By: Adam Perry
As I set my Long Haul Trucker down at a Ride the Rockies aid station this spring atop Ute Pass, approximately 9,500 feet above sea level in central Colorado, a scruffy young man in an all-black kit still wearing his helmet and cleats eagerly waddled over to me.
“Dude, were you playing freakin’ Motörhead on that climb?”
“Hell yeah,” I replied.
“That’s awesome!” he said and hurried over to the growing port-a-potty line next to the complimentary water-and-snacks setup.
In Breckenridge the previous weekend, I’d chatted with two mechanics from Campus Cycles (poised to follow Ride the Rockies) about the growing phenomenon of cyclists bringing Bluetooth speakers along for bike tours, a habit some people love and some hate, and one of them suggested blaring Motörhead’s “Overkill” near the end of the 418-mile tour.
“You should play that on Ute Pass and see what happens,” he said.
Waiting that long, around 400 miles and six days into the ride, was my only issue with his request. After trudging over an extensive stretch of dirt road between Winter Park and the Blue River, the 2,000 riders participating in the 32nd-annual Ride the Rockies ascended Ute Pass with an epic view of the snow-capped Gore Range the only reward; all three-and-a-half miles of the climb, I finally unleashed all the Motörhead on my little SanDisk Clip Sport Plus mp3 player.
“Wait, stay with me! I need that music,” one rider said and smiled as I passed him on a switchback. I eased my pace and stuck with him for a little “Built for Speed” before moving on.
It was an ear-opening week tuning in to the sound of my surroundings, from red-winged blackbirds and frogs to white-haired guys in their 60’s pedaling by on $6,000 bikes blasting Selena Gomez on little handle-bar-mounted Bluetooth speakers. I consciously kept my Outdoor Tech Buckshot speaker off between several Ride the Rockies aid stations to notice what music riders around me chose.
In the 45-degree cold between Breckenridge and Copper Mountain that began the tour’s first day, a tall rider who looked to be in his late 30’s surprised me by rocking Django Reinhart and Louis Armstrong. As the mellifluous 80-year-old jazz soared off his bike and into the cold mountain air, a much older woman riding in front of him turned around and said, “I’m lovin’ those tunes.”
“As a flatlander, music was very welcome on the climbs,” one Ride the Rockies participant commented after the tour. Another said, “I love it; it lifts my spirit and I wish there were more [cyclist DJ’s] out there.”
But not everyone is pleased by music, let alone music of a stranger’s choice, spontaneously filling the otherwise idyllic silence during an internationally renowned six-day group ride that costs a minimum of $495 per rider. “I’m always cool if someone wants to bring the Bike Party alone,” one rider said, while another complained, “It just comes across as noise pollution.”
One man explained he prefers “the sounds of breathing, cranks, tires and a tailwind” but doesn’t mind hearing music on organized bike tours.
Personally, when the music suddenly appeared that I found loathsome, such as Styx or Dave Matthews, it didn’t affect me. I simply let the rider pass by or sped up to get the hell away. Several times, however, I biked toward sweet sounds, such as on a gorgeous descent into Steamboat Springs on the 81-mile second day of Ride the Rockies, when the view of mountains, magpies, and horses were juxtaposed with some guy’s decision to pump silky Lionel Richie and Toni Braxton as he coasted around Routt County.
It was good to feel similar love for my musical choices, too. While climbing from Copper Mountain to the 11,300-feet-high summit of Fremont Pass on the first day, my mp3 player shuffled to Franz Ferdinand’s raging version of the LCD Soundsystem classic “All of My Friends.” after hovering near me for a good while, the guy pedalling behind me finally spoke: “It feels like I should be paying you for these tunes.”
Ironically, later in the day as the weather turned very hot and we crossed the Eagle River, I played LCD Soundsystem’s own version of “All of My Friends” and a woman most likely in her late 50’s, struggling somewhat on the climb, politely asked me to pass her. It was the only time during my three Ride the Rockies I’ve heard someone openly voice displeasure with another rider’s music.
Setting off from the aid station directly following the exchange with the woman who was clearly not an LCD Soundsystem fan, I broke the silence in a group of riders by putting on Paul Simon’s immortal afro-pop song “Obvious Child,” a tender and surreal track that can make you want to dance and also bring you to tears.
A few bars in, a middle-aged guy in sunglasses on a fancy carbon bike turned to some friends riding with him, nodded toward me (and/or the Paul Simon) and said, “I’m following this guy. That’s some inspiration right there.”
Numerous times along the six-day ride through the awe-inspiring (and often steep) Colorado Rockies, while playing everything from the Clash’s “Street Parade” to the Gorillaz hit “Clint Eastwood,” riders outright begged me to keep pace with them to grab some mojo from my music.
Most surprising was that the music I generally listen to while alone on a challenging ride – say, up the brutal Super Flagstaff climb in Boulder – got the least response. Playing the super-charged speed-metal of Metallica’s “Blackened” garnered not a head-turn, not a compliment or a gripe – nothing…well, except my own legs gaining some much-needed adrenaline as I grinded my way up Rabbit Ear Pass on day four.
In the end, according to Ride the Rockies director Deirdre Moynihan, music pouring from riders’ Bluetooth speakers is controversial but “I prefer that to having them with earbuds in their ears.”
“I think it really depends on what type of music,” Moynihan told me. “Some music can be very intrusive, and when people are riding they get in their own zones, so music can be jarring to them. I think it is important for the cyclist with the Bluetooth speaker to be respectful of others that may not want to listen to their music…[or] just ride faster and get past them until you find someone that has the same taste in music!”
I certainly don’t have the same taste in music as Tom Dea and Andre van Hall, who have heroically completed Ride the Rockies on a red-and-white Cannondale tandem the last two years, pummeling the magnificent Colorado passes with ‘70s and ‘80s rock (Bob Seger, Guns ‘n’ Roses, etc.) from a big speaker.
Andre is blind – it’s hard to miss him walking around the aid stations with his cane – and Tom, who naturally rides up front, is something of a burly, hilarious saint. I love riding close to the duo on climbs when possible, soaking up their music and camaraderie, and asking the very vocal big guy how he’s feeling.
“Like a piece of raw meat, Adam,” he joked at one point as we grinded up Ute Pass in the June afternoon heat of Ride the Rockies’ final day this spring. “Pulverize me,” Dea deadpanned as he and van Hall pedaled mightily and van Hall, in the rear, scrolled through the music on his phone, which read the artists, albums, and songs aloud.
“On a tandem, it is nice to have music – that way Andre doesn’t hear my lungs getting ready to burst on the climbs,” Dea said. “Hope our music didn’t offend anyone. If’n it did then it must have been on the days that Andre got to choose the music.”
Any music those two heroes played was fine with me and inspirational.
However, it turns out what I played was not fine with everyone. On a Ride the Rockies message board a few days after the tour, someone lamented, “Bluetooth speakers should be banned. Not everyone shares the same musical tastes as these self-appointed DJ’s. The dude playing thrash metal all the way up Rabbit Ears Pass at 7:30 a.m.” – me – “was especially annoying.”
Different strokes, I guess. My favorite comment on the message board was from a woman who replied, “Hey guy-that-was-playing-metal-music, come ride with us next time on the climbs! Maybe we can hit 5mph!”
Driving along “The Loneliest Highway In America” as determined by LIFE magazine back in the 80’s, Nancy and I came across a couple of characters riding their bicycles down the road. Out of curiosity, and my need to fill this space on the interwebs, we stopped and asked if we could ask a question. I know. That’s already a question, haha. Fortunately, they were not flip, but all-around nice. I caught a rough yet stereo, recording with my phone, which you can listen to in its entire 10 minutes here…
BT: What are your guy’s names?
Mike: I’m Mike and this is Helen. We started 13 months ago today. 23,000 kilometers on the clock so far. We started in Scotland, Glasgow, went to the Netherlands, then Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Eastern Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Georgia. So. Central Asia.
Helen: But then I got altitude sick, even though it wasn’t very high, but we didn’t have time for me to acclimatize. So it’s sort of going through central Asia. We flew to Beijing, cheapest flight we could get, to Siham Chung. So we kind of doubled back on ourselves a bit. And then, down to Vietnam, Saigon into Cambodia to Bangkok all the way down the coast of Thailand and Malaysia and Singapore. We just turned around again and went back to Kuala Lumpar to get our flight to Australia. Then flew to the west coast of America and we’ve cycled from San Diego.
BT: So you got married?
Mike: Yes, two weeks ago in Yosemite Valley in Cooks meadow.
BT: How did you… did you find a justice of the peace?
Mike: My friends a minister, she actually lives in Kentucky, so she flew out to meet us there. And then we had a couple of friends come over. Parents each. Yeah.
BT: You had it all planned out?
Mike: Yeah, we actually started planning it before we left. There was a bit of a gamble, but we figured if we could make it a year on the road and not kill each other, we could go ahead.
BT: Oh, that’s so awesome. Congratulations! Have you guys had many mechanical issues?
Mike: Yeah, but it’s mostly been ok. I mean a couple of things. We’ve been replaced like new drive train, new cassettes. Obviously lots of new chains, but Helen is still on her first set of brake pads.
BT: Brakes. They only slow you down.
Mike: Yeah, just tough. I think I’m on my fourth set of tires
Helen: I think I’m on my second set of tires. But nothing major. Everything’s built to last.
BT: Meeting any nice people?
Overwhelmingly! We were quite concerned that we weren’t going to have enough water as we headed across the 50 here. And just didn’t quite make it as far as we wanted to yesterday. So this guy stopped this morning and was like, hey, guys, need some water? I’ve just been rafting in Utah, and have gallons of water in my van. So amazing timing. Um, but yeah, we have a story per day. China was amazing for that because they just want to give you food and take you home and take care of you.
BT: You guys blogging or anything like that?
Helen: A bit of writing and videoing as much as we can. I haven’t updated since the wedding, so I need to do that soon. Because we’re going east, it’s evereast.co.uk. We’re doing it for a charity, called MIND, they do mental health advocacy and awareness. They do a lot of lobbying the government for approved mental health services and they do awareness campaigns to just try and reduce the stigma within companies. They kind of go into offices and HR departments and stuff. So very, very nice. Very nice.
BT: Well great. Great. Thank you so much for stopping. Bye!
By Jeffrey Stern
It goes without saying, but sometimes it still needs to be said: we’re lucky. Much of the United States offers an undeniably unique opportunity for people of all types, abilities and with varied interests to get outside and play outdoors. Whether it be aboard a bike, on foot, hanging from a rope on a rock wall, floating down a river, gliding down a wave or any other numerous adventurous activities our country is filled with endless options to pursue on a daily basis, no matter which region you reside in.
Is there any downside to living so close to such an incredible overabundance of outdoor activities? Particularly, I would argue, aboard the dozen of bike options available to us from road, touring, mountain (with its own subsets of downhill, cross-country, etc.), gravel, tandem, unicycle and more. When planning a bike related adventure, it’s absolutely insane the choices of places you can go, things you can see and ways in which you can enjoy the time spent. With life’s commitments including family, career and other responsibilities, how does one find the time to take complete (or even a sliver) of advantage of all this outdoor opportunity at their fingertips?
What’s become clear is that we’ve now seen the adventure lifestyle go completely mainstream with Generation Y. Originally the practice of only a few diehard vagabond adrenaline junkies, the van life, adventure enthusiasts living day-to-day, reevaluating their life priorities and pursuing what they want to do and just doing it is growing by the hour. Prioritizing experiences, simplicity and outdoor adventure over material things is trending upward.
No ifs, ands or buts. Live in the moment. Carpe diem, they say.
As irresponsible as it may sound to say aloud, it speaks more to a pure dedication of passion than some may think. In a world where too many accept the status quo and go through the motions, even when they don’t want to, this pursuit of the adventure lifestyle is a breath of fresh air.
Is it so eccentric to believe that the outdoor adventure lifestyle can also represent a career opportunity as well? With simplicity comes ingenuity and we see products, brands and ideas being born out of necessity. Less is more, so let’s make the less better; multi-dimensional, bomb-proof, something to last a lifetime and then another one.
We all know the power that a good ride can have on your mental state. It’s refreshing, can hit the reset button on a bad day and change your outlook on things to come. It often provides the creative spark necessary to solve a problem. Taking this to the next level and making this is your life is only natural. Happiness breeds creativity and is also contagious. When you see some smile, do you get upset and frown? No way! That would be unnatural.
In a world that can feel so rigid and constricting, adventure, and the endless quest for it just makes sense; no matter your platform, location or passion. Everyone wants to be happy, so there’s no reason to hold back. Go out there and get after it. You can be a better version of yourself and in the process, make the world a better place to live.
This contest has ended. Congratulations to David Caplan of Bend, OR.
Haute Route has partnered with us to give one winner any Haute Route three-day event in the U.S. in 2018: Haute Route San Francisco (April 20-22), Haute Route Asheville (May 18-20) or Haute Route Utah (September 14-16). Enter to win below.
Haute Route is the world’s most prestigious multi-day amateur cycling event series, delivering an unmatched professional-level experience both on and off the bike.
Spanning the world’s most iconic cycling destinations, epic terrains, and legendary climbs, Haute Route provides unprecedented rider support and safety services. All events are timed, ranked and fully supported with premium services typically reserved for the pros. Offered in both seven and three-day formats, Haute Route events give passionate cyclists the best of all possible worlds by combining the European tradition of the competitive timed and ranked Gran Fondos with an authentic ‘professional’ level of support on and off the bike.
Haute Route, which in French means High Road, was founded in France in 2011 and is quickly expanding in the USA, offering riders of all ages and levels of fitness unique events in four epic destinations: San Francisco, Asheville, the Rockies and Southern Utah.
The experience and level of attention to detail is unrivaled by any amateur cycling event in the world. For more information or to register, visitwww.hauteroute.org.
Complete the survey below by 11:59 p.m., April 04, 2018 to be entered to win. We will choose and notify a winner the following day. Some terms and conditions apply, but don’t they always? Open to U.S. residents, only. Sorry, but that’s not our choice. – If you are on a mobile device, click here to take the survey.Tweet Print
By Jeffrey Stern
I remember the day well, boarding the number four bus in Mill Valley destined for San Francisco and there were actual seats available. It’s common to find yourself standing for 90-minutes during this commute. Luckily, I grabbed a window on the east side of the bus for a guaranteed picturesque view of the City during the Bridge crossing. Now if only I could stay awake long enough through the rush hour traffic to enjoy the view. Within minutes I was snoozing, using the glass as my pillow. I likely day dreamt about not being on the bus and doing something else. I’m sure I hated my job and I was scheming of a way out, but I don’t remember the details. The gentle hum of hundreds of engines slowly creeping forward lulling me to sleep is the prevailing memory today.
As I half-woke from the feeling of the sleep-drool starting to pool in the left corner of my mouth and drip onto my khakis, pulling my cheek off the frigid window pane to wipe my mess away and hit the proverbial snooze button for another 30-minutes, a different type of sound came whizzing by – that of a small peloton of cyclists commuting to work, hooting and hollering. The image of them grinning from ear to ear and shouting in excitement as they blew by the hoards of traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge at Mach speed is seared into my memory. Growing up mountain biking, I never gave the skinny tired sibling much of a chance. That day my perception of the road bike, and how exciting it could be, changed forever.
A few weeks later I sold my rusty ‘89 Jeep Cherokee and bought my first road bike–a used, jet black, ‘76 Raleigh Competition with downtube shifters built in Nottingham, England and still adorning the head badge to prove it. It was older than my Jeep and over a decade older than me. That made me smile. I pocketed a couple thousand in cash, that made me smile too.
I rode my Raleigh into the city everyday after the drooling incident, attempting to join that fast group only to get dropped on the climb up from Sausalito, but hanging on longer and longer each day. Within in a month, I was tail gunning all the way into the City by the Bay and having more fun road riding than in my wildest dreams. The smiles just kept getting bigger.
Then I started riding the Raleigh up Mt. Tamalpais on my days off or long summer nights and fell back to getting passed on the climbs; not only by cars, but other riders with proper equipment. I didn’t care, I was challenging myself, immersed into a whole new world. It was a bit risky, scary at times when the cars came within inches (I swear a few even touched my baggy mountain biking shorts) and I clearly remember a few near death experiences (that’s a whole other story), but damn it was such a blast.
On the weekends, I began venturing farther north towards Sonoma County on the Competition, into the Redwood groves and along the Pacific Ocean, down the coast for as long as the daylight would allow or as far as I thought I could go without having to call for help (I never had to). For a few months, my mountain bike got dusty just sitting in the garage, not out riding the sinuous trails on Tam. Then the tires went flat from non-use. It didn’t matter though; I was hooked on a new fix. The roadie had stolen my heart.
I’d turned a new leaf on life, my pursuits and adventure; no longer a couch potato, but reinvigorated for pursuing outdoor endeavors and improving my health. The road bike, and that first ride across the Golden Gate, launching me on a new path, a self-defined trajectory against the norms and on my own terms. It was precisely what I needed.
A decade past and the swoosh of the peloton that chilly morning from my window seat on the route 4 Golden Gate Transit bus is still as vivid as the day it happened.
Such a wild ride it’s been that I’m still drooling, except for all the right reasons – the road ahead is just as vast and promising and I can’t wait to continue to roll down it on my ‘76 Competition. This time with proper shoes and comfortable shorts, but the smile is just as big and grows every day in a new way.
Do you remember when you got hooked on riding? We’d love to hear your story! Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll publish our favorites!
Everyday Adventure is a monthly column penned by Bicycle Times web editor Helena Kotala about the amazing experiences that can be found close to home.
Earlier this year I wrote an article about adventure and the fact that it is whatever you want it to be. Or rather, it is what you make it.
What defines an adventure is not where you are, how far you ride, how hard it is or how close to peril you might come. Instead, it is your attitude toward what you are doing that determines if it’s mundane or exciting.
I am the first to admit that I can get a bit envious of the lives of perpetual travelers exploring the world by bike, living an existence that offers a continuous stream of new experiences, places and people. As I wrote in my previous article, the age of social media has only exacerbated the issue. The ability to easily follow the lives of fellow bike enthusiasts who may be doing things that seem more exciting than my own life can certainly generate an urge to sell everything and hit the road. But what the pretty pictures don’t show is that that life has its own hardships and drawbacks. Truth be told, despite that occasional desire to adopt the nomadic life, recent years have shown me that while I do love to travel, I also love having a home, a family and a community to come back to.
Luckily, a life full of adventure and being home are not mutually exclusive. You do not need to go far to explore. I’m willing to bet there are plenty of places in your backyard that are yet to be discovered. It’s also possible to see very familiar places in a whole new way by simply changing your perspective or the circumstances. Riding a well-known trail on a different bike or at a different time of day or year can change the experience entirely. Showing friends or family the joys of cycling can make prosaic rides fun again. Embarking on a challenge or trying something new like bikepacking can spice up the same old routine without taking too much time away from other activities and life responsibilities.
I’ve been trying to fill my life with more everyday adventures. I travel a lot for work, which makes me even more appreciative of the time I’m home and boosts my fervor for exploring my own backyard. As a writer, I also love to share my experiences, so the idea for a regular column was born out of the desire to inspire others to find their own everyday adventures.
Stay tuned for monthly musings and explorations from the woods and back roads of central Pennsylvania!
What’s YOUR everyday adventure? Tell us in the comments! OR if you’re feeling ambitious and want to submit a full story, send words and at least one photo to email@example.com for consideration. We’ll publish our favorites on the web!Tweet Print
Here are a few notable things from the halls of ye olde Interbike, 2017.
Ergon releases a new grip of grips (and a saddle)
From the top: GA3 – $30 – The smallest version ever of the winged grips that Ergon is known for, the GA3 is for small-handed riders (insert Trump joke here) or riders looking for some wrist support that can’t get along with the larger wings on other Ergon grips.
GA2 Fat – $30 – Ergon’s fattest grip at 33.5 wide. Tacky and shock absorbent, the GA2 is designed for long days and rough terrain.
GE1 Evo/GE1 Evo Factory – $35/$40 – Designed to excel at enduro mountain biking, the GE1 has become a favorite of ours for just about any bike with flat bars. The evolved version of the original GE1, the Evo has a new pattern for better grip. The Factory version is manufactured with a tacky and soft German-made compound.
Women’s saddles ($70-$130)
Designed with the same attention to detail as the rest of Ergon’s ergonomic lines, this new series of women’s saddles could be your backside’s answer to its prayers.
There are both road (SR) and mountain (SM) versions, at a range of price points. There are two widths to fit various sit bone widths. Pictured is the Sport Gel version, although I can’t tell if it is the SR or SM version.
Silca Tattico pump with Bluetooth – $120
Did you ever want a pump that can talk to your phone and double as a Kobuta baton? No? Me either, but maybe you aren’t like me and need connectivity and self-defense capabilities built into your tire inflation device.
Snark aside, if you really want or need the accuracy of a pump with a digital gauge in a small package, this is a nicely built pump with electronic bits built into the same size as the $55 non-Bluetooth Tattico.
Abus Bordo locks
The cute little lock is a Bordo Lite Mini. Stick it in your jersey. Stick it in your jeans. Stick it in your fanny pack. Stick it in your hydration pack. Stick it between your teeth like a pirate about to raid a schooner. But don’t leave for a ride without it. Two sizes, a few colors, all 500 grams or under.
The bigger lock is the Bordo Alarm. Jiggle it once it emits a loud warning beep. Jiggle it some more and a 100 decibel alarm scares off the miscreant with his or her dirty paws on your prized ride.
Tern GSD Compact Utility bike
The GSD is an e-bike aimed to replace a second car, or enable a car-free or car-lite lifestyle. Built to solve the problems of owning a huge bike in an urban area, the GSD stores upright in the about the same area an awkward 15 year old would take up at his first high school dance.
Claimed to fit riders between 4’9” and 6’5”, the seatpost and stem adjust without tools. Bosch provides the motor and battery, and the rest of the components are well-thought out. 20×2.4 Schwalbe tires, four-piston Magura brakes, thru-axles and a Shimano drivetrain are some of the better choices I’ve seen on any stock cargo bike.
Total capacity is 400 pounds, and the well-braced frame looks to be stiff enough handle that with ease. There are plenty accessories to outfit the GSD, including some sweet folding passenger pegs. With a folding stem and double telescoping seatpost, the GSD should store easily in a closet, fit in any elevator, and even fit in a hatchback.
The GSD is $4,000, or $4,800 with a second battery. With the second battery, Tern claims a 150 mile range on the lowest assist mode. The power kicks out at 20 mph.
Acepac Bike Shelter
1100 grams, sleeps two people, folds up into the size of a Nalgene bottle. Leave the groundsheet at home and you have a 750 gram shelter. All for only $120.
Acepac is a bikepacking bag company out of the Czech Republic with a full line of bags and shelters. This little tarp-style tent seems to be a simple solution of lightweight shelter that doesn’t break the bank.
AnneeLondon folding helmet
This was hard to photograph in any way that doesn’t make it look slightly odd, but in person it looks a little more normal. The London helmet uses a cloth-wrapped hard shell combined with reactive foam pads to create a helmet that AnneeLondon claims is more protective than almost any EPS helmet on the market. It folds small enough to fit in a small bag or purse. This is an odd product, but so far, is the most innovative thing I’ve seen at the show.
Preorders are going on now. $180 will save your place in line for the first production run that should start in Colorado any day now, with delivery planned for the beginning of 2018.
Words by Chris Klibowitz, photos by Brandon Priesont
Staring out the train window as the central California landscape slides by, Brandon Priesont contemplates his next move. He was supposed to be painting his new condo this week. Instead, at the last minute, he hitched a ride with a friend to San Francisco, and is riding his bicycle home to Los Angeles. This train ride was semi-unexpected—with Highway 1 closed in Big Sur, this detour made the most sense. When he disembarks in San Luis Obispo, he’ll still be roughly 200 miles from home, but he’s in no rush. Time and money are two things he’s got plenty of this week.
In 2016, Priesont, an account manager in Southern California, and his co-workers at the British Columbia-based nutrition company Vega exceeded their annual sales goals and earned their incentive. The lump-sum bonus might seem a bit standard, but it came with this additional week of vacation in May, during which the company is encouraging its 201 employees to live—and share—their “Best Life Week,” whatever that might mean to them. Some stayed home, some pursued dreams, many traveled. Priesont decided to have an adventure by the seat of his pants, relying on minimal planning, his legs, and spotty cell service.
When asked why the change of plans from painting, Priesont replies, “I remembered that we as a company are all about pushing ourselves past our comfort zone. Plus, when you work for a company full of incredibly fit and talented people, you sort of feel obligated to one-up a bit,” Adding, “No one wants to see pictures of my freshly painted walls.”
Ortlieb has been a reliable pannier bag brand for cyclists for decades, so it wasn’t surprising to see them release a few bikepacking-specific products in 2016.
At the Sea Otter Classic this year, Ortlieb continued that progression by upgrading their Gravel-Pack panniers, seat pack and handlebar bag, and adding couple new items.
The big focus of these bags is reducing the overall size of the bag. This is based on consumer feedback that Ortlieb has conducted and the statistic that when given the option to use more space, most people will use it, but when space is not available, they make-do. When you are riding long distance, multi-day trips, less weight is a good thing.
The Ortlieb Gravel-Pack front panniers are a more compact version of their current Sport-Roller pannier. The Sport-Roller has 25 liters of storage space, while the new Gravel-Pack has 22 liter. The Gravel-Pack features Ortlieb’s signature 3M Scotchlite reflectors on the sides of the bag and double lower mounting hooks for V-shaped racks. The Gravel-Pack will be available this fall and will retail at $170.
And now a little sneak-peek at 2018 products:
The Ortlieb Seat-Pack M is a compact version the currently available Seat-Pack. Both bags offer Ortlieb’s 3M Scotchlite reflectors, honeycomb texture, waterproof with a roll closure, and the air release valve.
The original Seat-Pack is a substantial 16.5 liters while the M is a cozy 11 liters. Because the M is smaller, Ortlieb was able to make the seat post attachment a single velcro strap versus the original’s double. The benefits to a single seat post attachment are that it can now be used on a dropper post and it’s also more usable for petite cyclists who have limited space to attach a bag to the seat post. Price: $145
Another evolved product is the Handlebar-Pack S, again another shrunken version of the original. The S is 15.7 inches wide and 6.7 inches in diameter. Its short length makes it a good candidate for drop bars, with the capacity for up to 9 liters. The S has 3M Scotchlite reflectors, honeycomb texture, and is waterproof with roll closures. Price: $125
Ortlieb also has two brand new bags for 2018. One is the Frame-Pack Top Tube, a narrow frame bag that accommodates water bottle cages or rear shocks. The Frame-Pack is waterproof and offers 4 liters of volume. Price: $135
The second bag is the Cockpit-Pack, a waterproof bag positioned on the top tube to house a few small essentials in an easy-access location. It looks as though it could hold a cell phone, keys and a snack easily. Price: $55
All Ortlieb products come with a 5-year warranty.
Ortlieb also had their no-sew patches on-site. Patches are awesome, but holes in your waterproof gear are not. Thanks for the patch!
Keep Reading: Check out more coverage from the 2017 Sea Otter Classic here.
Looking for the perfect bike that provides the freedom to roam aimlessly regardless of the terrain ahead? Look no further, the Ritchey Break-Away Ascent may be your answer. It’s exactly what a bike should be, a do-all, go anywhere means for adventure. This steel-framed beauty relegates both one trick ponies and niche categories.
The heart and soul to the Break-Away Ascent is the custom, lightweight Ritchey Logic TIG-welded tubing paired with a relaxed geometry and ability to run up 700×40 mm or 27.5×2.1 inch tires.
Add the travel-friendly break-away compression system and you have yourself a versatile bike that’s capable of traveling the world with you as your checked luggage.
The Ritchey Break-Away Ascent is available to the masses only as a frameset, with an included soft-sided travel bag for $1,650. For testing purposes, ours arrived loaded with Ritchey WCS bits including the new VentureMax adventure drop bar, 27.5×2.1 Shield tires mounted on Vantage II wheels, a SRAM Force 2×11 drivetrain, and BB7 mechanical disc brakes.
The frame utilizes simple technology such as the highly-praised, threaded 68 mm bottom bracket, 27.2 mm seatpost and a post-mount disc brake mount. All of these should be easily sourced in any bike shop, letting you to get back on your journey quickly and with ease should any mechanicals derail you.
Sounds too good to be true, right? Check out our full review of this steel framed travel companion in the upcoming issue of Bicycle Times #46. Subscribe now so that you don’t miss out on an issue!Tweet Print
Words and photos by Matthew Salvadore
Where was it? It was the last item he needed. He had spent several days looking for a place that sold it. Now, as he shuffled through the local pharmacy convenient store in his pajama pants and Pink Floyd t shirt, he still couldn’t seem to find it. He made his way to the cashier and waited in line.
That’s my father-in-law. He spent a lot of his time this way. Not necessarily waiting in line at pharmacy convenient stores, but searching. Searching for that one last item he needs. He’s a buyer and a planner. It seems that planning for something and buying the gear for it is more exciting to him than actually doing what he is planning to do. I had forgotten that when I agreed
to take a bike packing trip with him.
He loves bicycles, but not riding them, necessarily. He’s a collector. At one point he owned ten new bikes, none of which he had ridden. Not even on a test ride at the bike shop before purchasing. It seems that the dream is always bigger than the
reality. If only riding the bikes could be as effortless as looking at the bikes. He’s not much different than the vast majority of people in our society. That’s why Disneyland is such a popular place. The dream is bigger than reality. People are drunk on the dreams.
He and I really couldn’t be any different. I hate buying things. I have always thought owning a lot of things is like being slowly choked to death. I also love to ride. I am drawn to the challenges and deprivation. The pain and difficulty. The struggle. For me the reality is always better than the dream. I hate dreaming and, yes, I hate Disneyland.
Bikepacking was something I had been wanting to do for awhile. One day, while talking about bikes (something that happened a lot with my father-in-law), I mentioned my bikepacking hopes. He wanted to go. So I said yes. That was the start of months of planning and to his enjoyment, purchasing.
Finally, the line moved and it was his turn. This was the big moment. He was about to find the last item he needed for the trip.
When the cashier invited him to step forward he asked, “Do you sell canned hams?” Aisle 4. Of course! Right next to the school supplies. How could he have missed them? This was the only store in a twenty mile radius of suburban America that carried canned hams. That’s because no one eats canned hams. However, thanks to a bikepacking tutorial on YouTube, he insisted that we needed canned hams for this trip.
After the purchase of two canned hams, the bikepacking list was complete. It was official. He finally had way too much stuff. For him, the adventure was over. It was only an overnighter, but it took months to plan. We decided on a state forest not too far away. It had a good system of gravel roads and trails. It was plenty of ground to cover, especially considering the fact that my father-in-law cannot ride much more than a mile or two without needing a break and he would be carrying enough gear to supply a small army. In the past few days, he had even joked about buying a bicycle trailer. At least I think it was a joke.
My wife and I live four hours away from her parents. So we took a few days off and went for a long weekend to their place. We got there late on Thursday night. The “Great Adventure” would begin on Friday.
I woke up early Friday morning. I didn’t really need to pack. I fit the few items I would need, including the infamous canned ham, into a backpack and handlebar bag. I went upstairs to see how my father-in-law was doing with packing everything. He was shuffling around the house in his boxers and a t-shirt from a local bikes shop’s racing team. There’s a level of irony in that.
“How’s it going?” I asked, almost knowing the answer. There was cycling gear spread out on every piece of furniture in the room.
“It’s supposed to rain,” he said. He almost said it with a sense of relief. The forecast had called for spotty showers. Nothing to worry about. “You know,” he said as if asking for permission,”We could just go for a ride and then come back here to camp
Over the past few months I had waited for this conversation to come along and now, here it was. I was surprised that we had actually come this far and gotten this close. He had walked right up to the edge of it. But when he looked over the edge into the great chasm of the unknown world of adventure, all he could see was effort and discomfort. He had already had his adventure in the months of planning and spending. He had ridden the endless waves of dreams. Reality now stared him in the face. And it looked mean. I felt bad for him.
So that’s how it went. We drove to the state forest. Rode for a couple of miles until he needed a break. Then picked up a pizza on the way home. That night, I camped in their backyard and he slept in his warm bed. We woke up in the morning and had canned ham and eggs for breakfast. It never did rain.
I’ve taken other trips since then. But that one was the best. Because caring about people is the greatest adventure.
We would love to hear your stories of bicycle adventure, no matter what they are. Send your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Over the past several years, Salsa has defined itself has a bicycle brand dedicated to adventures that lie beyond the ordinary bike ride. Epic-distance riding, exploration and bona fide bikepacking have become the company’s hallmark. Thus it should come as no surprise that Salsa has doubled down on this vision by announcing a complete set of bikepacking bags and accessories. We first heard about the EXP Series back in July.
As Salsa states, the EXP Series Bikepacking gear is, “built with the adventure-ready intentionality, functionality, and get-after-it-ability that you’ve come to expect from Salsa. The EXP Series invites possibility and the potential to transform any ride into so much more.” The EXP moniker is derived from three words batted about when mentioning Salsa Cycles: explore; experience; and expedition.
The EXP series is comprised of seven distinct products. While these items are designed to fit Salsa bikes, they’re likely also to fit the bike you ride:
- Cutthroat Framepack
- Toptube Bag
- Anything Cradle
- Dry Bag
- Front Pouch
- Front Straps
Let’s take a quick look at each item.
Available in four sizes (3.5L; 4.5L; 5.2L; and 6.1L), this weather-resistant frame fastens to the inside of the main triangle and features 500D Nylon with TPU lamination and PU coating, 1000D Polyester with dual-sided TPU lamination, #10 weather-resistant YKK Zippers, and Duraflex Hardware. Internal hook/loop dividers help keep gear separate and balanced, and it has the capacity for a water bladder for your inevitable hydration needs during the long haul.
Handy for those small items you often reach for – like gel packs, lip balm and cigarettes…or chewing gum if you prefer…this 1.2L toptube bag can be attached to Salsa frames that feature bottle mounts on the toptube (we haven’t confirmed if it’ll mount to other bikes with similar mounts like the OPEN U.P.) Features include two internal mesh pockets and a closed-cell foam structure for increased stability.
“The Anything Cradle, much like our Anything Cage HD, is built to create carrying capacity where once there was none.” It doesn’t get much more succinct than that. This injection-molded composite cradle features 6061 forged aluminum arms, and will secure up to eight pounds of whatever gear you need to bring with you, or…anything. The Anything Cradle is designed to mount to the handlebars. While it features almost limitless points to which you can fasten straps, this cradle is part of the EXP’s modular concept, as the EXP Series dry bags are designed to neatly fit right in.
Conveniently, the Dry Bag attaches quite nicely to the aforementioned Anything Cradle. This 15l dry bag is made of 420D Nylon with TPU lamination and a PU coating for reliable waterproofness. Three slotted strap anchors adorn the front for attachment of other bags and packs, such as the…
Anything Cradle Front Pouch
While the Dry Bag is great for keeping lots of goods nice and dry during your rides, it’s usually filled with stuff you’re not really reaching for while you’re riding. That’s where a pouch comes in handy. Strapped to the dry bag, the 1.7L waterproof Anything Cradle Front Pouch allows easy access to what you find important, usually while you’re riding.
Anything Cradle Front Straps
These 25mm-wide nylon webbing straps are made to work neatly with the Anything Cradle. In the absence of the Dry Bag, you can mount…well…anything to the Cradle. They’re also good for strapping down anything else to other places on your bike.
Salsa is including its EXP Series Seatpack in this suite of bikepacking kit, but it’s still in production. Details…and some official photos…will be released soon.
No word yet on pricing, but you should start seeing these EXP Series products hitting the streets…err…roads and trails soon.Tweet Print
Photos: Nicholas Carman
The Baja Divide is a 1,700 mile off-pavement bikepacking route down the length of the Baja peninsula, from San Diego, California, to San José del Cabo in Mexico. The route utilizes existing roads and tracks, 95 percent of which are unpaved, ranging from graded dirt roads to rough, sandy jeep tracks, for a total of 92,000 feet of climbing along the way.
The ride was developed by avid bicycle travelers Nicholas Carman and Lael Wilcox, who have been bike traveling for the past eight years. “We stumbled into a route project last winter when we rode across the border in Baja California and quickly realized that we needed to ride, document, and publish a route down the peninsula— the riding was that good,” wrote Carman. “What began as a quest for long nights of sleep and a mellow dirt tour turned into three months of route research, pushing our bikes, and riding some out-there roads.
The Baja Divide route connects the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez, historic Spanish mission sites rich with shade and water, remote ranchos and fishing villages, bustling highway towns, and every major mountain range in Baja California on miles and miles of beautiful backcountry desert tracks.
Life on the Baja Divide is defined by a rhythm of riding, camping, and resupply. Baja California is a mountainous desert and resources are limited, although the route is designed to encounter resupply frequently enough to make a self-supported tour possible. Riders may need to carry up to 2-3 days of food and 10 liters of water. A warm, dry climate minimizes equipment needs. Pack light, and leave room for food and water.
Check out the Baja Divide website, which is loaded with route and equipment guides, section narratives and resources for download including GPX files, waypoint folder, resupply guide and distance chart. The route is provided as a gift to the bikepacking community with the support of Revelate Designs and Advocate Cycles and is open to ride at any time, self-supported. The best time to enjoy this route is November thru March. Previous backcountry touring experience is strongly recommended.
In addition to the published route, a scholarship to ride and document it is up for grabs. Named in honor of Wilcox’s adventurous spirit—and her recent successes winning the Tour Divide and Trans Am Bike Race—the “Lael’s Globe of Adventure” Women’s Scholarship is being offered to a woman of any age who plans to ride the Baja Divide during the 2016-2017 season. The winner will receive an Advocate Cycles Hayduke or Seldom Seen bicycle, a complete Revelate Designs luggage system, and a $1,000 community-supported travel grant. Applications must be submitted by November 11, 2016. For full scholarship details and requirements, visit the Baja Divide website.
Words: Joanna Urban
A bike is an instrument of freedom. On it you can feel the breeze in your hair and against your skin as you pedal faster and faster, riding into the wind or along with it.
Nothing is weighing you down or holding you back. Wearing shorts that cling to the curves of your muscles, hair pulled back and legs shaved, you blend almost seamlessly into the air swirling around you. The wind is not your enemy—you are simply swimming in it.
On your bike, you might be riding away from something or toward it. Or you can traverse the same path over and over again, around in circles, until eventually your customary, frequented route starts to make a lot of sense. You learn it by heart, and commit it to memory. Nothing could seem more familiar than this treasured path. You remember exactly where the big hills occur on certain stretches and even your muscles recall the way they burn in your thighs when you stand up and pedal hard against gravity. Part of the path is sunny and too hot but you learn to enjoy it. You internalize this as a welcome feeling before riding into the shade where only meager patches of sunlight peak through the canopy of trees.
On the bike path, you ride past a tree with a tire swing tied to it in someone’s yard. Oddly, you never see a kid playing on it, but it is comforting to think that children have swung on it before and probably will again someday. You hope that kids have played there, or will play on it in the future, because if not, then what a waste of a beautiful swing tied to a big strong tree branch.
Each time you ride this route, you cruise past the same wrought iron tables outside of the neighborhood coffee shop. You eavesdrop on the conversations occurring at these tables, and you feel connected to these people in a way. Yet somehow, everything they say seems strangely remote and impersonal: “He dumped me for someone else via a text message; I missed out on the big promotion; we got a new puppy and he’s afraid of the vacuum cleaner; we’re going on vacation to Hawaii; now I just have to loose five pounds.”
You once cared about these things, too, when they were happening to you but on your bicycle the people are out of sight, their words out of earshot in a few seconds. There are different people at the tables every day with novel rumors, anecdotes and breaking news bits to share. Each piece of exciting or devastating news you hear lasts only transiently, then it fades into the breeze and is forever behind you as you continue on your route, forgetting.
Nothing is personal when you’re on your bike. None of the words you hear from the people outside the coffee shop have any bearing on you, nor does getting a flat tire, or falling down after swerving to avoid hitting a squirrel. These things inevitably happen on the trail. You have come to expect all of it.
The most important part is coming back home and knowing that your route will be there for you again the next day. It won’t give you the answers, but the trail and the air around you is a bank that carries for you the words that comprise your thoughts and questions and uncertainties. You won’t be burdened with any of them as long as you are on the bike riding somewhere, knowing that everything is temporary and the only certainty is moving forward.
These thoughts and words and feelings float around you in the breeze and you’re protected from them; you escape from them. Your thoughts don’t always define you, but often they are just reflections of what people tell you, what you’ve heard is supposed to happen and what you fear may not pan out.
When it’s just you and the bike and the ground beneath you and the wind surrounding you, there is nothing to reflect against; you are free to simply be. The thoughts are given back to you at the end of the ride, of course, but you feel different now. You realize that they never could harm you. As long as you have an outlet for expression, an instrument of freedom, your thoughts, questions, and anxieties are just your fuel.
How do you roll?
Share your stories by sending them to email@example.com with the subject line “How I Roll.”
Words and photos: Chris Reichel
Originally published in Issue #41
I had decided to do something I had dreamed about since I was a kid: to ride across the United States. I already had a habit of turning simple ride ideas into what I like to call “great bad ideas” and this particular bad idea has been a long time in the making. I now have a full-fledged mountain bike addiction, so why not tow a trailer with a mountain bike on it, stopping at great trails along the way? I called it the Ultimate Ride to the Ride.
I never once thought eastern Colorado and Kansas would be easy. I have heard enough stories from other riders to respect the difficulty of the prairie. But I had no idea just how much it would try to destroy me.
Most of my suffering was my fault. I came into this ride completely underprepared and out of shape. I could only laugh at the fact that while I was spending so much time arranging my life to exit society and live on my bicycle, that I had no time to actually ride. As I rode away from Longmont, Colorado, to start the trip, I hit the eastern Colorado prairie like it was training camp. There is no better way to get into riding shape than to ride all day, every day.
Day three of any tour is the hardest. It is the physical and mental barrier that will bring down even the strongest of riders. By this point soreness has caught up with you and the realization that you have a long way to go finally sets in. I have lived through it dozens of times before and this time was no different. I punched through and by day six I was in Kansas. My mileage was steadily increasing and by day 10 I was in full touring mode. Training camp over. Time to really ride.
Hitting my stride at that point, I was having a blast. I rolled into the town of Hill City with 70 miles behind me and feeling great. This was already my biggest day of the trip and I didn’t see any reason to stop now. I was stuffing my face with ice cream in a gas station parking lot when a man stopped to talk to me. He introduced himself as Jeramy and said he was a cyclist too. I told him my planned route for the rest of the evening but he recommended a better way, a way that had less traffic and no gravel roads. I thanked him and decided to take his advice.
Sure enough, he was right. It was a beautiful ride through the countryside at sunset. I had just pulled over to switch on my lights when a truck slowly pulled up along side me. It was Jeramy and a buddy. They thought I could use a beer so they drove out to find me. We hung out in a cornfield talking bikes and beer until nearly midnight.
My riding was obviously done for the day and I decided to camp right where we were standing. It was a 5-star day of bike touring. I woke up suddenly at 4 a.m. to my phone ringing. I was a little foggy listening to the voicemail, but it was Jeramy and he sounded serious. “Man, there is a really bad storm coming your way. It’s on my house right now or else I’d come get ya. Please find shelter. It’s REALLY bad!”
It was a little breezy around me, and I could hear some thunder in the distance, but nothing seemed very serious. I started to pull up the weather radar on my phone when, all of the sudden, I lost service. Just like that, the wind picked up and the thunder was right on top of me. There were some culverts near by, but how bad could it be? It was a beautiful night when I went to sleep.
I made the decision to stay in the tent with all of my belongings. I put my back to the wind and braced the side of my tent. I spread my legs as wide as I could to secure the corners of the tent and I held the crossbar in the tent’s ceiling. The wind was getting ferocious and with a single gust all of the stakes ripped from the ground. The rainfly started whipping me in the back so hard that I felt the zipper break the skin.
Then the rain came like a wave and I was instantly sitting in two inches of water. When the lightning flashed I could see the water rushing into all of my dry bags that I had poorly sealed before falling asleep. There was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t let go of the tent. This was starting to get serious. The wind speed continued to increase and I was now getting hit with debris. A few gusts were so strong that they caught the tent just right and started to lift me off the ground.
Then I heard a sound that I will never forget. Imagine standing next to a freight train. Now turn that sound up to 11 and mix in the demons of hell. It sounded like pure evil. It was so loud that at one point I let out a scream just see if I could hear it, and I couldn’t.
At that moment the tent poles finally broke and I instinctively rolled myself up like a burrito in the rain fly. Funny thing is that I remember being so calm, that I actually wondered why I was so calm. All I could think to myself was “Is this really a tornado in Kansas? How cliché.”
The noise passed as fast as it came and by the time the rain stopped it was dawn. I assessed the damage and it wasn’t pretty. My tent was flattened, all of my possessions were soaked and my cameras were under water. My bike rig had been moved about 15 feet downwind and my helmet was nowhere to be seen.
I busied myself with spreading my gear out to dry. Jeramy drove out to see if I was okay and handed me a beer to calm my nerves. I guess I looked a little shaken up. He informed me that the news reported a tornado touched down “just over there” and pointed at a field close to where we were standing. That was heavy news to hear. I just rode out a tornado. In my tent.
Suddenly I wasn’t so upset about my ruined camera gear. I was just happy to be breathing. At that moment I was done. Get me out of here and take me home now. If there was a big red button that I could press to end the trip I would have pressed it. Transport me back to the comfort of my home trails and my neighborhood pub. Back to my comfortable little house and my mediocre job.
But I didn’t set out on this trip to be comfortable. I did it to ride bikes and have unique experiences. I have to chalk up that crazy night to another experience and move on down the road. Plus, after 400 miles, I am almost to the singletrack. I can’t quit now, I have worked so hard to get this far. So I sucked it up and pedaled on down the road. Like a moth to a flame, I went to the trails.
Read More! Check out the seven-part series about this trip that Reichel wrote for our sister magazine, Dirt Rag.
Words: Amanda DelCore
Originally published in Issue #41
I was itching to ride alone. No offense to any of my trail pals that had accompanied me through Canada, Montana, and Wyoming on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, but I had a personal score to settle with Colorado.
In 2009 I had lived as a bat-shit-crazy Coloradan for a year—summitting 14,000-foot mountains at dawn, skiing powder for the first time and learning how to backpack. My inner explorer and adventurer woke up in those mountains.
I was lured away for graduate school and work but was never able to forget the thrill of the jagged peaks and the wide valleys. To compensate I toiled in the semi-secret woodsy trails hidden within the urban tangle of Philadelphia.
Then fast forward to the summer of 2015. I had already ridden about 1,700 miles along the Great Divide route with friends but I was about to finish the trail alone. I had returned to the Colorado Rockies and had them all to myself. Known for their fickle temperament, the mountains wasted little time putting me in my place. Almost immediately after leaving Steamboat Springs the cloud ceiling dropped and I encountered pockets of light rain. Intermittent showers turned to steady rain and thunder as I rode further into the mountains.
As my eyes darted from the sky to the dirt, I could feel myself cowering over my handlebars. It was either “ride” or “hide” from the storm, and I chose “ride.” The gnarled bows of scrubby juniper told me that these trees were not to be confused with shelter. I descended the switchbacks as quickly as I could on my top-heavy rig and swore under my breath. Lightning cracked and thunder boomed from one valley to another.
The confusing part was that I couldn’t see the storm. I felt like a blind horse running out of a burning barn. As I maneuvered down the mountain, the unincorporated community of Radium came into view. Relief and a sense of urgency hit me at the same time. I gritted my teeth and pedaled faster. A wide river snaked through the small, flat valley. Even better, I saw dots that resembled park shelters.
I managed to roll into the park just as the rain started falling in sheets. I splashed up to the sturdy outdoor latrine and perched atop the only logical hangout: a trash can tucked underneath the overhang. I didn’t know I could feel so much gratitude for such a simple thing. Cross-legged, I passed time doing the one thing that every long-distance bikepacker does when he or she gets off the bike: I put food in my mouth.
I had wanted to ride farther that day but the park rangers said the roads were so wet that I wouldn’t make much progress. I knew that the struggle for a few miles today would be quick work tomorrow, so I decided to sleep in the valley. The clouds broke, the sun came out, and I witnessed a full rainbow. As the sun went down I pitched my tent on a too-neat-for-nature gravel pad.
As I sipped some pasta-water tea, I reflected that it wasn’t such a bad end to a mostly annoying day of bike riding. This could be any day for a bikepacker. It certainly could be worse. There was the time I didn’t bring enough water to the high desert in New Mexico and was luckily replenished by bow-season hunters. Or the time I climbed a mountain pass only to lock eyes with a bull moose at the top. Or the day that I rode 120 miles from Cuba to Grants, New Mexico—60 percent of the way into brutal headwinds, 95 percent completely and utterly alone with the landscape and 100 percent responsible for my nutrition and hydration.
So how do people do it? How do they overcome the unique challenges of being alone, on a bike, especially in remote areas? The very nature of riding solo means that the physical and mental struggles are difficult to communicate to anyone who wasn’t there.
I had the chance to interview a handful of solo bike travelers who range from anxious to intrepid, but are nonetheless out there, alone. What resulted was a submersion into the human psyche, a place where the ever-determined ego confronts the stalking shadow of fear over and over and over again.
Being your only company, you witness the dark side of your mind. You learn to laugh at your own jokes. Personal growth isn’t just about VO2 max anymore. Music, podcasts and audiobooks can only mask solitude for a few hours. After that, you learn how to be alone.
Claire Porter, who solo toured the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route from Canada to Colorado as a Blackburn Ranger, recollects that “spending hours in the saddle alone, day after day, definitely put me deep in my head, and that didn’t end up being entirely good. But it forced me to ask the hard questions that had been looming before the trip like ‘What do I want to do with my life?’ and ‘How much eating is appropriate?’ All of which occupied my mind for hours on end.”
Lael Wilcox, a Tour Divide record setter, spun her way to a more meditative approach. “I’ll find myself thinking about things that have happened in the past, or I’ll think about future plans, but eventually I’ll get to a place where my mind is pretty quiet. After awhile, it’s going back into town that gets hard.”
Berly Brown, an artist inspired by her cycling adventures, thinks back to her first tour. “I often got lost in listening to my breathing as I felt my legs move—a mindfulness practice before I knew what that was. I just tried to stay engaged by noticing how my body felt or by watching the scenery. In the Pacific Northwest that was easy. I mostly felt incredible gratitude that I was doing it!”
Rebecca Rusch, a professional adventure racer and mountain biker, dishes an elegant but practical solution to staying mentally engaged during long solo adventures. “Choose a route that’s really inspiring. There are many classic routes I haven’t ridden simply because they just don’t excite me. Picking a place you’ve always wanted to go is an important first step.”
As a solo traveler, you are your own navigator. You pay attention. Not only do you plan, but you also plan for failure. Good planning sets you free to enjoy the ride once you’re rolling. One thing upon which all the veteran bikepackers agree is that good planning is crucial to a positive experience. And after you’ve controlled all you can control, you have to trust the universe.
Kim Murrell, who rode thousands of miles solo across Florida in the past year, admits that she’s probably a little fringe when it comes to planning her trips. She purposely doesn’t over-research to keep the adventure of the unknown intact. But even she admits, “you always have a plan B.” Rusch will tell you the same thing. “I like to always have a what-if-the-shit-hits-the-fan plan. Not that I plan on failure, but it’s reassuring to have an escape route. Know your escape routes.”
Good planning doesn’t just mean having maps and a GPS. It also means researching your gear, learning how to use it, and knowing how to exist wherever you are. Herein lies one of the greatest freedoms in bikepacking. If you don’t make it to your planned site for the night, all is not lost. In fact, all is very typical. As long as your have enough water and food, an impromptu campsite is a likely option.
I’ve never had a bikepacking trip that’s gone according to plan. Having a system to adapt to constantly changing plans is essential. In a way, it’s kind of like life.
Jocelyn Gaudi, founder of the Komorebi bikepacking team, uses routines as a means for on-the-trail organization and sanity. “It’s important to go through routines that make you feel in control. Knowing that when you arrive and you’re so desperately tired, you have a checklist and you just have to do it. It’s also a practical way to make sure you don’t leave things behind.”
Common sense and science both tell us that we feel safer in numbers. Studies have shown that people who are alone perceive threats as closer than when they are in a group. Anyone who has spent time in the backcountry knows this feeling: your perception of danger is somehow more acute. While some self-awareness is probably beneficial, fear of danger can be debilitating and, quite frankly, a huge downer on a solo trip.
“My biggest fear on the trail isn’t sleeping in a bivy in the wilderness or riding by the swamps,” said Murrell. “It’s when you’re on that old dirt road, in the middle of nowhere, and all of a sudden you see a car or truck. That’s the only fear I really have. That’s when I stop and process the situation. Do I stop? Do I keep going?”
“Usually if I am riding alone I worry about being run off the road or attacked or abducted,” said Brown. “I try to push past those thoughts by thinking of something else or coming up with plans or methods of how I might escape!”
Gaudi recounts the time she got stopped by a logging truck on the Cascade Skyline route in Oregon. “The driver wanted to let me know that, today, he saw bears and cougars, and he wanted to know if I had a gun with me.” She remembers that she started thinking very quickly. “Bears and cougars? Plural? I don’t know this person at all, I’m in the middle of nowhere, he has a truck, I have no escape route. How much information do I give him? But I think he might be giving me valuable information. So, I lied to him and told him that I had a gun. It was just my gut reaction. He seemed satisfied by this, and took off down the hill. So I turned on music really loudly and tried to make a joke about what type of music wild animals would be most turned off by.”
Whether or not Beyoncé repels bears remains to be confirmed, but there were no sightings that day.
On the contrary, both Wilcox and Rusch sounded miffed when I asked them about safety outside of sport-related injury. “Huh?” was their general reaction. (I personally think they’re going too fast to get stopped by anyone or anything, amirite?)
Wilcox has traveled by bike for about eight years and has ridden on the order of 100,000 miles around the world. Across time and space, she’s seen the face of humanity, and by her judgment, the stranger’s face is not very different from our own. “Put yourself in their shoes for a moment.You see a dirty, tired cyclist coming into town, what’s going through their head? Maybe they’re just as skeptical of you as you are of them.”
In 2015, Wilcox rode from her home in Alaska more than 2,000 miles to the starting line of the Tour Divide race. She then raced the 2,500 miles of the Tour Divide in 17 days and set a new women’s record. Unsatisfied with her performance, she retraced her tire tracks along the route a few months later and finished in less than 16 days. Here is a person who has taken fear out of the equation. Any kind of human limits seem to also be missing.
You might be thinking, “Why even bother doing a solo trip when going with others is just so much easier?” Believe it or not, bikepacking alone has its rewards. “I make it a point to do my trips as solo as possible,” Murrell said. “Don’t get me wrong, I love to ride with people, but I also enjoy just knowing I’m completely solo out there. When I go on a trip, I am only focused on the route and I really unplug. I can’t get that anywhere else.”
For Rusch, a long, solitary bikepacking trip was exactly what she needed after hosting the Rebecca’s Private Idaho race, a “gravel-strewn, grit-filled, pedal-cranking love letter” from Rusch and her Idaho home to the rest of the world. “After hosting a 500-plus person event with my name in the title I was just mentally and physically exhausted,” she said. “The Smoke ’n’ Fire 400 was actually the longest unsupported bikepacking trip I’ve done. I had so much fun on that ride. I was just on this amazing adventure, exploring places in my home state, seeing the animals at night, watching the sunrise. It was a beautiful experience.” She reflected that because her mental game was so positive, she ended up placing really well despite not training intentionally for the event.
Although Gaudi is typically preparing for group excursions with the Komorebi team, she took a time out to test herself on the Cascade Skyline route in Oregon over a long weekend. “I chose a challenging route for a reason. I’m typically the trip leader, but this time, for better or worse, I only had myself to think about … I wanted to see how far I could get, and see if I could leverage all the bikepacking skills I had gained in the summer. It turned out to be a much tougher ride than I anticipated. I was bushwhacking five miles into the route.”
Personally, I live for the sensory experience of bikepacking solo. My sense of smell is keener, my eyes are sharper, and I’m always aware of my environment. In some ways, it’s kind of like being an animal, and I love that. However, the emotional side of things also seem more intense. Fear strikes harder, persistence grows faster, happiness is easy, and subtle victories are satisfying.
Bikepacking the GDMBR alone through Colorado and New Mexico helped me realize that the sensory experiences and personal developments are worth every moment of fear. I’ll never forget my first day in New Mexico. It was littered with steep climbs, unfair terrain and pop-up squalls. But I daresay it was all worth it. That day, there was a moment where I could see sunshine on one end of the landscape and a storm on the other. That day, I experienced an overwhelming sense of satisfaction from just sitting on the ground to eat a snack. And at the end of the day, I was immensely thankful to fall asleep reading a book in my tent.
We all know that fear has many faces. The faster you characterize it the faster you can move past it to actually enjoy long, leisurely tours or race-pace adventures. This is a highly personal ordeal, and only you will be able recognize the face of your fear. Rusch sums it up perfectly: “Often times you can identify what you’re actually afraid of, and then get rational about it.”
Wilcox offered an expansive perspective. “In every country I visit, people ask me about my safety. People will warn me about neighboring countries and say, ‘You don’t want to cross that border, it’s bad over there.’ But I do cross that border, and the people there are just as hospitable, just as welcoming. And of course, the people in that country say the same thing. ‘Oh, don’t cross that border, it’s bad over there.’ But I’m going to cross that border too. Fear is so limiting.”
Words and photos: Beth Puliti
Originally published in Issue #41
It was Saturday, and Bishnu Tiwari was visiting his hometown 50 kilometers northwest of Kathmandu, Nepal, to attend his cousin’s wedding. Shortly before noon, as he and his brothers were preparing for the ceremony at their uncle’s home, the ground started vibrating. Subtle quivering gave way to violent shaking that nearly knocked Bishnu off his feet.
“It was like a swing, but terrific,” he recalled. “Houses in the village moved like branches of trees, and some of them even disintegrated before our eyes.”
Helpless against the powerful forces of nature, people cried out in despair as they watched their homes topple to the ground. In the distance, Bishnu saw the hills surrounding his village crumble into dust. The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck the Himalayas that day killed 8,000 people as the Indian tectonic plate was forced underneath the Eurasian plate. It leveled cities and caused a massive avalanche on Mt. Everest.
When the ground finally settled, Bishnu’s mind panicked: One kilometer away, his young son and daughter were in his family’s home which, a look in that direction confirmed, had been reduced to rubble.
“It was my life’s saddest moment,” Bishnu said. “My brothers and I ran as fast as we could down toward our completely destroyed house thinking it might too late to rescue our family members.”
Fortunately, their family survived, but they weren’t the only people to suffer such devastation. When the brothers traveled house to house to check in on their neighbors, they found out every home in their village had collapsed. “But everyone was safe,” Bishnu told me, “because of the marriage party.”
In a show of solidarity common in his village, everyone had been out helping to prepare for the wedding ceremony at the time of the natural disaster.
Nepal’s national mountain biking team was training for an upcoming national championship race a handful of kilometers outside of Kathmandu in Chobar when the earthquake struck. Initially dazed by the destruction, the cyclists immediately sprung to action when they heard screaming. Using their bare hands and ignoring neighbors who told them it was too hazardous, they worked together to free Pramila Nepali and her 7-year-old son Roshan, who had been buried alive.
The story caught the attention of the media, produced a flood of donations and inspired the team to continue relief efforts. “We were motivated to rescue earthquake victims in many different areas of Nepal,” said Ajay Pandit Chhetri, five-time Nepalese national mountain bike champion and five-time winner of Yak Attack, the highest mountain bike race on earth.
Utilizing their racing, cycling, guiding and tour company connections to form a massive relief effort, (NCRR) was born. This NGO consists of the Nepalese cross-country national mountain bike team (Ajay Pandit Chhettri, Roan Tamang, Narayan Gopal Mahajaran, Raj Kumar Shrestha, Suraj Rai, Laxmi Magar, Rajan Bhandari); as well as Santosh Rai, mountain bike guide and co-owner of Himalayan Single Track; Jenny Caunt, co-owner of Himalayan Single Track; and Jevi Limbu, mountain bike guide and Himalayan Single Track staff.
It took months before any form of government assistance reached some of the most heavily damaged villages in the aftermath of the earthquake. Roads were blocked by landslides and a fuel crisis kept potential aid vehicles at bay. The group took matters into their own hands and used the form of transportation they are most comfortable with to deliver help: a bicycle.
“It can reach everywhere,” said Ajay, NCRR president. “We could move fast and get to remote areas in the first few weeks before the roads were properly open,” said Caunt. “But we were limited in what we could carry.”
Much-needed supplies such as first aid, food, tents, blankets, roof sheeting and water purification were delivered to villages via bicycle. Additionally, temporary schools were provided with books, pens, clothing, school bags and more. In addition to racing, the cyclists are also mountain bike guides with intimate knowledge of almost all trails. Were the mountain bikers the ideal first responders? No, but they were the only responders.
“Mountain bikes are not ideal in mass emergency situations. Helicopters and government assistance and relief plans would have been much more efficient—but none of that happened,” said Caunt. “The entire time we were working [in our project area], we saw one helicopter, but it never landed, just circled around and went back.”
Ajay said the group did its best in a difficult situation to rescue and support victims. Today it is continuing to provide services to the villagers by building schools. Volunteers are using bicycles to travel to the village and supervise the construction work.
“It’s a 120 kilometer trip with about 2,000 meters in elevation gain. The boys use it as a training exercise as well to keep them fit for races,” said Jenny.
Five months after the earthquake rocked Nepal, I traveled there with my husband to see first-hand what made this country notoriously unforgettable among travelers. In a land where corruption is rampant, visiting the country’s hotels, restaurants and shops was also one of the best, and most direct, ways to help ensure the money we were spending reached Nepalis.
While we were there we planned to ride some of the country’s lesser-traveled dirt roads. As we mounted our bikes in Kathmandu, a cornucopia of conflicting sights, sounds and smells assaulted our senses as we made our way out of the city. Vibrant rickshaws pedaled on top of dusty brown streets. Burning incense tangled with smoldering trash in the air. Incessant honking harmoniously mingled with Om Mani Padme Hum chanting. And during our visit the sawing, drilling and hammering of new construction was interspersed throughout the chatter of daily lives.
Outside of the city we navigated the earthquake-riddled hillside over mud bogs, away from cliff drop-offs, up technical vertical terrain and through tiny villages. We passed hand-carved terraced rice paddies and massive swings made from bamboo set up for Dashain, Nepal’s greatest festival.
When the sun started to set about 50 kilometers outside of Kathmandu, we searched for a place to spend the night and came up empty—April’s earthquake had wiped out our options. At a local restaurant, we met a lawyer/college professor who offered to let us stay with his family after learning of our situation.
“My home is your home,” he told us. “There is plenty of space to sleep.”
Five kilometers down the road, in a partially rebuilt home, with wide smiles and heaps of food, Bishnu’s brothers, wife and young son and daughter waited for us to arrive.
Give and Go
Among the seven schools being built by Nepal Cyclists Ride to Rescue, four are completed and three are currently under construction. While contributions surged immediately following the earthquake, donors have since lost interest. The organization is in need of funds to complete the project and support victims.
“Most of the people helped only during the earthquake … but we are still helping by providing services,” said Ajay Pandit Chhettri, NCRR president.
To support NCRR’s efforts, you can donate directly through nepalcyclist.com.
“In spite of the government’s passive nature, we did our best to recover earthquake damages. It’s been one year, but the government has not provided such services. We did and we are still doing it,” said Ajay.
After the earthquake, Nepal saw a dramatic decrease in tourism, but contrary to would-be travelers’ fears, the country is open—and waiting—for business.
“Everything is normal. It is safe now. A bicycle is a vehicle that can easily reach anywhere and everywhere. So, cyclists can come without any fear!” said Ajay.
Diamondback has offered up some pretty impressive aluminum bikes over the last few years, but now it’s added lightness to the Haanjo line of adventure road bikes with three carbon fiber models.
In the beginning, road bikes had 700c wheels and other bikes had 26-inch wheels. But as the lines between bike categories have blurred, so too have the wheel size options. As such, the Haanjo can fit either a 700×45 wheel and tire or a 27.5×2.1 mountain bike setup for even more aggressive adventures.
One detail worth pointing out: the carbon fork uses a 12 mm thru-axle, the new road standard, so you can’t slap in any old mountain bike wheelset—unless you find one with replaceable and compatible end caps.
The Haanjo line also consists of five aluminum models that start at just $700, including two flat-bar versions.
Haanjo Trail Carbon
- Shimano Ultegra 2×11 drivetrain with SRAM Rival crankset(?!)
- Shimano RS685 shift levers
- Shimano hydraulic brakes
- Schwalbe G-One 700x40mm tires on HED Tomcat wheels
Haanjo Comp Carbon
- Shimano 2×11 105 drivetrain with FSA crankset
- TRP mechanical disc brakes
- Schwalbe G-One 700x40mm tires on HED Tomcat wheels
Haanjo EXP Carbon
- Shimano 3×9 drivetrain
- Bar-end shifters
- TRP mechanical disc brakes
- Schwalbe Smart Sprint tires on 27.5 HED wheels
Eric Porter and friends ride from Reno to Nevada City on the new Haanjo. Watch for more from this adventure in the next issue of Bicycle Times.
What’s your take?
What do you think? Do drop bars and “mountain bike” wheels + tires belong together? Let us know in the comments below.
Specialized is going full steam into the adventure realm with a full line of accessories for bikepacking or bike touring or commuting or whatever it is you want to do with them. Under the umbrella of Specialized Adventure Gear, the lineup includes bikes like the Sequoia, AWOL, Diverge and Fatboy, along with a ton of accessories and apparel.
Read about the new Specialized Sequoia that was unveiled along with this bag line.
Here we’re going to focus on the Burra Burra bag collection. Like many other Specialized products, the Burra Burra line is named for a location in Henry Coe State Park just outside of the brand’s offices in Morgan Hill, California.
The name is a bit clunky, but the Handlebar Stabilizer Harness ($90) should keep your gear stowed tight with an aluminum support that bolts to the handlebars and a simple, wrap around shape that can hold a dry bag or other gear.
It can hold your own dry bag, or Specialized will sell separately two sizes of their own, a 13 liter ($40) and a 23 liter ($45), both of which have double-sided entry and full waterproof 100D Cordura construction.
The Framepacks ($90-$110) are one of the most useful trends in recent years, as a great way to keep snacks and more close at hand. The coated nylon body is super water repellent, so anything short of throwing it into a lake should result in dry cargo. They even have water-resistant YKK zippers. A combination of thick, urethane straps and camlocks or traditional Velcro keep them secured in place. Specialized will offer three sizes to fit nearly any bike, though it’s worth pointing out that they often interfere with water bottles. The bottle cages are still usable, but a side-entry cage will make getting the bottles in and out a lot easier.
Fans of the awesome Specialized Pizza Rack will be pleased to see a new Pizza Bag ($100) designed specifically for that big front rack. It has a padded, roll-top body that is sure to keep the contents dry, or can be filled with ice and used as a rolling cooler. Trust us, we tested it. There are a few exterior pockets that keep essential items handy while you’re rolling and it measures 33 x 24 x 13 cm.
At first glance, the Stabilizing Seatpack looks like a lot of other roll-closed seat bags on the market, but Specialized has added a small, aluminum stabilizer bar that bolts to the seatpost to prevent it from swaying or drooping. Unlike some other designs on the market that use a support rail, this version only extends halfway along the bag’s length. The bag itself is made from the same watertight material so it will keep your gear dry, and is available in a 10 liter size ($130) and a 20 liter size ($140).
Bottle cages eyelets have been popping up in all sorts of new places in the last few years, and the Sequoia has a pair on each side of its carbon fork, so Specialized created these Burra Burra Stuffcages ($30). Made from aluminum, they are smaller than the ones you see from others, and only bolt to two eyelets instead of three. The aluminum body comes with two straps for water bottles, fuel canisters or whatever else you want to bring. Specialized also introduced a Stuffpack ($40) that is sold separately that holds one liter of cargo in its roll-top body. It also has its own Velcro straps attached that can keep it secure in the cage.
Finally, the handiest of all, the Top Tube Pack ($50) is perfect for your phone, keys or other essentials that you want to keep close at hand. It can be mounted at the stem or the seatpost and uses a single front-to-back zipper to access the 0.75 liter cargo area. The external pockets are good for a multi-tool or snack wrappers. It’s made of the same weather-resistant material as all the bags.