Paul Flemming

Writing on Two Wheels

Writing on Two Wheels
Missouri Showme
And furthermore...
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A from-the-wheels-up view of rides, builds and fixes.

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Sunday, October 21, 2018

Capitol-ism: Intracity touring

Day 4

Tuesday, June 5

Start: Jackson

End: Jackson

Counties: One (Hinds)

Miles: 8 on the day, 125 overall

Time out on the bike: 51 minutes on the day; 15 hours, 33 minutes overall

Today is tour day. We are in the capital of Mississippi, a place I associate most with a long night of intemperate drinking with a high school friend a dozen years after we graduated Glendale High School.. I’d gone through a job interview earlier in the day. I was freshly divorced from my first wife and traveling with the woman who would become my second. It was the 20th century. I viewed Jackson then through Welty-tinted glasses and the bottoms of a Faulknerian serving of alcohol.

I did not get the job. Thank goodness.


This day I am much more sober, much better rested, somewhat less at loose ends. We rise at our leisure and check our bags with the valet. The tandem I stow, with the assistance of the valet, in a locked closet within the parking garage adjacent to the hotel. This service is available after I slip a Jackson to the valet. It means the lock I lug around in the panniers is merely useless weight I am pedaling across the state to build muscle.

I bring my raincoat, though it won’t be used today or on the week.

I am thankful for all the things we have with us and do not use. They all represent bad things not happening. No rain. No power-drained electronics. No stolen bicycles. No mechanical breakdowns. No injuries.

There are places to go today, but not by long pedaling. We live in a capital city. We like to visit capital cities. I take pleasure when we wander around in the public buildings, gawk at the portraits of dead white men I don’t know from periods of American history I do.


So here we have George Poindexter, governor of Mississippi when the Missouri Compromise was enacted by the U.S. Congress. And there is William McWillie, resident in the Governor’s Mansion when Dred Scott was decided. There were other governors depicted with names less evocative of traveling circus sideshow freaks. In another building, more dead white men preside from the walls, including Chief Justice Harvey McGehee, who sat atop the judicial heap in Mississippi during the entirety of Harry Truman’s administration on through to LBJ’s election – that covers some seriously troubled times in the arc of race relations and awesome constitutional tumult. Chief Justice McGehee died, age 78, in Yazoo City six months after I was born in New Orleans.


Do we build grand public buildings any longer? Is there any interest in beauty, in trying too hard, in extravagant spending on gold foil and marble columns, on brass fittings and cut glass? Mississippi’s old Capitol is lovely. Charming women, volunteers, greet us when we walk in. We have the run of the place, pretty much, and chat up legislative staffers stationed behind desks right out in the echoing expanses of the rotunda, each on their respective chambers’ sides. I try to drum up a bit of fellow feeling among civil servants, but get only discussions of relative humidity as experienced here in Jackson versus our Tallahassee home. The Legislature is not in session. Statute books haphazardly line the walls of legislative committee rooms, as if staffers regularly run over to do a little research mid-hearing. Misshapen rugs cover up tangled audio and computing cables.

A new-ish Supreme Court building juts elevated from grade to the north – this is clearly the work of a security committee – and its stark Greek revival boxiness surrounds an interior layout that began by accommodating magnetometers, moved on to the orderly flow of people being searched and scanned, and proceeded thence to warm hardwood walls very possibly containing spaces used by real human life forms. The dramatically arced courtroom seems to ache for a corner where none exists. Instead, acoustic engineers and white-balance videographers won all the arguments, including a requirement the windows – a heinous concession to bad audio and washed out images to begin with – be covered by sound-dampening and light-blocking shutters at all times.

Oral arguments are scheduled after lunch. A judicial assistant, or deputy clerk, nervously asks after our business and hastily, ungraciously, encourages us to go elsewhere and instructs us to not disturb anything at all before we do.


We amble around and about, remarking on the unremarkable Eudora Welty Public Library, a building beneath the beauty of her prose. We circle around the gallery of Mississippi’s Hall of Fame, a collection of chosen worthies, elected during a quinquennial vote of the Board of Trustees of the Department of Archives and History. They actually use that word: quinquennial.

There are nice portraits of William Faulkner and Miss Welty.

We hoof back to a spot behind the supreme court building, chow up a burger and fries, and head back to the hotel. In mid-afternoon we pedal in street clothes 8 miles out past the city limits into the beginnings of the flight pattern. The motel where we stayed was 100 meters from Interstate 55 and 120 meters from a Cracker Barrel. That is a story for tomorrow, recounting a long ride of joy and ease.

More pizza and sports viewing this evening in the demographic shadow of the county line, the urban flight sprawl of the north. This night, Florida State University’s softball team wins the national championship.

Hip, hip.

Sun, October 21, 2018 | link          Comments

Friday, October 5, 2018

Notes from Ye Olde Bike Shoppe

A quick aside, exploring action in Ye Olde Bike Shoppe. A brief nothing, if you will, interrupting the utter absence of anything else.


I am giving the Cloud Bike an extreme makeover. It’s a concession to old age – both mine and the machine’s. It’s a minor expansion of the variety of rides in the barn, adding a touring-outfitted bicycle with racks and wider gearing. It is the single-rider answer to the current setup of the tandem, with the added rear racks and spring makeover of its own.  

Here’s the greatest thing about bicycles: These machines really extend the range of travel a person can achieve under her own power, opening broad horizons while maintaining an intimate connection to the passing landscape. This is especially so on the nation’s network of paved roads, the vast majority of which see very little motorized traffic. There are thousands of miles of paved roads in the United States that are the functional equivalent of bike paths. They are better than bike paths, because other motorists treat intersections with them as cause for attention and care, an approach not exhibited along bike trails. Nor are actual roads – the legal, moral, and common-sensical purview of the cyclist – as monotonous or fraught with two-legged peril as bike trails. It’s cool to be able to go so far so swiftly on nothing more than my legs.


I did this building up the Cannondale frame of the Cloud Bike 24 years ago and now I’m more deliberate, now I have a straight job, and now the quality of technology and manufacture is far beyond the state of the art a quarter century ago.

Here’s the thing about the crankset of the new stuff: The graphics are atrocious. The typography is an abomination. The technobabble promotional tripe is beyond redemption. How else can you account for “Ultra Torque System” and “ESP Actuation System” nightmarishly etched into the alloy of the cranks mere inches apart. I mean, really. Individually, those phrases are without merit. Together, it’s a pattern of felony misuse of the language.

Then there’s this from the Campagnolo website, featuring a trademark and registered mark-rich paragraph of condescending nothingness masquerading as consumerist egalitarianism.

“Athena™ is the first 11 speed groupset with a silver finish, made for riders who expect state-of-the art performance from a Campagnolo® 11 speed groupset but without the high cost of the pro level groups. Technology, innovation, style and class are now available to all Campagnolo® enthusiasts.”


Point being there are negative aspects to the design elements ancillary to the new componentry. Granted.

But, by golly, it sure is pretty. Of course it is.

And it is almost certainly going to ride better, more smoothly and efficiently – ultimately providing a more satisfying ride while extending the effective range of the pedal-er. This still needs full road testing, but initial returns show promise. The fit will be a bit different and improved, with a higher-set saddle atop a longer seatpost. The hand-me-down but decades younger wheelsets are both strength appropriate as well as a significant upgrade to lower rolling resistance.

The aforesaid gearing lowers the chainring denominator to 39, a reduction from the 42 on the original iteration of the Cloud Bike. The top-end, which is to say the lowest gear ratio, of the cassette also makes the pedaling easier. The compact chainrings match with the new-fangled 11-cog cassette. This means a double chainring provides more gearing options – 22 versus 21 – than the old-school triple chainring setup, along with less gear-ratio duplication.

This means there is a better chance I’ll be able to pedal up inclines on a loaded bicycle.


The engineering of the chainrings and cogs and chain and Ergo levers and derailleurs and the cables all serve to make for smother rotation, shifting, and rolling. I believe it will run silent and solid, smooth and steady, silky and straight. All this makes it easier to forget about the bike, to zip along on a freewheeling downhill coast or to pedal effortfully, slowly, grindingly upward while focusing only on the wind or the sweat or the light or the ache or anything else besides the bicycle.

Which is ironic.

Fri, October 5, 2018 | link          Comments

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