Cycling Along The Way...

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Silver City, NM, United States
Riders of the wheel. Racers, Roadies, Mountain bikers, Touring cyclists, Commuters, and others. Diamond frames, recumbents, trikes, and more. Sharing a web of connections often misunderstood or unappreciated by those who don't ride. Herewith, my attempt to share some of the more rational thoughts that flit around inside my head while bicycling, knocking back a brew or three, or just thinking about life. Reviews of bicycles, gear, touring, and more, plus some unsolicited posts about people, politics, and philosophy. Other things, too. Me: retired, gave up my TV in 1988, avid cyclist, several cross country tours completed with more to come. Your thoughts?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

BICYCLE TOURING: The Bicycle And All Its Parts

Heart and soul.  Me and the bike.  To truly appreciate bicycle touring,  it's necessary to understand that the bicycle is the "heart" of bicycle touring.  The rider is the "soul".  I've met several cyclists who have used a road bike for touring, but the true touring bicycle is a different beast.  And a better one.  For touring anyways.  To start with, the geometry is very distinct.  Longer wheelbase (hub to hub) with a more upright position for the rider.  The touring bicycle is also able to be fitted with wider tires that provide more comfort than the skinny tires of a road/racing bicycle.  Additionally, the frame has eyelets that allow for the attachment of racks to carry panniers where the cyclist can store gear, clothing, food, etc.  With the onslaught of mountain biking in the late 20th century, road and touring bicycles took a serious hit for a while.  Going into most bike shops at the pinnacle of mountain biking, you'd have been hard pressed to find a selection of road bikes and probably minimal to no touring bicycles.  Now, thanks primarily to Lance Armstrong, road bikes have a pretty equal presence in most bike shops.  Touring bicycles remain the oddity in most shops.  But they exist and there are some damn good ones out there.

Bruce GordonWaterfordRivendellJamisRaleighSurly Long Haul Trucker.  At this point, it's good to point out that there are production touring bikes and there are hand built beauties.  The production touring bicycle will cost significantly less than the hand built touring bike.  And, for most touring wannabes, the production bike is quite good enough for their needs.  The hand built touring bicycles provide a quality far superior in looks and components, in most cases, but aren't necessarily "better" for touring.  Sort of like having a Chevy truck or a Porsche truck.  Both get the job done.  One's just a tad more stylish than the other.  In touring bicycles, you can buy a Porsche.  Ok, it's not a Porsche, but it could be a Bruce Gordon.  Or a Rivendell Atlantis.  Or a Waterford.  Gotta stop drooling here.  If you're serious about touring, save up the cash and buy a hand built touring bicycle.  You won't regret it.  Bicycles, when treated well, last a long time.  My Vitus and my Cannondale are both more than 25yrs old.  And they're in great shape.  And they're production bicycles.  Take some time and go check out both.  If you're looking for a good, off the shelf, production touring bicycle, check out the Surly Long Haul Trucker.  Truly amazing, in my opinion.  For about $1500, you can have a complete touring bicycle that can handle the load and the road.  Buying a bicycle is personal.  Buy one you like.  You'll ride it more often.  And don't rule out a used touring bicycle.  They hold up well and last.  Be sure to have your local bike shop check it out for you.  You won't regret spending the cash on a good bike...hand built or production.

Now, for some details:  wheels (rims/spokes/hubs/tires), racks, saddles, stem, handlebars, shifter or bar ends, components.  Some more straight up and straight forward thoughts from yours truly...
  • SADDLES: An important subset of "bicycle" is what you plant your ass on.  Again, this is personal and everyone seeks different levels of comfort.  What one cyclist loves, another despises.  My true love is Brooks saddles.  Read my post about Brooks saddles. Try them out.  If there's a saddle you like and it works for you, pay no attention to anyone else.  It's your ass.
  • WHEELS (rims, spokes, hubs, tires):  These are critical.  If you're pulling a trailer, you can get away with rims, spokes, hubs, and tires that aren't specifically designed to carry any more weight than the rider.  With panniers, buy good rims and tires.  Compass tiresSchwalbe tires.  Good choices, but not the only ones.  I presently have Vittorio Randonneur tires on my Cannondale ST-800.  As for rims, I use Velocity Dyad rims, 36 spoke, front and rear.  For carrying weight and minimizing concerns about broken spokes, check out rims designed for touring.  And use heavier duty spokes.  Talk to your local bike shop, but be wary there...lots of those guys are bike jocks and ride racing bikes.  Not the best to be talking to about touring.  Ask about mountain bike spokes.  Now, you're in the ballpark.  Hubs are another thing to pay attention to.  Shimano makes excellent hubs for touring.  If you're interested in some of the crown jewels of touring hubs, check out Phil Wood and White Industries.   These are hubs that you'll have to put in your will to give to your grandchildren, they're that good and that durable.  I have a set of Phil Wood hubs that I purchased in 1987.  Here's a website on wheels to get you started.
  • COMPONENTS:  Jesus, this is where stuff gets thick.  There are so many components out there that this is a difficult one to get into.  Let it serve whatever purpose to say, I use Shimano components.  Why?  I've always used Shimano.  Good enough answer?  Well, not really, but it's the only one I have.  There are a few good component companies, so get what you like.  A triple crank up front is really imperative, in my opinion.  I use a 26/36/48 tooth triple chainring.  I have a 9spd cassette in the rear...11-34 teeth.  Climbing up mountains for 10, 15, or 20+ miles can be hard.  Be kind on yourself.  Some use a single chainring with an internal rear hub, but that gets fairly costly, so, unless you're a serious, around the world tourer, other less expensive options will do.
  • HANDLEBARS/STEM:  For touring, I prefer an upright position versus the downward slant of a racing bike.  In order to look around at all that beautiful countryside you're bicycling through, being upright helps.  I use Nitto Noodle bar and a Nitto Dirt stem.  Again, lots of options.  Nothing is really better than anything else.  And, no, you don't have to worry too much about weight.  I mean, after all, you'll be carrying about 40-50lbs of gear on the bike, so what difference do a few ounces make?
    Nitto Noodle Handlebar
Nitto Dirt Stem
  • SHIFTERS, BRIFTERS, AND BAR ENDS:  My nephew swears by bar end shifters.  I prefer the shifters/brakes on the handlebar...a.k.a., brifters, as some call them.  I still call them shifters.  They're right at your fingertips.  Some want to add additional brake handles on the center of the handlebar, but I've found shifters/brifters to work just fine the way they're mounted.  The extra brake handles on the handlebars (called interruptors) will interfere with mounting a handlebar bag, lights, etc., and, in my opinion, aren't really necessary.  If they make you happy, be my guest.  Again, I use Shimano..again, because I've always used Shimano.  Doesn't mean they're the best, but they're damn good.
  • PEDALS:  There's no need for clip in pedals or for any straps to hold your foot to the pedal.  It's really a myth that's been perpetuated for decades that cyclists need to secure their feet to their pedals because they can go faster.  For touring, just pedaling is important.  Getting wherever you're headed to fast is of no real importance here.  Now, I've been using clip in pedals since I got serious about riding and I prefer them, but there's no real advantage.  I just like the way they feel.  Just a regular ol' pedal will suffice for riding your steed.  Some like the fact that they can move their feet off the pedals quickly in an emergency where it's important to use your feet to balance yourself or whatever.  I have Shimano M324 pedals that have the clip in side and a regular pedal side.
  • RACKS:  Some people insist that steel racks are the way to go.  Frankly, I'm not convinced unless you're on a world tour and you're going way the hell out of the way of civilization as I know it.  I've used Blackburn Mountain racks (front and rear) that I bought in 1987.  They still work.  Used them in 2010 going cross country.  If you have extra cash you want to spend for the latest in steel racks, whip out the wallet, dude/dudette, and spend away.  Just know it's not really critical.  I now have a Jandd Expedition rack for the rear.  It can carry up to 75lbs.  The front rack is the Jandd Extreme front rack that can carry 40lbs.  They're aluminum but they can hold more weight.  Do I need them to carry this much weight?  No, but it's nice to have the capacity if needed.
  • TIRES AND TUBES:  Another important factor, but the variety is endless.  If you've got a preference, go for it.  I use Schwalbe Marathon Plus and Vittorio Randonneur tires.  And I most definitely use Schwalbe tubes.  They seem to be the best of the lot.  When the Vittorio's wear out, I'll check out the Compass tires that has my nephew, John, drooling and raving about how great they are.
    • HOW MANY SHOULD I BRING?  I don't like fumbling around patching a tube while I'm out riding.  Take out the tube that's flat, throw in the new tube, pump it up, you're on your way.  On tour, I bring about 8 or more tubes.  At the end of the day, at camp or in a motel, I'll patch the tubes, so I'm set to go the next day.  As for tires, I bring one folding, touring tire just in case.  In 1988, I had a tire get completely sliced open by the base of a soda bottle.  Could not repair it.  So, put the spare on and bought another when I got to the next bicycle shop.
    • BRANDS:  Tubes...definitely Schwalbe.  I've not heard of any other tube that's better.  Tires...the list goes on and on.  Vittorio.  Continental.  Specialized.  Schwalbe.  Compass.  If there's a brand you like, that'll work.
    • REPAIR KITS:  I bring 3 or 4 on tours.  Around town, one or two will do.  That goo they put in tubes to repair small punctures?  Those strips to put between the tube and the tire?  Never used either of those.  On my last cross country tour, I had 4 flats in 3100 miles.  Talk to people who use them, perhaps give them a try, but they're not critical to a successful tour.
  • PUMPS VS. CO2 CARTRIDGE SYSTEMS:  I use both.  The CO2 is my backup system in case a pump breaks, which happened to me in Dodge City, KS, in 2010.  Of course, the pump was 23 yrs old.  Cheap pump!  Pumps last a long time, but having a backup system is important.  Being stuck in the middle of the world with no pump would suck.
  • FENDERS/NO FENDERS:  Since where I live is relatively dry, fenders have never been an item I considered worth buying/using.  And when I've been out touring and got caught in the rain, having fenders would really not have been that helpful to me.  The top of my Jandd rear rack has a top on it and I use a rear rack bag, both of which prevent rain/water from being sprayed up my back.  Shoe covers keep my feet dry if it's a prolonged rain or raining hard.  Others swear by fenders.  Your call. 
There's always more to be said about the bicycle, but I'll stop for now.  Another tune to exit with.  Neil Young, "Cowgirl In The Sand".  Enjoy...