Bicycling is for the Young At Heart
When the Backroads Beckon--Gear up and Go
The road beckons, but do you have the right bike and equipment? A variation
on that question is on the minds of bicyclists that have the itch to tour,
and especially to explore those inviting backroads of lower Vancouver Island.
The first step is to make sure that your road touring or mountain bike fits.
The short way to find out is to visit one or two reputable shops, to find
out what size they would like to sell you.
I ride the third choice, a recumbent BikeE. It's not one of those radical
lay way back recumbents, and its one-size-fits-all simplifies the task of
getting a bike that fits.
If you discover that your present bike is the right size, then it's just
a matter of making sure that the tires and gearing are suitable. For
pavement, a tire width of 1-1/4 to 1-3/8 inches, for dirt or gravel 1-1/2
to 2 inches, and opt for smooth non-knobby tread.
On Vancouver Island you will encounter grades of 6 to 12 %, so on a bike
weighing up to 115 lbs. fully loaded, a low gear of 18 to 20 inches is a
To calculate gear-inches, count the number of teeth on the smallest front
sprocket, put that number over the number of teeth on the largest rear
sprocket, and multiply that fraction by the diameter of your wheel (700 mm
is the same as 27 inches). The resulting number is your low gear.
Any one of the good local shops will give you lower gearing by selling you
either a smaller front sprocket (chain ring), or a larger rear cassette
(group of sprockets). The poor shops will give you a blank look or worse,
the rule is; if you don't get a solution, go elsewhere.
Straight handlebars on mountain bikes are perfect for hauling the front
end up and over logs and rocks on the trail but are hell on the backside
on long rides. Fortunately they can be replaced by "drop bars" or modified
by cutting them to 20 inches or so, and adding "steer horns" to give you
a variety of hand and body positions.
It pays to buy top of the line accessories. It's a sound investment that
can be moved to your next bike.
Blackburn racks are the accepted standard in the industry, and are fully
guaranteed. I've had two of their "low rider" front racks break over
18 years and more than 90,000 kilometres of use. They were replaced without
cost or delay.
There is a large and confusing selection of panniers, or bike bags on the
market. Serratus, from the Mountain Equipment Co-op, are the best of the
low-priced, and Ortlieb make the best, period.
Extended riding relies on a balance of weight between the hands, seat, and
feet. Riding gloves begin at around $10, and if their padded palms aren't
enough, add foam to your handlebars. Eight-panel Lycra cycling shorts with
a chamois crotch liner are the best and will cost upwards of $40. Expect
to pay $50-$100 for good shoes with the necessary stiff soles. If you try
to tour in runners you'll only do it once.
Seasoned cyclists have a term for people who don't wear helmets: organ
donors. I'm on my third highly rated Bell helmet (it replaced one that
broke my fall when the shell and the foam liner broke, and I suffered a
small cut. Shop around, a suitable model sells for between $65 and $90,
depending on the shop.
Many cyclists think style is essential. For me the guiding rules are:
low-cost; and keep the weight down, but let's talk wardrobe with the
emphasis on panache and debonair. Around Victoria I wear a $180 Entrant
cycling jacket, very stylish and Hi-Tech. When I leave on my summer travels
of 4,000 plus kilometres it's time to get serious.
My rain suit is a bright yellow jacket and olive green pants from a thrift
shop for just under $10. My tasteful, blue, red and gray nylon shell jacket
and pants also came from there ($6) as did my "dress-up pants" of dark blue
polyester for $7. Thrift shops are a cyclist's motherlode, but because I have a suave image to maintain, let's keep this between ourselves.
At the end of a day's ride I do a complete wardrobe change into my "pajamas,"
operating room "blues" that look like they've been liberated from a hospital. Last year I replaced my Jansport tent with the Walrus Windshear model 2-person version. Durable and under $200. A seventeen-year-old Therm-a-Rest self-inflating mattress has just been replaced with a new one. There are imitators but why switch from the best.
The Mountain Equipment Co-op has a wide range of sleeping bags; mine is a
plus 5 degree, for about $120. Add a sleep-sheet for around $20, a pillow
that is the liner from a 4 litre box of wine, and you'll think you are at
home in your own bed... well almost.
Restaurants never seem to be handy when I'm hungry and I don't like trail
mix, so I carry and cook my own food. Breakfast is usually porridge of my
own mix of various cereals, brans, and raisins. Lunch, a giant cheese
sandwich; for supper an ichi ban pack of noodles with a can of salmon, or
I have a wonderful stainless steel coffee maker that makes a 16-oz. cup,
or when re-configured will steam an equal amount of green vegetables to add
to the feast. I never light campfires so my cooking is done over a Coleman
Peak 1 that will boil a litre of water in four minutes burning un-leaded
Knowledge is power. You've heard or read that adage. John Foresters book,
Effective Cycling, is the bible of bicycling, and next to your helmet and
bicycle the most important investment you can make. The publisher is; The
MIT Press, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This may be the best
twenty bucks you'll ever spend.
Add to these suggestions, a generous dollop of ingenuity, combined with a
substantial helping of commonsense, and you're ready for the road.
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