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My IRO Mark V – The Tardis

July 30, 2012 at 7:48 pm

This is my IRO Mark V in an image I took of it 5 years ago. Something about the image, perhaps the way that it is resting on the fountain, is reminiscent of a family vacation photo. Or the photograph of one’s child playing in the park. It feels very human, and that’s precisely how I feel about it. I’ve been riding this bike daily for years. Looking at this is like looking at a high school yearbook photo of someone who is still your friend.

The spoke card in the rear wheel is from an alleycat that I raced in Florida. The Key to Cortez race (which, oddly, there’s a map of here) was my first. My brother was living in Sarasota at the time and planned the route for the two of us. We placed 8th. Well, 8th and 9th if you want to get technical, but let’s just say we tied at 8th. I felt like I was cheating because I’d been riding in San Francisco. Training in SF and then racing in Sarasota is like weight-training on earth for a Strongman competition on the moon.

Also note the white bar tape in this photo. What an awful idea. Stays white for about 2 hours, unless you wash your hands before riding your bike.

My Mark V has been through a lot. When I worked in Menlo Park, I commuted to and from Caltrain on this thing. When I lived in Daly City, I climbed 18th Avenue countless times for band practice. It was a trek that was literally uphill both ways.

If I could find some Polaroid film, I’d love to go back to this fountain and lean my bike against it again for a coming-of-age photo. The paint has now suffered countless knicks from being locked to various things in the city. The bars have been flipped and chopped to become bullhorns. The chain is black, the wheels are dirty, and the rear tire is white and worn nearly-through.

My Mark V is like a hammer with a wooden grip that has worn grooves from the carpenter’s hand. Someone once tried to steal the seat with an Allen wrench that was a bit too small. In the process, they stripped the bolt into a smooth circle. Now impossible to adjust by traditional means, my bike is locked into a perfect fit with my body. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Hello World

June 4, 2012 at 10:15 pm

An idea can take years to gestate, feebly pushing through the soil and flowering. Eventually.

My plan for a bike tour didn’t happen like that.

I made something of a New Year’s resolution to become conversationally fluent in French by 2013. Generally, New Year’s resolutions have a one month half-life. This one stuck.

I purchased books, listened to French radio, and started taking a class. But the folks around me kept saying that in order to actually learn French, I had to go there. Fair enough. I kicked around a few ideas. And then I walked into a cafe to put up a flier for the French class I was taking at The French Class.

There I saw a cycling magazine with an article about the grueling Bordeaux-Paris race. Apparently it was part of the pro circuit for years until the riders protested and had it removed. It was too grueling and didn’t provide the chance for physical recovery before the next major event on the circuit. I flipped through the article, put up a poster, walked outside, and texted my brother:

“I’m gonna go explore France on a bicycle.”

His response:

“I don’t see why not.”

And that’s when the planning began, little by little. To be honest, I didn’t know the first thing about bike touring. Still don’t. The research reminds me a lot of the reading I did before my first long hike on the Appalachian Trail. Everyone has ideas about what is essential, and everyone’s ideas are different.

A buddy once told me that the most vitriolic debate on the internet is over the proper way to sharpen a chisel. Equally serious wars of opinion are daily waged over:

  • Whether wool is, or is not, essential.
  • Whether panniers are bulky, or a trailer is bulky.
  • Whether camping adds 20 pounds of misery to your ride, or 20 pounds of blissful freedom.
  • Whether “stealth camping” is an easy necessity or crazy illegality.
  • Helmets.

As a daily cyclist, I’m pretty used to these debates. I ride many miles a day, to every place in San Francisco that I need to reach by bicycle. I do it on a fixed gear, and I usually do it in jeans. This is near-heresy for many riders who think riding more than 3 miles in a pair of jeans will lead to ambulatory asphyxiation.

Whenever I feel like I need to spend $100 on a merino wool moisture-wicking chamois-padded infrared-equipped pair of cycling shorts, I remind myself that the first guys who rode their bikes around the world did it dressed like this:

That ain’t no triple in the front, neither.