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?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

BICYLE TOURING: More Gear/Accessories To Think About

"Cats don't like riding on a bicycle...no matter how much duct tape you use." - Anonymous

Now, on to some items that are not absolutely required, but can make life more tolerable while on a bicycle tour.  Particularly if you end up on the road at night, on a rough stretch of ground to camp on, or need a band-aid.  Taking along extras, especially those things that make life better is an acceptable level of indulgence, but you don't need to bring a port-a-potty along, ok?
  • ELECTRONICS:  Stuff that tells you where you are, how far you've bicycled, or tells others where you are may not be critical, but can soothe some nerves for you and others.  Don't forget to bring the cables you'll need for charging these devices either.  Really sucks if you forget'em, eh?
    • CELL PHONE/SMARTPHONE:  Have one or the other with you.  Good way to keep in touch with loved ones, friends, etc., or to call ahead to a bike shop or motel, should the need arise.  Most places in America have cell phone coverage.  Certainly not everywhere, but most places do.
    • GPS DEVICE:  With new smartphones or GPS devices, riders can now have a clear idea of where they are.  Are these items needed?  Well, not really.  A regular ol' map will also tell you the same thing and cost a few bucks at most.  Not demeaning them.  Just realize that they're extras.  Garmin seems to have a fairly good supply of these for cycling.  Check them and others out.
    • SPOT DEVICE:  I bought a SPOT device before I left in 2010 on my cross country ride to Upstate New York.  My wife was happy that I had done so, for her ease of mind not mine.  Since purchasing one, however, I've enjoyed having one.  It keeps my wife happy when I'm out riding around here, where cell phone coverage can be iffy, at best, or when I'm out on a longer, overnight trip. 
      SPOT GPS Device
      Another plus, friends, family, and others can follow my ride by going to a website that displays a map with a little trail of dots which show where I've ridden and where I am.  At the end of the day, I can push one of the buttons that sends an email or text or both to my wife and others, letting them know I've finished riding for the day and I'm still ok.  It also has a 911 button that can be used in an emergency.  It sends data to a central office, which, in turn, will dispatch emergency help to your last known co-ordinates.  Very cool, in my opinion.  The newer models can connect via bluetooth to your smartphone and allows you to send text messages even if there's no cell phone coverage.  One of these days, I'll buy a smartphone.
    • BATTERIES/SOLAR CHARGER:  I bring the needed batteries for my devices when touring.  Unfortunately, some, like the SPOT, don't use a USB charging system, so it necessitates the carrying of batteries.  Not a serious pain because there are many stores along the way to resupply.  I prefer devices that use a USB recharging system.  For those devices, I use a solar charger.  Mine is an Amzer solar charger.  Look around online for a good price.
      Amzer Solar Charger
    • LIGHTS:  I'm a big fan of making myself very visible to drivers of motorized vehicles that can make cycling unpleasant.  Being seen is critical.  Being seen at night is very critical.  I just discovered a new, 60 lumens (don't be fooled by wattage...look for lumens, which tell you how bright the light is) taillight, the Serfas Superbright TL-60.  It's the brightest one on the market and you can buy it on Amazon for about $45, shipped.  When I toured in 2010, I used 5 Planet Bike Superflash Taillights.  And they were bright even in daylight.  The Serfas outperforms the Planet Bike taillights.  Early morning or evening, taillights are a good thing to use.  It's gets the attention of drivers, particularly in flashing mode.  I'll use the Serfas lights on my next tour.  Now, as for headlights, I don't have one, but there are many good models to be had.  Look around online and read some reviews..and pay attention to the lumens not the wattage.  I have a light that fits around my helmet or my head, depending on if I'm using it for riding a short distance at night or around a campsite.
  • GLOVES:  I use cycling gloves to protect my hands but a lot of riders don't.  This is a matter of choice for the rider.  After I've been touring for weeks, I find that gloves aren't needed...except to keep my hands warm.  My hands probably get toughened up after so long on the bike.  Long fingered gloves are good for those chilly mornings...and for rainy days.  I use wool.
  • SUNGLASSES:  Again, an item for riding that's personal.  I prefer to use sunglasses to protect my eyes from being hit with debris or foreign objects while cycling.  Whatever you like, go for it.
  • MIRROR:  Would you take the mirrors off your car and drive without them?  No.  Neither would I.  So, I use a mirror to help me see what's coming up behind me without having to turn my head around and see.  Personal preference, I'm sure, but it's also a safety device.  While turning your head, riders often turn the bicycle in the same direction unknowingly.  Your call.  Don't let someone call the use of a mirror stupid.  It's not.
  • COT:  Yes, a cot.  I bought a lightweight cot to use and I've not regretted carrying the extra weight.  For those times, when the ground surface is less than stellar for camping, this is a blessing in a small, lightweight package.  LuxuryLite Cot...the family owned company sold their basic cot to Cascade Designs, but the family site still sell extras for the cot.  The cot weighs 2lbs 12oz.  Not a problem to carry on a touring bicycle and delightful to sleep on.  These cost about $229.  Worth every penny.
    LuxuryLite UltraLite Cot
    LuxuryLite Cot
  • BIKE TOOLS:  Some basic tools here are important.  While riding around where you live, a basic tool may suffice, on the road, take some better equipment with you.  No point in futzing around with tiny tools.  Bring screwdrivers, pliers, allen wrenches, and other tools you know how to use.  Why bring a tool along that you don't know how to use?  Generally speaking, there are enough bike shops along the way to take care of bigger issues.  Take some classes on bike repair...learning how to do some repairs is a wise thing.  Like replacing a spoke.  You won't need a 50lb repair kit, but having tools that are easier to use than the tiny ones is worth it.  Your local bike shop wrench can help you figure out what you know, help you decide what you need, and what to leave at home.
  • STOVE/UTENSILS/POTS/PANS/SPICES:  If you're going to camp and do some cooking, say for breakfast and dinner, these are important to have.  Again, this is something you can look up online and decide what you might like to take along.  Like bike tools, you don't have to only bring along the tiny stuff.  You can bring along some items to make life easier for you while cooking.  What are those things?  Well, that's something you need to discover.  Knowing what you like is better than reading about what another rider likes to use.  I prefer a real fork, knife, spoon, spatula, etc.  They're easier to use and really don't add much weight.  Using the pan or pot for a plate is fine, if you're on your own.  Having a plate or bowl handy is good...again, not much weight.  Bringing a larger frying pan is good, too.  Some good compactable models are available.  And bring some salt, pepper, etc.  You don't have to eat boring food.  Buy a good stove that can use a multitude of fuels.  They're a tad more expensive but versatile in times where only gasoline might be available.
  • COFFEE/ESPRESSO MAKER:  One of the items that I'll take the next time I'm on an extended tour...an espresso maker.  Yep, you read that right.  An espresso maker.  Nothing beats a good espresso, particularly if you've ever had some that's available in towns where espresso is not considered an art form.  The one that I have my eye on is the Handpresso Wild Hybrid...use ground coffee or ESE pods.  Here's a video review of the Handpresso from a Seattle espresso shop.  Look online for a good price...they sell for about $129, but here's one for less. 
    HandPresso Wild Hybrid Espresso Maker
    Handpresso Hybrid Espresso Maker
    Now, you obviously don't need an espresso maker if you just want coffee.  There are some good French presses that are a combination press and cup all in one.  Here's one for $20.
    Bodum(R) Double-Wall 15-Ounce Thermal Plastic Travel Coffee and Tea Press with Tumbler Lid - Black
    Bodum 15oz French Press
  • EMERGENCY NEEDS:  You will want to have some basic medical stuff on the road.  There will be times when you'll need a band-aid, some aspirin, ibuprofen, betadine, tegaderm (a great thing to have should you have a serious scrape from a fall...clean the area and cover with one of these....you'll appreciate it.  It covers the wound and allows it to heal and protects the area from unneeded contact with clothes, etc.), and some vinegar.  Vinegar is a mild cleaner/disinfectant that you can use in water bottles to eliminate any strange colonies of weird shit that might be growing there.  Vinegar is good for an upset stomach, too...just in case your dinner doesn't settle right.  Not that you're a bad cook or anything. 
  • ODDS AND ENDS:  A reflective vest is worth having in your panniers in case you end up riding at night.  Yes, lights help, but the vest is bright in the headlights of vehicles.  Use wool  socks.  No, they're not too hot.  I use wool socks all year long...for cycling and for regular use.  My preference, thanks again to my nephew, John, are Darned Tough socks.  Indestructible and a lifetime guarantee.  How can you go wrong?  And they're made in Vermont.  They're a bit pricey, but look at the guarantee.  I've had my regular socks that I wear daily (when it's cold enough) for over two years.  Still holding up.  The other good part about wool....it doesn't take on  body (or foot) odors.  A wool cap to wear if it's cold while cycling or sleeping.  Easy to store in panniers.  Another item that's worthwhile to carry your other items in...waterproof compression bags.  Sea to Summit is the brand I use, but it's only one of several.  Compression sacks help condense your gear while in panniers or a trailer.  No sense in having your stuff strapped all over your bike.  Put it in a compression bag and put the gear in your panniers.  Get different colored ones so you'll know which bag has what gear in it.  Most importantly, make certain they're waterproof.  I know that the panniers may be waterproof, but the gear is not always going to be inside the panniers.  Having the waterproof bags allows you to remove gear from the panniers without getting them soaked.  Water resistant is NOT waterproof.  Period.  Alright, one last item...a camping towel.  Lots of companies make these and the prices vary.  Here's a Sea to Summit towel to look at.  Go to an outdoor store and check them out.
Ok, if I add anything more, you're gonna need a SAG wagon to carry all of this stuff.  Just kiddin'...  While all of this may seem like a lot, when you're on the road these are things that are necessary and the extras add a bit of joy to a campsite or to your life in general while touring.  Do you need to bring all of this along?  No.  Some touring cyclists do credit card touring.  Minimal clothing and gear and they sleep in motels every night.  Even for longer rides.  In 2010, while heading to Upstate New York, I met a guy who had a small rear rack bag with small panniers that were part of the rear rack bag and a handlebar bag....that was all.  Lightweight way to tour.  It goes from A to Z.  Only you can decide what you want to do.  Try it on for size with a group ride where they carry your gear.  Or do a group ride where you carry your gear but stay in motels or Inns each night.  Or a group ride where everyone carries all their gear and work together preparing meals, cleaning up, etc.  Adventure Cycling Association does all of these types of rides, as do other touring companies.  This is a good way to get some exposure to bicycle touring and to find out what trips your trigger.  Here's a list of Adventure Cycling Association tours...from self-contained to fully supported.  If you're not interested in all of that or in paying money to someone else, try a 24hr trip on your own in your own neck of the woods.  And go forward from there.  You just might like it.

Ok, a tune to exit with...Joni Mitchell singing "Help Me".  Just an incredible singer/songwriter that I have always enjoyed.  Hope you do, too.