Pico's Cycling - Tales of the Road is an online cycling magazine. It is intended for writers and riders who want to share their on the road cycling stories and pictures. Submissions that follow our guideline are gratefully appreciated. See the appropriate page in the site menu. Will publish the best of the best each month. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @PicosCycling.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Pico’s Cycling – Tales of the Road December 2013 Vol. 1 No. 1

Welcome to the first edition of Pico’s Cycling – Tales of the Road. The focus of this webzine is bicycle touring stories and related articles. For this webzine to be a success, I am hoping to attract other writers/cyclists, who want to share their stories. To make a submission email the text and pictures to pico.triano@gmail.com. I would be delighted to hear from you.

In This Issue
(To view articles click on the links or just scroll down.)

Group Riding As a Family

This is a basic how to article on riding as a family or even any other group of cyclists. The methods discussed were developed by the author and distilled over the years through experience but can still be considered his unique opinion.

Get Yourself a Bicycle Bell

Ever dodge pedestrians on a recreation trail or have a pedestrian walk out in front of your bicycle. Here’s a discussion of how to solve that problem.


A washout of a training run, you never know what you’re going to encounter when you’re following your nose.

Coaster Bikes – Learning to Ride

First published on Bubblews this article discusses an effective proven way to teach the next generation of cyclists to put rubber to the road.

Learning the Ropes the Hard Way

My first real long distance self-contained bicycle tour turned out to be a major learning experience. If you don’t need to learn from my mistakes, you’ll still likely find the ordeal entertaining.

If you’ve enjoyed this issue, please let us know. This webzine is a new learning experience. Any suggestions or ideas are welcome. Time to get to work on the second issue. Pedal power is awesome. Expect to have the next issue ready in the first week of January 2014. See you all again next month.

Pico Triano editor

More From Pico (Photos and titles are clickable links)

From Pico's Pen

This is my official author's blog. I love cycling and writing about it but I write about other things as well. From this site you can access everything I write. Working on improving the visibility of all the links.

Pico's Hubpages Profile

Some of my non-cycling writing is on Hubpages. Hubpages is a writing site where author's share in the sites profits. From this profile all my articles on the site are listed and linked. I don't earn much there but the site has taught me a great deal about how to make my own sites work.

Group Riding As a Family

I’m sure you’ve seen them before, a mass of ten to twenty-five cyclists riding in a big clump of riders, taking up the whole lane, chatting away between each other rolling through the countryside. We don’t ride that way. No tour I ever put together for my cycling club in the past rode that way. We have no need or desire to ride in a wannabe peloton. The method we use is an effort to ride as safely as a team as possible while at the same time extending as much courtesy as possible to the vehicles we share the road with. While we prefer to ride on pavement we try to balance that with choosing less travelled routes so that we are not constantly battling traffic. The objective is not only to get where we are going but also to get there safely and enjoy the whole ride.


We ride as groups of two to six riders single file. Large groups are difficult for other traffic to pass. It can be frustrating for cars and trucks to get where they wish to go, if they have to pass larger groups. I have been on both sides of extreme cases. I do recall riding with a tour involving more than a thousand riders. They may as well have shut the road down to other traffic. Why we chose a maximum of six is because most of the warning commands come from the rider on the tail. Even with a very strong voice it is very difficult to be heard by the lead rider, if there are more riders, when riding into the teeth of any kind of head wind.

We are a family of seven and we ride as one group because there are only six who are riding. Maybe an excuse because the trailer does take up space in the line. I am almost invariably the tail rider and I get to pull the trailer. When we will do future rides with an additional trailer for cargo we will divide into two groups. The two groups will stay in sight of each other and take breaks together but while we are riding we will put sufficient space between the groups to allow cars to get by without too much difficulty.

Individual Responsibilities

Lead rider has the responsibility of warning of any approaching hazards. On coming vehicles are always called out with the command, “Line it up!” This person is also responsible for warning about ruts and potholes in the road we are travelling. They do get switched off with other riders regularly when we are fighting a head wind. When the children were still all very young lead position was always Mom. Now that we have strong teenagers they often take turns at the front. Final lead responsibility is setting the pace. The objective is to keep the group together without running any individual rider ragged. Easier said than done. If the pace is just a little too torrid the other riders have to speak up before they are out of earshot. Lead also has to check behind to make sure things are not getting too strung out. On training runs the rider pulling the trailer is often the one that has the most difficulty keeping pace. On actual tours when everyone is loaded down with gear anyone could end up being the slow poke.

Middle riders are responsible for helping to pass information from one end of the line to the other. They are also expected to pay attention to what is being said and keep alert to their surroundings. Just because they are not leading or taking the tail position doesn’t mean they can choose to be unaware of traffic. They are expected to be on the lookout and warn of hazards. In a group everyone’s eyes and ears count. Anyone can call, “Stop!” if they need a rest or are having mechanical difficulties.

Tail position is probably the most demanding spot and is usually the best place for the most experienced rider. That position usually falls to me although on training runs when it is just me and a couple of the older children I often let them do the job so they learn the ropes. Main responsibility is to warn of any traffic approaching from behind. When there is traffic approaching from either direction it is usually the tail riders job to decide how the group is going to respond. We use three basic commands. If there is only traffic coming from behind and plenty of room for the traffic to pass we yell, “Line it up”. Basically we tighten up the formation and keep on riding. If traffic is approaching from both directions or if there are other hazards causing difficulty for the traffic to get past us we yell, “Clear”. That command means everybody off the pavement and onto the shoulder. Shoulders are not fun to ride on with a road bike but the name of the game here is safety and courtesy. As soon as the traffic is past we yell, “Safe”. Which in case you can’t guess means the way is clear and our little entourage gets back onto the pavement.


We do have what we call the dog drill. Every once in awhile we encounter a not so friendly dog. We have not at this point resorted to mace but we have considered it. When the children were young they were taught to give Mom room to drop back and Dad came up from the rear. We basically did a she-bear routine. Most dogs beat a hasty retreat. We now will confront the dog as a group. They usually back off an apparent show of force.

An additional note on courtesy to other vehicles on the road: There are places as you travel down the road where there is no passing because you cannot see the road ahead. Often our lead rider can see if it is clear beyond the obstruction. We will signal an all clear to those vehicles so they can get past.

You might get the impression that our rides become kind of militaristic exercises in discipline but because we try to choose roads with less traffic we are not yelling commands up and down our riding line for the entirety of our tours. We will do a little side by side riding on occasion when there is no traffic to talk but generally we stay in formation because it takes practice. We areout there enjoying ourselves. The whole objective of our formation riding is not to take away the fun but to make the trip as safe as possible.

More From Pico's Cycling (Photos and titles are clickable links)

Home Built Trailer

Determined to continue touring after starting a family, we built this beast and successfully used it. Hard to beat the price for a young family just starting out.

Five Lessons Learned From My First Fully-Loaded Ride

Writer Jack Hawkins is learning the ropes and tells us about some of his experiences along the way.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Get Yourself a Bicycle Bell

Of all the accessories that you can buy for your bicycle, the kiddie bell has to be the geekiest. That being said you should have one on your bike, especially if you do a lot of riding on multi use recreation trails. 

The issue here is safety and not just for the cyclist. People are taught to look both ways before crossing the street from childhood, but I've learned the hard way that many people listen both ways instead of look. I've had more close calls with pedestrians stepping out in front of me than any other hazard. A friendly tinkle is almost always enough to get their attention.

The bell's value increases exponentially when you travel on multi use recreation trails. Dodging pedestrians, cyclists and dogs can be almost as hazardous as driving on a busy street. Get everyone's attention and it's smooth sailing.

Why a bell instead of some other warning device?

The most obvious alternative is the bicycle horn. I don't like them for one simple reason. That rubber squeeze ball has a very limited life span. Being a born cheapskate, I don't see the point in spending extra cash for something that isn't going to last. One of those kiddie bells with rust inhibiting oil squirted into it a few times a year will out last anything else.

Electronic warning devices are finicky. There are a multitude of reasons for them to fail besides a dead battery. I will admit that a twelve volt battery strapped under your seat powering the loudest car horns on the market has a lot more cool factor. Think about what you're trying to accomplish though. Are you trying to give people a friendly warning or are you trying to scare the hell out of someone three blocks up the street? In general I'm aiming at the friendly warning, however, there have been times...  My tinkly bell has been enough to send a pair of power walkers headlong into the bushes beside the recreation trail. Again, I can make the cost argument here as well.

Where do you mount your bell?

This might be a 'duh' question for some. It has to be somewhere where it can be easily reached and used. Most people mount it on their handlebars right where they can put their thumb on the lever and activate it as needed. I don't like it there. In the picture below if you look close you can see I mount mine sideways on the handlebar stem, still in easy reach. It is black like the handlebars so it is difficult to see. My feeling is this: There is enough on my handlebars already. My brakes and shifters are there. I added a light, cyclo-computer and a bell. That's a crowded pair of handlebars. I almost fell once because something caused me to lose my balance and I shifted my hand position to catch myself. I grabbed my new light and broke it off the bracket and almost went down anyway. Didn't look so cool attached to my bike with duct tape. I attach my light differently now as well. My handlebars are now for controlling the bike and nothing else.

There is one drawback to mounting the bell the way I do. The weather gets into it and I have to keep it oiled to make sure it's there for me when I need it.

You can ride safer with a bicycle bell. If you mount it like I do, no one has to know until you use it.

A Few More Stories From Pico's Cycling (click photos or titles for full articles)

Stop - Yes That Means You!

Rules of the road were designed for the safety of those using them. On the other hand I don't think the issue is as bad as some make it seem.

Not Just Water

If you're riding in a place that is hot and dry you need to pay special attention to keeping your body hydrated and your electrolytes balanced. I learned this with another tough lesson.

Thursday, 14 November 2013


By Pico Triano
Photos: Pico Triano

Training runs are usually not memorable enough to warrant getting written up but all the kincyclists agree that last Sunday’s run was special.

I was hoping to make this one a little more demanding than usual because I thought we needed it. The plan though was to head east and with a rather powerful wind coming out of the west we decided that was not a good idea. The new plan was to push west against that wind until we’d had enough and then let the wind bring us home. Great plan except we are not very familiar with the roads that direction. No big deal exploring new places is half the fun of it so it did not concern us much.

Pulling Wesley in the trailer against that strong of a head wind was challenging to say the least. I had to ask the gang to cool the pace a little a couple of times. We made good time though and the ride through the countryside was quite pleasant. The road we were on came to an end at a more major road after about eleven or twelve kilometres and we decided to head south until we found another road heading back roughly the way we came. We should have been a little more patient. We came across a small gravel road and because it had a stop sign on the end of it we figured this was our route home. It was a pleasant ride through the forest only our road was slowly petering out to more of a tractor path. That is not what we had in mind so when we came across a slightly better road heading south we made the turn. There was a barrier on the end of this road that had a sign saying water over the road but it was pushed to the side so we figured we were alright. Guess again. We started squeaking by some rather large puddles. They got a little worse finally we passed a couple that were very difficult to get around/through and thought we were out of it. A little further on we came to the worst one and it was too wide to go around and too deep to ride through. Rather than turn around and go back we figured that it would be better to take off our shoes and wade through it. Not necessarily the brightest thing to do but we got away with it. Sheldon went first and then came back to help me with my rig. Sheldon walked the bike while I lifted the trailer clear of the water. Everyone got across fairly uneventfully except Brandon who managed to sweep a leech away before it got attached to his foot. We scrambled to get our shoes and socks back on and get moving because by that time all manner of biting and stinging insects had found us. Thankfully there was only one more puddle that we were able to go around before our escape was complete. Francine took note of the name of the road just to be sure we never went there again. The rest of the ride rolled with the wind and we made excellent time all the way home. Finished with a little more than twenty-eight kilometres on the clock.

Francine has forgiven me for that ride and is still training as hard as she can on her own in the evenings. The kids although only Brandon will likely admit it loved the whole adventure and I don’t think I would get any flack from them about exploring some other corner. We are ready to go on more serious day trips. I would say we have a range of about fifty kilometres round trip. Hopefully this weekend will co-operate weatherwise because I’d like to go with the whole gang for a picnic somewhere (Somewhere dry).

More Stories From Pico's Cycling (Photos and titles are links to the full stories)

A Key to Riding as a Family

Touring by bicycle with a family is not just about riding a bicycle. It's about everything else that makes a great vacation.

How to Spend Three Hours Getting Lost

Jack Hawkins get himself a second hand bike and takes it out for a mud run without checking out the mechanicals first. In retrospect he had fun.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Coaster Bikes - Learning to Ride

There are two old school approaches to teaching a child to ride a bicycle. The first is to put the child on a bike and push them around until they figure out how to balance. The other is to slap on a pair of training wheels on the bike and let them ride around on those until they don’t need them anymore. Letting them teach themselves by giving them a bike with no instructions and hoping they don’t get hurt too bad isn’t really teaching so I don’t count that method. There is a better way.

La Bikery in Moncton, New Brunswick has asked for old bicycles so that they can build coaster bikes to help new riders to learn. A coaster bike is just a bicycle without pedals and it can be a terrific tool in teaching children (and adults) to ride with minimum risk of painful consequences.

The bicycle is usually an old one that probably isn’t worth fixing up for any other purpose. The seat is lowered so the riders can put their feet flat on the ground and propel themselves by pushing off. The pedals are removed (if they were still there in the first place) so that the rider doesn’t risk bruising their shins on them or worse getting tangled up with them and falling. One note of caution: Make sure that the bike has operational brakes especially if the lessons take place on a slope.

It is surprising how quickly new riders will learn to balance a bicycle on one of these coaster bikes. My youngest picked it up within an hour. Once they have successfully learned to balance they can confidently transition to a regular bicycle and propel themselves by pedal power. 

Get out on a bicycle. It is one of the most efficient means of transportation ever devised by humankind. It’s good for the environment and it’s good for you.

More Cycling With Children From Pico (Photos and titles are clickable links)

After touring solo as a single man, I was determined that getting married and having a family wasn't going to be the end of bicycle touring for me. This was our first family multi day tour.

It is not easy to bicycle tour safely with young children, but it can be done. With careful planning, consistent training and patience we managed and have had some memorable inexpensive family vacations as a result.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Learning the Ropes the Hard Way

By Pico Triano
Photos: Pico Triano

With the exception of my family's camping breakfasts (fried eggs steeped in Naphtha fumes, swamp water porridge and powdered milk brewed with more swamp water) I loved roughing it with my family growing up. I didn’t think we were doing enough on the roughing it part though. On our many adventures we occasionally met campers who were travelling self-contained by bicycle. Those were the real heroes. I was determined that some day I would follow in their tire tracks.

That some day came the summer after my third year of college. I banked enough hours to take a whole week off work and go on a real tour. I cycled around town a little and called it training. Even did a more intensive workout in the pool during part of my lunch breaks. Besides the fact that I had no experience and didn’t even know anyone who did and had less than adequate equipment, I knew I was ready. Pasadena, California to San Luis Obispo, roughly three easy days riding up the coast, one day’s rest and then three more easy days of riding back. I didn’t have real panniers so I carefully stuffed everything I thought I would need in old gym bags. I even brought some things to fill up my leisure time. I had a baby cooler for the few perishable food items I planned to take. Carefully wrapped half a dozen eggs in an extra T-shirt to cushion any bumps in road. I almost never fall while riding so I wasn’t too concerned about breaking them. I got everything packed the evening before and went to bed early so I could hit the road at sun up.

Wasn’t out of Pasadena before I encountered my first moment of stupidity. On the bright side I wasn’t the idiot. I was creaking down the road with about a hundred pounds of gear with me when some early morning cyclist on a racing bike dressed for the Tour de France complete with the stupid little hat starts drafting me. Then with a sudden burst of speed he triumphantly blew by me. I hope the ego boost lasted him all day. I can’t quite figure out the thrill but I’ve run into cyclists who do this all the time when I’m loaded for touring. In fact he wasn’t even the only one that day.

My objective for the day was a potential campsite just past Ventura and everything was running perfectly until I pulled over at a park with picnic tables to eat breakfast. This was to be an easy preparation meal of raisin bran, milk and some fruit. I was expecting to do about eighty miles that first day and another sixty each of the other two days on the way out so this was the day to save time. I tucked into my cereal and watched my bike fall over. Remember the eggs? None of them survived. I made things worse by deciding to clean the mess up later. Right after the park there was a road that veered off to the right. By riding into the park at one end and leaving on the other end I neatly bypassed the sign directing me to turn right. By the time I figured out I was on the wrong road I was way off course and I didn’t have a clue where I went wrong. I took the next major road west and began looking for a gas station with a map on the wall. I of course was not carrying a map of my own. Didn’t need one. I had had a good look at a map at the college library before leaving. I managed with some difficulty to get back on course and shortly after that the road I was faithfully following ended. Now what? I was baffled. I finally broke down swallowed my male pride and asked for directions. I was directed to take Santa Susanna Pass Road. Wouldn’t you know it that goes over the Santa Susanna Pass. I hadn’t trained for any significant hills. I walked most of the way up, exhausting but a blessed relief for my tender butt. It was sore before noon and wouldn’t get any better. I was shifting my weight from one butt cheek to the other in an effort to survive the rest of the day. It was extremely hot and dry. There was a dead Tarantula on the side of the road at the top of the pass. After the pass things went well all things considered until I got to another fork in the road. I of course took the wrong fork again. Instead of rolling into Ventura, I found myself in Oxnard. I was feeling really stupid until I asked for directions again. I went to a photo booth and asked the guy in there the best road to take to get to Ventura. If some sun burned road weary cyclist on his bike loaded with about a hundred pounds of gear asks you how to get somewhere, what is your best guess as to which mode of transportation he is planning to use? He told me to get on the freeway. I patiently explained that bicycles weren’t allowed on the freeway. Not a word of a lie, he then says, You can’t get there from here. I couldn’t believe my ears. I was stupid but this guy made me look like Einstein. I decided to just follow whatever road was closest to the coast and it worked out for me just fine… this time. I located my proposed campsite a couple miles north of the town and someone had built a gravel road on it in my absence. That didn’t leave many good campsite options. There is a narrow strip of lowland there with the freeway and a train track between the mountains and the pacific. I elected to get away from the road, which was quite busy, carrying my bike and gear over the tracks to a large flat rock, which looked like the most comfortable place I could see in the rapidly dwindling light. No soil to hold my tent pegs, so I just chowed down on what I had and laid out there in the great outdoors in my sleeping bag. Rode a 103 miles to get that far. My first century ride but at the time I didn’t really care.

I didn’t get a very pleasant night sleep. That flat rock was very uncomfortable and if I hadn’t been exhausted I don’t know if I would have slept at all. I did fall asleep though and then the ground started shaking and there was a roaring sound getting closer and closer. I awoke all tensed up ready to fling myself to one side or the other expecting to see the train’s headlamp bearing down on me. That first train scared the living crap out of me. Never camp twenty-five yards from a busy railway line. There were two other trains before morning but the other two only woke me up. Remember my broken eggs? While I was asleep the local ant population discovered them and probably more than a thousand of them drowned in the mess. I discovered that in the morning but couldn’t clean it up completely because the only water I still had with me was for drinking.

In the morning I was just as stiff and sore as when I went to bed. I was in good spirits though after all I had survived my first twenty-four hours and this day was supposed to be shorter. I also was familiar with the road between Ventura and Santa Barbara so at least the first part of the day would present no real problems. My objective for the day was somewhere around Lompoc. I rode painfully along shifting my weight from one butt cheek to the other right from the start of the day. I washed the ants and egg goo away in the Pacific and generally thought I had gotten my act together. I arrived in Santa Barbara without further incident. Then things got interesting again. I had to get from Santa Barbara to the Gaviota Pass. I intended to just follow the coast like I had so successfully done between Oxnard and Ventura. The road I chose wound and wound and wound and never seemed to get where I was going. I eventually got there but the mileage was really beginning to pile up. I was beginning to worry about reaching my weekend objective. I arrived just outside of Lompoc late the evening. I chose a freshly ploughed and harrowed field and slept like a dead man. I clocked another 98 miles and knew that even with a good night rest I didn’t have another one of those left in me. Judging by the maps I had seen I just might have another long day before getting there and getting a whole day of rest.

My third day on the road was tame compared to the first two. I chose one more road that wound around too much but it didn’t hurt me too much. I called the local pastor’s house from the organisation I normally attended for church and asked for directions. His daughter answered and had no idea how to find the place without coming via freeway. I took those directions and got the address hoping that I would be able to ask locals and find it anyway. Struggling along exhausted, I found someone to ask and he told me I was about ten miles past my destination. Fortunately his directions were good and I actually found the place with only about seventy miles on the clock for the day.

Services were going to be held in a small public school and because there was only one house overlooking the schoolyard with the blinds drawn guess where I camped for the night. Thick grassy spot by the swing set was ideal and I slept undisturbed. I actually woke up feeling refreshed and some of the soreness in my legs was subsiding. I went a few blocks down the road to a public park I’d seen on the way the day before to get washed. I knew there was a drinking fountain there and for me that was as good a spot as any to get scrubbed up for church. I stripped down to my college issue gym shorts took my bandanna off my head and used it as a wash cloth. I was close to a road and people started looking at me funny. The reason never occurred to me until later in the school year when I had to run to the store quick while wearing these same white shorts and throwing on a white T-shirt. Ran into Perry one of my basketball team-mates and he said, “John! What are you doing here in your underwear?” He was partly joking but in that moment it all became clear to me. All washed up I shaved with cold water for the first and last time in my life. I was not sure I would stop bleeding before services started. I managed to staunch the flow but I won’t ever do that again. Got to laze around the rest of the morning. Befriended one of the local cats and generally enjoyed the break in riding.

Services turned out to be a whole lot more fun than I had expected. It had not occurred to me that riding that far would give me a kind of celebrity status. I didn’t mind. On the road alone your social life reaches zero. This made up the deficit in a big way. Church folk are usually very generous and helpful. The Daugherty’s who had a son attending the same college I was, were determined to have me over for the night. They apologised over and over for their lack of preparation. Their kids were picking at their vegetarian lasagna while I was just chowing down. Hey, it was better than what they generally fed us at college never mind what I’d been eating for the last three days. The friendship they served was even better.

The next day they really stuffed me full of breakfast before I headed on home. Someone else at services had given me directions past my last winding road. The directions, the experience and one stroke of blind dumb luck made the return trip a while lot shorter. In Gaviota I elected to ride on a road that while it got away from the coast appeared to stay fairly straight. That was a great choice because it went straight through to Santa Barbara without turning at all. I made a mental note of it because when I came that way again I wanted to make sure I would take it again. A year later I was riding through the same stretch and happened across another bicycle tourist like myself. He had a map telling him to take that route. Told me he would have never found it by himself. I told him about this trip and we had a good laugh before he sprinted ahead. He was not travelling self-contained for camping like me. He was carrying basically a water bottle, toolkit and a credit card.

The return trip was really uneventful. I made no wrong turns. Chose campsites well. Ate a little better and didn’t have to push as hard. A week after starting I arrived back on campus in Pasadena a seasoned veteran or at least on a gentler part of the learning curve.

Related Stories and Other Links (photos and titles are clickable links)

Beginning of the the big tour that all my previous riding had been leading up to. It went a great deal smoother than my first run through this area. Not without its moments though.

Not intended to instruct future generations on how to prepare. I learned most of my lessons the hard way and I don't recommend that. This does chronicle the work I put in making myself ready for a really long tour.

Artistic talent can be found in many people. Francine is a stay at home mom who tutored with a professional artist in Quebec when she was younger. She does her best to create time for her painting and drawing. Come have a look at her work.