I have this view frequently: a long flat, gravel country road, under a portentous sky, with my riding partners ahead of me some distance, engaged in a conversation I cannot hear. That I am consistently behind the lead doesn’t bother me: I blame it on my riding ability (not my age) and the narrow tires that make riding on gravel unstable and exciting. My stalwart touring bike, however, doesn’t feel comfortable grinding on the back roads of Alberta. To address these problems, I am going to attempt to build a bike—not from scratch but piece by piecemeal over the winter—to ride on gravel roads.
I have the mechanical aptitude of a primate; I can poke a bike with a wrench, but the sum total of my knowledge does not exceed changing a tire (I struggle with the back tire). Building a bike should address everything I need to know about a bike. I have access to the tools (provided I bring some scotch) and an erudite mentor to guide me.
The inspiration for this project comes from perceived necessity and from Robert Penn’s It’s All about the Bike. This book recounts Penn’s construction of a bike. He details travelling the world in search of the best components for his bespoke bike. I plan to tour the internet, mail order the parts, and assemble over the winter.
I hope not to create some “Franken bike” like the one I saw in the National cycling museum in Saint-Étienne, France; rather, like Penn, I will start with the frame and build up from there. The project will keep the grease on my hands and my mind on spring cycling. An aging cyclist in prime summer condition, heading into a foreboding winter, I don’t want my connection to cycling to diminish this year.