Category Archives: Biking

All things biking…

Fat Biking in Alaska (with video)

What a great trail!

What a great trail!

I’m back, and I’m sorry I haven’t posted anything recently. I had a family emergency which caused me to be without my regular computer for some time. Now I’m back, and everything is fine!

Now for biking… I was able to borrow my Dad’s fat bike (an Alaskan made Fatback) and go off-road trail riding. I took a video and snapped two pictures to announce being back and ready to write more here!

The roads around Fairbanks are extremely icy at the moment so commuting from my house to town on any bike would be dangerous (I suppose that’s what I get for living out in the hills). I guess in the meantime I’ll just be enjoying trail tours near my house.

The trail ride was on the Isberg/Cripple Creek multi-use trail system directly off Isberg Road in Fairbanks, Alaska. The bike performed very well on the slightly packed down snow; it handled cornering at high speeds, fast descents were comfortable, and ascents were easy with no slipping (see video).

 

Stealth camping: It’s about respect (5 tips)

Stealthing under a shelter

Stealth site under a shelter

There are times when you’re traveling you don’t make it as far as you needed (or perhaps you made it farther), and you become stranded with nowhere to sleep and you begin to feel uneasy. There is always a safe place to sleep if you do it properly.

Stealth camping – Stealth camping is when you sleep in an unorthodox location. It could be in a deep ditch, behind a rock, in the woods, or… well… you get the point. These ideal stealth camps are found most everywhere, but there are things to know before you throw yourself and your bike into a ditch to sleep… here are 5 tips to help you successfully stealth camp.

1. Don’t trespass on private property – ask permission from the owner

You do not want surprises in the middle of the night when trespassing on property… I don’t just mean a pissed off landowner; I’ve read a blog about someone who got kicked out of their camping spot because a herd of sheep came to gnaw on their gear (and them).

2. Don’t eat / cook in stealth camps

Normally you would know if you’re going to have trouble down the road finding a place to sleep, and you should eat your last meal of the day away from your camp. Eating in a stealth camp (even a great one) can attracted unwanted company throughout the night and longer. Who knows, someone else might want to use the area for their own stealth camping in the near future… the last thing they want is to set their tent up on your spilled oatmeal or your camp dish suds.

3. “Leave no trace” (i.e. be respectful)

This goes for all camping spots (even paid spots). “Leave no trace” means what you bring in you must take out. It should look like it did when you arrived there. If it’s obvious you’ve been there you may ruin the spot for future travelers who might need to use it. Don’t act homeless, act like a traveler.

3. Be invisible

If you’re going to be camping in places which have a higher risk of being seen it’s best to reduce your beauty rest to the darkest hours of the night. Ideally, you should not be able to see the road or any cars driving by. If you can see them, they can see you. It’s important to know there are many reflective patches and strips on traveling gear and tents so just because it’s dark around you doesn’t mean you won’t shine when a car passes.

5. If you’re caught

Explain your situation. Honesty is rewarding. Sometimes the person (possibly a police officer) would allow you to sleep there, help find a different place for you nearby, or let you stay in his yard. I’ve never had a police man kick me out of a spot, but I have had one check on me in the morning to make sure I was fine through the night.

Please note: I do not promote illegal activity. Stealth camp at your own risk and realize it is illegal in places. I’ve put together these guidelines so people are safer when stranded between destinations in the dark.

Homeless and Hot: A touring cyclist’s tale

While I was on my tours I would often think of this:

To an everyday citizen who happens to see me – I probably look as if I just crawled out from underneath a bridge. The smell of sweat, musky clothing, and wilderness matter follows me where ever I roam. I wear clothing which was likely picked up at a local secondhand store during the dollar days sale. In fact, I probably look as if I’m living on 5$ per day or less…

…Wait a minute, I do when I’m on tour.

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Now my view of what other people thought of me was often backed by some common occurrences, such as, people telling me where the nearest homeless shelters were, inviting me in to the soup kitchen, asking if I was alright when I was sitting along the side of the road eating lunch, and inviting me to have a properly made dinner in their homes… this, however, just may be the kindness of the people in the world!

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But then… there were other occurrences… and these ones made me feel like I was hot stuff on the bike. They even overrode my thought of people thinking I was homeless. This is a confidence boost every tour.

The first occurrence:

This was on my 2 day tour to Denali National Park. I was on my way to Denali when a car beeped its horn a couple of times and slowed down to my pace and a bunch of girls were cheering out their windows.

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The second occurrence:

This was on the same 2 day tour to Denali National Park, but was when I was on my way back home. I stopped in Nenana for a hot dog when a local girl came up to me to talk, and ended up asking me out. If I was smarter maybe I would’ve stayed for the date, but I declined.

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The third occurrence:

On my cross-country journey I stopped in a campground and when to fill up my water bottles when I ran into a group of older women near the water pump. They were traveling in a caravan of campers and were (uncomfortably interested in what I had to say) wooing at everything I said…. This was my only encounter with woo-grandmas in my life. It was interesting.

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The fourth occurrence:

I was locking up my bike while I was on my cross-country journey and someone soon pulled their car to the side of the road and was staring at me. When I noticed she zoomed off to her parking spot, and got out of her car. When she walked past me she said “Sorry about that. It’s not everyday there is a hot man around here.” I laughed and thanked her.

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The fifth occurrence:

This was right after I was hit by a car in Stillwater, Minnesota. I was gathering up my gear that was scattered around the road and people were coming up to me to see if I was okay. Then a girl about my age came out of the shop she was working in and said I could wait in there. She ended up asking if I wanted to go out that night before I had to leave.

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After coming home from these tours where I’m asked out I always wonder why I was, because my clothes reek of homelessness or what some girls would consider the manliness of cycling.

So what is a touring cyclist? Homeless? Hot? Both? Neither? I don’t know. I suppose it can go both ways.
*A quick note about the pictures: I did not ever sleep under a bridge, ask for money, take soup, eat a hamburger, eat someone’s wife’s famous spaghetti, have something dripping from my hot dog in Nenana (that I was aware of), flexed for a wooing group of grandmas, or bent my bike as badly as it is shown in the picture. These pictures were for entertainment only.

-45F Ice fog commuting – Fairbanks, Alaska

Photo Credit: Sam Harrel for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Photo Credit: Sam Harrel for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

This is a photo of a cyclist in Fairbanks, Alaska at -45F taken for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on January 23, 2013 entitled Cold and foggy commute. Check it out.

This related to my article about cycling at -55F so I thought I’d post it! Enjoy!

I did not mention the ice fog in my article, because I’m unsure if it occurs in other place. Fairbanks, Alaska is located in a valley surrounded by hills. When it reaches -40F or below an inversion layer occurs and causes all the wood smoke, moisture in the air, power plant smoke, and (controversial) boilers to settle on the ground rather than rise. This is the reason in the winter months Fairbanks has some of the worst pollution in the country. For more information check out wikipedia: ice fog.

The ice fog can reduce visibility to a 1/4 mile or less… Watch out for those cyclists, runners, walkers, and others not afraid to tackle the cold temperatures!

10 things to know about biking at -55F

I rode my bike at -55F today so I decided to write 10 random things to know about -55F cycling…

1. Gears and brakes

As the temperatures begin to dip and around -15F you’ll start to notice the mechanics of your bike messing up, and at -55F your gears and brakes will suffer dramatically. My first year of winter riding I was stuck in one gear the whole winter, and my brakes wouldn’t work. However, you can improve the performance of your bike to lower temperatures with some lubrication.

2. Lubrication

Most moving parts on your bike will begin to feel sluggish without proper lubrication.

It’s a good thing to properly grease your bearings in your winter bike with a low temperature grease. I would avoid greases specifically made for bikes because they tend to stiffen up faster than some other greases out there. The best grease I’ve used is Lubriplate Mag-1.

I originally started with WD-40 for my chain and it worked well, but then I heard something about WD-40 being bad for bike chains and stopped using it. I now use whatever cold weather bike oil I can find, and they don’t seem to work as well.

3. Plastic components

As temperatures drop plastics will become brittle and tend to break. I’ve had several pedals break when it’s below -30F and now use metal platform pedals for my winter commuting.

Other components which can be plastic to be careful of are: water bottle holders, indexed cable housing, toe clips, and others you might have.

4. Tires

Tires are important for stability on the bike and an overall comfortable ride when on snow and ice. Wider tires with large gaps between the knobs of the tires work best in snow conditions, and studs help on ice. I’ve heard of people assembling chains for their bikes, but I can’t imagine it being a comfortable ride on pavement.

Keeping your tire pressure low will help the tires grip the road better and float more on trails. I have my tire pressure on my mountain bike around 10psi during my winter commutes, but I’ve noticed it depends on the type of tires I’m using. There are times on very soft trails I can go down to 5psi and have it feel great.

I don’t know if it’s unusual, but I’ve never had a flat in 1000 miles of winter cycling (3 years).

5. Clothing

Choosing clothing for such cold rides can be tricky because if you dress too warm you’ll begin to sweat and then you’ll begin to get cold, or if you don’t have enough gear on you’ll become cold too.

I wear 2 sweatshirts and a jacket shell on my core. I make sure the jacket has a waist band to reduce air from coming in from the bottom, and that it can zip up over my mouth.  I avoid hoods because they seem to scoop cold air into my jacket when I ride – it’s extremely uncomfortable.

My arms would be warmed up with the jacket and sweatshirts if they can tighten around the mittens and create a sealed cuff (or else you’ll have cold air rushing into your jacket).

To keep your hands warm at -55F it’s important to wear a waterproof mitten and have pogies on your handlebars. Move your fingers a lot to keep warm blood flowing to them!

Your face will freeze if you don’t have any protection on it. I always wear a warm wool hat, face mask, and goggles. I also zip my jacket up over my nose and mouth so I’m breathing warm air from my core.

I don’t wear as much gear on my lower half because my legs tend to run hot on the bike. At -55F I’m comfortable with a pair of cold weather skin-tight running pants underneath a pair of blue jeans. I would suggest others wear snow pants.

6. Goggles

I have found out that most winter sports goggles work fine for winter cycling. I always go for clear lenses which won’t fog from my breath. The goggles also prevent my glasses from fogging when my breath escapes my coat.

7. Footwear

Wool socks and warm lightweight boots are best. I used old combat boots I found at a thrift store and would rarely have cold feet. Remember that the heavier your boots the harder it will be to pedal… I would not suggest boots rated for -100F which give you 2 inches of clearance from the ground!

If your feet get cold it doesn’t hurt to get off your bike and run for a bit.

Also, wiggle those toes!

8. Lights

Lighting on your bike is a must for winter cycling and is often times required by law. You should check applicable bike laws before you buy a light.

I ride with a headlamp and a handlebar headlight on the front of my bike. The headlamp will shine where I am looking (it’s nice to know if I have any visitors coming out of the woods next to me… hello moose!), and the headlight will shine where the bike is going.

In the rear I have 2 mounted red tail lights. One of them blinks and the other one does not. My personal thought is it’s a little easier for people to notice a blinking red light, but it’s easier for people to see the cyclists movement with a solid light.

9. Traffic

In Fairbanks Alaska the bike paths are not maintained nor navigable so winter commuters share the road with cars, often times the snow isn’t plowed far enough to the side of the road to have an adequate shoulder, and with only 3 hours of daylight most of the riding is at night. This is often a turn-off from winter commuting, but it shouldn’t be.

I have found more people are aware of cyclists in the winter than in the summer. Cars will switch to their low beams when they see you approaching, they’ll slow down, and give you more than enough space.

I prefer to do my winter biking in the dark, because when people begin driving their cars at extremely cold temperatures their windows fog up and often times they’ll barely be able to see the road. In daylight my lights aren’t as visible and don’t draw attention so the driver may not be able to see me. At night the lights are easily visible through the foggy windows.

10. Beer

When you’re on your way home you can begin to think you have a nice “warm” beer in the refrigerator with your name on it!

What’s my cycling “fuel economy”?

Welcome to North Dakota!

People always say bikes have unlimited miles to the gallon, but is this truly the case? Probably not.

Why? Because what powers a car is the energy the gasoline produces not the gas itself. This is interesting because a basic unit of energy is a joule (J) or calorie (kcal). In fact 1 kcal = approx. 1.184 J. However, we’ll stick to the most recognized unit of energy, a calorie.

According to convertunits the amount of calories in a gallon of gasoline is approx 31500 kcal/gallon of gas.

From my experience using a heart rate monitor,  my efficiency goes up and down do to wind direction/speed, tires being pumped up 100%, and other factors. We will ignore all factors except for my weight 160lbs, and assume my average riding speed is 20mph on flats with no wind. For each pound at this speed I lose .25kcal/mile (general rule of thumb I’ve seen many places…here’s the livestrong analysis); therefore, I burn 40kcal/mile – This has been confirmed with my heart rate monitor.

(35100kcal/gallon) / (40kcal/mi) = 787.5mi/gallon = 787.5mpg

Therefore, if I was able to drink gasoline without dying I’d be able to ride 787.5 miles for every gallon I drink… I have yet to see a more efficient motor.

DO NOT DRINK GASOLINE – IT CAN KILL YOU

* These calculations are for entertainment purposes only. Enjoy!

Check out my running fuel economy here.

Pushing Miles: Denali National Park Peek-a-boo tour

I have decided to share my first tour ever. I won’t say it was a bad tour, but I will say I should have planned it out a little better (or maybe realized what touring was about).

Day 1:

I left my house around 9am. This was my first tour. I didn’t know what I was in store for. In fact, I didn’t realize this was going to be my first encounter with the touring bug which would soon take me across the country.

I felt out of shape and uncomfortable on my bike. This was my first bike ride of the season and it was slow. Averaging 11 miles per hour and pushing for 10 hours were testing on my mind and ass (little did I know touring wasn’t about speed nor distance, but mental peace… of which, I had none).

About to enter Nenana

About to enter Nenana

The day took me through the hills along the parks HWY outside of Fairbanks for 65 miles before I crossed the Tanana River and passed through the small town of Nenana.

The road stretched on for another 30 miles… straight and smooth. The miles seemed to crawl by slower than I could ever imagine. I past the Clear-Anderson turn-off, and continued my way to Healy.

Once in Healy I knew I only had about 15 miles before the campground I was going to stay at… I stopped here to eat a very late lunch. It was practically the first time I got off the bike since leaving Fairbanks. I was very hungry and fatigued.

I felt like I didn't have time to take real photos... Fail

I felt like I didn’t have time to take real photos… Fail

Those final miles to my campground were the slowest of the day and the most tiring… and the campground was closed. However, I noticed an RV in one of the sites and decided to camp there anyways. I pulled out my bivy and rolled it out with my sleeping bad near the picnic table.

I ate dry MRE’s for dinner that night.

Day 2:

My bike in the morning

My bike in the morning – I don’t know why I bothered to lock it to that willow tree

I woke up really early cold and wet from sweat in the bivy. I was sore from the day before and didn’t think I was going to make it back to Fairbanks that day… I actually didn’t even plan too.

I got out of my bivy sack and ate more dry MRE. It was hard to tolerate after eating dry food for the last two days. I filled up my water bottles at the campground hut before setting off in the direction I came from the day before.

Snapped this on the way back (missed it the day before)

Snapped this on the way back (missed it the day before)

It was surprising, but the bike was moving very fast! I didn’t really understand it (I later learned it was a false flat and actually a downhill). I flew past Clear-Anderson and seemed to make it to Nenana in no time at all. It was satisfying.

I went into the Nenana gas station to buy some food and ended up buying a hot dog (and being asked out by a local girl who saw me biking the day before). I ate it outside near my bike and contemplated continuing to Fairbanks. I decided to (mistake).

The last 65 miles of miles were disastrous. The sun was beating down on me as I sucked down my water in the first 40 miles. I had the last 15 miles of hills with out water… thank goodness it was mostly downhill.

So exhausted and dehydrated

So exhausted and dehydrated

I made it home very thirsty and very hungry, but had no complaints.

….

9 things I’ll never forget….

 1. Never expect to eat dry food for an entire tour!

 2. Don’t race; slow down and enjoy it!

 3. Touring isn’t an endurance event either; miles don’t matter!

 4. Take breaks all the time!

 5. Enjoy yourself!

 6. If you think you should take an extra day; do it!

 7. Touring isn’t supposed to be tiring!

 8. Touring is supposed to be energizing!

 9. Always make sure you have enough water…

Pushing Miles: Preparing for your tour

Camping in Culbertson, Montana

Camping in Culbertson, Montana – Free camping can be found in many of the smaller communities

Planning is the initial part of preparing and should be done first; you’ll save a lot of money (believe me!). You can find my article on preparing for your tour here.

Once you have a basic plan you can begin preparing for your journey. When I brought a cyclist friend of mine on my cross continent tour she often wondered how I planned the trip. I really didn’t know what to tell her except she needn’t worry about it (I showed her my composition notebook full of my planning; I couldn’t explain how I planned it in one sitting. However, she then began asking questions related to preparing for the trip. She would ask what sort of gear she needed and how does she know if it’s the right type/quality, what type of identification she would need, and if she was in good enough shape to go on such a tour. I plan on answering these here for you.

However, before I begin I need to stress an important detail on gear. Test it. This mean everything: clothing, tent, stove, fully loaded bike, etc. If something was missing from the component list or if something was missing, this is the time to find out.

So, how do you know what gear is the right gear (or the wrong)? The most familiar article of clothing is your best friend – go with what you know. If you don’t know what you want, the simple answer is to read as many reviews as you can from other touring cyclists until you know what you need. There are many good reviews at crazyguyonabike , REI, and at amazon; however, amazon doesn’t have touring specific reviews.

Aside from gear, identification is very important to the touring cyclist. If you are going on an international cycling trip a passport will be mandatory along with two other forms of I.D. (carry a photocopy of your passport, and don’t give the original to anyone you have suspicions aren’t who they say they are). It’s a good idea to have your passport expire over 9 months from the end of your tour to give you leeway in case it takes longer than expected or you get hassled by the border patrol. If you are going on an in country trip it might only be necessary to have an up-to-date drivers license (although you may want more in case of emergency). I was questioned for a while going into the U.K., because my passport was set to expire in 7 months even though they only give 6 month visas.

Lastly, how physically fit you are has almost nothing to do with bike touring. Of course, if you can barely walk to the refrigerator and back to the couch with your chili cheese dog you zapped in the microwave, I’d consider doing some prior exercise. However, if you can ride a bike at least 10 miles you should be good. Touring is not a race, slow down and enjoy it!

*Note to readers* – If you feel I have left anything out in regard to preparing to leave your house let me know. Some of it might be covered in Planning your bike tour. Again, these two almost go hand in hand.

Pushing Miles: Planning your next bike tour

Cycling down the Alaska HWY

Cycling down the Alaska HWY

If you’re new to bike touring planning can be overwhelming. It’s important you begin planning well in advance to give yourself a smooth and steady trip – no one likes being surprised minutes (or a week if it’s a long trip) before the trip or even, heaven forbid, during the trip. The planning time depends on the length of trip and the past experience of you, the touring cyclist. I often use the quick planner to brainstorm, and the practical planner to lay out my true plan.

The Quick Planner: Not ideal, but may help jump-start your planning

Wherever the idea came from for you to jump on a bike and ride far from (or near) your backyard came originally as an idea. This is normally the first part of planning… the spark of interest. This is when you need to ask yourself the 5 W’s. Who, what, when, where, why, and of course, how?

Who? Obviously yourself, but do you want a partner on this trip? If so, who do you think would be interested (or who are you interested in asking). You must make sure this person holds a similar interest in doing a trip. If you believe you’d like to go solo move along to the next paragraph.

What? Another obvious answer would be a bike tour. However, how long do you want this trip to last? Would you like a weekend trip, week-long adventure, cross-country journey, or a world expedition? Where would you like this trip to take you, or will it be a loop? The choice is up to you.

When? Look at your calendar. Truthfully, your trip begins with the planning. Set dates when you would like to finish with the planning and move on to the preparation? When would you like to leave? If you keep these dates tentative it’ll make for a less stressful encounter if you fall behind schedule. If you believe you’ll needed back by a certain date, mark it! This is the only deadline you may or may not have.

Where? This is the physical place the tour will take place. Where is it you would like to go? People have taken bike journeys all over the world. The possibilities are practically endless.

Why? I can’t answer this question for you.

How? You can achieve anything with the proper planning, preparation, and execution.

The Practical Planner: The step by step guide

As a general rule of thumb I have developed for any trip is that you should start to plan approximately the duration you plan on being gone before you leave the door up to a year; for shorter trips this may not be possible if you don’t have the gear and may need to order it, and longer trips the planning can overlap some of the trip itself. Then break it down 50% closer to the departure time as shown in the example; one for a 6 month-long trip is below.

6 months prior to leaving –

  • Make sure you have a bike
  • Figure out your route and order maps and supplements.
  • Create an equipment list (many of these are found online and the gear listed on each on varies slightly for each. I have created a generic one here).
  • Check off what you have and don’t have. Out of what you don’t have it is beneficial to read reviews and post on forums until you find the ideal gear for you.
  • Visit bike shops and talk to the sales representatives. Make sure they know about bike touring and aren’t just trying to push sales. In some places there are tour focused bike shops – these are very helpful.
  • Search the internet and start reading blogs, forums, reviews, anything and everything. There is no such thing as too much reading. However, internet sources are not edited/checked for quality so use your best judgement. Normally bike touring sites are fairly helpful.

3 months prior to leaving –

  • You should have all your gear by now. Be sure it is all in working condition and works together. For instance, do your panniers (or trailer), rack, and bike work together?
  • Wear some of your clothing on test rides. Do you like the way they feel? If not exchange them for more comfortable clothes. You don’t want to be cycling uncomfortably all day every day.
  • Study your maps and check accommodations in each city. If you’re staying in hotels/motels it’s not too early to book a room, especially if it’s in a touristy destination during a peak season.
  • Book flights if needed. Normally you have a better rate the earlier you book a flight and you don’t run the risk of the flight being full.

1.5 months (6 weeks) before leaving –

  • Check the expiration date of your identification you’ll be using. If it’s near  expiring renew it. Passports should be checked earlier than 1.5 months from departure.
  • Double check your gear. Can you think of anything else you might need for the trip? If you don’t have something, order it.
  • Run some test rides with your fully loaded bike on some less traveled roads. The biggest mistake I’ve made was leave with a new trailer only to realize the handling was different from cycling with panniers.

3 weeks before leaving –

  • Plan what you’re going to be eating on the trip.
  • Gather addresses of anyone you want to keep in contact with throughout the trip.
  • Make sure you have a reliable emergency contact who knows when you’re supposed to be back. This person should be one of your #1 contacts throughout the trip.
  • Service your bike; put on new tires, new chain, and clean it.
  • Make sure your 1st aid kit is up to date and full. You do not need surprises.
  • Buy final items: fuel, batteries, water purifying tablets, etc.

1-1.5 weeks before leaving

  • If necessary pack your bike in a bike box. These are available from any bike store – cardboard works fine.
  • Buy food necessary for the first part of your tour.
  • Pack your trailer/panniers

1 night before leaving

  • Drink a beer; you’re ready.
  • Get a good nights rest.

** There will be more to pay attention to if you’ll be traveling over borders. For instance: immunizations, visas, passport, availability of money in foreign countries – especially in poorer countries.

*** The book I highly recommend for anyone, but especially for the perspective world cycling junkie is the “Adventure Cycle-Touring HANDBOOK” by Stephen Lord. He was the one who came up with a year plan before going on long tours; he caused me to develop my own practical prep guide, and the general rule of thumb “plan approximately the duration you plan on being gone”.

Pushing Miles: The touring cyclists equipment list

Flats of North Dakota

Flats of North Dakota

Hello Cyclists looking for adventure!

I have assembled a touring cyclists checklist. This is a basis for you creating your own list, and may help you remember some key items which are overlooked.
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