Into the Wind- Cycling across South America

By: Mark Greiz

You ask me why I pedal to far away places;
I smile and close my eyes,
Words can’t describe the reason why;
The blue water glistens, the birds fly high.

January 29th, 2018. Although it was the height of summer, it was a cold and windy day in Punta Arenas, Chile’s southernmost city in the region of Magallanes and Antartica. My plan, cycle north over ten thousand kilometers (6,300 miles) to Guayaquil, Ecuador within the five months I allotted myself. Several miles out of the city and as I headed inland from the coast I was blasted with powerful direct headwinds of up to 80 kilometers an hour. My legs cramped up and my progress came to a standstill. I barely rode 60 kilometers that day and slept in an abandoned wood shack on the side of the road.
I did not know that those headwinds would be with me for most of the journey, taunting me, punishing me and testing the limits of my patience.

For me the allure of extreme cycling touring is more than a mere physical pursuit, it’s a form of spiritual cleansing and renewal. As a marketing consultant and adjunct lecturer in New York City, I know what it is like to lose touch with nature, to live within our own secure bubbles, daily routines and mundane pursuits. Although New York City is a megapolis, it is easy to feel claustrophobic and to feel disconnected from life. Cycling alone through remote regions, sleeping rough in the wild and challenging my body both physically and emotionally, not only humbles me but also lets me peer deep within my soul. It grounds me, it brings me an inner peace, often times fleeting, but easy to conjure back up in my time of need.

Cycling the Andes Route 3S in Peru

Cycling the Andes Route 3S in Peru

On this most recent trek across South America, I cycled 10,400 kilometers (6,500 miles) and encountered some of the strongest and most consistent headwinds I have ever experienced lasting for days and weeks on end. I cycled through hailstorms, through deserts and towering mountains in the Andes. I camped rough on the side of the road, in deserted shacks, in my tent tucked away in the woods or the desert sands, in abandoned trailers and forsaken structures. I was sideswiped by a motorcycle in the Argentinean Pampa, having to pick my bruised and bloodied body off the road to continue riding in the scorching heat. I cycled on long stretches of deserted road with nary a car in sight, as well as through dreadful traffic with tractor-trailers speeding by inches from me. I experienced the mystical allure of the high Andes as well as the raw beauty of the Patagonias.

3.Mesmerizing landscape and rugged conditions from Chile Chico to Puerto Guadal in Chilean Patagonia.

Mesmerizing landscape and rugged conditions from Chile Chico to Puerto Guadal in Chilean Patagonia.

Starting the trip in Punta Arenas in the Southernmost region of South America, I cycled north through the Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia, passing remote regions were I encountered punishing headwinds daily, as well as some of the most scenic spots on this trip. While I feel that cycling the Carretera Austral in Chile is overrated and filled with cyclists heading south on short excursions, for the more intrepid cyclist there are still some very technically challenging and unfrequented routes to take, one of them being the off-road stretch from Chile Chico on the shores of the majestic Lake General Carrera to Puerto Guadal. After cycling north on the Carettera Austral I turned back to Argentina and crossed the border near Futaleufú, a beautiful area surrounded by pristine nature and fast flowing rivers.

Camping in a remote spot in Argentina’s Patagonia region.

Camping in a remote spot in Argentina’s Patagonia region.

Crossing the border back into Argentina, I cycled to the quaint European style city of San Carlos de Barloche on the shores of Lake Nahual Huapi and then onward to the charming Spanish colonial city of Salta, Argentina. What stood in the middle between Barloche and Salta was 2500 kilometers of mostly remote, flat and arid scrubland. Averaging 100 kilometers a day, I cycled this whole stretch within 24 days taking only one rest day. The riding was dull and monotonous and I encountered daily headwinds making for long, hot and arduous days. Villages were few and far between in this part of Argentina where numerous estancias occupy the barren land and fences run the length of the terrain. Most nights are spent sleeping meters from the side of the road hidden behind some thorn bushes, fighting off insects and watching rodents scatters about here and there, the sound of nocturnal animals adding to the midnight chorus.

One of many tarantulas camping out in the Argentinian Pampa between Barloche and Salta.

One of many tarantulas camping out in the Argentinian Pampa between Barloche and Salta.

Argentina is rife with visible wildlife from guanacos, lizards, wild boar, different types of rodents, tarantulas, fox and large birds related to the ostrich. There is no shelter from the sun during the day and there is no choice but to cycle into the wind for hours on end enduring the heat and rationing droplets of water to quench an unending thirst. Cycle, sip, sweat, sleep, cycle, sip, sweat, sleep, cycle, sip, sweat, sleep on the side of the road, day after day, week after week.

Curious dog approaches me as I am taking a selfie on the road into Salta.

Curious dog approaches me as I am taking a selfie on the road into Salta.

After having cycled over 2500 kilometers in flat arid plains and ready to depart Salta, it was time to climb into the mountains as I headed back to Chile. The route I chose was through Argentina’s Puna region to the desolate border at Paso Sico. The Puna region or Atacama Plateau stretches from North West Argentina into southern Chile. It is an arid and remote area consisting of high plateaus with elevations between 4000 to 5000 meters. The road from Salta to San Antonio de Los Cobres was several days of climbs on windy, paved and often winding roads, then there were 150 kilometers off-road were I cycled on gravel, rocks, and sand as I made my way to the Chile border at Paso Sico. The region is stunning in a rugged, harsh, yet calming way; alpacas roam freely and nary a passing vehicle is encountered on the whole road to Paso Sico. As I camped out nightly in the windswept and freezing high plateau, the night skies lite up with a myriad of stars, I was mesmerized by the sight and humbled by the majesty of this otherworldly landscape.

As I sat outside one night starring at the sky, pen in hand I began to write…

Sleeping under a glowing moon,
There is no other soul for miles to see;
What does it take to still your mind,
to set your body free?
Sleeping under a glowing moon,
From the daily grind I chose to flee.
The only companions present now…
are the stars, the sand, the gods and me.

Alpacas grazing on a less traveled road heading from the mountains back to the coast of Peru.

Alpacas grazing on a less traveled road heading from the mountains back to the coast of Peru.

Having crossed back into Chile at Paso Sico, the region was equally barren and stark, the roads winded up and the headwinds were fierce. It is a rough region to cycle in and an equally brutal region to sleep out in. As I slept out at high altitude in frigid temperatures amid violent winds I found comfort knowing that in a few days time I would begin my descent in the Atacama desert and arrive in the land of espresso, cold beers and pizza- the oasis of San Pedro de Atacama.

Days later, drained and ragged from a period of poor eating, long arduous climbs and sleeping out in harsh conditions, I cycled into town a zombie on my steel horse. As I cycled through the maze of dusty, narrow streets of San Pedro De Atacama I was overwhelmed, there was a cornucopia of activity, tourists on rented mountain bikes, artisans hawking their wares, backpackers sipping lattes chatting away about their most recent adventures and poseurs, the kind of which of might see in Pai, Thailand flaunting away on the corners.

I felt out of place, like I didn’t belong.

Camping in a wind swept valley in northern Chile as I approach the Peru border town of Arica.

Camping in a wind swept valley in northern Chile as I approach the Peru border town of Arica.

After just a couple of days in town and having eaten my fill of quinoa, pasta, salad, and pizza, I felt the long lonely stretches of road beckoning me once again. San Pedro De Atacama is like a trap and it was time to leave its grips before it was too late. From San Pedro I would continue my descent through the desert to the coast, sleeping in abandoned shacks on the side of the road or camped in the desert sands. For days, I followed the scenic northern Chile coast north passing seaside shantytowns where the locals eek out a living from fishing and seaweed harvesting until I reached the coastal city of Iquique. From there it was a few more days to the Peru border.

Raw beauty of Chile’s northern coast.

The raw beauty of Chile’s northern coast.

After crossing into Peru at the Arica border, I followed the coast north then turned inland. Leaving the coast I would now need to contend again with high peaks as I made my way to Arequipa and then Cusco. The road from the coast to Cusco is mostly climbing with elevations between 4500-4800 meters with a mixture of different conditions; there were stretches of dreadful traffic and utter mayhem as hundreds of lorries would pass in waves of caravans inches from me and other areas off the beaten path where Alpaca graze freely in the high Andean plateaus while Quechua shepherds tended to their flocks.

Quechua shepherd tending her flock on the high plateau on the way to Cusco.

Quechua shepherd tending her flock on the high plateau on the way to Cusco.

Cusco is a beguiling city; once the capital of the Inca Empire, the city center is filled with Spanish colonial architecture, trendy eateries, and hordes of tourists. It is easy to get seduced by her charms and I knew I had to leave after only three days or else I may have never left. After departing Cusco I cycled north on the Andes route passing small Quechua villages and larger cities including the charming city of Ayacucho with its historic city center. This city retains much of its old world charm but lacks the foreign tourists that crowd into Cusco. Cycling north on route 3 is a continuous cycle of slow climbs with elevation gains of 2000 meters in one shot and fast descents with numerous passes between 4500 and 4900 meters.

Quechua lady knitting a sweater while watching her flock on route 3.

Quechua lady knitting a sweater while watching her flock on route 3.

While most cyclists on the Andes route continue on to Huaraz, I decided to take a lesser-known, far-flung road and make my way back to the coast. At the small village of Shelby on route 3N, I decided to head east to the compact coastal city of Chancay, some 200 grueling kilometers away. The majority of this road is rocks and dirt with an arduous and long multi-level climb with the highest pass topping out at approximately 5030 meters (16,500 feet). It is a wild, rugged and awe-inspiring landscape where Alpaca graze casually next to crystal clear mountain lakes and not a soul for miles around.

The views were from over 16,000 ft. as I prepare for a hard two-day descent to the coast.

The views were from over 16,000 ft. as I prepare for a hard two-day descent to the coast.

As I stood at the high pass at 16,500 feet, I noted the dirt road snaking its way down the mountain. I took solace in the fact that this was my last climb of the trip as well as my last portion of off-road riding. I stood silent, gazed into the distance, mesmerized by my surroundings, relishing the solitude.

Descending to the coast was technically challenging as the roads were steep, winding and mostly rocks. As I descended from over 16,000 feet to sea level the topography slowly changed from cold wind swept arid plateaus, to lush mountain vistas with fast running rivers and then to the heat, stench, and pollution of the Peruvian coast. From Chancay it would be about another 1600 kilometers to Guayaquil, my final destination. Although this part of the Pan American Highway is filled with trucks racing up and down, for the first time on my trip I had no headwind and even some days with a slight tailwind. My progress was quick, almost too quick beckoning the end of the trip. I cycled hundreds of kilometers mostly through desert and then up the coast to the Ecuadorian border, sleeping along the way in dreary, dirty towns and alone in the desert wilderness.

Crossing into Ecuador I cycled for days through mile after mile of banana plantations in the heat and humidity. As I approached Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city I knew my trip was coming to an end. My emotions were mixed; I was glad that the trip was coming to an end, yet feeling incomplete, that there is still more riding to be done and more places to see. I turned 50 years old on the day I crossed the border into Ecuador-“maybe I am getting to old for this,” I thought to myself. Sleeping rough off the side of the road for days on end does not excite me as much as it used to, but the cycling life is constantly enticing me back. There is a little voice in the deep recesses of my brain often urging me to pack up my bike and head off to some distant land. My thoughts were running rampant as I cycled through the traffic-clogged roads. As I made my way over the bridge that crosses the Guayas River into downtown, my rear pannier swiped a truck tire on the side of the road and I went flying. My arms and legs bleeding and swollen; I was in pain and disbelief that an accident would welcome my entry into town.

I picked my bicycle up, reflected for a moment, “maybe I am getting too old for this.” I got back on my bicycle and rode through heavy traffic into downtown Guayaquil; the trip was over.

End of the trip, cycling through the Santa Ana Hill, Guayaquil on the way to downtown.

End of the trip, cycling through the Santa Ana Hill, Guayaquil on the way to downtown.

To see more pictures and videos from this trip follow Mark on Instagram @theadriftcyclist
To read other articles from Mark click here, here, and here.

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Tern GSD compact longtail review Part 1

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The longtail cargo bike, with its stretched rear end, has been my go-to whip of late due to its ultimate versatility, utility, and fun. And with an electric motor for extended range, there are no worries about what (or who) you might pick up during your travels, or how far you might go in a day. But longtails are long, taking up a good amount of space and being difficult to load onto a larger motor vehicle.

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So when Tern showed up in the cargo bike market with its GSD, I was Intrigued. First, what does GSD stand for? Get Stuff Done is one answer. And secondly, aside from its attractive looks, what is so new and exciting about this bicycle? Tern calls it a new kind of bicycle, a compact longtail.

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What makes it compact? Well for one thing, with the help of dual 20” wheels, the GSD has a length similar to your average bike. Combined with a folding handlebar and highly adjustable saddle, it’s easier to get it into the back of your SUV, easier to take on public transportation, and a lot easier to store. In fact, the GSD can be stored vertically on its tail, taking only a small footprint.

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It’s also electric. Some of you are thinking that is not what you are looking for. A while ago, I wasn’t either. But once you get accustomed to the increased range and versatility you will likely be sold for life. Power comes from a 250 watt Bosch motor, putting out a maximum 63Nm of torque in Turbo mode. That’s right, the GSD controls offer four power modes from Eco to Turbo. Different levels of assistance for different needs. In Eco the motor gives you 50% more power than you pedal into it, up to Turbo where the motor is adding 275% more power to the bike. Stock battery is 400 Watt-Hours but you can also buy the GSD with a 400 plus 500Wh battery for extended range. This pushes the GSD into the touring realm.

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Versatility is key. Accessories unlock the GSD’s potential. Kids? The GSD will easily take two Yepp child seats for the small ones. Big ones and adults can ride on the back using accessory foot pegs, seat cushions, and grab bars. Panniers? Enough for all your groceries. Racks? Front and/or rear for even more hauling capability. One size fits most all here with the GSD fitting riders from 5 feet to 6’5”. I’m 6’4” and had no trouble with it. Plus the handlebars rotate around the stem for further fitting options.

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The build is pretty heavy, in a good, strong way. The frame, while aluminum, appears beautifully built and ready for anything. In fact, the weight capacity is 400 lbs. so there’s not much you can’t haul. The feeling of solidness is welcome here. Weight comes in under 60 lbs. in the single battery configuration. Component-wise there are a few things that stand out. Tern-specific Schwalbe 62mm tires on Tern-specific 36mm rims with plenty of spokes and Boost axles. Magura 4 piston brakes handle the stopping with great power. Super solid, top notch, up to date modern stuff. I would not hesitate to carry anything with this bike, as long as I could get it on there.

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Accessory-wise you won’t need to add much to this bike. Lights, fenders, center stand and bell are all included with the bike. Optional accessories to consider include Tern’s Cargo Hold panniers, child seats, and the Shortbed tray that is on the test bike. Handlebars and pegs are also available for adult passengers as well.

In practice, it is easy to get on and go. The step-through frame and low center-of-gravity sure help. Turn the motor on, select the amount of assist you’d like, and go! Easy-peasy. The Bosch motor helps as little or as much as you need. But you still have to pedal. Power is solid, but keep in mind this is no motorcycle.

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My friend Stewart and I shared the testing duties. We both found the GSD to be super-capable for a wide range of tasks. Loads included a pile of camping gear, the band’s bass drum, passengers, boxes of magazines, garage sale items and more. As much as Stewart did not want to use the motor (Out of pride I believe), he was glad to have the motor as an insurance policy in case he got tired too far away from home. Me on the other hand, I just enjoyed the lack of throttle as I bopped around town picking up random articles. But I did wish for a bit more power on some of the steeper hills. I do weigh well over 200 lbs you know. The good news is that the 2019 model will have more, power that is. The other small improvement we’d recommend would be a larger center stand as the current one is a tad small for parking on uneven surfaces.

The best thing about the GSD is its foldability and storability. The handlebar folding down made it much easier to load the bike into a SUV or minivan. As for storage, grab the rear brake, pull back and the GSD sits on its tail, taking up only a small amount of closet space.

The Tern GSD is sold with single 400Wh battery for $3999 The dual 400 plus 500Wh model will run you $4799. Panniers run $150 a pair and that rack runs $120. A lot of money? For some, yes. But this bike is a game-changer, a car-pooper, sonic reducer, life-changer. Imagine parking that multi-ton behemoth automobile and spending your time outside! Quality time! Quality life!

One of the most interesting cargo/utility bikes I have seen in a while, The Tern GSD is bound to get more butts on bikes, and that is what it’s all about, isn’t it?  Click here for part 2, in which Stewart shares his touring experience!

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Biking around the world and getting married along the way.

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Listen on Soundcloud to all 14 minutes!

Driving along “The Loneliest Highway In America” as determined by LIFE magazine back in the 80’s, Nancy and I came across a couple of characters riding their bicycles down the road. Out of curiosity, and my need to fill this space on the interwebs, we stopped and asked if we could ask a question. I know. That’s already a question, haha. Fortunately, they were not flip, but all-around nice. I caught a rough yet stereo, recording with my phone, which you can listen to in its entire 10 minutes here…

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BT: What are your guy’s names?

Mike: I’m Mike and this is Helen. We started 13 months ago today. 23,000 kilometers on the clock so far. We started in Scotland, Glasgow, went to the Netherlands, then Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Eastern Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Georgia. So. Central Asia.

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Helen: But then I got altitude sick, even though it wasn’t very high, but we didn’t have time for me to acclimatize. So it’s sort of going through central Asia. We flew to Beijing, cheapest flight we could get, to Siham Chung. So we kind of doubled back on ourselves a bit. And then, down to Vietnam, Saigon into Cambodia to Bangkok all the way down the coast of Thailand and Malaysia and Singapore. We just turned around again and went back to Kuala Lumpar to get our flight to Australia. Then flew to the west coast of America and we’ve cycled from San Diego.

BT: So you got married?

Mike: Yes, two weeks ago in Yosemite Valley in Cooks meadow.

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BT: How did you… did you find a justice of the peace?

Mike: My friends a minister, she actually lives in Kentucky, so she flew out to meet us there. And then we had a couple of friends come over. Parents each. Yeah.

BT: You had it all planned out?

Mike: Yeah, we actually started planning it before we left. There was a bit of a gamble, but we figured if we could make it a year on the road and not kill each other, we could go ahead.

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BT: Oh, that’s so awesome. Congratulations! Have you guys had many mechanical issues?

Mike: Yeah, but it’s mostly been ok. I mean a couple of things. We’ve been replaced like new drive train, new cassettes. Obviously lots of new chains, but Helen is still on her first set of brake pads.

BT: Brakes. They only slow you down.

Mike: Yeah, just tough. I think I’m on my fourth set of tires

Helen: I think I’m on my second set of tires. But nothing major. Everything’s built to last.

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BT: Meeting any nice people?

Overwhelmingly! We were quite concerned that we weren’t going to have enough water as we headed across the 50 here. And just didn’t quite make it as far as we wanted to yesterday. So this guy stopped this morning and was like, hey, guys, need some water? I’ve just been rafting in Utah, and have gallons of water in my van. So amazing timing. Um, but yeah, we have a story per day. China was amazing for that because they just want to give you food and take you home and take care of you.

BT: You guys blogging or anything like that?

Helen: A bit of writing and videoing as much as we can. I haven’t updated since the wedding, so I need to do that soon. Because we’re going east, it’s evereast.co.uk. We’re doing it for a charity, called MIND, they do mental health advocacy and awareness. They do a lot of lobbying the government for approved mental health services and they do awareness campaigns to just try and reduce the stigma within companies. They kind of go into offices and HR departments and stuff. So very, very nice. Very nice.

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BT: Well great. Great. Thank you so much for stopping. Bye!

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Get outside Philadelphia with the second annual Bikeout

The second annual Bikeout will take place September 9-10, 2017 in and around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This overnight cycling adventure aims to bring together riders, make bikepacking accessible and showcase the natural and civic resources surrounding Philadelphia.

The 38-mile ride starts near the Philadelphia Art Museum and utilizes the paved Schuylkill River Trail and as well as some back roads to get to Sankanac CSA, a 15-acre farm just outside of Phoenixville. Riders will camp at the farm and enjoy a farm-to-table meal, craft beer, live music and more. Morning will bring a farm-sourced breakfast, bike mechanic workshop, yoga, organized bike tour of the surrounding area and more before heading back to the city.

Photo: Brian James Kirk

Photo by Brian James Kirk

This ride is designed for anyone from experienced cyclists looking to meet people and enjoy a fun weekend to newbies looking for a challenging, yet attainable, experience. Organizers hope that this ride will introduce more of the local community to bike touring, which has been emerging in urban centers as more bicycle commuters search their region for new, farther places to go without a car.

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Photo by Brian James Kirk

Last year, this ride sold out in just under four hours and brought together 125 riders. This year, Bikeout organizers are doubling the cap due to the popularity of the event.

Tickets go on sale on July 12 at noon and are $100 for a standard ticket and $110 if you would like your camping gear transported to the farm for you. Head on over to bikeoutphl.com for more info.

Photo by Brian James Kirk

Photo by Brian James Kirk

 

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Sea Otter Classic 2017: Fairdale Bikes

The Sea Otter Classic is a huge bike festival held every year in Monterey, California. This year, there were over 400 brands represented in the expo, and while many of them were well-known giants in the bike industry, there were also plenty of the little guys, the family operations and brand new startups. At events like this, I’ve started making it a point to visit some of the lesser-known companies, because they’re often doing some pretty cool stuff. One of these brands was Fairdale Bikes, out of Austin, Texas.

The first thing that caught my eye as I walked by the Fairdale Bikes booth was the cardboard cutout of a rabbit that was strategically placed on a BMX cruiser.

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Then I noticed all the cool bikes.

Fairdale specializes in making “simple and reliable bicycles to complement the styles of riding that we love to do because we want to be able to share the joy of a simple ride with you.”

Those styles of riding include long road rides, commuting, touring or just cruising around town. Right now, Fairdale offers nine different bikes, from the aforementioned BMX cruiser to a road bike to several different around-town bikes. At Sea Otter, they were also showing off a brand new gravel bike prototype called the Rockitship. The Rockitship can accommodate 40c tires and includes rack and fender mounts.

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The Weekender is a commuter and light touring rig, available with either drop, flat or the Fairdale Archer bars. It’s equipped with a SRAM 9-speed drivetrain, 700c Continental Town Ride tires (or 27.5 inch on small and extra small frames) and Avid brakes built around a chromoly frame with rack and fender mounts.

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The Taj is an “adult-sized” BMX bike that can shred some sick jumps but is also comfortable enough to ride around town. It’s designed to be durable and fun, with a steel frame, singlespeed drivetrain and 26 x 2.2 inch tires.

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Focused more on ride quality over speed and racing, the Goodship is a steel road bike that’s designed to be ridden often and far. It features an ENVE carbon fork, Shimano Ultegra groupset, FSA components and Continental 25 mm tires.

The Fairdale crew all seemed like super chill, great people, and they even convinced me to walk away with one of their cool water bottles (not an easy feat when I already have too many bottles and limited room in my luggage).


Keep Reading: Check out our review of the Fairdale Flyer to get more of an idea of what this brand is all about. Stay tuned for more Sea Otter coverage this week!

 

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The Birth of blackriver

Words by Jeffrey Stern. Photos via blackriver. 

On a brisk spring morning we navigated our rental van from Chicago to Madison in search of the best charcuterie we could find, rolling country farm roads and more information on the mythical blackriver—the ultimate place to create, find and share cycling experiences, or so we’d heard. We pointed our GPS to a local bike shop that was once a train stop and headed to the basement to share a beer and learn the basics of the blackriver idea with Tobie DePauw and Eric Lynn. That first meeting last May sparked my interest in what these two were cooking up and I’ve wanted to learn more since. After gaining traction over the last few months with retailers and partners around the country, I sat down again with Tobie to learn a little more about his journey in the bike world, his love for adventure and how connecting with Eric led to this story-forward route sharing interface for cyclists less concerned with competition and more interested in sharing their journeys with others.

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Can you tell me about your history with the bicycle, from a kid, to where you are now?

My experience with bikes as a kid was pretty typical; plywood jumps and trips to the pool. My strongest memories associated with bikes are memories of places they took me.

A defining experience was the first time I rode my bike to high school as a freshman. We lived in the next town over so I always had to take the bus. I decided to try riding my bike instead. To avoid riding on busy roads, I rode a few miles through private property on hobo singletrack. There was this delicious element of danger to it. I distinctly remember putting my foot down when I arrived and feeling a rush of liberation. The school was maybe nine miles away, but as a kid it felt like crossing a continent. I couldn’t believe that I had translocated myself that whole way. After that year, bikes faded into the periphery until I started riding in college, mostly as transportation. At the time I also started riding some trails, too.

How did blackriver come to fruition?

Eric and I met in Madison a few years ago when blackriver was just beginning to take shape outside of his head. He knew there was going to be a component involving bike shops and brands, so he was looking for retailers who might be interested in the concept. At the time, I had been running a bike shop in rural Illinois for over a decade. We had built a strong community there and the shop had become a destination for a number of unique brands. I was also hosting a number of gravel events through a non-profit I co-founded called Axletree. Eric had heard about me from a friend so we met for coffee and spent the better part of an afternoon talking about blackriver.

Eric had resigned from his role as Senior Creative Director after 20 years at Trek to start something of his own. He decided to create a digital platform where people could easily share routes with pictures and stories, and build community around riding experiences.

The potential of the platform was clear to me right away. As a retailer, I was constantly juggling social media, blogs, email, route sites and other platforms in order to get information out. It was exhausting, but I knew that I had to offer my customers more than just products to stay relevant. blackriver was as a route library, event calendar and social network rolled into one. It would be a one-stop-shop for people looking to get involved.

Just over a year later, I had resigned from the shop and moved my family to Madison to help Eric launch blackriver. I saw the opportunity as a continuation of the arc I was already on, gathering people together around bikes and working with independent retailers.

Eric and I work well together because we have fairly different professional backgrounds but we overlap on the right things. He worked from the bottom to the top in a big corporation as a designer and I worked as a retailer and a promoter on the front lines. We both believe bikes have an incredible ability to improve personal well-being and bring people together.

The first time you told me about blackriver you called the platform “story-forward route sharing.” What does that really mean to you as a rider?

When I’m looking for a good place to ride, I want to see photos and read about it, not just see how fast people are riding. By putting the story forward, people get a much better idea what the experience will be like on that route. blackriver is a paradigm shift away from metric-focused riding platforms and towards sharing experiences. It’s about sharing more than just numbers and lines. blackriver is a canvas, not a calculator. If you find a calculator, you’re going to punch numbers into it. A canvas is a place to create and communicate. We make it easy for people to track their rides, add images and anecdotes and share their riding experiences.

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What about Blackriver will help set it apart from other sports driven social networks?

blackriver is differentiated by our emphasis on story over speed and a unique relationship with retailers and brands. It’s a resource for riders, regardless of category or skill level, who want to find a good place to ride their bikes. Everyone knows bike shops are a great source for local route knowledge, so we’re offering shops and brands a simple and effective way to tout that knowledge and encourage people to ride. One of the best things a bike shop can do to encourage new riders is suggest safe routes.

We’re also redefining the concept of challenges. blackriver’s patent-pending technology allows local retailers and brands to host route-specific challenges and offer rewards to riders who complete them. When a rider completes a challenge, they receive a notification to visit the retailer or notify the brand to redeem their reward.

You’ve ridden your bike in a lot of spectacular places. Do you see blackriver as providing the opportunity to share those experiences and inspire others to pursue their own?

That is the exact reason blackriver exists. A friend of mine called it an “Inspiration Engine,” which is a term I like quite a bit. If I see a route I like on the platform, I can save it to my Planned Rides and navigate from it when I want to. Or I can jump it to a GPS device. I can follow people and see where they ride, along with their stories.

It’s also great for traveling. If I’m planning a trip to Portland, I can search the Classic Routes there and decide where I’m going to ride based on what the locals say are the best routes. And if I’m inspired by a route, I’m going to share my own ride story when I ride it and potentially inspire other riders.

Tell me about your trip up the west coast last year. What did you learn? Who did you meet? What was the perception like on the ground, in the shops?

That was a great trip. We met with a number of incredible shops and brands along the way; Golden Saddle, Omata, Topanga Creek, Huckleberry Bicycles, River City Bicycles, Benedicto, Path Less Pedaled, and more. We were able to share our vision and hear what features people wanted. The reception was really encouraging. The general consensus was that the time was right for a platform that was open and encouraging to riders of all styles.

Where do we draw that line of quantifying everything we do and just enjoy the ride or experience for what it is?

On a ride, technology should enhance, not inhibit, the experience. Rhys Newman told me that when they were designing the Omata One, they wanted to create a device that didn’t compete with the “primary experience” of riding. I really appreciate that philosophy.

Headspace is valuable realty. If I’m worried about my speed or a segment, with my eyes anchored to a computer, I’m distracted. I’m not enjoying my ride. The metrics can be consuming, especially when the id is pricked and pride is at stake.

But if I’m riding along with my head up, thinking about what I might want to share about the ride, or thinking of other people who might enjoy the route, my head is in a different place. That internal experience is very different from racing ghosts.

What is it that you enjoy most about the ride?

I do my best daydreaming on the bike. I can point to multiple creative and cognitive breakthroughs I’ve had while riding. It’s really good for my head.

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Where do you see blackriver in 5 years?

Our mission is to share every great cycling route in the world, so we’re going to continue to build the best platform for riders, retailers and brands to share routes and build community. In five years, blackriver will be the premier digital cycling platform at the nexus of creativity, community, and commerce.

In an era where retailers are feeling the struggle of continued economic woes across the country fed by stiff online competition, having the ability to offer a platform for customers to share bike experiences and engage each other brings increased value to the sales cycle—ultimately and hopefully leading to lasting relationships.

The growth of blackriver is still on the upward trajectory. They are currently rolling out improvements to their patent-pending Challenge technology, so we’ll see partners across the states hosting custom, route specific challenges in their geographic areas to help drive cycling interest. Among this and a feature called RideCards, the blackriver platform is changing and evolving nearly everyday. With so many features to cover, one interview isn’t enough to cover the breadth of all this cycling, social network hybrid platform has to offer. We expect big things from this ambitious duo and look forward to telling more of their story in the near future.

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Win a Pactimo Reflective Kit

Contest ended. Congrats to James Cook of Amarillo, TX!

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The promotion you are trying to access has ended.

Pactimo has partnered with us to give one lucky winner a pair of Summit Raptor 2.0 RT Bib Shorts and a Summit RT Jersey. Enter to win below.

 

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Pactimo, a Colorado manufacturer of premium cycling apparel, has developed this endurance kit for cyclists who regularly ride 6+ hours at a time or who want the ultimate in comfort. A good pair of padded shorts can make a world of difference on long distance rides and these bibs are designed for long miles. The kit has a compression fit and Pactimo’s proprietary Reflective Technology (RT) in the arm, rear and leg grippers for increased safety in low light conditions and inclement weather.

Winner can select color, size and gender preference.

Complete the survey below the video by 11:59 p.m., February 08, 2016 to be entered to win. We will choose and notify a winner the following day. Some terms and conditions apply, but don’t they always? Open to U.S. residents, only. Sorry, but that’s not our choice.

If you are on a mobile device, click here to take the survey.

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Globetrotting: Why We Do What We Do

Words and photos by Beth Puliti

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Fun is a relative concept. What someone finds enjoyable—say spending two weeks on a cruise ship—can cause someone else to run, bike over shoulder, for the hills. Likewise, a long-term bike tour will have loads of people researching ports of call faster than you can say Royal Caribbean.

Two summers ago I was laboring my overloaded touring bike up a steep ascent in Croatia on a brutally hot day when a guy called out to me from his car, “This is fun?” Nope, I thought. “Why do you do this?” he insisted. I opened my mouth to answer, but couldn’t find the words to articulate a response— especially to a person who so clearly couldn’t comprehend why someone would choose to “suffer” if they didn’t have to. I continued up the climb in silence.

More recently, I shared a photo of Myanmar, one of the most culturally rich countries we visited in nearly two years on the road, with my mom. The image was of a Burmese man wearing a traditional ankle-length longyi gazing at a pink sky as the sun rose above the city of Bagan. “It looks beautiful,” my mom wrote to me. “Are you having fun?” At the time, I was suffering from a fever, full-body muscle cramping, joint pain, a massive tropical bug bite, severe stomach discomfort and, um… what you might call the opposite of constipation. By the time the fiery sun had bathed thousands of ancient brick temples in a warm orange glow that morning, I had ingested four different kinds of medicine.

It wouldn’t be fair to suggest that traveling through undeveloped foreign lands is all rainbows and unicorns, or in this case pastel sunrises and bacteria-free food. But I also knew I couldn’t tell her exactly how I felt in that moment because, like the baffled driver who called out to me, she wouldn’t understand why I was choosing to put myself through a bit of pain. I knew before entering Myanmar that there was a strong possibility of getting ill and I went anyway. I also knew that I’d hate every minute of that steep road in Croatia and pedaled up it anyway.

Why did I do it?

For the same reason many of us partake in things that are unthinkable to a sizable portion of our friends, family, coworkers and strangers. Because we’d rather experience a little discomfort than miss interacting with a culture that has been unseen for 50 years.

We’d rather endure a climb in stupid hot weather than sit out the spectacular view and sweet descent waiting for us at the top.

We know the pain won’t last forever. We also know it makes the pleasurable moments that much more enjoyable. In our temporary moments of agony, we feel our hearts beating and our lungs working. And that suffering, it makes us feel alive.

When it comes down to it, I’ll choose the 360 degree view after a hard ride to get there over relaxing in a chaise on a cruise ship any day. I know I’m not the only one. Sure, it might not be fun in the moment, but damn if it isn’t the most satisfying to look back on.

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Beth Puliti is a writer and photographer whose two-year bike tour through Europe and Asia prompted hi-fives from some and looks of pure bewilderment from others. Follow her travels at @bethpuliti.

This article originally appeared in Bicycle Times #43.  


 

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Review: Marin Four Corners

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Tester: Emily Walley
Price: $1,100
Weight: 26.9 pounds
Sizes: S (tested), M, L, XL

This year is Marin Bikes’ 30th anniversary, and it marks the introduction of an all-new “utilitour” model, the Four Corners. The neutral gray steel frame gives the bike a timeless look, while disc brakes, wide tire clearance and an upright riding position keep pace with cyclists’ expectations for adventure touring and bikepacking.

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What piqued my interest in this bike was its Gemini, do-it-all attitude packaged at an approachable price point. The Four Corners is equipped with a Shimano Sora 50/39/30 crank and 12-36 cassette, wide Schwalbe Silento 700×40 tires and the stopping power of Promax Render 160 mm disc brakes. The bike’s tour-ready spec is rounded out with mounts for racks front and rear, fenders and three water bottles.

Marin also offers the upgraded Four Corners Elite model with a SRAM 1×11 drivetrain and hydraulic disc brakes for $2,300.

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The Four Corners was designed with a long top tube—21.8 inches on the small—but also a long stem offering ample room for adjustment. An upright riding position is facilitated by a tall head tube, and the Marin bars have a 20-degree flare to the drop, which allows for a natural hand position that opens up your core. This had me in the drops more than usual, and I’ll struggle to return to a bar without flare.

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On a weekend tour I split my gear between a front rack, frame pack and seat bag. It can be a struggle to fit standard-sized frame packs on small-sized frames, but the long top tube opens up the interior space, expanding storage options for shorter folks. The tires are a good middle-of-the-road rubber, offering adequate rolling speed on hard roads and off-road traction. Best of all they’re stout, making them a good fit in any terrain where you’re susceptible to punctures.

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While the stock tires were capable on smooth sections of singletrack and confident when loaded down with touring gear, there’s ample clearance for swapping to larger tires: up to 700×45 with fenders or 29×2.1 without.

The bike remained poised across varying terrain, its balance un-phased by rutted dirt roads and chunky railroad ballast, proving competent to carry the weight for an extended tour. I found the gear range to be ample for touring Pennsylvania’s rolling hills, but an easier gear may be advantageous on an extended tour with sustained climbs.

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For days between 45 and 85 miles, the WTB Volt Sport saddle was comfortable and supportive, even on long sections of rail trail. “The Four Corners was designed for the rider who is looking for a versatile, modern take on a touring bike,” said Chris Holmes, brand director for Marin Bikes. “[It’s] one that is equally at home with a weekday commute as it is on a week-long adventure.”

For the city dweller, it fills the niche for everyday commuting needs, and for the adventure seeker, the large tire clearance and touring capability encourages exploring on gravel and dirt. As cyclists, what tales would we have to share if everything went as planned? The Marin Four Corners is ready for a change of route and a story to tell.

 

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First Impression: Kona Wheelhouse and Sutra LTD

Kona is pretty well known as a mountain bike brand, but it also has plenty of road-going products with finger-in-your-eye mountain bike attitude. While many companies start with road racing bikes and then branch out into adventure, travel and commuting, Kona focuses solely on the kind of bikes you’d expect to see in Bicycle Times.

Each year Kona hosts its dealers and some of us media slime for an event called the Kona Ride. It’s a chance to get hands-on with the new models and hobnob with the Kona employees. Nearly the entire company joins in and it’s fun to match some faces with the bikes named after them. Traditionally held at the brand’s US office in Bellingham, Washington, this year they invaded our neighbors to the north and hosted it in Squamish, British Columbia.

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If you’ve heard of it but you’re not familiar, Squamish is sort of halfway between Vancouver and Whistler, the mountain bike/ski mecca and host of the 2000 Winter Olympics. Squamish used to be the place where you stopped for gas and a pee on your way north, but in the last few years the city has seen a huge surge in popularity thanks to dual booms of interest and investment in outdoor recreation, namely cycling, rock climbing and whitewater.

I was fortunate enough to have a few days to explore town and sample Kona’s latest bikes. A friend and I grabbed two from the demo fleet and set out to get lost.

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First up is the Wheelhouse. A new model for 2017, it starts with the same Reynolds 853 steel frame as the Roadhouse model introduced last year but does away with some of the frills to hit a lower price point, in this case $1,600. Built with a 10-speed Shimano Tiagra drivetrain and a wide gear range, it’s the perfect do-it-all road bike.

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Disc brakes and 30 mm Schwalbe tires give it great stopping power and a smooth ride, especially when combined with quality steel. Kona says it will fit a 28 mm tire with fenders and maybe a 32 mm without, which is exactly what we like to see in a road bike. And a threaded bottom bracket! Rejoice! 

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The Roadhouse model ($3,799) remains for 2017 and gets an even higher end spec: Shimano Ultegra 11-speed with hydraulic brakes, Mavic wheels and a very cool frame that has been welded AND brazed, then clear coated.

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Halfway through our ride we stopped at Fergie’s, a Squamish institution if there ever was one. It’s an indoor and outdoor cafe open for breakfast and lunch. The property also boasts 12 riverside cabins and a whitewater guiding service, so you’ll have plenty to do before and after you fuel up with some amazing Eggs Benny.

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After lunch my friend and I traded bikes and I hopped aboard the new Sutra LTD ($2,000). Introduced last year, it gets an update for 2017 in the form of even more tire clearance. Officially it will fit a 29×2.1 tire, but you might even fit a little more.

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It ships with the new 45 mm WTB Riddler gravel/adventure tires that can be painlessly converted to tubeless with the WTB Frequency Team i23 rims. Despite the quick release axles at both ends, these are straight-up mountain bike wheels and can handle whatever punishment you want to throw at them.

Compared to the Wheelhouse, the Sutra LTD feels like a much bigger bike. It has a less aggressive position and the flared handlebars are nice and wide. It’s not too burly for road use though, as the tires don’t have that annoying vibration that many treaded tires have on pavement. While we only got to explore some gravel alleys, Kona approves of, no actually encourages, you getting it dirty on some singletrack.

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The steel frame has mounts for up to five bottle cages so stay thirsty, my friends. It’s built with a SRAM Rival 1×11 drivetrain and hydraulic disc brakes. It’s also available as a frame and fork for $550.

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While the Sutra LTD takes care of the bikepacking and gravel market its sibling, the Sutra model ($1,400), gets the more traditional road touring treatment with a 3×9 drivetrain, bar end shifters, rear rack, fenders, Brooks saddle and some beautiful, sparkly root beer paint.

Other highlights

We didn’t get to sample any of these new bikes, but there’s a lot to like about the 2017 lineup. You can also read my ride impressions of the Big Honzo DL in our sister magazine, Dirt Rag.

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Jake the Snake: The Jake line of cyclocross bikes gets a few tweaks, and the cantilever brakes are gone for good. The cyclocross/gravel crossover Private Jake model would be my choice.

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Esatto: A disc brake road bike for adventure seekers, not skinny pants racers. It’s available in aluminum, carbon and Ti.

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Rove: Perfect for commuting, light touring or all around adventures that don’t require tires as big as the Sutra LTD. The Rove is available in aluminum, steel and Ti versions. Read my review of the Rove here.

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Unit: Historically a steel, singlespeed 29er, the Unit goes 27plus for 2017, though it keeps the traditional 100/135 mm quick release sliding dropouts. It also gets a whole host of braze-ons so you can build it up for any kind of adventure. It’s also available as a frameset for $525.

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Ute: Kona still makes the Ute.

 

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Specialized launches new Adventure Gear line

Specialized is going full steam into the adventure realm with a full line of accessories for bikepacking or bike touring or commuting or whatever it is you want to do with them. Under the umbrella of Specialized Adventure Gear, the lineup includes bikes like the Sequoia, AWOL, Diverge and Fatboy, along with a ton of accessories and apparel.

Read about the new Specialized Sequoia that was unveiled along with this bag line.

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Here we’re going to focus on the Burra Burra bag collection. Like many other Specialized products, the Burra Burra line is named for a location in Henry Coe State Park just outside of the brand’s offices in Morgan Hill, California.

  

The name is a bit clunky, but the Handlebar Stabilizer Harness ($90) should keep your gear stowed tight with an aluminum support that bolts to the handlebars and a simple, wrap around shape that can hold a dry bag or other gear.

It can hold your own dry bag, or Specialized will sell separately two sizes of their own, a 13 liter ($40) and a 23 liter ($45), both of which have double-sided entry and full waterproof 100D Cordura construction.

The Framepacks ($90-$110) are one of the most useful trends in recent years, as a great way to keep snacks and more close at hand. The coated nylon body is super water repellent, so anything short of throwing it into a lake should result in dry cargo. They even have water-resistant YKK zippers. A combination of thick, urethane straps and camlocks or traditional Velcro keep them secured in place. Specialized will offer three sizes to fit nearly any bike, though it’s worth pointing out that they often interfere with water bottles. The bottle cages are still usable, but a side-entry cage will make getting the bottles in and out a lot easier.

 

Fans of the awesome Specialized Pizza Rack will be pleased to see a new Pizza Bag ($100) designed specifically for that big front rack. It has a padded, roll-top body that is sure to keep the contents dry, or can be filled with ice and used as a rolling cooler. Trust us, we tested it. There are a few exterior pockets that keep essential items handy while you’re rolling and it measures 33 x 24 x 13 cm.

At first glance, the Stabilizing Seatpack looks like a lot of other roll-closed seat bags on the market, but Specialized has added a small, aluminum stabilizer bar that bolts to the seatpost to prevent it from swaying or drooping. Unlike some other designs on the market that use a support rail, this version only extends halfway along the bag’s length. The bag itself is made from the same watertight material so it will keep your gear dry, and is available in a 10 liter size ($130) and a 20 liter size ($140).

    

Bottle cages eyelets have been popping up in all sorts of new places in the last few years, and the Sequoia has a pair on each side of its carbon fork, so Specialized created these Burra Burra Stuffcages ($30). Made from aluminum, they are smaller than the ones you see from others, and only bolt to two eyelets instead of three. The aluminum body comes with two straps for water bottles, fuel canisters or whatever else you want to bring. Specialized also introduced a Stuffpack ($40) that is sold separately that holds one liter of cargo in its roll-top body. It also has its own Velcro straps attached that can keep it secure in the cage.

Finally, the handiest of all, the Top Tube Pack ($50) is perfect for your phone, keys or other essentials that you want to keep close at hand. It can be mounted at the stem or the seatpost and uses a single front-to-back zipper to access the 0.75 liter cargo area. The external pockets are good for a multi-tool or snack wrappers. It’s made of the same weather-resistant material as all the bags.

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Specialized revives Sequoia name for adventure road bike

The first Sequoia bikes were designed by Tim Neenan as a road bike with an adventure attitude. The second generation, designed by Jim Merz, evolved into a full-blown touring rig to take you around the world. The name appeared on a series of, let’s say, “less-than-exciting” hybrids and city bikes through the years, but has made a grand return with this new 2017 touring model, hitting dealers in mid-August.

Specialized flew a collection of media slime like myself out to beautiful Western North Carolina to sample the bikes and get the story from both the Adventure Team that inspired them and the engineers that created them.

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The new Sequoia is Specialized’s take on a modern adventure touring bike. That can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but there’s no denying the proliferation of rackless bags has brought a new generation into the fold of bicycle travelers. And while racks and panniers can take you across the country, many riders are just looking for a way to get the essentials out for a weekend.

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While the existing Specialized AWOL model (steel touring bike) dips its toes into the off-road realm, the Sequoia is more road-oriented and slots squarely between the AWOL and the Diverge in the Specialized lineup. You could keep it lean and jump into a paceline or load it up with racks, fenders and cargo and hit the trail.

The new 700x42c Sawtooth tires roll exceptionally well on the road and their stout, tubeless casing held up on singletrack. Specialized says the Sequoia it will fit up to a 700×45 tire (that’s officially but you can probably squeeze more in there), and it will fit the 650×47 version of the wheels and tires that are coming soon. More on that in a moment.

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The frame is a selection of custom-drawn chromoly steel tubes, and each one is specifically shaped and butted for each frame size to ensure a consistent ride quality across the five sizes. No two sizes share any frame tubes. The geometry is comfortable, with a low bottom bracket and more upright fit, but not so relaxed that you can’t put the hammer down when you want to. Details on the frame include a threaded bottom bracket, 142×12 thru axle, flat mount brake caliper mounts and a third bottle cage mount under the downtube.

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To go with the new frame is an all-new carbon fiber fork. Not just a repurposed cyclocross fork, the new unit was designed specifically for this bike with a 12 mm thru axle and bottle cage eyelets on the legs that can hold 5 pounds each. It too has the new flat-mount caliper mounts, and even a hole to run a dynamo hub wire inside the right right leg. Specialized offers an AWOL model with a dynamo hub, so don’t be surprised to see a special edition version of the Sequoia with one down the road.

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Not content to grab parts off the Specialized shelves, the design team also went about designing a new wheelset. The Cruzero wheels are tubeless compatible and offer a stout 25 mm rim width. The hubs were designed specifically for this application as well and roll on sealed bearings for the Cruzero wheels and standard bearings for the less expensive Hayfield variation. The wheelsets will be available on their own in the near future, Specialized says, in both 700c and 650b.

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To wrap around those wheels Specialized has released an all-new tire in the Sawtooth. With versions in 700×42 and 650bx47, with either black or tan sidewalls, it was the standout performer of our time on the bikes. Designed from the ground-up, it uses Specialized’s latest rubber compounds and tubeless technology, with an all-purpose tread design that held its own on the rocks and roots of Pisgah singletrack. They roll well enough to paceline at 25 mph and cornered well on the gravel and dirt. Our group of about 20 riders put nearly 2,000 miles of abuse into these tires over three days and we suffered only one flat. The Sawtooth tires will come stock on the Sequoia and will be available separately for $40.

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While many riders appreciate a more upright riding position, the downside is that often your steerer has a giant stack of spacers or you have a goofy upright stem. Specialized is trying to distribute that stack height with its new riser drop bars, the Hover. It has a small amount of rise built in along the center, allowing you to keep that stem flipped down or just offering a little more height. They also have a bit of flare to the drops too. The downside is that you have less room to mount accessories on the center portion of the bars, and the aesthetics are … unique. Riser drop bars. What will they think of next?

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To go with the bars is a new line of canvas and leather handlebar tape and saddles that look great with the understated graphics on the Sequoia. The CG-R seatpost is probably a love-it-or-hate-it component, though.

Sequoia models

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Sequoia Expert

  • $3,500
  • SRAM Rival 1×11
  • Cruzero wheels

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Sequoia Elite

  • $2,000
  • Shimano 105 2×11
  • Hayfield wheels

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Sequoia

  • $1,300
  • Shimano Sora 2×9
  • Hayfield wheels
  • Steel fork

Sequoia Expert frameset (not pictured)

  • $1,200
  • The frameset version of the Sequoia will be unique, with a stainless steel downtube and chainstays, plus a white to black vertical fade paint job.

Update

A few folks have asked me how this model fits into the current Specialized lineup and what kind of rider it is for. The new Sequoia might not be revolutionary, but it’s a great option for folks looking for a steel version of the current crop of big-tire road bikes. While it’s obviously not as sporty as the carbon or aluminum Diverge, it’s still more go-fast bike than an AWOL or even bikes like the Kona Sutra or Niner RLT steel. I don’t have an official weight number but I’d guess it’s around 20 to 21 pounds. The bike that it reminds me of the most is the Specialized Tricross, but obviously reimagined for a more discerning performance-oriented customer.

More photos

Photos by Beth Welliver – Specialized

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Coming up next

You might see quite a few new accessories in these photos. More on those in the next post…

 

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Rapha and Apidura launch pack collaboration

When you think Rapha, you probably think of ultra-high-end apparel or Team Sky at the Tour de France. Now, the company has teamed up with fellow Britons at Apidura to offer its first line of packs for long-distance cycling.

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The Handlebar Pack ($130) and Saddle Pack ($160) are built by Apidura with Rapha‘s classic accents. Whether you’re on a race bike or a touring rig, now you can load up some extra clothes, a hearty amount of snacks or whatever else you want to bring to the beach or on your next brevet—and do it with that classic Rapha style.

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The packs are made from a water-resistant synthetic body with reflective strips and accents. A separate dry bag that can store inside the packs is also included. Each attaches to the bike in three points with rubberized reinforcements.

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What do you think? These are priced competitively with other manufacturers’ bikepacking equipment. Would you choose the Rapha/Apidura collaboration over the competition? Let us know in the comments below.

Location photos by George Marshall/Rapha

 

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Review: Blackburn Outpost seat bag and handlebar roll

As you’ve likely noticed from reading this magazine and elsewhere, bikepacking and rackless touring has reenergized the bike touring market. What began as a niche sport supported by products from a few boutique brands has now hit the mainstream and the major players are getting involved.

No stranger to bike touring, Blackburn is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, having been dedicated to open road adventures since day one. The Outpost seat bag and handlebar roll are its foray into the lightweight touring scene and offer classic features with some unique twists. The seat pack ($120) attaches to your saddle rails and seatpost and consists of two pieces: an outer sling and a removable, roll-top stuff sack.

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Rated at 10.5 liters it is more than enough to swallow a sleeping bag and a small tent, and the extra lash points on the back let you strap even more on. The buckles have locking adjusters, which makes it really handy to overstuff as well, as you can tuck in a jacket or other loose items and keep them secure. The included dry bag is a separate piece that you can pull out and take in your tent with you. The sling works best if the dry bag is filled at least half way to fill it out and prevent it from sagging.

In use, the Seat Pack offers a ton of storage capacity, but it does wag a bit from side to side. It’s largely out-of-sight-out-of-mind, though, and I’m willing to put up with it. I had no complaints about the build quality but, compared to the boutique seat packs on the market, the material used is thicker and heavier.

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The Handlebar roll ($100) uses a similar modular layout consisting of a harness that holds a dry bag. This bag is open on both ends so you don’t have to unpack the whole thing if your jacket is at the one end. It also make it easier to pack. Inside the sling harness is a Velcro patch to keep the dry bag in place. The harness attaches to the handlebars with a quick release mechanism so it protrudes a good bit out and doesn’t interfere with shifters or brakes.

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The extra lash points here are also handy for overflow storage and the red security strap keeps the whole setup from rotating downward on your handlebars should you hit a big bump. I appreciated the Handlebar Roll’s equally large storage capacity but feel the plastic quick release system is largely superfluous. Because it is so easy to unbuckle the stuff sack, I don’t see the need for a second means of removing it. I would trade that convenience for a simpler, lighter design.

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Worth noting is proper installation to make it function well. The bracket has been updated for fall 2016 with a wire safety support instead of the plastic one on the first version (pictured here). The red strap is also important as a secondary method of keeping the whole setup from rotating down into your front tire (see the green arrow above).

The Blackburn bags offer a good compromise of cost and features if you don’t need the lightest handmade gear. The Seat Pack especially is a good way to haul a lot of stuff without adding a rear rack.

 

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Blackburn Rangers take to the road

It was imperative that we stay vigilant against the danger. Our enemy would not discriminate. Young or old, strong or feeble, all were within its sights. It could sink its vicious teeth into our flesh and not release for days or weeks. Few would escape our journey without falling victim to its ruthless aggression.

Our expedition leader and Blackburn’s brand manager, Robin, tried in vain to prepare us for the threat. He gathered us up and spoke in hushed tones.

“It’s important to remember that if you’re not on the trail, you are almost certainly standing in poison oak.”

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It was a valiant warning, especially since I’m still scratching two weeks later. I joined Blackburn and its 2016 class of Blackburn Rangers for an introductory ride through the mountains of coastal California. With a little help from Santa Cruz and Big Agnes we escaped from the arid asphalt plains of the San Jose airport parking lot and ascending through sun, wind, mist and fog to a quiet Boy Scout camp perched high in the hills above the city. Tucked beneath the massive evergreens we cooled our heels and warmed our hearts with a campfire and some of Kentucky’s finest.

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Blackburn is the kind of brand that doesn’t just spit out products to make a buck. They’re out there using these things—both the employees and the brand’s annual group of Blackburn Rangers. The six Rangers chosen for 2016 will complete some of the most famous bike touring routes in North America. While off-road bikepacking is very on-trend right now, it’s really bike travel of all kinds that Blackburn is promoting, as many of the routes its Rangers travel are entirely paved.

Meet the Rangers

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Brian Ohlen – Cody, Wyoming

Brian hails is an avid fisherman and cyclist.  He intends to combine his passions and bike-fish his way from Canada to Mexico, in search of the elusive Steelhead Trout.

What is your goal for the route?

“I’d love to catch a steelhead in each of the three states I’ll travel through. Three fish doesn’t sound like much, but those buggers are hard to catch!”

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Sorry Laura, this is the only photo of you I took.

Katie Hawkins and Laura Brigham – East Palo Alto, California

Katie, left, and Laura, right, are neighbors in East Palo Alto and decided to apply together to tackle the Great Divide this summer.

What do you hope to get out of this journey?

Laura: “I hope to share the enthusiasm that I have for biking and the outdoors with those on the Great Divide as well as those following from home. I hope at the end of this crazy ‘Canadian gone Mexican’ adventure, Katie and I will leave with unforgettable memories, strong legs, sweet tan lines, and a bunch of awesome new friends.”

Katie: “I see this as a soul-searching adventure for 2 months. I want to be able to get away from my normal 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. job and be on an adventure that separates me from life’s distractions. I want to share my experiences with various biking communities along the route and hope to learn from them, as well.”

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Courtney Lewis – Brooklyn, New York

Courtney followed the Blackburn Ranger program for the last few years, and the variety of their backgrounds and approaches were immediate inspiration for her to tackle the same path in her own way. Courtney’s ‘own way’ includes stepping off the bike and hiking nearby summits along the route, and also bringing her dog along.

What do you hope to get out of this journey?

“I’m excited to shake up my routine, and the routines of my friends (and friends-to-be!) along the way. I want to push my limits to get the most out of the time I have, and to learn more about myself.”

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Ivan Kilroe – Lancaster, Great Britain

Ivan has a great approach to cycling that is based on sharing beauty and joy with friends that we can appreciate.

Have you traveled by bike in the past?

“In the last year I’ve done a handful of short trips travelling by bicycle and really enjoyed the freedom you feel from carrying everything you need to survive. I’ve definitely got a bad case of ‘outdoorism’ – seeing the sun rise and set everyday, and waking up outside all becomes kind of addictive.”

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Photo by John Watson

Christian Ayoob – Watkinsville, Georgia

Christian hails from the robust , but often overlooked, cycling community around Athens, Georgia, and is one of the first Southerners that has been selected as a Ranger.

What do you hope to get out of this journey?

“By the end of this journey, I hope to have collected stories, met as many people as possible, and all around have had fun. Along with doing this, I would love to have a very detailed journal and blog for others to follow and get inspired.”

While the Rangers plan to ride thousands of miles, you don’t need to quit your job and drop off the grid to have a great adventure on a bike. Most of Blackburn’s products are just as useful on a commute to school as they are on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.

New gear

We also got a look at some of Blackburn’s newest products on the ride:

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Blackburn’s unique frame bags ($60 or $65) come in two sizes and are expandable depending on your cargo needs. They’ve been updated with stronger zippers and will soon be available in a limited-edition camo print. The Seat Pack ($120) and Handlebar Roll ($100) will be available in camo as well. All the bags will continue to be available in black.

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These little 2Fer lights were one of my favorites. These $25 USB-rechargeable lights have a clip on the back that holds them snug on a loop like you find on backpacks, or on the included stretchy strap. The name derives from their ability to run with white or red LEDs so they can go front or back.

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The new Switch Mini multi-tool is a bit of a crossover between something that stays packed away with your bike stuff and your at-home tool kit. There are four pieces with a tool at each end that can be held either perpendicular or inline with the handle. The rounded ends make it useful when working in tight spaces where you can’t hold the tool perfectly inline with the bolt. It includes a 2.5 mm, 3 mm, 4 mm, 5 mm, 6 mm, T25 Torx, T30 Torx and a flat head screwdriver that all pack away in the included case, with room to spare for an ID and a couple bucks.

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My favorite item introduced was the new Chamber HV floor pump ($80), the highlight of a whole new line of floor pumps. Designed for big tires, it has a high volume piston and a HUGE gauge that only goes to 50 psi. Some trick features include a bleed valve in the head for precise pressures, a bottle opener (natch) and a 31.8 mm clamp for the handle that lets you bolt on an old set of handlebars for some custom flair.

More photos

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Video: The Zenga Bros. Tall Bike Tour

The Zenga brothers are six young men who were instilled with the passion for free expression at a young age. Their community art projects and installations eschew the bounds of traditional art and become part of a lifestyle and a culture. Plus they build some kickass tall bikes.

Premiering at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, “Tall Bike Tour: Part 1 – Visions and Dreams,” introduces Zenga Bros upcoming documentary in which they bring their eccentric brand of creativity to the streets while traveling and living on tall bikes.

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Video: Specialized Adventure Dispatch x Sarah and Tom Swallow

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Courtesy of Specialized

In this episode of The Adventure Dispatch, we head out on an overnight ride with Sarah Swallow through the Humboldt Redwood State Park. Sarah is an expert when it comes to creative route planning, which is why we’re happy that she decided to share her methodology for sub-24-hour overnight riding (S24O). So take notes or just enjoy the scenery and get motivated, because you’re about to learn what happens when you saddle-up, slow down, and take notice of the world around you.

Read more about the Swallow’s pioneering ride along the Trans American Trail.

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Globetrotting: Finding your groove

By Beth Puliti

Whether you’re headed out on a world tour or a weekend adventure, I have four words for you: be open to change.

Until you begin the physical act of pedaling your bicycle, any grand plans that you have made in your head are subject to change at any time for any reason. This is especially true when it comes to how far you expect to travel on a daily basis.

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Before embarking on this open-ended bike tour, I planned my route based on how far I anticipated pedaling each day and how often I thought I should take a rest day. With these averages, I was able to loosely figure out where on the map I’d be at certain points in the year. Advantageous, sure, but not entirely accurate.

When I hit the pavement, myriad factors came into play each and every day that influenced and sometimes even changed my best-laid plans. Factors that hadn’t crossed my mind while sitting in front of the wood stove pouring over maps and journals of those who had gone before my husband and I. These factors became immediately apparent once on the road.

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Factors like long stretches of rain in northern Italy and unending sections of flat highway in the central part of the country. Both had us hammering out way more miles than we had anticipated simply because the scenery around us either wasn’t interesting (or didn’t look so through the rain), and so we just kept plugging along without taking the time to stop. We arrived in Rome far earlier than planned, which allowed us to build in a visit with my relatives, something that wasn’t in our original plans, but turned out to be a personal highlight of the tour.

On the other hand, mechanicals, Mother Nature and ill-marked roads have slowed our pedaling too many times to count. In Thailand, a handful of flat tires sidelined us for much of the afternoon. In Turkey, a brutal headwind encountered during the first few days of entering the country nearly brought our progress to a stop. And in Italy, a wrong turn got us lost on unmarked roads in a national forest for hours. In all of these cases, we covered far shorter ground than expected that day.

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Being open to change allows you to take wrong turns, broken bike parts and bad weather in stride so you can focus on things other than your daily mileage count—like the friendly people you’re probably meeting, the incredible food you’re probably eating and the new places you’re probably seeing. These are the reasons you decided to travel by bike anyway, right?

OK, so you’re not going to wreck yourself over a silly little thing like daily distances. What about other preconceived plans you made? Perhaps you decided you would exclusively camp on your tour, but after a few nights in a tent you realize you don’t really like it. Fellow bike tourers, it’s OK to change the plan to what you feel comfortable doing.

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Time on the road makes you realize that many of the best experiences will occur on the days when things don’t go entirely as expected. More miles, fewer miles, sleeping under the stars or under a roof—at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. What matters is finding a groove that works for you. One that’s not too fast, nor too slow to enjoy the world from behind your handlebars.


Follow Beth Puliti on Instagram and read her other thoughts on bike touring for Bicycle Times.

 

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Review: Becker Gear frame bag

When you call up Becker Gear to order a framebag, you know exactly what you’re going to get. That’s because founder Tupper Becker does all the order processing, designing, cutting, sewing and customer service.

“I look at it as more of a relationship,” Becker said. It’s the kind of one-on-one service that you’re only going to get with a one-man shop. “I really like to have a sense of who they are, and they can have sense of who I am.

Based in Fairbanks, Alaska, Becker now splits his time making cycling bags and gear for dog sled mushers. “All the bags we build are designed with Alaska in mind,” he said, and touts their cold weather abilities. The rubberized bits are good to 70 below zero, he said, and the fabric has been tested in Antarctica to 131 below.

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All Becker Gear framebag designs start as one of five standard models with various degrees of complexity and pockets. While this example has a few extra features, Becker says most of his products are basic by design.

“We want to be the Carhart jeans of frame bags,” he said. “It’s designed to be fixed if it fails; it’s not a throwaway piece… We want to keep it simple and functional and working.”

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The model I tested is the White Mountains Plus, which retails for $199. It has a large main compartment with a zipper on the drive side, a half-depth pocket with a zipper on the opposite side, and a small pocket secured with only a strap on the bottom of the drive side. The main pocket can also be divided into an upper and lower section with an interior piece of Velcro, although there is no access to the lower portion from the outside. While that might sound odd, it does make sense if you want to stash items in the bottom that you seldom need, like emergency tubes and tools, then close off the divider to keep handy more frequently needed items, like snacks or gloves.

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The VX33 fabric, woven originally for sailcloth, is thin and stiff. While the material is waterproof, the bag doesn’t have any extra waterproofing features, because in most cases water resistant is good enough, and if true waterproofness is needed, it would result in a much heavier and complicated bag.

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Right now all Becker framebags are made-to-order specifically for each customer. Becker said he does plan to offer stock sizes in the near future, as well as some other gear when the new Becker Gear website launches. He also offers some other interesting bags such as a massive top tube bag and a bag that hangs under the down tube making the most of some unused space.

Becker built this frame bag for my Salsa Mukluk and when we started the process, I used a large piece of cardboard to map out exactly where the bottle eyelets, front derailleur, and other accessories were located so none of the straps would interfere. As a result it fits perfectly and allows me to continue to use the bottle cage bolts below the down tube, attach a top tube feed bag, etc.

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I frequently use the main compartment to carry a 3 liter water bladder, with the house routed up through a slit at the top of the bag. There is also a slit at the top rear, though Becker said no one uses it (including myself) so he’s going to discontinue it. Inside along the thin, frame-facing panels you’ll also find straps to hang a hydration bladder, strap in a pump or mount whatever other goodies you’d like to keep handy.

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The zippers are massive YKK units that look like they’ll hold up to some abuse. As the weakest part of the bag they are usually the first thing to fail but so far so good. Unlike some other designs, the front of the bag doesn’t swell out wider and occasionally I so overstuffed the thing that I couldn’t close the zipper, but I likely just need to bring less crap.

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I’ve also used it on a few other bikes and it has fit extremely well even on bikes that it wasn’t designed for.

When you buy a Becker Gear bag, you’re becoming part of a community. Like it says right on the website, “You won’t be able to buy a thing here without talking to someone.” It means you’re going to get exactly what you want and there’s almost no chance of misunderstandings. All at a competitive price.

“There are a lot of advantages to being small,” Becker said.

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Correction

An earlier version of this story listed an incorrect location for Becker Gear. It is based in Fairbanks.

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