Over the past few weeks, as we’ve been plotting and planning our next trip, a strange thing has happened… it has grown beyond the simplicity of just us riding our little folding bikes across the country. The more we thought about the wonderful combination of bikes and trains, the more obsessed we became about making this option viable, accessible, and enjoyable.
Ironically, we used to be really skeptical about all those people who ride across the country for charity. Not because we’re opposed to cycling for charity, but because it seemed to us that a lot of charity riders were using the charity as an excuse to ride. But what if, instead of seeking out a cause to give yourself permission to ride, you go out to ride and your cause finds you?
There’s an idea, from Chris Guillebeau’s Art of Noncomformity, that has stuck with me for quite awhile… It’s the idea that, no matter how much you thought you wanted it, you would eventually grow tired of retiring into a parade of margaritas on the beach. We think we want to run away from it all, when most of us would actually find ourselves quite bored with paradise and want to do something more meaningful with our days.
I wouldn’t say that our last trip wasn’t meaningful (or, for that matter, that it was paradise every day), but I would say that we’re ready for something more.
Trains + bicycles = freedom.
When you pair the train with your bicycle, you are free from invasive airport scanners, free of the expense of rental cars, and free from the logistical nightmare of buses and shuttles. You simply hop off the train and hop on your bike and ride! Trains are an ideal way for cyclists to leave large cities and get to small towns, quiet roads, state and national parks. Bikes are the ideal way for people to explore an area just beyond a rail stop. Imagine getting off the train at the gateway to Glacier National Park or in the heart of Chicago. If you have your bicycle with you, all you have to do is pedal away.
Today, we’re launching a fundraiser to take this trip to the next level. Not only do we want to show the viability and enjoyment of multi-modal travel, we want to create a chorus of bike and rail advocates that can help open and expand our transportation system.
Our goal is to film our trip and edit it into a series of short online documentaries. We’ll share the joys and quirks of traveling the US on the train and our Brompton folding bicycles. We’ll tell the stories of people who are working hard to change the face of transportation across the US. We’ll show that, no matter who or where you are, you can road trip around this country without a car.
And in the fall, because everybody needs to dream big, our goal is to end our trip in Washington, D.C and host a screening of our films with readers, bike and rail advocates, executives from Amtrak and US Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood.
Between now and our launch date of May 15, we’ll be raising money through the crowdsourcing website IndieGoGo. You can become a part of our journey and they take care of the accounting. Our goal is $10,000 – which means that we can finance a big move into a larger spotlight. Support us today and, just like a PBS pledge drive, you’ll be able to pick up some personalized goodies from us.
We believe in advocacy through adventure. Nobody wants to change because they’re forced to – we change when we’re inspired by possibility. We want to be that inspiration that shows others the possibilities.
We’ve been getting lots of questions about our Bromptons, so I thought I’d give a quick breakdown of the bikes and some of the specs. We’re still customizing them, so things may change a little by the time we actually take off.
Our favorite bike shop in town, Clever Cycles, is a Brompton dealer and they have a snazzy web app that lets you build a Brompton to spec. To see our current configuration, click here. We have two new 2011 colors – sage green and claret. Both are real classy and subdued looking and not typical garish loud bike colors.
You can get Bromptons in three handlebar styles which are not easily interchangeable. So once you pick one type, you’re pretty much committed to it. Ours are the M-type, which is gull shaped and gives a fairly upright position. There is some fore/aft adjustment so you can shorten or lengthen the cockpit a little. I test rode the S-type bars which are fast and agile but were a bit lower and more aggressively positioned for the type of riding we were planning to do. The P-type bars meant for touring offer does offer more hand positions (high/low position), but none that I wanted. With an M or S-type you could use bar ends, which give you the ability to have a neutral hand position (like riding on the hoods of drop bars).
6spd with -12% reduced gearing
We chose the 6psd Bromptons with BWR hubs – special three speed hubs made for Brompton that give a large range of gearing. We also opted for the -12% reduced gearing option since we are going to be doing self-supported touring and will do a fair amount of riding in hilly territory. The standard gearing has a 50t chainring, which we found was geared too high for us. The high gear was too high and the low gear was not low enough. With the 44t chainring, the gearing is almost perfect. It covers about 90% of the riding we’ll encounter perfectly. With the reduced gearing your range is 29-87 gear inches, as oppose to 33-99 gear inches with the standard gearing.
Mudguards and Rack
Our Bromptons have both fenders and rack. Many people opt not to have a rack because of the added weight, but we wanted one so it would give us some flexibility with packing (we could bungee excess to the rack). Not to mention, the rack also has two additional rolling wheels which act as casters for the Brompton when folded. This creates a super stable base for a folded Brompton. We opted for the EasyWheels upgrade as well, which is a vast improvement over the small plastic wheels. With this combination, your Brompton is easily pushed and pulled over smooth even surfaces.
Seat Pillar – Telescopic
The telescopic seat pillar is usually an option people choose for their Brompton if they are too tall for the standard pillar. However, an unexpected advantage of having the telescopic pillar (even if you’re not 6’5”) is that it allows quick removal of the saddle for travel. You simply open up the pillar’s quick release and pull out your saddle still attached to the shorter length of seatpost and stick the whole mess in your bag. When we fly, we always remove the saddle so it looks less like a bike and it shrinks the overall dimensions of the folded bike a fair amount (enough to fit through TSA scanners!). To remove the saddle without the telescopic pillar you would need allen wrenches and a lot of patience since you would have to readjust the saddle every time you took it off. No thanks!
Incidentally, another unexpected advantage of a telescoping pillar is the ability to use a Carradice SQR block for their saddle bags. The bands on the block won’t fit on the larger diameter post, but WILL fit on the telescopic extension!
Tires – Schwalbe Marathon
Having ridden Schwalbe Marathon tires on our Surlys, we were pretty set on getting them for the Bromptons. Though not as fast feeling or light as the other options, we knew they would offer the best flat protection and long term durability.
Rear Suspension – Firm
If you get a Brompton and do any self-supported touring, get the FIRM suspension block. We rode with the standard block for the first few weeks and swapped ours to firm not too long ago. It made a HUGE difference in the overall feeling of responsiveness, especially with a load. The standard block simply squished way too much. It felt as if we were losing about 10% of efficiency bobbing up and down. The firm suspension also made it feel more stable to do standing climbs on the Brompton.
We opted for dynamo lighting since we were going to use the bikes as commuters as well as tourers. We got the Shimano hub and halogen front light. We’re hoping to upgrade the lights to LEDs eventually, but for now they are fine. It’s nice to not to have to worry about batteries while on tour. Another added benefit is that you can run the lights during grey drizzly days for added visibility without being concerned if you’ll have enough juice for later in the evening.
We got the front touring bag for the Brompton. This requires getting a carrier block installed to the frame. The front luggage system on the Brompton is brilliant. Since the luggage is supported by the frame, the bags don’t move as you steer. This keeps the load perfectly centered and doesn’t introduce any more moving mass when you turn the handlebars. The bike also handles exponentially better when you have a front load on it. It dampens the over-responsive steering and makes it more comfortable to ride.
As great as the bike is, there are some things we changed as soon as we could. Namely, the saddle and the grips. We transferred our old Brooks saddles, thought truth be told, the stock saddle isn’t so bad. We both changed out the foam grips to something more ergonomic. I currently have some Ergon R2M grips with bar ends and Laura has Ergon BioKork grips. Fortunately, none of these grip additions interfere with the fold.
In addition, we also transferred our old Grip King pedals from our Surlys to the Bromptons. The right-side pedal slips on as usual. For our left-side pedals, we had CleverCycles install the MKS quick release pedal system. Email them for details.
The Bromptons are amazing bicycles. Even after a few weeks of ownership, its still a marvel to behold the fold. They are so versatile and really open up traveling possibilities. We’ll write more about any other further changes and our final configuration. Feel free to email us if you have any questions.
We spent this past weekend with the great group at Cycle Wild, a non-profit organization in Portland whose mission is to reconnect people with nature through bicycle touring. One of the great things about Cycle Wild is that it has become a great organization for getting first timers to tour; people who are a little daunted by the logistics and routing, people who don’t necessarily want to carry camping equipment (there was a yurt option on this last trip), and those that want to tour with a fun group of people. This weekend, we couldn’t help but feel like newbies again taking our Bromptons on their first bike camping trip!
As Laura wrote on her last post, we’re still figuring things out. This is simultaneously fun and exciting as a challenge, but also a little nerve wracking as we try to optimize everything we’re carrying. Our last trip is beginning to look a lot like a Carnival Cruise in retrospect, when comparing it to our more streamlined setup. I’m trying to vastly cut down on the electronics, carrying my most used bits of camera gear from the last time around. My clothing packing list is under constant scrutiny, as I try to figure out what little permutation of clothes I can bring to account for the the big temperature variations we’ll face. Of course, a lot of this is familiar territory, so it is a little funny to get butterflies in the stomach.
In that spirit, it was wonderful to join some newcomers to touring this weekend and have that same sort of I’m-still-figuring-it-out feeling too. We got to respond to lots of questions and quizzical looks during the weekend. One of the first questions that people ask us when they see the Bromptons are if we have to pedal any faster or are we much slower than with our other bikes? We’ve been telling people, “No.” It was good to finally confirm this on our weekend trip. We were able to keep up without a problem and even found ourselves at one point in a funny looking pace line of bikes, bags and Bromptons to Champoeg State Park at a good (for us) 15mph clip.
The 6 widely spaced gears covered most of the bases. It gave us a reasonable high gear of about 88 gear inches and a reasonably low gear of 29 gear inches. What this means in practice is that for 90% of the time you will not have a problem even with a light touring load, though there will 5% of the time where you’ll be grunting up a hill cursing for another gear and another 5% where you may have to walk. We’re still playing with gearing and may try a few mods before we settle on our final setup. But for those that are demanding the specs now, we have 6spd Bromptons with the wide range rear hub and the -12% reduced gearing option. The only other modifications we’ve done so far are replacing the bikes with our old Brooks saddles from the Surlys and changing the grips (Laura is using some Ergon BioKork grips and I’m using Ergon Magnesium race grips – both of them hacksawed down a little).
Aside from the riding, we also were trying out our new tent, a Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2. Many will recall that we traveled with an REI Quarterdome T3, the last time around. We decided to find a tent that was smaller and lighter and would pack well with the Bromptons for our next trip. The Copper Spur UL2 is fairly roomy for a two person tent. It was long enough that we could keep our Brompton front touring bags at our feet, allowing us to park our folded bikes in the vestibule! We can’t speak for its durability yet, but our initial impressions are really positive.
This past weekend was a trip of some firsts. It was good to finally do a real ride with a real touring load over some very real hills. It was both encouraging and sobering. We were constantly amazed at how well the Bromptons handled, but also became more aware of their weight and gearing limitations. We’re still really excited to take them out on tour, but it means we’ve got a bit of fine tuning to do before we push off in a few months!
Since our next adventure will involve a lot of hopping aboard the train with our Bromptons, we wanted to find out what all of you think about the train-bike combination here in the US. Not only will it give us an idea of how many of our readers are interested in this sort of touring, but it will help us work toward more bike-friendly multi-modal travel options.
If you have ever taken a long-distance (i.e. not a metro-area light rail) Amtrak-operated train in the US (especially if you’ve ever brought a bicycle with you on the train), please take a few minutes to answer this quick survey about your experience. We promise that it’s short, and it will be immensely valuable!
Please do not refer to non-US train experiences when completing the survey. If you haven’t taken a train in the US, but want to send us your input, please leave a comment on this post. Many thanks!!
The bush by our front door is covered in red blossoms. They just sort of showed up one day, big and bright. There are yellow daffodils in the neighbor’s yard too, and purple and white and pink crocuses. Spring is tip-toeing in to Portland. I am ready. I have had enough of the winter weather, the greyness and the rain. I have also had enough of resting in one place. I want to get on my Brompton and ride off into the distance. But on days when the clouds part and I can see the still-snow-capped hills, I am reminded that we must continue to wait if we want to ride across the north without camping in snow drifts.
We are trying to be patient, but we are eager and excited about our next trip. Our venerable Surlys sit on the sidelines as we delight in our Bromptons. We relocate the Brooks saddles, replace the handlebar grips and migrate our cycling computers. We take the Bromptons with us everywhere, chatting about them with people at coffeeshops and restaurants and the post office. We have begun to realize that it is simply impossible to take these amazing machines anywhere without drawing attention, and we are reveling in the opportunities to dazzle and amaze as we show off the fold.
I am reminded of how it felt, two years ago, when we were just starting to put the pieces together for our first trip. The excitement, the wishing we could leave sooner, the necessity of figuring out small details like how to pack and what pair of pants to bring. This time around, of course, we don’t have to get rid of an apartment full of stuff. Everything that we are borrowing this winter, we can just hand back over to the friends that lent it. Nor do we have to untangle ourselves from jobs and prepare ourselves, mentally, for living on the road. But we do have to figure out how to pack. And, considering the size and load limitations of the Bromptons, this is a rather big part of the puzzle of our next trip.
Half of the puzzle is simple. On the front, we will make use of the Brompton Touring Bag. We’ve been riding around with these for awhile now and love them. They are enormously spacious and attach easily and smartly to the bikes. After considering backpacks and duffels for the back, we are currently leaning toward large saddlebags, which have the advantage of not interfering (as much) with the fold. The question of what will go inside each bag is still unanswered.
Our goal is to carry no more than 40-50 pounds of gear each, including all the technology and tools and food and camping gear. (This will be a circus-like feat for us, as we had nearly 70-80 pounds of gear each at the end of our last trip, having whittled it down from 140 pounds at the start!) We’re researching all the ultralight everything, trying to shave off a few pounds here and there. A new 3-pound tent instead of our current 5-pound one. A cook set that will no longer include our beloved paella pan. We’re becoming even more minimalist on this trip. And we’re excited about the freedom we’ll gain by severely limiting our stuff.
Our goal is to head back out on the road in mid-May. In some ways, it feels like an impossibly long way off, but I know that it will pass quickly and I shouldn’t dilly-dally over renewing my passport and other such details. As we continue to fine-tune our gear and start plotting our route, we’ll post our discoveries and plans here. And I will keep watching for new signs of Spring and the signal that it’s finally time to get back on the road.
Several years ago, I came home from work to an enthusiastic Russ. ‘We’re going bike touring!’ he excitedly proclaimed. ‘Uh…’ I thought, ‘that really doesn’t sound like fun.’
When I was growing up, my family would go backpacking for summer vacation. A week’s worth of food and gear on our backs, we would hike into one of Oregon’s many backcountry lakes to camp and fish and swim. When I was 20, I lived in Spain as part of a study-abroad program. I spent my non-school hours roaming around the small streets of the city, reveling in a culture that was so fascinatingly new to me. Combine that background with the fact that I’m fiercely independent and you would think that I had been hard-wired for bike touring. The truth, however, is that it took some creative convincing on Russ’ part to get me on board.
At the first mention, I promptly shot down Russ’ great idea. Who wants to put a lot of weight on a bicycle and work so hard to move so slowly, to be dirty for long stretches of time, to limit the pairs of shoes you can wear? Sure, I was commuting to work by bike and grocery shopping by bike, but this whole travel by bike thing sounded exhausting and difficult – and not really the direction I thought I wanted my life to take.
A few days later, after getting some much-needed advice from a bike touring friend, Russ flashed me his adorable smile and eased into his proposition… ‘What if we took the train up to wine country, and we got a cute little hotel room… We could leave all of our stuff in the room and just ride around the countryside during the day… It’ll be quiet and pretty and we can taste wine and have picnics of bread and cheese… It’ll be just like we’re in France!’
I still didn’t like the idea of bike touring, but what girl can turn down her boyfriend going to such lengths to take her on a trip that would be like going to France? ‘Okay,’ I said, ‘If you make all the reservations and plan everything, I will go.’
And a few weeks later, we went. And it was sort of a comedy of errors. Just about everything that could go wrong and convince me that bike touring was terrible, happened. It was the coldest weekend on record in central California. Restaurants were closed because their pipes had frozen and burst. The train was hours late, so we arrived after dark, exhausted and cold. Neither of us knew how to pack, so I had a basket on my handlebars, with a hairdryer in it.
But we did go wine tasting. And we did eat picnics of bread and cheese. And when the sun came out and it was just us on country roads, talking to cows and sheep, it was glorious. Somehow, in spite of myself, I fell in love.
We’ve met so many people who love the idea of bike touring and really want to travel on their bike – and lament that their partner isn’t as interested as they are. I may be a hard-core bike traveler now, but I still completely understand that hesitation and anxiety of being the partner who doesn’t want to go. And I believe it all comes down to how you sell it.
When Russ first pitched the idea, my head swam with ideas of not showering and being covered in mosquitoes and eating gross freeze-dried foods. In essence, I thought of the very worst things that could possibly happen. As soon as he reframed the idea, and met me where I was, it turned into something that wasn’t as terrifying.
When you say ‘bike touring,’ most people immediately think of spending months crossing the country, in less-than-romantic conditions. It’s like a moving bachelor pad – unkempt, haphazard, full of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. But, in my experience, bike touring can be so much more than this stereotypical image.
Don’t want to camp? Stay in a motel or a B&B. Don’t want to cook? Go places where there are restaurants and eat out. Don’t want to go for weeks on end? Start small and just go for a night or two. If you’re hoping to convince your partner to go with you, ease into it. Call it bike travel or a bike vacation. Liken it to another great experience you’ve already had, or something you’ve always wanted to do together. Plan a themed trip around a common interest – wine tasting, food, architecture, bird-watching. Romanticize it somehow – no kids, no pets, no kitchen to clean, no yard to mow. Promise to ride slower, carry more of the gear, cook an elaborate meal. Offer to take care of all of the details, so that your partner just has to choose his/her clothes and show up.
One of the things that I’ve learned about bike touring is that it’s an amazing thing to do with your partner. You experience incredible moments together, you spend hours talking and connecting as you ride down the road. But just like being in a relationship, it has to be something you do together, and you have to meet each other in a comfortable space. Maybe that means that bike touring together looks completely different than bike touring by yourself. Maybe it means that your tour with your partner looks completely different from my tour with my partner. And maybe that’s the point. Bike touring with your partner is a collaboration, a way of experiencing your lives together in a new way. The only thing it ‘should’ be is whatever works best for you and your partner, whatever makes you both enjoy the experience and want to do it again.
So rethink your pitch. What does your partner worry about when you’ve suggested the idea before? How can you alleviate the nervousness and create a deeply-memorable and enjoyable trip? Try again, do it differently and, if you need to, tell your partner that I wasn’t convinced at first either.
There is only one human activity that many of us willfully subject ourselves to that causes even the most conscientious, law-biding and mild mannered American to feel like a crazed jihadist terrorist – flying. All eyes are on you. You are not imagining it, you are not being paranoid, you are under a sort of intense judgmental scrutiny that in any other social situation would be considered rude at best. Of course, it could be worse. You could try flying with an adult inline wheelchair.
I’m standing in the airport. Sweating. Nervous. Everything has to be executed flawlessly for the plan to work. I’m focused on reaching the automated ticket machine to print out my boarding pass and avoid any undue human contact. I’m visibly struggling a little as I wheel my personal mobility device. The first sentence of Naked Lunch runs through my head: “I can feel the heat closing in, feel them out there making their moves, setting up their devil doll stool pigeons.” As if on cue, I hear a voice right before I get to the automated machine.
“Excuse me, sir. Can you come over here?”
I’ve been spotted. But its ok, just play it cool, I tell myself. I change the direction of my rolling luggage, which seems even more unwieldy now as I approach the airline check-in counter. There are three people there. All eyes on me, or rather what I’m pulling behind me.
“Are you flying with us today?”, the stern looking blond woman with the skeptical eyes ask. “Yes.” I give her my information. Name. Final destination. Then she gets right down to the meat of it, what she really wants to know. “Are you checking any luggage?”
“No?” she says incredulously.
“What is that?,” she says with sharp precise pointed annunciation. All eyes jump between me and my unusual baggage. They are looking for weakness, they want me to crack, I know the word they want me to say but I won’t say it…
“Is that a b…”
“It’s a cargo carrier for my photo equipment,” I say with a tone of practiced exasperation and nonchalance cutting her off before she can finish her sentence. I show them how the top bag (Brompton Touring Bag), which was indeed carrying photo equipment (lens, camera, hard drive), slips over the mysteriously covered lower bag. “I’m going to gate-check it,” I announce. They look skeptical and unconvinced, but shrug their shoulders and let me pass. I thank them and wait until I am far away before I breathe a sigh of relief. It is a strange post-modern fairytale set in an airport where I have passed the first of three gate keepers.
For all my worry, you would think I was carrying little baggies of cocaine dangling precipitously over my esophagus, tied to my teeth like a group of rappelling mountaineers. Or that my rolling luggage was actually a smallish steam punk nuclear reactor. No, it’s nothing so sinister. It’s just a Brompton, an English made folding (is anybody listening?)…bicycle. You know, only the most energy efficient form of transportation man has ever invented.
In our day and age there is something about the word “bicycle” that causes many airline employees to transform suddenly from rational smiling customer-service representatives to fang-toothed, myopic, money-grubbing mobsters. Should you lapse in your diligence and call your bicycle a bicycle, extra fees and attitude are heaped relentlessly with great zeal upon you.
Now, none of this would be so irksome if that person’s tuba over there, or that woman’s hope chest-sized luggage or that family’s triple-wide stroller with hydraulic suspension were also charged something a little extra given they are magnitudes bigger than a small folding bicycle.
Nope, once the word “bicycle” is uttered they will demand that you pay extra for the privilege of having your prized possession thrown about the tarmac. Thank you sir, may I have another?
Thus you are reduced to playing silly semantic word games full of euphemisms, half-truths and verbal sleight of hand. It can actually get quite philosophical really. The simple question of “is that a bicycle?” becomes a query into the essence of bicycleness. In folded form, a Brompton or any folding bicycle really isn’t a bicycle. At best, it is a loose conglomeration of bicycle related paraphernalia. You certainly couldn’t hop on and pedal away in that state, could you? And isn’t it not lying to call it an inline wheelchair, adult stroller, personal mobility device or simply the neutral and bland exercise equipment? All of which contain some shades of truth; which is to say that you’re not lying.
I leave the vestiges of civil society and enter the more militarized zone of the airport – the TSA screening. Where the woman at check-in was a sort of passively aggressive nagging schoolmarm, the TSA has a very simple and direct take no shit attitude. My half truths are laid bare, figuratively and literally. My shoes are taken off, my belt removed, camera gear disbursed in plastic bins, all my personal belongings subject to scrutiny and ridicule. The Brompton, in folded exercise equipment form fits quite snugly into the TSA scanner. I watch them, watch me, watch them. I get waved through and await for my personal effects to be slowly birthed from the scanner. There is a little bit of a commotion as three TSA personnel scrutinize the x-ray of my poor defenseless and denuded Brompton.
One of the TSA employees knows exactly what it is and is going to blow my cover. She turns to me, smiles and says, “nice bike!” I stifle my urge to correct her, when I see the other two TSA employees nod in approval and the Brompton emerges from behind the rubbery curtain.
It appears, that while the TSA is more gruff in appearance and attitude, their job is not to fine you for having a bicycle – that is the job of the airline.
I’m at the gate and I’m early – about three hours early. That is the amount of time I had buffered in the event that I encountered any problems at check-in or TSA which necessitated a mad scramble to find a box or phone a lawyer. So now I wait.
It is so early I am the only one at the gate. I sit there with my Brompton folded up in a neat little package of steel and rubber. I can’t help but think how utterly absurd this all is. I brought a bicycle with me on the plane so when I land I can just hop on and ride. Transportational freedom. I wouldn’t be at the mercy of a city bus or spend money on a rental car or try to bribe a friend to pick me up. I am just trying to do something simple and efficient. And in order to do that, I had to subject myself to half a morning of accusations and prodding.
The woman stationed at the gate’s counter arrives. She’s shuffling papers and preparing for the onslaught of passengers. She is young and is dressed very neatly. She seems like she could be reasonable but I don’t get my hopes up. I ready myself for another round of word games and diversionary tactics. I am very tired at this point and am nearing my wits end. I just want to be on the other end of the flight, pedaling around in the sunshine.
As she approaches all my defenses are up. My arguments and counter argument that range from the plausible to the absurd are ready to be deployed. I look at her and I know she knows that it is a bicycle. The question is, do we do the silly dance again?
“I assume you are going to gate-check this?” she asks. I tell her yes. She hands me the gate-check tag and finally I feel relief. I slump into my chair, my ordeal for now is over. I still have two hours left to wait so I close my eyes and I slowly start to drift into shallow and exhausted sleep.
Thunderbird Energetica: A New Energy Bar on the Block, and it’s Awesome
The evening before NAHBS officially started, the city was a-buzz, and so were the bloggers at the bike blogger meet-up. Not only did we get to geek out with other cycling bloggers who were in town for the show, but the organizers had invited several local businesses to display and promote some of their goodies. It was here that we met part of the team behind Thunderbird Energetica and tasted some incredible new energy bars.
I (Laura) happen to be fairly obsessed with eating whole foods. As we’ve traveled, we notice that we always feel better and have more energy for cycling when we eat real foods and limit our sugar intake. In talking with Amy at this event, I realized that the Thunderbird team feels very much the same – and this is reflected in their bars.
Taylor, Katie, and Amy are all cyclists and adventurers, and they started Thunderbird Energetica after tiring of the traditional energy bar offerings. You may think you’ve heard this story before, but these three have gourmet leanings and are committed to whole foods, sustainability, and community involvement. In other words, their philosophy is right our alley!
At the blogger meet-up, they had samples of all three of their yummy flavors. And we sampled them all as we chatted about food and bike touring (Amy was getting ready to leave town for a week-long bike trip in Arizona). In case you’re not sold yet, each Thunderbird Energetica bar is made by hand in an Austin kitchen.
Momentum Magazine gets a Redesign!
If you’re not familiar with Momentum Magazine, we highly suggest you find a way to pick up a copy. Based out of Vancouver, Canada, Momentum is an independent cycling lifestyle magazine for those of us who don’t want to read about the newer-faster-leaner, hooray-for-carbon stories that you typically find in larger cycling publications.
We have long enjoyed and appreciated Momentum (they ran a feature story of Russ, the eco-friendly bicycling photographer, linked to Laura’s headbadges, and have been good friends to us as we’ve traveled). So we were excited to actually meet Mia in person – and even more excited when we found out about the swank new plans for Momentum!
In honor of Momentum’s 50th issue, they have completely redesigned the publication. It has a sleek new look and will broaden its focus on cycling as a lifestyle. Look for great new columns about cycling-related travel, fashion, art and more!
One of the great things about Momentum is that you can pick up your copy for free. They partner with bike shops, as well as bookstores and coffeeshops, to provide the magazine to interested patrons. Of course, you can also get a subscription and have it mailed to your home just like any other magazine.
We can’t hardly believe that a whole week has flown past since the North American Handmade Bike Show (NAHBS) in Austin. The show, the craziness surrounding it, the lunches/dinners/breakfasts/drinks with friends… it was all an incredible experience for us. We have so much to share about the Bromptons and our next tour, but we would be completely remiss if we didn’t take a moment to share some of our favorite stories from NAHBS. (Note: Some of these stories were previously published on EpicureanCyclist, but we wanted to repost here as well.)
Designed from Experience: Touring Bikes from Littleford Custom Bicycles
When Jon Littleford went hunting for a new house in Portland, the top criteria was a detached garage big enough to design and build custom bikes. A bike traveler with a background in both aerospace and fine art painting, Jon dove into frame-building three years ago. When you look at the details of his NAHBS show bike, you see his enthusiasm for self-supported bicycle travel and lessons learned from the road.
The front rack is constructed with a wide top platform and lower rails from which to hang panniers. It’s designed so that the panniers lean into the bike, reducing wind-resistance. The rear rack has an integrated u-lock holder, out of the way of the placement of any rear bags. The contact points, where the front and rear racks meet the frame, are stainless steel, so that the paint doesn’t chip off over time.
The brake cables are routed internally, as is the wiring for the front and rear dynamo-powered lights runs. But the wiring from the front to the rear light is spliced at the fork, making it possible to disassemble the bike if ever needed.
He intentionally made the decision to utilize easily-replaceable components. Shimano’s most popular shifters, he points out, so that you can find replacements anywhere. And the fenders? Shiny, yes, and sturdy. They’re mounted in three places, and they should never crack.
There are a lot of obviously-thoughtful design decisions in this bike, and Jon doesn’t hesitate when asked if they come from his bike travel experiences. “R & D trips,” he calls his bike tours, a chance to test out new ideas and brainstorm. We can only wonder what inspiration will return with him after his upcoming trip to Madagascar.
Gallus Cycles – Travel Grinder
The “Travel Grinder” by Gallus Cycle’s Jeremy Schlachter is an enigma wrapped in a puzzle. Based in Fort Worth, this is Jeremy’s first year participating in NAHBS, though he has shown bikes in other regional bike shows. Part monster truck and part travel bike, the Travel Grinder is an attempt to “bridge bikes on the opposite spectrum of design.” It is a 20-inch all-rounder bicycle that is designed to ride on the road as well as to hit the dirt. Though not designed for super technical runs, it can hold its own on mixed terrain.
Jeremy studied several mini bike models from Dahons, Bike Fridays to Bromptons. For his purposes, he decided the diamond frame gave him the stiffness he was seeking in a bike. A lot of the design work was spent fine tuning various angles to create the right trail so that the ride wouldn’t have the associated “twitchiness” of some small wheel bikes.
The bike is optimized for travel. The Travel Grinder is equipped with SS couplers for easy disassembly. The mini front rack is also designed to disassemble and flat pack into a case. The Travel Grinder promises to deliver a solid ride on both asphalt and mixed terrain that you can take anywhere.
Profile: Jon Grant – Rivendell Headbadge Illustrator
t is probably only in NAHBS where you can accidentally run into the illustrator/designer of many of Rivendell’s bicycle headbadges and decals at the bike valet.
Jon stumbled upon Rivendell many years ago when he was looking for a good touring shoe. He eventually became a frequent customer and had several correspondences with Grant Petersen from Rivendell. One day he received a call from Grant who noted that Jon was an illustrator and asked him directly if he was “any good.”
Of course, Jon said yes. Grant asked him if he could send some samples and Jon offered to email them. Grant insisted that he “print some out and put them in an envelope.”
Six days later, Jon got a call and he was on his way designing head badges and decals for Rivendell. He has gone on to do the illustration work for the Wilbury, Glorius, Rambouillet, Bleriot, Proto-Velo and Ressurectio.
To this day, Jon insists that Grant was one of his best clients. They spoke the same language and he said that Grant was an excellent communicator who could describe what he wanted beautifully often using surprising but visual metaphors. A classic example is when Grant described something as a “messy kid’s room in a Danish modern house.”
When we met Jon he was riding a Bleriot with steel fenders and Grand Bois tires. Although he admits that Rivendells may not appeal to everyone and that Grants views can be sometimes controversial, of the thirteen bikes in his stable, his Riv is his favorite.