Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Get out on a bike adventure this year, no excuses

Like most things in cycling, bicycle touring can seem overwhelmingly complicated or difficult to the novice. There seems to be an underlying fear among newbies and confirmed gear-geeks alike that some part of the trip will go NOT according to plan, particularly if every aspect of the bicycle and bicycle accessory package is not "dialed in" to perfection. And if the trip doesn't go according to plan, well, it would be really, really bad! Or worse! Right? We seem to forget that, at its core, bicycle touring is just riding a bike. Sure you're carrying the stuff that you'll need for a few days, but otherwise, it's still just bike-riding.

There is a lot of focus on gear. The internet forums are full of arguments about which bikes, which tires, which racks, which panniers are best. Analysis paralysis sets in, and then you spend so much time agonizing over which panniers to buy, and then worrying that some other part of the ensemble is sub-optimal, that you never quite get around to actually doing the bike trip that inspired all this angst in the first place.

Last year we had this windblown character come in on a really beat-up 1970s French bike (more racing bike than touring bike), loaded far in excess of what the bike was designed to handle. A quick glance at his bike revealed numerous areas of concern to bike mechanics. More glaringly bad, even, than all the worn/corroded/gunked-up parts, his tires were shredded, and he had numerous worn-out "spare" tires coiled up and strapped onto the heap of gear that was bungee-corded onto his rear rack. When I pointed out some of my concerns about his machine, he casually let me know that he had crossed the continent on his rig more than a few times, and was in the process of doing it again. I'm sure he had mechanical problems and other equipment difficulties from time to time, but he seemed to prefer to deal with those issues as needed, rather than worry about problems in advance. Clearly, this fellow is sort of the opposite of the guy who spends countless hours poring over internet forums analyzing and comparing specs of one high-zoot rack vs a similar high-zoot rack.

Then there's Nick Lubecki. You should click the link and read the 2005-ish article about him in the Dirt Rag archives. A lot of people can't get past the fact that Nick sometimes liberates his dinner from dumpsters behind pizza parlors. But beyond that cultural quirk, he's a guy who is having amazing and wonderful adventures on his bicycle without losing a lot of sleep over what people on the internet will think of his equipment.

This is the year to do it. You aren't getting any younger.


Anonymous said...

I recently encountered a German bicycle tourist who was riding from Mexico City to Vancouver, BC. He was on a hardtail mountain bike (much abused), with a rear rack and no fenders. He had one giant duffel bag bunjied to the rear rack, and a small backpack. He seemed to be doing fine, and was having no problem dealing with the flat tire that stopped him just before I happened by. I gave him a couple of beers and a boot for his slashed tire, and he was off for more adventure. Val

Pete said...

I am inspired.

Joe said...

Well said Jim!

A Midnight Rider said...

I have met a few people who have been saying they want to bike tour for years.

"Pick a route, set a date and go" I have told some. Time passes quickly, then one day it's too late.

Doug said...

My first tour was from Arcata, CA to Seattle, WA. I used a 1992 Bridgestone MB4 I found in a ditch. It was four or five centimeters to small. After some part swaps, though, it was fine -- people gawked at the Nitto Promenades I was running.

That said, though, some dedicated touring gear makes it easier. My current touring bike is a lot more comfortable than the MB4 ever was, and thus I can go faster and further -- if I want to!

But for the beginner, just use what you got for sure! You'll be fine!

I also think people get hung up on distance: they think it only counts if they do some massive multi-week beast, handily ignoring the dozens of weekend trips available year-round....