Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Flèche 2013 - Café Loiterers

Last year, I tried to convince my Flèche teammates to do the Provincetown to Portland Flèche on fixed. It was a perfect fixed route, I said, but the Misguided Angels were having none of that.

As the night and day wore on, they all seemed to agree that it really was a fixie-friendly route, and next year would be a fixed year.

In the meantime, I had started lusting after a new belt-drive fixed gear bike.

Ride Studio Cafe has definitely figured out how to hook me. They just get me to take a bike out for a test ride. I will eventually buy one or two. Yes this is part 2 of Franken-bike.

After testing that belt-drive bike in fixed mode last summer, I had to have one. Near the end of the test week, after repairing a puncture, I noticed that my hands were clean. Then after fixing a flat on our disk-equipped tandem, I made a similar comment about having clean hands, and somehow decided a disk-equipped belt-drive fixie would be great - for clean hands. Well, if you read the diverged post, you know that I eventually designed the most versatile do everything bike imaginable, but then came to the conclusion that it was just a bit over the top, and really wouldn't be perfect for anything. So I ripped the spec sheet in half and made two bikes - one the Honey All Roads bike with gears, chain, derailleurs and disks that would tackle all my favorite dirt road climbs and descents, and the other, based on the Seven Café Racer, a simple lightweight belt-drive fixie, with enough clearance for cushy tires, and a special configuration for hill-climb races. And while the goal is to try to keep it light and simple, I could add fenders and lights and bags for the odd brevet or Flèche.  Giving me loads of time to get it set up, my Seven Cycles belt-drive fixie was delivered a week before this year's Flèche!

The belt is one piece, so the frame has to come apart.

I had initially planned to use an eccentric bottom bracket and vertical dropouts to accommodate the disk brakes and make wheel removal with fenders easier. When I eliminated the disks, I also opted out of the eccentric, forgetting about the fenders! Leaving out the eccentric makes things lighter, but more awkward for fenders. The fender quick releases, intended for the front fender, make things a little easier. 

More details to come on the hill-climb configuration in a future post. I chose a 4 bolt crank so I could use small or medium size front pulleys

One of the things I was most impressed with last summer was the ease of saddle swaps on the Seven seat post. Budget-be-dammed, I had to have that seat post.

RSC has told on me! The standard model is the Café Racer, but clearly mine had to be a Café Loiterer. I was the only rider so invested in the team name!

The bike even came with a homing device, so I would always be able to find coffee!
To get it into Flèche mode, I added fenders, bags, and lights, along with lots of reflective stuff
I swapped in my generator wheel, and installed a brand new B&M Luxos "U" light, with the ability to charge/run my GPS during the day - more on this light in a later post.

Seven modified a chain-tensioner to work with the fender/rack eyelets. It sure is nice to have Seven Cycles right down the street!

So armed with a brand new bike, practically covered in magic-faerie dust, I was Flèche-ready. Sadly all the former Misguided Angels bailed this year. Young families come with obligations, and getting away for not just the event, but all the training can be tough. That knocked out Norm and David. Then Dena, apparently confused riding fixed, with being fixed, or maybe she was just was so envious of Norm and David's young families, that she decided to start one herself! Well, I'm happy for her. Really. No I am. Well, maybe jealous that the little dude will be getting the attention I used to!

Fortunately Gary and Chris, with whom Dena and I rode the first half of Green Mountain Double last year, had contacted us earlier in the year to ask about riding together on a few events this season, like the Flèche and GMD. At the time, Dena was coy about her impending motherhood, since she hadn't yet broken the news to me. Still, we both responded enthusiastically about riding with the lads, although possibly to soften the blow later, Dena mentioned a few potential conflicts, like a possible move. Dena's rotten husband can't find a job locally and may be dragging her off to Madison, Wisconsin of all places. Still I knew this wasn't to happen until many months after the Flèche, so I wasn't worried until that day I got an email with an attachment.  It was a sonogram! Let me just say that if this is how you are going to tell your best friend that you can't ride a Flèche because you are pregnant, that you should include a note to swallow before opening the attachment. It took me several minutes to clean the coffee spray off my phone!

Anyway, this made us a team of three. We tried to find a fourth, but maybe the prospect of riding 262 miles on fixed through night and day, just didn't help us with the recruiting. That's OK. Three is enough for a team.

I tried to tweak the route a bit to get rid of the busy highway in NH from last year, and make use of the shuttle to get across the river between Portsmouth and Kittery. Amazingly it added mileage to stay closer to the coast, so I cut out some distance by having us finish a few miles shy of Portland. I also made a critical error in picking some busier roads around Boston. But I've gotten ahead of myself.

First order of business was to get to the start, which involved a very urban ride from my place in Watertown to the Ferry Terminal downtown. Oh, I was suddenly reminded how bad this was last year. It was the most stressful part of the whole ride! But we made it in time, got our tickets and boarded the ferry. Gary and Chris live way out in Western Massachusetts - well, actually near I-495, which to us city folk is the same thing. I commend them for coping so well with the city traffic and chaos at rush hour!

We survived the ride in to the ferry terminal

Bikes are secured on the ferry

First control for Café Loiterers

A little nighttime riding!
The riding along the cape in the wee hours was amazing, and flew by. After a quick refueling stop just past the Sagamore Bridge, we hit one of the adventurous parts of the route, a long stretch of dirt on Old Sandwich Road. The Angels had nixed this road the previous year, but Chris and Gary didn't know any better. Fortunately they were still in a good humor, as the dirt stretch was the worst washboard I've ever ridden over. I joked at one point that they could probably kill me and bury me out there, and it would take ages for anyone to become wise to it. Chris must have been thinking about it already, because he commented that the road was actually too well travelled to get away with it!

The disadvantage of being ahead of schedule is your control may not yet be open

Fortunately we found a 24 hour CVS a short ways away - with an awesome breakfast!
Our route took us right past my house in Watertown, so I stopped to ditch some of my warmer clothing. I was quite surprised to find John there. His team, BEARD! Beard and Bayley, had encountered a showstopper mechanical, when BEARD! had a rim blow apart - fortunately without injury. The rescue vehicle brought them back home. John got some sleep, before attempting to chase down the Loiterers, and then show up for brunch. I was sad that they'd had trouble, but happy to have a photographer for a few miles. Seems I'm not so good at navigating, riding fixed and taking photos on the move!

Temps rose inland, but it was still a bit chilly near the coast

Chris and Gary

The 22 hour control at Seed and Bean in W. Kennebunk, ME

Response to the question of would I do this again next year. This was my eighth. I now deny this conversation ever took place!

Not a sign you see very often

We took in lots of dirt along the way, including a section with lots of washboard in the dark near Plymouth. The Eastern Trail in Maine was sublime!

Fenders did a great job warding off any precipitation

Café Loiterers complete

Final distance. 421.4 km!

On the way to brunch

Parking at brunch. The bikes near the pole don't need locks!
Did I mention that Gary had taken his first fixed gear ride ever just a few weeks prior - on a used bike that I sold him! Chris had a single speed that he fixed for the occasion. They are both hooked now. Fixie Pixie, the fixie pusher strikes again!

Our multi-modal ride was completed with a train journey back to Boston and a final bike ride home.

The Flèche is my favorite event. You ride as a team, working together for a common goal. You get to pick your start time and route and places to stop. We made the most of multi-modal travel - bike, ferry, bike, shuttle, bike, train, bike. We had all sorts of roads: busy urban, busy bike path, quiet main roads, quiet bike path, quiet suburban, washboard dirt, quiet urban, hidden bike path bridges, busy urban, scarified just-the-day-before pavement, busy beachfront, flat roads, steep hills, dirt roads, dirt bike path and paved bike path. We had great coffee shops, closed coffee shops and, amazingly, no clerk seemed shocked when we asked them to sign our cards. The brunch was fabulous. The camaraderie from my teammates and the other teams was wonderful. I will be back!


  1. How do you keep the Garmin powered for the duration of the fleche? dyno-hub, extra battery?

  2. The answer was hidden away in one of the photo captions! I used a Luxos "U" light, powered by a Schmidt generator. This brand new light allows one to charge/run a USB device when the light is off. I just got the light a few days before the event, so out of paranoia, I did also carry my IGO battery, which I can use to run my 705 for a 600km. I ran the GPS at night with this battery, and then used the generator during the day. Now that I've proved it all works, I wouldn't have both. I will be posting about both of these solutions in coming weeks.

  3. Ah, this brings back memories from last year... Riding two by two through the night on Cape Cod, being chilled to the bone after the first stop and praying for steep uphills, the culture shock of urban coffeehouses after the quiet night, the terror of Metro North drivers, the horror of "Live Free or Die" highways, the utter relief of finding food when we most needed it, and the joy of peaceful riding through Maine.

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  5. Hi Pam,

    Got a glimps of your new bike and a cool ride report. Two birds in one stone. This is why I keep on coming back. That Luxo U looks like a useful device indeed.

    Oh, by the way, what kind of gear ratio (or equivalent) are you running on the Seven fixie?

    James Chang

    1. The gearing on the Loiterer is 50/19 with 700X30 tires.

  6. I have a question concerning the belt drive. Is there at all a feeling of "give" to the belt, or is it as resistant under load as a chain?

    1. The belt feels rock solid and stable. No mush. And have I mentioned recently that it's quiet! And clean!

    2. I would love a chance to work on a belt drive at the LBS, but I've yet to spot one in the wild. The clean aspect is very attractive, as I "mysteriously" seem to get assigned the bikes that need rear wheel/chain work. mmmgreasy.

      Awesome ride report, btw.

    3. I'm also very curious about your feelings w/ regard to belt drives. Would you put one on your 'everyday' bike, if you have such a thing :) My frame allows for switching to a belt drive configuration and it's seriously temping!! Just looks so beautiful and appropriate on yours.

    4. Yes, I think a belt is perfect for a commuter, if that's what you mean by everyday bike. No need to lube. No rusty chain to pry off at the end of winter!

      I have been intrigued by these since they first showed up as tandem timing belts. Sadly, it does require a special modification to the frame or I would have switched to a belt long ago.

  7. It looks like one bike didn't have a dynamo hub - is that true?

    The Cafe Loiterer looks like an amazing bike. I saw your All Road at the Diverged ride. The two bicycle solution seems like a much better idea than a bike that could do everything. Plus you have gears for the very steep dirt road rides that you enjoy. You make the ride sound like great fun.

  8. Yes, one rider was using battery lights. He had bought the dyno-wheel, but hadn't acquired the lights yet. I would have loaned him a light, but I didn't find this out until we were leaving. Battery lights have improved so much in recent years, that they both last long enough and are bright enough for an event like this. In fact, I've used battery lights several times on this event in the past. Once things calm down a bit - with rides, I'll do an update to the lights article and include some info on battery lights. But it's such a rapidly moving target...

  9. I just had a moment in my house! I was at the Dirty Kanza last night & I thought to myself..."that looks like Pamela. The Wonder Woman Lovely Bicycle is always talking about & whose blog I just started reading. Then I get online tonight & see that the Blayley's were at the Dirty Kanza. I am kicking myself for not trusting my gut. It was lovely to see you from afar. I hope you had a great time.