Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Prepping for Neva's First Bike Tour

So, Neva is that age where she has been riding for over two years now, and she's outgrowing her trailers.  Our ever so trusty trailers that have carried her over 50,000 miles over these last five years, it's kind of hard to believe. It's thanks to my friends over at the Bike Shop Hub, and brands like Chariot Carriers, Burley, Nordic Cab, and Tout Terrain that have allowed us to test their trailers in the past and be experts on child trailers, and now it's time to get out of the comfort zone and into the uncharted territory of Neva assisted bike-touring!



What are the options then?

There's the long tail bike with seat, like the Xtracycle.  Now, I haven't ridden a longtail bike in a while, but they can be very heavy if it's all one bike frame (Yuba), and wobbly if it's an added attachment (Xtracycle) and you're carrying a lot of weight.  These are popular around beaches, and bumming around town, and though people do use them for long touring and may like them, they can be cumbersome, and Neva wouldn't be able to pedal.  They also are a bit of an investment, so it might be worth considering a tandem if you're willing to spend the extra money and have the extra frame weight.



Pros
Cons
Holds a lot of gear
Heavy and cumbersome, difficult to travel with
Has a seat and harness when child wants to sleep (extra cost)
Neva can’t pedal
Good for around town, small day rides
Need to either redo whole bike, or buy new bike ($500-$1300)


The tandem is a possibility, but a very large investment, so we would have to calculate out realistically how many years we might be able to get out of a set up like that. I like the idea of a tandem, but I would want Neva to be able to stop pedaling when she wanted to, and that set up is also costly.  It could be a very good set-up, but it would need (off-road capable) tandem + kidback (so she could reach the pedals) + seat (so she could fall asleep) + clipless pedals/shoes (again, for sleeping).


Kidback kit


Pros
Cons
Just like a regular bike, but longer (ie. familiar for repairs, can transfer rack/pannier set up, etc.)
Cumbersome, difficult to travel with (even with S&S couplers, which add $600-$1000 to cost of bike)
Seat and harness potential
Cost : $3500 (bike) + $300 (kidback) + $60 (backrest) + etc.
Neva can pedal for years if she wants to


There is also the trail-a-bike option. This style bike typically hitches to your seat post, and it trails similarly to a trailer.  The child can chose to pedal or not, and you can add the additional seat for if they want to fall asleep. You would probably also want to get clipless pedals for this set up so their feet aren't dangling. This seems like a good option, but may be limiting depending on the terrain, and length of the ride. 



   


Most trail-a-bikes aren't meant for off-road use, and don't have shifting capabilities, though a few do, like the Burley Piccolo which is a 7-speed, and lets the child learn about how to shift. The Piccolo is also unique in that it attaches to an included rack instead of to the seat post.  This means that you will be able to mount your panniers without worrying about clearance from the hitch arm. The concern I might have is how the trail-a-bike might lean if she does nod off and if the hitch is made for that kind of use. 





Pros
Cons
Tracks similarly to a trailer, fits child with adjustable seat and handlebars, can add seat
Short lifespan, depending on how quickly child grows (though possibly a good 3 years)
Has shifting capabilities for learning and rack so you don’t lose storage options (with Piccolo)
Leaning potential for when the child is sleeping
Detachable, small, light (aluminum) potentially easier to travel with
Unknown capabilities for long, off-road trips
Reasonable price : $359 + backrest



Lastly, there is the Weehoo IGO Venture Trailer. This trailer has not only shown to do extremely well off-road, but it also is the leader in safety since the child is able to fall asleep due to the recumbent position. No additions necessary. The chain is also covered to prevent tiny pant legs from getting caught. The seat adjusts back as your child grows, so it does have long lasting potential, and there is a cargo space, and we always need more cargo space!  They really have thought deeply about the construction of this trailer and hit all of the major issues I've seen in trailers.   My only potential issue with this trailer is that with my short stature, I may not be able to mount a rack, though the newer IGO has full panniers which may give me all the space I need. Out of all the trailers, it seems like it fares best for both functionality and value.

Image result for weehoo igo venture


Pros
Cons
Good ergonomics and safety.  Neva can fall asleep, and no extra gear is needed as she is in full recumbent position
Unsure of rack compatibility (for short riders like myself) with seat post mounted hitch
Has been shown to do well off-road
Potentially mildly cumbersome and difficult
to travel with.
Reasonable price ~$489 (and doesn’t need clipless pedals, seat, etc., and includes storage area)

Adjustable to grow with child, long life-span


So these are the options that our family is looking at now.  It all depends on how much we want to spend, and what kinds of trips we will take with Neva over the years.  Our first trip (most likely) will be with Neva doing RAGBRAI, which is an all-paved ride that is supported.  The trail-a-bike would be good for that scenario because if there was a day she didn't want to ride and I did, we would un-hook her bike and SAG with Christian, as opposed to me riding a tandem.  But having a sturdy tandem for off-road might be the best answer for the Great Divide ride, but for when she's older, as she would probably be more comfortable in the recumbent-style Weehoo during her younger years.  I'll keep you tuned-in and let you know what we decide for our summer tour.  If you have any great family riding stories or photos, please post and share!












Monday, September 29, 2014

Quick Post : College Commuter

Hey everyone!  Just in case you didn't know, I'm working on a graduate degree in environmental science and Neva is now in school.  With the structured school year lifestyle, we will be talking a little bit about commuting, though I still have plenty of travel tales to regale and pictures to share. I wanted to do a quick post so you didn't think I forgot about you!  My Olympus is in the shop right now, so the photos are phone-tastic!

Neva's first day of school.
Neva's school is far away for now, so no biking to school yet. She is trail-a-bike ready when the time comes!




My first night at school.  After graduate orientation, someone locked their bike up to another bike's brake cables!  That bike belonged to a girl, and she was unable to leave.  After over an hour of waiting, the parking police were called in with (very) large bolt cutters. 

My first day of school.  Can you spot my bike?  Me neither!
My first day of school I got to lock my bike up with a slew of other bikes, I made sure to pay special attention to other people's stray brake cables.  

I'll do another post on it, but that's me in Da Brim.
A must have for Texas summers.


Here's the bag I carry.  It's a Chrome mini metro messenger bag.  I've tried other Chrome bags, and I feel like they're just too big for a 5'2" girl, but this one is just the right fit.  The mini metro has the classic clasp in the front, waterproofing, and two clips and velcro closure up front.


It holds all of my stuff too.  I love the organization in this thing.  Usually you have to compromise with waterproofness and organization, but this bag has both.  There's a separate slot for my computer, a main compartment for my notebooks and grade organizer, a front zipper section with lots of pockets and slots for pens and miscellaneous items, and two medium pockets in the very front where I put my wallet, keys and phone, for quick access. 


I despise sweaty back, and am a huge proponent of panniers, but I didn't want to give up my messenger bag.  I decided to make use of all those straps and buckles and attached the Mini Metro pretty easily to my rack.  Now, I do have lots of experience, so it takes a little ingenuity, but it all worked out.


The issues I ran into at first were dealing with the heal clearance, but after fiddling with the multiple straps (the underarm strap velcros on and off if you need extra leverage there) I got it to fit pretty securely.


I have lots to share about China, but wanted to say hello.  If anyone has any questions about commuting, please post.  

With 3 night classes a week, I do this quite a bit.

And everyone really just reads the blog to see Neva, so here's your moment of zen, Neva biking 6 miles a day on off-road terrain... to be continued.




Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Off-road Bikepacking List - FULL

Okay, so you want to go on a bike tour? After about 7 years of touring (half of that with a child may get me bonus points) I have compiled a list for people wanting to undertake a bike tour.  This is just a list, and I will follow up this post highlighting each section and talk about specific brands and the like, but for now, this is just a copy, paste, print style list of things to bring on a bikepacking tour.



The thing to remember is you don't have to be fancy, just creative; and you can never have all of the gear because :

1. There's always new technology coming out that's lighter, faster, better
2. It would cost a fortune if this is your first rodeo, so borrow, scour thrift stores or Craig's list, check the web for DIY's, etc.
3.  You learn as you go. You won't know what your perfect set up is until you've done it...a lot.  Just get everything together enough to be safe and well-supplied and over the years, you'll accumulate the gear that's right for you.


There are lots of bike DIY options like these kitty litter panniers.


So here it is, my list (which does not discriminate against bicycling with a baby) :

BIKE

  • Bike - Pick one suited for the terrain; consider frame material, style of brakes, gear ratio, eyelets and tire width capability
  • Racks - Front, rear or both depending on how long you will be out and how much you want to carry
  • Panniers - 2 panniers or 4 panniers
  • Top tube bag or saddle bag - for quick access to bike supplies 
  • Handlebar Bag - I think a necessity for any kind of touring.  You can put your map on it and always have access to where your going, hands-free AND you can pop the bag off easily and keep all of your valuables close
  • Water bottle cages - put as many of these on your bike as your bike/setup will allow
Um, this one seems a little small, refer to bike picture at top.

BIKE OPTIONAL
  • Front end dry bag holder - for lightweight off-road touring, can be used in lieu of rack/pannier setup
  • Triangle bag - also popular among lightweight mountain bikers doing the GDT
  • Trailer - if you have a child, or road touring.  I wouldn't recommend for off-road touring (sans child), as you want the weight to be as close to your bike as possible.

Cjell has a typical GDT lightweight mountain bike set-up.  And the bike, he made it.


BIKE TOOLS
  • Spare tubes - have 2 for each style tire you have (ex. my bike is 26" and the trailer is 20" so I carry two of each size)
  • Bike pump
  • Multi-tool
  • Tire levers
  • Patch kit
  • Front and rear bike lights
  • Bike bell - good to let both humans and wildlife alike know your coming
  • Helmet
  • Extra M5 bolts - these are the bolt size that your eyelets are, and attach your racks and cages to your bike.  On bumpy terrain, they will come loose, so bring extras in case any fall out before you get to them.
  • Zip ties of all sizes- trust me on this one
  • Duct tape/electrical tape - I like electrical tape because it doesn't leave a residue

Standard bike multi tool...with a broken handlebar bag clamp.


OUTDOOR (basically the same list as a normal camping trip)
  • Tent and fly with extra stakes
  • Sleeping bag - appropriate to the weather.  I use a 30 degree bag and Neva uses a 20 degree bag.
  • Ground pad
  • Stove and fuel
  • Lighter
  • Compass
  • Safety whistle
  • Some robe - for clothes line, to hoist food, tie things down, etc.
  • Knife
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • Camping towel
  • Headlamp
  • Mace/pepper spray/bear spray - depending on the area you are in



FIRST AID
  • Chapstick
  • Desitin - for those of you who have issues with chafing 
  • Neosporin
  • Pain killers
  • Slow release iron supplements
  • Anti-histamine
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anti-flu - Day AND Night-time 
  • Band aids
  • Safety mirror
  • Sting relief
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Super glue
  • Scissors

So much beauty and sooo much pollen!



FOOD AND WATER
  • Water bottles - as many as you can fit on your bike
  • Extra water bladder - depending on local resources available
  • Water filter
  • Bowls/Utensils/Mess kit
  • Energy bars
  • Emergen-C's - or other powdered electrolyte

Clean water is important, even if you have to work for it.


EXAMPLE OF TYPES OF FOOD I BRING
  • Chia seeds
  • Oatmeal pre-mixed with raisins and brown sugar
  • Honey
  • Packets of mustard, mayo, and other condiments you like
  • Tuna - packets if you can get them, they're lighter than cans
  • Oil - sealed very well
  • Powdered hummus - just add water and oil
  • Pesto and pasta
  • Flat bread
  • Packaged Tasty Bites Indian food
  • Cous cous - it's lighter to carry than rice and cooks in about 5 minutes




CLOTHES (all of this depends on weather you'll be in and how many days, but this list shows clothing for 3 days - 2 weeks worth, and in temperatures from 80 degree highs to 40 degree lows)
  • 6 underwear
  • 6 socks 
  • 2 riding bike shorts
  • 2 riding bike shirts
  • 1 sleep outfit/long underwear
  • 1 lightweight rain coat
  • 1 buff - or something to cover your neck and head to protect from sand, cold, smog, etc.
  • 2 pairs sun sleeves
  • 1 around people outfit - I choose a dress because it is only one clothing article
  • Around camp sandals
  • Comfy all hike/bike shoes
  • Biking gloves
  • Lightweight gloves - if necessary
  • Sun hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Swimsuit - optional, I usually will wear my bike gear
A good balance of comfy, layered and lightweight is a good idea.  Fight the urge to overdress, but be prepared for local weather.

TOILETRIES
  • Toilet paper
  • Biodegradable soap
  • Diva cup - this one applies to women only
  • Wipes - I know, very mom-like, but these things really can come in handy
  • Toothbrush and paste
  • Comb
  • Hair ties
  • Nail clippers - You'd be surprised how fast your nails grow on the road

As they say, keep your sunscreen close and your toilet paper closer...no, that's not it...

ELECTRONICS (Most of these are optional depending on your lifestyle and the type of tour experience you're looking for)
  • Phone/phone charger
  • Camera/SD card/battery
  • Tripod
  • GoPro/Battery
  • iPod/headphones/charger cord
  • Netbook/charger - Optional, good if you download photos often, write, or watch movies. Probably not necessary for short tours
  • E-reader/charger - They're lighter than books

Neva biking with a Go Pro attached to a DIY GoPro belt.

EXTRAS
  • Small pad of paper and pen - Handy for taking down fun tips from locals and phone numbers from people you meet
  • ID/money/cash - Keep these with you at all times. Always carry cash if you're going through small towns.
  • Measuring tape - In case something breaks and you need a bike measurement
  • Extra bag that packs in on itself - Even just a small canvas shopping bag works for when you're buying a small amount of groceries, or just walking around town for a day.  I have a backpack that folds down smaller than the size of your fist
  • Ear plugs/face mask - Both cities and nature can be loud, if you biked hard, the sounds probably won't matter as much, but if it's really cold or you're at high elevation and you want to sleep in, you better use the mask so that you won't get woken up by the 5am dawn sunlight.
  • Neck coolers
  • Reuseable hankys - There's pollen in nature.
  • Microfiber cloth - For your sunglasses/prescription glasses/camera
  • Carabiners - it's always handy to be able to attach something like sandals to the outside of your bags 

Neck coolers are a must in warm climates in the southwest and were a life-saver on RAGBRAI


FOR FUN!!! Yes, after biking and eating, you may wish to do other things while you're enjoying your time in the woods.
  • Hammock
  • Book/e-reader
  • Photography
  • Binoculars for bird watching or general wildlife viewing
  • Movies on lap-top
  • Instrument
  • Writing
  • Fishing pole (remember to get a local permit!)
  • Drawing
  • BLING - You'll want to spruce up your ride with a few trinkets along the way.  Neva acquired some dutch ceramic shoes from a couple driving a Model-T around the world, some Smokey the Bear stickers from some fire fighters, and some oragami birds for her trailer flag.  Give your rig your own flare
  • Toys - We can't forget about baby toys!

Sometimes socks with rocks works.  This was a Neva invention.


Okay, I think that's the list.  Oh wait.  I forgot one thing.  Remember to include EXTRA SPACE!  You will meet so many fun people who will want to give you things, you'll see strange things that you just have to have, and maybe you want a bike shirt souvenir.  You can always mail stuff back to yourself too, so it's okay to overload a little bit and adjust to unforeseen climate, terrain, or wackiness later.  


Like pie. Always make room for more pie from the Pie Lady in Pie Town.

I hope this is a good start for any beginners out there who might be overwhelmed with touring details.  I'm here to remind you that you can do it, and it's easy to figure out details along the way.  Get out and ride and you'll be fine!  I'll follow up this blog detailing each section of this list with brands, preferences, and personal experience.  Let me know if there's anything you prefer to ride with.  Is there a special trinket you keep with you on tour?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Quick Tips for a Last Minute Bike Tour

So your quirky bike friend wants to take you on a bike tour, but she only gave you 3 weeks notice, what do you do?  No need to fear, I have some quick tips that may ease your fears.  And don't worry, I do it too. T-minus 9 days until Laurie, Neva and I leave for a driving and biking tour of the southwest.  I will be posting some of our prepping and packing over the next week, so you all can get an idea of what goes into planning and packing, and what the absolute necessities are (for adult + 4-year-old).  But, first thing is first, getting your bike tour-ready.  Today was a beautiful day in north Texas, and a great day to clean the ol' bike and chain.  If you treat your bike well, she'll treat you well too (or something like that).



Man, there was a lot of grease, grime, and dirt in my chain and cassette, but now it looks pretty good. Once you scrub off all of the build-up, then you can lube your chain and wipe off the excess. You'll also want to check your tires (ALL of your tires) and tubes, and make sure you have spares.  Depending on the terrain, you may want to purchase thorn resistant or slime tubes. You will definitely want good quality tires if you plan on putting lots of miles on them, or if you're riding in a remote area.  It sure is a pain to have to stop regularly to change a tube, so just invest the money into good tires like Schwalbe or Specialized.

Yes, I even put Schwalbe tires on the trailer.


Once you're pretty sure you can stay moving, then it's brake time.  No, not "time to take a break", but "time to make sure you're capable of stopping" kind of brake-time.  It's also good to make sure your brakes aren't rubbing on anything because you definitely don't want extra drag, or to put extra wear on your brakes and rims.  If you ride regularly, you will know what needs fixing or adjusting.  Don't worry if you don't ride that particular bike regularly, just take it for a spin, and take note of if you're comfortable and that all of the moving parts are working like they should.

Laurie and Neva testing their bikes out on the gravel roads.


If you don't have the time to do things yourself, just drop it at a local shop you trust, but let them know the date you need it by, especially if you decide to do your last-minute tour during the busy season (summer-time!). And speaking of busy season, you will want to decide what gear you want asap and have it sent by a reliable service.  Take into consideration too that lots of high quality bike stuff comes from Europe, so you may have to do some investigation.  If you have to call REI to check stock numbers, do it.  Check the tracking numbers daily to make sure your packages are moving and nothing has happened in shipping, etc.  It's nice to reuse when you can, but it's always those small, unexpected parts that break, or had been a forgotten project that now is an important part of your set up.

Mounting a handlebar bag, and this happened.  Small, niche parts can be hard to track down, so phone calls are the way to go if you're down to the wire.

But, usually everything arrives on time, and you end up with a nice pile of the new, the old, the borrowed, the gifted, and the wacky inventions made out of desperation, from zip ties and old bike parts.




Then, put all of that gear on your bike, and ride on the intended terrain.  This sounds like a simple step, but it is probably the most important and time-consuming of them all.  Every rattle you'll want to check, every light battery, every bolt for anything attached to your bike.  Is your seat just right to sustain you for hours?  Does your rack rattle or move at all?  Does your heel hit your rear panniers?  If you're riding with children, assess their comfort too.  Do they complain, or are they engaged with the scenery followed by a long nap? Comfort and safety are key.

Here's me practicing with the Tout Terrain Single Trailer, and front and rear bike racks to make sure the trailer arm that attaches to the seat post will clear the rear rack.


Okay, so just a refresher.  Things to do for a last-minute bike tour :
1.  Get the bike road ready
2.  Get your gear
3.  Ride your bike

Got it?  Good.  Now go out and ride!





Monday, July 14, 2014

The Fourth of July and the Tout Terrain

I hope everyone enjoyed their fourth of July!  The parades, the fireworks, the family and friends, and here in Texas, for those meat eaters out there, lots and lots of hotdogs and burgers (or veggie dogs and veggie burgers for my fellow veggies out there).


It's hard to believe that last year at this time, Neva and I had biked about 1000 miles on the Great Divide and were in Aurora, Colorado visiting friends.

 Fourth of July, 2013 spent with the Branson's in style, a rooftop view of the fireworks (shown above).


Since our family likes to do things the bike way, and we are preparing for another Great Divide bike tour later this month, we decided it would be a great time to take out the Tout Terrain Single-Wheeled Trailer and see how it handles on different trails in the area.  Our friend and upcoming tour companion, Laurie, joined us for the festivities and mayhem of biking around a new spot.

Meet Laurie, she's awesome.


The destination was Lake Ray Roberts, which is about 15 miles outside of Denton downtown.  It's a state park that has miles of equestrian, biking, and hiking trails, and every now and again, you might bump into a Lake.

You are here...ish.


The Tout Terrain Single Wheeled Trailer (which from here on out will be termed 'the Single'), is a little awkward to attach to the bike by yourself, but doable, and just takes some getting used to.  You have to finesse the bike being upright, and straddle the Single which has a center of gravity much lower and further back than where it attaches to the seat post, so it wants to tip to one side when you're trying to mount it.  This is standard with all single-wheeled trailers such as the B.O.B. or the Extrawheel trailers, but those cargo trailers are mounted at the axle instead of at the seat post so it's easier to stand over.

So the hitch is that silver thing on the bike post, and the hitch arm is the long black thing which has an articulating knuckle that slides over the hitch and is secured by a lock pin and quick release.


My small, frame mounted Greenfield Stabilizer Kickstand will not hold bike, kid, and trailer up.  The Single has it's own kickstand, but with my bike frame being so small, either my back wheel lifts off the ground and crosses the hitch arm, or the trailer wheel lifts and is quite precarious if a child is in it.  I think taller people (with bigger bikes) would have more space on their seat post, and mount the hitch higher, making the trailer kickstand more effective, lifting the rear wheel of the bike and acting like a double kickstand (without the interference of the hitch arm, of course).  My suggestion would be either get a double kickstand (which needs the appropriate flat bottom bracket to mount, and mine is round) or use a Click Stand (which I tried in the past on the Troll, but it wouldn't stay put since my triangle has such a steep angle to it). Leaning against trees is what I'll do for now, until I can figure out a better kickstand method.

You can see how the rear wheel of my bike interferes with the hitch arm when the kickstand is up.


Okay, now that we're all set up, now we can ride! After toting around the Chariot CX1 for so long, weighing in at 35 pounds by itself (Neva adds another 30 pounds), weight felt like weight to me, whether using two wheels, or one.  Then we climbed some moderate hills (for Texas) and the trailer followed behind like a trusty puppy dog.  At only 19 pounds, I was thinking I may be noticing a slight difference on the pavement. But then we went off-road...



And the difference was obvious.  The load (being trailer + Neva) felt so much lighter.  I felt so much more sleek and capable, and climbing up and over rocks was hardly noticeable.  I felt for the first time that I've ridden with a child trailer over dirt, that the trailer was an extension of my bicycle, rather than an anchor. It was reminiscent of riding with the Extrawheel trailer which is basically a 26" wheel with a rack attached to it.  The turning radius is as tight as you can make it, as it's easier to turn a U since backing up is a little bit of a chore without practice.  After a few hours of fun, we stopped for a snack and some rest.



Wait, did I say rest?  I meant : we decided to stop, shove some food in our mouth quickly, and right when the feeling of calm overtook us, were dragged by a precocious four-year-old into the extremely crowded Lake Ray Roberts for an hour of swimming and sandcastle-building. Luckily, we had come prepared with all of our food, swimsuits, and towels under her seat which has a good amount of space to fit a medium-sized backpack filled with stuff.



So, after sun and sandcastles, we explored more trails, trying some single track after warming up on the gravel paths.  I asked for trailer feedback from the little rider as to whether she noticed the bumps, she replied, "Not reay-ye".  Shortly thereafter, I find this...



Now, I do recommend the child wear a helmet with this trailer. She had one with her, but we forgot to put it on after lunch.  The trailer also has a pillow attachment which we didn't bring this trip, but is shown in the kickstand picture above, which is also a good idea.  The Chariot trailer was not equipped with adequate space for Neva to wear a helmet, and the helmet bulge would push her chin near her chest and she would be looking down. When asking Neva whether it was comfortable to ride in the Tout Terrain with her helmet, she said it was "good" and she looked very comfortable in the cockpit. She remained asleep for the rest of the ride while we took pictures near bikes and trees.

Laurie showing off her muscles!

Okay, maybe we biked a little, in addition to picture taking...



Taking some of the single track paths, I noticed right away that the trees were very narrow for such a long load.  Impossible with a 2-wheeled trailer, and iffy with a single-wheeled trailer if you don't know how dense the forested area is. Capability-wise, I think the Single trailer can handle anything a single-wheeled cargo trailer can handle, but I personally feel more comfortable with scouting out an area first before trying to ride single track. 



After a full 6 hours of play, and only 12 miles of riding under our belt, we left Lake Ray Roberts happy, tired, and a little sun kissed.  Until next time Lake Ray Roberts...