By Adam Newman
Jeff Jones isn’t afraid to think outside the box. In fact, it’s safe to say he probably isn’t concerned about the box at all. He has been designing and building his own unique brand of non-suspended mountain bikes that have made the pages (and pixels) of our sister magazine, Dirt Rag, for years.
In recent years, Jones has brought a production version of his bike to market and after we reviewed it as a mountain bike, he pointed out that it is just as versatile on the road as on the trail. Since a couple of the staff use 29er mountain bikes with slick tires as all-purpose commuters and touring bikes, the idea struck a chord.
The $850 Jones diamond frame and fork feature everything a touring cyclist could need: rack and fender mounts; room for fat, comfy tires; three water bottle cage mounts; a shorter effective top tube and high, comfortable handlebars. Those handlebars are another of Jones’ original creations, a loop shape that puts your hands at a relaxed 45 degrees and creates a platform for carrying gear.
One of the key elements of what makes the bike unique in mountain bike mode is the ability to use a 29er front wheel or a 26×4.8 fat bike front wheel. As such, the fork is a specially designed unit that uses a 135mm fat bike front hub. When laced to a 29er/700c rim, it creates an especially strong front wheel that tracks straight, even when loaded. The rims are Velocity’s Blunt 35 that measure a huge 35mm wide and give the 29×2.35 Schwalbe Big Apple balloon tires even more cushion. Propulsion is provided by a Shimano 2×10 XT group that is geared low enough for even the steepest hills.
I packed up the panniers and the specially-designed frame bag that Jones sent us to try and had a great weekend riding and camping along the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail. While I wasn’t setting any speed records, the big tires and relaxed fit kept me cruising in comfort.
We’ll be putting the Jones through its paces all summer as we explore the countryside. One thing we’ll be paying close attention to is how the Jones fits a variety of riders, as it is only available in one size. The setup you see here is for my 6-foot-2 self.
Watch for it to make more appearances on bicycletimesmag.com and for a long-term review in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times. Subscribe now and you’ll never miss an issue!Tweet
By Karen Brooks
Quite a long name, eh? But it tells you what you’re getting, pretty much.
This was to be the bike for my second annual trip to and/or from the National Bike Summit, along the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal trails, back in March. Alas, it was not to be. We got extremely lucky with the weather last year, but this year we got cold temps and snow before the Bike Summit, and yet more snow—heavy, wet snow, and lots of it—afterward. Bummer. Still, I’ve been having a good time on this bike just doing my normal commute plus some extra-curricular riding around.
It’s nice to see that a big company like Specialized has not totally abandoned steel as a frame material, especially for an all-rounder bike like this. Some of the other current TriCross models, as well as past versions, rely on Zertz vibration-damping inserts at key points to soften the ride of their aluminum frames. But to me, and a lot of other classic aficionados (or retro-grouches, if you prefer), steel makes sense for smoothing out the ride, in a refined and comprehensive way.
Indeed, this bike is smooth and unflappable. As you can tell from the dust and splashes in the photos, I’ve been riding it in some dirt and gravel. The Body Geometry bar tape with gel padding helps keep that smooth feeling without being too fat. I dig the integrated bell on the top brake lever. I also dig the no-nonsense graphics — the bike looks sleek and serious.
It’s been a while since I rode a bike with a triple crank, mountain or road. I had to really concentrate not to end up in the big/big gear combo. Funny how quickly we forget… But the granny ring has come in handy for traversing my local park via singletrack trails as well as the wider gravel paths.
The bike’s Avid BB5 brakes were doing a weird pulsing thing for a while. It almost felt as though the rotors were of uneven thickness, or as though I’d gotten a wad of gum stuck to one. But the pads looked fine, and so did the rotors — I went so far as to measure them with calipers. (Any excuse to get out the more esoteric tools!) After consulting with Specialized and with Avid, I’m gonna chalk it up to contamination of some sort. I swapped pads and rotors and have had no trouble since.
It looks like I’m going to go on a long ride with this bike after all, at least for a day—from our HQ in Pittsburgh to Raystown Lake for the Dirt Rag Dirt Fest, 130 miles. This is the kind of bike that encourages such impromptu adventures.
Check out the full review coming up in issue #23.Tweet
By adding a new section of U.S. Bicycle Route 45 in Minnesota, Route 76 in Missouri, and realignments for Route 76 in Kentucky, the U.S. Bicycle Route System now encompasses 5,616 miles of official routes in 10 states. The changes were announced today by the Adventure Cycling Association and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).
The routes are currently found in Alaska, Kentucky, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Virginia. Presently, more than 40 states are working to create U.S. Bicycle Routes.
Minnesota: U.S. Bicycle Route 45
With the completion of the middle section through Minneapolis and St. Paul, U.S. Bicycle Route (USBR) 45 now runs the entire length of the Mississippi River in Minnesota from the headwaters at Itasca State Park in northwestern Minnesota to the Iowa border. Also known as the Mississippi River Trail (MRT), USBR 45 spans 700 miles, with route options on both sides of the river in certain sections.
The northern segment of USBR 45, designated in October 2012, begins in Itasca State Park, where the river originates as a small stream. The route then travels through the north woods and past numerous lakes, to Bemidji, Cass Lake, Grand Rapids, Brainerd, Little Falls, and St. Cloud. At Cass Lake, bicyclists have an off-road option to travel roughly 100 miles on the Heartland State Trail and Paul Bunyan State Trail.
These routes merge in Brainerd, where the river widens and the land opens into farmland. The newly approved middle segment passes through the Twin Cities Metropolitan area and the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area — a 72-mile-long park managed by the National Park Service. Much of the route is on bike paths with scenic views. This segment of the route offers opportunities to connect with great restaurants, museums, parks, and festivals along the river.
The southern segment, which was designated in May 2012, extends from just south of the Twin Cities Metro area in Hastings to the Iowa border. Also known as the Mississippi Bluffs segment of the MRT, this section includes bicycle-friendly roads and multi-use paths that closely follow the Mississippi River through steep limestone bluffs and hardwood forests.
Detailed maps and information are available to print, or access via smart phone or GPS unit, at www.mndot.gov/bike/mrt.
Missouri: U.S. Bicycle Route 76
Missouri’s newly approved U.S. Bicycle Route 76, also known as the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail, begins at the Mississippi River in Chester, Illinois, traversing 348.5 miles before exiting the state 28 miles west of Golden City. The route passes through the hilly Ozark Mountains then levels out toward the western end of the state. Considered by geologists to be one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, the Ozark Range consists of deeply eroded hills, which are blanketed by hardwoods and pines, small farms, and numerous rivers.
Farmington, a mid-sized town along the route, is a bicycle-friendly community featuring a local bike shop, TransAm Cyclery, and the TransAm Inn, a hostel known affectionately as Al’s Place. Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park on the East Fork of the Black River offers a spectacular demonstration of Mother Nature’s hydraulics in a series of rock chutes and channels — a must stop for swimming.
The route also passes through the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, a national park created to protect the Current and Jacks Fork rivers, and the scenic Alley Mill, or "Old Red Mill" history museum located in Alley Spring. In western Missouri, the route intersects the 35-mile Frisco Highline Trail in the small town of Walnut Grove. Before leaving the state, cyclists should be sure to stop at Cooky’s Cafe in Golden City to sample one of their homemade pies.
The Missouri Department of Transportation will begin installing USBR 76 signs along the route later this summer.
Kentucky: U.S. Bicycle Route 76 Realignments
In Kentucky, U.S. Bike Route 76 spans 563.7 miles, entering the state near Elkhorn City and leaving at the Ohio River crossing via the Cave In Rock ferry. The route, which was originally designated in 1982, had not been documented electronically at AASHTO and was in need of some updates. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet did a thorough review of the route across the state and submitted realignments for the route based on their Bicycle Level of Service Model for rural roads. Adventure Cycling Association plans to adopt these same realignments for its TransAmerica Bicycle Trail.
Kentucky’s U.S. Bike Route 76 passes through a variety of terrain from the steep Appalachian Mountains in the east, and the hilly, wooded Cumberland Plateau to the rolling, fertile farmland of the Bluegrass Region. Berea, known as the gateway to the Appalachian Mountains and coal mining, is a notable highlight, home to Berea College as well as several museums.
On the route, cyclists will pass the Lincoln Homestead State Park, and they can access the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site by taking a short side trip off the route. Mammoth Cave National Park, the longest explored cave system in the world, is 40 miles south of the route but well worth the ride. The Rough River Dam State Park offers boat rides on the reservoir and bird watching opportunities. Once cyclists reach the Bluegrass Region, they will be treated to white-fenced horse farms and quaint towns known for their antique shops, country dining, and southern country hospitality.
About the U.S. Bicycle Route System
The U.S. Bicycle Route System is a developing national network of bicycle routes, which will serve as visible and well-planned trunk lines for connecting city, regional, and statewide cycling routes, offering transportation and tourism opportunities across the country. Adventure Cycling Association has provided dedicated staff support to the project since 2005, including research support, meeting coordination, and technical guidance for states implementing routes. Work on the U.S. Bicycle Route System is highly collaborative and involves officials and staff from state DOTs, the Federal Highway Administration, natural resource agencies, and nonprofit organizations including the East Coast Greenway Alliance and Mississippi River Trail, Inc.
AASHTO’s support for the project is crucial to earning the support of federal and state agencies and provides a major boost to bicycling and route development for non-motorized transportation. Securing approval for numbered designation from AASHTO is a required step for all U.S. Bicycle Routes. AASHTO is a nonprofit, nonpartisan association representing highway and transportation departments in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. A powerful voice in the transportation sector, AASHTO’s primary goal is to foster the development of an integrated national transportation system.
Support for the U.S. Bicycle Route System comes from Adventure Cycling members, donors, and a group of business sponsors that participate in its annual Build It. Bike It. Be a Part of It. fundraiser each May. The U.S. Bicycle Route System is also supported in part by grants from the Lazar Foundation, New Belgium Brewing, Climate Ride, and the Tawani Foundation.
When complete, the U.S. Bicycle Route System will be the largest official bike route network on the planet, encompassing more than 50,000 miles of routes. Learn more at www.adventurecycling.org/usbrs.
By Adam Newman
Here at Bicycle Times our portable potables come in all shapes and sizes. We’re never on a ride without some sort of liquid nourishment, usually water, often coffee, and sometimes something even more potent.
Pictured here are three types of water bottles we often carry, and some new bottle cages designed to carry them. From left we have one of our very own stainless steel water bottles made by Kleen Kanteen and available in our online store (hint, hint), a typical 32 oz. Nalgene bottle, a standard Bicycle Times water bottle (also available), and finally an 8 oz. Stanley flask emblazoned with the logo of our sister magazine, Dirt Rag.
First up is the TwoFish QuickCage ($25), a standard-sized bottle cage that uses a rubber bumper and a robust Velcro strap to secure it to any round surface. The latest version is made from stainless steel, and is plastic dipped with a rubber texture to prevent slipping and scratching on our nice, shiny Kleen Kanteen bottles.
The XL Quick Cage ($32) is designed for the larger water bottles on the market such as this Nalgene. It too is made from plastic dipped stainless steel and has two straps for security.
Now let’s step it up to something a little more festive, with this stainless steel flask cage from King Cage. Made by hand in Colorado like all of King Cage’s products, it is designed specifically to fit these Stanley flasks. It retails for $22.
Beverages are of course important, but when you’re touring, so is food! You can carry a camp stove along with this prototype of the King Cage Manything cage—it can’t carry anything, but it can carry many things.
What’s important to note here is that like other cargo cages, this one is designed to mount in three, equally spaced bottle cage eyelets, which we don’t have on any of our bikes. I mounted here with two bolts just to demonstrate. The old adage applies: do as I say, not as I do.
Anyway, the stove—in this case a Jetboil Flash—is secured with toe straps. Other items like large water bottles, sleeping pads, stuff sacks and more could also be used. This design isn’t finalized yet but we’re going to try it out and let you know as soon as it is.
Now you can carry ALL THE THINGS!
Special thanks to the lovely Surly Krampus for being our model today.Tweet
By Trina Haynes, illustrations by Stephen Haynes.
Pissing off the Edge of the World.
Ok, so maybe not off the edge but at least off of Mount Rainer if I wanted.
I love riding and hiking into the woods where there are no sounds of civilization. But I despise that moment where I have to wander off the trail into the trees and bushes to find a somewhat concealed place to squat. Nature was not incorporated in my childhood, so the statement “EW! NATURE! Get it off!” slips out more often than I’d like.
As the notion arises, visions of snakes, ticks, spider’s, mosquito’s and rabid squirrels pop into my head. I think both sexes can agree that squatting in the woods to do our business is not on the top ten list of favorite things.
In comes the GoGirl, a funnel like apparatus that lets a lady pee while standing.
Since I started using it I envision a sort of super hero power: “Take that vicious wildlife creatures!” BANG! POW! ZAP! As so:
But let’s get a little serious.
Before I ventured out into the snow-filled woods, I did a few trial runs in the home latrine. The last thing I wanted was to be wet, cold and smelly while out on a ride. I highly recommend this practice before whipping out your GoGirl outside.
It only took me two trial runs in the safety of our home bathroom to master the art of peeing while standing. I also figured out how to avoid dropping my pants all the way to the ground while doing my business (as practiced by my five-year-old son) . Now I can simply undo my fly and (ahem) "engage" the GoGirl while keeping my arse covered.
The GoGirl is made of silicone and doesn’t take up very much room, so it’s easy to bring with you on just about any outing. When using the GoGirl, it’s also a good idea to bring your water bottle along to give it a quick rinse when you’re done.
A fun fact: Female Urination Devices have been around since the first patent in 1922. They are popular in Europe and at some festivals where you can find female-friendly urinals.
Bring on all the doodle envy comments! As long as I can lower the percent of time my bum is out in the cold, insect, and animal-filled woods I’m going to use my GoGirl.
“You think you’re so cool ’cause you can pee with your penis.” – Rob Schneider in "Hot Chick".
By Giles Snyder.
I had hoped that a nice, sunny day and cool spring temperatures would combine to help make my first-ever bike overnight memorable. While my companions and I did get a remarkable trip up the C&O Canal Towpath from Washington, D.C., the weather we got was far less than remarkable.
It started raining the moment we left our starting point in downtown D.C. It rained as we cycled through trendy Georgetown, got a little lost, and almost got mowed down by a big delivery truck in rush-hour traffic. And it rained long past the time we shivered ourselves to sleep. Sometimes it came down as a bearable drizzle. Other times, it splashed down on our heads in big pregnant drops. It rained despite assurances from one of my companions that the day we planned to go is always “a beautiful day.”
Except, apparently, when you plan to spend it on a bike. I often cycle portions of the C&O Canal Towpath. It’s easily accessed from where I live in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle. But, like many who make their homes in this region, I work in D.C. From my driveway to where I park my car downtown, it’s about 90 miles. That’s a lot of ground to cover each workday. I wanted to slow down and see what I’d been missing.
The towpath snakes its way alongside the Potomac River for more than 184 miles from Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland. If you have time, you can go on for another 141 miles via The Great Alleghany Passage Rail-Trail all the way to Pittsburgh. (Read about our trip along the GAP and C&O. – Ed.)
The idea for the canal dates back to the earliest days of our nation. George Washington himself championed it as a way to connect the western frontier with the more populated east. Workers started building the C&O in the 1820s and canal boats used it to bring lumber and coal to market into the early 20th century. The canal was a lifeline for communities up and down the river, but it couldn’t compete with railroads. It would have fallen into obscurity if not for Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who led efforts to convince Congress to turn the canal into a National Park. Today it’s a haven, not only for cyclists, but for hikers and others who want to take in its natural beauty and gaze at history first-hand.
On our trip up the towpath, though, we had to work hard to find the bright future that Douglas saw. It was not only wet; all that rain made it seem much colder than it was. When we stopped from time to time my teeth started to chatter. One fellow who briefly rode along with us suggested he just might spend the night in one of the towpath’s port-a-johns. From then on, every time we passed a port-a-john, I seriously considered curling up in it, but I couldn’t get past the heat source. Besides, our goal was a lockhouse near Point of Rocks, Maryland.
According to the C&O Canal Trust’s website, there used to be 57 such houses. Lockmasters lived in them with their families, helping boats deal with the elevation change as the canal made its way into the Maryland mountains. Less than half remain, but the Trust has made a few available for overnight stays. They’ve been restored to reflect separate time periods in the life of the canal.
The lockhouses are rustic by modern standards. Ours had no heat, no electricity, and no running water. But it was well-appointed with period furniture, and a welcome sight after a full day of cycling in the rain. If you are looking to unplug from the hustle and bustle of city life, this is it. It’s also a great way to experience how life was lived along the canal in bygone days.
After spending the night snug in period beds, we got up the next day in relatively good humor. The morning sunshine renewed us and it wasn’t long before we were back on our bikes.
Two of my companions went back the way we’d come, leaving me and another to move on to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, where abolitionist John Brown staged his famous raid aimed at sparking a slave revolt. My remaining companion lives there, so that’s where we parted ways and I cycled the final dozen miles or so by myself, ending my trip at Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Confederate forces retreated through there after the nearby Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest one-day battle in American history.
While the second day’s sunshine was reinvigorating, the constant rain of the previous day should have made my first overnight cycling trip a miserable failure.
In fact, the adversity only whetted my appetite for more, if only to see what a cycling trip is like in a dry pair of shorts.
We left more than 100 miles of the towpath undone. I’m hoping to tackle the Shepherdstown to Cumberland stretch later this summer. Once our plans come together, it’s a good bet I’ll be keeping an eye on the weather. But since I’ve already cycled through one deluge, a little more rain won’t be enough to scare me off.
Check out Adventure Cycling Association’s new website, Bike Overnights, aimed at providing inspiration, resources, and tools for short bicycle tours (one to two nights). You’ll find stories, tips, and how-tos about embarking on short overnight cycling adventures, whether you’re traveling to a beautiful state park solo, lounging at a B&B with friends and family, taking your child on their first overnight bike adventure, or anything in between. Plus, you can submit your own trip report for possible publication; Adventure Cycling hopes to collect bike overnight tales from all 50 states!
By Adam Newman
Long known for its huge chunk of the auto rack market, and having successfully launched a line of luggage in the past few years, the natural next move for Thule was to combine the two with a series of racks and bag for bikes.
If the rack system looks familiar, it’s because Thule purchased the company Freeload, which designed these racks to mount to any bike, even with out eyelets. They can attach to frame tubes or even suspension forks.
The new Thule Pack-N-Go pannier system features an ingenious attachment system that rotates to hooks to disengage from the rails when you lift the handle, then the hooks flip back inside the bag to reveal a slick alloy plate that keeps the hooks from snagging on you clothing when off the bike. The bottom of the bag is secured to the bike by a magnet for a clean off-bike look.
Available in small (25 liters) and large (32 liters), the bags will be available in the spring. Both will retail for $120 with the large aimed at touring cyclists and the small for commuters.
At the other end of your bike, this handlebar mount is equipped to handle a range of accessories from small to large for touring and commuting. This small pack has a window for your smart phone, and the clam-shell opening is secured with a magnet.
There’s even an iPad case for use while riding with mapping software or for watching movies while riding a stationary trainer.Tweet
By Sarah Raz, photos by Josh Tack.
Whenever I think of bike tours, I think of months on the road. I think of cross-country excursions and miles and miles of pedaling and so much time on the saddle that the days run into one another and time is measured in peanut butter sandwiches. I picture tents growing weathered, tires being swapped out, calf muscles becoming staggeringly large and powerful.
My boyfriend, Josh, and I are lucky enough to work at the Adventure Cycling Association, so we can usually swing one long-ish bike trip a year. We love to take trips abroad and spend weeks on end investigating a foreign countryside by bike. The rest of the year, however, we have this thing called work to consider, so long bike tours are out of the question. But since we still love to get out and explore, we’ll often spend a weekend on a mini-bike tour or a bike overnight.
We live in Missoula, Montana, a sweet, laid-back college town just a hop, skip and a jump from the border of Canada. It’s a wonderful place; it’s surrounded by snow-covered peaks and has a long growing season (for Montana) that earned it the nickname “The Garden City.” On the three-day weekend of July 4th, we decided to check out the Rattlesnake Recreation Area. We’d pedal up the 15-mile dirt road corridor to the wilderness boundary with our backpacks in tow. From there, we’d make yet a deeper hike to visit the still snowed-in lakes of the pristine backcountry.
We started out with a technical difficulty. We were using trailers to pull our backpacks and my trailer had been having problems ever since I’d had the bright idea to pull my 180lb. friend home from a party (the weight limit is 80lbs.). We’d made it home all right, but the left back wheel hadn’t been the same since. Before we hit the trail, we had to abandon my broken trailer at the Adventure Cycling office. “Don’t worry, Josh, you’re so strong!” I said. “You can just pull both of our backpacks!” Josh is a good sport, but he didn’t look too convinced. The corridor up the Rattlesnake gets extremely steep, and our packs, loaded with food and camping equipment, were heavy.
Finally, we were off. Montana summers can be hot, but it got nice and cool as we started to climb away from town and into the mountains. The creek was bubbling next to us, and the air smelled good and fresh. At first we saw some other cyclists and hikers, but as we headed up there was just Josh and me and the flutter of birds and insects in the air. The pathway opened before us and the landscape became more rugged and high alpine. I noticed a waterfall from snowmelt to our right. I thought about how easy the riding felt and then remembered that wasn’t carrying anything. I looked over at Josh and he just laughed. “Next time,” he said, “you’re carrying everything!”
Before I knew it, we’d reached the wilderness boundary. We stashed our bikes and trailer, strapped on our backpacks and hiked upwards a few more miles. I wished for boots instead of my light trail runners—although it was still warm, there was snow everywhere and within minutes my shoes were soaked through. Before dark, we found a place that met our three requirements to camp (flat, with a view, bear-hang tree readily available) and promptly conked out.
How much snow is there in the mountains in Montana in July? More than I’d ever imagined! The next morning after we packed up and started walking, it wasn’t long before we couldn’t locate the trail any longer due to heavy snowpack. “I think we go this way,” I said, pointing to the right. “I can just feel it!” Josh studied the map.
“Actually, I’m pretty sure we go in the other direction,” he said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with feelings, but that’s what it looks like on the map.” We headed off with just the hush-hush of snow all around us.
Suddenly, I sensed a bit of movement in the woods and turned my head. An animal, smaller than a deer, was running along the ridgeline in near-silence and with incredible grace. Was it really a wolf? I almost couldn’t believe it. His silver-gray hair glistened and his legs seemed longer than I would have expected, almost gangly. He padded along, not really in a hurry, but not lingering either. Then he was gone. I realized I’d been holding my breath for a solid minute. I let out all the air in a giant rush.
There we were, not twenty miles from our back door, surrounded by snow and wilderness and a magnificent wild animal. I suddenly felt small and very humble. When we camped next to a frozen lake that night, I lay awake in my sleeping bag for a while, looking at the stars through the bug net. None of my worries seemed of consequence anymore, and I felt grateful for the shift in perspective.
The way home was all downhill. We crunched our way through the snow, then pulled our bikes out of their hiding spot and hooked up the trailer. “Hooray!” I said, piling my pack on Josh’s trailer, then zooming away, unencumbered. But I think it was more than the freedom from the packs that made us feel lighter. It hadn’t taken a grueling airplane ride and a month away from work to discover some remote backcountry. All we needed was a long weekend.
Check out Adventure Cycling’s new website: www.Bikeovernights.org, aimed at providing inspiration, resources, and tools for short bicycle tours (one to two nights). You’ll find stories, tips, and how-tos about embarking on short overnight cycling adventures, whether you’re traveling to a state park solo, lounging at a B&B, or taking your child on their first overnight bike adventure. Plus, you can submit your own trip report for possible publication; Adventure Cycling hopes to collect bike overnight tales from all 50 states!Tweet
By Justin Steiner
In a past issue of Bicycle Times, I gave some pointers on planning a cost-effective, single-day adventure ride (“Rambling Around God’s Country,” issue #3). Now we’re going to build on that planning to take your adventure to the next level in the form of an overnight trip. One of my favorite aspects of a bikepacking trip is the ability to ride for a whole day without having to worry about getting back to your starting point. The freedom afforded by knowing that I have everything I need to spend a comfortable night, or two, in the woods just about anyplace (legal) I fancy is quite liberating. For many people, overnight bikepacking will involve acquiring some camping gear that is packable, not to mention a reliable method for carrying equipment. Most of this gear doesn’t come cheap, but I’ll shed some light on how to maximize affordability.
Having Salsa’s new adventure touring bike, the Fargo, in for test naturally required going for a true adventure, in the name of product testing of course. For this springtime long-weekend trip, I headed just an hour and a half outside of Pittsburgh to Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands, home of some excellent whitewater boating on the Youghiogheny River, not to mention two of Frank Lloyd Wright’s amazing homes, Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob. This area also contains thousands of acres of PA State Forest land, which is ripe with singletrack, forest roads, and dirt roads just begging to be explored.
Like most of my adventures, this trip was a result of poring over maps, linking together various points of interest via interesting routes. I used a combination of my Delorme Atlas & Gazetteer and Google Maps discussed in issue #3, supplemented with a Forbes State Forest map (free in Pennsylvania) for the singletrack and forest road sections. See last issue’s article for tips on using these cost-effective routemapping strategies.
On the Road
One last check of the weather before leaving work Friday showed no more than a 60% chance of rain through Saturday with an improving forecast for Sunday and Monday—little did I know. A low-hanging misty fog and temps in the middle 50’s made for a serene, almost dream-like start to my ride. The fast and flowing Forest roads, in surprisingly good condition considering the previous week’s rain, were just technical enough to keep things interesting with a fully loaded bike. Swinging off the road at one point for a break and a bite to eat, I stumbled upon an amazing waterfall, followed by some bomber singletrack, and a cold, swift, knee-deep stream crossing. After a few more hours of long, winding climbs and ripping gravel descents, it was time to find shelter before nightfall. I made my way over to a group of shelters built along a local hiking trail only to discover one is supposed to reserve shelters ahead of time—something that hadn’t turned up in my research. These three-sided hiking lean-tos are simply awesome, especially in adverse conditions, and they even had hammock hooks! Despite soaking wet wood, I was eventually able to coax a fire to a dull roar, and establish a system for drying wood near the fire.
After waking to a steady rain on day two, I decided that unless the rain quit before I finished breakfast, I’d bag the next phase of my plan to visit a nearby State Park and simply spend the day lounging in my hammock, alternately reading and napping, since there was nowhere else I had to be. The rain never let up, but an abundance of great food and a good book made for a super-relaxing and comfortable day. The cool, damp weather and my sloth-like activity level meant I was wearing nearly everything I brought, but I remained comfy by the fire. The group of shelters in which I was staying did have a water pump, but the liquid coming out looked more like a rusty-orange sport drink, wholly justifying my decision to bring a water filter.
On day three I again woke to rain, which didn’t let up after breakfast as I was hoping. After waiting until noon for the day’s temp to get above 50°F, I had little choice but to ride back to the car in the steady rain, which took me roughly four hours via the most direct route on tarmac and dirt roads, at which point I was soaked—claims of waterproof and breathable clothing don’t hold up to such sustained exposure.
Despite the damp weather, this trip was truly enjoyable. My day spent reading and napping in the hammock was one of the most relaxing days in recent memory—certainly my kind of adventure. Experiences like this make me truly believe that you should approach a trip with a solid plan, but don’t be too eager to stick to it—modifying your itinerary in conjunction with changes in the weather will maximize your enjoyment.
As usual, I did come away from this experience with a few nuggets of wisdom. First, always bring rain gear with you, and if you want to ensure that you’ll stay dry in an all-day rain, go for a non-breathable plastic or rubberized rain outfit. As a bonus, these old-school rain outfits are significantly cheaper than today’s wonder fabrics. Also on the water theme, don’t forget to bring heavy-duty freezer bags for any electronic gizmos. Gastronomically speaking, always carry extra food, as bringing home extra food is better than going hungry. Also, always remember your flask with liquor of choice; mine was sorely missed on this trip.
Finally, when going solo, keep stupidity and risk-taking to a minimum. Always inform a friend or family member of your plans with an itinerary and a timeline, including deadline to call in the appropriate authorities if you don’t show. Devices such as SPOT’s Personal Tracker provide peace of mind for both adventurer and family.
You’ll need to invest in a fair amount of gear eventually, but you can slowly acquire items over time. Buying used gear will cut the price of outfitting yourself in half. Don’t forget that the holiday gift-giving season is right around the corner, too. Asking for some items you’ll put to good use is far better than getting another pair of underwear.
Let’s start with bike set-up. Your touring rig will obviously need to be up for the demands of your ride. Road bikes make OK light touring rigs, but their quick handling and lightweight frames don’t make for the most confident loaded touring ride. Cyclocross bikes, mountain bikes, and everything in between generally work pretty well for touring, as long as you’re able to mount racks to carry your stuff. Obviously true touring bikes work well unless you’re planning to ride singletrack or extremely rough forest roads.
After your bike and rack situation is sorted, you’ll need bags to haul your gear. There are plenty of options available, from fancy waterproof bags to basic saddlebags. If you can’t spring for a fully waterproof setup, simply pack your gear in heavy-duty plastic bags to keep water out. If your bags require some sort of proprietary plastic clips to fasten the bags to your rack, you might want to carry a set of spares. Handlebar bags add accessibility and organization for smaller items.My set-up:
- Salsa Fargo reviewed in issue #143 of Dirt Rag
- Jandd Saddle Bags out back, Jandd Mountain Pannier on a lowrider front rack, and Jandd Handle Pack II on the handlebars. Used a SealLine dry bag to store raingear on top of the rear rack. Camera gear carried in a backpack.
- Jeff Jones H-bar (personal preference)
- Tool kit: multi-tool, chain tool, spoke wrench, zip ties, needle-nose pliers, stainless steel safety wire, small bottle of chain lube, duct tape.
- Two tubes, plus patch kit, and C02 for emergency situation (in seatbag)
- Frame pump
Your sleeping system can be as simple or complex as your comfort needs demand. Shelter options are many: tarp, bivy sack, tent, or hammock. Sleeping pads are recommended if you’ll be sleeping on terra firma, but not necessary. My preferred setup is a camping hammock due to its small pack size, sleeping comfort, and good availability of trees in my usual haunts.
- Hennessy Hammock Expedition Asym – Weighs just 2.75lbs., and allows me to leave my sleeping pad at home. Quick to set up and quite comfy, this is my choice for solo trips. A rain fly keeps you dry and the hammock doubles as a lounge chair.
- Mountain Hardware 20° synthetic sleeping bag – More than a decade old, this bag is more like a 35° bag these days, but is still going strong. Something lighter and smaller would be nice, but I’m too cheap.
- Emergency space blanket – One of the downfalls of hammock camping is the lack of insulation between you and the outside air. Great in the summer, but gets cold quickly. A space blanket between the hammock and sleeping bag reflects heat and provides a wind barrier if temps drop unexpectedly.
- Therm-a-Rest seat – Comfort around camp.
Again, kitchen options are many, ranging from hobo—can of beans in the fire—to gourmet. I’m on the gourmet end of things, preferring to carry the additional weight of good food and the ability to heat it up. I simply love sitting by the fire in the morning drinking a good cup’o joe.
- MSR Whisperlite International Multi Fuel Stove – Nice highend stove, good heat control and will simmer nicely. Ability to burn just about any liquid fuel (including unleaded gasoline) was the selling point for me.
- MSR Alpine Stowaway Pot – Got this cheap used. Nice and tough, not terribly light. My kitchen accessories store inside: stove, fork, spoon, can opener, matches, Lightload towel, olive oil, soap, and abrasive pad for the dishes.
- Titanium coffee mug with MSR Mugmate Coffee/Tea filter.
- MSR Miniworks EX Microfilter – For water filtration. Filters out everything down to 0.2 microns in diameter. Doesn’t filter viruses, so bring sterilization (iodine or chlorine) in any area were you’re worried about viruses. For the most part, we don’t have to worry about viruses in North America, but nothing is guaranteed
- Orikaso folding bowl – Highly functional space saver.
- Nylon cord (50ft.) for hanging food away from critters, and a shorter section for miscellaneous use.
- Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight .5 First Aid kit –Supplemented with Ibuprofin and medical tape.
- Matches, both regular and REI brand storm-proof, along with newspaper
- Pocket knife
- Breakfast: instant oatmeal with trail mix added for additional calories, coffee. Nutritious and hearty breakfast with a minimum of preparation—simply add hot water.
- Lunch & Dinner: pouches of pre-made Indian food, rice, and garlic naan from Trader Joe’s. These meals are quick, delicious, and calorie dense. Simply heat up the sealed pouches in hot water on your cookstove and pour them into a bowl. Since these dishes are hydrated they are heavier than dehydrated foods, but they’re so tasty I’m more than happy to carry around the extra weight. I also took macaroni and cheese as a lightweight spare meal.
- Trail food: Clif Bars, Lära Bars, granola bars, three varieties of trail mix (savory and sweet), beef jerky, and of course, chocolate.
[Ed notes: This article originally appeared in print in Bicycle Times issue #4. Photos by Justin Steiner. Click here to subscribe to Bicycle Times.]
Editor’s note: Read about our ride from Pittsburgh to Washington here.
By Stephen Haynes, photos by Stephen Haynes and Jon Pratt
Several months back Bicycle Times editor Karen Brooks asked if anyone was interested in riding the C&O Towpath and GAP trails that link Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh to and from the National Bike Summit. Having ridden portions of the GAP trail on a few occasions, I was eager to try and link the two trails and test myself it what would be my longest bike-packing excursion to date.
I chose to ride in the return leg, which was designated the more casual of the two. I’m not the fastest guy on the best of days, but certainly not with a fully loaded touring bike. Plus, I didn’t want to be in a hurry, there is a lot of history along those two trails and lots of things to look at as well.
As the departure day grew closer and the gear to be reviewed started to roll in, my confidence began to wane. I hadn’t done any significant training rides over 15 or 20 miles in longer than I cared to remember and the very real threat of rain (or worse) weighed heavy on my mind.
Nevertheless the day came and I found myself on an east-bound train at 4:30 a.m. following the trail I’d be riding back over the next five days…
As is often the case when ones eyes are bigger than their stomach, I did not make it the entire distance. I called in for reinforcements and departed the group in Cumberland, Maryland, leaving Karen and Jon to carry on over the GAP trail, back to Pittsburgh.
While I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to complete the whole length of the two trails, I was happy with my accomplishment of successfully navigating the C&O Towpath. It also gave me a better sense of bike packing and the pace at which I am comfortable. I saw a great abundance of wildlife from fish to frogs, turtles, snakes, beavers and eagles but I feel like I could have seen more.
Next time, and there will certainly be a next time, I’ll do the trip on a rig that doesn’t weight nearly 90 lbs., I’ll plan for a lot for less miles over more days, I’ll bring an empty sketchbook and plan to fill it (as was my secret hope for this journey) and I’ll train (at least a little bit more) before beginning.
Thanks to Karen and Jon for their encouragement and guidance and also to Chris, Libby, and Family for being so hospitable to us before the trip.
For more: Read about our southbound trip here.
By Adam Newman
It seemed like a terrible idea at the time.
The plan was to ride 350-some miles from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. for the National Bike Summit along rail trails that would likely be soft and slushy, while facing weather from sun to snow and probably everything in between. Oh, and we were going to do it in three days.
Naturally I signed up right away.
The idea was hatched last fall, but finally came to fruition this past weekend, as Bicycle Times Editor Karen Brooks and I tackled the Great Allegheny Passage Trail and the C&O Canal towpath in three long days. Thankfully the mild spring co-operated and blessed us with wonderful weather and allowed the volunteers along the trail to open the Big Savage Tunnel early, just in time for our passage.
While I couldn’t stay in Washington, Karen will be attending the Summit this week, then lobbying members of Congress before making the return ride along the same route with other members of the Bicycle TImes crew.
Here’s a quick recap from our trip:
Pittsburgh in the early morning light. We “officially” began our trip on the Hot Metal Bridge.
Sunrise just east of McKeesport, Pa.
This was our view for most of the day.
Arriving in Connellsville, Pa.
Where we were greeted with our very own St. Patrick’s Day parade!
Despite the lack of leaves on the trees, temperatures were in the 70s. We ate lunch in Ohiopyle where we chatted with a couple cruising around on their motorcycle for the day. “Do you wear those butt pads?” he asked. Yes. Yes, we do.
Almost to Confluence, Pa. Still relatively clean at this point…
The Pinkerton Tunnel is closed, so the trail winds its way around the mountain.
Our campsite at the Husky Haven campground in Rockwood. I can’t tell you how great this place is. They have a guest room with Wi-Fi, books, and games, plus showers, tons of free firewood and a great staff. Bring some earplugs though, the trains that roll by are LOUD.
Day two started with cloudy skies but warm temperatures. I didn’t mind being out of the sun.
By the time we made it to the Eastern Continental Divide, the trail was soft and our pace was slow. At least it was all downhill from here! Once over the top, the trail drops off much more steeply than on the western side. It started to rain, but we didn’t mind, we were still going nearly twice as fast as on the way up.
The 3,300-foot-long Big Savage Tunnel is closed in the winter, but thanks to a mild spring, we made some phone calls and learned it was to be opened just three days before our passage.
From there we plunged down the mountain, across the Maryland state line, and into Cumberland.
As we rolled into town, the rain dried up and we dried off, stuffing our faces at Cafe Mark & Jennifer’s Desserts. We were quite a site for the after-church crowd.
The GAP trail ends in Cumberland, and the C&O Canal towpath begins. A National Historic Park, the canal was once the most accessible means of transportation from Washington to to the West, but it could never compete with the speed and convenience of the railroads.
Some of the canal remains filled with water, while most of it is being slowly reclaimed by nature. The trail runs along what was once the towpath. Despite a reputation for being slow and bumpy, we found the conditions were excellent, with a firm surface that helped us keep moving quickly. The scenery is much different from the GAP too. While the railroad ran through towns and villages, the canal followed the Potomac River, and signs of (modern) civilization are few and far between.
There are 74 locks along the canal, most of which are still intact in one form or another. Each one is an impressive sight, though more impressive still would be to see it in action at its peak.
The bikes took a real beating on the gravel trails, though we made it through with zero mechanical issues or even flats. Just a little chain lube was all it took.
Trains, both cargo and passenger, are a familiar sight along the way.
We saw two of the giant snapping turtles at different points, both just after sundown. This “little” guy was right in the middle of the trail, cruising along, maybe headed to Pittsburgh. He was at least 18 inches wide and 24 inches long; an impressive sight.
Many of the lockhouse structures along the canal have been restored. Pictured here is an example of the type of passenger boat that would have been used along the canal.
Many parts of the Potomac River are unnavigable, which is why the canal was so important for traffic in the 19th Century.
Some of the wooden structures at the locks are still intact.
We needed to stop at a bike shop, and right along the trail in Georgetown is Cycle Life, where we picked up some stuff and refueled at their beautiful cafe. We were especially excited to see a poster from our sister magazine, Dirt Rag, on the wall.
And so we rolled into downtown Washington, which was packed with tourists enjoying the perfect weather and beautiful cherry blossoms. I wish I could have stayed longer, but I had to shoot across town to catch my train ride back to Pittsburgh.
If you’re wondering, my bike computer counted 364 miles from my door back to my door, with more than 30 hours in the saddle in three and half days. Hurts so good.
Stay tuned for more from the National Bike Summit and Karen’s trip back home. You’ll read about it here and in our magazine, so subscribe today!
Update: The train ride home
Several readers have asked about the return trip via Amtrak, so I wanted to share my experience here.
After dropping Karen off at the hotel and saying goodbye, I raced the mile or so to Union Station in DC for the trip back. I had purchased a ticket ahead of time, but from the number of empty seats on the train, it’s not likely they fill up on weekdays. At first I wasn’t sure where to go, standing around outside in my full bike kit, still dirty and stinking from three days on the trails. Finally I just said “whatever” and walked my bike right into the station, which if you haven’t been, is more like a shopping mall than train station. No one batted an eye.
At the ticket counter they checked me in all the Amtrak employees were extremely helpful. There was another young woman with a bike already boxed, and I got the feeling they see bikes come through all the time. I paid $20 for one of the Amtrak bike boxes, which are much larger than a traditional bike box and met the attendant on the opposite side of the station by the baggage carousel to pack it.
I started to get a little worried when I couldn’t get one of the pedals off, but after removing the handlebars from the stem, the bike slid right in the box with one pedal still on. I wasn’t allowed to stash stuff in the box with the bike, but you can get extra cardboard boxes to use for your checked baggage if you have panniers or anything.
The ride itself was great. If you’ve never ridden a train, it’s not quick but it’s very relaxing. You’re on your way with none of the headaches of air travel, and the ride is extremely comfortable. The seven hour ride was over before I knew it, and I was ready for a shower.
In Pittsburgh, they dropped off the bike in the box right in the station where I put the pedals and handlebar back on, handed them the box for recycling and was on my way. I’m definitely going to consider Amtrak for many of my future travels.Tweet
By Karen Brooks, photos by Jon Pratt
A few months ago, a great idea came to me: to ride from our HQ here in Pittsburgh to Washington, DC, for the National Bike Summit in March. The route would be almost entirely on rail-trails, the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal trails. What better way to show our support for publicly funded bicycle projects than by taking advantage of this excellent result – a car-free path all the way to our nation’s capital?
I enthusiastically revealed this idea to my coworkers, and some of them caught the bug and joined up. We came up with a plan for a faster ride out, taking three days, and a more leisurely ride back of five days or so. We’ll be camping along the way, and thus will have a great opportunity to test some bikepacking and camping gear, not to mention a few bikes that are particularly well-suited to the journey. (Look for those reviews in Issue #17, coming out around June 1.)
Of course, it’s not all sunshine and roses… especially not in March in this part of the country. The weather can be temperamental to say the least. (I’m fond of telling transplants that we don’t really have spring so much as a war between winter and summer, starting in March, and eventually summer wins.) One constant is precipitation in one form or another, which is not so terrible in itself – unless feet of snow are covering the trail, a distinct possibility – but it can make the trail surface wheel-suckingly soft. It’s already fairly rough in some areas. A quaint little paved path this is not.
Stephen, our art director, went out on a test run a couple weekends ago and came back shaking his head. “I dunno, man… it was soft. I need different tires or something.” He’s already using 26” mountain bike tires on his Surly Long Haul Trucker. Uh oh.
This past weekend I had the pleasure of meeting Linda McKenna Boxx, President of the Allegheny Trail Alliance, the coalition of organizations that came together to build the Great Allegheny Passage. Even she looked at me like I was crazy when I told her we aimed to get to DC in three days. “You’ll be lucky to be doing 8 mph at times. And it’s flat, and dull. There are no climbs or coasting downhill to break the monotony.” I nodded and smiled as I have at everyone else who expressed doubt about our plan.
But so far, the weather gods seem to be smiling on us. It’s been unseasonably warm and dry, and that trend is set to continue at least through Sunday. Good news for the ride out. That overdue snow will probably fall on our heads on the way back. But – so what. We’re going to demonstrate that rail-trails are worthy additions to our public landscape, and even useful beyond attracting tourism to local economies. After all, we’re essentially commuting to our job – 320 miles away.
We’ll have updates about how the trip went after we get back, so stay tuned. We may even send out some tweets along the way.
Editor’s note: Laura and Russ of The Path Less Pedaled are traveling through New Zealand and sharing with us exclusive dispatches from their trip.
Our three months in New Zealand is coming to a close. We’re writing this final post from Christchurch where we are spending the next day tying up loose ends, packing our bikes in boxes and getting ready for the flight home. Time is frighteningly elastic and its hard for us to believe that its time to leave already.
We came to New Zealand to explore their new proposed cycle trail network. However, in all our talking with people we discovered that the real story was actually a dusty rail trail in the hot and dry Central Otago Region of New Zealand, which is widely popular with New Zealanders but has seemed to be under the radar of most North Americans. The Central Otago Rail Trail is New Zealand’s first rail trail. It had a contentious beginning, but through the dedication of a handful of believers and early adopters it has become the saving grace of a part of New Zealand that was dying on its feet.
In the video, about three weeks of travel is condensed down to a 40 second montage. We quickly glossed over a mechanical failure that necessitated taking the Tranz Alpine train and eventually a bus to Dunedin. There is about 4 seconds of video that shows Laura slowly pedaling up the “steepest street in the world.” There is about two seconds that shows me fly fishing out of a motel window. Time is frighteningly elastic.
Being on the trail was a great relief. To be perfectly honest, we were nearing our fill of New Zealand driving so a 100k stretch of carless gravel was sounding pretty good to us. Being a converted rail line, the grades were pretty easy and the scenery was stunning. The skies felt larger. It was a welcome change to have such vast sight lines after months of being under large canopies of native bush.
When we got on the trail I had a list of scribbled names of people that we should try to talk to if we happened to run into them. We struck gold when we were in Wedderburn. The bartender at the tavern recommended that we go up the hill to see if Graham was around. We caught Graham just in time coming back from some farm work and managed to get him on tape. From our understanding, he had been one of the most vocal opponents of the rail trail but was now a staunch supporter. His testimony of how the rail trail saved the area with his gravelly voice just makes your heart break.
Ultimately, I think the story of the Central Otago Rail Trail was the most important story we found on our trip. It gives a blueprint and a real world example of how bicycle travel and tourism can revitalize an area. There is a lot to learn from those 150 kilometers of gravel which we hope to unpack and present in the future.
This is the last video in our series. It has been challenging but fulfilling to make while traveling. Sometimes it feels like the last three months have been a constant worry about keeping our batteries charged, looking for interesting stories to tell or spending hours in front of a computer editing. We hope you’ve enjoyed it and thanks for watching!
-Russ and Laura
Editor’s note: Laura and Russ of The Path Less Pedaled are traveling through New Zealand and sharing with us exclusive dispatches from their trip.
By Russ Roca
What you’ll probably notice in the video is what’s missing. There is no mention of the International Bike Incident and no real explanation of how we ended up having tea with the mayor. After some long internal debate, I decided not to include mention of the road rage incident in the video. While quite sensational, it was a lot more energy than I wanted to expend on the experience and it would have been something hard to fit in a video we’re trying to keep under ten minutes.
After Wellington we were both feeling pretty down about cycling in New Zealand. You see so many photos of amazing landscapes with hardly a soul and you just assume the riding must be great. What you forget is that New Zealand is doing a little creative storytelling of its own. You don’t see the parade of rented camper vans and tour buses. You don’t see the sandflies. You get a very well composed snapshot of a virgin New Zealand waiting for you to explore it. As much as we tried not to let the incident in Wellington color our view of New Zealand, it couldn’t be helped.
The riding from the Picton to Nelson on Queen Charlotte Drive was spectacular. It’s been noted as one of the best road rides in New Zealand. The road twists and climbs but never too steeply. With every turn up the climbs you get an ever-expanding view of the sound’s startling blue water. You pass through several small bays with tiny settlements and a dairy (convenience store) or fish and chips place. The riding was beautiful enough to almost erase what had happened in Wellington.
Nelson was also a breath of fresh air. While not perfect, it was easily the most bike and pedestrian friendly town we had seen. There were some decent road treatments and what looked like a good number of everyday cyclists and there was also good beer readily available, which much improves your opinion of any city. Free House is easily one of the coolest places to have a beer in NZ. The environment is very laid back and they’ve got a wide and actively rotating selection of beers. They don’t serve food, but you are more than welcome to bring take away dishes from neighboring restaurants. During our stay in Nelson, it was our happy place. We tried a few more pubs in town, but none had the same character as Free House.
Nelson also seemed to be buzzing with touring cyclists. We saw a few more trickle in everyday. It really did give us a hope that the riding would improve which was a big psychological boost. It was real easy to slip into a downward mental spiral after Wellington.
We are in Christchurch right now waiting for a bicycle part before we can move on. The city is still without its central business core, but new signs of life and culture are springing up around its ragged edges. From here, we head down to Dunedin and onward to the Otago Rail Trail, which seems to be the linchpin to New Zealand’s push to promote bicycle tourism.
Editor’s note: Laura and Russ of The Path Less Pedaled are traveling through New Zealand and sharing with us exclusive dispatches from their trip.
By Laura and Russ
One of the reasons we decided to go to New Zealand was because of the NZ Cycle Trail program, a surprising initiative where the central government of New Zealand invested $50 million into the development of cycle trails around the country to create jobs. In this video, we ride The Forgotten World Highway, one of the rides encompassed by the program and meet the team behind administering the funds.
Some mind blowing scenery on the Forgotten World Highway.
The Forgotten World Highway is a 180k stretch of hilly road where you ride through everything from sheep and dairy land to deep native bush. We did the ride in three days with a really long 85k first day. It wasn’t so much the distance that was brutal as it was the sawtooth terrain. People told us it was “rolling hill country.” We imagined the gentle rollers you’d find around Solvang, CA where if you tucked in on the downhill you could just about crest the uphill. This was certainly not that. We would find ourselves climbing hills over 10% grades only to scream back down the other side and repeat. There were no less than 6 significant climbs that first day. By the time we got to that campsite on the hill, we were wrecked.
The Forgotten World Highway had some unsealed sections that we were constantly being warned about, especially after people saw us riding Bromptons. Ironically, the gravel sections were actually the most pleasant, since they had such little traffic. On our second day of riding, we probably saw less than a dozen vehicles. We found out later that many camper van and rental car companies prohibit customers from riding the Forgotten World Highway. Bad for them, good for us. Most of this drama is reduced to a 20 second riding montage that doesn’t really dramatize how challenging it was.
One of our favorite stretches was going through the Taranaki Gorge.
One of the great joys in touring for us is meeting people. Ian and Laurel were a wonderful and hospitable couple. For me, it’s always a delicate moment when I whip out the video camera and start recording. Too early after having met someone and all I get is awkwardness, too late in the evening it becomes a chore. What isn’t shown in the video is that they later invited us in for “tea” (ie dinner) along with the touring family. It was a wonderful evening of glasses of wine and Purangi Plongers (a homemade concoction of dates soaked in liquor).
For those that follow us, conspicuously absent is anything about my road rage incident in Wellington, which has caused quite a stir nationally in NZ. I haven’t quite decided how to work that into the videos. Should it be its own episode? Should it be a short? Should I mention it at all in the videos? I haven’t quite decided.
The stunning coastal walk/bikeway in New Plymouth. Pretty amazing views.
Today, I’m writing from Nelson on the South island. The most bike-friendly town we’ve encountered so far. We’re starting to continue our journey South deep into the bush and less inhabited parts of New Zealand. Electricity and wifi will become less available so doing these videos will be quite interesting.
By Russ Roca
In this episode, we finally start the bicycling portion of our bicycle tour. The video starts with a shot of a beautiful sunny day – flowers in the foreground and rolling surf in the distance. What we left out is that it was actually the first sunny day in about a week. We had tried to leave Waiheke island the day before, but were caught in a torrential down pour. What ensued was a comedy of errors that included bumming a ride with a local to the ferry wharf, his truck running out of diesel, and the ferry being canceled. It was an entertaining sequence captured here, but since it didn’t move the story forward – it was cut.
This is the roughest part about making these videos – killing the darlings. It’s all really sleight of hand. Compressing days into a twenty second montage and expanding a few chance accidents and encounters.
Another thing not mentioned in the video is that, while the ferry took our bikes without a problem, the wharf where we were we boarded was quite small. Instead of loading from the rear of the boat that had more room, we had to straddle a foot and a half of open water and essentially shove our bikes and gear through a tight fitting side door. My fishing rod kept getting hung up as I struggled to get everything in the door without dropping things into the drink. At some point my helmet got caught and my mirror popped off, slowly pirouetting into the blue water below.
Among other things that were lost was Laura’s brake pad. We’re still not quite sure how it mysteriously popped off. The retaining screw was gone, but the braking forces should have kept the pad in the holder. Needless to say, we were both quite horrified that it fell off and that we didn’t have spares. We would have been in really bad shape if we didn’t find those brake pads at the hardware store in Coromandel, since that area of New Zealand is known for its steep hills and fast descents.
Another wonderful sequence that had to be cut was the entire town of Waihi. Reduced to about two seconds of Laura and I toasting beer in front of a pub under an umbrella, Waihi was a fascinating mining town. Right in the town center is a giant active mine that produces both gold and silver (quite a rare occurrence). There’s a bike/ped trail that goes along the rim of the mine and you can peer in as large earth movers and cranes push dirt about in a fairly industrious fashion. Also in Waihi was a wonderful campsite where we stayed – it was butted up against the hills and next to a bubbling trout stream.
Perhaps the best piece of luck was running into Damian Day. He had actually been following our trip for the last year and we happened to be all in the same general area around the same time. We connected through Facebook and coordinated to meet in Rotorua. At the time, we didn’t know about his condition, so were surprised to meet him in person. It took about a day to sort out his speech impediment and begin to really understand him. We stayed at the same backpackers and spent a few hours talking to him in the afternoons and evenings. As we understood him more we began to really appreciate his wit and sense of humor. We were both really inspired by his story and a little saddened. He effectively has no family and has been wandering by bike for the last five years. We parted ways on Christmas Day.
Stay tuned for more episodes of the Kiwi Chronicles!
By Russ Roca
The general advice you’ll get from most bike tourists traveling in New Zealand is to get the hell out of Auckland as fast as possible. We’re not most bike tourists. We love riding in the country but are also fond of cities and love interacting with local bike cultures. We were determined to not leave Auckland until we found some bicycling stories in New Zealand’s largest city. Auckland has been dubbed the “supercity” because a few years ago all the neighboring council regions were absorbed into one council. In terms of bike infrastructure, Auckland is closer to Los Angeles than Portland. Standing outside our backpackers in the Ponsonby neighborhood of Auckland it was dizzying the amount of car traffic whizzing by – this was a long long ways from the Shire.
Most reality shows and journalists have fixers, a local that knows the ins and outs of navigating the city and can help arrange story leads. Anthony Bourdaine does not just step off plane and wander into the first place serving pork he sees and starts chatting away (or maybe he does!). Being a crew of two and essentially winging it we were scrambling to find something bike related. We had managed to find a coffee shop that was delivering roasted coffee to subscribers by cargo bike (didn’t make the final cut), but needed more.
The bicycling gods were listening and we happened to make contact with Barbara Cuthbert, a dynamo of a woman leading the charge to make Auckland more bicycle friendly. She is a force. With her unsinkable upbeat attitude and ability to build consensus she is transforming the city.
We had just met our fixer. She had a thorough knowledge of everything cycling related in the super city. Through her we learned about the Telestra Challenge, a recreational ride that was unique in that it was the first time cyclists would be allowed to legally ride across the Harbor Bridge. She also introduced us to Pippa Coom an elected official that was also part of Frocks on Bike a sort of Auckland Cycle Chic movement. Through her we also got a quick interview with Len Brown the mayor of Auckland! In a single stroke of good luck we had found ourselves in the center of Auckland bicycle advocacy.
Pippa Coom, an Auckland Council board member and advocate for bikes.
I can’t emphasize the amount of luck that went into making this episode. Our bags were literally packed to leave that Thursday but after meeting Barbara we changed our plans and stayed until Monday to cover everything we could. This chance meeting reminded us of what we love about open-ended travel – the ability to change plans at a moments notice. If we had booked things too far out in advance or had been too stubborn about sticking to a schedule, we would have missed out on all these great experiences.
So what did we really think of Auckland? Its cosmopolitan and is indeed quite a “livable” city as the mayor likes to say. We found many cute neighborhoods that had all your daily needs within walking distance. The bus system is fairly good (they do need bike racks on them though). It has a long way to go to be considered really bicycle friendly but we feel hopeful. The idea of non-recreational “everyday” cycling for transportation is remarkably still a new idea but it seems to be catching on. We’re looking forward to coming back to Auckland in a few years to hopefully see some great advances in urban cycling.
We’re sending this dispatch from a beach house on Waiheke Island, a short but stomach-turning ferry ride from Auckland. Watching this first episode it seems like worlds away. Although we have been in New Zealand for less than a week, a lot has happened, including running into the powerful women who run bike advocacy in Auckland, which in turn led to riding on a historic ride across the Harbor Bridge (the first legal crossing by the city’s cyclists) and then meeting and riding with the mayor! But, that is for the next episode.
We wanted this first episode to capture the excitement and touch of sadness that comes with long term travel as well as answering some of the practicalities of traveling by bike. We love our Bromptons and when we travel domestically with them, we usually just gate-check them like a stroller. We were planning to do that, but as the time to leave came there was some anxiety about whether we wanted to go to the trouble of talking our bikes on the plane. We decided the day before leaving we would just DIY some boxes so that led to the “arts and crafts” portion of the video.
One of the challenges I’m facing filming this trip is figuring out exactly how MUCH to film. I was a stills photographer and when I did documentary work, I would just shoot everything and do a hard edit later. Video is a different beast since it takes up so much more hard drive room. I’m learning that fine balance between not over shooting and making sure I have enough to have narrative continuity. This means thinking in establishing shots, medium shots, close-ups, B-roll, etc., It’s a handful to bike tour sometimes, much less trying to shoot and edit a show as you go. We have a new found respect for Les Stroud from Survivor Man after the last few days.
One thing that didn’t make it on film is that we got lost a bit on the way to the city. Not traveling with GPS or a smartphone, we were actually using a Kindle to navigate (hence that shot of Laura on the Kindle). I found an Auckland cyclists’ blog about riding to the airport and we were constantly referring to it as we traveled. The map we had was fine for driving, but not so good if you were trying to find the separated bike trail into the city. Speaking of bike maps, they were almost impossible to find. The airport didn’t have them, the big visitor’s center by the ferry building didn’t have them and neither did any of the bike shops that we visited. We eventually tracked one down at Britomart, the train hub in the city.
That’s it for now. As I write this it is raining outside. We’re at a house on a cliff overlooking the ocean. While the views are good, I’ve got to dig out the external hard drive and start editing the next episode with the hopes of getting it done before we leave Waiheke. Cheers!
Editor’s note: I only met Laura and Russ a few months ago but I’ve been reading their blog – Path Less Pedaled – for years. Plenty of us have dreamed of taking extended bicycle tours but these two have not only taken on the challenge, they’ve made it their livelihood. So I was very excited when they approached us about partnering for some exclusive coverage of their new expedition to New Zealand. Stay tuned over the next few months for the Kiwi Chronicles. -Adam
Our first day of officially shooting for our series was a challenging and windy one. The wind storm of the decade is blowing through Los Angeles. Some neighboring cities have been out of power for 70 hours. Fortunately, where we are staying we’ve been spared the power outages, but not the wind.
I recently got the “dead cat” or windscreen for our shotgun mic, but even with that, the howling winds were at times drowning out the audio. Without much of a choice, (our flight was the next day) we pick a relatively protected spot behind my parent’s garage. It’s not perfect, but it works.
We’ve been traveling and blogging about our bicycle journey since 2009. Before we left I was photographer. Somewhere during the last two years, I got a wild hair to do video while we traveled. It started crudely with a Flip camera, progressed to a camcorder and now we’re shooting with a SLR system. Our site has always been about telling stories from the road. Video seemed like a natural progression, but it certainly has not been easy.
Case in point, the prologue you see before you took the better half of an afternoon to shoot, record and edit. It took multiple takes and battling with the wind. Oh the wind. A bane to cycling and filming both! In some ways, it seems like madness to attempt to produce video content and travel at the same time, but after being on the road for a few years it’s nice to add new challenges.
So we hope you follow us on our new adventure. In future posts, we’ll be including background information about the videos you’re watching, as well as production notes about all the hidden chaos that happens behind the lens.
Russ and Laura
Photos by Kevin Brooker and his family’s ride from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. along the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal towpath. Read his write-up in Bicycle Times Issue #13.Tweet