For many years, Barrett Golding has been bicycling with his good friend and collaborator Josef Verbanac. Here are some tips and photographs from their adventures.
“I’ve been taking bike trips for three decades now. Getting ready for even a long one is no biggie. I’ve learned what works and what’s a pain in the derailleur. Skipping the more obvious tips — like, wear bike gloves, or bring rain gear — here’s some lesser known tricks of the trip.”
~ Barrett Golding
- Water is always 1st & foremost. You can (and we have) gone a day or more w/o food – but w/o water, you’re finished. You’ll want at least a quart every 10 miles; but double that when temps go above 90° (quart = 32 oz.; large bike bottle = 24 oz.).
- When it’s hot, if you’re in a hotel with a fridge, throw the filled bike bottle in the freezer at night (leave room for expansion). The next day it’ll stay cold for a while while you’re pedaling.
- We carry 2 large water bottles each, and a 2-liter MSR Dromedary Bag (or Camelback) – this rolls up to nada when (much of the time) we’re not using it, but saves our ass when the distances between watering holes exceeds 30 miles.
- If there’s lotsa long gaps between towns on a trip, we bring a water filter (actually, a purifier) to process natural water along the way (streams, ponds, etc.). Unless you know it’s safe, never drink from a water source in the United States w/o filtering.
Eat & Sleep
- Camp when you can. The places you camp are often among those you’ll remember best.
- Mid-America makes for great travel, but the restaurant food sux. Eventually you’ll say: No more chicken fried steak. Your body will crave massive doses of fruits, veggies and whole grains that just can’t be had at Eat At Joe’s. But never fear, killer fruit salads and veggie sandwiches can be had from any decent supermarket.
- Get some ripe fruits from the local grocer, and some cottage cheese. (We have those watertight fabric camping bowls and sporks — fork/spoon combos.) Bring it all down to the town park. Chop fruits, mix in cottage cheese. Eat a couple buckets full. Take nap.
- Car rental agencies often have a “floating” car you can pick up at one place and drop at another. There’s usually a higher daily rate, but no drop-off charge. You can squeeze two bikes into even small cars (using trunk and back seat; Visqueen keeps bike grease off upholstery). When you arrive you shed car, throw wheels and packs on bikes and pedal away.
- Contrast that to an airplane, which requires a bike box, with seat, pedals and handlebars removed to fit. Then when you land, you’re at an airport, with a big box and a disassembled bike. Airports are the worst places to bicycle. I’ve done it, it ain’t fun; neither for me nor for the bike boxes I’ve left on airport sidewalks to fend for themselves.
- Most common question we get is: How far do you go in a day? That depends more on weather, wind and topography than on anything under our control. But here’s some usable numbers: When I was 20 years old, 75 miles a day was pretty easy, 125 miles was tougher. Now that I’m 50, 50 miles/day is no prob, 100 miles takes some work, or a stiff tailwind.
- Before taking dirt road shortcuts, ask a local. (You can always find ’em sipping morning coffee at the diner.) On one wet & cold excursion in the Rockies, we were drooling over some dirt cut-off on the map that would save us 50 mountain miles. We asked the locals. They laughed. One guy said, “I’m on the search & rescue. If you take that road, I’ll be pulling you off it later this afternoon.” Guess it had turned to pure mud. Glad we asked.
- Being on a bike is like living on a boat: You store everything you have in a small space. For quick access, we organize our gear into groups – that are like rooms: bathroom stuff, kitchen stuff. And we use stuff sacks to keep ’em all separate. When it’s eat time, we grab the red sack with food, swiss army knife, spork and bowl; at night, the yellow has the toothbrush, comb, soap.
- Clothes get separate bags too: one for shirts, one for socks, etc. Lately we also carry a dry bag (waterproof — made for boats) for gear like sleeping bag and audio equipment. Or we use those new waterproof dry-stuff sacks. And we put a large plastic garbage bag in each pannier to hold everything when skies get really rainy.
- Bring first aid kit (soft backpack kind), aspirin and ibuprofen, and quart and gallon Ziplock bags (for books, food, papers).
- And, ‘course, you gotta have rope (20 feet of light-duty will do) and duct tape (not the whole roll: I wrap about 10-15 feet around the lighter I carry) – numerous ass-saving applications for rope and duct tape; I believe you can construct an entirely new bike using only these two materials.
- For spare parts, we take at least two tubes and one foldable tire each (we’ve gone thru both many times). Take an extra cable long enough to serve as either brake or derailleur. Take a few spare spokes, several for each wheel – they’re different sizes. We put the spokes in a plastic bag, take off our seats, and store the spokes down our seat tubes. This also has saved our butts, cuz small-town bike shops tend not to stock all spokes sizes (tho some know how to cut & thread ’em to size.)
- Not a bad idea to have the freewheel tool that fits yours; that’s another thing many shops don’t have all the different fittings for. If your bike has numerous of the same size screws (e.g., for water-bottle cage, rack mounts, etc.), carry a couple. And a spare chain link that fits your chain ain’t a bad idea.
- We carry a lotta tools, and rarely use most. At a minimum, though, I’d say take one of those all-in-one tools that include a chain link remover, hex-head (“Allen”) wrenches, and Phillips and flat-head screwdrivers. Also a Leatherman is a good idea for the plyers (tightening cable), but not required.
Take a Break
You’ll feel it: You’re out a week or three, and you feel run down – six hours in the saddle daily will do that to ya. “We’re doing damage” is how my riding partner describes it.
That’s when it’s time to take a day off. Smell the roses, smell the coffee… hell, smell the bottom of a bottle of good bourbon. When on a bike tour, your body turns into this kinda motion-craving machine. It has become accustomed to many daily miles, and it cares not how you feel, it just wants to ride.
Resist. Pick a town and stay there. That’s what it’s all about. Take a day or two to heal, see the sights, and meet the folks.
“It’s the emblematic American journey. In U.S. history there is always a tension between home and the road. We talk a good talk about the joys of home, but the truth is we are obsessed with the road.”
~ Author James Ronda, quoted in Time Magazine