Wherever we travel, we always stop at local bike shops and play tourist. It gives us a little snapshot into the local cycling scene and also how different shops operate. We’ve visited great shops with beautiful displays and friendly staff, and others that grudgingly answer questions. Bike shops and their employees are the frontline of bicycle tourism. Who else is more qualified to be the local authority on great riding in the area than a bike shop? However, at the same time, many shops don’t see themselves as part of their local tourism industry and are ill-equipped to answer the question: “I’m from out of town, where should I ride?”
After visiting bike shops around the country over the last half dozen years, this got us thinking about how we’ve experienced bike shops as end users. For us, bike shops either function as convenience stores or outfitters. There are shops that only focus on retail and don’t bother with creating an experience for customers and visitors – these are the convenience stores. It is a wham bam thank you ma’am affair with little follow up after the sale. Then, there are shops that focus on retail, and also go the extra step to create an experience for customers and cyclists – these are the “outfitter” type shops. These shops have group rides, host events, or employees that are always eager to share their latest bike touring route or perhaps they even lead a tour themselves. These outfitter style shops also function as a third space, maybe they serve coffee, beer or have monthly gatherings and presentations. Their focus is not only on selling new product, but educating and inspiring you to use the new product. They are your guides, gurus (sometimes a therapist) and ride leaders, as well as your salesperson and mechanic.
We know that this is often a big ask for small shops with little capacity, and there are also some shops that do enough volume through online sales that they are immune to having to develop the community piece. However, with more brands offering direct to consumer, we feel that bike shops will have to offer something of value that will compete with the ease of clicking a button with your pajamas on. We think many shops can benefit by adding “outfitter” style elements from a bike tourism perspective. Any shop can curate a short list of rides that people can do in the area. It could be as simple as printed cue sheets and maps at the front counter or downloadable GPS routes from the shop website. We’ve seen a few shops go that extra step and lead actual bikepacking and bike touring trips like Topanga Creek Outpost (notice how it’s an “outpost” and not a bike shop!), River City Bicycles and their new River City Touring Club, and Good Bike Co and their guided agritourism tours.
From a bike tourism perspective, shops with an “outfitter” mentality are essential because they offer a hospitality and guiding component that is necessary for successful bike destinations. From a customer perspective, the “outfitter” mentality creates an opportunity for people to be educated/inspired on how to use the gear they just bought (“where can I play with my new bikepacking gear?”) as well as provide a support group around the Cycling Experience. This you can’t buy on the internet.
What do you guys think? What shops do you feel have the “outfitter” mentality? We’d love to know!
Eastern Oregon is beautiful and rough country. It will steal your heart with its sublime landscape and make short work of your derailleur and tires at the same time. We learned that lesson last year when we went out to Treo Ranches with a group of friends. This year, we were determined to complete our trip out to Treo with our bikes intact.
For those that aren’t familiar, Treo Bike Tours is the brainchild of Phil Carlson, a former wheat and cattle farmer turned birding hunting lodge operator turned bike tour operator. In the country, everyone wears different hats to make a living. Phil’s philosophy of business is that if you’re going to get into an industry, you go whole hog. That is how someone that doesn’t even ride a bike ends up taking a week long bike mechanic class at the United Bicycle Institute in Portland (pretty easy work for someone who has worked on farm equipment), buys a shuttle and trailer to carry 20 bikes and even does a tofu taste test (you’ll have to talk to him yourself to see how that turned out).
Our trip started, quite conveniently, at a parking lot in Portland across the street from our apartment. If you have a large enough group, one of Phil’s services includes a shuttle from Portland out to Eastern, Oregon. This is perfect for people that are car free like us or for large groups where driving multiple cars just don’t make sense. On this trip there, were no less than 4 tandems and 8 single bikes in the trailer as well as coolers full of beer and food for the next few days. Aside from the convenience of not having to drive, one of the great benefits is that you can just relax, socialize, go over the routes or just stare out the window as the scenery changes from city to high desert.
After a quick lunch at Cottonwood State Park in the John Day River canyon we shuttled to Condon, Oregon and began our day’s riding from there. The first day was a great appetizer of what was to come in the days ahead: quiet paved and gravel roads. We descended down to Rock Creek on HWY 206 and climbed an exquisite switch-back climb, then left the pavement and took gravel roads to the lodge.
Revenge on Lone Rock and Impromptu Happy Hour
Last year, we had planned an ambitious ride to the Painted Hills all on gravel roads, but were thwarted by rain and derailleur-destroying mud. We made it a total of 16 miles that day. We ended the ride at Lone Rock that year to repair our bikes and lick our wounds. I had to hitch into town with a passing rancher because between the mud that had built up on my wheels and my mangled derailleur meant my bicycle wasn’t pushable, much less rideable.
This year, the ride started more auspiciously. The sun was out and the clay dirt roads were firm and rideable. As we pedaled, I remembered exactly where my bike destroyed itself and where I fortunately hitched a ride. Laura and I both breathed a sigh of relief when we reached the first summit. From there, it was a gravel descent into the town of Lone Rock, so named for the large lone rock by the church. Thankfully, there was a little community center building with some shade and a spigot with potable water.
After relishing in having actually ridden into Lone Rock this year, we ate some granola bars and began to tackle the long climb OUT of Lone Rock. From the valley floor you can see the trace of the road rise relentlessly to some hidden summit. The road itself was nearly free from traffic and gave good views as you ascended out of the valley. It is one of those climbs that is longer than it looks. Just as you think you are going to summit, it breaks your heart and reveals another pair of switchbacks. We were glad when we finally reached the top and saw Phil’s shuttle which had our sandwiches and more water.
From there we rambled along a paved road along a ridge and turned off to a gravel road that headed towards another canyon. The road conditions were getting a little worse and with the heat of the day, most of the people in the group were ready for an early happy hour. We stopped at the entrance of a big ranch when we saw an ATV speeding towards us from the ranch house. Just as the ATV reached us so did Phil’s shuttle. It turns out they were cousins and he was adamant at having us over for a visit. The group unanimously accepted and we called the riding done for the day to enjoy some beer drinking and listening about the early homesteads in this nearly forgotten valley.
Our third and fourth day included more back roads riding. Perhaps one of my favorite rides from the lodge was a varied 42 mile loop. I rode it last year as a singlespeed since my derailleur broke and it was much more pleasant to revisit the ride with all the gears. After a gravel climb and a paved descent into a wooded valley with a creek, we turned on to Sunflower Flats road which (surprise!) began to climb again. This time we were climbing beneath the shade of some pine trees which was a welcome change from the exposed grasslands.
At a certain point near the summit, the trees distinctly gave way again to more open country and we found ourselves riding an undulating ridge line with spectacular views. Just when we thought the scenery couldn’t get any better, we descended on a rough gravel road through another canyon. This time of year, the hills were still green and it gave the impression of riding through some unreal painting.
In this country, the only thing bigger than the hills are the steaks. I would be completely remiss if I didn’t make some mention of the food. It is no lie when I say half the reason I look forward to going to Treo is the steak. We got a special treat when Brian, the son of our ride leader, brought a big slab of cow from EatOregonFirst, a small business that provides meat to some of the most well known restaurants in Portland. Brian and Phil cut up the meat into 12 “cowboy steaks” which contain the extra bits and trimmings that are usually removed when steaks are served at a restaurant. Brian then cooked them up sublimely on a flotilla of grills outside. Meals were family style and without pretension and it was a good way to share experiences from the day’s ride.
The Canyon of Sorrows
The final day’s ride was fairly tame compared to the previous rides. Although it did start with a somewhat technical downhill on double track where the terrain verged on XC mountain bike territory. The trick was to just go slow and pick your way through the ruts and rocks. After that, we ended up on Dale Brown Road, which was flat and fast and the tandems took off in the distance. We regrouped at Barlow Canyon Road and pedaled slowly by the remains of old homesteads. It was like riding through a museum exhibit as we passed the buildings of many people that had tried to make a life out in this rough country.
At the end of the Canyon of Sorrows section, we packed all the gear in the trailer and Phil drove us back to Portland. Instead of having to drive through the Memorial Day traffic, we were able to snack, have one last celebratory beer, and take a nap. This year’s riding out in Treo was far more successful than last year. There was no peanut-butter mud and no serious mechanicals. Although we didn’t quite make it all the way to the Painted Hills this year, there are already plans to tackle it again next year as a two day gravel road ride. The terrain by Treo is simply challenging. The climbing, varying road conditions and heat can make any ride a slog unless you are in peak form. That is one of the reasons Phil’s services are so awesome, because you can explore areas by bike and actually enjoy them without having that constant dread of managing water and food. We know from doing a lot of self-supported touring that some of the most inhospitable terrain is also the most beautiful and often that beauty was lost on us because we were trying to boogie to our next resupply point. Riding this part of Oregon with Phil, for us, has allowed us to truly enjoy the riding and the scenery without the constant worry of our water bottles going dry.
Check out the rest of the photos in this Flickr album.
A bike friendly lodge on the banks of one of Oregon’s premiere trout and steelhead rivers?! It doesn’t get any better than this. A few weeks ago we spent three days in the small town of Maupin, Oregon to do some great road riding and fishing. We stayed at the Imperial River Company which is right on the river. From our room, I could literally run out the door and be fishing in less than five minutes! In this video, we chat with Susie the owner of the hotel and talk about why they decided to be a bike friendly business. If you’re looking for a long weekend getaway and want to do some road riding and fishing, we really can’t recommend this place enough. On a side note, we’re going to start a little list of “PLP Recommended” businesses and destinations that we feel are awesome experiences for the bike traveler.
Some might find it strange to know that despite a lot of the content we put up online via our website, Youtube Channel and other various social media feeds Laura and I both do a fair amount of analog journaling. We spend a lot of time online, so it is absolutely refreshing to brain dump thoughts using a real pen and paper. When we travel, although we may take a tablet or laptop depending on the trip, everything goes down on paper first. In fact, those dogeared notebooks with rough sketches, misspellings and coffee stains are among our prized possessions from our travels. There is something about that slow tactile experience of writing something down that seems to better set a memory than merely typing it down on a bright glowing screen.
It is interesting to see my preference over years for journaling tools. Looking at my pile of notebooks, there was a period when I exclusively used thicker Moleskine notebooks. But now, my preferences have changed towards simple staple bound mini notebooks. I think there is something about the fewer pages that not only makes it easier to carry, but also takes the pressure off of always having something ponderous to say before writing it down. The smaller notebooks, for me at least, feel more like every day users and I therefore use them every day.
There is also something satisfying about filling up a small book and starting a new one. Like most, we started with the ubiquitous Field Notes brand notebooks. They are easy to find and come in some nice themed editions. I was particularly fond of the Expedition Series because of their water resistant paper and dot ruling, but found it hard to find a pen that wrote well on the slick paper. I gave up at one point and just started using a mechanical pencil with those notebooks.
The Midori Passport is a current favorite for carrying multiple notebooks.
Being a mini notebook power user, I started looking for a way to carry multiple notebooks. Typically, I will carry three notebooks with particular purposes on a trip (journal, fishing notes, sketchbook). This led me to the Midori Passport. It is a beautifully simple notebook system that consists of a leather cover and a series of rubber bands to hold multiple notebooks in place. The paper, although wispy thin compared to FieldNotes, is actually of a much higher quality especially if you use fountain pens. The problem is that the Midori uses slightly smaller notebooks and refills aren’t as easy to find and few stores (if any) carry them locally. Though, we did find that Scout Books, a Portland based notebook maker, offers their notebook in a passport size which works perfectly with the Midori. Scout Books make a great refill alternative for the Midori, but I found the paper was a little too absorbent for fountain pen use. The local art store started carrying notebooks by Fabriano and in particular EcoQua mini notebooks which are my current favorite. They are the same size as Field Notes with dot ruling, but the paper is much better and works well with fountain pens. There is far less feathering and bleed through with them.
I write all this to say that analog journaling can be an endless rabbit hole in of itself but it is pleasant to have some nice tools in the journaling process. Part of the impetus of creating our latest Youtube video, was to give people a simple way to try out multiple notebooks without spending too much on specialized leather cases.
While my personal taste for specific notebooks and pens may change, I think I will probably always analog journal in some shape or form. I’m curious, do you journal with pen and paper on your trips? What are your favorite tools and how do you organize them? And lastly, what are YOUR reasons for analog journaling when it is so easy to do it on a phone or tablet?
We met Chase almost a year ago at FrostBike. He and his wife Tami had plans to open up a new bicycle and coffee lifestyle shop in the heart of Los Angeles Art’s District. We got a chance to get an exclusive look at their new space a few days ago. Even though the shop is still under construction, we could tell immediately from the space that it is going to be a big hit. Check out our interview with them and follow them on Instagram or sign up for their newsletter to keep track of their progress!
We’ve long been dumbfounded that with the popularity of bicycling, bike travel, bike touring and bikepacking that there currently isn’t a single show on TV about it. Clearly, there are far more people interested in cake making and what is sold in Vegas pawn shops. We figured, we could either wait until something magically appears or try to make our own. We’ve had a Youtube channel since the very beginning of our adventures in 2009. The early videos are pretty rough and they are a little embarrassing to watch now, but they capture where we were at the time.
Fast forward to the present and we’ve matured as people, our video production skills have vastly improved and we do professional client work. We’ve made the decision to reinvigorate our Youtube Channel with content we’d like to see. Short well-produced reviews, helpful how-to’s, interviews with interesting cyclists and recommendations for bicycle destinations. We’ve been slowly updating videos the last three weeks (hopefully you’ve noticed!) and have been working out a formula and tenor that suits us. I think we’ve got it to a pretty good place now. Expect some flubs here and there as we try different things, but we feel good enough about it to formally make an announcement.
So, in short, welcome to our Bicycle Travel Channel! Check out the new reviews, tell us what you like and what you don’t and what you’d like to see. Youtube is new-ish waters for us to navigate, so we could use some direction. If you like the vids and want to see some more, show your support by subscribing and share the vids!
For our last few tours, we’ve been combining fly fishing with bicycle touring. It is a great secondary activity to do on a bike tour and really allows you to see your environment in a different way. It gives you a reason to stay at a beautiful riverside campsite for a few days and explore, rather than feeling the eventual pull of momentum drag you along. In this video, we talk primarily about our tenkara fly fishing kit. Tenkara is a Japanese form of fly fishing that has grown in popularity the last few years because of its lower learning curve. You can literally be taught how to cast and catch fish with a tenkara rod in less than half an hour.
In this exclusive never before seen video interview (footage was from 2013….took a while to get to), we visit with Rob Perks of Ocean Air Cycles. He walks us through his Rambler bicycle, which is designed to be the perfect all-rounder. Rob also started the #coffeeoutside hashtag which has taken the bicycle Instagram by storm. Learn the origins in this exclusive interview.
Imagine summer camp… complete with mess halls, campfires, s’mores and bikes… really really nice bikes. And instead of ghost stories, you get enthralling tales of riding the Tour Divide race or attempting a fat bike expedition in Alaska in bad weather and dwindling food, and you’ll get a sense of what Salsa RideCamp was like!
RideCamp was held just outside of the tiny community of Seeley, WI in an open field that serves as event space for the famed Birkebeiner event. This was a first for Salsa, who has usually held events for dealers like Frostbike and Saddle Drive, but has never had one where they can speak directly to the people who are riding their bikes. As a bike nerd, it was the perfect opportunity to talk to their engineers and bike designers about every nuanced detail of their bikes. And everyone was really approachable. Maybe its a Mid-Western thing, but all the staff was really friendly and there was none of the bike snobbery we’ve seen at some other bike events we’ve attended.
Each day of the three-day event, there were multiple mountain bike and gravel rides. They were all at a nice casual pace that gave you a chance to stretch the legs, try out the new bikes and chat with fellow ridecampers. We partook in the gravel rides, which followed nice rolling terrain through the North Woods, with little-to-no car traffic. Some of the roads were barely large enough to fit a single car!
RideCamp ended every evening with a presentation. We heard from Jay Petervary about the behind-the-scenes action of this year’s Tour Divide race, the closest and fastest finish in the history of the event! Jay told us about the hazards of “sleep biking,” where you ride (and sometimes walk) with your bike in utter exhaustion and sleep deprivation while weaving all over the road. We also heard from Bjorn and Kim about their Ring of Fire expedition in Alaska. Bjorn and Kim had mapped out an ambitious route that combined both fat bikes and pack rafts, but were thwarted by rough weather and lack of food. Both evening presentations were riveting and made you forget that the temps were hovering in the 30s. In addition to the evening programming, there were also great daytime presentations on gravel riding and packing for bikepacking or biketouring trips.
Of course, one of the reasons we wanted to attend was to throw a leg over some of the new bikes (a few of which haven’t made it to dealers yet). Specifically, I had my heart set on trying out the Deadwood, Salsa’s new supersized Fargo with 29+ tires.
All the Deadwoods in existence were at this event (production runs haven’t shipped yet) and I was the first to break in the size small. It’s the sort of bike you take when you’re not quite sure what sort of road conditions you’ll encounter, but aren’t riding on snow or extended sandy stretches. For me, it was the first time riding the 29+ tire size and I was surprised how much I really enjoyed it. The big tires are confidence-inspiring, especially on sketchy washboard descents. Despite the wider tire width, the handling is playful and it is a decent climber.
We don’t usually ride extended snowy or sandy stretches, so a fat bike doesn’t make sense for us, but the 29+ size is perfect for taking more exploratory forest service roads and trails. Even Laura, who was a bit skeptical in the very beginning, came around and was bombing down hills with a smile on her face.
RideCamp was great for a first time event by Salsa and we are looking forward to seeing what they do next year. We really appreciated how mellow and approachable all the staff were and also enjoyed meeting new people and even some blog readers! We were also blown away by the bucolic rolling Wisconsin countryside that the event was held in and are making plans in the future for further exploration.
The Historic Columbia River Highway is a fabled piece of road in Oregon history. It has the distinction of being designated the first “Scenic Highway” in the country and inspired other great roads in the US. With the construction of I-84 through the Columbia River Gorge many parts of the historic highway were lost. We’ve had the great pleasure of working with ODOT the last few months to create a web video series explaining the highways reconnection as trail and build support for the difficult final stretch. As a bicycle tourism asset, when it is complete it will provide an amazing experience. But, we are not quite there yet. Sit back and enjoy the videos and share them!