Beer Bicycles Music

David Bromberg

I lived in a motel in Springfield, Ill. I had a little portable record player and listened to David Bromberg’s Wanted Dead or Alive album and drank cheap beer. I had a ’69 Ford truck, for which I paid 600 dollars. During the day I would drive around and install cable TV. I had some metal braces, with curved blades at the bottom, which were strapped to my lower legs. I would use these to climb telephone poles in order to make the connections for the coax cable going to the houses. I was paid according to how many installs I made every day. I did this in Leavenworth, Kansas and Anaconda, Montana too. But that is a different blog post.

There was, and still may be, a bicycle shop in Springfield which had on display a Motobecane Champion Team. A beautiful orange, full Campy bike for the same money my truck cost. I would have bought that bike but I still owed my parents for my truck.

I was often paid cash by the customers. One time I used that cash to buy groceries or beer. Probably beer. When the day of reckoning came- when I was supposed to turn over the proceeds from my work tickets- I didn’t have the money. I told them I had spent it. My boss just said, “Don’t do that shit no more”. And I didn’t. My boss lived in the same motel. We watched the movie Casablanca one night in his room with another fellow. He referred to me as the Montana boy, and he wondered what I did with my money.

I had a Peugeot PA-10 bicycle that I rode down to Champaign-Urbana on my days off. There is not really anything there, so I would just ride back to my motel and listen to David Bromberg and drink cheap beer.

Beer Bicycles

West Texas In My Rear View

West Texas; Chihuahuan Desert, skeleton mountains pushing 9,000 feet above sea level, wind that sculpts solid rock. My co-tourist and I set off from Alpine with a quartering tailwind and make good time up to Davis Mountain State Park, a little over 27 miles away. I imagine western movie gunfights in the rocks on the hillsides, and I wonder if the natives and the soldiers at Ft. Davis actually had similar gunfights.

The highways in West Texas have a great bike lane, called a courtesy lane in Texas. Not something Idaho DOT would understand.
No rumble strips!

It’s spring break time in Texas and tough to get reservations; we made this one a few weeks ago. At the first grocery store in Ft. Davis, buying a six pack would require one of the employees making sandwiches over at the deli counter to notice me and to give a shit. So I leave the beer on the counter and we ride to the next store- bonus; they stock one of my favorite Texas beers!

After a fit-full nights sleep (actually, neither one of us had a fit but there was a lot of activity and noise from other happy campers after what I consider to be bedtime) we got up and packed and rode away. That is, after I spent about one hour attempting to get the tree sap out of one of the sleeves into which I pack my hammock. After getting denatured alcohol poisoning through my skin and not fixing the problem I jammed everything into the pannier. Then I realized my sunglasses were in the bottom of the pannier. I rode without sunglasses.

Before leaving the city limits I realized I had a problem. The last time I experienced this feeling was several years ago after eating some Bob’s Red Mill Granola. My throat felt like a vacuum cleaner hose plugged with hair and lint. Inside the bolus was a little demon punching and kicking to get out. My partner becomes smaller and smaller before disappearing around the bend leading to the pass. I stop and try to figure out what is happening; is it Covid-19? Is it really wood alcohol poisoning? Is it just an allergic reaction? Am I going to die here?

Stacy waits at the top of the hill and gives me some of her antihistamines which seem to help. Then we stop at the picnic area and I lay down for ten minutes. My co-tourist leads the way into the howling headwind the last ten miles- until she drops me and I ride slowly into town. If I were to disclose fully, I would say I told her to ride ahead and that I would just “let the legs drop” the rest of the way. Good times.

When times were good and I was sitting at the picnic table drinking my El Chingon, I took some detail photos of our bicycles. Those follow.

Gilles Berthoud himself brazed this little piece of design wonderfulness.
Ultegra seat post
Shimano Ultegra seat post. Poetry.
no caption needed
image of IRD crankset
The IRD compact double crankset. Both bikes have the same gearing.
image of bicycle saddle
Gilles Berthoud saddle

Strada Bianca

Strade Bianche or Strada Bianca is a UCI World Cup professional bike race. First held in 2007 one third of the total race distance is raced on dirt roads, covering 63 km of strade bianche, or “white roads” spread over 11 sectors. A progenitor of one of the dumbest sub-classifications of bike riding ever- the “Gravel Grinder” in which poseurs and hipsters ride (really, they race with no classifications or rewards other than bragging rights on social media) gravel roads on their gravel bikes.

This is a bicycle called Strada Bianca made by Steve Hampsten, brother of Andy. If you don’t know who Andy Hampsten is, he won the 1988 Giro d’Italia and is iconic because of his ride over the Gavia Pass in a blizzard during that race. He rode at the time for the 7-11 Team. The team bikes were branded with the Huffy name but were made by Serotta. Andy bought his own bike made by John Slawta of Land Shark Bicycles and had it painted team colors.

But this post is not about a bike race or bike racer or even bikes. It’s about these tires. Challenge Strada Bianca tires are handmade in Thailand, close to the rubber sources and know-how. The casings are high thread count polyester and the rubber is latex. The casings are very supple, so supple the tire lies flat rather than in a u-shape like other clinchers. Mounting these on the rim is the challenge; hence the name? Getting the first bead on is tight but inserting a tube and getting the second bead mounted without mutilating and pinching the tube is nearly impossible. I went through a couple tubes mounting two tires. I finally ended up getting some latex tubes that come dusted with talc and those went in easily.

I still think these are worth the effort though because of the ride. As with any fine tool or piece of equipment, marginal gains in performance with a fine bicycle become increasingly expensive but the nuanced improvement adds to the enjoyment of the user. And these tires are not cheap- $70.00 to $75.00 for the Pro series clincher. Challenge also makes a clincher with a silk casing for a cool $125.00. Wish I didn’t know that now.


Boise to Enterprise

As it turns out I am bike touring with not just one companion but two. To a self proclaimed hermit like myself this is not customary. It’s a good thing they both know me well, are patient with me and mostly forgive my antisocial tendencies. My present companions each provide entertainment value in their own ways and the shared experiences deepen our friendships. Sometimes it’s nice to have reinforcements; D. is not afraid to approach people at campsites and ask if he can buy beer from them when we run out (here’s a tip; they usually offer it for free)  P. reminds me when I am being critical of, or less than generous toward, my fellow man that I am no better than they are. That said, traveling alone on the bicycle is for me a rewarding, almost spiritual endeavor.

I know I’m different; maybe there is something wrong with me. When I was 18 I hitchhiked across the country and rode my bike around New England in states of confusion and loneliness. That same year I rode from my home in Bozeman, MT. to Swan Lake near Missoula. I carried no water and I rode in blue jeans. I didn’t even have a tent. It must have been after that summer that I found a poster of Lon Haldeman’s touring bike.  I hung that poster on my wall and studied it every day and tried to figure out how he got all that stuff hooked onto his bike. I don’t remember too much about that bike anymore except for the wire bead clincher tire folded perfectly and strapped neatly to the outside of a pannier.

I think what I like most about that picture was the suggestion that a person could  be self sufficient with a machine like that. There was a promise of escape and of freedom. By freedom I mean being able to start whenever I like in the morning, to ride at my own pace and to stop when I want. Being able take a detour if I feel like it; camp where and when I want to; get a room when and where I want to. Self sufficiency and freedom are compromised when one is a member of a group; even a group of 2.

I don’t understand when people have a week or two vacation to use but don’t go bike touring just because they have nobody else to go with. They tell me they get bored without someone to talk to. Personally, I think it can be a lot of work and sometimes awkward to be patient and courteous and social with others, and I am not always able to exhibit those apparently simple skills. Imaginary friends work out well for me however. I can post on online forums and my own blog without threat to my social personality. There is less responsibility there. I don’t need to be nice to those people when their hamburger doesn’t taste right- or when I’m having a shitty day.

I suppose there is safety, or the impression of safety,  in numbers in case of mishaps but Lon Haldeman and I are self sufficient. I know I can fix anything that goes wrong with the bike. Strangers are either interested in what the guy on the bike is doing or they don’t even seem to see me, so the fear of being harassed isn’t that threatening.

Most people talk about all the great people they meet on their tours, almost as if that is the reason they go. While I too have met some interesting people, that is not one of the things that drives me. I like being sort of invisible. I don’t need to interact with anybody if I don’t feel like it. I have never seen these people before and likely will never see them again; I’m a ghost. Like Diogenes, the self proclaimed “prophet of truth and plain speaking” who gave away everything to live in a storage jar on the street where he could observe and criticize and shock polite society, the paradox is that without civilization and society, the existence of the solitary bike hermit would be meaningless, in fact it would be impossible since we both rely on the society in order to survive.

I can be myself or thereabouts. My “self” becomes a little less restricted when out on the bike. I have no definition of  how I am supposed to act because the persona I adopt in my daily life doesn’t apply. That is a feeling of freedom too; the freedom to improvise.

All this tough talk about being some sort of swashbuckling eremitic figure is just talk though. After a couple months or a couple of years on the road by myself  the solitude might start to wear. A few years ago I had  the urge to sign up for a 10 day meditation retreat in Oregon. 10 days of asceticism and silence sounded really good, and a little frightening, to me at the time.  When I wondered aloud what I might find if I went, an acquaintance who identifies as  a Buddhist told me, with a twinkle in his eye;

“You’ll find yourself, brother.” That’s more than a little frightening.

D. is turning back tomorrow since he only has a couple days to goof around. P. is going on to Canada and I am riding with him as far as Enterprise, OR. D. was willing, indeed he seemed anxious, to stop at each of the scattered farm houses along this lightly traveled back road to inquire about places to camp or to ask for water. None of the locals appeared to be the least bit interested in helping.  “Well”,  says P., “There is a reason they live out here”.  Now we have arrived at a small oasis; a grove of trees along the road offers shade and a place to hang the hammocks. D’s efforts finally pay off and the  ranchers from the low, scattered buildings across the road let us fill our water bottles from one of their faucets.  With that problem solved for the moment we sit in the dry grass, silt and cow shit; like hobos on the bank waiting for a train. P. and I drink the beers we bought earlier while D. drinks whiskey. Then we turn in.  


Llano to Castell.

A profile of the county road between Llano and Castell, Texas would resemble an asymmetrical standing wave as it rises and falls through the central Texas Hill Country. A two lane road with no shoulders but little traffic. The drivers who do use this road are invariably courteous to cyclists. It might be because they are unaccustomed to seeing us on the road, but I prefer to believe it is because being courteous is a mandate in Texas.

Indian Paint Brush and whatever Bluebonnets survived the recent freezing weather are blooming in the borrow pit. Beyond the road right of way is the scrub brush , pecan trees and live oak trees that thrive in this part of Texas, all behind the fences of the private ranches. A light, steady southwest wind blows.

At the Castell store I order a hamburger and Stacy orders the grilled chicken sandwich. A half dozen men sit at the bar considering topics of local importance. While waiting for our sandwiches on the front porch, a man with a red and white MAGA hat steps out of a pickup. A sticker on the front door of the store says something about a village in Kenya missing an idiot.

A buzzard wheels high overhead.