Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Pack a Pick Of Peppers

In the dead of winter it is always fun to begin planning a bicycle trip for the warmer, sunnier weather that is sure to come now that the days are getting longer by a minute a day!

I remember my first bike packing trip with my friend Roy when I had monstrous panniers filled to the brim with all manner of crap.  A bath towel.  Running shoes.  A flashlight.  No wonder it took forever to pack every morning before we could depart for the trail.

The big load

All that gear I was carrying weighed close to fifty pounds when you consider that a wet bath towel weighs a good six pounds alone.  Even the pajamas I brought along weighed down my load.  Is it any wonder that the whole kit and kaboodle was wrenched off the bike in a most undignified manner when having to ride a very hard trail?  And of course it had to happen in the worst place.  No shade and many miles yet to go before camping for the night. It took an hour and a half for Roy and I to figure out how to reattach everything to the bike.

Fifty pounds of crap fell right off
During Bike Month I give a seminar on bike packing and one of the tips I share with the bike packing neophytes is to check everyone's load when you ride off first thing in the morning and any time you've unpacked your load - lunch perhaps? 

Careful attention to loading up
This will insure that none of your gear gets lost on the trail.  My friend Roy tells a story of how he and his nephew were bike packing in the back country and when they got to camp and were ready to set up their tents, Roy discovered that his was missing completely!  Clever guy that he is, he played back pictures on his camera and could determine by spotting the last picture that included the tent where it might have fallen off. Unfortunately it was too far back down the trail to bother trying to retrieve it.  Luckily his nephew had a two man tent and they could bunk together.

Jackies load is coming undone
In the above picture, you can see how perilous it can be when your load begins come apart.  First my daughter's pannier came unhooked which led to the sleeping bag dislodging which unlatched ...
This winter I won't have to draw up long lists of equipment to buy for this year's cycling adventures since I have everything I need to bicycle camp in just about any climate and trail condition.  I've managed to shave 20 pounds of weight off my load since my first trip which means I can use smaller panniers and the bike is a lot easier to manhandle over the numerous obstacles you're always bound to find on the trail.

It took a lot of pushing to reach this spot



Thursday, January 24, 2013


When bike packing, one of my favourite tools to take along is my Tikka Plus headlamp which makes setting up camp in the dark a much easier process.  But I have more uses for my Tikka Plus than to limit its use just to arranging my tent and sleeping bag.

Just how heavy is that setup?
The Tikka is especially effective for lighting your way when cycling through a long, dark train tunnel.  I've learned from past experience to keep the light in my handlebar bag where it is a simple matter of rummaging through gum wrappers, sunscreen lotion, a still camera, assorted bike tools, a cellphone and sanitary wipes to find that handy source of illumination.  Rather than having to dismount, lean the bike against something and then begin the frustrating process of trying to remember which pocket or compartment of which pannier did you place the damned light when you so carelessly packed up your camp this morning?

Dark, scary tunnel

When our house was built 17 years ago, I was too cheap to have the overhead lights in the basement connected to one switch.  Going down to the basement is like "a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn't there".  I can use the headlamp to find one of the four individual cords to pull to turn on a light or I can just leave the Tikka on to find my way around that dark space.

How it should look

The ads show the Tikka mounted on clear plastic mannikin heads but mine is usually scrunched up on my night table where I can grab it in my hand to avoid the ironing board or the carelessly tossed pile of junk in the middle of the bedroom floor.  I wouldn't want to wake my wife who is still  miffed at me from our last bike trip where I nearly knocked down our tent trying to exit that nylon habitat to make coffee in the pre dawn hours in south central B.C.

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Shower of Blessings

We're just into a new year and it is time to start planning this year's cycling adventures.  Recently, I suggested to my long suffering cycling friend Roy that maybe this year we could spend a week cycling the bike paths of Calgary.  The 700 km. plus of paved trails in that city would keep us busy all week.

We could ride this bridge
Making Calgary our destination this year would offer several advantages - we could end up at Roy's house every night which means sleeping in a comfortable bed, the two days travelling to our usual cycling grounds could be spent on our bikes and most importantly, we'd have no trouble finding hooch for celebrating the end of each day's riding.

Downtown Calgary
In the last couple of years I've had the impression that my cycling friend has become disenchanted with camping out and showering in public washrooms.  He always seems to perk up when we finish our trip and lodge ourselves in a hotel and the first thing he does is have a shower.  I think he likes very much the idea of having a continuous stream of hot water cascading over his body instead of having to keep an eye on the mechanical timer and then hopping out of the stall to feed more money into the device (assuming you've had the foresight to stack some coins withn easy reach).
Remember to stack coins within reach

When I got to thinking about it, I'm not that enamoured of public showers myself.  This year I carried flip flops in my panniers so that I wouldn't have to go bare foot into the shower stall and slip on a glob of soap and go spinning naked into the main washroom thereby scaring the young father teaching his son how to use a urinal and then having to smell the disgusting flatulence leaking out of the occupied toilet stall next to my compartment.
It's all mine!
The best camping/shower arrangement that I can recall is the time Roy and I camped at Rock Creek and realized we were the only campers there.  We also discovered that we would have the washrooms to ourselves.  I don't recall how we divied up the facility but I do remember looking around the women's washroom and thinking "This is all mine!"  I used one sink to brush my teeth, another to comb my hair and still I had the choice of four more sinks.  When I entered one of the shower stalls I inadvertantly dropped a loonie on the floor which rolled under the slimy rubber shower mat.  Holding my nose with one hand, I lifted the offending mat and to my delight, discovered a whole cache of gold coloured loonies hiding amongst the soap bubbles and washroom detritus.  There was enough loot in that shower to last me the whole trip.  Maybe, just maybe, I got to thinking - public showers aren't so bad after all.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Reflections on Reflectivity

While on the theme of being seen while winter cycing, I want to mention a workshop given by Coreen at "BikeWorks" about retroflectivity.  The program included material that reflects light from any angle - something very important to those riding bikes during our short winter days.

How retroflectivity works
The creative juices were flowing freely and the participants eagerly drew up all manner of exotic (and detailed) designs.  Across the table from me, Alexi was dissecting a very small and intricate pattern using an Exacto blade.  I was impressed with his ambition.
Alexi carefully cutting
Tim, a year - round rider suggested that when choosing a pattern, to pick one that had human shapes so that drivers and pedestrians could recognize what was being reflected.  That made perfect sense to me and I began to trace out a skeleton onto the reflective material until I discovered three things:  1. I'm no artist,  2. I wouldn't be able to complete the idea in the given time, and 3. the size of the design would use up hundreds of dollars worth of material which wouldn't be fair considering the workshop only cost five bucks.
This guy is definitley an artist!
My "AHA!" moment occured shortly thereafter and I got the brilliant idea of cutting out the pattern of a hand and arm which when ironed onto my "Barr Mitts", would look like an X Ray when a light was shone onto my handlebars.  Thereby conforming to Tim's suggestion of using a recognizably human shape and allowing me to do something a little eccentric using only five bucks of material.
This is what Coreen (the person leading the workshop came up with):


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Travelling Lightly

During the Jingle Ride, I felt inspired by all the bikes I'd seen decked out in Christmas lights.  Our long and dark winter days mean that winter cyclists need to use every method of being seen possible.

One method

The two watt headlight on my handlebar, while illuminating the route ahead of me and warning those approaching, is doing nothing about side lighting and I thought I'd buy some Xmas lights to give me more visibility.  In fact, I hoped my bike would look like this:

 What I hadn't taken into account was the difficulty of mounting lights without disturbing the brake and shifter cabling.  The two strings of lights I bought would have to bevpared down to one and that one string of lights wouldn't be able to cover the whole frame/forks.
Not looking like the above picture

In my haste to light the bike and get it out on the road, I grabbed a bag of cable ties and my tie gun and went to work on the battery compartment which I planned to install on the top of the pannier rack.  The picture below shows the results of numerous cable ties breaking because of the cold temperature and a hasty installation:
Installed by a four year old

While it is no work of art, the lights do help with side lighting and maybe if the temperature warms up, I'll be able to do a much better job of lighting my bike.


Friday, January 4, 2013

Mitt Out Cold

This winter in particular has been very cold and as a winter cyclist, one of my biggest problems is keeping my extremities warm.  As it is, I wear arm warmers, boots, a toque under my helmet, two layers on my legs and two layers under my cycling jacket.

Not to mention my hands where I wear high dexterity gloves and a pair of mitts.  Still, those aren't enough layers to keep my hands warm and flexible enough to operate the brakes and shifter.  Although I've noticed that I don't shift very much in the winter and usually keep to the lowest gear.

After years of dicking around with bar mitts (see older post), I broke down this year and went into a dreaded motorized recreational vehicle store.  Just hate quads and dirt bikes, snowmobiles etc. (see older KVR post - "...Before its too late").  They had one last pair of "Bar Mitts" for sale and I snagged them right away since I had visited all the bike shops in town to no avail.
The blue colour symbolizes our cold weather

Before I installed the mitts on my handlebars, I very cleverly installed handlebar extenders the wrong way on the ends of the handlebar, thinking they would help to hold the "Mitts" up.  To a degree they do, except with the constant in and out to wipe off my moustache (or scratch nether regions), they don't stay open wide enough to be practical.  They flop down and look like a couple of stockings that should be mounted on the fireplace for Santa.

Stockings for Santa
With the skill I've gained using a sewing machine over the Christmas holiday, I fashioned two small loops of material that I've sewn into the "Mitts" and they have solved the problem by hooking onto the extenders and holding the "mitts" upright.  Now I can wipe my moustache and scratch whatever I want as often as I want and still be able to take my hands in and out of the "mitts"