Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Call of the Wild

Why would a died-in-the-wool-jersey roadie, who rode this racing bike in 1980 (the royal blue version in the box)...

and this racing bike in 2010....

... be spending the last two weeks obsessing about a heavy, fat-tired bike, with geometry so relaxed it can handle pavement, dirt, gravel, and even single-track? Oh, yes! And featuring -- shudder -- disc brakes??

It's a long story.

I went to my LBS -- Hampshire Bicycle Exchange, a great shop and a subject for another post -- a few weeks ago looking for the fattest tires that would fit my Giant OCR 3, so I could turn it into a little more of a dirt-road bike. No luck; the best I could fit were 25 mm tires, barely wider than road racing tires.

While I was there, the owner, Chris, planted a seed. He's a enthusiastic fan (and dealer) of the fun, unique bikes Salsa have been making out in Minnesota for a number of years, and he personally owns one of the earliest examples of their Vaya, the roughneck bike described above. He suggested that perhaps I was trying to make an orange out of an apple, and should consider purchasing a more rugged rig.

I went home, looked up the Salsa, and it turns out there is a small legion of passionate fans out there. They ride for fun -- to get out in the woods or the fields, to spontaneously turn off on to a gravel road just to see what's down there. The kind of fun I'd been dreaming of, only half-aware, since Mrs. V. and I moved out to this beautiful rural area replete with farm fields, hidden mountain bike trails only vaguely hinted at in oblique conversations, and tons of intriguing roads too sketchy for my thoroughbred, skinny-tired CAAD 8.

I gobbled up every post and page I could get get my virtual hands on. One beautiful and inspiring site (created by an employee of Salsa) was especially instrumental in whetting my appetite for some Salsa, with many lyrical posts like this one.

Finally, I returned to the Exchange on Friday afternoon, hoping to have a conversation with Chris about how we could make a Vaya affordable to me. Guess what? He'd ridden his in that morning, so I could test-ride one right away. Guess what? He's exactly my bike size.

And guess what? He had just recently decided to sell the very bike I was about to test.

No!  Yup.

After a quick and encouraging ride in the parking lot, he generously offered to let me ride it as long as I wanted on Saturday. I sped over there eagerly yesterday morning on my Cannondale, jumped on his bike, and headed off for a true adventure. He'd told me about some trails a few miles south of his store, and I was itching to try them.

Woah... this riding-bikes-in-the-forest thing is really cool! Wow, the trees are really close, they're practically hugging me as I ride! Wow, smell the pine on the breeze! Woah!!! Downhill on roots and piles of leaves is scary! But FUN! WOAH, speeding over big humps is like being on a rollercoaster!! Let's do that one again!  And again! Wow... look at that beautiful pond! I've ridden near here hundreds of times and never even knew it was here! Hey, I'm learning how to pick a line, how to steer with my hips like I've always heard you should, how to trust the back wheel to steer the front! This is GREAT!!!

Many, many wows and woahs later, I headed back to the shop. I'd stayed out far longer than I expected, because I was having so much fun I couldn't make myself leave. On the way back, I even pulled off the main road onto a couple of dirt and gravel "roads" -- one of them just some muddy double-track, calling to mind Salsa's verbiage about the Vaya: "... designed to take on any surface that someone might consider a ‘road’."

It's been a long, long time since I've been that excited just to be on a bicycle. It looks pretty likely that this one is coming home with me soon. (Update, 4/13/11: I just returned from putting half down on it, and will be picking it up in about 11 days. Can't wait!! Thanks, Chris!!)

As an homage to the lovely posts on gnatlikesbikes, here are some more shots from the wilds yesterday:

Beauty and the Bridge

"I took the one less traveled by..."

Double-track and the Holyokes in the distance


The four elements: Earth, Water, Steel and Rubber


Ken said...

5th element....SWEAT

Velosopher said...

Got that right, bro -- mud, sweat and gears.

But then you oughtta know; you were there with me at the bike shop on West 14th St., when I bought that gorgeous Austro-Daimler pictured at the top of this post. Summer of 1980?!? No way are we that old.

Suitcase of Courage said...

LOVE the 80s bike - looks like one I could never afford :^)

But I got your 2nd one.

And your post makes me want to vamos to get a Vaya....

Velosopher said...

Yeah, that royal blue Austro-Daimler... some day, when I'm ready to cry a lot, I'll write a post about how that one got away, through my own short-sightedness. Sigh. I *should* still own it!

Scott Ryder said...

Interesting note I thought I'd pass along. I own the very A-D Ultima Superleicht that was used in that topphotograph ... story is here:


Velosopher said...

Scott, that bike is simply STUNNING. You landed one big fish! Thanks for tipping me off. Stick around, it would be great to have you as a reader.