I walked out of the supermarket the other day, pushing my folded and grocery-laden Brompton in front of me. Wheeling it around on the casters, I maneuvered it around the soda machine and the shopping cart return. As I started to put on my helmet and unfold the bike, I heard a now-familiar sound behind me, “Whoa… Is that a bike? That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Riding a Brompton is an invitation to repetitively answer this one question, and to continually blow people’s minds. There’s a moment, when we’re rolling the folded Bromptons through a store or a restaurant, when it’ll click in the head of an onlooker that this funny contraption is actually a bicycle. The tilted head and squinty expression (that betray the confusion and desperate attempt to understand what they’re seeing) fade into a look of awe and amazement. I can honestly say that I love this moment.
Of course, that mind-blowing moment isn’t always followed by a meaningful connection. Sometimes, we get to endure the inane comments and heckling of folks who’ve decided that we must be some sort of fantastic freaks for riding these circus contraptions. Or we have to hand over the bike to some random stranger who absolutely has to pick it up to see how much it weighs (hint: Bromptons are made of metal, just like most other bikes). And then there’s the automatic assumption that they’re Bike Fridays (which is a little maddening – not because we have anything against Bike Fridays, we just wish they hadn’t cornered the US folding bike market).
These random frustrations aside, after a month of traveling on the Bromptons, we’re pretty much pleased as pie. And if you’ve been wondering if they’ve actually lived up to our hopes and expectations, read on.
The first thing we can say about loaded touring on the Bromptons is that we are continually impressed with how well they handle the stress and strain that we heap on them. We are constantly asked about touring on the small wheels and if it makes life more difficult or sluggish – and we can honestly respond in the negative, because they’ve proved themselves to be much more rugged than we imagined.
We’ve lost track of how many mountain passes we’ve climbed up and over. But we haven’t lost track of how many of those we were able to pedal every inch – all of them. We may only have six gears, but it turns out that they’re the right six. Sure, there are times when we wish that we had another gear in the in-between, but we knew about this limitation when we chose the Bromptons, so we’ve learned to work with what we have.
The load capacity is, obviously, much less than our Surlys. In theory, we were thrilled by the need to lighten our load. In practice, we’re still thrilled that we can’t load them up any heavier – and, in fact, we’re continually wishing that we could cull our gear even further.
Rigging the backpack to the back of the saddle has turned out to be a brilliant way to carry gear. Because of the small wheels, the weight of the backpack is low to the ground, keeping the center of gravity low. The backpacks hold a fair amount of stuff, in a streamlined fashion, without getting in the way of our pedal strokes or posture on the saddle. Which all adds up to us hardly noticing that there’s that much weight on the back (except when I load my backpack with food!). Plus, the ability to break everything down into just three pieces (bike, front bag, backpack) has been invaluable for the transit connections we’ve made.
In all, we estimate that we’re each carrying about 50 pounds of gear on the bikes. Like I said, we wish that we could lighten this load a bit – but mainly because we’re just tired of schlepping around a world of stuff, not because we don’t think the Bromptons can handle it. That said, though, 50 pounds of gear is probably at the upper limit of what a Brompton can appropriately handle.
One of the biggest downsides to riding the Bromptons is having to be more careful about road surfaces. They handle fine on smooth gravel or dirt (including most fire roads), but we have to be really cautious of bumps and a washboard surface. We have certainly pushed the Bromptons beyond what might seem prudent (including riding through a 4-mile stretch of highway yesterday that had been torn up to third world conditions), and they have performed admirably so far. But the small wheels don’t roll over obstacles as well as larger wheels do, so vigilance is key. The same goes for railroad crossings!
Oh, and did we mention that it’s really hard to change a tire on a small wheel?!
We both firmly believe that there is no such thing as a perfect bicycle, for touring or anything. What works for us may not work for someone else. After a month on the road, we feel like the Bromptons fit our style of touring really well – which is a slow, meandering style. We like the challenge of being minimalist, and we have no need to be super fast. We like to roll into a town and explore for a few days – and the folding nature of the Bromptons means that they translate beautifully into a city bike. As we look forward to, hopefully, heading overseas in the near future, we’re convinced that the Bromptons are about as perfect (for us) as we could hope to find.
For readers that follow us on our Facebook page, we posted this a few days ago. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a short video of Laura making a DIY visor for her Nutcase helmet. We love our Nutcase helmets, but have always thought they should have an aftermarket visor. When we visited Nutcase headquarters in Portland we asked about it and they said they were working on one. Now that we’re in summer and the sun is out in full force we REALLY need one. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. So we stopped by a kitchen supply store and bought some flexible cutting boards and Laura went to town.
A quick (and we do mean quick!) video of how we prepare our Bromptons for boarding Amtrak trains and buses. We’ve dialed in our packing relatively well and unpacking the bikes only takes about 2 minutes in real time. We’re experimenting, however, with using a backpacker’s backpack on the rear rack to further consolidate our gear. Stay tuned for that change, we’ll be testing it in the next few days. For now, enjoy!
Today we had the great pleasure of talking with some of the folks at CycleOregon, one of the premiere multi-day tours through Oregon. While CycleOregon is a bicycle event, guiding 2000+ riders through various parts of Oregon, it is also so much more. In this Rough Cut, Tara talks about how CycleOregon has helped communities that have hosted them and how the event is making rural towns more accepting of bicycles.
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The healing process is painfully slow, especially when it interferes with larger plans. Laura has been resting her ankle and is progressively becoming more active with it. The whole experience has really shown us how fragile our bodies can be and the tenuousness of our plans and schemes. The good news is that it is healing and we’re expecting a departure date of this Wednesday. Ultimately, it was the right decision for us to have her convalesce in Portland than try to to push off at our appointed launch date.
While she has been resting, I took the opportunity to do an S24O this weekend with my friend Joey. Like most endeavors, it was decided that after a few beers on Friday that we should leave “early” the following morning and go bike camping. Early is relative of course. I was off to a slow start and had to quickly rearrange the bags from “fully loaded touring” mode to “overnighter,” which consisted of leaving most of the electronics at home and carrying pots and food.
We met up around noon (“early” is relative remember) at the Rose Quarter transit stop and took the MAX train to Gresham, an outlying suburb of Portland. I got a chance to try out my new Garmin Vista HCx that I picked up at the REI sale along with the City Navigator SD card. It is admittedly not as easy to use as Google Maps on the iPhone. Once you get past the clunky user interface and invest some time, you realize how robust it is. Some of the absolute no-brainer advantages of the Garmin over the iPhone is its amazing battery life, great reception and weatherproofness of the unit. Running a real-time GPS application on a smartphone will drain its battery life in no time. It is also no secret that AT&T has absolutely terrible reception and because of this it is easy to be left out on a limb if you use a smartphone as your primary navigation. I was able to record the route and post it to Bikely with relative ease.
After some flat riding in Gresham and a quick dip to a tributary, you pick up the Historic Columbia River Highway and pass through the small town of Corbett as you work your way uphill to an overlook near the Portland Women’s Forum. The grades are reasonable and the climbing is extended over several miles. From the overlook, you get an amazing view of the Gorge and catch a glimpse of Vista House.
From Vista House, the road twists and turns, dumping elevation quickly until you are almost level with highway 84. From there the road undulates in gentle rollers and you past several falls. Perhaps the two most popular are Multnomah Falls, the second tallest year-round water fall in the United States and Horsetail Falls, where a scene from The Road was filmed. Caution is needed, especially at Multnomah Falls, because of the high level of tourist traffic coming from the main highway that may not be looking out for bicycles.
Once you are past the falls, it is a short ride to Ainsworth State Park. Ainsworth has several RV sites, but also a few “walk-in” tent sites that are more covered in the woods. Firewood, flush toilets and showers are available, making it a great comfortable place to camp.
The next morning, we got a truly early start and left camp around 8am and climbed the switchbacks up to Vista House and made our way back to the MAX stop in Gresham. We got back into Portland by around 11:30am. The S24O to Ainsworth is a great retreat from Portland and offers the cyclist a good mix of rural roads, scenic byways, a satisfying climb and descent that is only a few hours out of town, making it a perfect bike camping option.
Packing for the next tour has meant a lot of scrutinizing of all of our gear. The Bromptons are great and handle a load well, but they do impose a limit on how much you can (or, rather, should) carry. After riding out to the coast on our recent shake-down trip, I had two thoughts… First, I am impressed that we were able to whittle down our gear enough so that it fit in just the front Touring bag and a Carradice saddle bag… Second, I am still packing way too much stuff.
Yes, the irony of this statement is obvious to me. My entire life has been shrunk down to just two small bags, and yet it is still too much, too big, too heavy.
On our last trip, I was happy to have all sorts of miscellaneous little luxuries… a radio, an extra pair of pants, a frisbee, paperback books, etc. On this next trip, though, luxuries just seem ridiculous. My luxury for this trip is my Brompton, and the fact that I really get to do nothing but ride it around through stunning scenery. My luxury will be the ability to take everything off the bike and carry it all onto a train, without killing my arms and without having to make multiple trips. My luxury will be the ease with which I can pedal across the country, because I won’t have an enormous amount of weight holding me back.
So it’s back to the drawing board, back to scrutinizing everything. I will continue to shave off extra weight and bulk. And I will enjoy every moment of the strict culling of stuff, because I have come to realize how little I truly need to be happy on the road. Good food, a sweater that keeps me warm, laughter, the exhilaration of soaring past waterfalls and elk… these are my luxuries now, and they are so much more enjoyable than a bag of miscellaneous things.
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Our bags are half-packed and we’re ready for Austin. If you’re going to be in town and want to meet up, contact us! The response to help us out with homestays in Austin has been amazing. So thank you again, Texas!
Aside from NAHBS, food and visiting with bike people we connected with the last time around, we’re also hoping to do a little work. Laura has just relaunched her site and business to focus more on custom headbadges. While she’s not planning to carry her tools with her on this trip, she will be passing out cards at NAHBS and is always happy to connect with folks in town to talk about the finer points of making headbadges.
Note the Freewheeling Bicycles shirt under the apron : )
I’m bringing camera gear to do reporting for the NAHBS site, but to also do some photography work. We’ll be on a tight schedule once we get into town, but we’re always happy to connect. So shoot me an email if you want to do some family portraits or need other photo work. Every bit helps us prepare for the next leg of our trip.
Speaking of which, I know we’ve been vague and hinting about where or what we’re doing next. We’ll have some fun news to announce around NAHBS weekend that should delight and surprise some readers. If anyone wants to get together while we are in town, send us an email, or a message on Twitter or Facebook. We always love meeting up with readers to talk about touring!
Good gear need not break the bank. For all the bells, whistles, technical fabrics and wonder widgets outdoor companies are creating these days, sometimes the most practical gear is simple and inexpensive. One bit of gear that we have that truly embodies this idea is our O2 Rain Shield Jacket.
Rain jackets are a hotly debated topic. There are many competing space age materials (Gore, eVent, etc.,) vying for superiority. Unfortunately, a lot of this gear comes with a big price tag. ShowersPass jackets (the alleged gold standard for jackets, though their Storm Pant is a big disappointment) will easily set you back a few hundred dollars. During our trip we’d constantly hear about a “cheap, tyvek-like jacket that works great”! We finally decided to try out the inexpensive O2 Rain Shield Jacket ($25-$30) when we were in the South and getting rained on every afternoon.
The first thing you’ll notice about the O2 Rain Shield Jacket is how amazingly light it is! It is easily half the weight of more expensive technical jackets and perhaps even lighter than some “ultra light” jackets on the market. They can be compressed down into a small bag that you can have on you at all times. They’ve been described as fragile, which sort of implies that they’ll disintegrate if you look at them funny. While they are sensitive to tearing, proper mindfulness when folding and unfolding them should help them last for quite a while. We’ve had ours for about 6 months with regular use and they are still functional but are starting to show some tears. If yours does tear, the universally accepted repair method is tape. Duct tape or clear packing tape for the fashion conscious : )
The jacket comes in two models, with and without a hood. The bike shop where we got ours only had the hooded version. The hood adds some bulk and creates a dilemma when riding (do I fold it under the jacket, wear it under the helmet, etc.,) but extends its usefulness while in camp. The jacket also has a longer tail which covers your behind while crouched over the bike.
As far as controls, the bike has a drawstring cord in the hood and a zipper. That’s it. While we are a fan of pit zips for venting, the O2 jacket is so lightweight you can ALMOST get away without pit zips depending on weather conditions. The jacket does feel like Tyvek that has been impregnated with a waterproof breathable layer. In light rain, the jacket is waterproof. In heavier rains, the jacket will saturate a bit but still keep you AS dry as those $$$ jackets while only spending $.
The jacket has no pockets and provides little in the way of warmth on its own, though zipped up it will trap body heat in. If riding in a cold rain, we would wear a wool long sleeve shirt and a thin fleece jacket or sweater beneath it. The added layers will keep your skin off the claminess of the membrane and provide warmth.
The O2 jacket makes a great touring jacket where intermittent rain is expected. It is light enough that it doesn’t pose a huge weight penalty and inexpensive enough that you’ll be able to eat proper food on said tour. We rode through several months with the jacket and it exceeded our expectations for its price range. The O2 also makes a great commuting jacket where you get occasional rain. It’s small and light enough to always have with you. If you live in perpetually wet climates (for example, Portland), where the jacket will get daily heavy use, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere.
However, given its remarkably low price, light weight, waterproofness and did we mention the remarkably low price the O2 Rain Shield Jacket is a jacket that every bike tourist should be able to afford!
WHO IS IT FOR:
-tourists on a budget
-touring through intermittent rain
-commuters in intermittent rain
-can tear with heavy use (but repairable with duct tape)
We had a wonderful presentation at Bikes Not Bombs world headquarters last night! We managed to fill the room and use up every spare chair they had available. It was wonderful to meet some readers who have been following us from the very beginning of our trip up to now. It was also great that so many people that had attended had never been to Bikes Not Bombs before. Here are some snaps from last night.
Rolling up into BNB HQ.
The quiet before the storm.
Workstands and parts used by the youth programs. BNB has been one of the most organized bicycle non-profits we’ve ever seen!
Youth program leaders debrief after taking some kids out on the street.
Time to set up the chairs.
The room started to fill up quickly.
Mohammed and Abdul, two youth educators, helped out with the raffle tickets for some awesome giveaways.
The Bikes Not Bombs staff that was on hand at the event. Thanks guys!
It was a crowded house with about 65 attendees making for a great lively discussion.
Some lucky attendees got some snazzy new Klean Kanteens for their bikes.
We got to meet some of our longtime readers. This is Laura with Bill, who made a two hour drive from Cape Cod to see us. He’s about to embark on his own cross-country bicycle tour in a few months.
For us, the best part of the presentation is the one-on-one discussions afterwards. It is really humbling and heartwarming to hear from people who have been inspired by our journey to take their own. I don’t think Laura and I had any inkling about what our simple bike ride would morph into after all these months. You don’t get the sense you’re reaching as many people as you are when you’re writing a blog post at a campsite in the middle of nowhere.
Thank you to everyone who attended last night or any of our other events and presentations. If reading our site or attending one of our presentations has inspired to hit the road, we’d love to hear from you via email or in the comments!
When we started this trip, we really didn’t have a “mission” in mind. We weren’t riding for a charity or a cause. We wanted to ride because we wanted to explore the United States. Over the course of the trip, however, we found that bicycle travel was a truly liberating experience that hardly anybody tried. People ride their bikes fast down the road or on a trail in the mountains, but bicycle travel is not actively encouraged by the bike industry (with few exceptions).
The more we traveled, the more we found that we had a unique opportunity to really inspire people to get on their bikes and explore. This website and our Facebook fan page have been great tools to share our experience, but we wanted to go a step further, so we started doing presentations. The presentations let us directly answer questions about bike touring and also provide a great way to meet up with our readers!
And yet, getting people excited about touring through the site and presentations isn’t always enough. So we hatched this idea in Austin to actually take folks on an overnight trip with us, to REALLY show people how great bicycle travel can be. And then we led a second one in Durham (thanks Jack!). Everyone that has joined us on one of our overnight bike trips has had an “Aha!” moment, as in “Aha! Why didn’t I do this before?”
If you can’t attend a presentation or join us on an S24O, but you have specific gear questions, Panniers & Peanut Butter is the next best thing. We hope after you read it, you feel prepared and inspired to hit the road on your own!
Panniers & Peanut Butter has been out for less than a month and has already been a great hit. Thanks to all of our wonderful readers and supporters who have already bought a copy! Also, a big thanks to EcoVelo, LetsGoRideABike, BikeCommuters, RocBike and CarFreeAmerican for posting about the release.
CarFreeAmerican recently posted a review of the book. Here’s an excerpt:
Whether you are an arm chair adventurer, a S24O tourist(get the book to find out what this means), a multi day bicycle tourist, or an adventure cyclist, you will, I promise, love this book.
Laura and Russ take turns with the writing which gives this book the rich uniqueness of feeling like you are sitting across a picnic table from them. They keep it simple, only sharing information about the equipment they are using, how it works for them, and what they like best.
They added some information I have never seen in other books about bicycle touring. A section on their Porch, fun. A surprisingly fascinating section on tying knots with a link to videos on how to tie knots, off beat and extremely helpful. The Office, answers the question what equipment is needed to document the tour while on it.
If you’re curious about bike touring and want to learn what has worked for us over the last 14 months, get a copy of Panniers & Peanut Butter. It’s 75 pages, full of tips, reviews and photos (about 30 megabytes, so download it somewhere with a good signal). Of course, we’re also happy to answer any questions you have via email (as long as we’re not in the middle of nowhere).
We have one more presentation in the works for Boston at the end of October (more details forthcoming). After that, we’re going to take a few months in Portland (Oregon) to work and figure out where we’ll tour next! (And, hopefully, release a few more books!)