Howdy folks, very pleased to finally post since moving to Denver. The bicycle rain gods had a thunderstorm right before I moved and I took delivery of a couple of fresh frames. First up was the disc lugged coupler fat tire road bike that many have seen in the raw. The customer, Matthew, has been enjoying the hell out of it and is very pleased with the end result. The bike was built in conjunction with Colonel’s Bicycles in Fort Worth and their star mechanic Aubery did the parts build. As of right now I don’t have a lot of pics of it, only what has been sent to me or what I stole off faceburp. but more will follow, especially once the racks are back from the chromer. Till then enjoy these couple of snaps.
The second pic was taken at the “Ferrous Ride” that Colonel’s organized. It was a mass ride from their shop to a new Fort Worth brewery called Martin House. People were encouraged to ride steel bikes hence the name. In addition to Matthew’s bike, both the owners of Colonel’s, Rick and Doug rode the bikes that I had built for them. Y’all have probably seen these bikes before as they have been 2 of the most popular bikes I have made so far.
I am honored when anyone chooses to ride my bikes, but when not one but two shop owners with several decades of being in the bike industry and riding, with access to just about any bike choose to ride my bikes it means even more.
So it has taken me a while to find the time to sit down write about the return journey from my Christmas bike tour. I do apologize. Getting prepared for NAHBS, finishing up various projects, and now the impending move to Denver has put this little story on the back burner. But rest assured, time has not diluted the memories of this trip in the slightest. The casual pace of a bike tour lends itself well to totally taking in the sites, sounds, and scenery of a given place and journey. Otherwise very mundane, every fork in the road literally becomes a milestone, each little town a destination. The sky, clouds, trees, fields, horses and cows set the scene. The weather brings the drama, the hills offer the challenge, the people you meet along the way are your compatriots and that post ride meal serves as the most delicious reward. None of these things ever escape your memory. I could bend your ear for hours with countless stories of two-wheeled adventures.
The ride down to Austin was all about discovery and excitement, and as you might have read in Part I, I certainly got that and then some. The return leg was intended to be a little different. I had previously established the goal of riding from Austin to Fort Worth, or vice versa, in under 24 hours. At roughly 200 miles, I knew this was possible. I thought I could even make it back in time for last call at the pub. I would return home a hero, the girls would be impressed, leave their sedentary boyfriends and shower me in kisses. I had originally planned to do this in the warmer months, but with this tour taking place over Christmas, I figured I should make my attempt sooner than later. Sometimes you can’t wait for Spring, you just gotta go for it.
I had spent Christmas with my friends Kelly and Andrew. The night before my departure I began mapping out the return journey. I wanted to take the most direct route back so essentially drew a route that paralleled I-35 but on country roads. To further assist a quick ride back, I shed most of the items I had taken with me on the way down, only taking what I needed for a day’s ride, and getting Kelly to mail back my other things.
After a couple days of Christmas and Austin indulgences I was properly fattened up and prepared for this endeavour. The warm weather I was provided with for the way down had been replaced by near freezing temperatures and it was icy cold when I set off at around 7 a.m. I retraced my way out of Austin. I rode down Shoal Creek, the scene of the “incident”, then got lost in the same exact place as I did on the way down. Once back on track, and now on my new route, I was unexpectedly stopped at an intersection with FM1431. It was like seeing your ex-girlfriend at the bar, bad memories quickly flood your mind, you try your best to not make eye contact, at the same time reassuring your self that you have moved on and in a much better place without her. Luckily the light changed quickly and I was on my way. I was on Parmer Lane, though a busy road it was equipped with a bike lane, and much more accommodating than that feisty 1431.
Things got even better when I eventually turned off of Parmer Lane and rode on a series of narrow country roads. By mid morning I was approaching Florence, TX, and this is where the true nature of the journey began to unfold. With the sign for my turn onto another quiet road hidden behind a tree, I rode straight passed it. I rode a few miles down the wrong road till I realized I must have clearly missed my turn. I double backed and eventually got going in the right direction. No big deal, shit happens, and the serenity of the solitary road and overcast sky quickly put me at ease and back to enjoying my ride.
There were only a couple of turns before I would reach Belton. I memorized the next few steps on my hand written cue sheet and then flipped it over. I came to a fork in the road and took my turn. I rode along for a few more miles till I came to a bigger intersection. The road sign said turn right for Florence and left for Jarrell. This did not make sense. I just came from Florence, had no intentions of going back to it, nor did I plan on going to Jarrell. I scratched my head for a while as this had also thrown off my sense of direction. Without a smart phone, and maps now nearly extinct, I called my Dad and asked him to look it up where I was on the computer and help me get back on the right track. I had apparently turned my cue sheet prematurely and then turned onto the wrong, but closely numbered Farm Road. I had gone 7 miles in the wrong direction. It could have been worse, and the only solution was to turn around, so I finished throwing my tantrum and got on with.
I was far behind schedule and absolutely starving when I eventually made it to Belton. It was supposed to be my lunch stop, and it was now past 4 pm. My only previous experience with Belton was that it was one of those faceless looking small towns that straddle I-35 with every existing fast food chain. The back roads brought me into the old town center, and with it plenty of charm that would otherwise be missed if one only stuck to the highway. I found a nice looking Mexican restaurant and was soon chowing down and thawing out my now frozen feet.
While eating I began weighing my options on how to proceed. Was I still game for the sub-24 hour heroics, or was I now on a slower passed, more casual tour? Though I am sure people would be impressed if I accomplished this feat, I am never really out to prove anything to anyone else but myself and I struggled with the dilemma of not fulfilling a goal. The warmth of the indoors and onset of a food coma did not make a cold overnight bike ride seem too appealing. It began getting dark while I was making my mind up, any motivation to ride through the night slipped away with the setting sun.
I made a call to my Dad and had him look up hotels along the way, the only feasible option was a small town called McGregor, about 30 miles down the road. I certainly still had 30 miles left in me, and I was a lot more relaxed and content with the decision of extending my tour as opposed to killing myself with a foolish thing like riding my bike for 24 hours in the middle of December.
The night brought with it the kind of magic that I long for. It had been overcast all day, and now the clouds sunk lower and turned to fog. My generator light kept the immediate road in sight, but everything else disappeared. I felt like I was riding into the abyss. There would be the occasional soft glow of light, but the fog kept their source obscure.
I made it to McGregor by 8:30 pm and spotted a small Italian restaurant. Inside, the scene was a little bizarre, the whole staff were Italian, and the only other patrons was a very large Christian family, dressed as if they just came off the set of “Little House on the Prairie”. I must have looked just as strange to them with my big beard and bike clothes because they stared at me the whole time I ate. It was a little uncomfortable, I just stared into my bowl of pasta to avert their gaze. On their way out the Patriarch of the family stopped by my table and started asking me about my travels. He was nice enough and soon the rest of the family joined him and listened to me intently. They told me I was staying in a really fancy hotel, and the young boy of the family quaintly suggested that I forgo such luxury and find a nice field and some hay to spend the night in.
I eventually made it to my 5 star accommodations, had a hot shower, and then curled up in the huge hotel bed with some microwave popcorn and hot chocolate and read a few pages out of Dharma Bums. I am sure I fell asleep with a huge smile on my face, thankful for being on this trip, the things I had seen and done, and now being put up for the night in some small town that I had not known had even existed a few hours previous.
I woke early and made my way to a little cafe down the street from the hotel. While I was locking up my bike one of the waitresses came outside and said “Oh, I thought you were my friend Loopy. He rides his bike everywhere and I was gonna tell him ‘Loopy you are CRAZY tryin’ to ride your bike out here on a cold day like this!!”
It was still overcast when I set off for the day. The constant grey skies made Texas feel a bit sulky, but this moodiness is often a welcomed departure to endless blue skies. An unexpected descent brought me down into a small valley and with it another one of those strange “Where the hell am I?” moments. The valley was contained by cliffs on either side, and capped by the low clouds on either end. The ground to the side of the road was rocky, and looked as if it could not support any kind of life. No cars passed and I stood there for a few minutes studying this strange, eerie setting.
Back on the bike I climbed over the hill on the other side of the valley and was soon crossing over the dam of Lake Whitney, and now returning to familiar roads. I was approaching Rio Vista and decided to stop at Boney Joe’s for a sandwich. Old man Lloyd was in there playing his guitar. I suppose there aren’t too many other venues in Rio Vista as I had seen him play in Boney Joe’s on a previous occasion back in the summer. He was strumming out and singing “Oh Lonesome Me”, sounding just as raspy as when Hank would play it. The last song I listened to before my departure from Fort Worth was “Ramblin’ Man”, so this was equally appropriate to hear so close to the end of my journey.
Temperatures were falling during the last 30 miles of the trip. The clouds broke momentarily to at least give the sun a final show as it set, large and magnificent. I began to slow down, wanting to delay my return to Fort Worth. But it was inevitable. Beneath a full moon I rode through South Fort Worth and was soon home. You can spend 2 days by yourself on the bike and not feel the slightest bit of solitude. The road, the places you go and the people you meet keep your mind busy with discovery and provide you all the companionship you need. And to think it was just a little trip down to Austin.
Howdy, here are a few pics of the latest frame back from the painter. “Pinky” is a super racy cyclo-cross frame with a tapered head tube, integrated head set, disc brake, internal cabling, with equal parts class and sass. I will have more photos once its built up, I am currently waiting for a 52mm head tube reamer to arrive from Germany to finish up the internal head set cups.
Shortly after the bike arrived, my good friend and photographer, Nick Prendergast, who is responsible for all the photos on the website stopped by to get measured for the frame I will be building him soon. Nick is a fashion photographer by trade, hence why I am actually photogenic for once. The bikes, however, never need any help looking good. Here are a few pics he took of the new bike and of the workshop. The poorly taken detail shots of the frame are by me.
Life is starting to get back to normal after the whirlwind that is NAHBS. Just getting to the show is an adventure in itself. This year was no different. Though I was trying my best to avoid short comings of years before, I was still putting bikes together the night before leaving.
One would think that the drive from DFW to Denver would be a breeze compared to the cross country jaunts I have made to the West Coast for previous bike shows. Unfortunately things were not that breezy, but luckily my friend Priya came along for the drive, and helped me stay calm while we slugged through a snow storm in Kansas, averaging about 35 mph for about 250 miles, and not that much faster for the 200 or so miles. This turned a 12 hour drive into 17. We saw more cars on the side of the road than on the road, but Black Thunder, our mini van rental, provided us a safe passage during this treacherous voyage.
I was pretty exhausted from the drive, but the show turned out great. The first 2 days saw a good amount of attendance, there was another snow storm on the last day so it was a little quieter. It was great seeing a lot of my frame builder friends that I have met at previous shows, and I made quite a few new friends too. For me this is the best part of going to the shows, you get to talk shop and it really takes a fellow builder to understand what it takes to be involved in this industry.
As for the bikes, things seemed a lot more tech and modern this year. Not as many lugged bikes or constructuer racks as before. I am still very much into traditional bikes, but it is fun seeing the endless possibilities that technology can bring.
I would say my overall favorite bikes were from Rich Gangl. My teacher Doug Fattic had told me about him years ago, but Rich keeps a very low profile and is very much a local builder in Golden, CO. I also really enjoyed Bilenky Cycles, True Fab, Geekhouse, Bishop, Ellis, Black Sheep, Ground Up, and the Moots trail building long tail cargo fat bike. I could keep going because everything was really top notch. I did a crap job taking pictures but here are a few. Oh, and before that here is a link to a video of me talking about one of the bikes I brought: NAHBS Video
And Now for the Big News
I had been to Denver before, and new that I liked it. Before I went on the trip I had contacted da Vinci Tandems at the off chance they needed some help. To my surprise they said they were looking for some general help around their shop. We spoke at the bike show and a few days after I returned from Denver I received word that they would like me to work for them. So, it looks like I will be moving to Denver in April. Gallus might be on hiatus for a month or so as I look for a work space up there, but its not going anywhere.
In the long term, this will be a great move. Firstly, learning from some very talented people. Secondly, the great riding and outdoors activities that being in Colorado will provide. However, the short term will certainly be difficult. I am walking away from a pretty comfortable life filled with an awful lot of great people, places and things in Fort Worth and Texas. That will certainly be hard for me. Things are looking good here these days, and I kind of feel like I am leaving right when the party is starting. But the mountains are calling me, and I must abide.
I’m very pleased to share the pics of the latest bike. This was a great project. Ray wanted the kind of bike I really enjoy building(though I enjoy building most kind of bikes), and was also into the components I like using as well. Components come from Shimano, Chris King, Phil Wood, Paul, and IRD. The wheels were actually built by Joe Young, who is one of the best wheel builders in the country, but conveniently lives in Grandbury, Tx. Joe carries a similar outlook towards his wheel building as I do to my frame building, building what best suits the rider for the given application, not building what is currently trendy.
This bike unfortunately did not stay in my possession very long, and I did not get much of a chance to show it off. I had planned on having a booth at the Rahr/Trinity Swap Meet on Sunday, but still had to do a few things to the bike before Ray came to pick it up. I did manage to get down to the Swap for about 30 minutes with the bike and walked around and showed the bike off a little. I also managed to snap some pics of the bike at the Brewery.
Just finished this front rack that is a combination of a low-rider and randonneur style front bag rack. The low riders are detachable so if riding with panniers isn’t necessary they can be replaces with simple struts to support the platform. But, I think the low-riders look pretty cool, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the customer wants to keep them on most of the time. Having them detachable also allows the rack to be packed in the S and S travel along with the coupled bike that it is being made for. Now I am on to the rear rack. Show y’all soon…
Cyclists are robust, hearty individuals. We push the boundaries of comfort almost to the levels of suffering just to see what the open road has in store for us as we meander from point “A” to point “B.” We ride through the scorching summers, frigid winters, the dark hours of the night, rain, sleet, chockablock city traffic, howling headwinds, and never ending uphill climbs. We seek adventure, discovery, a wee departure from our daily lives, at times camaraderie and other times solitude, always welcome that little push from the tailwinds and thoroughly enjoy the speedometer crushing descents.
In the heart of December, I became reminiscent of many significant winter cycling milestones. My first day as a bicycle messenger December 21st, the winter solstice. A Christmas bicycle tour of Scotland west coast. The first frame I built, December 2006. And when the snow on the side of the road had cleared enough, I rode in 5 degrees F in the depth of a bleak Swedish winter, having to periodically stop to make sure I still had testicles as the arctic temperatures had turned them into ice cubes.
My mileage had been down for the year as I was more focused on doing an ultra-marathon trail run in September. I was really missing my bike, but with winter rolling in it was hard to get motivated to start up again. Fortunately, I was duly inspired by reading my friend Roberto’s story of riding in the Alps and by Jan Heine’s story of his “Last Big Ride of the Year” in the snowy Cascade Mountains found in the latest issue of Bicycle Quarterly. Roberto emailed me that the below freezing temps hadn’t kept him from riding. I had no excuse, this is Texas after all, our winters last about 10 days, and our mild weather is conducive to year-round cycling.
I was also craving a bit of adventure. It didn’t matter that I’d completed a Super Randonneur series, rode 500 miles in a weekend, and done a hand full of ultra-marathons in the mountains. That was back in spring and summer, distant memories now. I needed one last thrill to top off 2012. With my brother studying in London, and my Dad showing that being home for the holidays weren’t of much concern as he had pushed off at Thanksgiving, Christmas looked like a better time than any other to go on a short bike tour. With good friends in Austin, it was a great destination for a bike tour and a fine place to spend the holiday.
I pieced together a route based off of a few randonneur routes. Time was limited, so it was more about covering big miles each day than a slower paced sightseeing trip. This also meant that I opted to stay in a hotel for a night on the way down, saving weight forgoing camping equipment and a rear rack. Before leaving I had also convinced myself in trying to make the return journey in under 24 hours.
I had a late start the morning of my departure, but I wasn’t in a rush to get anywhere, no need to be home for dinner and no prior engagements. It was vacation, by bike. I took familiar back roads out of Fort Worth and was in Cleburne by late morning. I made it to Rio Vista by lunch, one of the last developed outposts before sparsely populated prairie, and stopped at Boney Joe’s Convenience Store-and-Subway shop, a regular check point on brevets.
The temperatures were in the mid 60′s, with a few thin clouds streaked across the otherwise sunny sky. It did not seem like the end of December. The landscape was unrelentingly flat and mundane, far from the awe inspiring, jaw-dropping scenery of the Glens and Bens of Scotland, yet I found my mind occupied by what roadside offerings were on hand.
Simple, repetitive, nearly monotonous, I was slowly being hypnotized. I did not resist. Instead I relished in this transcendence. Take me away, Texas, let me escape a little. Rusty barbed-wire fences, patches of cacti, old shacks and houses standing in ruins never seemed to get dull and instead let my mind wander, imagining what this land might have been privy to over the years. My senses were alight. The evergreen of the cedar brush stood in such contrast to the soft December light and wintery decay that it appeared to glow, as if it was electric and somehow plugged in.
Occasionally these scenes would be broken up by unusual sights or visual landmarks. The narrow Whitney Dam offered great views of the lake. A bend in the road brought me up close to a camel farm. The camels looked just as puzzled to see me as I was to see them. And the camel dog (is that what you would call it?) gave me a good chase when I tried to snap a picture.
The sun was setting as I rolled into Valley Mills. I still had 30 miles to Gatesville, where I would stay the night. I turned onto a quiet ranch road and it was getting dark as I started to hit the first hills of the ride. At their crest I got a glimpse of lights and thought it was the town’s glow. But as I approached the city limits, it became obvious that these were not
from homes and business but floodlights from prison complexes lining Gatesville’s outskirts. I rolled passed these dreary, inhumane looking buildings, promising myself that I will never do anything to end up behind those walls.
It was a little after 7:30 p.m. when I found my hotel. The clerk, also a vegetarian, told me my best bet for food was an Italian restaurant a few blocks away. After 115 miles, I was both pleased to finally sit down and eat. The waitress, all country smiles, brought out a huge plate of pasta, bread and salad. All was quickly devoured. The waitress blushed and agreed when I told her I had found the best restaurant in Gatesville. Belly more than satisfied, I headed back to the hotel. I showered and then channel hopped for a little while, but it did not take long before I was sound asleep.
I had every intention of getting up really early and being out on the road by sunrise, but when the alarm clock went off, I decided I needed to get my money’s worth out of the hotel bed and slept a couple more hours. I was out the door by 8 a.m. and really excited about the day’s ride as I would now be on new roads and the hills would start in earnest. Gatesville is located near the northwestern corner of Fort Hood. As I left town, I rode down the western edge of the base, hoping to hear artillery fire or see some kind of training exercise, but there was hardly a sign it was even a base, let alone one of the largest in the country.
The undulating road pushed me to Copperas Cove, a small community nestled in a group of three or four white hills dotted with green shrubs. It looked like a small mining town you would see out in Nevada or California. As I left, I began to climb. It was a gradual climb, so nothing testing. Eventually the road flattened out and I was expecting a downhill at any minute but it never came. The horizon looked strangely convex, the air felt a little different. Eventually I realized that I must be riding on higher ground.
This was confirmed when I made it to Bertram and a sign informed me I was at 1300 feet elevation. Nothing spectacular, but not exactly sea level either. I stopped for a quick lunch, sitting on a bench at the town’s out-of-service, single platform train station. A few miles later, I finally was given the glorious descent that being at 1300 feet had promised. It brought me into the confines of the Balcones Wildlife Refuge. I did not know what to expect from the refuge, but had purposely routed myself through it, hoping that a giant green block on the map might contain some scenic vistas and low traffic levels.
With the hills of the Balcones Canyon Lands growing closer, I knew all of my wishes were about to come true when I turned onto Ranch Road 328. The smile across my face was almost as wide as the single lane road. No climbs, but plenty of twists and turns as the road cut in and out of the canyons. I was trying my best to soak in as much of the beauty as I could. As all great things, it felt fleeting. These rocks might be here forever, but I wouldn’t, I was just a casual observer, passing through. I stopped to shoot some photos, and even took a few while riding to maybe get some “action” shots.
On one occasion when I stopped and got off my bike to take a picture, the first car I had seen since turning onto 328 approached. It stopped and the driver rolled down the window. I looked over and saw an extremely pretty girl. With pig tails.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
Not sharp enough to fake an injury or mechanical, and too honest, I simply pointed up at the canyon wall, holding my drug store disposable camera and responded, “Oh, I’m fine, just taking a picture.” She smiled, rolled up her window and drove away.
Is Heaven a magical place in the middle of Texas, laid out among canyons and lazy single lane roads, where the only cars that pass are driven by pretty girls only there to offer cyclists support? I think so.
I began to ride even slower. I did not want to leave this road. Eventually I got to the end of Heaven and was forced to turn left, back to the harsh realities of Life on Earth, or as the Texas Department of Transportation had christened it, Farm Road 1431. No longer in amid a wildlife refuge, all serenity vanished as the first car zoomed passed at 70 M.P.H., hand on horn. If that wasn’t enough to make their presence known, it swerved while passing me and moved onto the miniscule shoulder to exert its vehicular dominance.
I passed this off as an isolated incident. Surely a narrow, twisty, hilly Farm Road still 40 miles outside Austin would be low, low traffic. I tried to enjoy the climbs and the views, it was a fun road. But then the next car behaved as the first. And then the one after that. Then they started to come in packs of three and four. I tried to keep my cool. Not wanting to escalate the motorist vs. cyclist conflict, I kept my middle finger close to the other four, waving at the drivers amicably. If they honked I would blow them kisses. But peace and love did not achieve a damn thing.
Oh, 1431, I wish it hadn’t been like this. You could have been the one. You had everything I ever wanted in a road; the hills, the curves, the views. We could have pedaled off into the sunset, danced in the moonlight. But you were always in such a hurry. So flighty. Where were you in such a rush to go? To hang your laundry? Go to the grocery store? You were cold hearted and mean spirited. I would have given you space, but you didn’t give me any, not even a little shoulder; you had me pushed up against the guard rail. Oh well, maybe one day you will change your ways and see what could have been. But I ain’t stickin’ around. I’m heading back to 328. She might not have had the hills, but she had everything else.
This went on for a couple of hours as it was the road that would take me to the outskirts of Austin. I sighed with relief when I turned onto a quiet residential street, lit up with holiday lights. It was Christmas Eve after all. But the joy was short lived as I found myself lost and somehow on the Mopac Frontage Road. After a few frantic minutes , I eventually found a road listed in my cue sheet. Soon I was turning onto Shoal Creek Boulevard, one of Austin’s original bicycle thoroughfares, and familiar territory. “Ah, the home stretch,” I thought. From here I could easily make it to my friends’ house in South Austin. I rode along the well-marked bike lanes.
Then, for some reason, it abruptly ended and was closed off by a series of reflective pylons. I pulled out into the car lane to try and skirt around them. While doing so, the only car I had seen on Shoal Creek sped dangerously close, nearly forcing me back into the pylons.
After two hours of holding on for dear life on 1431, followed by getting lost, my inner Buddha had checked out a long time ago. My only reaction at this point was to yell, “You f*&#ing dick!!” and flip him off. I instantly regretted this outburst. As I said before, I don’t want to provoke further tensions between cars and bikes; it could have been an honest mistake on their part. I tried to calm down. I was nearly at the end of Shoal Creek, and could see that the car was stopped at the traffic light. I knew I had to say something to the driver.
As I approached the car, it became apparent that the driver wanted to chat too. His window was already rolled down. I thought it was a bit odd that he was gripping one of those giant Maglites, as I ever so calmly said to him, “Hey man, did you not see me? You nearly ran me into those pylons.”
“Oh? Did I? I’m sorry,” he responded with a snide chuckle.
“Yeah man, you gotta look out. I got lights on, I even have a reflective vest…”
He cut me off in mid sentence and said, “Look, the lights turned green, so how ’bout you head off.”
“What?” I said, still not grasping the situation.
“Look, you keep talkin’, and I’m gonna get out of this car.”
“Dude, really?” I tried to continue to speak of proper road etiquette, but the guy was obviously not wanting to listen. He began to get out of the car. After a 130 miles, I knew I wouldn’t have much strength to put up any kind of fight nor did I care to find out what a Maglite to the face could possibly feel like, especially on Christmas Eve, so I dashed off.
Thoroughly exhausted from two days on the road, I simply did not have the energy to be even slightly fazed by this last incident. I shrugged it off and was soon back to enjoying the last few miles along eerily quiet Austin streets. I crossed the river, road up Lamar, and was soon knocking on my friends’ door. I made it.
Check back soon for Part II: The Return Journey. In which Jeremy attempts to ride from Austin to Fort Worth in under 24 hours. Will his randonneuiring skills and endurance prevail or will Old Man Winter and a poorly written cue sheet have other plans?