Sunday, July 15, 2007

"Their simplicity is elegant": A Q&A with Byron Morton

I’d seen Byron Morton over the years, usually working the wrenches at Gilbert Anderson’s shop, but I’d never spent much time talking to him. That changed when, in advance of last weekend’s permanent ride, I drove my car down to Swan Quarter and hitched a ride back with Byron.

Byron’s got one of the c.o.o.l.e.s.t. cars on the planet -- a Suzuki Samurai that screams Third World and apparently flips on a dime. People notice it. As we cruised home, a girl on a riding mower -- and in a bikini -- waved. That doesn’t happen every day. Damned shame, too.

On the drive back to Raleigh, I grilled Byron about his jobs, his cars, his bikes, his rides. The most amazing thing I learned: the man actually knows how to fix a Sturmey Archer hub, the bicycling equivalent of a Rubix Cube.

Byron is one of the Tar Heel riders heading to Paris Brest Paris in August. He graciously agreed to a Q&A and discussed how he got started in randonneuring and how the sport has changed him.

How many years have you been randonneuring? I started riding brevets back in ‘98 when I was working for Gilbert at North Road. I completed my first full series in ‘98 and I’ve done random bevets in the years leading up to this year.

What got you started doing brevets? When I was working for Gilbert, he was always telling these great stories about epic rides and this thing called "P-B-P" -- Gilbert is a grreat storyteller. I liked touring and randonneuring seemed to be a natural extension of that. I’d done a bit of MTB racing, but racing really wasn’t my thing. I like the self-sufficient aspect of randonneuring as well as the camaraderie.

What was the longest ride you’d done before your first brevet? Probably about 75 miles. I was a little scared of my first brevet series -- didn’t know if I could finish the rides -- each one was a new personal record.

What’s your motivation in heading over to Paris Brest Paris? I’ve been wanting to do P-B-P ever since Gilbert first told me about it. I’d hoped to make it in ‘99 and ‘03, but I just couldn’t get all of the pieces of the puzzle to come together.

Any time goal in mind? Just to finish and enjoy the ride. If I’m in danger of missing control cut-offs, then I’ll rush -- otherwise, I plan to ride at a pace I feel comfortable with.

What book/music, if any, are you taking to Paris? I’m reading David Sedaris currently, but I doubt I’ll take him to France with me. I’ll take a cheapo mp3 player with something upbeat to keep me rolling if I get tired at PBP. Probably take a book of sudoko puzzles & magazines (cycling, of course).

How has randonneuring changed you? It’s hard to be a procrastinator and a randonneur. I’ve always been a bit of a procrastinator.... Randonneuring has taught me how to listen to my body and trust my instincts. I’ve also learned alot about focus and determination.

Best meal during a ride? Got to be the hot dog I had in the wee hours of the morning at the Siler City control while on a 400k in
2003 -- it was divine. I was doing the ride with a couple of friends on an alternate weekend -- it was the longest 400k in the history of randonneuring -- we barely made the cut-off time of 27 hours.

Is it true that you know how to fix a Sturmey Archer 3-speed hub? Yep. I love hub gears. I love mechanical things in general -- when I first started working at Bikes USA (before I worked for Gilbert) we had a customer bring in an old Schwinn with a Sturmey Archer hub that wasn’t working. All the mechanics in the shop were standing around like monkeys scratching their heads trying to figure out why the hub wouldn’t work -- we ended up selling her a new wheel. I decided that I was going to figure out how a 3-speed worked. I found an old, small bike repair booklet at Readers Corner that covered the Sturmey Archer in depth and dedicated myself to learning how to repair one. Their simplicity is elegant.

Favorite randonneuring memory? There’s so many. One of my favorite memories came last year (‘06) on the 300k. It had been raining hard for the better part of the day and when we rolled into Andrew’s store on the way back in, I was in a really foul mood. We were all dripping wet and I was the first one to walk into the store. When I entered the store a young boy around 12 years old took one look at me and proclaimed "riding in the rain sucks!" I couldn’t help but smile and agree with him -- that completely changed my mood and I enjoyed the rest of the ride.

What’s the last song you had stuck in your head during a ride? Can’t remember any. It can be the greatest song in the world, but if it’s stuck looping in your head for 200k+ it’s the most annoying song in the world.

Have any other obsessive hobbies we should know about? You mean besides bikes? I’ve taken up gardening lately, which has been going pretty well. My car requires a fair amount of regular tinkering -- I try to tell myself it’s a hobby as opposed to a pain-in-the-ass.

Which is worth more: your car or your bikes? Oh, bikes definitely! But that isn’t saying much! You’ve experienced what I drive!

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