Friday, December 30, 2016

Night 2: Close Encounters

Night 5 - July 25, 2016 - Staunton (pronounced "Stan-ton") > Roanoke, VA
Having completed my first night ride, I was ecstatic to wake up feeling absolutely great (with the exception of my knee, but the only thing that was going to fix that was rest).  I woke up around 8pm, having slept through the majority of the day, and decided that as a reward for knocking out 93 miles the night previous, I should get some General Tso's Tofu for night breakfast.  Small town Chinese isn't always the best idea directly before getting on a bicycle, but I really felt that the winds of change were blowing at my back and ahead of me was only good fortune.  Actually, my fortune cookie said that.

I hit the road around 10pm, and quickly headed into rural Virginia.  I'd been riding through rural Virginia for a little while now, but with the cool shade of night drawn down above me, I was finally able to enjoy it.  The humidity was still so high that my touchscreen required wipe downs with a rag before it could be used, but at least the temperature was down in the 70s.  Actually, anything below 90 was welcomed.  Now typically, when riding through the middle of nowhere late at night, I like to stay somewhat close to a proper byway, but I was playing it fast and loose with a pre-ride General Tso mentality, and I let myself turn off into some proper farmland.  What made it proper farmland?  While I couldn't see the surrounding land too well, every time there was a pause in the podcasts I was listening to, I could hear, "Moooooooo!"  Cows.  I was surrounded by them.  But the road was smooth and I could still see the highway on my map, so I wasn't worried about ending up stuck in a crumbly mix of loose gravel and poorly packed soil, as farm roads are wont to be.

Those roads were empty.  Aside from hearing the cows on both sides of me and being passed up ahead by the occasional deer, the only other soul I stumbled upon was a lazy cat that was just napping in the middle of the road.  If that cat felt safe splayed across the dividing line, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to see many cars.  So I zoned out and fell into the terrifying true crime podcast, Sword and Scale.  Do you know what's a terrible idea?  Listening to grisly murder stories while riding through the middle of desolate Virginian farmland in the dead of night.  I was pretty sure I was going to be murdered at some point that night, but I was also pretty sure that a watched pot never boils, so the only way to not be murdered was to keep listening to stories of other people being murdered, a lot of which took place in the South.

Somewhere around 2:30am, in the middle of Murderfest, I finally came across my biggest fear.  There... in the middle of the nowhere... waiting for me... ready to bring me pain a suffering... a dirt road.  Ugh.  County Roads are the wooooooorst.  I just hate them so much.  Especially when they start with a sign that says the route isn't safe for tractor trailers and quickly turn into a half-mile climb.  Boo this road!  Anytime Google Maps winds through countryside, there's a good chance it's mislabeled a somewhat level pile of rocks as a road.  I'd made it pretty far without issue, though, so I was due.  Luckily, from what my map was telling me, it was only going to be a few miles of loose gravel and then I'd be home free.

After battling the garbage roads winding through spooky countryside, I passed the sign marking the end of the unsafe corridor, and I popped out into unexpected civilization.  I had been fairly close to the highway the whole time (only a few miles off), but was blocked off from the sight and sound by the rolling hills between.  But as soon as I reached the confluence with a major byway, I was greeted by cheap hotels and a truck stop gas station.  This was decidedly a turn for the better, though, if I were going to be murdered in the middle of the night, it seemed more likely at a truck stop than in the middle of quiet farmland and rolling hills.

Truck stops, if they can be found, are possibly the best spots to stop late at night on the road.  They have multiple varieties of hot coffee, food sans cellophane, showers if need be, and most wonderfully, rest areas with comfortable chairs.  I walked into that gas station, grabbed some coffee, and slumped into a lazy boy while a late night movie played on the flat screen.  It was time for a break, and thankfully not due to overwhelming heat, but just due to knocking out a large chunk of mileage while climbing through the countryside.

I headed back out to my bike around 3am, a good portion of my ride already behind me, and started getting ready to take off.  Truck stops never sleep, and while adjusting my gear, two older bikers (vroom vroom, not pedal pedal) took an interest in my rig and started asking me about my route and gear. After the standard reassurance that I was crazy, they wished me well on my way.  As they sped off, a car pulled up to the gas pumps across from me, and the window rolled down.  Inside were three college-aged women road-tripping their way from the University of Maryland to Nashville, TN.  Why do I know this?  Because after a few questions through the window, two of them came out of the car to get an Instagram photo with guy standing at a Virginia truck stop in lycra shorts around three in the morning.  I was a road trip novelty that possibly ended up in a digital scrapbook that they'll comb through years from now when they have their annual meet ups to talk about families and careers that become more and more sporadic until finally one year, one of the women is too busy to meet up and the tradition begins to unravel, but in this unraveling they all realize it was never about meeting up, it was always about clinging to a past that was never quite as wonderful as they all remembered it to be, and that during that road trip, Carla was such a pain in the ass, talking to every guy at every gas station and it's no wonder she's on her fourth husband because we all knew she would never be happy with other people as long as she wasn't happy with herself because anyone that could love her flawed self had to be flawed themselves, but then years later realize that forgiveness is part of friendship, and that no one's perfect, and it's a shame they went so many years without seeing each other because they really did love each other in a way that can only be described as familial, having transcended friendship unknowingly years ago, but now that Carla had passed, mourned by all six of her exes, it was time to remember the good times and lay her remains to rest along with that photo of me in lycra shorts at 3am in a Virginia truck stop, because she always loved that photo, not for the subject matter, but for the story it told about the summer spent with her best friends.  Or something like that.

Before hitting the road, I gave them some Philly Bike Tours stickers and told them to take the Classic City Tour if they're ever in Philly.  There's no better way to see Philadelphia than from a bicycle.  *wink*

The rest of my ride turned into a real animal scare-off.  First up: me being scared by animals.  After another hour or two on the road, I found a small, "rustic" 24-hour gas station to take a quick break outside of.  As I pulled up to the dingy building bathed in ultra bright florescence (a great way to draw attention to confusing stains on yellowed walls), I realized that I had accidentally found the ancestral mating ground of the dobsonfly.  The walls were covered with females (and two males, I counted), and some post-ride research showed let me know that dobsonflies are "strongly attracted to lights," meaning it would be best if I stayed in the dark as much as possible or else run the risk of being devoured.  Aside from the large deathbugs, I also saw a really pretty moth that night, which I will now post a photo of to distract myself from dobsonflies:


Up next was me scaring back.  Riding a bicycle is a great way to see the world, not just because the slow pace allows a cyclist to absorb the surrounding landscape in greater detail, but also because it is a less invasive approach to inserting oneself into a natural environment than more modern, "safer" forms of travel.  A bicycle permits one to better blend in, especially auditorily.  It was the silence of my bicycle that allowed me to approach undetected an unsuspecting groundhog that stood along the side of the road.  A groundhog that, were it wearing undershorts, would have soiled them as I passed by and offered a pre-dawn greeting of, "Hello, Groundhog."  It took off running, but only after a time that would have proven too late were I a predator.  Stealth mode Troy would be an effective predator were it not for his innate disposition toward animal appreciation (Outside of dobsonflies and spider.  I really don't like spiders, but I get it, we need them, they kill other bugs that need killing.  Someone has to be the bad guy.).

And then, another sunrise.  I had always thought I wasn't a morning person, but was learning more and more that I just wasn't a "waking up" person.  I finally understood why people enjoyed sunrises so much (normally far too early in the morning for me), even if they were just the horseman of an approaching heat index apocalypse.

The calm before the heat storm.

Only 79 miles and 10 bigot rankings away from Staunton, I found myself in the Lost Colony of Roanoke, which I also knew as the home of the Cara Marie Holley murder.  I booked a room at a Red Roof Inn, and called it a ride.  I had done over 4,700' of climbing and listened to too many hours of terrifying true crime that night and it was time for bed.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Philly Pedals Repost: Boring Bikes for Better Tours

Note: This post was originally written for and can be found here.

Touring is not like other cycling, so different equipment rules apply.  Instead of always leaning towards lightweight, fancy components, it can be advantageous to stick to slightly overbuilt and commonplace parts.  Carbon frames with ultralight components are great for a road bike, but how would they handle 2,000 fully loaded miles?  Hydraulic brakes are a high-end, frictionless braking alternative on mountain bikes, but how are you going to handle a fluid leak in the middle of the Rockies?  Those are extremes, but it’s important to remember that even minor non-standard parts can leave you dead in the water.
On a pleasant, summer day, while riding just outside of Lusk, WY, I had the misfortune of snapping a chain.  Having repair tools in my pannier, I quickly fixed it and continued my ride.  But then it snapped again.  And again.  And again.  By the time I rolled into Casper, WY, I knew there was no way I would be leaving town without a brand new chain.  The next morning, I headed to the now defunct Ragged Edge Sports outdoor equipment store in search of drive train repair.  After swapping out both my chain and cassette, I hit the road confident that my breakdown woes were behind me.  I would quickly learn that this was false confidence, as the first hard, uphill push while on my middle chainring sent my crank zipping forward while my chain stood still.  My worn-down middle chainring could no longer properly catch my new, unstretched chain.

A great place to ride, a terrible place to find replacement parts.
For those new to or unfamiliar with bicycle maintenance, I’ll give a quick explanation of what had happened.  Brand new bicycle chains fit very nicely within the teeth of both the chainrings (the large cogs connected to the right-side crank arm) and the cassette rings (the little cogs on the right-side of the rear wheel).  As miles are traveled, the chain will pull on the teeth of those different cogs so that instead of being straight up and down, they start to lean towards the front of the bicycle, like a plant towards the sun.  This is typically unnoticeable, though, because while the cogs are stretching, so is the chain, becoming suited to those less-vertical cogs teeth.  So while the cogs are no longer perfect, the chain matches them in their imperfection, making their union more perfect.  Very romantic.
Unfortunately, should the chain be replaced, a lovers quarrel may arise between the two new partners.  The shiny and new, unstretched chain may not be able to sit comfortably within the sloped teeth of the old cogs, depending on how old the cogs are and how far they lean forward.  This is what was happening to me.  My unstretched chain could only sit well enough in my middle chainring (my most frequently used chainring) to function properly under low to medium force.  Any real pushing (like what is done while traveling uphill or when first getting up to speed), caused the cassette to slip out from under the chain making a loud grinding noise and spinning my legs underneath me, while doing no real damage.
Now, I knew that the resolution for this was simple.  I had replaced only my cassette with my chain because I had assumed my front chainrings did not need replacement.  As I was now proven incorrect in that assumption, I would simply have to replace that middle chainring.  Easy enough, and here we come to the whole point of this article (this is why I told you to bring a snack).   While the labor required to replace a chainring was minimal, since I was riding an older, non-standard crankset, the act of procuring a new chainring was going to be much more difficult.  My crankset was an old Shimano Octalink setup that had been discontinued years prior, and while parts were available, they were no longer standard stock for the average bike shop.  If I wanted my chainring replaced, they needed to order the part.  I needed to hit the road, so I decided to order the part to a shop I’d be reaching in a week or so, and just stay off that middle chainring as much as possible.  It was not a great solution, but it was all that could be done if I didn’t want to wait around in Casper for a few days.

Still no spare parts...
That day I learned an important lesson, pickins can be slim while on tour in the middle of nowhere, so it’s better to have run of the mill components than to get fancier gear that can leave you in a bind.  If I had a standard 74/110 chainring configuration on my crankset, I could’ve hit the road with a smile on my face instead of a slightly disconcerted grimace.  Learn from my mistakes.  Make sure your components can be easily repaired or replaced if need be, as the need will inevitably eventually be.

  • Frames – Steel all the way.  While carbon and aluminum are lighter, steel is less prone to cracking, as it will bend before breaking.  On top of that, if carbon or aluminum crack, the frame is shot, whereas steal can be welded.  Alternatively, if money is not an issue, Ti is a durable, lightweight option, though any cracks would require frame replacement (usually covered under warranty).

  • Bottom Bracket – Square taper is the most common, and therefore the easiest to replace without changing up the rest of your drive train.  Any bike shop will have at least one type of square taper BB, which even if it’s the lowest of low end will at the very least give you the mileage to get to a different shop.  Also, if you break a crank arm (strip, crack, etc.), you’re more likely to find a cheap, used square taper arm than a proprietary arm.

  • Cranks – Solid, not hollow.

  • Cassette/Chain – On tour, 9-speeds should be plenty.  Additionally, 9-speed chains are cheaper and more prevalent, should you need to replace them.  When purchasing a chain, do yourself a favor and buy one with a removable link (Powerlink, for example), which will make installation easier.  Spare removable links are also recommended for breaks.

  • Clipless Pedals – Each riding style has a different clipless preference.  Road racers lean toward Look and triathletes prefer Speedplay, but the easiest to find at a sporting goods/recreation store is SPD.  They are not fancy, but they are cheap and everywhere.  Additionally, SPD/platform dual-pedals are available, allowing you to wear regular shoes while riding around town after finishing for the day.

  • Brakes – Rim brakes are the easiest to find replacements for, but brake component breakdown is a fairly uncommon problem (cables snap, not calipers).  Due to this, I would have to lean towards mechanical disc brakes since they have long pad life, grab hard, can wet without losing much in the way of stopping power, and they won’t heat up your rims on extended descents.  Hydraulic are riskier, since repairs can’t typically be handled without adding a significant amount of gear to your kit.

  • Shifters – You probably don’t want STI shifters on your bike as they would be more difficult/expensive to replace should they break, but I’ve always had them, so go ask someone else.

  • Tires/Wheels – In the US, 700c wheels are a standard and available at all shops.  Finding wider tires (32, 35, and beyond) can be difficult depending on where you are, but you’ll at least be able to make due with a narrower tire for a time.  If you plan on traveling to other countries, especially in South and Central America, you may want to think about 26” wheels.  Not only are 26” more likely to be available, they also take a fatter tire providing more comfort.  If you’re sticking with 700c down south, carry spare spokes and tubes and avoid cracking your rim.
Regardless of how you build/select your touring bike, one of the goals you should have is to not put yourself in a position where a single component failure can end your tour, either by taking too long to fix or by costing too much money.  This is one time you don’t want to be unique.  Get a tattoo, don’t get a carbon crankset.
Everyone has different experiences, though, so if you have any other component recommendations or thoughts, please leave a comment below.  I know some stuff, but there’s a lot more stuff that I don’t yet know.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Philly Pedals Repost: The Case Against Bicycle Repair Nihilism

Note: This post was originally written for and can be found here.

You need to take care of your bicycle!  I know that not caring about anything is cool, but you’re not an angsty high schooler anymore, and your apathy is more lazy than hip.  Also, you’ve seen The Breakfast Club enough times to know that even Judd Nelson cares in the end.  So pretend your bicycle is Molly Ringwald, and give a damn.  Even if it’s in secret and with an angry look on your face.
I see and hear bicycles in varying states of fixable disrepair everyday, and it drives me crazy to know that people can be so disinterested in the fast moving machinery between their legs.  Your bicycle makes your life so much easier, so why are you making your bike’s life so much worse?  That grinding noise is your bike’s cry for help, and you’re ignoring it, you sadist.  And an ungrateful sadist, at that.
Two recent events really got my lycra in a bunch over this lack of care riding rampant through the streets of Philadelphia.  The first was my roommate telling me that she needed a new bicycle because hers was too slow.  After spending an hour or so adjusting the front fender so it wasn’t pressed firmly against the tire, removing a rust-frozen chain, replacing some cables and housing, and thoroughly lubricating all moving parts, I asked her how the bike felt.  She said it was like new.  That was $20 worth of parts and an hour’s worth of work to save the bike from Craigslist.  Would you throw away your laptop because you’ve spent too much time on questionable websites and now it’s slower than a fully loaded Long Haul Trucker in the Black Hills?  Almost all of the slowness on your bike is your fault, much like all of the sketchy malware on your laptop, and all you need to do to fix it is take it to a professional for some typically inexpensive work.
Adjust that clicky rear derailleur!
Later that very same day, while riding on Spruce, I could hear a loud grinding noise coming from the bicycle that was half a block ahead of me.  I knew what it was well before ever catching up with the rider.  It was the sound of a bicycle chain violently rubbing up against a front derailleur.  The fix for this issue is usually as simple as moving your left hand ever so slightly, adjusting the front derailleur out of the direct path of the chain.  It is basic bicycle usage, not maintenance, and is one of the most common sounds to come from a nihilist’s bicycle.  How could someone ride a bike with a loud grinding noise following them the whole way without stopping to see what was wrong?  Would that same person drive a car while smoke poured out from under the hood?  Seriously, just move your left thumb and it’ll stop.  How are you just ignoring that???
If left unaddressed, any bicycle issue is only going to get worse.  If caught early, most common problems, like brake, derailleur, and chain issues, can usually be resolved for $15 or less.  When ignored, quick, minor repairs can turn into major problems that involve new components and costly work that lands your bike in the shop for a week after it gets added to the bottom of the repair list, behind all of the other people that heard that clicking noise but didn’t think anything of it until their chain snapped, they flew over their handle bars, and misaligned their whole bike.
There are plenty of great bicycle shops in Philly that would love to quickly make minor repairs on your ride.  Regardless of your neighborhood, you’re seldom further than two miles from a qualified professional.  Who knows, you may even live on the same block as a mechanic, and if you’d just be more social, you’d be able to trade a six-pack for a tune-up.
That pedal is tight! (but not too tight)
But maybe you’re not a nihilist; maybe you just don’t know any better.  That is completely fine, and likely not your fault!   How are you supposed to know about bicycles if none of your friends know about bicycles?  Well, if that’s the case, and you would like to know better, there are people out there to help you learn!  Many different bicycle shops and organizations offer bicycle repair clinics (some free, some not) that will set you on your way to self-reliance.  Within a few classes, you’ll be able to handle flat fixes, chain snaps, brake adjustments, and more.  Here are just a few links, so be sure to walk into your neighborhood shop and ask if they have classes:

(If you’re crippled by social anxiety, maybe in-person classes aren’t for you.  In that case, you can always search through YouTube or go to one of my favorite bicycle sites,
Remember, DIY is just as punk as nihilism, so turn that uncaring anger into caring anger.  Then direct it at all the people around you that don’t properly maintain their bikes.  Now go put some air in your tires; you’re going to get a pinch flat.
Pump it up or blow it out!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Philly Pedals Repost: The Self-Reliant Mechanic

Note: This post was originally written for and can be found here.

Tenana, Alaska. A beautiful place in the middle of nowhere to get stranded.
It’s Day 8 of a two week tour. You’re in the middle of nowhere, which means there are over 200 miles separating you in every direction from the nearest bike shop. All of a sudden you hear a snap and you lunge forward. Luckily, you didn’t flip your bike, but what just happened? You look down and see your chain dragging on the ground. What’s the first thing you think? Is it:

     A. Crap! This means I’m going to have to flip the bike. Gawd!

     B. Uh oh! I didn’t bring a chain tool… not that I’d I know what to do if I had one…

     C. What the hell is that metal rope thing? Eh, I’m sure I don’t need it.

If you answered “A.” good for you! If you answered “B,” shame on you (shaking head and wagging finger). If you answered “C,” please leave; you’re distracting the rest of the class.

Breaking things on tour is inevitable, so you need to be prepared for it. Do you have to know how to completely disassemble and reassemble your bicycle? No (though I would recommend it)! You just need to know how to fix the most common issues, and carry cable ties for the rest. That said, let’s go through a list of basic bike maintenance tasks that everyone on tour should be able to handle, as well as the tools you’ll need to carry to do so.

Flat Tires
Everyone on a bicycle needs to know how to do this. On tour, you’re going to get these. In the city, you’re going to get these. Anywhere you ride, you’re going to get these. No matter how amazing your tires are, you are going to get these.

To fix a flat tire, you need a pump, tire levers, and spare tube or patch kit/stick-on patches. The bigger the pump, the less time you’ll spend pumping, so frame pumps are nice. The wider the tire levers, the less likely they are to snap. As for the spare tube/patch kit debate, when you’re on tour, just pop in a new tube, and when you’re done for the day use that free time to patch your old tube. Keeps a Ziplock full of good tubes, and add the patched tube to it once repaired.

Broken Chains
This is less likely to happen, but if it does, can leave you dead in the ware. Luckily, it’s extremely easy to fix if you prepare for it. To fix a broken chain the easiest way possible, you’ll need to carry a chain tool, a spare link, and two quick release links (sometimes called ‘powerlinks’, though that may be brand specific, these are chain links that snap together to make chain removal easy).

When your chain snaps, use the chain tool to remove the bad links, then replace them with two quick release links joined by the spare link you’re carrying. This will keep your chain the same length. Otherwise, you could repair the chain with a single quick link, but it would shorten the chain. This is what I usually do since this only stops you from being able to cross chain on your top chainring.

Once you get to a bike shop, get a new chain. If it broke once, it’ll break again. Trust me. You may also need a new cassette too to prevent hop, but check with the mechanic if you’re unsure. If you’ve worn out your chain to the point that it snapped, you’ve probably worn your cassette out too.

Seriously???  Three lost screws from one pedal on one ride?
Broken Spokes
This is an easy, but important one, as riding on a broken spoke can cause all sorts of rim problems. All you need are a replacement spoke and a spoke wrench. Any small spoke wrench of the proper width is fine. As for the spoke, carry a replacement spoke of each length your bike has (you have multiple spoke lengths on your bike based on your hubs), and replace them as you use them. I attach my spare spokes to my rear rack with cable ties, but they can be hidden anywhere.

On the road, all you have to do is flip your bike, let the air out of your tire, move the tire and tube to expose the nipple hole, cut a small hole out of the tape above the nipple (you should always have a knife), pop out the old nipple, drop in a new nipple, and replace the spoke. Voilà!

Wheels out of True / Loose Spokes
You don’t need to be a master mechanic to true a rim. Most of the time, if a rim is out of true, it’s because a spoke or two has gotten loose. All you need to fix this is your spoke wrench. To find loose spokes, just check the tension of them all with your finger. If a few are loose, tighten them up to match the other spokes. In most cases, this will resolve your truing issues.

If it’s not an issue of a very loose spoke, and you can’t make it to a shop for a proper truing, you can do it on your own. As truing is an article unto itself (or more accurately, a reference manual), here’s a brief explanation of how to true out a wheel on the road:

  1. Flip your bike.
  2. Spin your untrue wheel, and use the brake pads to watch for rim movement. You’ll see the rim move towards the brake pad at certain points. That’s the ‘bump’ or ‘hop’ of an untrue wheel.
  3. Once you find the hop in the rim, you’ll need to use your spoke wrench to fix it.
  4. The spoke located directly on the hop will need to be tightened or loosened by ¼ of a turn. Tightening is used to pull the rim hop back towards you, and loosening to push it away. So if the hop is going away from you, tighten the spoke. Make sense?
  5. With the two spokes on opposite sides of the spoke from Step 4, perform a ¼ turn in the opposite direction as Step 4.
  6. Spin the wheel and see how much it helped. Adjust as required. 

Alternating spokes go to opposite sides of the hub, so if you’re tightening on one side of the hub to pull the rim hop towards you, then you’ll loosen on the other side so it stops pulling it the other direction. Not making sense? Understandable. At the end of this article, I’ll list out some other sources for much better instructions. On tour, your wheel doesn’t have to be perfect, just good enough to get to the next shop.

Snapped Brake/Derailleur Cables
Doesn’t happen often, but you should carry spare cables (and caps) and a small pair of snips just in case. You’ll need a hex wrench, likely 5mm. Also, make sure you know how to adjust your brakes and derailleurs. This falls under the same category as fixing a flat. Everyone should know how to do it. As drivetrain and braking systems can vary widely, I’m not going to even bother getting into it.

Loose Bolts
These aren’t exactly breakdowns, but can very easily lead to them. I’ve had bolts wiggle out of racks, pedals, crank arms, pretty much anywhere they can wiggle out of. They’re bolts, it’s what they do. Every few days, check all of your bolts. To do this you’re going to need a metric hex (Allen) wrench. Additionally, you should also carry some spare bolts and grease. If you lose any bolts, you may not be able to find them, so be ready.

Before you leave, make sure you have wrenches to fit all of your bolts. The 6, 5, and 4mm wrenches handle most repairs, but your crank bolt might be 8mm and your brake pads 2.5mm. Also, make sure each bolt was put in with grease. If a bolt rusts itself in, you’re going to need a shop.

Lube Jobs
Depending on the length of your tour, it may be necessary to carry lube. Touring chains usually prefer a nice dry lube. Other moving parts (brake levers, derailleurs, pedal joints, etc) like wet lube. Don’t use grease on your chain.

Other items you should carry are spare brake pads, cable ties, a knife, small adjustable wrench (for pedals and other odds and ends), small threeway socket wrench (Very optional. I carry one for my cantilever brake hanger as well as my fenders), work gloves (you’ll love them after chain work), and a small stuff sack to hold everything. I even have a smaller bag to put the essential items in. I then carry this smaller bag with me when not touring. It has my patches, spoke wrench, chain tool, small screwdriver, tire levers, and a few hex wrenches.

Troy carries them all for a reason.
Ok, so that brings us to this final check list:
  • Tubes 
  • Patch Kit/Stick-on Patches 
  • Tires Levers 
  • Pump 
  • Chain Tool 
  • 2 Quick Release Chain Links (aka ‘Powerlinks’) 
  • Spare Chain Links (optional) 
  • Spoke Wrench 
  • Replacement Spokes (one of each length) 
  • Brake Cable (plus cap) 
  • Derailleur Cable (plus cap) 
  • Small Snips 
  • Hex/Allen Wrenches (one for each size on your bike) or a Multi-tool 
  • Spare Bolts 
  • Lube(s) 
  • Brake Pads (optional) 
  • Knife 
  • Cable Ties 
  • Small Adjustable Wrench 
  • Work Gloves 
  • Small Screwdriver or Multi-tool 
  • Stuff Sack(s) for Tools 
Wow, that was actually a whole lot of stuff. Remember, that list isn’t for day to day cycling, that’s for touring. For when you could be in the middle of nowhere and the only mechanic for hundreds of miles is you! I’d rather carry a little extra weight on my bike than get stuck somewhere with banjos.

Very importantly, do not forget that an ounce of prevention is worth sixteen ounces of cure! Before you go on tour, tune your bike up properly, and then ride at least 100 miles on it (two weeks of riding). Why 100? That’s usually enough to break anything that’s just hanging on. Before you leave, make sure you lube the whole bike, every possible moving joint as well as the chain, inflate the tires properly, and give it a big kiss (they need love too).

Finally, this article may have read like I assumed you knew how to fix everything listed above (excepting truing), but I know you don’t. This is perfectly ok. The fact that you are interested in learning is all that matters. If you want to learn how to do this on your own, go to Google, go to YouTube, go to, go to one of the many online resources, and you’ll find a ton of tutorials on everything. If you’re like me, and prefer to learn from a guide, go to your local bicycle co-op (I recommend bicycle co-ops very highly. They won’t work on your bike for you, but they’ll walk you through fixing anything with your own two hands.), go to your local bike shop, heck, even leave a comment on this article if you have a question and I can either help or point you in the right direction. The important part is to start trying to fix things, start making mistakes, start learning from those mistakes, and in the process, get yourself ready to tackle any challenge the road may throw at you. Because really, that’s what touring is all about; the environment and your bicycling conspiring against you in an effort to break your body and spirit.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Night Riding: Pros and Cons

Switching to nights was possibly the best thing I could've done on my way down to Asheville.  I was having a rough go of things, and my body was in no way being subtle with signs that it was more than willing to start shutting down internal organs in order to get me out of the sun.  I'm not about to play chicken with my guts, as they are exactly the thing that I would need to tackle that sort of showdown.  Being flexible is very important on the road, as expectations and realities can be very different.  Based on previous experience, I assumed I could handle that ride in the summer.  I quickly learned otherwise and knew that I needed to adapted my approach rather than stubbornly pedal on.

While riding at night was exactly what I needed then, it's not always the best approach for all summer rides.  So before you decide to forgo daylight rides for cool moonlight adventures, here are some pros and cons to a nocturnal schedule:

ProsThe night sky is one of the finest backdrops nature can provide.  Even the most boring stretch of Nebraskan farmland can be just as beautiful as the most picturesque National Park landscape with the lights turned off.  Constellations and shooting stars act as celestial equalizers, making the earthbound unimportant beneath upturned eyes.  The night sky is dim lighting on a bad date.

And if the stars aren't your bag (you've seen one, you've seen them all, right?), then consider their display the opening act for the headline performance of the sunrise.  What better way to wrap a long stretch of night riding than by watching the sky slowly pass through the pastel rainbow.


Cons - If you want to see something other than stars, you are out of luck.  Mountains?  You'll see some outlines, that's about it.  Trees?  Sure, they're there, but what shade of green exactly?  Rivers?  You'll hear the water flowing below and feel moisture in the air, but not much else.  And if you plan on riding through any sort of unique landscape (red rocks, badlands, sequoias, etc.), you're going to miss out big time.

Pros - Nothing kills the heat like avoiding the sun.  Summer riding can be a real test for your system, especially in extremely humid climates, and the only way to fix things may be to get out of the sun completely.  Since you'll be sweating less, you'll also get a reprieve from constant rehydration, lowering your riding weight and decreasing the amount of pee breaks you'll need to make (though pee breaks at night can happen almost anywhere).  Also, you'll save money and weight by not needing to carry sunblock.  Always use sunblock during the day!  Always!

Cons - Riding at night can be very cold.  That coldness can be drastically worsened by wind and precipitation.  Once you're soaking wet, you'll really wish the sun was out to dry off the night's rain.  If you have a rainy day in your forecast, maybe try to tackle that in the sun.

Pros - There is a lot less traffic, and any traffic that does come along will be announced well before they arrive by their high beams.

Cons - While there is far less traffic, there is far more of a chance of encountering both drunk and sleepy drivers, meaning that each encounter, while less frequent, can be potentially more dangerous.  The best thing you can do to combat this is stay visible.  Ride on well-lit roads, have bright lights on your bike, and wear bright, reflective clothing.  Aside from staying visible, try to give yourself space by picking roads with ample shoulder space.  If you're far over into the shoulder and realize there are headlights coming up from behind, you'll know you're dealing with someone that's hammered or asleep, and you'll have a little time to get out of the way.  If there's no shoulder, all headlights look the same coming up from behind.

Pros - Animals come out at night, and since you'll be on a nearly silent bicycle, they likely won't run away as you approach.  You'll be able to see deer, skunks, possums, and more from close up as you zip by.  If you're really quiet, you might be able to pet one as you pass (don't do that)!

Cons - If you're going to be eaten by a mountain lion or slam headfirst into a deer, it's more likely to happen at night.  Also, there are so many bugs at night, and they're all attracted to your lights.  Oh, and they are terrifying.  Have you seen a dobsonfly???

I'm a male dobsonfly.  I have pincers and a bitey jaw.  Why are you running away???

Pros - The quiet of the night provides respite from daytime distraction and allows the mind to wander in all directions without much interference.  Some of the deepest thoughts can come from the darkest nights, like, if money is the root of all evil, and money is made from trees, couldn't the ongoing deforestation of the Amazon be kind of a good thing?

Maybe being left to your own thoughts isn't a good idea.  In that case, the night is the absolute best time for meeting weird, bored people at 24-hour gas stations.  Do you ever feel like there's a shortage of conspiracy theorists in your life?  This doesn't have to be the case.  Pull into any any Kum & Go at 4am and if even one person is still awake, you could be in for quite the conversation.  One time during a late night Sheetz visit, some loon tried to convince me that giant corporations control the political landscape by buying votes using money they've saved from lobbying for major tax breaks they received after promising the saved money for future bribes.  Bonkers, right?  The crazies always come out at night!
Cons -  There are definitely more than a few drawbacks to night riding, some from the lateness, others from the darkness.  Riding at night kills visibility, as our eyes work best in light because we are not owls.  Aside from having less notice of upcoming potholes or other approaching obstacles, any roadside repair work becomes much more difficult, with zip ties becoming very skilled at hiding in plain sight.  As for the lateness, the big problem is that there are far fewer services available.  Most stores and restaurants are closed, and there are definitely no bike shops open.  You really need to be fully self-reliant to ride at night.

This reversed schedule can also be a problem for daytime reasons.  Sleeping during the day at a campground may not be an option if it's too hot out.  Staying at hotels also becomes a problem due to expensive early check-in fees.  And AirBnB, Warmshowers, or other cheap rentals usually assume an evening arrival and morning departure, so finagling a daytime stay can complicate your life a bit.  Just something to think about.

The biggest downside, though, is ghosts.  The night is full of evil spirits that will come out of the woods and steal your soul.  True story.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Philly Pedals Repost: How to Cultivate a Tan Line

Note: This post was originally written for and can be found here.

The "Neopoli-Tan"
Whether touring, hiking, or performing any other sort of extended outdoor travel, the miles are endless, the days are long, and when you’re finished you’re left with little more than the fading memory of fleeting thoughts. For this reason, it’s important to maintain some sort of record of your travels. Some write in a journal and others talk into a recorder, but I recommend a form of record keeping that predates both the written and spoken word. I’m talking about tan lines.

The sun is a friend that writes things down for you when your hands are full. Between holding onto your dropdowns, checking your GPS, and reaching for your water bottle, there’s no easy way to prove to the world that what you’re doing is as amazing as it is. Sure, you could update your Facebook status at every break, but News Feeds roll by in the blink of an ever-reddening eye. How can you really be sure that everyone knows how special what you’re doing is?

The easy solution is to have an eye-popping, conversation-starting, envy-inducing tan line. “What have you been doing?” they’ll ask. “Why, I’ve been being interesting,” you’ll respond. Then you can deftly segue into stories about life on the road; the mountains you conquered, the chains you broke, the bears you wrestled. You can also be confident that every time you look down at your own tan lines, a flood of memories will surge into your mind, allowing you to talk effortlessly and endlessly of your trip.
Here are some tips on how to make sure you reach your full tan line potential:

Pro Tip #1 – Wake Up Later than You Planned
This may sound like an odd tip, but it’s actually an ingenious way to trick your best judgment. When people are rushed, they forget things. When running behind while getting ready for work, you may forget to put on deodorant. When running behind while getting ready to ride, you may forget to put on sunscreen. Look, I can’t recommend that you ride a full day in the sun without sunblock (that’s just not healthy), but I can say that without harmful UVA and UVB rays being blocked, you’re really able to add some color.

Pro Tip #2 – Aim High (Contrast)
If you really want that tan line to pop, you need to offset your extreme tan with some extreme pastiness. A great tan line isn’t just about the sun you get, but also the sun you don’t get. Hot day making you want to take your shirt off? Fight the urge. Feel like a swim in a lake after a long day? Not until after the sun sets, my friend. Trust me; you’ll be thanking yourself for your self-restraint when you look like Rocky Balboa with Apollo Creed’s arms.

Pro Tip #3 – Express YourselfYour tan line is an extension of yourself. It’s a tacit way of saying, “This is me, world!” So do it up. If you like to knit, wear crocheted gloves for a fun, but expressive hand tan. If you’re a fan of multi-flavored ice cream, alternate between short sleeve and sleeveless shirts so your arms get a nice Neopoli-Tan. If you enjoy clichés, but aren’t into needles, press your leg against a greasy chain ring and have a reverse tattoo by the end of the week. The key is to not limit yourself!

So put down your smart phone, lotion up your chamois, and set the controls for the heart of the sun. Or at least for its glorious ultraviolet rays.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Philly Pedals Repost: Dressing Yourself on Tour

Note: This post was originally written for and can be found here.
Notice the rear rack doubling as a clothesline?
It’s that time of the year again, the time when all the latest spring fashions are hung from storefront windows. Are you going to hit the red carpet in the latest Louis Garneau full leg lycra? Frolic on the beach in the newest Pearl Izumi shorts (Don’t get that chamois wet!)? Maybe have a romantic, sunset dinner on the veranda in your favorite shop’s newest kit?
Of course not. You’re a serious cyclist and you only wear serious cycling clothing for serious cycling activities.
Hmm… still not quite right. Let me try again. You’re a semi-serious cyclist that’s looking to get some touring done this summer and you want some ideas about what to bring and what not to bring? Cool. I can help with that.
No matter if you’re taking a week long excursion across the state or a multiple-month trek across the country, you’re going to need the same basics: socks, shorts, shirts. So let’s take a look at those first.


At a minimum, you’ll probably want to bring two sets of riding clothes plus a pair of non-riding undies, probably a pair of shorts, and some light flip flops. You could absolutely ride in a single outfit the whole time. This will increase your chance of getting a rash as well as the likelihood that no one will want to be remotely close to you after a few days. I’d suggest hauling the extra ounces to do yourself and the world a favor.

Your routine is going to go like this:
  1. Finish the day’s ride.
  2. Take off Clothing Set 1 (CS1).
  3. Change into Shirt 2, your casual undies and shorts, and flip flops.
  4. Locate a sink/water pump/any water source.
  5. Wash Clothing Set 1.
  6. Sleep, wake up, put on CS2.
  7. Pack up, hang CS1 from your bike (rear rack, panniers, etc.) so it can dry.
  8. Go until you’re just about to finish for the day, then return to Step 1.
See? Two sets of clothing are perfect. You’ll have clean enough clothes every day, and you’ll barely notice the extra weight. If you’re going for an extended ride, I’d recommend properly washing your clothes every week or two. You will be amazed at how many boogers you will wipe on your shorts in a single day. You’ll look like a reverse dalmatian.


All of your basic clothing should be at least two things: wicking and antimicrobial. This won’t be cheap, but avoid the urge to waste your money on lower quality clothing. You will be wearing the same clothes day in and day out, so you’re paying for quality, not quantity. Also, higher quality goods will go further without washing and last longer over their lifetime. I know $40 for an athletic shirt seems like a lot, but if you wear it every other day for two months straight, it’s really a bargain. The same goes for $20 socks.

For your shirts, buy two different sleeve lengths. If you tend to run hot, get one short sleeve and one sleeveless. If you have poor circulation, one short sleeve and one long. Don’t buy two stylish shirts that are identical except for color. Style means nothing on tour. Remember that.
For socks, buck up and get the fancy ones. A cheap pair of cycling socks will mean unhappy feet. The last thing you want on tour is pissed off feet. They get very passive aggressive and start making snide remarks. It’s really uncomfortable for everyone in the room.
For shorts, wear what you like. I’m personally a fan of Canari (I bargain hunted for all of mine, FYI), but that’s just me. I have tried other brands, and nothing has ever fit quite as comfortably. It’s just a matter of body type. Wear whatever makes your butt want to sing joyously. If you thought unhappy feet were bad, wait until you meet an angry ass.
For casual wear, think “light.” Hiking shorts are usually light and fold down to nothing. Instead of a belt, pack a nylon camping strap that you could also use to tie something down to your rear rack with (get the kind with the aluminum buckle). Comfy undies are usually small, so not much to think about there. Flip flops can be very heavy. Cheap flip flops may as well be made of lead. Some nicer brands like Teva make ultralight, extremely durable, and super comfortable flops. It doesn’t mean much when you’re wearing them, but weight matters when you’re carrying them. Same goes for sneakers if you bring any, which I’d have to strongly recommend against, but I can’t force you to do something you don’t want to do.

Remember, style isn’t important on tour. Unless you just can’t help it.

The other clothes you bring will depend on your route. If you’re going to have some colder weather when the sun’s down, you may want to pack a set of thermals for at night, as well as full legged lycras for when you’re starting your day. Some people avoid full length riding shirts and pants by buying lycra sleeves and pant legs. I’m not a big fan as they never seem to fit me quite right, but others swear by them. A big bonus of those is that they are extremely light and packable.
If you’re going to be riding through rain (I’m looking at you, Ohio), pack a light rain jacket. Most summer days you won’t need a rain coat unless it’s raining all day and night. The summer sun usually dries you off very quickly. Plus, you have dry camp clothes to change into even if you’re soaked when you finish. If you’re riding in cooler temperatures a jacket is a must, though, for when the temperature unexpectedly drops. Might as well make sure it’s waterproof to kill two birds with one stone.
Should you really need pants, go with extremely thin sweatpants, and wear your thermals under them if you need more warmth. Packing a pair of jeans sounds reasonable for going into town, but what will end up happening is you’ll never wear them and just be pissed that you’re taking up the space in your pannier.
Also, and most importantly, get a small stuff sack to put your “extras” in. You won’t be putting these items on very often, so avoid aggravating yourself every time you dig into your clothes pannier and compartmentalize. If your extras are in their own bag, they can’t get in the way.


Layer your pannier for maximum ease of unload. At the bottom, pack your sneakers if you brought any. On top of that, pack you stuff sack of ‘extras’. On top of that, your daily wear. This way you’ll have easy access to the clothing that you’ll be using on a day to day basis.

Hang your flip flops from the straps on your rear rack, or from a pannier strap. You don’t want those stink bombs in with your clothes.
Easy enough, right? You’ll likely find that clothing preferences will change over the course of your trip, and if this is your first tour, “likely” changes to “definitely”. Don’t feel shackled to your clothing. If something doesn’t feel quite right, just go to a store, buy something new, and mail the old clothing home. Don’t ride in uncomfortable or high maintenance clothing, it’ll just be a distraction from the joy of the road. Remember, you want your clothes that are light, feel comfortable, and keep your ass singing that joyful song.