29 August 2010

Hello Helene!

Today I took my third and, so far, longest ride on my Miss Mercian.  

I took a route I've pedalled a number of times before on my other two Mercians and on at least a couple of other bicycles.  But this is the first time I did that ride, which is about 45 miles, on a women's/mixte frame.

From my apartment, I rode over the Queensborough/59th Street Bridge to Manhattan.  Then, I rode up the East Side to East Harlem, where I cut across to West Harlem and continued up to Washington Heights and the George Wahsington Bridge.  Then, I rode along the top of the Palisades from Fort Lee to just north of Jersey City, where I pedalled down to the waterfront.  The docks where a young Marlon Brando pouted and glowered are long gone; now tall condominium towers mute the gazes of children in the park at the base of those buildings.  

Still, there is something I rather like about the light there.  Perhaps it is its consistency:  Whether I am playing chicken with the rain or tag with the sun, everything there always seems tinged with shades of metal, in particular the kind of titanium gray that refracts into gunmetal blues that can turn almost anything from lilac to aqua.  I find it oddly comforting, even soothing.

From there, I rode some less picturesque parts of town to Bayonne, where I rode across the bridge that bears the town's name to Staten Island and the Ferry named after it.

I must say, I was surprised at both the comfort and responsiveness of the bike.  I expected both, though more of the former, as Miss Mercian's geometry is slightly less agressive than that of my other two Mercians.  However, the bike doesn't accelerate quite as quickly as either Arielle or Tosca.  Again, that was something I expected, and even wanted. 

Before today's ride, I switched the tires.  I had a pair of Paselas that, I think, were mis-labelled:  They are marked 700 X 32 C, but they seemed slightly narrower than the 700 X 28C Continental Grand Prix Four-Season tires on my other two Mercians.  The rims could not have accounted for the difference:  I have Mavic Open Pros on all three bikes.  Still, I like the response of the Paselas, so I might try them on either of the other two Mercians when the Contis wear out.

Today  I rode another Panaracer tire:  the RiBMo (I hate the acronym!)  700x35.  It weighs about one and a half times as much as the Paselas, which are about 20 grams heavier than the Contis.  I'm sure they added to the stability of the bike if they took away a bit of its responsiveness.  Since the Miss Mercian is not going to be my "speed machine", I don't mind that. Plus, I think they look more appropriate than the skinnier tires on MM.  So, I think I'm going to keep them on the bike, at least for now.

Speaking of looks:  Check out the way the top tube is joined to the seat tube.

This bike is going to be a lot of fun and will look very  stylish doing it.   And, with her fenders, porteur bars and other accessories, she has a bit of a French accent even if she's English. I've decided to name her Helene.   


  1. Awesome looking bike. I do love the color too.

    What kind of brake levers and handlebars are those, if you don't mind me asking? I know just enough about equipment and components to be dangerouse. :)

  2. Oh wow, nice! I love the way the top tube connects to the seat tube, especially the white outlining.

    Your stem must be super long given where the ends of the bars end up. Mine is 10mm and the bars sweep back further. To my surprise, my mixte handles better with a 10mm stem than it did with the 6mm I initially tried. Now I wonder whether I should have gone with 12mm!

    Have you decided yet whether you are keeping the Guidonnets? If not, I am curious which set up you are considering instead.

  3. Janice and Velouria: Thank you! It's always exhilarating to get a new bike. It's especially so for me now, because Helene is the first really nice mixte I've had and she's the first new bike in my new life.

    Velouria: I still need to ride a bit more before I decide. I had thought about using bar-end brake levers. But that would have precluded using bar-end shifters. I agree with what you said in your post about shifters mounted to the bar. To that I would add that I find most of them a bit awkward to use. I don't like stem shifters, either, and I don't think I could use them on this bike anyway. If I get rid of the guidonnets, I guess I could use a downtube shifter with the bar-end brake levers. Or I could use regular city levers. But either of those options would give me fewer usable handlebar positions than I have now, which is what I like about the guidonnets.

    Janice: Where in GA are you? I was born in Albany. But I was there for only the first seven months of my life. My father was stationed there with the Air Force, and when his tour of duty finished, we moved to NY, which is where my mother and father had spent all of their lives prior to my father's military service.

  4. I'm in a suburb just north of Atlanta.

    I'd never seen guidonnet brake levers before. Right after I saw yours I saw them again in a couple of places. :)

    I just ordered some city levers to play with converting an old Cannondale touring bike into more of a city bike. We'll see how that goes.

  5. Velouria: I like longish stems on my bike. A longer stem makes for more sensitive steering, and thus more control over the bike. Consequently, that means I have my bikes built with short top tubes.

    The reason why I like this arrangement is that it allows me to ride an "old school" fit (which I find more comfortable), in which the seat tube and frame size are determined by height and leg length. I have rather long legs (Whenever I'm fitted for a bike, the person fitting always comments on that.) and short arms for someone my height.

  6. Any suggestions of where can I read up more about the old school vs new school fit? I have heard lectures about this from several people now, including a retired professional racer.

    And I also have long legs with a short torso and shorter-than average arms, which makes fitting interesting!

  7. Velouria: I don't know of a single source where you can read about old school vs. new school. To learn more about old school fitting, look at some of the bicycle guides and books that were published before the late 1980's. They include "Effecive Cycling" by John Forester, the C.O.N.I (Italian cycling federation) guide, and John Allen's "The Custom Bicycle." Newer methods of frame fitting are easy to find on the internet.

    I misled you a bit by saying "old school" vs. "new school." Old-school fitting emphasized the standover height of the bike, but there are variations (such as the "fistful of seatpost" axiom) within it, while newer methods put more emphasis on top tube lengths. As with old school, there are a number of variations on new school fit.

    I lean toward old school, partly because I rode a lot of bikes fitted that way, and because it seems to work for me because I have more leg than torso--and rather short arms. Not to steer you toward one way or another, but I think you and I are similar in that sense.

    If your bike allows you to ride the way you want in the level of comfort you like, ride it and don't worry about what is recommended by one method or another!

  8. Stand over height and "fistful of seat post" fit have more to do with horizontal top tubes rather than the sloping tubes that we see more these days, don't they?

  9. True, Janice. The "fistful of seatpost" notion really is not doable if the bike has a sloping seat tube.