Monday, June 14, 2010

Ultralite Touring Without a Corkscrew

Courtesy of Jim Foreman, who is pushing the envelope on this subject.

“During one of my treks through Afghanistan, we lost our corkscrew. We were compelled to live for several days on nothing but food and water.”
—W. C. Fields

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The C&O Towpath--its Not just for Mules anymore!

We periodically take small groups bike-camping on the C&O. Back in 2002, we made a 3½ day ride along what was the entire length back then, overnighting at the luxurious Red Rooster hostel in Paw Paw WV, tenting on the grounds of a hostel at Harpers Ferry, and finally tenting trailside on our final night. We rode Amtrak between Raleigh and DC.

We mostly rode our regular commute/touring/brevet bikes, e.g. Adrian's Koga-Miyata, Gilbert's Moulton, Sue's retro Raleigh Superbe, Mark's Trek (with oyster bucket panniers), Cheseley's Moulton etc.. Pieter rode his sturdy Dutch Gazelle cruiser.

Henry and Roger arrived at camp ahead of us and biked into town in search of food.
"We found a bar but was too dark inside to see your own hand if you held it up in front of your face! Through the smoke we heard voices making bets on the upcoming shooting competion:
'I'll bet my glock 'gainst yer 9mm…'
Next, we found a lady coming out of a church and asked where we could eat. She looked at us like were crazy and asked, 'Eat? In THIS town?!?'

If you go, watch out for:
  • ticks,
  • poison ivy,
  • high water,
  • sticks through your spokes (sent one in our party to the hospital, to get his head sewn shut), and
  • large beaver darting across the trail at night in the rain.

A related anecdote about the Red Rooster proprieters:
Shirley says that J.D. is the only man in town with a city ordinance written specifically against him -- when he was a teenager he used to fly down the mountain and through town on his bicycle and raise the ire of the local "Barney Fife". He had a salvaged Buick steering wheel welded onto the stem of his Sting-Ray and ol' Barney got the town council to pass a regulation against equipping bicycles with automotive steering wheels.
Years later, after J.D.'s old filling station was wrecked by a flood, he hit on the idea to reopen as a hostel, much to the benefit of all users of the C&O towpath.

FYI, Our self-imposed bike-camping rules:
  • no complaining.
  • no spitting, outside of competitions.
  • no cell phones.
  • no asking directions.
  • no sudden stops.
  • no mean drunks.
  • no gunfire after sunset.
  • always call the pocket before shooting.
  • no peeing on the campfire.
  • no flossing.
  • no billy joel.
  • no counting your money while you're sitting at the table.
  • no canned sardines.
  • no wooden shoes.
  • no nitrous.
  • no doubling back--we go forward and find a new route.
  • no making eye contact with anyone at the battleburger eatery. Particulary the owner.
  • no rain gear--skin is waterproof.
  • no fighting with the railroad men.
  • no blaming your parents (even if they did lock you in the glovebox at age two)
  • no salvaging firewood from nearby archaeological digs
  • no watering down the whiskey.
  • no stiffing the waitress.
  • when executing dangerous stunts, no fair peeking.
  • no drinking the sterno.
  • no baklava without coffee.
  • all bets are final on handshake, to be paid in full by sunset.
no rules for ladies.
Lord, preserve us and protect us;
we've been drinking whiskey for breakfast.
—Mike Cross

Friday, June 11, 2010

Don't buy Tiresome Hype

Few who study Artaud realize that when he advised, "Don't tire yourself more than need be," he was referring to heavy bicycle tires. Don't let the puncture-proof hype trick you into loading down your wheels with overweight tires. Even the heaviest tires get flats. If not in the tread, then the rim or spokes, valve hole or sidewall.

On really hot days, I have had some small-wheel ( They dissipate heat poorly ) valves melt out of the tube! Usually, this happened when parked in the sun after miles of riding on hot pavement. What tire stops that? Embarrassing.

In my youth, we used to ride delicate sew-up racing tires on gravel covered mountain roads with no unusual amount of flats.

Few people know how to efficiently fix flats anymore. In the old glory days of profitable bike shops with large staffs we trained our customers to fix flats and do lots of routine maintenance when they bought a bike; for free. I had to lay those two guys off years ago, and now when we do maintenance classes I'm so busy I hire a paid "repair consultant" that people pay to see in action while I go back to work.

Bike clubs used to share repair information but now the clubs are generally small and clic-ey, not clubby like the old days.

A bike with lightweight wheels is a true joy to ride. Tires can be both durable and light. My favorite touring bike can use three different tires that, together, are lighter than one of the Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires--not that the Pluses don't have their place in remote areas and long distances on gravel roads or no roads. One thing to think about: Why spend the money on a lightweight bike if you are going to put several pounds of tires on it?

"I may be a living legend, but that sure don't help when I've got to change a
flat tire."

— Roy Orbison

Anyway folks, Get a rim, an old tire ( practice can be hard on tires ), some tire tools and a patch kit, then practice until you have no skin on your hands, wash up, repeat and develop confidence. When you ride with me, I fix your flats because I hate standing in the cold, or hot, or rain or snow while I watch people struggle. You only get one lesson from me, so observe well. Next time on the road, I wait up the road in a climate-controlled building for you to arrive with your new found self-sufficiency.

One tool tip: Some tire & rim combos are really tight; especially when the tire is new. A "Var Tire Tool" wishbone install jack is a small, easy-to-carry tire installer that allows you to get the tire bead on that last inch. If you can't find them easily, I sell and ship them all over the USA.