped at the site of the Catoctin Creek Aqueduct, which collapsed in the 20s or 30s, but which they plan now to restore, funds permitting. The amazing thing about that project is that they've already retrieved many of the stones that had fallen into the stream, and have them piled up awaiting the beginning of work.

Ride's end found me in Georgetown, having dinner with a friend, which was a nice little treat after a long day riding. I rode about 62 miles on Tuesday, followed by 75 on Wednesday, with the bike loaded for camping. It wasn't too heavy a load, as it was only an overnight trip, but it was enough to make the bike feel noticeably heavier. I hadn't mounted a front rack on the bike yet, so all the weight was on the back, which is less than ideal, but that didn't detract from the fun I had. In fact, I have to say if there's a theme to the trip, it's that if you don't let setbacks get you down, you can still have a lot of fun when plans go awry.

This was the maiden voyage, touring-wise, for the Goshawk, and it did beautifully. I could really feel the benefit of the wider tires compared to my previous trips on my Miyata 1000.

More pictures are here:

Saturday, July 4, 2009

July 4th on the Canal

I often find myself on the C&O Canal on holidays since I moved back East six and a half years ago. The explanation is pretty simple... I live in Virginia, and most of my family lives in Maryland, where I grew up. If you look at a map... or remember your Civil War history... or live near here... you will see that the Canal runs alongside the Potomac, which of course, is the boundary between the two states, so I cross over both of those whenever I journey over to see family, as I did today when I went to visit my mom.

On the way home, having no big plans for my July 4th evening, I decided to take a ride along the Canal before the sun went down. I'm glad I did... it was a gorgeous evening, the towpath wasn't very busy, and I saw something I've never seen before! I'm not 100% sure what was going on, but I have a pretty good idea I saw two snapping turtles engaged in a mating ritual of some kind. I was alerted to it by seeing two other folks stopped on the path, taking pictures of something in the water. When I stopped, there I saw the two turtles, seemingly engaged in a staring match. You can just make them out in the shadows below the leaves in the center of the frame. (Apologies for the photo quality... I didn't realize the camera was set to low resolution at the time.)

Moments later the two appeared to attack one another! There was a sudden splash and flailing of feet and they were rolling over and over, each seeming to try to climb over the other. From time to time one would rear its head up and let out a remarkably loud hiss. Then there would be a short interlude where they would simply place themselves belly to belly, and roll over and over. This activity went on for quite some time, with the two turtles alternately tussling and seeming to quietly hold one another, until finally one climbed on top of the other, positioned itself at right angles to the other, and they quietly drifted with the slight current in the Canal. Very odd... I've never seen anything like it... it was fascinating. Given the peaceful "ending" I suspect this was more mating ritual than fight, but there were times where it looked quite violent.

The rest of the ride was great as well... saw several Great Blue Herons, and near the end, quite a few deer. And geese, of course, geese. Those fuzzy little goslings I saw and wrote about a while back are now young adults, indistinguishable from their parents except for a slight difference in size. I enjoyed the usual vistas along the way, stopping now and then to take pictures. I find it fascinating how different it looks along the Canal, season to season.

All in all, a good way to celebrate the day.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Random Oddities

Today I ran into two, random, unrelated items that just struck me as worthy of comment.

The first I found when I was removing the bottom bracket on an old Givin/Proflex dual suspension mountain bike. The bike itself is a bit of an oddity, as you really don't see very many of them at all. I can only recall seeing two in the six years I've been working in bike shops, and I've never seen one outside of a shop. It's apparently from the early 90s, and was pretty hot stuff in its day. An odd looking machine, but I was surprised by how light it was, and how well it rode. Granted, noodling around a parking lot isn't an exhaustive test for a "dually". (I'll try to post pics of this bike if I remember to get a shot before the owner picks it up.)

The odd thing in removing the bottom bracket was the labelling on the cups that screw into the frame. As you can see in the picture to the left, they say "KSS SCHWEINFURT BSA 1.37"x24-68-TF-L". The "BSA 1.37x24-68" part simply refers to the threading standard used in the parts. I'm not sure what the TF stands for, but L probably means "left" since this is the left cup.

But the part that caught my eye was the first part... KSS SCHWEINFURT must mean that the assembly was made by KSS, in the German city of Schweinfurt, long known for ball bearing manufacturing... and for being the site of two major air battles during World War II. I remember hearing from my dad about the "Schweinfurt Raids" (Schweinfurt-Regensburg and Second Schweinfurt), and how so many American bombers were shot down or heavily damaged trying to destroy the ball bearing plants. The bomb group my dad was attached to flew both missions, and had a rough time both times, but especially on the second raid. My dad was stationed on the ground, and loaded the bombs both days, but I still remember him talking about how they waited and counted the returning planes. There were a lot missing on the second raid. It was all part of the attempt to wreck the war manufacturing plants of Nazi Germany, the success of which I believe is debated to this day. What isn't debated is how awful it was to fly those missions, and how many young men lost their lives flying them.

The second oddity of the day was much less serious. As we were getting ready to close up shop for the day, John called out to me "Do you want a frog?" To which I reasonably responded "Huh?!?!" "Out by the dumpster", he said... and sure enough, upon looking, I saw this large, cast frog sitting by the dumpster... or rather, one big frog with several small ones on top of it, as part of the casting. No doubt some sort of yard decoration... and since I have an affinity for amphibians that dates to my childhood, I did actuall pause and think about it. But no, I really don't need a large hunk of frog! Worth a picture though, don't you think? Odd, odd, odd.