"Comfortable," in terms of bicycles, can mean a few different things, and as I wrote a couple weeks ago, peace of mind plays a large part in my comfort. Previously, the Lenton was built up as a hardcore road machine on a budget. That included 700x25c Continental Ultra Sport tires (semi-slick) and no fenders. While that combo was comfortable in the physical sense, as the tires were light, fast-rolling, and reasonably compliant on slight road imperfections, I had to be really careful over the terrible roads in downtown Ann Arbor. That was okay at the time, since I primarily used the Lenton to stretch my legs on the fast, smooth Huron River Drive on the way to Dexter.
However, in Pittsburgh, smooth cycling routes are hard to come by. The nearby parks are dirt roads, my neighborhood and its surrounding areas have very old roads that have been patched and filled many times over but never repaved, and even the smoothest of trails in the area have huge gaps and bumps. There is also broken glass everywhere. This is not to say the place is worse; it's just different.
Turning the clock way back, not long after initial completion, I realized that while the old Middlemores B89 saddle was very soft and comfortable over short distances, it caused numbness "down there" after about 20 miles. After much analysis and deliberation, I decided that the Brooks B17 Narrow Imperial saddle would be the best choice. I couldn't find one used with the price to reflect, so I went for a brand new one. My first new leather saddle, my second new Brooks (after the Cambium C17 for the Lotus). It was beautiful and comfortable out of the box, and I estimate that it will only get better with time. The cutout makes a huge difference. Also, I bought a new seat post after finding out that the old one was maybe half an inch too short to be safe and efficient. This one is 400 mm long, I think, so I can probably trim it down.
I took the Banjo Brothers barrel bag from the Lotus right away because I liked to pack small tools and a speaker for long rides. I have since screwed a 1/2" square basswood rod to the upper side of the interior to keep it from sagging. I think the bag is here to stay; the Lotus has a pannier, anyway. This bag has a surprisingly large capacity, enough to hold everything I may need for a trip up to a day in length without the weight and drag of a backpack or a pannier. I've stuffed my windbreaker, speaker, music player, tools, wallet, and huge bundle of keys in it with no problem. Water goes behind the saddle. Of course, the windbreaker can be replaced with food in warmer weather.
En route to Pittsburgh, the shifter of the Dunelt 3-speed was hitting the handlebar of this bike. It dug a little hole into the tape so I patched it with Sugru. It has been holding up. Also, I replaced the 70mm stem with a 50mm to bring my arms closer and to allow a little extra height to be squeezed out without stretching the brake cable. I still think the bars are too low since I don't race. I'll probably have to address that at some point, completely unwrapping the handlebar and replacing the brake cables. My (least) favorite.
Now to the point of this article. This morning, I swapped the 25mm Ultra Sport tires for some 700x32c Tour Rides. These are my absolute favorite all-purpose road bike tire. I thrashed them for a little over a year and a half on my old Ross beater. The tires are fast-rolling, smooth (the tall center tread line takes the edge off the ride), puncture-resistant, inexpensive, and give great grip in all conditions met on a commute, and then some. My first set performed well throughout two winters, sustained quite a bit of dirt trail activity, and flew through many long road rides. This is outside of the however many thousands of miles of regular commuting. I also never got a flat.
I previously ran the Ultra Sports at 80 and 95 psi, and I put the Tour Rides at 80 like I did on the Ross. The ride quality was a little more harsh than I remember, but it could be attributed to any number of things: new carcasses not yet broken in, different wheels, lighter bike, the fact that the tires were not usually at 80 psi in the past (obviously didn't fill them daily), or the fact that I pretty much have not ridden this bike, or any bike with tires skinnier than 37mm, ever since moving here. I will say that I was surprised how happy I was to hear that familiar scrubbing noise that these tires make on fast, sharp turns. Many imperfections on the roads and trails I flew over during my ride today would have been inconvenient on 25's, and I didn't even have to reduce my speed when the path turned to dirt.
One day, shortly before I left Ann Arbor, I met up with a friend who had restomodded an early '90s Bianchi with a new Shimano 105 groupset. He had toe clips on the bike, the reason being that he didn't want to wear special shoes every time he rode, but since he commuted on the bike, also wanted more efficient power output. Although I had used Nashbar Double Track clipless/platform flip flop pedals so that I wouldn't have to change shoes for every ride, I still had difficulty clipping in and out of them for some reason (confirmed by a friend who is familiar with using cleats) so I immediately decided to try toe clip pedals. They originally came from an '80s road bike with small clips, so I bought some large MKS ones that fit my feet better. I'm happy with how they feel and how they work, and they also look better than clipless pedals on a bike this old.
Something I noticed that is neither surprising nor expected was that the 46 x 11-34t gearing is still perfect for this city, despite the harsher hills. I am probably also getting a bit stronger, but I was able to ride up the crazy hill from the trail end to my home without dropping it into the lowest gear.
These SKS B45 fenders came off the Lotus when I converted it to 650b. I had painted the white tail and added a replacement reflector a year ago, so I figured they were appropriate for another classic Raleigh. I just stuck a decal on for fun. The Lenton would have come originally with creamy-white Bluemels fenders, best imitated by the modern SKS Longboards but I won't go looking for those until another bike needs these fenders more. Anyway, these were added, again, for "comfort's" sake. With the fenders being so narrow, the aerodynamic penalty was not noticeable. They are also pretty light. Not a bad price to pay for no longer having to avoid puddles after the random surprise-rainstorms that happen here. Ironically, but not so ironically, I can go faster with fenders because I don't have to worry about stuff coming up from below.
I spent about three hours on the bike today, winding around town and cruising on the riverfront trails. The trails were actually filled with people at certain points due to the Three Rivers Regatta, but that led me to find out that this bike is still extremely stable at 0.000001 mph. I like how this bike handles. It's quite different from my new bike, and quite similar to my old 3-speed Sports frames because of the geometry. It seems to do best when speed is constant, whether extremely fast or extremely slow. It feels a little bit squirrely under power or hard braking because the handlebars are so low. I get a lot of top-end sway because the saddle is so high compared to the bars, so the hoods are sometimes better - something I have yet to get used to. I'll probably just suck it up and deal with it until I find the willpower to redo the handlebars. Otherwise, the ride is much improved from a "comfort" standpoint and I am much more willing to take it out now.