Meet Oliver.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEverything under the heavens has a name. Even inanimate objects, in the shapes they hold and the uses to which we have put them, are given to certain qualities that distinguish them from one another. The stones of the earth themselves have names, if you can see them clearly enough. And knowing something's name is key to knowing its soul. This was one of the beauties of man-made objects before industrialization took over. The craftsman invested  himself in his products to the degree that it had qualities and characteristics and a history making it as unique as any other individual. Who doesn't immediately recognize Excalibur, the storied sword of Arthur?

Vehicles, such as boats, automobiles, and yes, bicycles, are frequently named, more so than other things because they are closer to animate than inanimate, and their qualities are readily apparent to anyone who makes use of them. A sailor spending time at the helm of a boat will soon recognize how she carries herself through seas rough and slow differently from any other. And a cyclist can easily feel the wheels underneath him, and how they handle themselves carving a corner or sluicing down a hill in their own unique way.

We encapsulate those qualities that we see in our steeds, whether sail, pedal, or combustion powered, in the names we give them. As a result, every bicycle in my stable is named in its first few rides, as I get to know its personality.

It was a bit different for Oliver, the semi-retro baguette-and-wine bike whose build I have recounted in the previous few posts. Once the wheels were on and the saddle installed, and it began to look like a bicycle rather than a pile of shiny parts, I unconsciously began trying out names. From the frame geometry I chose and the parts I picked, I knew (or rather, hoped), that the bike would have certain features. I was seeking rather sedate handling, something that could gracefully move into a curve, but not necessarily bite it, and a measured response to my steering input, rather than the twitchiness of a sportier bike. I wanted a frame that had a little flex to it, a little liveliness without absorbing the energy of my pedal strokes.

Which brings me to an aspect of building this bike that I hadn't really thought of prior to getting there. As I installed the handlebars, and the saddle and the derailleurs, I began to wonder if I had made the right choices. Did I leave enough room in the cockpit? Plan on the correct handlebar height? Will the gear ratios work for my style of riding in these foothills of the Berkshires? When you purchase a bicycle from a shop, all of these decisions have been made for you, by people whose profession it is to make a well-riding bike. While I have a lot of miles under me, I'm no pro. And amateurs make mistakes. And maybe I had made a few.

Rider's view of the cockpit.

In the process of creating anything, whether it be a table, knife or bicycle, there comes a time when you commit yourself irrevocably to the design decisions you have made. It may be when you anneal the steel in forge and oil, or put saw blade to that irreplaceable piece of your father's cherry lumber. In the case of this bicycle, it was when I cut the steerer tube on the fork. The length of the steerer tube determines the height of the handlebars, and ultimately your comfort and the bike's handling, and cannot be changed without replacing the fork or implementing various undesirable kludges.

Thus I committed myself to the wisdom of the choices I had made, and hoped that my vision had not exceeded my skills. It has happened before.

I completed the final construction of the bike in that pleasant state of anticipation mixed with some anxiety that I had somehow, in some casual moment, ignored a crucial aspect of building and design that would send me, like Icarus, crashing into the deadly waters below. I combatted that fear by putting not one, but three coats of shellac on the grips.

Then it was all done and the bike sat on the stand for a few more days of anticipation while I waited for the seatpost collar to arrive by mail, something the post office seemed to have a bit of trouble doing. Postie brought it yesterday, so last night I fitted the collar on, and went off in the sub-freezing night on a shakedown cruise.

Ready for travel

And the assemblage of steel, sheet metal, nuts and bolts became a bike named Oliver. It is a fitting name; Oliver stems from Old German, and means "Elf Army." This is highly appropriate because my name -- Avery -- means "King of the Elves." Oliver is a comfortable, strong English name, fitting for a bike painted British Racing Green and kitted out with Brooks leather. Oliver was a retainer of King Charlemagne in the Song of Roland. Oliver's loyalty and bravery cannot be denied.

Thus it is with the bike Oliver. The handling is sure, he is responsive to the pedals, and over rough terrain (yes, that was me riding across the lawn of the First Congregational church at 10 p.m. last night), is smooth and controlled.  It is indeed the bike that I had envisioned.

And, as my daughter's boyfriend said, "It looks like it belongs in GQ!"

I'm looking forward to many enjoyable miles on this bicycle.


It's in the Bag.

Cycling -- at least the way I do it -- is all about the bags. Rarely do I take off on a jaunt when I don't feel the need to carry a few extra things. Think of your car. Who would use a car lacking a glove box or a trunk? Nobody, of course. Even if you don't treat your vehicle as a beast of burden, that storage space is a necessity for just your normal motoring activities.

When you use your bicycle as your primary form of transportation, the same rules apply. You still need a glove box. You still need a trunk.

So when I completed the transformation of a 1974 Fuji Sport 10 into a retro/commuting/tweed & vest bicycle, I still needed a couple of finishing touches. I needed some place to keep the detritus of daily life; my wallet, my keys, my phone, a jacket, a multitool; a tablet or netbook, and the odd bottle of wine or baguette that is the primary task for which such a bike is created.

My current pannier/briefcase, an Axiom Legacy, was certainly up to the task functionally -- after all, it weathered the winter of 2010 on the side of the trike with nary a complaint. But the briefcase's 21st-century materials and styling was all out of place on a bike with pretensions to the Golden Age of cycling.

Recalling the testimonials of my UK friends, I next looked at Carradice -- a company that brings cotton canvas and a stiff upper lip to the damp, streaky, misty fog that the British sportingly call "weather." And while Carradice certainly had both the style and the quality I sought, I recalled warnings about it's eccentrically English supply chain, which seems to consist of "we'll get it to you when we send it, and thank you ever so much for your order."

In fact, not a single US dealer could be found which actually had any of the bags in question in stock.

I finished my search where I should have started it, specifically on Etsy, and even more specifically at Anhaica Bag Works. Anhaica, which takes its name from the capital of the Appalachee tribe (today known as Tallahasee, Florida), is the home of a cycling needlewoman who combines her experience on bicycles with considerable skills as a seamstress and designer, using waxed canvas to create waterproof bags of considerable durability.

My first purchase from Marina, Anhaica Bags' proprietress, was a custom handlebar bag with pockets for all of the essentials of a Modern Man. Over a few email messages, Marina and I discussed what I would be using it for, what I would be putting in it, and  the size and type of pockets I would need. Marina had the bag finished and mailed to me in less time than it takes Carradice to return an email, and within four days of use it easily replaced my briefcase. By the second week, it had become indispensable, even on the rare occasions that I hop into a car. By the third week, it had become, God help me, a man purse. I don't leave home without it.

I was so impressed with the workmanship of the handlebar bag that I ordered a rack bag to replace my aged Nashbar rack bag, which was developing holes and looking a little too rickety for the 200 miles I was planning to pedal over my upcoming holiday. Again, I looked to Carradice for inspiration (well, mostly dimensions), and asked Marina to make me something like that. Once again, in record time, I had a canvas rack trunk which matched the handlebar bag and which used re-purposed lightweight coroplast to give it shape. It consisted of a single compartment with a rear pocket on the outside. Like the handlebar bag, it was strapped and closed with durable webbing and strong plastic buckles.

My multi-century vacation is now a note in my journal and pictures on my PC, and I've logged a hundred more miles in about-town riding, and all I can say is that the bags produced by Anhaica Bags simply rock. I had no idea that a rack bag, made so simply, could be so unbelievably useful. The two quick-release buckles make accessing the bag a snap, especially compared to the drill I had to go through with my old rack bag: (1) Fold back the weatherproof flap (2) unzip the bag expander by mistake (3) re-zip the expander (4) find the zipper pulls for the real opening (5) open the bag (6) reach in blindly as the flap falls back get the idea.

With my Anhaica Bags rack bag, all I do is unclip the buckles, flip open the top, and I have full and unfettered access to the entire contents, organized just the way I want it. There is one large pocket in back for tools and a spare tube, and that's it. Opening and closing it was so simple that, while I was touring, I regularly had to stop and double check that I'd actually closed the lid -- it was that simple.

Oh, yeah. What about the weatherproofness of these bags? If you are used to high-tech fabrics like Gore-Tex, the quaint simplicity of waxed canvas might strike you as somewhat backward and unreliable. Let me be the first to tell you that it is not. As luck would have it, the first day I used each bag, I got caught in severe downpours. When I got back home, I found my contents inside utterly dry. I mean bone dry. Marina makes her own waxed canvas, and strategic flaps and design creates a bag that is as waterproof as I could wish for, while avoiding the mold-inducing hermetic sealing of, say, Ortlieb bags.

I know I'm beginning to sound like a shill for Anhaica, but if I do, it is only because I am so enormously impressed by the level of skill that went into the construction of these cycling bags. As I mentioned before, Marina is a cyclist herself, and her knowledge of how to design and make a bag comes from day-in-day-out experience; the kind of experience that you will rarely see reflected in a mass-market product. And if you are worried about the responsiveness of a single-proprietor business, you needn't. At one point, I mangled one of the pockets on the handlebar bag, and I emailed Marina about getting it repaired. She returned my email the same day, while she was on vacation, and had the repaired bag in the mail to me the day after she got it. Service? Yeah, she's got it.

Anhaica offers other bags besides the rack and handlebar bags I bought. She has tool rolls (and will whip up a custom one for you), backpacks, and hip packs, from a variety of materials. Frankly, I'm thinking about trying to talk her into making a set of panniers for me.

Marina's products are not something you come across often these days, being the product of the experience and skill of a single person who obviously takes great pride in her work. The durability is built in the cloth and the stitching, and the attention to detail makes these bags suitably handsome for any bike, not just my moustachioed retro bike. If you are considering adding bags to your bike, I strongly recommend that you check out Anhaica Bags on Etsy.

Dr. Avery Jenkins is a chiropractic physician specializing in the treatment of people with chronic disorders. He can be reached at or by calling 860-567-5727.