Saturday, March 28, 2009

Different Bicycles are built for Different Purposes.

"Always go hard and fast enough so that when you hit the ditch you can pull out the other side."
—J. Paycheck

Well, Mr. Paycheck had his strategies, but we rather prefer avoiding a dip in the drink in the first place by practicing a more modest and civilised pace—the better to enjoy the unfolding panorama and fragrances that Springtime brings to the English countryside in stylish comfort from the saddle on our handbuilt Pashley. With all due respect to Mr. Paycheck, we'll quietly venture around the ditch. After all, the quickest way from point "A" to "B" is not always the best—Pashley owners never forget this.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Guarding against Bike Theft

Rita Coolidge said, "Many of us have heard opportunity knocking at our door, but by the time we unhooked the chain, pushed back the bolt, turned two locks, and shut off the burglar alarm--it was gone." Never let fear spoil your bike trip.

Some people
never take
While theft is a legitimate fear, there are usually much bigger concerns on any bicycle journey. Obviously, in high crime areas you should not leave your bike unattended, and these areas are best avoided unless no alternative exists to your objective. My experience from over thirty-five years in the bike business is that the overwhelming number of stolen bicycles are stolen when left unlocked. The environs of certain bike theft zones, like NYC and Boston, certainly being exceptions but with good locks millions of cyclists park their bikes and find them where they left it when they return every day.

Bike theft can be a problem anywhere, and bikes priced well into four digits USD are not unusual nowadays. Locking it where you can keep and eye on it, and asking shopkeepers, waitstaff and others to "please keep an eye on it" while you attend to the needful will go a long way (it is nice to travel with a pal sometimes). When exploring a new environ, a local bike shop will typically be glad to store your bike for a few hours. I always buy supplies when visiting a local shop, as a practical token of good-will.

Even a minimally loaded touring bike (especially one with drop bars) is not much of a theft target compared to a shiny new department store mountain bike. Even a stupid thief is going to figure that the owner is close by a bike loaded with gear, and how wise is it to tangle with a hundred-mile per day cyclist fresh off a break? A good lock used religiously (I know it is a pain) will go a long way to preserving your bike.

Asian model

A theft-proof lock is of no value if it is too cumbersome for you to engage consistently while traveling. One solution is a type of frame lock that, while de rigueur in Europe and Asia, has not caught on yet in the United States. This lock conveniently mounts on the seat stays, and quickly secures the bike by means of a rectractable circular shaft that immobilizes the rear wheel, preventing "ride off" thefts. For additional security, a simple vinyl coated wire-rope can be looped around a bike rack, through your helmet, pannier loops and frame and finally secured to the same shaft. We carry a very nice German made model. Should you venture to the Far East, you can pick up the less beefy Asian equivalent for spare change on many urban street corners.

An empty holster slung over the handlebars and a conspicuously discarded Winchester box can send a message too.

"If I had only known,
I would have
been a locksmith."
—A. Einstein

Take valuables with you and keep a stash of emergency cash and credit cards in more than one spot. A burn wallet with your daily cash needs is a good idea when venturing into a place where you might be robbed by confrontation. Being bike-less and penniless in a strange town is much worse than being just bike-less.

There is always insurance--renters, homeowners, special sports equipment or travel policy. Mark sure it is a replacement cost policy. Insurance companies have tables that will make anything purchased yesterday worth nothing when you file a claim--the miracle of voodoo depreciation. Make sure it covers your gear too, as gear might exceed the cost of the bike. Find out details of how to file a claim, and the conditions and meet them, before your trip, not after.

As Jenny Jones of London Parliament says, "Part of the joy of cycling is the ability to stop off where you want, nip into a shop, have a quick coffee and do all those little things along your route that are more awkward when traveling by bus, Tube or cab."

Friday, March 6, 2009

Keys to Winter survival, in style!

It has been said that nobody can drive you crazy unless you give them the keys. That's probably true, but if ol' man winter is working away at your wits, you won't be the first the first cyclist to seek sanity cycling south to the Florida Keys.

I recommend it highly. I did two January trips from Raleigh, North Carolina to Key West, Florida years ago, with a buddy. We had the luxury of nice touring bikes with full fenders, lights etc.. We carried No Panniers whatsoever. On the first trip, days one and two saw us through a sleet storm, and I don't believe the temperature ever got above freeing until day three. Not my favorite conditions, but with head-to-toe raingear and stylish gallon-sized zip-lock bags duct taped over both feet and hands, we more than doubled our first days mileage--from 65 to 140 miles--even with the short winter days.

I must admit I have done lightly loaded trips before in remote areas without camping gear where I was pressing for an overnight hotel--in retrospect, I feel like that was a mistake. Often the Inn would be out of easy reach at the end of the day (very good and redundant lights are always a good idea when you ride with me) or simply full. Even back then, I would rarely consider a long trip like this without some emergency camping gear, yet this was one of those times. The weather was horrible for camping, as the rain never stopped until the day we reached Florida proper.

While we did not stay in a tent on these trips, we did carry one and were prepared to use it. Because we were changing climates as we rode south, and we intended on exploring Key West for a few days upon arrival, we shipped season-appropriate clothing and some supplies to the Homestead, FL bus station. We arrived at the station after they had closed for the day, and made the pleasure of their acquaintance when they unlocked the door the next morning. We exchanged longs for shorts, winter for summer, and sent the winter clothes homeward-bound in the same box via Greyhound.

Bike theft is a problem anywhere, and bikes priced well into four digits USD are not unusual nowadays. Locking it where you can keep and eye on it, and asking shopkeepers, waitstaff and others to "please keep an eye on it" while you attend to bodily functions will go a long way (It's nice to travel with a pal sometimes). I have found when exploring a new place that a local bike shop will typically be glad to store your bike for a few hours. I always buy supplies when visiting a local shop, as a practical token of good-will.

The biggest threat to your bike in the Keys is salt air and salty/sandy soil. Keep your bike clean, and wash it with soap, fresh water and a "brush" often--maybe a couple of times per week, with an immediate (do not wait) disassembly and thorough cleaning upon your return. UV rays can damage exposed carbon fiber clear epoxy resin causing it to flake off exposing the structure to moisture and eventual delamination. Before departure, clean the frame well and touch up any gaps in the epoxy coating (some are painted). After drying for a couple of days, wax the frame very well and enjoy!

Carrying your Gear: I usually toe-strap bagged tent poles (and pegs) to the frame. It allows much flexibility in placement of the tent. I will that say that, while people do this all the time, tying gear to the bars really can interfere with hand placement (i.e.: comfort), and STI gear levers usually get in the way. Much better to use a good bar bag for this. Sometime using longer cables on the STI brifters will allow room for a bigger bag.

Actual frame size matters. A small frame has little room for big bags, front or rear, sadly. Some people think it is too big, but I use (and sell in our shop) the Carradice Camper saddle-rear mounted bag. A big bag like this is easier to load, and saves lots of time when setting up and breaking camp. Some of their other seatpost bags are also generously sized and remove quickly as well. Bring a good sleeping pad for the Keys; the campsites I found are on coral rock and very firm.

Our website has links and articles on ultralight touring and camping that might be helpful in your planning. Enjoy your trip, and I hope the wind and weather are favorable.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Northwest Audax through the Pennines

The late February weekends in Manchester England bring temps in the 40°Fs (ideal for a brisk bike ride) and Noel Healey's annual "North-West Passage" 200km—a classic route taking in a loop of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cumbria with "Free pie and peas for finishers."

England is hardly a mountainous country—few peaks climb to 3000 feet, but those that approach that height are found in this region. The Pennines, often called the "Backbone of England," separate greater Manchester from Yorkshire and extend into southern Scotland. All in all making for a great opportunity for an Englishman to stretch his legs while scaling the lumpy bits of the North, where they say, "Audax: It's NOT a race—It's meat & drink."

Press coverage of the 2009 event in the Rochdale Observer article, "The long and winding road," from which the snap, at right, was appreciatively lifted.

Frank Kinlan rides the 120km mini to keep trim and provides a sat-nav track ( [ Bikely ] )

Monday, March 2, 2009

RE favors the VAR wishbone

"We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire…Give us the tools and we will finish the job."
—W. L. Churchill

When your tire does weaken and falter, RandonneurExtra recommends that you make life easier by making the VAR tool your bead jack of choice for removing and fitting tyres of all sizes.

You'll handily finish the job in time for tea, for as Sir Churchill said,
"Difficulties mastered are opportunities won."