14 Apr

[VIDEO] Un-Packing The Bikes

One of my goals for this trip is to do some more video, which won’t be hard because I’ve hardly done any at all!

What’s hard is actually doing it. I can’t tell you how long it took me to put this first, pathetic, creation together. I thank you if you manage to get through it. :)

All I can say is it has to get better from here. If you have any tips, tutorials, or lessons you can point me toward I would really appreciate it (and so will you once I get better!).

Anywhoo…we landed in London this week and unpacked the bikes…

07 Apr

6 Steps to Shipping a Bike

After spending the winter getting all our cycle gear together we had to figure out a way to get the bikes to our starting point in London, England.

There are basically two methods of shipping a bike; breaking it down and boxing it up, or sliding it into a bag. After researching both methods, and weighing the pros and the cons of each, we decided to go with the bagging method. Not only does it require less taking apart of the bike but there is a theory that if baggage handlers can see that it’s a bike then they will be more careful with it – plus they can’t be stacked like when they are in a box.

You can use any heavy duty plastic bag – it’s finding one that’s big enough that is the tough part. We found these at Wiggle.com and had them sent to us. They are quite a thick polyurethane and stand up well to baggage handling.

Packing them up turned out to be pretty easy.

Shipping a bikeProtect the derailleur. This isn’t a necessary step but we know from experience that derailleur hangers are easily bent and a bent derailleur can quickly derail a good day. :) It’s held on with just one bolt so comes off really easily. We then just wrapped it in bubble wrap and taped it to the frame for safe keeping.

shipping a bikeTurn the handlebars. Simply loosen the headset and turn the handlebars for a narrower profile. We also turned them under to protect them just a little more.

Shipping a bike.Reduce the tire pressure. This is an airline requirement. They don’t have to be flat – just take out enough air to allow for expansion in different air pressure environments.

Shipping a bike.Secure the front wheel. We taped the front tire to the frame just to stop it from wiggling about too much and make it a little easier to handle.

Shipping a bike.Remove the pedals. Use a pedal wrench to remove the pedals so they don’t stick out through the plastic bag.

Shipping a bike.Bag it up. The bag is just that – a massive plastic bag open at one end. Simply push the bike into the bag, fold over the end, and tape it all up. We used a LOT of tape – we didn’t want any flappy bits and wanted it to be as secure as possible. Once it was all wrapped we realized that one handle bar end looked a little exposed so we cut down a juice bottle and taped it to the end. For the second bike we placed the juice bottle protection inside the plastic wrap. Don’t forget to add some identification! We printed up labels with our name, destination address, and phone number so that they would be reunited with us if they got lost along the way. (Use a transparent report keeper to protect the paper label.)

Shipping a bike.

The bikes have taken one flight since being packed up and they survived quite well. All we need to do for our upcoming flight to London (tomorrow!!) is check on the taping and switch out the address label to our London destination.

24 Feb

7 Essential Pieces of Cycle Touring Equipment

Essential Equipment for Cycle Touring

While we’re obviously not cycle touring experts….yet…even we know that there is just some cycle touring equipment that you can’t tour without.

There is a whole lot of geekdom surrounding bike gear and you can spend hours searching through the should’s and shouldn’ts of bike gear. We’ve taken a much more relaxed approach; I think that you don’t have to spend big money in order to get equipment that will do the job. Of course we’ll have to see how this all works out – I’ll report back once we get on the road and let you know how it’s all holding up.

Bikes for cycle touring Europe

Cecilia is on the left. Bartholomew on the right.

1. Bike. This is, by far, the most expensive piece of cycle touring equipment and it’s easy to go crazy, and spend a lot of money,  trying to find the perfect bike. I’m not saying that the expensive ‘touring bikes’ that are available aren’t worth it. I bet they are extremely durable and offer a smooth ride for many, many miles but we just don’t have the money to invest in high end bikes.

I have ridden Kona bikes exclusively for many, many years. I started mountain biking in 1998 and my very first bike was a Kona Cinder Cone. As my skills increased, and bike technology evolved, I replaced it with a Kona Stinky in 2002. I loved that bike; I named him Frank and we spent many good years together. I sold Frank in 2007 and picked up Gus; a beautiful green Kona Coil Air. With this bike I could do anything I wanted to do – we rode up countless hills together and ripped down them even faster. It was with a heavy heart that I put him up for sale in 2012 but it was the biggest sign of commitment to our new plan that I could muster. It was worth losing him but I can’t tell you how much I miss spending my Sunday mornings riding with the guys.

And so when looking for affordable cycle touring bikes the first place I looked was Kona. Kona has some great bikes specifically made for cycle touring but they were far out of our price range. They do, however, have a good commuter/hybrid option that looked like it would be perfect; durable enough to get through the tour, not too heavy even when fully loaded, and at under $700 we could manage the cost. The Kona Dew Plus should serve us well.

Meet Cecilia (my bike) and Bartholomew (Jason’s). Yep, we have matching bikes. It seemed silly to find two different bikes when we found the one that would work. And yes, I always name my bikes; the name just comes to me. This is the first girl bike I’ve had.

Fenders for cycle touring.

2. Fenders. I’ve never had fenders on a bike before. Getting muddy was always part of the fun in mountain biking. But, when riding for hours on end trying to make up miles, we are not going to want road spray mucking us up. I’m sure there are some high end, super duper, fenders out there but we went with this basic version from Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC; our Canadian version of REI). These from Amazon.com look just the same.

Cycle touring rack.

3. Racks. As we won’t be camping during this trip we really only need rear panniers so we only needed a rear rack to hold those panniers. We happened to order ours from Wiggle.com – they had the bicycle packing bags we were looking for and we needed to bolster our order so got our racks there too – again, these from Amazon.com look very similar. It’s worth noting that if your bike has disc brakes that you ensure that the rack can accommodate mounting around them.

Cycle touring panniers.

4. Panniers. Ortlieb panniers are the gold standard in cycle touring. They are tough, durable, waterproof, and expensive. We did not get Ortlieb panniers. In fact, for the price of one set of Ortlieb panniers we picked up two sets of MEC panniers (on sale). At 56L per set we will have more than enough room for all the gear we plan on carrying plus they have  plenty of pockets and straps to allow for organization which I like. They are not, however, waterproof. We have waterproof bags for our electronics and plan on finding a plastic liner to help keep the rest of our stuff dry-ish.

Cycle touring tools.

5. Tools.  We’re lucky. Although we’ll be cycling self-supported we are also cycling in one of the most bike friendly areas on earth. You can’t go far in Europe without hitting a town, and a bike shop. This means we don’t have to carry all the tools and parts necessary to completely rebuild a bike (like, say, if you were biking in Asia or South America). We do, however, need to be able to do basic repairs, tire changes, and do emergency McGiver repairs if need be.

We’ll have a basic tool kit with us:

  • A chain maintenance kit with chain lube, a brush, and rag.
  • A cycle specific multi-tool with various screw driver heads, allen keys, and a chain break.
  • A basic leatherman tool with pliers, knife, and screwdriver heads.
  • A regular multi-tool with scissors, small knife, and tweezers.
  • A couple of bike specific sized wrenches.
  • A folding knife.
  • A patch kit with patches and glue along with tire levers to get the tire off the rim.
  • A pedal wrench for removing the pedals if we decide to ship the bikes ahead at any time.
  • And a corkscrew; although I don’t think that’s bike specific ;)

6. Bike Computer. Probably not essential but how else are we going to know how far we went, how long it took, and how fast we were? We got just a very basic version but you can go all out and get elevation and GPS trackers too if you like.

Power Grips

7. Power Grips. What, you ask? Well, most long-haul cyclists ride ‘clipped in’. This means there are special clips on the bottom of their shoes that attach their feet to the pedals. Being ‘clipped in’ to the bike is a much more powerful way to ride as you can pull up with your rising pedal as you push down on the downward pedal. It’s like having little wings on your feet to help you get up the hills. However, this means that the shoes you cycle in can only be used to cycle in; the metal clip on the bottom makes using them useless as walking or hiking shoes and so you must carry ‘regular’ shoes also. This is added packing and also added expense – not only for the special shoes but also for the special pedals.

The other, much older, option are toe cages; metal cages that attach to the pedal and into which you can slip the toe of your shoe into. A little clunkier, and not as powerful as being clipped in, but better than nothing.

But then I stumbled on these Power Grips. They’re like the best of both worlds. They work with regular shoes like toe cages do but they strap your foot in much more strongly and so offer much better power than toe cages. I’ve never actually used them before but by all accounts they should really work. I’ll let you know how it goes. Note: we ordered the Power Grips kit and were surprised when it came complete with pedals. We should have ordered just the straps and attached them to our own pedals; that would have saved money.

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Read all the other posts in our pre-trip Cycle Tour Europe series:

The Un-planning Guide to Cycle Touring Europe