Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween everyone!

Hope you get more treats than tricks. As for us, we're going on a rumpus tonight!

Wild Things

Monday, October 19, 2009

"XO" stands for hugs and kisses.

I should know better - not long ago I thought to myself that I wouldn't want or need to buy another bike for a while. I was happy with the bikes I had, I decided, and short of spending $1500+ on a new bike I didn't think there was anything out there I wanted. Famous last words, of course.

Sure enough, a bike I had always drooled over, the Bridgestone XO-1, popped into my life. Someone was selling the frame and fork for an affordable amount, and I decided that opportunities like this are rare enough and plunked down the cash. I spent a while sourcing some decent but inexpensive components, and now have the bike I never really thought I'd have the chance to own.

Please stay on trail

Other websites do a good job explaining what the XO-1 is all about, and why it has such a cult status today, but it's important to remember that this is a bike that was not at all popular in its day, and, in my opinion, likely contributed to Bridgestone pulling out of the US bicycle market.

In the late eighties and early nineties, Bridgestone USA was run by the eccentric Grant Petersen, who made it clear that his focus was on "everyday" riding. In this market where the newest and shiniest sold best, Petersen's Bridgestones, with their lugged steel frames, friction shifting, cotton handlebar tape, rigid forks, and fat squishy tires, seemed out of place.

Suntour Barcons

There were a few fanatical owners of the Bridgestone RB and MB series, who called themselves BOBs, or members of the Bridgestone Owner's Bunch. There was a BOB list, a newsletter that came out that had wonderful articles on setting up bikes, camping, and all sorts of "Bobbish" things. The bikes actually lent themselves well to a wide series of tasks, in that you could ride a rough road on even their raciest bike, and ride a road-oriented tour on their mountain bikes. In the end there just weren't enough BOBs to stay in business.

The XO-1 is perhaps the best and brightest symbol of this. Instead of the popular "hybrid" bicycles of the day, Petersen designed the XO series around a lightweight Ishiwata steel-tubed road frame with fast but comfortable geometry, gave it clearance for wide 26" tires, and designed a new do-everything handlebar, the Moustache, to go with it. Reviewers of the day blasted the bike to pieces, saying it was unfit for anything, from roads to trails, and the handlebars were the worst of all worlds, poor ergonomics and ugly to boot. They sold poorly for two years, and when Bridgestone pulled out of the US market in 1994, its dealers were left with many 1993 XO-1s to get rid of, many times for fire sale prices. As Petersen himself was heard to say about the demise of Bridgestone, "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down."

Moustache Bars

With all this going against it, it's hard to see why the XO-1 is so popular after the fact. It may be that the market has come around to seeing things the Petersen way, and it may be that the roughly 2000 XO-1s produced in 1992 and 1993 are rare enough to warrant cult status. In any case, the bike is odd, versatile, and fun to ride, which makes it right up my alley. I have the 1992 version, which has caliper instead of cantilever brakes, and is pearlescent white instead of the 1993 pumpkin orange color. I plan on using it for cyclocross, trails, and commuting - all of which it looks like it will do well at.

If you're interested in more of the history of Bridgestone USA, Sheldon Brown put together a great page with lots of reading material, including copies of the old BOB Gazettes, which contain incredible reading material about all things to do with the "retro-grouch" lifestyle. And take heart for Grant Petersen, as he began his own bicycle company, Rivendell, and it is still going strong, producing durable, classy, and versatile steel bikes in the vein of the best Bridgestone models.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Walk through the Woods

Scott Woods, to be exact, in Lansing. These were taken a couple weeks ago with my Mamiya Super 23, a giant camera that takes great photos but is a bit slow to work with. No matter, it's worth it. I may go back out to this spot today and see how the leaves have changed the view.



All the Leaves

The Red Stain

Monday, October 12, 2009

Call me Mr. Big Shot

I've gone on before about the camera I'd like to buy for my next digital camera, and it looks as though I'm going to have to commit to a new one pretty soon. My sister has gotten a bit of the photography bug recently, and she wanted to buy a dSLR, so I sold her my Canon outfit. It has been a great camera for me, and the shots I've gotten have been perfectly fine for what I wanted, but it was a large setup. Too large for riding around with - if I packed it in my Velo Orange saddlebag, it took up all the space inside.

So I sold it to her, but the camera(s) I'm interested in are not actually available as of yet, so if I want to do any fall color photography, it will have to be on film. It's probably a good thing actually - even just yesterday I decided to break out the Mamiya Super 23 again and shoot some 6x9 rollfilm. The Fuji slidefilm I have in there should do just fine for the fall colors, and I always choose my shots better when they each cost about $2. My wife is convinced I like this camera just because of the reaction it gets out of people when I bring it with me, and I'm certain that's part of the attraction. It's hard not to notice someone with such a strange and gigantic camera.

The downside to liking large cameras

The other cameras I love to use in fall are pctured above - the Polaroid 110A I have converted to packfilm, and my SX70. I still have a few shots of SX70 film left, and what better time of year to use them, really. Finally I'll probably be shooting with my Stereo Realist quite a bit. I've been slow to embrace the 3d photos, but now that I've gotten the hang of the camera, it has begun to grow on me. It's fun to bring a stereo viewer to family meetings and camera club meetings, and show slides I've taken with it. There's certainly a wow factor to it. Just wish I could share the photos easier online.

Afternoon Dog Walker

So for at least the foreseeable future, I'll be lugging around even bigger cameras than I'm used to. It will be a nice change of pace, I think.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Tweed Ride Grand Rapids

I believe this was Michigan's first Tweed ride, at least in the last 90 years or so. As we rolled into Grand Rapids the picture was bleak, with periods of downpour and rain showers. Nonetheless, we mounted our bikes and rode over to the Winchester to meet whoever was brave enough to show up. The rain began to lessen as we neared the pub, giving us a bit of hope.

It turned out that a couple of guys from the British Bicycles of Chicago (BBC) came out to support the ride. The rain had scared off some of the less committed, but we still had a solid 10 well-dressed riders. The Winchester provided the warmth we needed for the ride, and the Sun came out to provide a beautiful backdrop at last.

We set off on a light cruise around downtown Grand Rapids, and I was struck by just how nice the city is. It's small, but the buildings are an interesting mix of old and new, the streets are in decent shape, there is bike parking, and the current Artprize contest has brought a lot of interesting art to the downtown area. Just riding around the city was a great way to spend the afternoon.

As expected, our group drew a lot of attention from curious onlookers. Many people stopped us to ask if we were part of Artprize, or what we were riding for. One of them lectured us about how none of us were wearing helmets, telling a story about how she had once hurt herself pretty badly while wearing a helmet. We smiled, nodded, and continued on our way.

Eventually we ended up at the Ritz Koney Island, a bar/ Coney combo. Amanda, the organizer, tried to prepare us by saying how it was a bit of a dump, and kind of dull. Turns out it's a great spacious pub with a good jukebox that just happens to serve delicious hot dogs and brats. She really undersold it. After copious libations we packed it in, and headed home. Despite the small turnout we had a great time, and can't wait to do it again.