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.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Pico's Cycling - Tales of the Road January 2015 Vol. 3 No. 1

Getting this month's issue to our readers turned out to be an epic struggle. I was not even sure we would be able to publish on time. Early in December my wireless Internet connection crashed. There is only one provider in my area and because they have a monopoly they are not very helpful. A technician is coming out on January 2nd to restore our home Internet.

Nearest Internet service is twenty minutes away for us at the public library and they are not always open especially during the Christmas season. Where we live we can only get telephone service through the Internet as well. Effectively we've been cut off from the world for most of the past month. Being unable to communicate conveniently with our writers hasn't made any of this easier.

We're determined though. We managed to get the articles and pictures scraped together. We will publish as soon as we can. If things work at the local library today we will be on time. We won't be able to do hardly any promoting though. I just don't think they'll let me hog the computer that long.

I've learned a little about how much we rely on technology these days. Next month will be better.

In This Issue

(Click the links or just scroll down) Please note the library computer could not handle photos or adding links. Will be fixed within the week.

My Big Tour Preparation

This will be running as a serial over the next four or five issues. I did this tour a long time ago and I think most riders will enjoy the story. My intention was to ride from Pasadena, California up the coast part way and then come all the way across to the Niagara Falls area in Canada. An epic undertaking.

Knowing the Way

It isn't always a matter of just getting on your bike and pedalling. You have to know how to get where you're going. Getting lost on a bike tour is no fun best avoid it if possible.

A Cyclist's Christmas Wishlist

Maybe a few days late but we thought our readers would appreciate it anyway. Jack Hawkins brings us this article.

Not Mechanically Inclined

Being a younger sibling isn't always fun. Learning bike mechanics was a long road for me. I really didn't get that much help along the way. I survived and thrived though.

Shake Down Tour

This is a stand alone story but it does relate directly to the big tour I started preparing for in our first article this month. I've ridden very few solo tours that ran as smoothly as this one did. I wasn't fooled though into thinking, I was done learning.

With the Internet back, I'm looking forward to the coming month. I think we can make a lot of improvements and bring a lot of good content to our readers. Until then. Pedal on!


My Big Tour Preparation

By Pico Triano
Photos: Pico Triano

This isn't meant to try to tell other riders how to prepare for an epic trek. My intention is just to recount my own experience warts and all. If it inspires my readers in any way, I'm happy.

My inspiration came on a family camping trip in Northern Ontario. I believe we were camping at Pancake Bay Provincial Park on Lake Superior. A young couple fresh out of college also camped there that weekend on their way from California up the coast, across Western and Central Canada to their home in Montreal, Quebec. I was young and rather shy at the time so I don't think I annoyed them too much before everyone moved on. The two of them and what they were doing made quite an impression on me.

I was bitten by the bicycle touring bug and slowing started preparing for an opportunity. Before heading for college in California myself I purchased a couple of important items with my meagre earnings. First I bought a excessively inexpensive red sleeping bag and at the same time small two man pup tents were on sale so I bought one of those as well.

I was a last minute acceptee that semester and I bought my Nishiki Landau touring bike three days before they called me up and three weeks before I left. I'm glad it worked out the way it did because had I known I was going to college I would have saved my money and not had the bike when the opportunity did come up. I had to wait a year for Airwolf to catch up to me because shipping a bike isn't a simple thing for people who have never done it before.

I didn't start training physically until my junior year of college because the pieces needed to make the tour possible didn't seem to be falling into place until then. I started riding my bike everywhere I wanted to go. It was very liberating for a country boy that spent most of his time cooped up on campus. I also cut a deal with my supervisor I worked with on the landscaping department. He let me bank up hours so that I could take a week long tour without losing wages. Finally I did something totally useless and unnecessary. I went daily to the college pool and swum laps thinking that improving my overall stamina would make a big difference on the bike. I don't think it helped at all. I think I would have been better off just riding more.

My first semester my senior year was a bit of a nightmare. I was trying to do too much academically and it was catching up with me. Los Angeles' infamous smog was taking a lot out of this undiagnosed asthmatic and I just didn't have the energy to keep it all going. I finally broke down and dropped my computer programming class (swallowing a failing grade in the process). I went to the registrar and made arrangements to take a class during the summer to give me enough credits to graduate at the end of the summer instead of with my class. An exceptionally tough choice to make but I don't regret it. The slightly lighter load allowed me to bring my grades up. Working on campus for an extra summer would allow me to pay off all my student debts and have some cash left over to attempt my dream tour.

As soon as I thought riding home was possible, I started training in earnest. I set minimum daily and weekly riding goals. I'd learned one lesson and didn't bother going to the pool to swim. I probably learned more about the area surrounding the campus during my last semester than I did in all the rest of the time I was there.

I went on short tours, banking up the necessary hours to minimize any financial impact, to assess my progress. Early in the summer I found my hill climbing to be deficient. After that I went out of my way to ride up every little local mole hill repeatedly. It did help.

Physically I was well prepared for that tour. I was strong when I left and I got even stronger once I'd escaped the smog.

The route and the timing could have been better. I was on too tight of a schedule and too tight of a budget. In retrospect there was a way around those two issues and in solving those problems I would have had the means to deal with my breaking spoke problems.

If I had to do it again, I would have done the trip in two instalments. Instead of cutting across the Nevada desert, I would have rode the first leg straight up the coast to British Columbia. I would have been legally able to work there through the winter. Late the following spring I would have come across Canada. Financially and physically that would have worked.

I will chronicle the trip I did do in coming issues.

Knowing the Way

By Pico Triano
Photos: Pico Triano

Since that first wobbly ride down the sidewalk and then across our quiet residential street, hopping on my bike and riding holds a certain magic for me. It opened a whole new world of adventures and opportunities. If I wanted to go somewhere I had the means to get there.

In those carefree days of youth one thing I loved to do was just get on my bike and follow my nose. As long as my chores were done, the only thing I had to be concerned about was getting home before supper. I still like to go exploring but rarely have time. Now when I ride I have specific objectives and schedule. Most of the time now I need to know where I'm going, how I'm going to get there and how much time I have to do it. That doesn't have to take the fun out of it.

There are three major sources on information to draw on, when planning or even during a tour. Your own experience is easily the most reliable. The experience and knowledge of people you come into contact with and last but not least maps. None of them are foolproof.

I learn a great deal about potential cycling routes while I'm driving the family van. Knowing the lay of the land can make a big difference. Things do change though and sometimes quickly. The road you loved to ride on a decade ago might have been changed. My favourite example of a change occurred on my first one week tour. I had personally scouted out parts of the route the summer before. In my absence someone built a road on top of my planned first night campsite and there weren't any good nearby alternatives. That first night on the road wasn't one I'll forget.

Talking to the locals while on tour has gifted me with some of the most incredible shortcuts imaginable. Once my map told me I had to loop all the way around a certain area and I was behind schedule. I stopped at a church bazaar and asked the ladies if there was a better way. There was and it meant arriving at my destination before supper instead of after dark. On a more major tour, the locals helped me through a complicated back road route that I would have never managed without their help.

Unfortunately the information you get is only as good as the person you talk to. If you have the choice between asking a young person or asking an old timer, you're better off talking to the old timer. It's amazing how many people don't know anything beyond the main road or the freeway. The pitfall with the old timer though is that your directions might include landmarks that no longer exist the way they remember them. Old highway 66 for example might not be labelled that anymore and you might not recognize Foothill Boulevard as being the same thing.

Maps are a lot like talking to the locals, but you first need to learn how to read a map. Lessons on how to read a map are beyond the scope of this article but here is a quick tip. Usually north is at the top of the map. If it isn't, find north and hold your map so that it is. If you are turning your map left then right twisting it this way and that, you're going to get lost or you already are lost.

Take your map with you on longer trips. That way you are prepared to deal with unexpected changes to your route. Make sure you get a quality map, with sufficient detail from a trusted source. Like asking people for directions, you directions are only as good as the source.

Maps are not foolproof either. I don't know why some map makers arbitrarily connect roads that don't. I spent most of a day on an alternate route hoping to cut some significant mileage in Southern California on a major tour. Standing atop an overpass peering at the road I wanted to ride on in the distance with a mile of impassable cornfield between me and there is a moment that still sticks with me. I ended up backtracking a little and then hooking back up with the original more scenic route, losing everything I thought I'd gained. I doubt, if I'm the only long distance bicycle tourist that finds that kind of thing disheartening. This has happened to me on several occasions.

In North America I have found state and provincial maps to be my best sources especially the ones offered by auto clubs. Google can give you a lot of detail but I don't trust their directions entirely. I live in a rather remote location and the recommended routes Google gives me through this neck of the woods are often impassable. Bike routes that it gives me are often down roads or snowmobile trails that you wouldn't want to take a good road bike down.

A Cyclist's Christmas Wishlist

By Jack Hawkins
Pictures: Pico Triano

It’s Christmas, and many of us cyclists are by now, firmly set up in our living rooms or bedrooms with a set of rollers, or exercise bikes, or are gallantly braving the frigid temperatures on increasingly-popular fatbikes.

So, what does one get a cyclist for Christmas? Well, I’ve polled a group of cyclists from a local bike shop, here’s what they had to say. I also asked them what their favourite cycling-related Christmas gift that they have ever received.

Jim Goguen, a Manager at Consolvo Bikes, was the first to chime in, with his own suggestions.

“Some great gift ideas that are not expensive include: seat bags, tyre levers, pumps, even an indoor trainer, so that you’re ready once the snow is gone!” He reflected on his own favourite cycling-related, although not a Christmas gift, a very special one from his childhood.

“My favorite cycling gift for me goes way back to when I was a 11 or12 year boy. As a paperboy saving my money for a new bicycle. So I had saved up about half towards the cost of the bicycle, then My dad and I are in BF Goodrich downtown Moncton and I'm dreaming of this Yellow Road BIke with a cool BFG logo, my dad saw me just eyeing it, Dad comes over, “Is this what you've been saving for?” And without even a chance to say yes, “Happy birthday Jimmy. That was a very cool present.”

Other cyclists’ shared their views on the subject of Christmas gifts. Satish Punna had this to say: “For me the greatest cycling gift I have ever gotten from my wife and family is the gift of time; of being allowed to go out and ride pretty much whenever I want.”

Mark Oulton, of Moncton, described some of the more material items that a cyclist could receive at Christmas. “Headlight/tail lights are always a great gift, grips, pedals, component upgrades, chains, tools, clothing, anything for cycling really. I would say the best gift I got was my Joe Blow tire pump. Dual head for presta and Schrader valves, accurate PSI gauge. Excellent all around!”

Mark even shared a photo with me of last year’s Christmas presents from his wife - the only thing that wasn’t cycling-related: the box of Cadbury’s chocolate fingers (although one could argue that those are for post-or-during-ride-nutrition), and the zombie DVD.

From a personal perspective, there are plenty of cycling-related items on my Christmas list, but one must prioritise and ask oneself, “What do I need right now?” Well, in my case that makes the list a lot shorter, I would like a whole bunch of things for my cross-country trip, but there aren’t many that I need right now. I would say my most pressing concerns are logistical, and okay, maybe I’d like a new helmet, or a pair of decent cycling shorts. 

What’s on your Christmas list that’s cycling-related? What is your favourite cycling-related gift that you’ve received? And how, do you find the time, at the busiest time of year, to get out there and ride?

Not Mechanically Inclined

By Pico Triano
Photos Shawn Whitelaw

This was a label I picked up as a young boy growing up. I'm sure the fact that I was interested in so many other things contributed to the label but the fact that I had two older brothers who occupied the family garage most of the time had a lot more to do with it. They had no need for me in there. Besides if I had to do dishes and stuff like that inside not only was I out of their hair but they wouldn't have to do those kind of chores.

Most of the bikes we had at home were second hand or cobbled together from parts. I was not the mechanic that put them together or fixed them when they broke. The two of them at times seemed to take great pleasure in chewing me out for riding with something that had come loose. I remember being told off, when it was discovered that the headset on my bike was loose. I remember being told off for a damaged rear hub because the cones had loosened and I hadn't noticed. I was capable of figuring these things out, if someone had taken the time to tell me what to look for first.

I was teased about being wobbly as well. Can't you ride in a straight line? That didn't bother me though, my ability avoid crashing when important parts of the bike broke was impressive.

At eleven years old I delivered newspapers on my bike like both my older brothers had done. There was a shortcut between two customer, a path with a short stairway. Someone parked a picnic table at the bottom and my evasive manoeuvre was too much for my rusty handlebars. One side broke off at the stem. I did not fall.

My unsympathetic older brother replaced them with another junk pair that were lying around. The nut where you could adjust the angle of the handlebars was not quite tight and if you hit a bump or jerked on them they would change position. I'd taken enough abuse over things so I didn't ask them to fix it. I didn't think they would anyway.

One of them discovered the issue while taking a spin on my bike while I wasn't around. Instead of fixing the issue they decided to further torture me with it by oiling it. I could literally twirl the handlebars on the stem. I wiped away most of the oil but they moved very easily. Not wanting to give them satisfaction of having me whine to have it repaired, I rode it the way it was. My younger brother finally crashed it and broke those handlebars. My brothers got to explain the whole incident to my parents who ordered my older brother to fix it right.

I had one last handlebar clash. My regular ride broke down and I had to borrow a regular bike that my older brother had converted to a ten-speed. We are tall folk and my mechanically gifted brother made one mistake adjusting this bike. He put an extended seat post on it and adjusted the handlebars as high as they could possibly go – too high as it turned out. The wedge piece was right near the top edge of the fork tube. That broke while I was riding it. Fortunately I was on flat ground because all of a sudden the handlebars were no longer attached to the bike and using the calliper brakes was a suicidal proposition. I managed to coast to a stop. A temporary fix got me home. That particular brother was not very happy with me but he didn't want to give me credit for being able to twist that part of the bike apart with my bare hands.

 I got my comeuppance with the local cycling skills competition while I was a teenager. My brothers entered every year the fair came to town. I followed suit. I did one thing they never managed though. I won it.

Shake Down Tour

By Pico Triano

My big goal was to ride from the Los Angeles area where I was attending college back home to the Niagara Falls area. I'd spent most of the previous six months heavy in preparations. During that time, I had trained by riding almost daily, taken short tours to make sure I could handle the mileage and sort out any deficiencies in my equipment and scrounged cash to pay my expenses on the way. I was just about ready to go, but I had time for one weekend run to check to make sure I'd put it all together.

The objective was to cover more than the first day of my future tour with a full load and then head back. The goal was to ride from Pasadena, California to Carpenteria on the Pacific coast between Ventura and Santa Barbara. I would camp out two nights there and then come racing back again.

This ride would accomplish several things for me. It would finalize my route through that area. There were a few spots I wasn't sure about around Ventura. I would test my conditioning. The route would be a fully loaded century ride with a low mountain pass. If I could handle that with flying colours, I felt I was ready for just about anything. Finally it was an excuse to go out and ride.

My bike was fully loaded the evening before, so bright and early Friday morning, all I had to do was eat some breakfast and hit the road. The training, equipment improvements and planning clearly paid off. The year before I struggled up the grade through La Crescenta. I made horrible navigational errors. My vinyl paddingless saddle gave me unspeakable pain. This time my gel seat pad kept me comfortable and physically I didn't even feel tested till I came to the Santa Susanna Pass.

I actually looked forward to climbing the pass. The year before I walked my bike up most of it. On big tours this kind of climb is one I would partially walk just to conserve my strength. This time though I wanted to see what I had and I churned all the way up it fully loaded without so much as taking a break. That success was exhilarating because it spoke volumes about my preparations.

In Ventura I made a small navigational error, I found myself on a residential loop. Oops. That was the only mistake I made. It came back to haunt me in a funny way.

Shortly after passing Ventura my one day personal one day mileage record fell. I stopped at a convenience store bought an ice cold can of cheap beer and sucked it down alongside the road in celebration.

I continued on to Carpenteria and located the address where there would be a church service the next day with the group I was affiliated with at the time. The day as expected went almost without a hitch. I was pleased with myself. I'd finalized my route and even decided on a campsite for the future trek. I camped in the bushes near Carpenteria tired but not exhausted.

View Larger Map

This map is an approximation of the route I took Taking into consideration that the roads and all have changed considerably in the mean time.

The following day at services one of the local members recognized me as the cyclist they saw the day before (riding on his residential loop). That particular church group had an annual church convention and for parking and other purposes everyone was issued a small bright green rectangular bumper sticker. I'd managed to get one of those and stuck it to the baby cooler that I strapped onto my rear rack. He'd seen that while he was repairing his roof. That was the reason I put it there. Anyone from that church group in Canada or the United States would have recognized that little sticker.

The hall custodian gave me permission to camp in back of the hall for the second night. He lived in a trailer back there himself. This allowed me to attend a church social that evening. Church people especially have this way of making sure cyclists are properly fed.

The following day I raced back to college. Mission accomplished.