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, 26 February 2015

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

Another month has arrived. Once again we set a new record for readership last month. I'm hoping that I get tired of making the same announcement each month before it stops happening. Over 1500 readers in February and that in spite of continued Internet issues here caused by the weather. We've been hit by what has to be some kind of record for blizzards this month. Internet has been up and down for the past several weeks. March is in the system so I should be able to be published on time. Once this page is complete, we'll be published for another month.

Iohan's ride starting in the Northwest Territories absolutely destroyed our previous record for page views for a single article. Hopefully we'll be able to present more of his adventures in future articles. Time to get on to the new issue.

In This Issue

(Please click the links or just scroll down)

Finding My Rhythm

If you enjoyed reading "It Begins" last month, this is the continuation of that story. It covers my own personal experience from that first rough twenty-four hours on the road up until I'm riding in unfamiliar territory.

Meals On Wheels

When you tour self-contained you are literally living on your bike. Part of planning a tour means planning on food. How are you going to get it? How you going to prepare and  eat it. This is a general discussion on available portable stove options.

Family Versus the Dog Kind

Not all dogs are a cyclist's best friend. Because some can be dangerous, it's important to take appropriate precautions. This is just a recounting of some of our experiences riding as a family and dealing with someone else's not so friendly canine companion.

Break Days

Not everyone who tours self-contained loves the day in day out grind of making massive daily mileage. Planned break days from cycling to rest or do other activities while on tour can make the whole experience more enjoyable for everyone.

The Financial Side of Things

On tour it usually takes some money to make your wheels go round. Jack Hawkins takes a quick look at how he is preparing for his coming tour financially.

That's it for another month. Hope you all enjoy the articles we have to offer. Keep in mind Pico's Cycling is always on the look out for stories. If you have a tale to tell, we're more than happy to have a look and if it works for us publish it in one of our up coming issues.

Next month we're looking forward to forgetting winter for awhile. Looking forward to having everyone on their bikes again.

Until then bike safe.


Finding My Rhythm

By Pico Triano
Photos: Pico Triano

This is a continuation of the story I began last month called It Begins. Bit by bit I will cover my entire two thousand mile journey.

After that minor disaster on the first day of the trip, I settled in pretty quickly. Riding in familiar territory, beautiful weather, comfortable seat pad, this was the way it was supposed to be. I caught glimpses of the Pacific Ocean on my left. I could have followed the coast but that would have meant taking convoluted winding roads and sacrificing a lot of forward progress. On my right the Santa Ynez mountains rose high in the sky.

Just past Santa Barbara a credit card cyclist caught up with me. I don't remember how far north he was planning to ride. He might have been headed all the way to British Columbia but I honestly don't remember and my cycling diary didn't record that tidbit. We rode together chatting for a few miles before he decided to make tracks. His mileage goals were a great deal more ambitious than mine. With my touring load, I would only slow him down. The road can be a lonely place and it was nice to interact with another human being.

The Gaviota Pass held my first real obstacle. I knew it was coming but I still hate cycling through tunnels on major roads unless they have a pedestrian way. This tunnel of course did not. It isn't a long tunnel and there is a wide shoulder but still potentially dangerous. When vehicles enter tunnels the sudden change in lighting makes seeing difficult for at least a few moments. There have been horrible crashes inside them. I waited at the entrance until there wasn't any traffic in sight, then I made a break for it. Pedalling like a madman, I was almost out the other side before another vehicle passed me. Phew!

Right after the pass, I decided to trust my map and deviated from my route of the previous summer. If it had gone well, I would have saved a considerable amount of time. I wasn't so lucky. I remember standing at the top of an overpass looking across a field of corn to the road I had hoped to end up on. I had to backtrack and then cut back to my old route. I was not a happy camper and had a few choice words for the map publisher.

My next series of stealth campsites were not very memorable. I made steady progress up the scenic California coast. Just before Pismo Beach I entered virgin cycling territory for me. Around Morro Bay I made a call to my family back in Ontario to let them know I was still alive. This was in the days before cell phones became practical for cyclists so I was dependent on pay phones.

I continued north. I made lousy progress the morning I pulled into Ragged Point for a quick lunch. From the other direction a female self-contained cyclist pulled in from the opposite direction. There was no resort back then, just a burger stand. I went straight to the counter and ordered a grilled cheese sandwich (I was on a pretty draconian budget). She wandered around the picnic area stretching her legs. I don't think either one of us had any intention of screwing up our schedules and starting a conversation. That got wrecked by the arrival of a tour bus full of senior citizens. They cornered her first and grilled her about her sport. I tried to sneak past unnoticed but did not succeeded. We fielded questions for a time. When the seniors left we weren't done talking.

First thing she asks me about was my gel seat pad, which at the time was a fairly new innovation. Asked me if it was one of those pads that prevented penile numbness. Here I was straight out of college with a Bachelor of Arts with a major in theology. I kept my cool. I think my sunburn helped mask any embarrassment. She was seriously cute too. Long sandy blonde hair and blue-grey eyes if I recall correctly. I towered over her but we couldn't shut up for quite awhile. The road can be a lonely place and I had to fight the urge to follow her like a puppy. We didn't exchange contact information. Never even knew her name. Based the opening scene of one of my unpublished novels on that encounter. We both continued on solo in opposite directions way behind schedule.

Meals On Wheels

By Pico Triano
Photos: Pico Triano

No matter what kind of touring you do, somewhere in your planning you have to consider what you are going to eat on your trip. If you have a great deal of money to spend, riding from one restaurant to another might be a great option. I unfortunately do not possess such wealth and worse yet I like to eat something hot occasionally. That means I have to be able to prepare meals on my way and be able to at least sometimes heat something up.

Most self-contained touring cyclists I've met carry a single burner backpacker stove. When riding by myself, I did the same. It is limited, but riding solo, I would never recommend carrying something bigger or heavier.

There are three main choices available: White gas, propane/butane and multi-fuel. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. White gas works better in colder weather; propane/butane is easier to set up and use; and multi-fuel stoves are easier to find fuel for in less developed areas of the world.

My little stove used white gas or naphtha as many people here call it. I heated up a lot of cans of stew and chili with that little thing. Some of my meals were even made from scratch. Chopped up potatoes, vegetables and corned beef. With patience I could prepare quite a repertoire, but I don't have a lot of patience while trying to get to a destination. I ended up eating a lot of prepackaged foods.

Then I got married and somehow or other ended up with a whole gang of children. Riding with that small multitude made my poor little stove so inadequate. We did a couple of group tours with it. Making an adequate meal for everyone took too long. We ate meals in instalments. When the vegetables were done, you had to eat them. If you waited till the rest of the meal was ready they ended up cold. The impatient line up for everything from breakfast eggs to multiple cans of stew had us considering other options.

We went to Canadian Tire and bought a lightweight double burner propane stove and a package of lightweight disposable propane cylinders. I got to carry the stove on our next tour but the rest of the kitchen got split up between the rest of our troop of riders. In reality I didn't have to carry more weight than I had before. Frankly I loved our new meal making set up.

Everything was so easy to set up and put to work, we could stop for a quick hot lunch. We could pick up ingredients en route at discount food stores and whip up meals much like we would at home. We ate better more nutritious meals and spent less money. If you travel in a group, I would recommend going the same route as we did with meal preparations. Two backpacker stoves wouldn't have been as good because they would have made a less stable base to cook on.

Family Versus the Dog Kind

By Pico Triano
Photos: Pico Triano and Pixabay

When we first started riding as a family, experience warned me that we would eventually have to deal with someone else's not so friendly canine companion. This isn't meant as a how to article, but just a recounting of a few of our experiences and how we handled them.

We created something we called the dog drill. While touring or training together, mom always took the lead and dad always brought up the rear. The kids were strung along between us. Not only were the kids told what they should be doing in the event of a dog “attack” but we practiced. When the cry would go up the kids would move away from the edge of the pavement allowing mom to drop back and dad to come forward getting between the imagined dog and the kids. Mom and dad would aggressively confront the dog.

In truth we didn't run into a lot of trouble. Most dog owners are responsible enough to know that they can get into a lot of trouble for their dog causing a stranger trouble on a public thoroughfare. On tour we've never had an encounter but we have had to use our training during several of our practice runs close to home.

The first time was frightening for the kids. The dog was a big mixed breed and in truth I think it was only looking for an exciting chase. It didn't get that. The kids were very small but did exactly as they had been taught. Dad saw it all coming and mom just followed her instincts. The dog didn't expect the show of force, screeched to a halt confused, looked for away around and then beat a retreat.

Our second round didn't happen until the gang were mostly in their teen. I'm glad this didn't happen when the kids were younger because this dog was a great deal more aggressive. I was tempted to make a complaint to the township for all the good it would have done. In this case we confronted the dog as a group. Six big humans yelling their heads off angrily was too much for this dog. We inched out of his territory before he back all the way off. I pity any lone unprepared cyclist who rode there because this might have required mace. We made a point of not passing there anymore on our practice runs.

We love animals but sometimes it pays to be prepared and careful.

Break Days

By Pico Triano
Photos: Dale Coker, Pico Triano

Solo bicycle touring for me at times focused on just getting to my goal. I rode daily and relentlessly toward that goal. I'm not saying I ignored the sights along the way. I enjoyed everything I saw and experienced. Riding with a group was different though and riding with my wife and younger children was even more different.

As a family we settled on taking break days on longer tours. At least two days per week with no riding planned. How do we get anywhere? Not nearly as fast but it is a lot more enjoyable for everyone. It was hard for me to adjust my mindset but now I highly recommend group touring in this manner. Some of our break days are fixed in the planning of the tour. Others are left floating. We can take them when we think we need them. Keeping things flexible makes dealing with the unexpected a little easier. One minor disaster might not screw up your entire planned itinerary. Riding this way in my experience has some definite benefits.

On the physical side, a rest day allows you deal with nagging little issues. I someone in the group feels like they pushed too hard they have a chance to recharge and stay with it. Muscle strains, minor bruises, scrapes and blisters have a chance to be treated and heal a little before continuing on.

Our first family touring break day came as a scheduling quirk. We had a day where we had to rest but didn't want to delay the tour for two days. Second day on the road seemed like stupid timing for a rest day but it worked out really well. Our first day of riding was ambitious for such young children. The weather started out less than great and we had to stay on schedule because there was an important historical museum along the route that we wanted to have time to visit. Getting there just before closing time would not have made anyone happy. We pushed the pace. We enjoyed the tour of the Northwest Museum. Then pushed the pace again so that we could set up camp before dark. We crashed for the night exhausted.

The following day we didn't go anywhere. We slept in. Ate well. Explored the park where we were staying. The kids enjoyed the playground. We got to socialize with other campers who figured out that there was no motorized vehicle associated with our travels. We would have missed all that if we got up at the crack of dawn and cycled away the next day.

We followed that with three straight days of challenging riding for the gang. There was less grumbling in the ranks and it was easier to maintain discipline within the group. After the three days we arrived home and found that the trip went well and we still have the means to ride more. A day of rest at home and then we went for another two day tour before my summer vacation ended. The second run was even more ambitious for mileage and we encountered some ferocious headwinds. The whole week turned out to be one of our most successful and enjoyable family tours. We covered over 200 kilometres in five days of riding with two rest days. The oldest of the four children riding was eight years old and the youngest was five.

Mentally there isn't a much pressure to perform. It is easier to ride hard for a couple or three days if you know that you we have some real rest as a reward once you've done it. It's tough today kids but tomorrow you don't have to ride at all if you don't want to. You'll be able to go to a playground without all the gear attached to your bike.

Floating rest days will allow riders to hunker down for a really bad storm, instead of pushing through it. It might allow for unexpected repairs or even to take advantage of a sightseeing opportunity that the group stumbled across along the way. Flexibility on tour can make it easier and more enjoyable.

If you're planning a tour with a group, scheduling non-riding days may be a great way to go.

The Financial Side of Things

By Jack Hawkins
Photos: Pixabay, Dale Coker

We all know that planning a big endeavour has it’s downsides… The main thing that many of us worry about when it comes to a bike tour (or any kind of trip which is typically lengthy) is the cost. How much will it cost? Is often the question that many of us are asked when we’re on the road, or even by friends and family.

There isn’t really a short answer, and there are many factors that can affect the cost of a bike tour. It is often simply ‘to each their own’. I may not wish to pay for my accommodation, it may simply be a personal preference, or it may be dictated by how much you’ve allotted yourself on the monetary scale.

Since I am soon to departing on a cross country trip, I thought I’d let you all in on some of the financial aspects of my own trip - yes, I’m still accruing funds, and will likely be so till I actually take those first pedal strokes on my way to British Columbia.

Setting Ground Rules

I’ve talked to many people who have undertaken bike trips about the cost of things, and many have told me that it helps to set yourself some ground rules. These can be whatever you like, but the aim is to cut costs. And in the hoping of saving myself a bob or two, I’ve set myself some ground rules!

  • Seldom (hopefully never) pay for accommodation, unless it is absolutely necessary. (I stole this from Leon McCarron, who did this on his journey across America in 2011.)

  • Never refuse an offer. That way, I remain open to invitations from people and remain open to the kindness of strangers. (Unless they want to give me a lift to B.C - unfortunately, that’d be cheating!).

  • Keeping to an average dollar expenditure for food. Seeing as I won’t be spending money every day, I’ll be sticking to an average of around $8 - $10/day, while obviously aiming for the lower end of that scale, or below. Friend and fellow writer, Andrew Hendrickson cycled across America in 2013. Estimating a need of 3500 calories per day, he calculated that he could keep food costs down, to an impressive $7/day by averaging 500 calories per dollar.

I will also be making use of organisations such as WarmShowers and Couchsurfing, as well as perhaps some guerilla camping along the way, and a fantastic website that I’ve recently found: freecampsites.net. While I cannot speak for the accuracy of FreeCampSites, it’s certainly a tool for me (and you!) to use. Thus far, the site only appears to expand as far as Canada, the United States, and the UK. It also features an interactive map.

Also, thanks to Canada’s large number of trees from which to hang my hammock, I hope to be largely stealth camping throughout my trip, or making use of the aforementioned website.

There are a myriad of options for a myriad of things those of you, like myself, who want to save money while bike touring. And, like anyone taking a trip on a tight budget, I want to save as much money as possible while on the road.

Thankfully, there are so many people with so many stories to tell of how they saved money while on their bike tour, that I needn’t have looked farther than a quick Google Search.

Everything is beginning to fall into place. And while the snow continues to fall outside, I’m looking ahead, looking forward to summer, and cycling across Canada.