Nuts and Bolts

"SO! Where ya goin'?" You can't be an introvert on a tour bike.

If you're an introvert that doesn't like to talk to people, don't get a touring bike.

Next weekend I'm going to be riding in the Chicago "Tour De Cure", and only doing the 30 mile distance 'cuz I wanna have fun. But to make it a little more challenging, I'm going to be riding it under "Tour load". the pic I put with this is me last summer riding said Marrakesh from Seattle to Milwaukee. (that's another story tho...) so you can get an idea of what a "fully loaded" tour bike looks like.


"The Tank" (as I call it) slimmed down a little, but it still has a trail weight around 90 or so pounds. 30 of them is the bike alone, and the rest is "everything I need to live on ad infinitum". Shelter, bedding, food, water (And Nuun, gotta mention that...) cookware, clothing, camp stuff, wet weather gear, comfy sandals... I even got a kitchen sink in there. Hence why I call it "The Tank", with the bags on she looks armoured.

One of the things I learned is that you can't just jump into hard mode, you need to practice and train. And I've gotten used to my Warbird (a much lighter, more nimble beast), so I need to ride the Tank again, and load it down to tour weight. Today was the day to do it.

Plotted a local route that was vertically enhanced (side note, ow...) loaded up my bike, and went. And a 37 mile route took me almost 6 hours. Why? The Tank is a conversation starter.

The usual opener is "Where ya going?" And fair enough, you have this much luggage on a bike you're probably going SOMEWHERE. And it also leads to the "So what do you have going on in here?" (IE : What's in the bags, and why is there a USB port on the stem?) And then logistics. "How much chamois cream do you use?" "Where do you sleep?" "Where do you eat?" "You're seriously carrying full camping supplies in there?" "How do you change a flat?"

The winner of today's "Out of nowhere question" award went to an older gent who asked me how liked riding an electric bike. I told him it wasn't electric. "So what's the solar panel for?" So I had to explain that it was charging a battery for my electronics when I got to camp, and that I was doing a lot of remote camping so I couldn't always get to a power source. And he seemed satisfied with that, in the context of the rest of the bags and the 2L of water I had on me too I obviously was ready to go "off grid".

What I'm saying is you get a LOT of questions. And I don't mind answering them. Cycling around here, and I'd venture almost everywhere in the US, is focused on races, speed and aero. Those who aren't are mostly family people, riding bikes with the kids as a weekend activity. Anyone who has a bag on the bike is usually commuting to work or school. So you get someone with the full "armour plating" and it stands out. And it makes people wonder "What's that about?"

But I think there's another factor too. As I said, the focus at most bike shops to higher-end consumers is speed. Get the aero helmet, the carbon bike and wheels, go tubeless to save watts, get the skin-tight-skivvies to cut the air resistance... Then I roll up. It's like driving a Hummer into a Ferarri parking lot, and none of the other people in the lot have ever SEEN a Humvee only heard legends of one.

That in mind, I think that when people ask questions, it's not just idle curiosity. A few weeks ago at a shop event I rode the tour bike with the bags only (no weight), and a couple were asking me some VERY specific questions. Logistics, where to get gear, how I planned routes, where I slept... And I could see the gears turning.

Once they see a tour bike "in the flesh" (so to speak), it's almost like a door to a new challenge opens. "Could I ride EVERY DAY?" "Could I pedal myself over the Rocky Mountains?" "Could I live off of a bicycle?" And it's always fun when you see the dawning realization they have of "I could do that."

In a way, I get why EVERYONE wants to talk to me when I'm riding the Marrakesh fully loaded down. But, in another way, I'd love to see so many tour cyclists out there that it's commonplace enough that they really don't have to. But for now, I don't mind fielding the questions. If I can inspire one person to try it? Mission accomplished.

How to make a damaged body work better

Yesterday I did something I never thought I'd have a need to do, I got a professional bike fitting.  Wheel and Sprocket is a chain in the Milwaukee area, and at the Fox Point store they offer full on high-tech fittings.  And yesterday, I loaded the Tank on my Jeep, and got it properly set up by a pro.

The setup was actually really cool.  First is the bike, whihc I guess is called a "Guru" system.  As you're riding the bike it can move on hydraulics under you to get different positions, until they've got the right fit.  He pulled out the laser lines to measure knee wobble, a video setup (a hacked Kinect) to follow joint movements in real time, and all sorts of other things.

I learned more than a few things about myself, physically speaking.  My 20+ years of paintball have demolished a lot more of my body than I thought.  My spine seems somewhat ok, but my knees are thrashed and makes for REALLY dodgy pedaling, and strangely my right ankle has a slight tilt I picked up somewhere along the way.

I also learned that I've been doing cleat placement completely wrong, my sit bones are too wide for 85% of the saddles out there, most of my joints are not "supple" but that can be worked around, and that my bike needs a couple of parts to put me into a better position for pure touring.

The whole process took two or so hours, and in the end the bike has one different part (the stem and even then I need a slightly different  sized part), the saddle I have moved, and I have different insoles in my shoes with a shim.  And the end result is huge in that I'm sitting in a far more comfortable position.  I'll need to make a long ride to see how they hold, however.

Was it worth it?  For me, it wasn't about maximizing wattage (but it's a nice side effect) as much as making the ride more comfortable.  Again, I'm planning on basically living on this bike for a few months, so fixing the issues I had was important.  Most people will never need more than a basic bike shop fitting, or they can tweak settings for a few days to get it right.  It was also helpful to have a 3rd party expert look at me objectively, and say "Ok, here's the problems, here's how to solve them"  And we'll see how well it goes.

So a thank you to Phil Godkin for his expertise and professinalisim, and for helping me in a very large way on this ride!