It’s Wednesday, and you know what that means:
It’s Classic Cycle Thursday for some reason!
Classic Cycle Thursday is of course just me riding cool bikes courtesy of Classic Cycle, curators of the finest bicycle museum on Bainbridge Island, WA, if not the entire United States. And as you’ll no doubt recall, I’m currently riding their 1990 American M-16:
With which I recently began to get acquainted on the forbidding Trails Behind The Mall. Subsequently, local weather conditions were not conducive to all-terrain bicycling (it snowed, then it warmed up, then it rained, all of which adds up to mud), but now that things seem to have dried out a bit I figured it was time to get back on the time machine.
My first thought upon receiving this bike was, “I have to take it to Stillwell.” Stillwell is a place out on Long Island where the trails are flat, twisty, and sandy, and it’s pretty much unchanged from the days when this bike was state-of-the-art. This makes it an ideal place to ride a non-suspended bicycle with knobby yet skinny-by-today’s-standard tires:
Unfortunately Stillwell is something like 40 miles from my home, but I really wanted to go, so this morning after dropping my youngest child off at the iPhone factory I decided I’d hop in The Car That The Bank Owns Until I Finish Paying Them Back (almost done!) and squeeze in a quick ride. (I’d never drive all the way to Long Island on a weekday just to ride a bicycle, but I figured it was okay in this instance because, you know, journalism.) So I put on my jorts, hopped on the bike, and rode towards my car–at which point I asked myself, “What the fuck am I doing?,” bypassed the car altogether, and just kept riding.
Passing by the Major Deegan Expressway I saw that it probably would have been clear sailing at least until the Cross Bronx Expressway had I taken the soft route, but what the hell, I was committed:
As I rode, I thought about some of the quirkier aspects of old mountain bikes. For example, today’s large diameter wheels and wider, tubeless tires run at low pressure offer so much traction that the tread is almost an afterthought. On a 26-inch mountain bike with tubes, however, you need knobs the size of CLIF Bloks if you’re going to stick to anything:
Also, if you haven’t ridden cantis for awhile, you forget how great the straddle cables are at collecting leaves:
And of course you’ve got to remember to add a wrench to your toolkit because of all those old-timey nuts and bolts:
Anyway, the ride I was setting out on is one I do often on my Jones. It’s mostly this:
With maybe a mile of semi-secret singletrack at the turnaround point.
My CLIF-Blok tires thrummed annoyingly on the pavement, but as soon as I hit the dirt they were more in their element. I wore my jorts and my new winter boots (which are fantastic), and I left my dry and sickly pale calves exposed to the elements to provide sort of a cooling fin effect:
Crossing the city line into Westchester County, I noted that pretty much all of the bicycle repair stands the City of Yonkers installed not too long ago have now disappeared:
Seems like a lot of work for a free multitool.
As I rode I thought about what I liked about the bike and what I didn’t. The best thing about the bike by far is the thumb shifters. In fact if I were to ever build my titanium dream Jones I think I might have to use thumbies. The worst thing about it is the bars. Coddled as I am by the wide bars in general and the comfortable sweep of the Jones bars in particular, the narrow, almost imperceptibly swept bars on the M-16 feel both ridiculous and awkward. I felt it in particular when hopping over obstacles: hoisting both a bicycle and yourself into the air with your arms straight in front of you like you’re showing off your new knuckle tattoos is ridiculous. Walk up to a table, extend your arms, grab it while keeping your hands no further apart than your shoulders, and then try to lift it. That should give you an idea.
Nearing my turn-around point, I stopped to photograph the bicycle, which really is great-looking, and which glistened in the sun:
However, I’d be lying if I said I felt as great as the bike looked. By this point in a ride on the Jones I’m usually contemplating whether I can squeeze in a few extra miles and still be back in time for the school bus. That wasn’t quite the case today, and frankly I was feeling a little beat up. I suppose it’s mostly because the M-16 puts you in a roadie position yet doesn’t allow you to change hand positions (I should probably put some bar ends on it, or at least raise the bars a couple centimeters), though I wonder if that robust aluminum frame was a factor.
Next I ducked into the woods for my token bit of singletrack, which I ride fairly effortlessly on the Jones. (And my Engin for that matter, when I feel like riding 30 miles on a singlespeed, which does happen.) Climbing over roots and rocks on the M-16 was a much more hands-on affair and I found myself thinking, “No wonder everybody decided mountain bikes need suspension.” I also second-guessed obstacles such as this, which I probably would have just ridden over without hesitation on my other bikes:
Oh, who am I kidding? I’m sure I’d have dismounted my other bikes too.
My tiny turnaround loop culminates in a fun little bermy downhill section, during which I assumed the ass-up descending position the M-16 forces you into and noted how tiny little drop-offs I’d hardly even noticed before made me feel like I was about to go over the bars. Fortunately, my “forgiving” cantilever brakes made it pretty unlikely I’d accidentally lock up my front wheel.
By no means am I trying to say the bike is bad; far from it! I’m having lots of fun with it so far. It’s just that I’ve been coddled by modern bikes, whose designers have learned a lot in 30 years. I’m sure if I rode this exclusively for a few weeks I’d be totally comfortable. I also suspect that if you were to Rivendell-ify this bike with wider, swept bars and smoother, more supple tires this would be a fantastic dirt road rambler. I especially suspect that had I just driven to Stillwell and ripped around for an hour and a half I would have thought the bike was just perfect as is…and by the time I got home, I admitted to myself that’s exactly what I should have done.
Oh well, there’s always next time.
And oh yeah–I also wore the Spurcycle Hip Pack, which I stuffed full of gluten-free cookies on the way home:
Most of the time I didn’t even know it was there, which is exactly what you want in a bag. Then again, maybe I was too uncomfortable to notice it.