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 Mar

4 Reasons Why You SHOULDN’T Practice Before a Cycle Tour

Cycle Tour PracticeI have read a TON of cycle touring blogs in the last few months. I have read gear lists, and packing lists, and itineraries, and food plans, and camping tales (enough of these to make me secretly glad that Jason doesn’t camp – it doesn’t sound like a ton of fun!), as well as a lot of practice schedules.

Practice schedules. All the advice says, and most people do, head out on their bikes at least once before hitting the road for their cycle tour. A chance to shake out the cobwebs, make sure all the equipment is working right, and to gain the strength in their legs (and their lungs) to power them through the ride.

We haven’t done any of that.

I know, it sounds crazy…but we have some very good reasons:

1. Why get a sore bum early?

There is no doubt that your a$$ is going to hurt like a son-of-a-b*tch once you start riding for hours on end. I can’t imagine that there is anything to be done now that will make that not happen – unless, of course, you replace your office chair with a bicycle seat until you leave. So why subject yourself to such torture before you absolutely have to?

I’m not. There is only one way to work through the bicycle seat pain and that’s to just keep on going so I’ve resigned myself to the fact it’s going to hurt for a while and I’ll deal with it then. Starting now only increases the pain period and, really, who needs that?

2. It’s winter.

We have spent the last nine months in southern Ontario here in Canada through what is reported to be the worst winter in 20 years. Temperatures averaged -10C (14F) and dipped as low as -25C (-13F); I haven’t seen so much snow since I was a little girl. Great weather for building snow forts, ice skating on the local pond, or snowmobiling through the fields but not so great for trying out the new bikes.

There are a couple of ways you could practice even through an icy winter like this one:

    • Join spin classes. Almost every gym these days offer spin classes; a great way to get cardio training in while strengthening those all-important let muscles.
    • Get an indoor trainer. This is a great option because you can hook your own bike up to it and train on the actual bike that you’ll be riding all those kilometers later on.

We, of course, did neither of these things. We have been working out like crazy and doing loads of stair sets but, although we’re in good shape, I know that running up and down stairs is not the same thing as riding a bike. So, I say, what’s the point? Is that time on the trainer, or those spin classes, really going to make a difference once you get on the bike?

3. What if you don’t like it?

This is probably my biggest fear. What if I start practicing here and discover that I don’t like it? What if I think it’s too hard or it hurts too much? Getting on a bike and practice riding around familiar neighbourhoods and up the dreaded hills you know are  coming is quite different than jumping into it in a foreign country where everything is new and exciting. If I know that I have to push through to the end of the day, I just will because I have to. I don’t want to jump on a bike here and start to doubt whether I can do it or not – I’ll just dive in head first and assume that I’m going to love it!

4. Can you really be prepared to ride a bike for up to 8 hours a day?

Is there any amount of on-the-bike training or practicing that would really prepare me for riding 6, 7, or 8 hours a day day-after-day? I think not. Unless I was prepared to ride for 6, 7, or 8 hours a day day-after-day leading up to our actual cycle tour of Europe. Reason #2 takes care of that possibility, and thank goodness because although I’m really looking forward to riding through Europe, stopping at cafés and pubs along the way, the appeal (for me) of riding that much in Canada, past cow fields and through long stretches of desolate highway, just isn’t the same.

I don’t think we’re as unprepared as it must sound. We rode mountain bikes for years and years when we lived on the west coast of Canada; we are very familiar with being on bikes in all kinds of terrain and weather. We’ve ridden for hours on end and done multi-day trips so we know the level of physical activity we’re getting into. We work out regularly and so are in fairly good shape – both cardio and strength – and we are well aware that being ‘in shape’ doesn’t mean it won’t hurt and that we won’t find muscles we had no idea we had!

I guess only time will tell. I’ll let you know if our ‘no practice’ routine was a good idea or not!

10 Mar

Where Will We Stay While Cycle Touring Europe?

Cycle Touring Accommodation

You’ll notice that there was no camping gear in the equipment list that I published last week. You see, Jason doesn’t camp. Well apart from that time that I convinced him to hike the Tetons with me a couple of years ago and, of course, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu but, generally, the thought of pitching a tent and climbing into a sleeping bag has him saying no to my great ideas well before I can even get them out.

So we needed a compromise for cycle touring Europe this summer. We can’t afford to stay in hotels the whole way, and besides, our plan has us cycling through a whole lot of countryside where traditional hotels and hostels might not be available.

There are a couple of options that are available:

WarmShowers

WarmShowers.org is the CouchSurfing of the cycling set. People who are willing to host cyclists sign up and provide their contact information while cyclists looking for accommodation options sign up and fill out a profile. Hosts are flagged on a map and cyclists simply look at the map to find a host that may be nearby and then send them a message.

Hosts are typically cyclists themselves and are interested in meeting like-minded folk who enjoy both travel and cycling. Accommodation is free; it is the exchange of conversation and goodwill that fuels the exchange.

Vrienden op de Fiets

Loosely translated (very loosely as I don’t know any Dutch!) this is Friends of the Bike. It works very similarly to WarmShowers but with more of a bed and breakfast feel to it. In fact, that is exactly how it works. Owners register their property with the organization and are required to provide a few basic cycling necessities; there needs to be a private room, space to store the bikes, and a breakfast upon departure. Cyclists ‘donate’ to the organization and receive a registration card, a map with all the hosts mapped out, and a booklet listing all the possible places to stay; they simply connect up, show up, and enjoy a relaxing evening. There is a cost for this option though; 19 Euro per person, per night.

Vacation Rentals

Our plan is to intersperse some longer urban stays in amongst the long days of cycling. A chance to relax and get to know a city as well as get some work done. You know how much we love renting apartments and this is a perfect occasion; we’ll be able to relax with coffee and breakfast in the morning while catching up on work and then spend the afternoons and evenings exploring and enjoying our new neighbourhood.

It will be an interesting mix of places to stay. I’m a little nervous about staying with other people but, at the same time, it’s one of the things I’m looking forward to. It’s out of my comfort zone but I have long lamented that I don’t think we ‘get under the skin’ enough when we travel; this is an experiment in doing that. I guess I should really be worrying that I will be as good a guest as I’m hoping the hosts will be ;)

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

10 Feb

The Un-Planning Guide to Cycle Touring Europe

Cycle Touring

My last post about trip planning for our upcoming cycle tour of Europe was all about the work we had to do in order to be ready to hit the road again. You might think that we have been feverishly poring over cycling resources, mapping out our route, and planning how the heck we’re going to get ourselves around Europe on our bikes.

Well, not exactly. This is turning out to be the most un-planned trip we have ever taken. And I am strangely ok with it.

We have done some work. Our bikes and equipment are sorted out and we have all the clothing gear we’ll need – more on this next week – but as far as exactly where we’ll go and exactly how we’ll get there, we just haven’t figured it out yet.

I think it comes down to how we want this trip to feel. It was when we went to Japan that we started to plan our trips based on what we wanted it to feel like, rather than listing off a bunch of must-see places. It’s too easy to get caught up in wanting to see everything and then we end up rushing around, frustrated because we’re always on the go and not enjoying what it is we are experiencing. Identifying what we want the trip to feel like helps us plan an itinerary and determine the schedule.

For this trip I want to feel FREE. 

I want to not have a plan at all. I want to just take each day as it comes and not know what the end of the day will look like. I want to be spontaneous and just figure it out as we go. I want to be able to just say YES to whatever comes our way.

It’s not that we don’t have a plan. We do; it’s just really, really rough. I think we’ve put together an itinerary partly to answer the inevitable question of ‘where are you going to go?’ and partly to ensure that we don’t just park ourselves in a London pub and never move. Not that there would be anything wrong with that.

So, here it is, like I said, roughly.  It’s a circular route threading through ten countries; England, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, S.Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, N.Germany, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, and back to England.

Some 4700 km. I know. It’s a long way. I made a map.

I’m not sure we’ll make it the whole way in the 3 months that the Schengen Zone rules allow. My heart won’t be broken if we don’t though because it will mean that we found something more interesting along the way, that we decided to slow down, or go somewhere else, or maybe we’re still in that London pub.