Category Archives: 650B

Riding the C&O Canal on the Rawlands

This weekend, Felkerino and I took advantage of the spectacular mild weather and busted out our Rawland dSogns for a day ride along the C&O Canal.

Rawland dSogns on the C&O Canal

Our destination? Homestead Farm, a pick-your-own produce place just outside of Poolesville, Maryland.

Homestead Farm makes for a perfect fall ride from home. The one-way trip is about 29 miles, the route along the C&O is quite pretty (particularly the spots near Great Falls), and the reward for our efforts is tasty fresh fruit (or maybe even a piece of pie or a caramel apple if we want to get something extra special).

Picking out a gourd at Homestead Farm

The Rawlands are great for terrain like the C&O. 650B wheels make for a comfy ride with no toe overlap. Fatty Rumpkin tires tolerate the bumps and dips well. My Brooks Flyer S saddle smooths out any uneven ground. The grippy disc brakes offer ready assistance to deal with weaving pedestrians or any other untimely obstacles thrown in my path. Oh, and my Carradice Nelson longflap is perfect for hauling home any fresh produce or treats we pick up along the way.

I love my Rawland dSogn and the C&O (and my NC Randonneurs jersey)!

We departed around 8:30 in the morning with hopes of avoiding any big crowds, but our plan resulted in us crossing paths with a half-marathon going on in D.C. and a 20-mile run going off on the C&O. How about that for our plan totally backfiring? Oh well, we were in no hurry, our disc brakes came in extra handy, and it was fun to cheer on the runners. We even got a “Go bikers!” from somebody. Yeah!

Felkerino and the Rawland

My Rawland is a bit stodgy on paved surfaces, but it thrives off-road. Every time I ride it I’m glad Felkerino picked one up for me, and I thank Rawland for the reasonably priced yet sturdy and responsive bikes that set up well for away-from-the-pavement adventures.

Despite the fact that Felkerino and I rode the whole way together, my computer showed 57 miles door-to-door compared to his 56. What does it mean? I’d say it means I win the mileage challenge.

Want to see more from our Sunday ride? Felkerino’s pics are here and the few I snapped are here.

Bikes to Like: Bob W.’s Kogswell Porteur Randonneur

Bob W. is one of the people who regularly organizes longer rides (centuries) up in the Baltimore area. I have not ridden with Bob (yet!), but regularly follow his travels through flickr. One of his randonneur bikes caught my eye, as he had recently put it through its paces on the well-known and challenging Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee. I asked him if he’d guest post about his bike, and he agreed. Thanks, Bob, for being part of Bikes to Like!

1. What kind of bike do you have?

A Kogswell P/R (porteur/randonneur). 2nd generation, 40mm offset fork, made for 650b wheels.

This was a fillet brazed steel production bike created by Matthew Grimm. The P/R was designed around a a low trail fork which gives the bike excellent handling with front loads. Originally produced for 650b wheels only, the later generations had options for 26″ and 700c wheels and forks available in 50mm, 40mm and 30mm offsets. Sadly, Kogswell is no longer making bikes.

Bob and the Kogswell on the Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee

2. Where do you ride it?

Mostly: between home and work
Frequently: long distance riding in and around Baltimore
Occasionally: grocery and liquor stores
Recently: dirt roads in York County, Pennsylvania

3. What do you like about your bike?

The Kogswell is such a steady, easy ride that it urges me to explore. The low trail fork design and the stability of 650b tires make it able to ride fast on good pavement, nice and comfy on dirt roads, like a train when loaded up with beer and groceries, energy efficient on the steepest climbs and like a toboggan on big downs.

4. If you had to describe your bike in one word, what would it be?

Glidey (did I just invent that?)

Bob’s glidey Kogswell

5. Fenders or no fenders?

The Kogs is meant to wear fenders and the P/R frameset came with a handsome pair. That said, I haven’t put the fenders back on him since a rebuild last year. I expect that some winter slush up my back will change that quickly enough.

6. What is one of your favorite memories with this bicycle?

The 2011 Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee (D2R2). This ride scared me– and it should have with 14,000 feet of climbing on 115 miles of unpaved roads.

I trained myself hard before the ride with the goal of completing the ride while enjoying myself. I was not interested in suffering through it. I met many great people during the ride, but the Kogswell was the only familiar friend I had.

There were many many miles of steady, hard, seated climbing where I mentally thanked the Kogs for it’s climbing prowess. I loved “showing up” the roadies with their huge quads and over-geared bikes by slowly, steadily cruising past them on the hills.

The Kogswell was a handsome bike on that ride. I probably couldn’t have, nor wouldn’t have done that ride on any of my other bikes.

7. Does your bike have a name? If so, what is it?

The Kogs, the heavy bike, the grocery getter. Nothing that really sticks, though.

One more look at Bob’s Kogswell

8. What is your favorite accessory on your bike and why?

The Dinotte 120L rear light, the brightest rear light I’ve ever seen. Peace of mind.

9. What did I forget to ask that you want to tell me about your bike?

My Kogswell setup is a bit different than most other bikes I ride with. The drivetrain has 44/28 chainrings and a 9-speed 11-34 cassette. For all but the very sharpest of grades, I’m using the 44 in front. This turns the bike into a 9-speed with a range of 33-104 gear inches using approximately 15% jumps. Shifts of less than 10% are just fiddling IMO.

When I climb, I like to suss out the grade early, make a shift- maybe two and then carry myself up the hill with whatever power is needed. I don’t like shifting mid-way on a hill and if I must, I certainly don’t want a little bitty shift.

I also prefer downtube shifters. They are lighter, less complicated and much easier to fix on the road. Their downside is shifting when climbing, which is no downside to me.

Aside: do we set up our bikes to function in a way that we like, or do we like to function according to the way in which our bikes are set up?

Last year I had a front rim blow-out from excessive rim wear. (rider is fine) I decided to have a new wheel built up around a Sturmey Archer generator/hub brake. It’s a very strange animal and one I’m still getting used to. It’s not the best at emergency stopping, but it allows for extremely consistent modulation during light braking. And, my rim should have a much longer life.

10. If your bike could talk, what is one thing it would say to you?

“Let’s see what’s up ahead.”

Bikes to Like: Christian M.’s Terraferma

This year I had the pleasure of meeting Christian, who completed his first Super Randonneur series in 2011. I came to know Christian through his bicycle. There was something about the creamy orange paint that caught my eye; it looked like a delicious orange pushup. Intrigued by the bike’s careful setup as well as the 650B tires, I asked to feature Christian’s bike and he kindly agreed. Here’s what he had to say about his bike.

1. What kind of bike do you have?

I have a Molteni Orange Terraferma 650B.

Christian and the Terraferma (c) Bill Beck

2. Why 650B?

I like to ride on dirt, gravel, and pavement all in the same ride. The wide but fast tire options and handling of a 650B make switching between all road surfaces really easy.

3. Where do you ride it?

I live in Charlottesville, Virginia and ride all around the area. We have a huge network of small county roads, both paved and unpaved. One ride I especially like leaves from my house and heads north and west into Albermarle County and then climbs up Simmons Gap, via rarely used dirt roads and then a short singletrack, to Skyline Drive.

4. What do you like about your bike?

Just about everything! It’s very stable at low and high speeds; the tires (42 red Hetres) really do seem to float along but also withstand a lot of punishment; the color; I love my Berthoud bag and homemade wingnut decaleur.

The Terraferma was made for this road!

5. If you had to describe your bike in one word, what would it be?


6. Fenders or no fenders?

Fenders: 50mm Berthoud stainless steel.

7. What is one of your favorite memories with this bicycle?

Being more than 200 miles into the Frederick 400k and realizing that this bike is really comfortable! It was the middle of the night somewhere and for whatever reason I thought to myself: “I’ve been on this bike for something like 20 hours and I still feel good and the bike wants to keep going.” At that moment I realized I had the right bike for me.

The Terraferma looks out onto the reservoir and the Blue Ridge (c) Christian M.

8. Does your bike have a name? If so, what is it?

Nope, no name.

9. What is your favorite accessory on your bike and why?

Hmmm? It would have to be my front rack/Berthoud bag/wingnut decaleur combo. The bag is more or less always on and is so convenient. I keep everything I need right up front. It holds everything I need and serves as a feed bag on long rides. It’s super stable on rough roads too.

10. What did I forget to ask that you want to tell me about your bike?

Mike Terraferma was great to work with; his bikes are still reasonably priced relative to other custom builders.

One last look at the beautiful Terraferma (c) Christian M.

11. If your bike could talk, what is one thing it would say to you?

Thank you for bringing me to life.

Thank you for bringing your bike to life, Christian, and for sharing a little bit about it on Chasing Mailboxes. See you on the road soon.

The Road Less Travelled 130K Populaire on the Rawland dSogn

Over the past weekend, Felkerino and I met up with fellow D.C. Randonneurs Chuck, Crista, and George to ride the recently approved Road Less Travelled Populaire.

This ride, designed by George Moore, totals 130K/83 miles, with approximately 60 percent of featuring unpaved roads. It starts in Haymarket, Virginia, and takes a blend of back roads and pavement to Purcellville, on to Middleburg (the heart of Loudoun County’s horse country), and back again to Haymarket.

Horse-drawn carriage near Middleburg

Felkerino and I thought a ride like this would be an excellent change of pace from the regular road riding we do. Because the course had so many unpaved sections, we decided to leave the tandem at home and ride single bikes. We readied up our 650B Rawland dSogns, threw some fatty rumpkin 40mm tires on the bikes, and headed out for a fun day in the country.

Felkerino and the Rawland

I had a blast riding my Rawland. While the beginning and ending miles of the route were mellow, the bulk of the ride felt pretty much like a perpetual roller coaster. Overall, the route has over 6,200 feet of climb in 83 miles.

Some of the climbs on the ride were steep, but with the Rawland’s mountain gearing I felt I could climb anything. Also, having done so much climbing on the tandem, the relative lighter weight of the Rawland made me feel speedy and strong. In reality, I was not speedy, but the Rawland made me feel like I was!

My Rawland and me

The 40mm tires gave me extra confidence on the hard-packed or sometimes gravelly downhills, as did the disc brakes. The brakes are so responsive on this bike that I have to be careful to not grab them to tightly. A little bit will usually do.

I had to pay extra attention on this ride, not only because I was steering for a change, but also because the road surfaces varied in quality and the patchy shadows cast over the roads in the tree-lined areas made the road more difficult to see. The minute I stopped paying attention I would inevitably dip my tire into a pothole.

Rawland dSogn, taking a break

The Road Less Travelled was the first ride of the season where I accepted that winter will actually arrive soon. Though the day’s temperatures rose into the 50s, we began pedaling while they were in the 30s. (I know, I know, that’s nothing compared to many other parts of the country right now. It’s all relative!)

The leaves on most of the trees had fallen, and many of the bright colors of fall had given way to varying shades of brown. The route was still picturesque, but I can only imagine how much more stunning it would be if ridden earlier in the fall, or during the green of spring and summer.

Bare trees and the long shadows of late fall

Felkerino and I did not race through this ride, but we did need to keep moving in order to finish within the mandated time limits. To see more pictures of what the ride offered, check out Felkerino’s photos here, and my small set here.

Like I said, it was great fun. We launched relatively close to D.C., started in daylight, finished in daylight, challenged our legs with the ups and downs of the route, and saw lots of “new” lovely areas just beyond those familiar paved roads. This excellent day on our Rawlands left me wanting to do more dirt road rides.

Bikes to Like: George M.’s Boulder Bicycle

For some randonneurs, 650B bikes are where it’s at. I’ll use my randonneur spouse (who is also my real-life) spouse as an example. He became enamoured of the notion of a 650B ride and used a 650B Rivendell Bleriot as his primary randonneuring bike for the 2007 brevets as well as Paris-Brest-Paris. For Felkerino, riding this 650B bicycle was, as he said, like riding along in a plush Cadillac.

Fellow D.C. Randonneur George M. recently acquired a lovely 650B Boulder Bicycle for his randonneuring adventures. I was intrigued by this bike, and particularly curious if it is up to all the Vintage Bicycle Quarterly hype that it has received. Thanks to George for being part of Bikes to Like so I could learn more about what makes his Boulder Bicycle tick!

George and his Boulder Bicycle

1. What kind of bike do you have?

In February, I received my first custom bike, a Boulder Bike from Rene Herse and Mike Kone. It was made by Waterford to Mike Kone’s specifications. It’s an “All Road” with 650B tires designed to be ridden on both paved and dirt roads.

2. Why a Boulder Bicycle?

First, I was looking for a wide-tired randonneuring bike to take to PBP. The Boulder Bike All-Road was nerly perfect for this, and had solid reviews from Bicycle Quarterly. Second, the price for a custom frame was very reasonable. Third, fairly rapid delivery was important to me; given that I’m 62, I couldn’t wait years for a PBP bike.

3. Where do you ride it?

Since I got it, I don’t want to ride my other bikes. I use it for everything from commuting and neighborhood rides, to club rides and brevets. I can easily take it on dirt and gravel roads to explore areas I couldn’t get to before.

Bike Only shot of the Boulder Bicycle

4. What do you like about your bike?

Beyond items mentioned already, I like comfort, aka wide tires; fit; clean lines; full fenders; cargo space up front; tradition and the way it looks.

5. If you had to describe your bike in one word, what would it be?


6. Fenders or no fenders?

Full 55 mm hammered Honjo fenders to cover the 42 mm wide Hetre tires.

7. Does your bike have a name? If so, what is it?

Yes, because of The Full rando setup, I call it Monty.

George and his PBP bike, the Boulder Bicycle

8. What is your favorite accessory on your bike and why?

I really don’t have one single “accessory” that is my favorite. What I like is the way the bike is designed to integrate the parts, having them work together as a whole.

9. What did I forget to ask that you want to tell me about your bike?

I’ve been surprised at how many people really like the bike. This includes random people walking on the street who gawk even when it’s parked, other randonneurs, other riders on bike trails who pull up alongside to talk, and even bike shop mechanics.

10. If your bike could talk, what is one thing it would say to you?

Let’s go.

Thank you, George, for sharing your Boulder Bicycle/PBP bike with us. That is one fine PBP bike!

P.S. George has a full set of photos featuring his bike that you can check out here.

Bikes to Like: Ritchie’s 1979 Austro-Daimler Vent Noir II

This year I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and riding with Ritchie, a D.C. Randonneur. The first time I saw Ritchie, I had to rub my eyes and take a second look to make sure he was real. He looked liked he might have stepped out of a time machine and somehow ended up on our ride. I later learned that he had not emerged from a time machine; he just embraces vintage treasure. Ritchie’s Austro-Daimler is one of those treasures, and I asked him to tell me more about it. 

The Austro-Daimler with Fenders (c) Pants Pants

1. What kind of bike do you have?

I have a 1979 Austro-Daimler Vent Noir II. That’s well-aged and lovingly lugged Reynolds 531 steel, baby! It’s one of the more unique products of the ’70s bike boom, which was marketed by its manufacturer, Steyr-Daimler-Puch, as being a European thoroughbred with no Asian parts. I’m still riding it with 100% of the original Campagnolo Nuovo Gran Sport Gruppo – right down to the seat post and pedals.

If you’re not familiar with Steyr-Daimler-Puch (And why would you be? It’s sooo defunct these days.) this was an Austrian manufacturing firm founded in the late 1800s that made everything from guns and mopeds to cars and beginning in 1901 … bikes!

Puch bikes spring from this same company, in fact there are Vent Noir IIs that boast Puch headbadges instead of Austro-Daimler. The company has a somewhat crazy, slightly nefarious lineage that weaves itself through the travails of early 20th century European history.

An excellent chronicle can be found here, and a catalogue page for the 1978 Vent Noir II is here.

2. Where do you ride it?

Generally I ride it any direction a Sunday might move me – around to museums, out to Old Town or Bethesda along the greenways, or on the roads outside of town. This isn’t my go-to commuter. I treat it a little better than that. But I will break it out if I’m running late and need to get to work fast on a sunny day.

Lately I have been putting it through its paces with some D.C. Randonneur brevets and a ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville, North Carolina. The bike has performed better on these rides than I have.

3. What do you like about your bike?

I friggin’ love the smoked chrome finish. This was a “secret” finish that Daimler deemed “unscratchable.” That might have been an exaggeration but it is tough stuff. This isn’t the sort of chroming they use for hubcaps and Bianchi Pistas – it’s not going to flake off. This is the chrome they use on aircraft engine crank cases. Serious business. It’s not as flashy as other chromes. Takes a minute to sink in. It’s subtle and understated, and I like that.

4. If you had to describe your bike in one word, what would it be?

Stealth. I’m no fan of the military-industrial complex, but on its more ingenious days it popped out a few machines of extremely sleek design, made of some truly wild materials. The B-2 stealth bomber springs to mind. When this bike is sailing along nearly silent and simultaneously seeming to absorb and reflect all light, it makes me feel all stealth bombery.

The Austro-Daimler, being stealth (c) Pants Pants

5. Fenders or no fenders?

That all depends on the weather forecast on my pocket-computer-phone-like-app-driven device. Regrettably this model year did not come with fender eyelets—or rack and water bottle braze-ons for that matter. (I know, WTF Heck?) But I like to keep things clean so I’ve rigged a set of SKS longboard fenders (the cream ones sold through Rivendell … but don’t cop my style) with some small P-clamps that fit snuggly just above the front and rear drop-outs. They are easy on and off, which lets me make game-day mudguard decisions.

6. Does your bike have a name? If so, what is it?

I haven’t anthropomorphized this bike yet, but the model name “Vent Noir” is French for “black wind.” And don’t think for a second that the coolness of riding the dark winds was lost on me. I do sometimes call the rear derailleur some choice names when it starts getting shi(f/t)ty on steep grades.

7. What is your favorite accessory on your bike and why?

Right now that would be the Ostrich handlebar bag and the very-handy Velo Orange rackaleur that allows me to carry it. While I respect minimalists and all that they do (or don’t do), I am not one of them. I find it nearly impossible to pack light. A featherweight carbon frame would be lost on me, because I would have 20 pounds of luggage hanging from its saddle.

That said, when my derailleur cage flies to bits in the middle of the road, I’m glad I have this big boxy bag. It’s filled with all the not-so essentials, like the tiny spanner I need to repair and carry on. Sometimes I feel like Mary Poppins with all I pull out of this bag, including the snacks that contain way more than a spoonful of sugar.

The Austro Daimler, bagged out (c) Pants Pants

8. What is your favorite photo of your bike/your bike and you?

I think this is the only one I have of us together, taken during a brief but wonderful flirtation with Grand Bois Hetres:

Ritchie and the Austro-Daimler with Hetres (c) Pants Pants

9. What about that 650B conversion? How does riding the bike as a 650B conversion compare to the 700C ride?

One of the many positive points of these older frames (along with a fresh and welcomed wave of new designs by companies like Rivendell, Velo Orange, and Soma) is the way they open themselves up to mechanical experimentation. They’re like cars before they went all computerized—easier to customize.

This frame has a generous chainstay clearance that begged me to try out my favorite wheel size, 650B. For the same reason that I like Brooks saddles and leather bar tape, I love the buttery smooth ride of 650B. And slapping on a set of Tektro 556 long-reach calipers is really all it takes to let me run any 650B tire up to the voluptuous and bouncy 42mm Grand Bois Hetres (with <1mm of clearance to spare).

But some days you want to slice across the road, rather than float. On those days I can be back on 700c road skinnies in just 15 minutes.

650B Conversion (c) Pants Pants

10. What about that camera case??

Ritchie. Vintage jersey and camera case.

If I love any pastime as much as riding, it’s photography. For shooting while riding, my weapon of choice is the tiny but sharp Canon s95. It has all the dressings of a big juicy SLR turkey stuffed inside an itty-bitty quail body.

Unfortunately a tiny camera is tough to hold onto while you’re pedaling, so I found a vintage-looking leather case made for Canons that lets me keep the camera hung safely around my neck at all times. Just search “Canon s95 leather case” on the Bay, and you can find one super cheap (probably a knock-off, but hey) that will arrive—literally—on a slow boat from China.

11. What did I forget to ask that you want to tell me about your bike?

Well, while you’re not asking, this actually isn’t my first Vent Noir II. The first one came with a seat post so epically seized that it became my Excalibur. Unfortunately that sword is still in the stone, but that is a long (and educational) tale of trial and error that I’ll leave for another day.

Thanks for the beautiful pics and story of your bicycle. I had no idea the parts were all original! Also, Ritchie has an excellent flickr photostream that includes a couple of our D.C. Randonneurs rides. Check it out here

New Bike! Rawland dSogn

Felkerino’s Rawland

Felkerino liked his Rawland dSogn so much, he bought and built me one, too!

Today Felkerino and I took my new ride on its maiden voyage. I love it! This is my first bike with 650B tires and disc brakes.

My new Rawland dSogn

First impressions: I love the feel! Maybe it’s because I wasn’t carrying around panniers, but the dSogn feels responsive and zippy. Can’t wait to really dial it in and take it off-road, where is where it really deserves to be ridden.

Rawland, Rawland, and Felkerino

Now we have matching bikes. Little by little, all our dreams are coming true, ha ha!