There is a phenomenon known as The Irish Sadness. There’s actually a few, but the one to which I’m referring is the exile of Irish men and women from the land of their birth. Some, like Colmcille’s monks, left to bring Christianity (and a knowledge of Western Literature) back to Dark Ages Europe. Multitudes left in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries to avoid starvation and persecution or to seek their fortune -- often in America. Nearly all remained strangers to the Old Country.
In March of this year I drove with Aaron Stinner to Salt Lake City, Utah for the 2017 edition of NAHBS. I was tagging along to talk about the wheels customers can order when buying a full bicycle from Stinner Frameworks; I share premises with Aaron and supply the majority of his wheels. Naturally, I was going with the purpose of beating the bushes for my own business. Across the way from us was Fifty One Bikes,(www.fiftyonebikes.com) a framebuilder from Ireland, displaying their product in a modest booth. The guy in charge was Aidan Duff, multiple Irish National Champion and former professional racer on the European circuit. In a quiet moment, I wandered over to see what they were cooking these days in Dublin. While I grew up in England, three of my grandparents and my Mom were Irish. My affinity for all things Celtic is no accident. Quite soon, the bottle of Bourbon was produced and it wasn't long afterwards that I formed the opinion that Aidan Duff was a fine fellow indeed. Sober or tipsy, I liked the story behind Fifty One Bikes. I visited with Mr. Duff a few times over the course of the show. I asked him to keep in touch and said I’d try to do the same.
July 17th; I receive an email from Aidan asking if I'm interested in helping to sponsor a fellow from Donegal who's lined up for the 2018 RAAM. My mom was born in Donegal so my interest is piqued. Jason Black (www.jasonblack.ie) is from Letterkenny, Donegal but had lived in the U.S. back in the 90's. Jason is a true force of Nature. He has stood on top of Mount Everest and done most of the things on his bucket list. He outlined his reasons for competing in the RAAM, but I was pretty sure I wanted to help upon hearing he lived three miles from where my mother was born. Like a myriad Irish before her, my mother Maggie Friel left her native soil, coming to England at the advent of World War Two. She worked for the NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes) serving food to soldiers, sailors and airmen. One of these men was my father, whom she wooed with extra bacon and sausage; no fool, my father.
We decided on a couple pairs of tubeless-ready carbon rimmed wheels as follows; a pair of 50mm deep, 20 hole front/24 hole rear rims on King R45 ceramic bearing hubs all lashed together with DT Swiss Aerolites. The second set will be a pair of 38mm deep tubeless ready rims, 20f/24r once again, also with King hubs and Aerolite spokes. This shallower wheel set turns out to be around 120 grams lighter than the first and will be good for climbs over the California Sierras, the Colorado Rockies and the Appalachians in West Virginia; or for rough days.
I cannot help but be mindful that the circle has been closed in a small, symbolic way for me. For my mother, it was necessary to leave Ireland to make her way. At 26, I left England in search of home. Now, a set of wheels that I built in Santa Barbara, California are back in County Donegal, Eire. The dust they kick up will be the same dust my mothers’ sensible black leather shoes disturbed ninety odd years ago. It’s a notion that leaves me humble, silent and filled with grace.