Saturday, October 20, 2012

Bicycle Touring Pro - How To Plan Your Next Bicycle Touring Adventure

Bicycle Touring Pro - How To Plan Your Next Bicycle Touring Adventure:

'via Blog this'

Check out Darran Alf's new web site and his current adventures cycling across eastern Europe.
I just got my new Trek Wahoo 29er (2012). My first impressions are good, its quite a long bike but the geometry is stable at speed over rough ground, which is one of the 29ers main points. It shifts really well through the 24 gears.

2012 Trek Wahoo 29er
I have heard some comments about the saddle being uncomfortable and I can see where they come from. This is never an issue for me but it is one of the less comfortable saddles I have used.

The suspension is good in compression but if feels like the rebound damping is too soft and not progressive, but I guess it doe a good job of holding the terrain.

The discs brakes also feel fairly weak although they are still bedding in.

I have wanted this bike for some time and prefer the 2012 color scheme to the 2013 version. I would recommend this bike as an entry level 29er having most of the main components that you would want for a pretty good price.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

An Interview with Darren Alff

Darren Alff of Bicycle Touring Pro is one of the most well known people involved in Bicycle touring. Darren inspired me to go on my first bike tour so it is an honor that he agreed to give me an interview for my blog.

Here is what I asked Darren and what he had to say

Q. How did you get into Bicycle Touring?
A. I was in my senior year of high school when I first learned about bicycle touring. As I was preparing to graduate, I began to think about what my life might be like after high school. I had already been accepted to a University and had plans to work in the film industry after that, but I was fearful that high school and the summer before my first year of college might be my last opportunity to ever do something big, crazy and fun with my life. It was during this time that I decided I was going to ride my bicycle from Oregon to Mexico, down the California Coastline - a distance of just over 1,000 miles. So, bicycle touring was that big, crazy, fun thing I was going to do before going off to college. I figured it would be a once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing - something I would do once and look back on for years to come as a symbol of my youth. But as it turns out, bicycle touring has become a regular and on-going part of my life. 

Since my first long-distance bicycle tour in the summer of 2001, I've gone on a similar or longer bicycle touring adventure each and every year. As of this writing, I have been bicycle touring on and off for almost 11 years. I've cycled across 29 of the 50 United States and pedaled across dozens of countries all around the world. I had no idea that that one little bike trip down the California coastline when I was 17 years old would change my life so drastically, but that is exactly what it has done... and I so happy it worked out that way. 

Q. What is the longest tour you have been on? (both in distance and duration)
A. To be honest, I stopped keeping track of the distances I've cycled a long time ago. I stopped keeping track of the distances for two reasons.
1) I found that riding with an odometer drove me crazy when I was on the bike. With the odometer fastened to my handlebars I would constantly be looking down at the thing to see how far I had gone, only to discover that I had not gone nearly as far as I had hopped. So after less than three years of cycling with an odometer, I ditched the thing and I haven't looked back. I enjoy the cycling experience so much more now that I'm not keeping track of the distances I've covered.

2) Secondly, I realized that I no longer cared about how far I had traveled. After you ride a few thousand miles on your bicycle, everything after that is just another number. Even when other people ask me how far I've traveled, telling them I've ridden 10,000 miles vs. telling them I've ridden 20,000 miles usually gets the same response - "Wow!"

To answer your question however, my longest non-stop bicycle tour to date was a 9-month trip through Europe in 2009, during which I cycled through 17 different countries (Switzerland in the winter, Croatia in the Spring, and Greece in the summer). Over the past 11 years I have probably cycled close to 50,000 miles, but I have no idea how accurate that estimate really is. Today I don't really care so much about the distances I'm covering, but instead, care more about the experiences I have along the way. While I used to ride 50-100 miles in a single day, my more recent bike trips have me covering much shorter distances (10-40 miles per day) so that I have more time to stop along the way, explore the local areas I am passing through, talk with other people, take photos, learn about the local history, etc. 

Q. Which is your favorite bike tour of all you have done?
A. My first bicycle tour down the California Coastline is probably my favorite bicycle tour, just because the experience at the time was so new and exciting. When I reached the US/Mexico border at the end of that trip, I felt such a sense of accomplishment, and it was this sense of accomplishment that has made me come back to bicycle touring each and every year since. 

That said, I am enjoying my more recent bike trips in a totally different way. Because I've slowed down a lot and I now tend to spent more time off the bike than on it, I am now experiencing a new type of bicycle travel. While my original tours were about covering the longest distance possible in the shortest amount of time, my more recent tours are more about going to places I am interested in, learning new languages, combining my bike trips with other hobbies, meeting new people, etc. So while I enjoyed my first few bicycle tours for what they were, I am realizing now that I prefer a much slower pace - a pace that allows me to use my bike travels as a way of actually learning about and experiencing the world in a new and interesting way. 

Q. What is your best and worst moment on a bike tour?
A. The best moments on my travels are hard to explain. Usually, the best moments happen when you least expect them and in places that are not necessarily anything to write home about. Most of my favorite bicycle touring experiences occur when I am alone, coming around a bend in the road or climbing to the top of a huge mountain pass, and something just comes over me where I realize just how happy I am to be out there on the road.

Other best moments, however, have occured when I meet strangers during my travels and they invite me into their home or life for a while, and I get to see how these people live. From the outside, it can sometimes look like everyone in the world leads very similar lives, but it isn't until you are invited into someone's home and are able to spend some time with them that you get to truly see how different people can be.  I've met a lot of people on my travels, but a few of these people are responsible for changing my outlook on the world and motivating me in ways they will never know.

I have had a few bad things happen to me over the years on my travels, but I've never been seriously, never crashed my bike, never been robbed or had anything like that occur. Most of the bad stuff that happens on a bicycle tour is on your own head - thoughts of inadequacy, not being able to finish what you started, loss of motivation, etc.

However, my worst bicycle touring experience happened in the summer of 2002 when I quit my bicycle tour while cycling through the middle of Wyoming. It was my second long-distance bicycle tour and I was riding and old clunker of a bicycle. The bicycle had, in fact, been run over by a van the previous year, and I had done my best to hammer the bike out and fix it back up as best I could before using it on my second long-distance bicycle tour. Using this old, junky bicycle was a huge mistake, however, because it ultimately caused me to stop my trip early and go home. The bike was a piece of junk, had a number of problems with it, and made a horrible amount of noise when I was riding it, but despite all this, I had been able to pedal the thing more than 1,000 miles across the center of the United States. By the time I reached Wyoming, however, I could go no further.

After letting the bike squeak and coast the bottom of a large hill, I toppled over onto my side and lay on the ground, with the bike on top of me, for nearly 15 minutes. Several cars and trucks passed by, but none stopped to see if I was okay or if I needed any help. I was emotionally finished! After 15 minutes of just laying there and weeping, I realized that my trip was over. The bike was done. I was emotionally done. It was time to go home.

On the bus ride home I told myself I would never do another bicycle tour that was longer than 2 weeks in length. But the following summer I bought a new bicycle and went on my longest bicycle tour ever (a trip from North Carolina to Maine), and fell in live with bicycle touring all over again. Almost all of my bicycle tours since then have been more than 2 weeks long.

I'm still a bit mad at myself for quitting that second bicycle trip so early, but I now realize the importance of having quality equipment when conducting an adventure of this kind. 

Q. What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone for their first bike tour?
A. For many first-time bicycle travelers, it is the goal of riding a certain distance that motivates them the most. While riding a certain number of miles/kilometers on a bicycle tour is a good goal to have, the people who have the most success with bicycle touring tend to have other motivations outside of the distances they cover each day. This is why many cyclists who travel for years on end tend to care less about the total distances they have covered and instead care more about combining their cycle touring expeditions with other interests, activities, hobbies, and passions. 

The longer you choose to travel (or the bigger your goal in life), the more you will realize the need for a true inner flame - something that resonates with you to the point that when things get tough, you don’t just give up and go home, but instead, press on toward that one big thing that has been pushing you from the start. 

In other words, there has to be some kind of meaning behind your bicycle tour, in just the same way there has to be meaning behind any big goal you set for yourself in life. The bigger the goal you set, the more motivation you need in order to make that dream come true. Wanting to reach the finish line is fine, but having a reason for wanting to reach the finish line in the first place is even more important.

Q. What could you not do without on a bike tour?
A. My camera is the one thing I could no longer do without on my travels. Now that I run a website about bicycle touring, my camera has become a million times more important to me than it was on my first few bicycle tours. My camera and the photographs I now produce are my way of bringing others along with me on my travels. While my original bicycle tours were for me and me along, my more recent trips by bike are also for the thousands of people who read my website each and every month. I carry the camera for me, but I mainly carry it for them. These people are now a big part of my motivation behind my more recent bicycle touring adventures. Without my camera, the motivation for me to go on a bicycle tour of any length would be a whole lot less. 

Q. Where is your next bike tour going to be?
A. I am currently at home and not traveling at the moment (I am preparing to spend the winter skiing at Deer Valley ski resort in Park City, Utah), but I do have plans for another big bicycle tour in 2012. While nothing is nailed down just yet, the plan is to spend approximately 3 months cycling through Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Belarus, and Poland (with most of my time spent in Poland). I went to Poland in 2007 on my first European bicycle tour, but I want to use this upcoming trip to go back and see as much of Poland as I possibly can. I plan to go pretty much everywhere while I am in the country. Poland has not only recently become a part of the European Union, but it is a growing political, economic, and artistic power and I want to learn as much about the place, the people, the lifestyle as I can. 

I have some other plans for 2012 as well, which will hopefully include some cycling in Africa (and maybe even a few other parts of the world), but we will see. I am never short on ideas for where to go next with my bike!

Q. What is the best piece of equipment or clothing for a bike tour?
A. When it comes to bicycle touring, there are few things you REALLY need. For me, the most important pieces of gear are:

1. Your bicycle
2. Your shoes
3. Your camera.

Everything else is not nearly as important.

There are so many different panniers, tents, sleeping bags, camp stoves, etc to choose from. But in the end, the stuff doesn't really matter all that much. These things are just the tools you use to make your cycle touring dream come true. It is the experience itself that is most important. While having quality stuff can certainly help to make your bicycle tour a bit easier on you, it isn't the stuff that really matters.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Wild Antelope Charges Mountain Biker in South Africa

Evan van dur Spuy of team Team Jeep got a nasty surprise when on a race in South Africa where a wild antelope charged him and took him out. In the video you can see why you wear a helmet.

This definitely ranks up there in extreme things that can happen while riding a bike.

World Record beating 100 year old runner!

100 Year old runner - Fauja Singh
OK, so this has nothing to do with cycling or bike tours in any way but I think it definitely qualifies as extreme so I had to post this. I read an article about Fauja Singh on Sky News

Fauja is a 100 year old (yes you read that right) runner who holds world records in his age category and is looking to gain a new world record in the Toronto marathon. He already holds world records in sprint events.

This guy is an inspiration and should go down in history as a legend. I can only hope that I firstly reach his age and secondly that I am still fit and active at that age.

This reminds me of a mentality I try and use about not giving up and I get the inspiration from Henry Ford - "He who stops learning whether at 20 or 80 is old". That is pretty profound but I think it is also very true and I try and employ that when biking long distances when my body just wants to give up and my mind is also trying to make me do the same.

Read more about Fauja Singh and his records on Sky News.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Carerra Crossfire 1 - Review

Carerra Crossfire 1
This bike got me into bicycle touring in a big way. Before this bike I had a Muddyfox which was just used to get around on.

I highly recommend the Carerra Crossfire 1, it is extremely good value and has some nice features on it. It is versatile and can be used on and off road. It is mainly a hybrid type commuter bike for road and trail riding.

I like the twist grip gear shifters as these are good for long distance. I have noticed that one of the shifters appears to have some play in it after 6,000 or so miles but it still functions well.
Carerra Crossfire 1 - Kitted out ready for a bike tour

The tires that it comes with are decent but are no longer available. I have since fitted Schwalbe marathon plus tires to the bike which are excellent! Punctures are now a thing of the past!

The standard chainset has an extremely high ratio 1st gear for steep hills which is very useful.

The crank, free wheel and both wheel bearings started to show wear after a few thousand miles and needed replacing.

This bike is very comfortable for long distances, the saddle is a large soft padded item with its own suspension. This coupled with the front suspension that takes out jolts from the road make it a very easy bike to go on long distances with. The riding position is also very good with adjustable bar height and position.

In summary, this bike is pretty well built, uses adequate equipment, is extremely good value and is very comfortable. All of this makes it an ideal entry level touring bike.
A Review of the Careera Crossfire 1 from Halfords

Friday, October 7, 2011

Cycling and Wild Camping or Stealth Camping

Many people are put off by the thought of wild camping and not having serviced facilities readily available. But the truth is wild camping opens up a world of possibilities and represents true freedom when travelling, particularly by bike but also when on foot.

Campsite in the Swiss Alps
There are a few things to consider before you go wild camping. Some countries have laws that specifically prohibit wild camping where as other countries such as Scotland have the free to roam act.

The essence of wild camping and in particular stealth camping is to leave no trace that you were ever there and to be hidden from passers by. The aim is to be completely out of sight from civilization and completely self sufficient.

What to look for in a wild / stealth camp site
  • Close to a water source such as a stream or river
  • Away from a road and track
  • Wooded or high over growth area
  • Hillside
Close to a water source

In the woods, close to a stream - what a sunset!
Water is the most important thing you will need while doing any kind of wild travelling. If you can make sure that you take several bottles of water with you. You will need water for drinking. cooking and cleaning. You don't want to have to walk too far to go and fill up a water bottle of wash out your pots and pans.

If you have to use a stream or river for drinking water it is advisable to boil this first to make sure that it is sterilized. You can let the water cool down and then drink it later. When you stop and set up camp it is a good idea to make sure that your drinking water sources are replenished.

Away from a road and track

When locating a wild camp site you need to scan the area for suitable locations. These will usually be away from any road and track. Very often, when cycling you will need to leave your bike and go and explore an area before deciding to take your bike to your chosen spot.

You ultimately develop a good eye for what works but the main aim is to find somewhere where you won't be seen or disturbed.

Wooded or high over growth area

Shelter in a very wet Sctoland
A wooded area is a really good place to find a wild camp site because it is sheltered, usually away from any roads and also obscures vision. A wooded area can also provide aids in setting up a camp or shelter, providing a washing line to dry out clothes etc. 

Also, if you are far enough from any civilization you can collect wood that you use to make a fire with. Usually though when wild camping and making a fire it is best to use a gas burner as they don't make any smoke and give away your whereabouts.

Areas with a lot of over growth mean that not a lot of people go there and also provide a lot of cushioning to lie on. I don't take a ground mat, pillow or any other form of sleeping aid other than a sleeping bag. I just find the softest patch of ground that I can.


A hillside with a lot of overgrowth
Hill sides are a good place to find a wild campsite because they provide shelter from wind and keep you hidden from view. Most roads usually go round hillsides too. If you scout out a good place on a ledge up on a hill side you might find that you can't die your bike to it. This probably means it is a good spot but you will have to carry your bike up or down a ledge and you may need to use rope or bungee cords to lower it or fix it in a suitable place.

I always lock my bike to something just in case but if you have done it right nobody will find you anyway. I usually consider the best way to make a fast get-away not that I have ever needed to (apart from one incident where I left a construction site 15 minutes before work started there). It makes sense to walk around your camp site and know where your exits are, just in case.

Other things to consider

Being away from civilization does not mean it will be quiet, nature comes alive at night! On that note, when you are off the beaten track and in over growth there can be a lot of bugs and insects!

Also, if you can, make sure someone knows the rough area you are going to and the route you plan on taking. This does somewhat take the fun out of it but it is sensible to let people know these things.

Always take any trash with you, I always designate a plastic bag for garbage and then dispose of it in the appropriate place when I come across it later on.

Wild camping can be fun and is way more free than going to an organized camp site whether pre booked or not.