Riding to the Concours d’Elegance

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When my friend David Cooper from Chicago mentioned that he was a judge at the Pacific Northwest Concours d’Elégance in Tacoma, I decided to go and join him there. I don’t get to see him often, and attending the Concours as his guest was sure to be fun. The ride to Tacoma promised a change in scenery from other routes I take.

“For the evening dinner reception, cocktail attire is required,” David mentioned as we finalized our plans. That added a layer of complication, since a jacket and pants don’t easily fit into a handlebar bag.

urban_bike

So I decided to take the Urban Bike instead of my randonneur bike. My clothes were packed neatly into a messenger bag that went onto the front rack. The photo above is at the ferry dock: instead of riding through the congested industrial corridor that extends from Seattle to Tacoma, I decided to take the ferry to Vashon Island. I would ride across the rural island from north to south, where another ferry would take me straight into Tacoma.

ferry_1

I made it to the ferry terminal in West Seattle with time to spare, but I knew that on the Vashon side, my schedule was tight. The road across Vashon Island measures 22.3 km (13.9 mile) from north to south. The time between the Seattle ferry’s scheduled docking and the Tacoma ferry’s scheduled leaving is 50 minutes.

Riding an average speed of 26.8 km/h (16.7 mph) for a little under an hour doesn’t sound too hard, but Vashon Island is relentlessly hilly. According to RideWithGPS, there are 303 m (1000 ft) of elevation gain in that short distance. My outlook: it would be good training!

I don’t have any photos from the ride, because I didn’t have time to stop or even sit up to snap a shot. When the ferry docked – fortunately on schedule – I was the first one off the boat. I sprinted up the ramp, and then attacked the long climb from the ferry. That was perhaps the hardest part of the ride. Without a proper warm-up, my legs hurt, and this hill always is steeper than it seems at first. The rolling roads toward the town center brought a welcome respite, but my favorite part is where the road drops back down to the water and runs alongside the bay that separates Vashon and Maury Islands.

From there, the remaining 5 km are a roller-coaster of hills. I glanced at my watch, and I realized I had to keep my speed up if I wanted to make the ferry. Many years ago, on a similar ride to Tacoma for an important meeting, I missed the boat by less than a minute: The ferry was just a few meters from shore when I came racing down the hill to the dock. I wanted to avoid a repeat of this today. Fortunately, my legs were properly warmed-through now, and the last hills were fun. I arrived at the ferry dock after 48 minutes of all-out riding. The ferry was still there – I made it!

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With the bike securely parked, I got to rest and enjoy the ferry ride on this gorgeous late summer day.

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The views from the ferry were magnificent. Mount Rainier is so much closer to Tacoma than to Seattle – it looked only a few miles away.

tacoma

A short ride through Tacoma brought me to our hotel. I love the old city with its great architecture, its distinctive drawbridge, and its laid-back feel.

dinner_reception

After a shower and a quick ironing of my shirt, we were ready for the dinner reception in the LeMay car museum. It was fun to explore the museum after hours, and to catch up with David. The food and company at dinner were great, too. Many car people love bicycles, and when I told them that I had ridden to the event, the older gentleman next to me said he was envious, especially since traffic on the Interstate had not been much fun. (On the other hand, his beautiful 1930s Alvis would have been hard to tow behind my bike!)

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The main event started the next morning. As a guest of a concours judge, I was able to get in before the public, and watch as all the cars arrived and were parked on the lawn in front of the museum. The cars were gleaming in the morning sun, and hearing their engines purr (as on this Rolls Royce) or roar (as on a racing Mustang) added a layer to the experience that the static displays cannot convey.

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Participants used the time for a last bit of polish, but most were happy to be distracted and talk about their cars.

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The cars were lovely, with many fascinating details. The lap counter under the dashboard of this 1914 Grand Prix Mercedes was really neat.

entrants

There was a wonderful variety of cars at the concours, and I could have spent many more hours looking at the details.

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The horn on this more-than-a-century-old Peugeot still worked!

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I loved the interior of this 1930s BMW 327…

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… and the outrageous wings and flares (and paint!) of this 1970s BMW racer.

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All too soon, it was time to go home, and I returned to Seattle by train at the end of an enjoyable weekend. Riding my bike to the concours doubled the fun, and put me in the mood for the event. Now David has invited me to a similar event in Chicago. I would love to see his wonderful workshop again, but that would be a very long bike ride!

 

 

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

Spirited rides that zig-zag across mountain ranges. Bicycle Quarterly magazine and its sister company, Compass Cycles, that turns our research into high-performance components for real-world riders.
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26 Responses to Riding to the Concours d’Elegance

  1. Bob Kramer says:

    Jan, sounds like am awesome ride and an awesome event! If you have more pictures of the cars, I for one would love to see them. I also think it is easy to appreciate classic cars if you love classic bikes.

    I am also curious about your urban bike. Can you provide more info about it? If you’ve written about it in the past I must have missed the post.

    Thanks!

    Bob

    • The Urban Bike was written up in Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 7, No. 1, when it was new. Mark Vande Kamp tested it. It is intended to provide a fun ride, yet be able to carry a box of books or magazines (about 40 pounds) in urban traffic. For larger loads, I attach a Jack Taylor trailer…

      • Phil says:

        Jan, in the past people have made mention that the trail for an urban or porteur type bike should be slightly higher than a dedicated rando bike. Is that something you could comment on in relation to your Urban Bike? I’m looking into setting up a daily commuter in a very similar manner to your Urban Bike, as I usually need to take more into work than what will fit in a handlebar bar that would sit on a small front rack. Thanks!

      • You can see the exact geometry drawing in the Bicycle Quarterly article, but from what I recall, the Urban Bike has about 10 mm more trail than my randonneur bike. It works equally well with a heavy load and unloaded (albeit the rack always is a significant load).

  2. ascpgh says:

    I found similar appreciation of my bicycle at the annual Vintage Grand Prix events at Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park where they have racing as well static display of cars.

  3. Edwin says:

    You have written about it before, but I would be interested in a detailed post (or article in BQ) comparing your urban bike to your randonneur.
    Edwin

  4. monomorpher says:

    I envy you! Bike ride to concours!!!

  5. Matthew J says:

    Great pictures.

    I could sit in the driver’s seat of the BMW admiring the gauges and clock all day.

    How do you find the Seattle train bike accommodations? At least unlike the Chicago area heavy rail passenger trains with their steep narrow stairs it appears you can access on grade. On the other hand, I’m guessing check in is mandatory or you would have brought it on board yourself.

    • The Amtrak Cascades carries bikes in the baggage car. You usually hand the bike to the person in the baggage car who hangs it on one of the hooks installed for the purpose. You have to reserve (limited number of hooks) and pay a small fee.

      In the future, I might bring my new Rinko bike, which disassembles and goes into a small carry-on bag…

  6. David Pearce says:

    Beautiful ride. Thanks for all the great photos. We love metal and beautiful smart craftsmanship.

    One thing surprised me. The yellow thing at the back of the Urban Bike. At first I thought it was a beefy kickstand designed to support the bike when being loaded or unloaded with books. But I couldn’t figure out what the anchoring method was, the silver pieces that went from the end of the “kickstand” up to the rear brake. How neat, I thought, when you put down the “kickstand”, those connected pieces lock the rear brake closed on the rim to keep the bike from moving while loading / unloading. (But if the yellow thing was a kickstand, the tire would be off the ground, so what was the purpose of a locking rear brake.) …..

    However, looking back at your previous write up of the Urban Bike, I see that that yellow “kickstand” is actually your trailer hitch. Aha!

    I wonder, was it just the press of time that kept you from removing it to cut weight, or do you never remove it (considering your need to make good time over the hilly island)?

  7. Max Sievers says:

    What’s the purpose of the yellow construction around the back wheel of your bike?

  8. Paul Ahart says:

    Jan, Thanks for a really interesting post. The ride to Tacoma was an athletic adventure, and the concours fascinating. What I especially enjoyed was exploring the website of Cooper Technica, and their wonderful restoration service. It reminds me of the aircraft facility I visited while on a 6 week cycle tour of New Zealand in 1996, the Croydon Aircraft Co. outside of Gore. http://www.croydonaircraft.com/ They were in the midst of restoring an old Gypsy Moth which had been brought to them in pieces from India. An employee spent an hour showing around the facility. A very memorable event in the trip.
    Cheers!

  9. Bill Winslow says:

    Great article Jan. If you make your way to Chicago and want to go for a ride let me know. It would be a privilege to meet you (and show you the Gran Bois Crown and Kaisei fork I built) . Also about 4hrs outside is the duesenberg museum in Auburn Indiana. They have stunning cars and motorcycles. http://www.automobilemuseum.org

  10. David Pearce says:

    The lap counter on the 1914 Grand Prix Mercedes, had to be completely automatic, I suppose? The driver had to keep both hands on the wheel I bet.

    So it was an early kind of odometer or tripmeter, I take it, but calibrated to count “laps” rather than “miles” or “kilometers”?

    • The lap counter is a simple board that works like an abacus. You flip a number each time you cross the finish line. The Mercedes had an amazing number of control levers. Brake, clutch, accelerator, of course, but also brake adjustments between the driver’s legs, two or three levers on the steering wheel (advance for the ignition, I assume, plus ?). The mechanic had a few levers for the fuel pump and system behind the seat they had to operate while underway – it must have been incredibly busy to drive that car just in a straight line!

  11. Michael Crichton says:

    I’ve always admired David Coopers work. What is the event in Chicago? I’m in Milwaukee which is just 90 miles north

  12. B. Carfree says:

    Several decades ago (late ’70s or early ’80s) I read an article about a suit bag that connected somewhere down near each rear drop out and hooked to the rear of the saddle. As I recall, it was discussed as though this was some sort of common piece of bike luggage in France. I have never seen one and wonder if there really were very many. This would seem to have been an alternate solution to your garment issue, although it may create a bit of drag back there. I just wonder if you have ever seen any of these.

  13. B. Carfree says:

    I wonder about those ridewithgps elevation measurements. The middle twenty-six miles of my forty mile short loop from home has all the elevation changes for the ride. Ridewithgps says it has 3000 feet of climbing (and descending), but it just doesn’t strike me as a very hilly ride even though people regularly list rides with comparable amounts of climbing per mile as hilly. Either I’m jaded by my upbringing (Oakland/Berkeley hills of the (L)East Bay) or some of these estimates, like the one it gives for my little loop, are phooey.

  14. Michael says:

    I noticed your light mounted on the drive side.
    Is it mounted to a brazed on arm?
    Does mounting it there put a wheel shadow in the lane your riding in?
    I am new to dyno lighting so I am curious about whatever is the best mounting placement for least amount of shadow.

    Thanks for the great post. Must have been a rewarding and thrilling ride to the ferry!

    • The light is mounted on a tube that descends from the rack. With the wide porteur rack, the light is pretty far to the side and doesn’t cast a shadow. With a narrower rack, you need to get the mounting location just right, otherwise you turn into a shadow when you turn right or left.

  15. thebvo says:

    I love the ferries of the Peugeot Sound! They are a great way to travel!
    How does the Gilles Berthoud saddle compare to the Brooks B17?

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