How To: Clean your bike properly

Regardless of the time of year and riding conditions, every bike needs a good cleaning every now and then. We reached out to some experts for their advice on what to do, and what not to do.

People give all kinds of advice about what kind of products you can use—dish soap, automobile soap, etc. What is different about cleaning products for bicycles?

Matthew Bracken, Pedro’s: It’s easy to understand from a consumer point of view that people often confuse world class chemistry with household products used for cleaning or solutions to clean their automobiles. The fact is while some of the chemistry used to created detergents and degreasers for household and automotive use is found in bike formulas they are not the same. Like distant cousins their is related d.n.a. Involved but they are not identical.

Jason Bradwell, Muc-Off: A bike-specific cleaner has been designed to do just that – clean bikes. You can use it safe in the knowledge that your ride is protected from dangerous acids or chemicals. It is safe to use on all parts of the bike, including braking surfaces, like our pink Nano Tech Bike Cleaner. The best ones are also biodegradable, so you can use them whilst on the trail!

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What about cleaning the greasy drivetrain? How is that different from dirt on the frame?

Bracken: Dirt is easy and with the right detergent and rinse after washing your frame, fork and components making your bicycles look shiny and clean. But, and this is the big BUT, detergent is not a degreaser. Detergents are designed to lift and pull dirt off surfaces. Detergents do not degrease. You can try all day long with any consumer brand detergent to degrease drivetrains on bicycles and you will end up extremely frustrated. When washing a bike the first thing we’d recommend if the drivetrain is filthy is to completely degrease the chain, cassette, chainrings, jockey wheels on the rear derailleur. Next we’d recommend a bicycle friendly detergent to wash your frame, fork, and wheels.

Bradwell: The muck you find on your chain is a combination of whatever you’ve picked up on the trail plus your lubricant, which is why it’ll typically be so greasy. A common mistake we see is riders putting too much lube on their chains pre-ride. This is a sure-fire way of attracting serious muck whilst on the trail and can cause damage in the long term.

What kind of brushes and gear do I need to clean my bike properly?

Bradwell: You could make do with an all-purpose soft brush if that’s all you have to hand; however, we recommend adding a few component-specific brushes to your collection to speed up the cleaning process. A claw brush with an integral scraper for mud de-clogging is a must-have for keeping your chain, cassette and sprockets in tip-top shape. We’d also recommended a detailing brush for reaching hard-to-shift dirt on sprockets, hubs and suspension mounts.

Bracken: You want to use brushes to scrub the drivetrain that are stiff, but pliable to get in and around all the places grease and oil are stuck on. For washing the frame and components a wider pail brush with softer bristles is fine. Be sure to only use the “clean” brushes with detergent on the frame, fork and other “clean” parts and to leave the stiffer brushes used for the drivetrain in a separate bucket with degreaser.

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What are some of the cleaning techniques that you see or hear of people doing that they really should not do?

Bracken: Power washing or using high pressure water at the carwash is a bad idea if you are blasting the headset, bottom bracket or hubs. You are basically screwing the works up. Use the “shower” setting on your spray nozzle and spray sparingly and slowly with low pressure.

Bradwell: One of the worst is when people are cleaning their bikes outside and leave their sponges and/or cloths lying on the floor. There really is no quicker way to pick up grit and scratch your pristine chain. Leave it on a bike mat or in your cleaning bag! We’ve also seen some instances where riders have not paid attention to where they’ve applied polish or protectant sprays. These products typically have high-oil content, so it’s vital to avoid braking parts (e.g. discs and rims!) if you want to avoid riding head first into a tree.

What are some pro tips you have for a great cleaning?

Bradwell: Clean the dirtiest items first! This is typically your drivetrain and chain. Give your bike an all-over rinse before using any products. This will help loosen any debris or grit. The longer you can leave your lube to settle into your chain, the better. Our recommendation is 30 minutes minimum, overnight if possible. Make sure your chain is completely dry before applying lube. It’s vital you don’t seal water in with lube which leads to corrosion on the inner surfaces of the chain link.

Bracken: Don’t be afraid to DIY. It is unbelievable the number of people who are afraid to wash their own bikes in fear they will damage the bike or the components. A clean bike is a happy bike that will provide many miles of happiness. Love your bike and it will love you back. Maintenance is cheap versus the big fix.


What are some of your personal bike cleaning tips? Tell us in the comments!

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How to join a group ride

By Shanon Castle

Group rides are exhilarating. They’re a great way to push past your physical boundaries and to meet fellow bicycle lovers like yourself. You want to join one but haven’t because you’re not sure what to expect. It surprises many riders to find that they’re not the only ones with concerns. These are some of the most common questions cyclists have about riding in a group.

What can I expect on my first ride?
Group rides come in all shapes and sizes. They range from social rides that end at a local coffee shop to intense training rides that push the boundaries of speed and distance. Participants of all rides are expected to follow the rules of the road. You’ll ride in a line (known as a paceline) and will maintain a predetermined speed. Some training rides include interval sections and a ride leader will be present to keep everyone organized.

How can I find a local ride that matches my current abilities?
Are you looking for a social experience or a technical one? Once you know what you want, head over to your local bike shop. It’s a great resource for finding rides in your area. It’s a good idea to start with a ride that maintains a slow to moderate pace, say 17 mph. Even if you can ride faster, this will give you the opportunity to learn how to ride with a group and how to hold a consistent pace.

What questions should I ask the ride leader?
If you’re worried about being dropped or getting lost, find out what the route is and if there’s a policy for being left behind. Ride leaders expect questions from those new to the sport, so don’t be afraid to call ahead or arrive a few minutes early. You may want to ask about traffic patterns, average ride size or anticipated breaks.

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What gear do I need?
The absolute necessities for every ride are your bike, helmet, water bottle and flat repair kit. Some rides require other gear like lights for safety reasons. You’ll be told if you need to bring any extra equipment.

What should I wear? Should my outfit match my bike?
Most new riders have this question. They see Lycra-clad cyclists speeding by and immediately question their own choice of clothing. Let’s get this out of the way: Your outfit does not need to match your bike. You should feel comfortable in what you’re wearing. For rides longer than 10 miles, it’s a good idea to wear padded bike shorts. The pads are designed and placed to keep you comfortable in the saddle. Cycling jerseys, while not necessary, make storing your phone, ID, keys and snacks easier with their convenient pockets. They’re designed to pull sweat away from your body, keeping you cool and dry. Sunglasses protect your eyes from the both sun glare and kicked up road debris. And of course, wear a helmet.

What if I get a flat tire or crash?
Things happen on a group ride, and the ride leader is prepared for emergencies. Bring a flat kit, phone and ID, all of which are helpful in the event of a mishap. Before the ride check your bike to make sure it’s safe. Your brakes should work, your shifting should be smooth, and your tires should be inflated to the recommended pressure. Not sure what that is? Look for it on the sidewall of your tire. Road bikes tires generally use 90-110 psi.

How do riders communicate with each other?
Riding in a group can limit your field of vision so hand signals are essential for safety. Riders communicate with each other using the universal signals for turning and stopping, and will gesture toward obstacles in the road like potholes and debris. Verbal warnings are also common, so expect to hear an occasional “Stopping!” or “Hole!”

What will I gain from joining a group ride?
First and foremost you’ll become a better rider. You’ll learn how to ride with a group, you’ll gain better control over your bike, and you’ll ride with more confidence. The ride might take you to parts of your hometown you’ve never explored. Group rides are inspiring and motivating. Suddenly you’re riding faster and going farther than you thought you could, but most importantly, you’ll be riding your bike, and what better way to spend your day?

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What tips do you have for those who are new to group rides? Let us know in the comments!

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Myth Cycles: Frame builder Eric Tomczak shows how to build your two-wheeled dream machine

Words and photos by Ben Brashear

There aren’t too many custom bike builders, let alone bike companies, that broke into the market by building a tandem mountain bike. Everyone has heard the saying that tandems will end your relationship, but for Durango, Colorado bike builder Eric Tomczak, it was the very thing that helped to define his relationship and the very ethos of his company, Myth Cycles.

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Myth Cycles is a nod to going against the grain, challenging common paradigms and misconceptions within the cycling industry—everything from steel bikes are too heavy to ride to the emphasis on racing weight to the very idea that bike builders should hide their trade craft secrets from the curious onlooker or prospective newcomer to bike building. The name is also about creating your own mythology, getting out and riding every chance that you get. You have to get out in order to tell a good story with your buddies over a cold beer and to tell a tall tale to your grandkids once your body refuses to climb into the saddle. “Our stories are all we really get in the end,” Tomczak says, “and they better be worth telling.”

Tomczak started his welding education and career with the intention of becoming a bike builder. In 2010 he graduated from welding school with an emphasis in TIG welding and CAD design, yet instead of going straight to building frames he wanted to gain a metalsmith’s approach to working with a variety of metals and design elements. He went to work for Ska Fabrication building assembly line products and de-palletizers for craft brewers, and he joined with the legendary tooling designer Ron Andrews of King Cage, building water bottle cages. Andrews developed his chops building custom parts for MIT, Fat City Cycles, Yeti and Intense Cycles among many others and provided a calculating Tomczak with a wealth of education.

It was the production environment, welding up to 500 water bottle cages per day, that shaped a strong desire in Tomczak to be efficient. It’s that same production mentality that now shapes his approach to bike building. “You begin to analyze each step of the process. Something will take me one minute twenty seconds to do and then you try and see if you can get it down to fifty seconds. If you can do that then over the course of a day it adds up to a ton of time,” he says.

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It was during his workday that Tomczak also became efficient in capitalizing on Andrews’ knowledge from his days designing tooling and assembly fixtures. Tomczak was tenacious in learning assembly logic, weld sequencing, welding wire and tube diameters and how to build his own tooling and assembly fixtures for bike production. “I would ask questions and talk bike geometries until Ron would get so tired of it he’d leave the shop,” Tomczak laughs.

For the intrepid cyclists and those curious enough to consider building your own bike, Tomczak is pulling the stops and sharing his process in what it takes to build a custom frame. There are hundreds of steps to building a bike but he helped to narrow the process down to the essentials. There is not a lot of literature on bike building and a lot of bike builders are protective of their process, he says. He does recommend that you seek out a local bike builder to learn from or to even attend the United Bicycle Institute in Ashland or Portland, Oregon. Here’s to building what may become your favorite two-wheeled machine or… fostering a new-found respect for the difficult task bike builders everywhere take on to keep us happily rolling through the hills.

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Step 1: Design

The most important step of the entire design process is deciding what you want out of your bike. This comes down to ride quality, where you will be riding your bike, what you want to carry, rider height and riding style and what frame material you will use. This is usually a long conversation with Tomczak’s customers and ends with a bike-fitter providing custom-tailor measurements.

This will dictate seat tube angle, chain stay length, head tube angle, top tube length, hub width and bottom bracket height. For those starting from scratch Tomczak advises starting with geometries from a bike that you already like.

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His production frames are designed for versatility— slack head tube angle for stability downhill, steeper seat tube angle for long ascents, mid-length chain stays allow for agility and climbing and a higher bottom bracket height provide clearance and work well with a dropper post. This is his Wyvern production frame which, is designed for high country rides and longer mountain touring.

Materials: His favorite is air-hardening 4130 Chromoly available from Vari-Wall Tubing in Ohio. Air-hardening combined with double-butted tubing and a huge variety of tubing diameters and wall thicknesses allow for a custom tuned ride specific to rider weight, is very durable and is easy to repair. Steel provides a damp ride that absorbs vibrations well and snaps back in a controlled fashion unlike any other material. It’s the ‘feel of steel.’ Titanium is also another great option but requires even more skill to weld.

RattleCAD is a free CAD design program and BikeCAD Pro is a great tool.

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Step 2: Preparation

Gather all of your raw materials together. This includes your top tube, down tube, drop-outs, brake tabs, seat tube, chain stays, seat stays, braze-ons, etc. Most tubes are sealed in plastic and are coated in oil to prevent rusting. In order to get a solid weld, the metal must be clean of any contaminants. Use a denatured alcohol and rag.

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Step 3: Miter or Coping

In this step, you will cut the top tube, head tube and down tube in order to fit into place and provide a close tolerance fit at each tube junction. Use a magnetic angle finder to set the angle of your cut, this number is subtracted from 90 degrees and is derived from your CAD design. Secure each tube to be cut in a vice and use a hole saw to cut the tube. Tomczak uses a v-block style mill vice to keep everything secure. This is also when you will drill any bracket attachments for racks and for your bottle cages – doing so ensures that everything will be in plane. Deburr each cut and drilled hole with a metal file.

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Step 4: Set the Jig

A jig or fixture to hold everything in place is essential to producing an end product that is straight and rides true. Tomczak built his own frame jig but they can be purchased starting at around $1300. Get your CAD drawing and set the bottom bracket height and seat tube angle. Dependent on bottom bracket width – road, mountain or fat bike – will determine the size “puck” required to hold your bottom bracket in place. Most road bikes are 68 mm wide, mountain are 73 mm and fat bikes are usually 100-120 mm. Make sure to orient your bottom bracket properly, advises Tomczak. Remember that one side is a reverse cut thread. Jigs can be purchased from Anvil Bikeworks or Henry James Bicycles to name a couple. You can find a great how-to for those wanting to attempt to build their own jig here.

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Step 5: Welding

Test fit your top tube and down tube and chain stays to make sure that everything will align properly. After doing so tack weld the chain stays to the bottom bracket. After double checking that the chain stays are the appropriate length, you then can tack weld the dropouts on. Move on to tack welding the rest of the main triangle – top tube, head tube, down tube. Do not attach the seat stays yet.

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Step 6: Check Alignment

Once everything has been tack welded pull the frame from the jig and using a ‘scratcher’ on an alignment table or a solid surface, you can ensure that the frame is straight and has not warped during the welding process. If anything has warped, Tomczak advises ‘cold-setting’ the frame and making any adjustment in alignment without adding heat. Heat will stress the metal and potentially weaken it. “The best thing you can do is make sure your angles are spot on before welding,” Tomczak says, “and by welding at least 95 percent of the frame in the frame jig.” A weld can pull and warp as it cools. Check that the head tube is parallel to the seat tube. Check that the head tube and the seat tube are perpendicular to the bottom bracket.

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Step 7: Seat Stays

Place the frame back into the frame jig and finish weld the main triangle. Fit your seat stays. This measurement is established by measuring from axle centerline from the drop out location to the top of the tire. Dependent on what tire you want to run – 27.5 x 3 or 29 x 2.2 or 26 x 4.8, etc – will dictate where you bend the seat stay for tire clearance. Tack weld the stays into place. Pull the frame from the jig and finish weld the seat stays into place. Warping is not a concern here because the tube angles are triangulated and pulling or warping is uncommon.

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Step 8: Install Brake Tabs, Cable Guides and Braze-Ons

Many bikes do not require brake tabs but install ‘em if you need them. Clamp braze-ons and cable guides into place and install the seat stay bridge at this point.

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Step 9: Chase Threads

Using a Park Tool’s reaming and facing tool, ream the seat tube to remove any metal burrs, chase the threads in the bottom bracket and face the bottom bracket. Ream and face the head tube. This step insures that all surfaces are smooth and removes any warpage that may have occurred during the welding process. For specific tools and detailed process advice, check out this tutorial from Park Tool.

Step 10: Powder Coat or Paint

Tomczak powder coats his frames because it’s a durable paint choice that well last through the daily abuses of bike riding. An average powder coat is 3-5 mm thick and is hardened in an oven around 450 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also break out a rattle can for something that requires less specialized equipment but you’ll be frequently repainting your frame.

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How To: Pack a bike for travel

Traveling with your bike can be a great way to explore a new locale, but it doesn’t work if your bike is damaged en route. We reached out to Sue George at BikeFlights.com for some expert tips on how to pack your trusty steed. 

What are a handful of steps that are must-dos for packing a bike?

1. Wrap each frame tube with dense foam padding.

2. Remove the rear derailleur from the frame.

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3. Remove the wheels, disc rotors and QR skewers if present. Cover the ends of the hub axles.

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4. Place spacers between the dropouts to prevent squeezing.

5. Remove stem and/or handlebars and wrap with padding.

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6. Remove seat and seatpost and wrap separately.

7. Remove pedals and other accessories and store separately.

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8. Place everything in a box and shake it. Listen for loose or rattling items.

You can find more tips and video demonstrations at bikeflights.com/pack.

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Ok, I got a box from the LBS. What else do I need?

While you are at your local bike shop getting a box, also pick up the following packing materials: foam tubing for wrapping your frame’s tubes, plastic axle protectors for your wheels, frame and fork dropout spacers to match your axle type and width and bubble wrap and foam for extra padding and wrapping components. Shops get these materials with every new bike. If they’re willing to save their boxes for re-use, they’ll often also have saved key packing materials for reuse. Zip ties are super useful for securing padding and components in place. Packing tape will be needed to seal closed your box.

Can you reuse a cardboard box? What considerations do you need to make when using one?

Yes, you can reuse a cardboard box if it is in good condition. Prior to re-use, inspect the box for damage such as compromised cardboard or holes. You want to make sure it is structurally sound ahead of each trip.

Every box is different in thickness and durability. The most expensive bikes tend to be shipped in the strongest cardboard boxes with the best packing materials, so you are better off getting a box that was used to ship a higher end bike. Most cardboard boxes will last for one to two round trips, assuming they are not damaged en route or left outside in wet weather. If you are questioning the state of your box, get a fresh one from a shop or buy a new one from the BikeFlights.com online store. It’s definitely worth a little extra time or money before you ship rather than risking shipping your bike in a compromised box.

Important note: when packing your bike, you should assume that your bike box or case will be laid on its side during transit. Other boxes could be stacked on top of it or even dropped on it. Therefore, we recommend adding supporting smaller cardboard boxes or foam blocks that protect against forces that arise from such stacking.

What are the big differences between packing for shipping or packing for airline travel?

Our standard suggestions for how to pack a bike apply to packing for both shipping and flying. One big difference is that you can put more gear in your bike box when you ship it versus when you fly with it. Airline overweight fees typically kick in at 50 pounds and ramp up as weight increases. Shipping overweight fees don’t kick in until 70 pounds and are less expensive per additional pound than airline overweight fees.

Furthermore, when you ship your bike, you save hassle at the airport because you don’t have to get your bike there and back plus lug it through the airport. Using the door-to-door service that comes along with bike shipping, you can travel easily and lightly through airports with just your carry-on or other small luggage.

Shipping companies always have the right to inspect your bike box or case, but they do it much less often than TSA. When you fly with a bike, TSA will almost surely open the box to inspect contents and may also partially unpack and repack your bike during their inspection. Some TSA agents are better than others when it comes to properly re-packing your bike. If they do a poor job, your bike is more likely to get damaged en route.

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Are there any differences between shipping road bikes, mountain bikes, etc.?

The same basic packing principals apply for shipping different kinds of bikes; however, depending on the size of the bike and the size of the box or case you are using, you may have to do some things differently.

Very generally speaking, road bikes of a given size can be packed into smaller boxes and cases than mountain bikes of a similar size.

To fit everything in your box or case, you may have to remove your bike’s fork, especially on larger bikes or mountain bikes with lots of travel. If you are shipping a fat bike or a big travel downhill bike, you may have to use one box for your frame and one for your wheels (and other gear) – everything might not fit in one box.

Do I need to let the air out of my tires?

Letting some air out of your tires can make your wheels fit more easily into your box or case, but don’t let it all out—especially if you run tubeless and have liquid sealant inside. You can be left with a mess of sealant everywhere if your tire unseats during travel so that sealant leaks out.

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What kinds of things are most likely to get damaged?

  • Scratched, dented or cracked down tubes, seat tubes and top tubes from contact with your wheel axle or cassette. We recommend double-padding those three main tubes, using axle protectors, padding your cassette and securing your wheels in place.
  • Bent disc brake rotors. We recommend you remove your rotors for shipping.
  • Bent derailleurs (and hangers). We recommend you remove your derailleur and hanger, if possible, for shipping.
  • Damaged cockpit controls (brakes, shift levers). We recommend you pad your cockpit controls.
  • Cracked seat stays or fork legs from not using a dropout spacer. We recommend you protect your dropouts by installing and securing axle spacers in place.
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How to: Pack for a backcountry bikepacking trip

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Words by Jeffrey Stern, photos by Dylan Jones

One of the best things about mountain biking is planning for the excitement and adventure of escape. Escape from the real world, into mountains and pastures unknown that can lead to any number of amazing experiences. Simply planning an overnight trip of any magnitude stirs the pot of thrill and prepares you mentally for exiting the confines of society: roads, cars, traffic and often times unnecessary business.

Heading off into the wilderness often requires a bit of planning and preparation, but you likely have most of what you need in the form of camping and biking gear ready and waiting for your use.

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On a recent overnighter deep into the vast Los Padres National Forest and to the summit of Big Pine Mountain, we packed smart for what were fairly extreme conditions for an early summer trip. Highs jumping into the 90s during the heat of the day and lows with windchill dipping into the 30s at night required us to bring enough gear to be ready, while not overloading our mountain bikes. After a few dozen trips, we’ve whittled down the essentials to one list divided into three sub-groups.

Cooking/Food/Water – bring more than enough food 

As a general rule of thumb, bring one extra meal and a couple extra snacks more than you think you might need. If you’re planning to spend 36 hours out in the wild (one night), bring another meal and a few extra energy bars of your choice just in case it turns into a two nighter. Same goes for water, especially in the hotter summer months. It’s easy to run through double the amount of liquids when carrying an extra heavy load. And always, always bring a water filter of some kind. For cooking, we like lightweight gas-fueled portable stoves similar to the Jetboil. A lighter, Swiss Army type multi-tool and double-sided utensil are must haves as well.

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Clothing/First Aid – plans for the extremes

Conditions change quickly in the outback, so you need to plan accordingly. Beyond your standard riding gear, always bring an extra base layer and a lightweight, packable jacket for warmth and as well as a rain shell. A second pair of socks, long finger gloves and beanie to keep your head warm if the temperature really dips is a great idea too. Comfortable, warm pants and a compact set of shoes will protect your legs and feet in the evenings from unwanted bug bites or while walking around camp. A simple first aid kit with small bandages, tape, disinfectant, antibiotic ointment, needle/thread, bug spray and tweezers will cover most of your basic injuries. Don’t forget the ever important sunscreen either; a bad sunburn can dehydrate you and put you into a more serious conundrum than you might think.

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Bicycle Maintenance/Bags – don’t forget the little things!

Included in your standard (pump, tube, multi-tool, chain link, patch kit, tire boots and irons) flat kit should be an extra tube, extra chain link, extra wheel spoke/nipple, an extra set of shoe cleats, electrical tape, a few random sized hex bolts, and zip ties – all good things to have incase you get in a pinch. On the bag front, we like to carry small backpacks because of their water carrying capacity, but these can be easily replaced with a frame bag if you’re not in too technical of terrain and running a hardtail. A larger seatpost bag should carry most of your bigger volume gear and a smaller handlebar bag can carry items you might want to get to quickly.

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Falling outside these three sub-groups, but just as important are lights, a portable USB recharging stick and if you’re really going off the grid consider investing in a satellite GPS device. Don’t forget your lightweight tent (or hammock), sleeping bag and pad so you can enjoy your rest in comfort before heading home the next day!

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How to: Pass properly on a bike path

Q: The bike lanes and trails in my town are becoming flooded with fellow cyclists, which is great. I’m no racer myself, but I’m faster than many of these new riders, which can lead to some interesting moments—there seems to be no universally accepted passing etiquette for cyclists. What’s the best way to handle this?

A: I’ve been on both ends of this, waiting patiently to pass a slowly swerving cyclists in front of me, and on the receiving end of a few close passes by a fellow rider in huge hurry to get somewhere, or attempting to become a Cat. 6 World Champion.

In theory, the flow of bike traffic should work in a similar fashion as car traffic, with slower traffic keeping right, holding a steady line, and signaling intentions to change direction of travel. And in practice, just like the automobile, the situation is a complete mess.

Many look like little kids wobbling around: groups of riders taking up the lane yakking away with no regard for other riders; in-line skaters in their own world; triathletes in a full aero tuck and earbuds fully inserted; high schoolers texting and riding; knuckleheads taking random u-turns with no warning; idiots taking selfies. Some days riding a bike can make you feel that hell is truly trying to coexist with other people.

Illustration by Stephen Haynes

Illustration by Stephen Haynes

What to do to make things less hellish? First of all, slow down. If no one else knows you’re racing, you can’t win anything. Traveling at a much greater speed than the traffic you are passing is a sure way to make things more dangerous than they need to be. Feel the need to go fast? Don’t do it on a busy bike path.

Second, make some noise—um yeah, I lost my train of thought there, because writing on a computer leads to distractions like watching the entire 30-minute version of the Beastie Boys “Make Some Noise” on YouTube. If I can ever find a new ink ribbon, I’m going back to using my old Underwood. Anyway, open your mouth and let your presence be known, sometimes a call of “good morning” works better than the hard-to-not-sound-rude and confuses-the-hell-out-of-non-racers “on your left”. Talk to people, make yourself known, try not to sound like an ignoramus, etc.

Another effective tool is the bell. By its very nature it’s non-confrontational, and it seems to harbor some magic in the consistent way other riders react. A quick look over the shoulder, followed by a move to the right. Perfect really. The one caveat with bell use? More (cow)bell will not make things better. Keep it in the pocket, ring once or twice when in hearing range, thank while passing, go one about your day. Repeated bell ringing is annoying, and the more a bell is rung, the less effective it becomes.

The outliers here are the earbud zombies. Talking, yelling, bells, none of these make these people react. My advice? Think hard about extending your aura, which cannot be blocked even with dubstep being pumped into the brain at high volume. That aura will be felt, and space will be given. Deep breaths, get right with yourself, and the bike path will be your oyster.


This article originally appeared in Bicycle Times 31 as part of the Ask Beardo column. Subscribe to our weekly email newsletter to get content like this delivered to your inbox every Tuesday. 

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How To: Tour Cuba by Bike

Words and photos by Colt Fetters

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Am I allowed to travel to Cuba as a “tourist”?

Yes, as long as you self-qualify under one of the 12 specific categories for a general license. We traveled under the basis of education—we visited museums, monuments, historic sites and researched on spectacular roads for a bikepacking route. Another option is booking a trip with a structured tour, such as the People-to-People Tours.

What documents are needed?

Usually airlines will help tremendously with the documents needed for travel. Airlines handle travel to Cuba differently; however, so do your research. In general, every traveler will need the following:

• A tourist card
• A general license
• Travel insurance

Bring enough cash

You may read that U.S. cards are now accepted in Cuba; however, at the time of writing, U.S. financial institutions had not yet developed a meaningful presence in the country. The cash we brought was the only currency we had available.

Where do I stay?

The typical accommodation used by travelers is casas particulares. These are private Cuban homes that rent their extra rooms for about $20 to $30 per night. Although hotels are available throughout the country, casas particulares are arguably more accommodating and comfortable—and are ripe with potential for experiencing culture more intimately, as they give travelers a peek into Cubans’ private lives.

What bicycles are ideal?

This depends whether you are looking to tour dirt roads or paved roads. A typical touring bike outfitted with panniers and 40c tires would work well for paved roads. Dirt roads can be fairly chunky—we traveled on a rigid 29er mountain bike and an even bigger 29plus rigid bike complete with bikepacking bags.

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What about food?

Typically on bikepacking trips I cook many of my own meals. However, it was difficult to find camp-stove fuel in Cuba. We mostly ate street food and purchased extras to eat while on the road. Grocery selections were pretty basic and not very exciting. Our favorite personal-size pizzas were available for less than $1(!) at small stands in most towns.

Learn some Spanish

The majority of Cubans do not speak English. It is essential that you know at least a few conversational phrases that will help you get around, buy food and find directions. Free apps such as Duolingo are very helpful for learning some Spanish.


 

Keep Reading: Check out Colt’s story about traveling through Cuba with his significant other here. 

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How to: Stay hydrated in the heat

By Jeffrey Stern

Everyone knows once you’re thirsty, it’s too late – dehydration is difficult, if not nearly an impossible of a hole to dig yourself out of if you prepare properly. We’ve got some easy steps to ensure you’re hydrated and ready for a long, summer adventures during the hotter months ahead.

Make it part of your daily routine

Beginning each morning with a glass of water ensures your day starts off on the right foot. Water not only gets your metabolism going, but it also helps your body flush out unwanted toxins, provides brain fuel and decreases the urge to overeat in the morning. Sixteen ounces directly out of bed will also serve as a reminder to keep drinking throughout the day. Once this becomes part of your routine, a morning wakeup without water will feel odd. If you place a water bottle or glass next to your bed before going to sleep, it will be easy to reach for once you’re up. You might even be surprised how refreshed and alert you are with just one simple glass of water.

Plan ahead

It’s time to start focusing on hydration at least 48 hours before a big day of riding. You want to head into that long adventure feeling like your energy and hydration stores are maxed out. That being said, you don’t want to be drinking so much liquid that you have to use the bathroom every 15 minutes because then you’re actually doing more harm than good. It’s key to find the balance and that will take some practice as every individual is different. A handy trick is to carry a water bottle around with you throughout your day, taking little sips every 15-20 minutes. Again, after doing this for a while, it will become second nature and coming hydrated into your ride will be a breeze.

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Electrolytes are vital

Whether it’s hot out or not, you will be sweating while riding your bike. It’s important to find an electrolyte mix that you like the taste of and doesn’t upset your stomach. The only way to do this is to experiment with different brands until you land on one that’s satisfactory. Many companies these days are moving towards the all-natural drink mixes with no artificial ingredients, flavored with real fruit and sugars. These are often lighter than some calorie heavy drinks that aim to hydrate and fuel, but that can be difficult to digest causing gastrointestinal problems. Sticking with a mix you know your body can handle with be a great benefit towards getting through a long day in the saddle.

Drink early and often

Don’t wait until you are thirsty to start hydrating. At that point, it’s too late in the game and you’re already dehydrated. Just like a normal day, take small sips every 15-20 minutes, even if you’re not thirsty. This will insure a constant flow of electrolytes into your system. You may even be surprised that by taking small, regular sips of your bottles you go through them slower than by waiting and taking huge gulps when you’re really thirsty.

Hydration doesn’t stop when the ride does 

You made it through your ride with no cramping, stomach issues or dehydration, great! But don’t stop there. If you’re touring or planning a big ride the next day, keep drinking once off the bike. Stopping at the local brewery for a celebration beer? Take your bottle with you or grab a glass of water from the bartender. It’s important to keep the hydration train rolling so you can ride day after day this summer.

Salt wings. Photo by David Silverander.

Salt wings. Photo by David Silverander.

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Video: 10 Essential Tips for Bike Maintenance

It’s spring! Maybe you’re getting back out there after being on the trainer all winter, or maybe you’re pulling the bike out of the shed after a period of dormancy. Maybe you’ve been riding all winter long and your bike has collected salt and grit from sloppy, slushy roads and trails. Whatever your situation is, bike maintenance is important to keep your wheels rolling and get the most life out of your frame and components.

Skratch Labs and House of Spin in Boulder, Colorado team up to bring you this video explaining 10 easy maintenance tips. Your bike will thank you!

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Feature: ALONE

BT41 Alone-6

Photo: Nicholas Carman

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.

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Photo of and by the author: Amanda DelCore

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.”

Photo: Ian Hylands

Photo: Ian Hylands

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.

Photo: William Stump

Photo: William Stump

“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.

Photo: William Stump

Photo: William Stump

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.

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Photo of and by the author: Amanda DelCore

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.”

 

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How to: Forage on your next ride

foraging-bt41

Words and photo: Cort Percer

I’m guessing this has happened to you, too: You set out on a trail you’ve ridden hundreds of times, intent on stealing some KOMs or at least climbing the leaderboard. Then you snap back to reality. Suddenly you’re cruising slowly along noticing things you’ve never seen before.

That’s how I found blackberries. In this case, I pulled off to the side of the trail and picked one that was a deep purple and glistening in the sun. I held it up and studied the bumpy cluster of fruitlets. There I was, squeezing berries between my fingers and smelling the juice residue like some kind of prehistoric gatherer on the verge of discovering a new food source.

I was so unknowledgeable of wild plants that I actually thought to myself, “There are no dead animals around here so it must be safe to eat.” So I ate one. “Eureka! I have discovered wild blackberries!”

That changed my perspective on food supply and eating seasonally. That also changed my perspective on riding bicycles. I started riding my favorite trails more slowly, looking at the bushes and trees to see what fruits they were bearing.

I found fallingfruit.org, an online mapping resource for edible wild fruits and I started riding new trails and streets to find them. A bike is the perfect tool for foraging. For a blackberry bramble that’s three miles into a trail, you obviously can’t drive your car and it’s time-consuming to walk. You can get to the spot quickly, then take your time looking around. A lot of the fruits I’ve found have been growing alongside greenlines and rails-to-trails so you can use any bike to go foraging.

Rules of Foraging

DON’T EAT IT UNLESS YOU CAN IDENTIFY IT.

Use a field guide to help you with this because looking stuff up on the Internet is like looking stuff up on the Internet: you might not get the whole story.

GET PERMISSION.

Some states allow foraging in parks for personal use but not commercial use, while other states do not allow foraging in parks at all. Similarly, some property owners might be counting on their fruit trees, or whatever the squirrels don’t get.

DON’T TAKE MORE THAN YOU NEED.

Sharing is caring.

HELPFUL TIPS BERRIES LIKE SUNLIGHT.

You’re more apt to find fruit in a trail clearing or alongside a multi-use path that gets plenty of sunlight.

LEARN THE LEAVES.

Fruits grow on trees, bushes and vines. It’s easier to spot the leaves and then look for the fruit.

THE DARKER THE BERRY, THE SWEETER THE JUICE.

No lie.

ONLINE RESOURCES

fallingfruit.org
foraging.meetup.com

 

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Feature: Ready for Anything

Illustrations: Chris Conlin
Originally published in Issue #41

What to do if you break a spoke

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 6.00.15 PMIt depends on the ride. It’s all about being prepared. Ideally you’ll have a really tiny spoke wrench in your bag and you can loosen two nipples/spokes on opposite sides of the broken spoke. How do you know you’re loosening the nipple? Hold your hand on the spoke and either feel it increase or decrease in tension.

Wrap the broken spoke around a neighboring spoke if you can’t pull it out. If you have rim brakes, make sure your wheel can fit through the brake pads (since it is now out of true). Not all wheels can handle a broken spoke, however. Lower spoke count wheels (24 spokes and below) are a lot harder to fix in the field and require a phone call to someone. Additionally, proprietary wheels like paired spoke wheels and some proprietary spokes can’t be adjusted as easily.

If you’re touring, it helps if you have a few spare spokes and a little heartier of a truing wrench. If it’s a drive side spoke you’ll also need a cassette removal tool like the Stein mini lockring tool. Once the cassette is off you can replace the spoke bringing it as close to tension as you can.

— Jude Gerace, owner/founder of Sugar Wheel Works

What to do if you bonk

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 6.00.58 PMThere are two goals I try to achieve when that sudden onset of energy-drain hits you like a ton of bricks. The first is to minimize the length and extremity of my ride as quickly as possible. The second is to take note of how you feel and more importantly how you recently felt so that you can be more aware of the signs that a “bonk” is coming. This is valuable because a “bonk” doesn’t actually hit you like that ton of bricks out of nowhere. There are signs, if you are listening well enough.

Priority number one is to get essential fuels back into the system to “unbonk.” Ideally you need simple sugars that are quickly metabolized. How you react to the initial onset will relate to how much you’ll need to consume. Normally one or two packages of energy chews is a solid option to get you back in the game.

However, it takes a while to recover from bonking. Once you’ve consumed essential carbs, it’s a waiting and survival game. This could take 5 to 30 minutes (if it works at all). Take extra care to observe how you feel during this whole process and try to recall the minute feelings you had just before you bonked. These “tells” are invaluable to learn for the future. Learning these tells well help you to avoid bonking entirely.

For me, I’ve come to learn that I typically feel a slight euphoria before I bonk. Shortly afterwards I start to feel my arms growing in weight. This is the tipping point for me and a moment when I can save face if timing, energy and strategy is employed tactfully. So get to know yourself when you bonk.

You will always run the risk of bonking, no matter how prepared and knowledgeable you are. So while you want to avoid bonking, when it happens, treat it as a learning experience, an invaluable one.

— Shawn Milne, former professional cyclist and current marketing specialist at Skratch Labs

What to do if you come across an injured person

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The obvious first thing to do when you come up on an injured cyclist is to make sure the scene is safe. Ideally you are not moving an injured person unless you can do this without causing further harm. However, you might need to move someone out of harm’s way or protect them by signaling or warning oncoming traffic.

Then there is a standard basic life support sequence we use to check for threats to life. It’s an “ABC” approach familiar to people who have taken CPR or basic first aid courses. We check the “A” or airway and make sure air can move in and out of the lungs. There may be a need to clear the mouth of blood, vomit, broken teeth, or to position the patient on their side so they can breathe.

Next we check for “B”, breathing, and hopefully don’t need to perform mouth-to-mouth or mouth-to-mask breathing. The only first aid for broken ribs, which can cause pain and shortness of breath while the injured person tries to breath, is simple reassurance and support until help arrives.

The “C” or circulation step is to check for a pulse and to begin chest compressions if there is no pulse present. It’s also importantly a check for severe bleeding and stop it. Direct pressure on the site of the bleeding with a hand or better yet a piece of fabric or an actual wound dressing will stop more bleeding.

We can add a “D” and an “E” to this sequence as well. “D” is the assumption of a spine injury and protection of the spine by avoiding unneeded movement until help arrives. “E” reminds us to look at things that are bent, broken or out of place to find serious injuries and also reminds us to think about the environment. The cyclist who was warm in the saddle may quickly become cold on the pavement.

Ideally you now hear the wail of the siren signaling that help is on the way.

— Tod Schimelpfenig, curriculum director, NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute

How to avoid dangerous weather

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Thunderstorms pose the biggest problems for cyclists in regards to dangerous weather. Thunderstorms occur during the times when most cyclists are most likely outside riding during the warm months. They can suddenly sneak up on you with little warning and produce a multitude of dangerous weather conditions.

Lightning: If you are caught outside in a thunderstorm, you want to minimize the possibility of being hit by lightning. If road riding and you have no shelter, find a low area and lay flat away from your bike and any tall objects. If mountain biking, seek shelter away from trees. Again, find a low area and lay flat or seek shelter in boulders if out in the woods.

Hail: Large hail can do considerable damage. If you are caught in a hail storm, keep your helmet on, it’s the best protection you have. Try to find some shelter like a bridge to hide under. If you are caught with no shelter, try to cover your body as best as possible with any protection like corn stalks or hay. Even tree branches covering your body will help protect you from hail. Stay away from your bike because of the threat of lightning.

Sudden Temperature Drops: Thunderstorms, the passage of cold fronts or higher elevations can mean sudden changes in temperatures and hypothermia. Check the weather before venturing out and have a rain jacket with you. It will keep you dry and also retain heat if temperatures drop.

If temperatures drop, try to minimize your speed so you don’t create excessive windchills on your body. You bike may actually start to shake as your body shivers. Pull back on your bike speed or even stop to allow warming to occur. You can even seek any debris, hay or grass along the road or trails that you can stuff into your shirt to give you protection from the cold temperatures.

Tornadoes: Seek shelter in a sturdy building or storm shelter. If you are caught in the open when a tornado is approaching, dismount your bike and seek shelter in a ditch, storm drain pipe or underpass. Keep in mind that if it’s raining hard, ditches and storm drains can fill up with water and underpasses are not always the safest place.

If in a forest mountain biking, seek a location that is below ground level like a stream or creek, or around boulders. Trees and branches will be coming down all around you so you need to cover yourself up and protect yourself for the debris. Keep your helmet on because it will provide some protection.

— Henry Margusity, senior meteorologist with AccuWeather.com

How to get un-lost

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Every part of me wants to write a few paragraphs about good preparation as the best way to get “pre-un-lost,” but for now you’re lost. First and foremost, stop and take a deep breath. Don’t panic. Wrapping yourself around the axle only leads to bad decisions. Go back (mentally) to the last point you remember being un-lost. How far back was it? Is it short enough to ride or hike back to? Nine times out of 10 on the trip back you’ll discover your mistake and get back on track and be surprised you missed that turn.

The important takeaway here is keep it simple and stay based in solid fact. DO NOT start piling on bad decisions and end up on the cover of Bicycle Times as a tragedy story.

My second tip, and very related to the first, is to avoid groupthink. My company operates primarily self-guided tours and we get some of the craziest “we got lost” stories you’ll ever hear. So many of them are a result of groupthink: one or two guys start to create a story of where they are and what turn they took or didn’t take. We hear wild tales of “I knew the route was sorta SHAPED like this, so we veered in that SHAPE.”

Next thing you know you have 10 guys all headed in the same direction believing the story. Meanwhile, one of the guys in the back tells it later, “I knew what they were saying made no sense and I had the GPS, but I just went along with it.” Speak up and think critically of everyone’s ideas while staying respectful. You may completely disagree with another’s idea of where you are, but avoid infighting.

Finally, paper maps are light, cheap and the batteries never die. Just sayin’.

— Matt McFee, director of Hermosa Tours

What to do if you’re in an accident

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  • Call 911 for ambulance and police and wait for their arrival. If you are in no shape to do so, ask a bystander to do it.
  • Don’t refuse medical assistance and say that you are fine—you’ll be pumped full of adrenaline and may not realize you are injured.
  • Photograph any visible auto and bike damage, skid marks and accident debris.
  • Photograph the driver’s insurance card and driver’s license, and write down the name, phone number, address and auto insurance information for the driver. If the driver refuses to cooperate, notify police.
  • Don’t give any statements to the other party’s insurance company.
  • Photograph and write down the make and model of the vehicle, as well as the license plate number.
  • Don’t engage in any negotiations for compensation with the driver.
  • Get names and contact information for all witnesses to the accident.
  • Hire an attorney who has experience handling bicycle accident cases.
  • Resist the urge to post details of the accident online. It will be scrutinized by the driver’s insurance company.
  • Have a reputable bike shop document the damage to your bike. Also document damage to any other property involved, such as clothing, accessories, backpacks, etc.

— Marc S. Reisman, Esq.

10 more vital tips

Richard Belson, an instructor at the United Bicycle Institute, offered up some extra tips for cyclists. Find them here.

 

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How To: Wear with care

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WHAT MATERIALS ARE BEST FOR CYCLING OR OTHER ATHLETICS?

Synthetics are awesome but so are some natural fibers like wool. For us it is choosing the right tool for the job. Polyester is generally hydrophobic and does a be er job on the top than a nylon, however for durability in cycling shorts, we’ll often prefer nylon. And if you want compression, an elastane blend is necessary, however, it makes a top really perform poorly because it will soak with sweat/moisture and stay soaked resulting in a heavy and uncomfortable experience.

WHAT MAKES A MATERIAL WATERPROOF AND STILL BE BREATHABLE? HOW DOES THAT WORK?

Laminates, the layers that are impervious to water, have a microporous structure that has “pores” large enough for water vapor to escape but too small for liquid water droplets to drop through.

WHEN SHOPPING FOR SHORTS WITH A CHAMOIS PAD, WHAT KINDS OF FEATURES SHOULD PEOPLE BE LOOKING FOR?

If you’re shopping for bike shorts, look for a quality pad. If you’re buying at a bike shop, ask if anyone at the shop has used it. If they haven’t, ask them how they know it is good. After that, look for quality leg finishes that will last, and a weighty enough main material that will be supportive over time.

Thanks to: Sam Foos, Bontrager

WHAT KIND OF FIT DO YOU RECOMMEND FOR CYCLING?

Whatever you are comfortable in! Range of motion is key. Comfort is most important. I would not bring a knife to a gunfight, so if it’s race day and you’re comfortable in Lycra, by all means go for it. The Lycra should have strong compression and the fit around the crotch and legs should be snug but not overly tight. For most road rides that are mildly competitive, training oriented or racing, I choose Lycra kits. For casual all day rides, touring or general casual mountain bike rides I choose baggy shorts and a loose fi tting top for comfort, airflow and breathability.

WHY THE VARIATION IN PRICES OF ACTIVEWEAR AND OUTDOOR GEAR? SOME OF IT IS CRAZY EXPENSIVE. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?

First, there is a large range in fabric qualities and trims. Fabric quality is very important when it comes to the cost of a garment. The higher the quality and additional treatments you have, the higher the price. Also high tech trim pieces such as waterproof zippers and seam welding will add to your end cost as well.

When it comes to fabrics the main difference in quality comes down to the yarn and weaving or knitting level. Higher quality yarn increases the price but also increases the hand feel, comfort, performance and longevity of the garment. The weaving process has a part in this pricing formula as higher quality weaving of yarns facilitates good structure in the finished fabric and affects the hand and the life of the yarn.

Lower quality coloring processes result in a lack of color fastness and promotes fading early in the life of the garment. Quality of craftsmanship also plays into this. Most clothing items are man-made. Very low price garments are mass produced and we mean MASS. The quality on these pieces is very hard to control.

Thanks to: Becky Lamphier and Mia Stearns, Club Ride Apparel

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HOW OFTEN SHOULD I BE WASHING MY CYCLING GEAR?

For base layers and things that you are sweating into, wash them as regularly as you would your gym clothes. A technical cleaner for base layers will help remove embedded odors (you know what I’m talking about!), as well as enhance the wicking ability of your next-to-skin gear. First, be sure to empty pockets, as washing lip balm into your clothing creates quite the mess! Then zip all zippers, and close all Velcro. No need to turn inside out. Really hot water can be good for getting things clean, but can also be bad for elastics, so be mindful of what the care label allows!

Hang dry if possible, and never, ever use fabric softeners, including dryer sheets, as they will leave behind a gunky residue which will reduce the performance. For outer layers, cleaning regularly with a technical cleaner will make sure they perform their best as well. If you notice visible dirt, then it is time to clean.

If your jacket is “wetting out” or absorbing water, that is also a great time to clean it. It is very important to use a technical cleaner meant for water-repellent items, as household detergents leave behind a residue that attracts water—not what you want in a jacket that’s supposed to repel water!

DO I REALLY NEED TO HANDWASH EVERYTHING OR ARE THE WASHING MACHINE AND DRIER OK?

Always read the care label, but most items are fine in the washing machine. Usually tumble drying on low is fine, too. Again, check the label.

WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO REMOVE STAINS FROM MUD? FOOD? BLOOD?

The best way to get out a stubborn stain is to pour a small amount of undiluted cleaning product directly on the stain and scrub it gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush. Let it sit for a few minutes, scrub again, then throw it in the wash. This technique works well on stubborn stains on cuffs and zipper areas.

Thanks to: Heidi Dale Allen, Nikwax North America

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IF YOU GET A TEAR IN YOUR GEAR OR APPAREL IN THE FIELD, WHAT’S THE BEST THING TO DO UNTIL YOU CAN HAVE IT REPAIRED? SLAP SOME DUCT TAPE ON THERE?

Duct tape is a decent quick fix for outerwear, but folks need to remove the tape as soon as they can. If left in place too long the adhesive residue from the tape will stay on the fabric even after the tape is removed. This leaves a sticky mess which is difficult to remove when it comes time to make a more permanent repair.

If someone wants a quick and more effective long term repair than duct tape, we recommend using Tenacious Tape Repair Tape made by Gear Aid/McNe Corp. It comes in a small 3 inch x 20 inch roll (or pre-cut shapes) and can be cut with scissors to a shape that suits a specific need. They also make it in multiple colors and works great on tents and outerwear. We prefer the colored versions over the clear because the colors are made of fabric and seem to hold up be er in most situations that the clear.

The only downside with Tenacious Tape is that it can be even more difficult to remove that duct tape, so if someone uses it, they should plan on keeping it in place for a long period. Gear Aid also makes a number of small outdoor gear repair kits that include sewing related supplies and the right ingredients for repairing a leaking sleeping pad.

MY RAIN SHELL DOESN’T SEEM TO BE AS WATERPROOF AS IT USED TO BE, WHY IS THAT?

Dirt, oil, sweat and detergent residue can mask the waterproof coating. Also, over time the water repellent finish will wear off. When either of these happen, you will notice water absorbing into the outer fabric of your jacket. Luckily, in the former instance, cleaning with a technical cleaner is all you need to restore the water-repellency.

If, after cleaning, your shell is still “wetting out,” then it is time to apply a waterproofing product like Nikwax TX Direct Wash-in, a Durable Water Repellant (DWR), which is a chemical finish that most technical fabrics have on them when new. The original DWR tends to wear off over time from normal use and then water will no longer bead up and shed off the fabric.

I find that the trick with re-applying DWR is to throw my jacket in the the dryer for about 10 minutes on medium to high heat after the wash cycle in order to better “set” the DWR onto the fabric. Doing this is probably not recommended by most outerwear companies because most pieces of outerwear these days have welded or bonded construction as well as seam tapes that are applied with heat. Always read the garment label for recommended drying suggestions or contact the manufacturer.

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WHAT ARE SOME TIPS FOR KEEPING YOUR APPAREL IN GOOD CONDITION FOR THE LONG HAUL?

Regular washing of outdoor apparel and equipment is probably the most important thing people can do the extend the life of their gear. Body oils, sunscreen and other contaminants can do long term and irreversible damage to technical fabrics. Zippers also benefit greatly from frequent washing. Fine dust and road grime gets into zippers and can wreak havoc on the way a zipper functions. Essentially that fine dust becomes an abrasive and every time you zip or unzip that tent zipper or jacket, the dust starts to damage the teeth and the zipper slider.

For technical garments, tents and sleeping bags we suggest using only a front loading washer (top loading agitator columns can damage tents) and a two-cycle wash. On the first cycle use Nikwax Tech Wash to clean the items, and then using Nikwax TX Direct Wash-in for the second wash (only the first cycle for sleeping bags). To dry a tent we suggest hanging it up by the stake-out loops in a garage or basement for a few days. Always make sure your tent is completely dry before packing it up for storage, otherwise you may find mold and mildew the next time you take it out, and that often is not something that can be fixed.

To dry a sleeping bag (or puffy jacket) you’ll need a decent-sized dryer. Put the dryer on low heat and check regularly to see if it is dry. If it is a down insulated bag or down jacket, toss 5-8 tennis balls into the dryer with the item being dried. The tennis balls will bounce around and help break up the wet clumps of down and the bag will dry faster. Resist the temptation to turn up the heat setting or you may find that you have melted the fabric of the item you are trying to maintain.

We also suggest storing a sleeping bag in a hanging position much like they have them hung up on a retail floor of an outdoor store, or at the very least in an oversized co on stuff sack so that the bag is not always compressed. Keeping a sleeping bag compressed all the time will reduce its temperature rating and won’t keep you as warm in the long run as it did when it was new.

For panniers or bikepacking bags we suggest washing them in the bath tub or utility sink with Nikwax Tech Wash and make sure to use an old toothbrush to clean out the teeth of the zippers that might have dirt or dust in them as well as any tough stains. Hang these items up and let them air dry.

Thanks to: Ma Menely, Mountain Soles & Outdoor Threads

 

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How To: Keep Your Cool

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Words: Avery Stonich
Illustrations: Kyle Stecker

You’ve been huffing up a hill for more than an hour, admiring the view to distract you from leg cramps. “Why is this so hard today?” you wonder. You reach down to take a swig and realize you’re out of water. To top it off, you’re slightly hungover from a raucous party the night before, and you feel slightly nauseous. Then you notice you’re not sweating. “That’s odd…”

Heatstroke.

It can kill you or cause severe organ damage. If you think it afflicts only sick or elderly people baking in a Chicago heat wave, think again. Exertion can bring on heatstroke in anyone. Knowing its symptoms, how to prevent it, and how to treat it is key for anyone who rides in hot temperatures.

Technically speaking, heatstroke is hyperthermia, when body temperature rises above 104 degrees F. It often starts with cramping and sweating, then progresses to exhaustion that is out of proportion to the level of exertion. Left untreated, a full-blown case of heatstroke starts shutting down vital functions.

Dr. Tim Meyers, emergency room director at Boulder Community Hospital in the active Colorado town, says they see a handful of cases each year, usually in young, healthy people. “The heatstroke cases we see tend to be athletes who are participating in triathlons that take place here in the summer,” said Dr. Meyers.

Exertional heatstroke can result from overdoing it in hot temperatures coupled with dehydration. High humidity increases the chances of heatstroke, as do certain medications—including beta blockers, diuretics, antidepressants and stimulants. Some people’s genetic wiring simply makes them less effective coolers.

Suspect you have heatstroke if you have been riding in the heat and you get off your bike and can’t catch your breath in a normal amount of time. Lethargy, dizziness, nausea and lack of sweating are other warning signs. In extreme cases, people stop needing to pee, have severe stomach pain, and experience seizures.

For cases requiring medical care, treatment includes checking vital signs, assessing kidney and liver function, IV rehydration, and instituting a “rapid cooling protocol.” “We’ll get a person naked, soak them in water, bring in high-speed fans, and sometimes put a catheter in the patient’s groin to remove blood, cool it, and return it to the body,” said Dr. Meyers. For some, this treatment suffices. For others, hospitalization is necessary—when a patient shows signs of kidney failure, has a seizure and can’t breathe properly, or—in the worst cases—suffers from full cardiovascular collapse.

“The challenge with heatstroke is that it can masquerade as other things, so it’s hard to pinpoint. That’s what makes it a scary diagnosis,” said Dr. Meyers. “It can happen to people who have been active before. And the symptoms can be subtle when they start to present. Sometimes it progresses before it really declares itself.”

The first step is awareness. Tune into your body. When you’re biking in hot temperatures, pay attention to symptoms that are different. Perhaps you feel more tired than usual, or you have uncharacteristic muscle or abdominal pain. If you suspect you might be developing heatstroke, stop exercising immediately and take steps to cool yourself.

Cyclists have one advantage: the bike. If you’ve been grunting up a hill and overheating, consider turning around and using conductive cooling (i.e., rushing air) on the downhill to cool off faster than you would sitting on hot asphalt.

The best approach is to avoid heatstroke in the first place. Common sense prevails. Wear light clothing. Stay hydrated. Don’t charge too hard in the heat of the day. And if you’re super hungover on a hot July day, maybe it’s best to stay home.

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What to do if you suspect you have heatstroke

  • Try to cool down—seek shade, take off excess clothing, dunk in a river or lake.
  • Drink water.
  • Fan yourself and spray mist or pour water on your body.
  • Pack your body in ice. Focus on armpits, groin, neck and back. Substitute snow if you’re on a ride in the mountains.
  • If you’re camping, send someone back to camp to grab ice and cold water.
  • Assess the severity of the symptoms and call for help if necessary.
  • Take your temperature if you can. If it’s over 104°, seek medical attention immediately.

 

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A novice goes bikepacking in Moab

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Two years is a long time to daydream about something before being able to make it happen, but I am infamously stubborn and will hold onto desires for unreasonable amounts of time. So it was with off-road bikepacking, which sparked something in me the moment I discovered it existed, but that I didn’t actually attempt until last weekend in Moab, Utah.

Several friends and I have a tradition of going mountain biking in Moab each May. This year, I found myself without a long-travel, full-suspension bike which, at my skill level, is necessary to keep up on technical trails. Instead, I decided to use the trip as my opportunity to bikepack for the first time. Moab is best known for OHV riding, Jeeping (yeah, it’s a thing) and mountain biking, but I found it to also be an enchanting place to pedal for several hours along a remote dirt road.

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The Route

I cheated a bit on this trip—it was more of a shakedown to figure out where and how to pack the bags and to begin to learn the nuances of fully loaded bike handling. I did not actually ride somewhere and camp alone. Instead, I loaded up everything I would have needed for an overnight, pedaled for six hours, then returned to the group site and re-established camp. After one night in a tent, I gave up in the face of rain and high winds and slept in the bed of my truck.

But, hey.

The route I chose was Kane Creek Road up and over Hurrah Pass, which snakes through BLM land southwest of Moab. From town, the road is mostly smooth dirt suitable for gravel bikes and two-wheel drive cars. The farther you push toward the pass, the rockier and narrower the road becomes. Beyond the pass, multiple river crossings and deep, sandy two-track make for slow and steady work. But the remote landscape is jaw-dropping gorgeous, and I couldn’t help but ride with a permanent, appreciative smile.

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Even when I slipped and went down in water up to my neck, even when dust devils swarmed and packed every orifice with orange dirt, even when my front brake gave out and my rear derailleur threw a temper tantrum, I was unfailingly giddy.

How far did I ride? That’s what everyone wanted to know when I rolled back into camp muddy, bruised and grinning. I honestly have no idea. I rode for a solid five hours during my six-hour trip, taking one rest break to enjoy a hearty lunch, another to dry out a bit after slipping into the river and a final stop to brew a cup of coffee (since I was carrying all of that crap I figured I might as well use it). Otherwise, I have no idea and I’m OK with that.

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The Bike

The steed I called up from my stable is the venerable Surly Pugsley which—to be clear—is a personal bike that I spent my own money on. As much as I appreciate a modern gravel grinder or finely tuned all-mountain bike, the Pugsley’s classic geometry and steel frame are my Goldilocks. It’s also unpretentious, easygoing, indestructible and versatile, which is how I happen to fancy myself.

We get along smashingly, the Pugsley and I, so much so that it’s my only named bike. It’s well-known to friends as “Bluecifer,” which is what we Coloradans call the creepy blue horse statue with glowing red eyes that rears over Denver International Airport. The understanding that Bluecifer and I have developed over our years together made it the obvious choice for my first bikepacking trip.

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Throwing a leg over the loaded bike for the first time wasn’t without trepidation. I didn’t bother to bring a scale to the desert, but my guess is that the setup weighed close to half of my body weight. And yet the first pedal stroke was unremarkable. Each one after that, along an increasingly technical stretch of two-track, was no less familiar. I found myself surprised that the ride wasn’t awkward or heavy-feeling, but rather normal. My only complaint was a wish for more hand positions, as I simply used a traditional mountain bike handlebar setup.

Somehow, a Pugsley rides the same loaded as it does unloaded. I mean that as a compliment: The handling and predictability were largely unchanged by heavy, amateurishly packed gear draped all over its bits. I didn’t have to re-learn how to maneuver nor did I feel I was losing any feedback from the machine. I’m sure I’d love any of Surly’s made-for-loaded-adventuring bikes, but Bluecifer got it done without complaint. While it remains to be seen how a Pugsley’s wide Q-factor will affect my knees on multi-day trips, I am so far well pleased.

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The Gear

As a longtime backpacker, I glibly assumed I had enough lightweight gear and a good understanding of packing to nail this adventure. Instead, I struggled to cram everything into the bike bags on my size small frame, despite regularly seeing people who travel with far less equipment. The biggest offender was my sleeping bag, which doesn’t compress well. Finding a place to stash it left me scratching my head, and I ended up carrying it in a backpack along with a water bladder and my rain gear. Since I almost always ride with a hydration pack, I barely noticed it.

Up front I hauled my tent, extra clothing and sleeping pad in the handlebar bag. The top tube bag carried a sack of dark chocolate almonds, a camera, lip balm and a knife that I purposefully clipped in a spot visible to anyone who stopped to talk to me. In the frame bag, I loaded heavier items such as bike tools, hand pump, spare tube, sunscreen and food. The saddle bag carried my cooking equipment, eating utensils, headlamp and toiletries. I forgot the first aid kit and camp shoes, which I probably would have put in dry bags attached to fork-mounted cages.

A note about tires: I chose four-inch Surly Nates for this trip, knowing I’d be riding over a combination of deep-ish sand and rocky terrain. A few people chastised me for such a large, heavy choice, but on a loaded fully rigid bike I appreciated how the plush tires tamed the ride, floated through the sand and gripped tenaciously on steep climbs. I’m glad that I didn’t focus too much on weight weeny-ism, but rather sought to be practical and realistic.

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Lessons Learned

  • Olives: I brought along a small packet of seasoned, pitted green olives and their briny tang was a delightful snack. In other words, treat yourself. Dry goods are nice because they’re lightweight, but too much of them can be demoralizing, especially in a desert landscape where you always feel parched.
  • Distribute soft things among metal and plastic things, or else the rattling of your cup against your fuel canister will drive you nuts. Also, think about what you might need to access during the ride and pack accordingly. Physically, it’s not a big deal to remove everything from one bag to get to your coffee canister but, mentally, it can be excruciating.
  • Be aware of your personal limits. Know your strength level, ability level and what you can expect from your body, which will determine how far you travel outbound, how fast you can ride and when you know you can push through something or should stop and rest. I ended up being under-ambitious on this first outing (I easily could have ridden farther and/or faster) but that’s not a bad thing in an area with zero cellphone reception.
  • Know some beyond-basic bike maintenance for peace of mind, rather than catching the “it won’t happen to me” disease. After an endless string of silty river crossings, I had to tinker with Bluecifer’s squealing, gunked-up mechanical disc brakes. I let the rear derailleur persist in its misery until I got back to camp but, had I been spending the night miles from my car, I would have needed to deal with it that evening.
  • Wave and smile at everyone. It immediately diffuses any potential annoyance that other users (especially those with engines and go-fast agendas) have to share the road/trail with you and your lumbering load. I quickly learned that moto riders raise a balled fist to one another in greeting, so I started doing it, too. I also pulled off to the side of the road for larger Jeeps and four-wheelers, allowing them to pass comfortably.

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Otherwise, I found bikepacking to be not a big deal. By that, I mean this: if you are a moderately-competent bike handler, are experienced with some form of camping, have at least half your wits about you, possess a respectable fitness level and can do some pre-planning, then you can bikepack with relative ease. Also, take the advice my winking friends left me with before I embarked: “Make good choices.”

The biggest revelation I came away with was that bikepacking is a damn good time. Sure, nothing went disastrously wrong and returning to a campsite packed with friends, cold beer and a roaring fire made the outing much easier than spending a night in the wilds alone, but every pedal stroke was full of stoke. Attaching a mission to cycling makes it an entirely new experience.

I had to wait two years because graduate school ate up all of my free time. If this is something you want to do, then just go do it.

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“Journeys are the midwives of thought … There is an almost quaint correlation between what is before our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, and new thoughts, new places. Introspective reflections that might otherwise be liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape.” — Alain de Botton in “The Art of Travel.”

 

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Pain free: ride more, hurt less

Words: Amanda Macmillan
Originally published in Issue #39

As rewarding as it is, cycling can come with its fair share of aches and pains—especially for new riders who aren’t used to time in the saddle. Some soreness may be inevitable—this is a sport, after all—but a lot of discomfort can be remedied with a tweak of your bike setup or your riding style. Bike-fitting specialist Happy Freedman and exercise physiologist Polly deMille, both from the Hospital of Special Surgery’s Bike Fitting Service in New York City, offer their tips for a pleasant and pain-free ride.

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Wrists

If padded gloves don’t do the trick, try adjusting your handlebar position a touch. “The goal is to support your upper body without putting all your weight on it,” says Freedman. “You want to be able to put your weight forward when you need it and back off when you don’t, so your wrists get a break.” Off the bike, work your abdominal muscles with plank exercises, so you can support yourself while you ride. “If your core is weak, you have to lean on your handlebars much more,” says deMille.

Shoulders

Don’t lock your elbows or lean too hard on your handlebars, says Freedman. These habits stress the muscles in your upper back and send shockwaves straight up through your shoulders. Instead, keep a slight bend in your arms and adjust your seat height and angle so you’re not pitched too far forward.

Neck

Make sure your helmet fits properly and your glasses (Rx or sunnies) don’t slip down your nose. If you have to tilt your head back to keep them in place, you’ll strain your neck more than it already is. After your ride, do chin-to-chest and ear-to-shoulder stretches, along with chest-opening yoga poses like Cobra or Upward-Facing Dog. And when you practice planks, don’t drop your head—holding it up will strengthen the muscles that fatigue during long rides.

Lower Back

Sitting up too straight can be bad news for your back. “The energy of impact, if you hit a rough patch or a pothole, goes straight up through the seat tube into your lower back,” Freedman says. Even on a city or commuter bike, lean forward slightly and support yourself with your quads and core muscles to better absorb shock from the road.

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Seat

Wear padded bike shorts (with nothing underneath) or, at the very least, avoid clothing with lots of seams. Your bike shop can recommend a saddle width and cushioning level best suited for your butt shape and riding style. To keep the nose from smashing into your nether-bits, make sure it’s not tilted too far forward or back. And shift positions as you pedal through turns and change speeds. “It increases circulation, uses different muscles and redistributes your weight,” Freedman says. “The more you move around on the saddle, the less likely you are to be sore.”

Knees

Check your seat height: If your feet can touch the ground while you’re still in the saddle, it’s too low. Riding this way puts too much stress on the knees—yes, even on commuter bikes—and can hurt your hips and back, too. “With your heel on the pedal and your butt in the saddle, you should have just a little flexion in your knee at the bottom of your pedal stroke,” Freedman says.

Hips

“Tight hips can mean your glutes aren’t firing,” deMille says, leaving the front of your legs to do all the work. Strengthen your butt muscles with squats and single-leg bridges, and foam roll your quads after riding to release tension and open up your hips.

Feet

Loosen up! Many people wear their cycling shoes too tight, Freedman says, which can collapse arches and make existing problems (like bone spurs or neuromas) worse. Secure your shoes only to the point your feet feel snug—there’s no need to ratchet them down as far as they’ll go.

Enjoy the ride!

 

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Globetrotting: The art of miscommunication

Words and photos: Beth Puliti
Originally published in Issue #39

We cross the border into Cambodia on a Tuesday in December. It’s the “coolest” time of year to visit—in quotes because we’ve arrived after spending two months in the Himalayas. Where early morning frost formed on teahouse windows. Where snow crunched under our tires. Where every piece of clothing I layered on wasn’t enough. Where it was actually “cool.”

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At this moment, 100 degrees Fahrenheit feels like I’m pedaling on the surface of the sun. My skin stings in protest to being so near to the equator. Beads of sweat mixed with sunscreen blur my vision and my saturated wool T-shirt is now twice its weight. I’m a literal hot mess.

I’m also irrationally hungry. Hot and hungry is a bad combination in any situation, but it’s truly the worst bike touring duet ever. With each turn of the pedals my stomach rumbles audibly. Scouring the side of the rural road for any sign of sustenance, I spot a food cart at long last and beeline for the steaming pots of, um…

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“Do you have any food that’s vegetarian?” I ask timidly, looking at the unrecognizable options before me. The woman running the roadside restaurant looks at me blankly. “Um, vegetables?” I try again. “Anything without meat?” Her lips curl upward into a bemused smile and she can’t hold back her laughter—not at me, but at the words coming out of my mouth. It’s as if they are the funniest thing she’s heard in her life.

I know better. I’ve been at this for 17 months. But after spending the last two months in Nepal, a country that speaks English surprisingly well, my foreign communication skills regressed. Waiting until I was can’t-think-straight hungry didn’t help things. Several weeks back, a group of middle school students asked me what it’s like to be in a country that doesn’t speak my language. It brought back memories of a talk I attended where the bike tourer admitted this exact fear paralyzed him to the point he had spent years bike touring in every English-speaking country before working up the courage to tour someplace where the only shared language was a smile.

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Don’t let fear get in the way of your travels abroad. Be it Cambodia or Kyrgyzstan, these tried-and-true methods of communication can help on your next international excursion:

First and foremost, attempt to learn a little bit of the language.

While Singapore remains the only country I’ve shared a language with, English is widely spoken in many of the places I’ve visited. That said, I don’t rely on it and I don’t expect natives to speak it. So I try to learn a bit of the local language in each country. It sounds daunting, but you don’t have to hold a meaningful conversation, you just need to know what you can eat bez myasa, spasibo (without meat, thank you). Natives will be impressed with your efforts and in turn make more of an effort to help you.

Speak through gestures.

It’s probably no surprise that sometimes the easiest language to communicate in is mime. Using visual clues, I’ve “asked” where to eat food, where to sleep, how far away the next town is, etc.

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Carry pictorial flashcards.

As a traveler with a unique diet, I need to communicate more than others when eating out at a restaurant or buying food at a market. In these situations, I have a handful of laminated flashcards that I show to the wait staff or store employee to indicate what I am in search of. A simple Google image or clip art search before you set out on an international bike tour can provide you with myriad images to convey what you might commonly need to seek out on the road, whether it’s specific food or a place to pitch your tent. It’s not fail safe, but it works most of the time.

In every country I’ve visited on this bike tour, people have been receptive, understanding and helpful—even if my native language is so foreign-sounding, it’s laughable. That Khmer-speaking Cambodian woman eventually opened up each steaming pot lid to reveal its contents to me so I could choose something that looked appropriate. Don’t get discouraged; get creative. The world is full of good people who are happy you’re visiting their foreign land.


Follow Beth on Instagram and read her other Globetrotting pieces for Bicycle Times.

 

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From apathy to empathy: befriending street dogs on a cycle tour

Words and photos: Jen Sotolongo
Originally published in Issue #39

Throughout the Balkans and Turkey, from small villages to major cities, gangs command the streets. Generally civil with outsiders, they allowed us to pass through without question, though at times they chased and harassed us as we cycled into their territory. Demonstrating confidence and authority stopped them in their tracks. We weren’t there to mess with them, and we certainly wouldn’t allow them to mess with us.

Scars, wounds and malnutrition painted the stories of past fights and substandard living conditions. Some limped across the street, while others remained unscathed. Almost all were young, with pearl-white teeth and gums as pink as cotton candy. Walking into the neutral zone, the dividing line was clear. It was herders versus hounds.

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For fear of chasing, biting and even rabies, dogs pose a threat for the vulnerable cyclist. Along with wind, tunnels and cars, they are considered among a rider’s worst enemy. Our six-month European cycle tour included developing nations with large street dog populations. Privy to the rumors circling cycle touring forums about dogs, we were unsure what to expect. Traveling with our Australian shepherd, Sora, we assumed—correctly—that we would attract more attention than usual from the roaming packs.

While some cyclists rely on sticks and stones as dog-fending tactics, others suggest the more humane approach of a squirt of water or loud noises, like a high-pitched whistle. Unwilling to use unnecessary violence or loud noises that would affect our own dog, and equipped with screw top water bottles, we ultimately decided that we would simply see how we fared.

Upon entering the Balkans, the status of the dog as a trusted family member instantly changed to a view of dogs as dirty animals used only for work or protection. Destined to a life outside in the five-foot radius of a chain or stuck inside a kennel, forced to eat in the same space where they relieved themselves, we felt deep sorrow for man’s best friend. Where human interaction included cruel and abusive behaviors like kicking or throwing projectiles, malnourishment or neglect, most dogs invariably feared people.

BT street dogs pair

As suspected, Sora’s scent wafting through the air, coupled with the unmistakable aroma of dog food, alerted even those dogs deep in sleep beneath the hot summer sun of our approach. Cruising by in silence, we banked on the premise of letting sleeping dogs lie. Nevertheless, one dog would inevitably catch a whiff of Sora and her food. Its eye would open in a flash, sending the other dogs into a frenzy and a game of chase.

We quickly learned that authoritative behavior often froze dogs in their tracks, and braking left the dogs with nothing to chase, thus stopping their prey drive. Our trepidations quelled, however, upon understanding the easiest way to fend a dog was to show love and kindness.

Throughout the thousands of kilometers traveled in the Balkans and Turkey, we befriended countless dogs. There was Max, the ignored campground lab with whom we played fetch using a pear. We shared Sora’s bones with Sheeba, a high-energy shepherd puppy tied under a bridge at a rafting camp. Some pups joined us for lunch, lounging nearby while we ate, while others took us on as their masters, protecting us from other dogs while we slept. Dave once plucked a hound drowning in a deep water trough in Turkey, and once we awoke to a puppy curled up in the vestibule of our tent.

The level of trust and compassion displayed by these animals serves as an example for the way human beings should interact with one another. Dog after dog, these wonderful creatures approached us as individuals, rather than with judgment based upon past experiences with others of our kind.

Street Dogs-2

With growing rabies control and spay and neuter programs in many cities, subtle signs indicate heartwarming changes in the perception of dogs. In Turkey, recycling stations release dog food with each plastic bottle deposited in the machine. The residents of Lake Ohrid, Macedonia, have collectively taken on the care of the pack of dogs that resides in the central plaza. Bakers save stale bread and distribute it to the street animals. Many restaurant and hotel owners “adopt” a local stray and provide scraps and water to it each day, and sometimes even take a sick animal to see the vet.

In our experience, the greatest problems dealing with street dogs did not involve chasing, biting or rabies. Instead, the stress came when the dogs attempted to follow us along busy roads, and even more so when we could not allow ourselves to fall in love with each one and invite it along on our journey.

Six Tips for Handling Aggressive Dogs

Stop the dog from getting the idea to chase

The moment a dog hears you coming, it will perk its head up. In that moment, it will decide whether or not to chase. To stop the dog from moving closer, snap, point to it and say “eht!” or “nope!” This lets it know that you’re in charge.

Stop moving

Dogs like movement and their prey drive tells them to chase. Despite fear telling you to move quickly away from the dog, stopping gives the dog nothing to chase, preventing it from continuing its approach.

Be firm and take a power stance

If the dog decides not to listen, stand or sit up tall and continue saying “eht!” Raise your arms in the air to make yourself appear larger. These dogs are often scared of people and this simple gesture often scares them away.

Act like a dog

Continue to appear large and threatening. Growl and offer a quick, deep bark, almost like a cough. Show the dog you speak its language and that you’re not going to put up with its fight. Listen to the sounds the locals use with dogs and mimic them. The dogs are accustomed to these noises and know how to respond.

Become a threat if the dog continues to chase, bark or act aggressively

Cyclists can use a number of tactics, including squirting water in its face, finding a stick to fend it off, throwing rocks in its direction (but not actually hitting the dog) or making a high-pitched sound like a whistle.

Make friends

Check the dog’s body posture. Is its tail wagging fast back and forth or is it frozen in place? Tail wagging is good and indicates the dog is friendly. Use a high-pitched voice and say “Hi, buddy!” Put your hand out to allow the dog to get your scent.


Follow along with Jen, Dave and their dog Sora as they travel the world on two wheels and share the ups and downs of their adventures at longhaultrekkers.com.

 

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Bicycle Times Issue #40 is here!

Two-wheeled travel has always been a lightning rod for innovation. Steel tubing, ball bearings and pneumatic tires can all trace their origins to bicycle applications. By the late 19th century a full one-third of all U.S. patent applications were for bicycle-related designs, according to the Franklin Institute. Some interesting ones we found include a sail-powered bike (Patent No. 6932368), a double bicycle for “looping the loop” in circus performances (No. 790063) and a wild one-wheel bicycle with the rider sitting inside the wheel (No. 325548).


Get a copy: You can order Bicycle Times Issue #40 here.


Of course the bicycle builds on inventions that came before it. The wheel is seen as perhaps the greatest invention of all time, and its creation is a far more complex tale than the bicycle’s. In this issue we excerpt a portion of Richard W. Bulliet’s book, “The Wheel,” that documents how there are actually three distinct types of wheels, each with its own origin story.

Since the “ordinary” design with two wheels of the same diameter was introduced in the 1870s, the bicycle has largely rolled along an evolutionary path. But now with the introduction of so many new technologies so quickly, will the bicycle be radically transformed from the simple, mechanical form we know it as today? And how will our experience interacting with it change? See some of the interesting examples that could represent the future—or failure—in this issue.

And what about the bikes themselves? How are they changing? We got our hands of one of the most distinct bicycles in years, the new Cannondale Slate, for our lead product review. Its unorthodox and distinctive suspension fork is derived from mountain bikes, and it might take you places on a road bike you could never go before.

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The best thing about technology is that it is always expanding. Old technologies are rarely lost. Bicycles are still being ridden that are generations old, but still bring a smile to our faces and wind across our cheeks. Whether your interest in technology celebrates the new or the old, the bicycle has something for everyone.

In this issue

bt40wheel

Inventing the wheel

The history of wheeled travel is diverse, opinionated and often circumspect. In this excerpt from “The Wheel,” by Richard W. Bulliet, we learn how something as ubiquitous as the wheel isn’t as simple as you might think.

bt40apparel

Wear with care

Proper cycling apparel is an investment, and if you want it to stay functional and comfortable for the long haul, you need to take care of it. We discuss textiles and apparel care with the experts.

bt40island

Bikes in paradise

On the tiny Marshall Islands there are no private vehicles, so bicycles are the only way to roll. And just as Darwin would have predicted, there they have evolved some distinguishing characteristics all their own. By Jordan Vinson.

bt40tech

Bike to the future

The cycling industry has always drawn entrepreneurs and innovators. Take a look at some of the ideas that could change the way you ride. By Adam Newman.

bt40leds

How LED Lights Work

Learn how these tiny diodes can emit such powerful light. By Karl Rosengarth.

Plus

Catching up with Charlie Kelly

bt40slate

Product reviews

  • Cannondale Slate
  • Felt V55
  • Scott Sub EVO 20
  • Faraday Porteur
  • GT Traffic 1.0
  • Bike lights
  • Commuting gear
  • Shoes and pedals
  • Electronics
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