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.Tweet Print
Words: Amanda DelCore
Originally published in Issue #41
I was itching to ride alone. No offense to any of my trail pals that had accompanied me through Canada, Montana, and Wyoming on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, but I had a personal score to settle with Colorado.
In 2009 I had lived as a bat-shit-crazy Coloradan for a year—summitting 14,000-foot mountains at dawn, skiing powder for the first time and learning how to backpack. My inner explorer and adventurer woke up in those mountains.
I was lured away for graduate school and work but was never able to forget the thrill of the jagged peaks and the wide valleys. To compensate I toiled in the semi-secret woodsy trails hidden within the urban tangle of Philadelphia.
Then fast forward to the summer of 2015. I had already ridden about 1,700 miles along the Great Divide route with friends but I was about to finish the trail alone. I had returned to the Colorado Rockies and had them all to myself. Known for their fickle temperament, the mountains wasted little time putting me in my place. Almost immediately after leaving Steamboat Springs the cloud ceiling dropped and I encountered pockets of light rain. Intermittent showers turned to steady rain and thunder as I rode further into the mountains.
As my eyes darted from the sky to the dirt, I could feel myself cowering over my handlebars. It was either “ride” or “hide” from the storm, and I chose “ride.” The gnarled bows of scrubby juniper told me that these trees were not to be confused with shelter. I descended the switchbacks as quickly as I could on my top-heavy rig and swore under my breath. Lightning cracked and thunder boomed from one valley to another.
The confusing part was that I couldn’t see the storm. I felt like a blind horse running out of a burning barn. As I maneuvered down the mountain, the unincorporated community of Radium came into view. Relief and a sense of urgency hit me at the same time. I gritted my teeth and pedaled faster. A wide river snaked through the small, flat valley. Even better, I saw dots that resembled park shelters.
I managed to roll into the park just as the rain started falling in sheets. I splashed up to the sturdy outdoor latrine and perched atop the only logical hangout: a trash can tucked underneath the overhang. I didn’t know I could feel so much gratitude for such a simple thing. Cross-legged, I passed time doing the one thing that every long-distance bikepacker does when he or she gets off the bike: I put food in my mouth.
I had wanted to ride farther that day but the park rangers said the roads were so wet that I wouldn’t make much progress. I knew that the struggle for a few miles today would be quick work tomorrow, so I decided to sleep in the valley. The clouds broke, the sun came out, and I witnessed a full rainbow. As the sun went down I pitched my tent on a too-neat-for-nature gravel pad.
As I sipped some pasta-water tea, I reflected that it wasn’t such a bad end to a mostly annoying day of bike riding. This could be any day for a bikepacker. It certainly could be worse. There was the time I didn’t bring enough water to the high desert in New Mexico and was luckily replenished by bow-season hunters. Or the time I climbed a mountain pass only to lock eyes with a bull moose at the top. Or the day that I rode 120 miles from Cuba to Grants, New Mexico—60 percent of the way into brutal headwinds, 95 percent completely and utterly alone with the landscape and 100 percent responsible for my nutrition and hydration.
So how do people do it? How do they overcome the unique challenges of being alone, on a bike, especially in remote areas? The very nature of riding solo means that the physical and mental struggles are difficult to communicate to anyone who wasn’t there.
I had the chance to interview a handful of solo bike travelers who range from anxious to intrepid, but are nonetheless out there, alone. What resulted was a submersion into the human psyche, a place where the ever-determined ego confronts the stalking shadow of fear over and over and over again.
Being your only company, you witness the dark side of your mind. You learn to laugh at your own jokes. Personal growth isn’t just about VO2 max anymore. Music, podcasts and audiobooks can only mask solitude for a few hours. After that, you learn how to be alone.
Claire Porter, who solo toured the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route from Canada to Colorado as a Blackburn Ranger, recollects that “spending hours in the saddle alone, day after day, definitely put me deep in my head, and that didn’t end up being entirely good. But it forced me to ask the hard questions that had been looming before the trip like ‘What do I want to do with my life?’ and ‘How much eating is appropriate?’ All of which occupied my mind for hours on end.”
Lael Wilcox, a Tour Divide record setter, spun her way to a more meditative approach. “I’ll find myself thinking about things that have happened in the past, or I’ll think about future plans, but eventually I’ll get to a place where my mind is pretty quiet. After awhile, it’s going back into town that gets hard.”
Berly Brown, an artist inspired by her cycling adventures, thinks back to her first tour. “I often got lost in listening to my breathing as I felt my legs move—a mindfulness practice before I knew what that was. I just tried to stay engaged by noticing how my body felt or by watching the scenery. In the Pacific Northwest that was easy. I mostly felt incredible gratitude that I was doing it!”
Rebecca Rusch, a professional adventure racer and mountain biker, dishes an elegant but practical solution to staying mentally engaged during long solo adventures. “Choose a route that’s really inspiring. There are many classic routes I haven’t ridden simply because they just don’t excite me. Picking a place you’ve always wanted to go is an important first step.”
As a solo traveler, you are your own navigator. You pay attention. Not only do you plan, but you also plan for failure. Good planning sets you free to enjoy the ride once you’re rolling. One thing upon which all the veteran bikepackers agree is that good planning is crucial to a positive experience. And after you’ve controlled all you can control, you have to trust the universe.
Kim Murrell, who rode thousands of miles solo across Florida in the past year, admits that she’s probably a little fringe when it comes to planning her trips. She purposely doesn’t over-research to keep the adventure of the unknown intact. But even she admits, “you always have a plan B.” Rusch will tell you the same thing. “I like to always have a what-if-the-shit-hits-the-fan plan. Not that I plan on failure, but it’s reassuring to have an escape route. Know your escape routes.”
Good planning doesn’t just mean having maps and a GPS. It also means researching your gear, learning how to use it, and knowing how to exist wherever you are. Herein lies one of the greatest freedoms in bikepacking. If you don’t make it to your planned site for the night, all is not lost. In fact, all is very typical. As long as your have enough water and food, an impromptu campsite is a likely option.
I’ve never had a bikepacking trip that’s gone according to plan. Having a system to adapt to constantly changing plans is essential. In a way, it’s kind of like life.
Jocelyn Gaudi, founder of the Komorebi bikepacking team, uses routines as a means for on-the-trail organization and sanity. “It’s important to go through routines that make you feel in control. Knowing that when you arrive and you’re so desperately tired, you have a checklist and you just have to do it. It’s also a practical way to make sure you don’t leave things behind.”
Common sense and science both tell us that we feel safer in numbers. Studies have shown that people who are alone perceive threats as closer than when they are in a group. Anyone who has spent time in the backcountry knows this feeling: your perception of danger is somehow more acute. While some self-awareness is probably beneficial, fear of danger can be debilitating and, quite frankly, a huge downer on a solo trip.
“My biggest fear on the trail isn’t sleeping in a bivy in the wilderness or riding by the swamps,” said Murrell. “It’s when you’re on that old dirt road, in the middle of nowhere, and all of a sudden you see a car or truck. That’s the only fear I really have. That’s when I stop and process the situation. Do I stop? Do I keep going?”
“Usually if I am riding alone I worry about being run off the road or attacked or abducted,” said Brown. “I try to push past those thoughts by thinking of something else or coming up with plans or methods of how I might escape!”
Gaudi recounts the time she got stopped by a logging truck on the Cascade Skyline route in Oregon. “The driver wanted to let me know that, today, he saw bears and cougars, and he wanted to know if I had a gun with me.” She remembers that she started thinking very quickly. “Bears and cougars? Plural? I don’t know this person at all, I’m in the middle of nowhere, he has a truck, I have no escape route. How much information do I give him? But I think he might be giving me valuable information. So, I lied to him and told him that I had a gun. It was just my gut reaction. He seemed satisfied by this, and took off down the hill. So I turned on music really loudly and tried to make a joke about what type of music wild animals would be most turned off by.”
Whether or not Beyoncé repels bears remains to be confirmed, but there were no sightings that day.
On the contrary, both Wilcox and Rusch sounded miffed when I asked them about safety outside of sport-related injury. “Huh?” was their general reaction. (I personally think they’re going too fast to get stopped by anyone or anything, amirite?)
Wilcox has traveled by bike for about eight years and has ridden on the order of 100,000 miles around the world. Across time and space, she’s seen the face of humanity, and by her judgment, the stranger’s face is not very different from our own. “Put yourself in their shoes for a moment.You see a dirty, tired cyclist coming into town, what’s going through their head? Maybe they’re just as skeptical of you as you are of them.”
In 2015, Wilcox rode from her home in Alaska more than 2,000 miles to the starting line of the Tour Divide race. She then raced the 2,500 miles of the Tour Divide in 17 days and set a new women’s record. Unsatisfied with her performance, she retraced her tire tracks along the route a few months later and finished in less than 16 days. Here is a person who has taken fear out of the equation. Any kind of human limits seem to also be missing.
You might be thinking, “Why even bother doing a solo trip when going with others is just so much easier?” Believe it or not, bikepacking alone has its rewards. “I make it a point to do my trips as solo as possible,” Murrell said. “Don’t get me wrong, I love to ride with people, but I also enjoy just knowing I’m completely solo out there. When I go on a trip, I am only focused on the route and I really unplug. I can’t get that anywhere else.”
For Rusch, a long, solitary bikepacking trip was exactly what she needed after hosting the Rebecca’s Private Idaho race, a “gravel-strewn, grit-filled, pedal-cranking love letter” from Rusch and her Idaho home to the rest of the world. “After hosting a 500-plus person event with my name in the title I was just mentally and physically exhausted,” she said. “The Smoke ’n’ Fire 400 was actually the longest unsupported bikepacking trip I’ve done. I had so much fun on that ride. I was just on this amazing adventure, exploring places in my home state, seeing the animals at night, watching the sunrise. It was a beautiful experience.” She reflected that because her mental game was so positive, she ended up placing really well despite not training intentionally for the event.
Although Gaudi is typically preparing for group excursions with the Komorebi team, she took a time out to test herself on the Cascade Skyline route in Oregon over a long weekend. “I chose a challenging route for a reason. I’m typically the trip leader, but this time, for better or worse, I only had myself to think about … I wanted to see how far I could get, and see if I could leverage all the bikepacking skills I had gained in the summer. It turned out to be a much tougher ride than I anticipated. I was bushwhacking five miles into the route.”
Personally, I live for the sensory experience of bikepacking solo. My sense of smell is keener, my eyes are sharper, and I’m always aware of my environment. In some ways, it’s kind of like being an animal, and I love that. However, the emotional side of things also seem more intense. Fear strikes harder, persistence grows faster, happiness is easy, and subtle victories are satisfying.
Bikepacking the GDMBR alone through Colorado and New Mexico helped me realize that the sensory experiences and personal developments are worth every moment of fear. I’ll never forget my first day in New Mexico. It was littered with steep climbs, unfair terrain and pop-up squalls. But I daresay it was all worth it. That day, there was a moment where I could see sunshine on one end of the landscape and a storm on the other. That day, I experienced an overwhelming sense of satisfaction from just sitting on the ground to eat a snack. And at the end of the day, I was immensely thankful to fall asleep reading a book in my tent.
We all know that fear has many faces. The faster you characterize it the faster you can move past it to actually enjoy long, leisurely tours or race-pace adventures. This is a highly personal ordeal, and only you will be able recognize the face of your fear. Rusch sums it up perfectly: “Often times you can identify what you’re actually afraid of, and then get rational about it.”
Wilcox offered an expansive perspective. “In every country I visit, people ask me about my safety. People will warn me about neighboring countries and say, ‘You don’t want to cross that border, it’s bad over there.’ But I do cross that border, and the people there are just as hospitable, just as welcoming. And of course, the people in that country say the same thing. ‘Oh, don’t cross that border, it’s bad over there.’ But I’m going to cross that border too. Fear is so limiting.”
Words and 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.
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.
Illustrations: Chris Conlin
Originally published in Issue #41
What to do if you break a spoke
It 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
There 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
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
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
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
- 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.
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
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
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.
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
What’s a bike overnight without the perfect cup of coffee? Swift Industries and Stumptown Coffee, both of the Pacific Northwest, teamed up to bring you this short and sweet video of how to brew on the road.Tweet Print
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…”
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.
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.
Words: Richard Belson, Instructor at the United Bicycle Institute
1.) A couple years back, my son brought a Mylar Spiderman balloon home from a birthday. Eventually, it got droopy, so I finished the job and stuck a folded up Spidey into the seat bag of my commuter. A month later, I slashed my tire on the way to work—I used the balloon as a tire boot by folding it back on itself and placing it between the cut casing and the new tube. Two years later, when replacing the worn out tread, I realized that Peter Parker had been accompanying me through over 500 days of riding to work.
2.) The only way your chain will stay clean is if you never ride your bike. If you ride your bike, you need to clean your chain.
3.) If you want your bike to feel like new again, replace the cables & housing—even if you think it’s in good shape. It wears so gradually, it’s hard to tell that it’s causing any problems. As soon as you shift and brake with the new stuff, you’ll wonder why it took so long.
4.) Don’t underestimate the refreshing feeling of brand new bar tape or grips.
5.) Dunk-degreasing your chain removes more than just the dirty, unwanted exterior gunk off—it also removes the irreplaceable factory grease from its inner mechanisms. We prefer over-lubing a chain with your preferred lube, then wipe off the excess with a clean, dry rag. The extra liquid will wash away the majority of the accumulated dirt and spent lube from the chain’s exterior, while allowing the chain to retain its inner stock lubrication.
6.) Isopropyl Alcohol (91%)—available from most pharmacies and grocery stores—makes a great, affordable degreaser. Also, it leaves no film behind, so it’s great for suspension service, and it won’t harm sensitive parts, finishes or seals. If, after you’ve tried alcohol, you need more muscle, then move to biodegradable or chemical degreasers. But read labels carefully—many degreasers will etch polished or anodized surfaces, or dry out rubber seals.
7.) Learn which derailleur hanger your bike requires, buy an extra, and put it on your keychain. You’ll head Murphy off, and will have it on hand if you ever need it.
8.) Keep a couple different sized master links in your seat bag—if you bail a buddy out of a jam while out on a ride, you may get free beer, coffee, or dinner!
9.) Support your local bike shop whenever possible—you’ll be bummed when they’re gone.
10.) Get and use a Park CC-3.2 and thank me later!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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!
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.”
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…
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Q: Hey Beardo,
I love riding bikes and I’d like to share that experience with my kids, but they just aren’t into it. Any suggestions on how I can get them on two wheels?
Thanks, Fernando Crombestia Fernando
Let’s get this out of the way first. Until recently, I didn’t have much experience with kids. Kids kinda scared me. They seemed so needy, and there was an odor about them that I couldn’t get down with. And some part of my brain figured if I spent enough time around them, I might end up with one of my own, and I have a hard enough time keeping my cactus alive, and a whole other human seemed too much.
But these little buggers have grown on me, and once I fixed a flat tire for one neighborhood kid, the rest of the little urchins seemed to glom onto my repair skills like moths to a stadium light. And while their parents might not be doing a great job teaching these grubby youngsters to say thank you, keeping them on two wheels warms me up like a handle of whiskey never could.
Anyway, your little urchins don’t like bikes. But you do. I’m willing to bet you had a very different childhood than your offspring. Your bike took you places, places without the ever-present parental eyeball. To the store to buy penny candy, to play basketball, to soccer practice, to sleepovers. In other words, the bike was your first taste of freedom and adventure.
But your kids? You probably have to find helmets, load the bikes up on the car, drive somewhere, ride around in the circle and repeat the car trip home. It is a crying shame. Literally. I tear up thinking about this stuff , even when I haven’t been warming myself with whiskey.
At some point, all you parents got scared. Scared of all the stupid cars driven by people checking emails and twitters and weather and the stock market and guaranteed-you’ll-have-an-affair websites while “sharing the road,” all in a hurry to get to work, school, the store or home. While somehow car deaths have gone down, all those airbags in modern cars can’t protect little Josie when some careless driver pulls that rolling right turn and smashes the kid in a crosswalk.
My advice? Go somewhere via bike with your kids. Some place your kids want to go. The movies. The hot mess that is Chuck E. Cheese’s. To get ice cream. To the park. Get them associating bikes with good times. Maybe even think about swallowing some of that fear and letting them ride somewhere themselves when they are old enough to be saddled with some responsibility. Give them a few bucks for ice cream sandwiches, make them a map, ride the route with them first, and then suck up that knot in your stomach and untie those apron strings.
This is a form of bribery. And I fully support it. Because you should listen to a childless bachelor when it comes to child-rearing. But only about bike stuff. And teaching the little heathens to say thank you to the dude who fixed that flat tire.
From Bicycle Times Issue #38. Portrait of Yours Truly by Stephen Haynes.
Words and photos: Beth Puliti
We’re sitting with friends on our deck when the request is made to share the awesome and awful details of our travels to date. While our bike tour is far from over, we’re home for a week to attend a wedding and clean house in between renters. It’s a nice opportunity to reflect on what we’ve experienced so far, and as the sun sets and the stars rise above us, I lose myself in memories from the past 14 months on the road.
“Alright, Justin. You start with the highs,” I joke.
Why is it so much easier to remember the lows? Truth be told, it’s difficult to limit myself to pick just a few experiences worthy of sharing—good or bad. But there’s a crowd and, like an ‘80s band on a comeback tour, I have no choice but to play the hits.
In December 2014, I convinced my 24-year-old brother to travel with us in Southeast Asia. Working his first job out of college, he didn’t have much time off, but when his company–an indie video game studio in Philadelphia–shut down for two weeks over Christmas, he tacked on an additional two weeks and promised to check in with his co-workers regularly via email and video calls.
That month saw us walking barefoot through the many colorful shrines that dot the landscape, weaving through Bangkok traffic in a tuk-tuk, sipping steaming mugs of hand-picked tea at Malaysian tea plantations, sleeping in tiny bunk beds on the overnight train, watching our lives flash before our eyes as monkeys encircled us outside Kuala Lumpur’s Batu Caves, navigating through a fresh monsoon-triggered mudslide, sharing vivid dreams inspired by the anti-malarial medicine and creating New Year’s resolutions while letting lanterns loose into the sky on the Thai coast. It was his first time bike touring, and I don’t think it will be his last.
Far and away the most disheartening experience of our bike tour thus far took place when we attempted to re-enter Kyrgyzstan after pedaling the Wakhan Valley in Tajikistan. After talking with several tourism representatives and a local travel agent who placed multiple calls with the authorities in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, we were assured that entry via a small border crossing wouldn’t be an issue.
So we made our way there, pedaling through a handful of checkpoints where, at each one, our passports were checked, our information was recorded and we were sent on our way with no further questions. Several days, mountain passes and bouts of food poisoning later, we reached the border only to be told it was a locals-only crossing.
Pleading and bribing (suggested tactics from our newfound friends in tourism) didn’t work. Justin even hitched a 30-minute ride through no man’s land to try and gain sympathy from the Kyrgyz border guard. He was denied entry a second time. Defeated and utterly exhausted, we pointed our tires the way we came eight hours after we arrived, forced to pedal 1,000 kilometers in the opposite direction of our intended destination.
These events made the B-side, but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be shared.
- Hitching a ride in an 18-wheeler on a one lane dirt road dug into a cliff above a raging river paralleling Afghanistan with a midnight pit stop to sleep on the side of the road.
- Food poisoning that had me heaving in the dirt from dusk until dawn.
- Meeting my relatives living in Italy and sharing with them photos of family now living in America.
- A sandstorm so strong I was repeatedly blown clear off of my bike.
- Creating a slideshow of our travels to share with a wonderful group of orphaned children.
- Retrieving our stolen phone—which was a means of communication as well as a GPS and camera—from a shepherd at the top of a mountain.
No matter the distance you tour by bike, a mix of highs and lows are par for the course. And while you ride in search of the highs, rest assured the lows will always make for some of the best stories, especially when gathered on your deck surrounded by close friends.
Beth Puliti is a writer and photographer currently traveling the world by bicycle. Visit bethpuliti.com and follow her travels at @bethpuliti.
My romantic partner doesn’t ride bikes. How do I introduce my love of biking to the love of my life?
This is an endeavor fraught with peril. Are you sure your heart is in the right place here? Does your wife/husband/girlfriend/ boyfriend/partner express an interest in riding? Or, is this a one-sided wish for more riding time?
Just to be clear, riding with your significant other can be a very rewarding experience. But forcing your favored activity on someone in an attempt to spend more time with the activity you love will probably backfire. And, in the end, there is absolutely nothing wrong with romantic partners having activities they do independently of each other.
Reflect deeply on your motivations, Pat; your success depends on it. Feeling confident that your heart and intentions are pure? Great. How’s the rest of the relationship? Have there been requests to try out riding, or will this be starting from zero?
If there is some interest, great, but it’s not time to let down your guard. Don’t fall into the trap of making do with a bike that might be too big or too small, be in poor repair, or have a saddle that will cause enough pain to turn your lover off to bikes forever. Talk to your cycling friends for a loaner, rent or demo a nice bike, keep your eye on Craigslist for a suitable used bike, or drop in to your local bike shop and buy new for your sweetcakes. Your old bike that doesn’t fit well, or an $89 blue-light special isn’t going to make anyone happy. Your main squeeze deserves a properly fitting bike; get creative, you’ll figure it out!
Perhaps you feel the need to convince your main squeeze that riding bikes is a desirable activity. If that’s the case, forget why you do it. That isn’t important here. What makes the object of your desire tick? Exploring? Working out? Socializing? Seeing goals and smashing them? Planning and logistics? It’s time for you to sell riding as something fun for reasons that might not match up with your idea of fun.
Maybe you just want to ride to work and the ball game, but your honeybuns loves working out in the gym. Maybe you can meet halfway, and do some workouts on the bikes. Or you go out on fast group rides and and pay attention to a power meter and do things like intervals.
That isn’t very appealing to most of the population, so how about peeling off the Lycra and taking a slow ride to the farmer’s market, or maybe a picnic in the park? Whatever you do, don’t mention Strava. Much like Twitter, the only people who care about Strava are already on there, and no one else gives two turds about your climbing results.
Above all, remember this is not about you. There are very few people who don’t have at least some spark of a pleasant memory about cycling from childhood. It’s up to you to find it, rekindle it, and see where it goes.
Portrait of Yours Truly by Stephen Haynes
We here at Bicycle Times ride to work quite a lot. Most of us have been doing so for years, both to this office (also home of Dirt Rag) and to previous jobs. (We had a total of 11,878 miles and 605 commuting days in 2008!) We’ve amassed a lot of experience and knowledge along the way that we will enjoy sharing with you, to make your own bike commuting experience easier and more fun, and to encourage you to do it more often.
Riding to work can be a fun adventure if you have the right equipment to keep you rolling. You don’t want to be held up by a bike malfunction. So how should you prepare for your journey, equipment-wise? Read on to find out.
The Bare Minimum
Here’s the list of essentials that we all carry while commuting:
Flat fix gear: pump, tire levers, spare tube (or two) and/or a patch kit. This might be obvious, but the materials needed to change a flat tire are the most indispensable, since a flat is the misfortune you’ll most likely encounter.
Several of us prefer frame pumps: long pumps that mount parallel to a tube of the bike’s frame, held in place with spring tension. Their larger size provides more air volume for faster inflation than mini-pumps, plus they are always with your bike and out of the way of all your other stuff.
Carrying two tire levers is a good idea, even if you’re an old hand at flat fixing and can do it with one, since they can sometimes snap in half.
Andrew’s tip: “I wrap tubes tightly in kitchen wrap—the wrap enables you to compress the tubes into a very compact size and protect them from dirt and puncture hazards from other tools.”
Tools: hex wrenches, chain tool, spoke wrenches, either separate or as part of a multi-tool—in case anything more than a flat befalls you.
Most bike bolts are of the hex variety, and a folding set of metric hex wrenches (A.K.A. Allen wrenches) will let you tighten loose bolts or make adjustments you may have overlooked the night before. Bikes almost always use metric sizes, not standard.
Make sure your chain tool is a good one. Fixing a broken chain is hard enough without struggling with a dinky, awkward chain tool (which may be encountered on some lesser multi-tools).
You probably won’t be able to get a damaged wheel totally true again, but at least you can get it spinning well enough to reach your destination, as long as you have spoke wrenches. There are three common sizes and most tools have all three.
Swiss Army Knife-style, all-in-one multi-tools look impressive, but compromises sometimes have to be made to fit all that into one tool. The ex-bike shop mechanics in the house tend to prefer separate travel-size tools for their ease of use. There are some completely functioning multi-tools, however, and designs get better all the time.
Consider that you may need some special tools for your bike—for instance, a brand-specific spoke wrench, a 15mm wrench for bolt-on wheels, or tubes with a long valve stem for deep-section rims.
If your bike has a replaceable derailleur hanger, a spare is an easy thing to carry. These are designed to break first if your derailleur gets yanked, for instance by a piece of debris that gets caught in your chain.
A first aid kit is something that you’ll hopefully never need, but when you do, you’ll be glad you have it. Small and lightweight varieties are available that contain enough supplies to treat road rash or other minor injuries.
If your commute is too early or late for the benefit of sunlight (or you go for happy hour after work), spare batteries for your lights are not a bad idea.
Don’t forget the fuel: a full bottle of water for the journey and perhaps an energy bar in case you get delayed or find yourself running out of gas on the way. (This is one big advantage over driving—it’s much easier, and less expensive, to fuel up!)
Andrew is comprehensively prepared with his “wallet with paper money in it—a dollar bill makes a great tire liner if you get a tear in you tire,” as well as “the best tool of all, a cell phone.” Shannon puts his cell in a waterproof pouch to protect it from rain.
For those earning a merit badge in preparedness, here are some examples. Eric, who is part of a one-car family and rides nearly every day, has quite an extensive list of extra items he always carries:
Wing Nut pouch holding this kit can be easily transferred from bag to bag
Small bottle of lube to avoid embarrassing chain squeak
Princeton Tec headlamp as a backup light and another repair aid
Credit card-sized LED flashlight for emergency nighttime repairs, with a foot or so of duct tape wrapped around it—what can’t you do with duct tape?
Folding pliers-style multi-tool, containing useful non-bike-specific tools
Fine-point Sharpie for recording phone and license plate numbers
12” bailing wire, another useful jerry-rigging item
3 cable ties (A.K.A zip ties)—like duct tape, but different
Wheels Mfg. Emergency Derailleur Hanger—fits almost any bike
Surly Jethro Tule 15mm box wrench (and bottle opener), for bolt-on wheels
3”x1” strip of adhesive-backed rubber to aid in mounting lights or other peripherals
Nitrile gloves keep hands clean during repairs
Amanda, being the artistic type, likes to bring a sketch pad and pencil.
Depending on the season, extra clothing can be worth the space. During volatile spring and fall days, or if your commute involves a significant change in elevation, you can shield yourself from the temperature difference with a shell jacket, arm and leg warmers, and full-fingered gloves.
If you’re soldiering on through the winter, chemical handwarmers can save you from numb hands, especially if you have to stop for a repair.
After a time or two trying to run after-work errands with the wrong lock key, Karen carries both her U-lock keys on a key lanyard attached to the inside of her bag.
Shannon uses glasses with interchangeable lenses, a hard case and wipe cloth for day to night lighting.
How to Carry Your Load
That’s a big list! Add to that lunch, clothing for the office, perhaps a laptop, and other sundry items and you’ve got a lot to carry. Fortunately it’s not difficult with the right luggage.
A messenger bag is the simplest container for your stuff. Its one-strap design allows it to be shifted around from behind to the front for easy access. These bags often have organization pockets inside. Matt says, “I don’t have a separate or special bag for the equipment, I just utilize all the nifty pockets of my messenger bag. The more pockets the better!”
A backpack can’t be accessed without taking it off, but it has the advantage of more evenly distributing weight on your back.
A seat bag is a simple little bag that mounts under the saddle of your bike, good for carrying small, essential items like tubes and patch kits.
Panniers attach to front or rear racks and have the advantage of getting weight off your back and down lower on the bike, which can stabilize bike handling. Andy says, “If I carry a computer I usually go with panniers because I don’t like carrying a lot of weight on my back unless I have to. Without a computer, I like riding with a messenger bag.”
Frame bags use your bike’s own frame as support. They don’t add as much weight as a rack and panniers, but may not have as much capacity.
For traveling light or keeping crucial items at hand, good ol’ jersey pockets can be sufficient.
If you have more than one commuting bike or bag set-up, Eric’s advice: “My kit fits in a New Sun pouch that moves from messenger bag to pannier to frame bag to backpack. The two main bikes I ride to commute have frame bags and this fits nicely in either one.”
Karen says, “I keep my pump in a cotton sleeve that a Thomson seatpost came in—keeps it clean and unharmed.”
Learning the Hard Way
It’s impossible to be prepared for every eventuality, but maybe you can learn from some of our past mistakes…
Andrew: “I now carry a patch kit on long rides. When I went on my first century ride we used all our tubes in the first fifty miles. We had a tense 50-mile ride back home, panicking each time we ran over glass or hit a pothole.”
Matt: “I was riding home one night after a party and a few IPAs in Buffalo. It wasn’t a busy street and it even had a bike lane. But there were still manhole covers. I must have rode over a particularly rough one that jolted my singlespeed a tad too much. The chain actually hopped off the rear cog and was lodged between the frame and the cog. I couldn’t pry the chain free and had to walk home. So now I make sure to carry a 15mm wrench to remove the wheels. That same night I realized that if I ever got a flat, there would have been no way for me to fix that either, despite the pump and spare tubes I carry.”
Andy: “I always carry a chain tool because I’ve broken two chains on my way to work. The first time I didn’t have a chain tool and I had to walk most of the way home. There’s no particular event that prompted me to carry zip ties, but for some reason I feel like I will really need them some day. I always have a few of them with me.”
Karen: “I keep a pen on the outside of my bag, on the front strap, for easy access if there’s an accident and I need to record a license plate number, phone number, etc. Fortunately I’ve never had an incident that prompted this, but after hearing other people describe the confusion that happens after an accident, hunting for a pen isn’t a good thing to have to do.”
Shannon: “Extra clothing was a result of either too many cold rides home in unpredictable weather, or unexpectedly encountering riding friends on the way home, which changed my destination and turned into night rides around the city.”
Sometimes “enough” is really “too much.” Here are a few examples of gear that might be excessive.
Andrew: “A Surly Singleator—if you break your derailleur you can shorten your chain and singlespeed it home without one, but that usually means that you are stuck in an undesirable gear. With a Singleator you can choose the best gear for the terrain.”
Eric: “The 15mm mini-wrench I carry is hardly necessary since I haven’t had a bike with axle nuts that size in quite a while, but you never know when you might run into someone who needs it, and I have less chance to misplace it if I keep it in my bag.”
Amanda: “Sketch book and pencil. Have I ever used them to stop and sketch a beautiful vista or critter on the way home? No, but I keep them just in case there’s a license plate number of a maniac driver I want to jot down or something of that nature.”
Andy: “I carry a tube and a patch kit, a pump and a CO2 inflator with a couple cartridges. I’m sure I could get away with only carrying a patch kit and a pump, but the extra tube and CO2 inflator make for a quick change in case of a flat.”
[This article, which was written by the Bicycle Times staff with photos by Maurice Tierney, originally appeared in print in Bicycle Times Issue #1.]