Monthly Archives: April 2013

A busy April – Diary

It’s been a busy month for us, and a really good month too. We collected our bikes, and took them out for a long day ride. We planned a test overnight trip, but we had to postpone it because of a trivial injury. As you read this, if everything goes to plan, we are somewhere near Yonezawa in the middle of our Honshu Coast to Coast tour. It’s been a busy month, but that’s the way we like it.

We collected our bikes from Mr Sato’s shop in Sendai. The service that we received there was absolutely fantastic. Using an indoor trainer, he took us through the process of fitting our bikes, and helped us choose peripherals like handlebar tape, and a ladies saddle for Laura. He gave us a lock and some consumables for free as part of the service, and he was warm, friendly and informative throughout. When we had an email from someone who’d seen our gallery on Reddit, we didn’t hesitate to endorse Mr Sato. We can’t express enough how much we recommend ordering through a good bike shop, rather than online. The service that a good mechanic offers, both before and after ordering, is worth paying for, in our opinion.

In related news, this month we published another Cycle Touring Question of the Week. The topic was how to prepare a new bike for its first tour. Thank you to everybody who contributed. You can read our conclusions here. As suggested, we planned a short test overnight trip to a local nature reserve to try out our camping equipment. Unfortunately, the plan was postponed at the eleventh hour because David injured his finger. The next weekend we had a nice day trip as a kind of replacement test ride, and we ironed out a few creases with our gear at that stage. Hopefully it’ll be enough preparation for our Coast to Coast ride.

Lastly, on April 27th, we set off on our Honshu Coast to Coast tour. In fact, depending on when you read this, and whether our post-dated upload is successful, we might well be on tour when you read this. If you’d like to know more about our plan, there’s some information here . If you’re interested in following our progress, we’re hoping to update our Crazy Guy On A Bike journal from the road using our iPhones. We’ll post a tour report here too, of course. Getting ready for this trip is partly why this month has been so busy. Enjoying our trip will make it all worthwhile.

Reading List

This month’s reading list has some real gems.

Shane Cycles writes about his experiences touring with a folding bike. It looks like a lot of fun, and there are plenty of photos and even a video. Highly recommended.

On a lighter note, the Guardian’s bike blog asked an important question. Should male cyclists shave their legs? What do you think?

Tom Allen’s advice on how to cycle around the world seems disarmingly simple at first. The more I’ve thought about what he said, the more I’m sure that he’s right. Simple isn’t stupid. Take a look.

There are some astonishing pictures in Jude’s post about cycling in Central Asia in winter. Extreme conditions, hospitable local people. Marvellous.

Finally, Colin at Cycling Scot once more decorates the reading list with his work. His article on the excitement that can be found in maps will strike a chord with many of us, while at the same time offering a personal insight into his active mind. A joy to read.

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Honshu Coast to Coast Tour – the plan

Our first tour with our new bikes is a coast-to-coast route across Japan. During Golden Week, we’re travelling from the Pacific Ocean in Fukushima Prefecture to the Sea of Japan in Niigata Prefecture.

Our route is shown on the map below.

From Koriyama we travel to Date, where we’re staying overnight at a friend’s house. We then head east, camping at Marumori, and touching the Pacific at Shinchi. The main part of the trip is a journey west, roughly along the path of national route 113. We’ll climb up towards Shiroishi, then past the lake at Shichikashuku, camping nearby. We travel onto the plain of Yonezawa, and head back up into the hills of Oguni. We end the coast to coast section by following the river down to Murakami on the Sea of Japan. We have a few options at that point, depending how we feel.

Golden Week is the main spring holiday period in Japan. Four public holidays fall in seven days, and so many people here use this time to travel. With the help of a couple of leave days, we have nine full days away from work. We’ll set off on Saturday 27th, and we’re back at the office on Tuesday 7th. Our other dates are flexible. Depending on the time we have left, and how well our legs have coped with the climbs of Miyagi and Yamagata, we might extend our trip south to Sado Island, or north up the Sea of Japan coastline.

This is our first fully-loaded self-supported multi-day tour. Gulp! Well, maybe no need to gulp – we’ve done plenty of backpacking in the past, and some light touring, so we’re not totally green. This tour will be a new challenge for us both, but I think it’s one we can handle.

We’ll write up our tour in full for this site, but if you’re desperate to follow our progress, keep an eye on our Crazy Guy On A Bike journal here. (link to follow)

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Fujinuma Lake Day Trip

We loaded up our panniers, and rolled out for a beautiful morning ride to Fujinuma Lake. In lieu of a proper test overnight, we decided to go for a short local trip to see how we coped with the weight of our camping gear. We were interested in three things. How do our bikes handle when loaded? How does our rack and pannier system cope with the kind of load that we expect to carry? How do our legs cope with the extra weight to pull?

Loaded, and ready to roll out.

Loaded, and ready to roll out.

Laura in this season's hot look.

Laura in this season’s hot look.

Hi-vis shoelaces are the new black.

Hi-vis shoelaces are the new black.

Spring has barely sprung: no rice planted yet, but cherry blossom decorates the countryside.

Spring has barely sprung: no rice planted yet, but cherry blossom decorates the countryside.

Fujinuma Lake has been dry since the 3/11 earthquake broke its dam.

Fujinuma Lake has been dry since the 3/11 earthquake broke its dam.

This road was destroyed by the tremors.

This road was destroyed by the tremors.

A moment of reflection.

A moment of reflection.

Ain't no particular sign I'm more compatible with, I just want your extra time and your...

Ain’t no particular sign I’m more compatible with, I just want your extra time and your…

9. Downhill

Cherry blossom. Nice.

Cherry blossom. Nice.

As for our three questions? Our handling was very smooth. After the first few hundred metres, it was easy to forget that we were carrying a load. By all reports, this is what the Long Haul Trucker was made to do, and what it does best. Our experience gave us nothing to question those reports. Secondly, our pannier set up worked mostly quite well. The only minor problem we had was with fore and aft movement from the Ortlieb Rack Pack. A simple bungee will solve that. And our legs? Not too bad, as it happens. It was only a short jaunt of 42km, and only over gentle terrain, but we handled it in a little under three hours, including exploring around the dry lake. Not too bad at all.

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A setback, a postponement, a compromise

Our trip to Adatara Forest Park has been postponed. The night before leaving, David sliced open a finger as he was trying to remove a cable tie that held on a cycle computer to another bike. The injury wasn’t particularly serious – just a few sutures – but doctor’s orders not to bend the finger for a week prohibited safe braking, so we decided to wait.

Friday night's bandage (left) makes it look much more dramatic than it really is.

Friday night’s bandage (left) makes it look much more dramatic than it really is.

What are the implications of this postponement? We don’t have another opportunity for a weekend test overnight before our planned coast-to-coast trip during Golden Week. Without a test overnight, we risk discovering problems with our gear whilst we’re touring. Prior commitments for the 19th and the 21st mean our next free weekend is at the start of the time we’ve booked off for our coast-to-coast trip. The best solution for us is to do a fully loaded day trip on 20th. It won’t test our camping equipment, but it will give us a chance to feel how our bikes handle when we’re carrying it. Hopefully on the long day trip we’ll spot any problems with our racks and panniers too.

Setbacks and unexpected problems are a fact of life for cycle tourists. This is our first, but I’m sure it won’t be the last.

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Collecting our new bikes: Gallery

On Saturday we went to Sendai to collect our bikes from Bike Shop Sato.

Mr Sato specializes in mountain bikes.

Mr Sato specializes in mountain bikes.

He set up the turbo trainer to adjust the bikes for fit.

He set up the turbo trainer to adjust the bikes for fit.

Laura trying out her new saddle.

Laura trying out her new saddle.

Mr Sato measuring the angle of Dave's knee.

Mr Sato measuring the angle of Dave’s knee.

Heading off for a test ride.

Heading off for a test ride.

Mr Sato makes some final adjustments.

Mr Sato makes some final adjustments.

Dave, Mr Sato, Laura, and two new Surly Long Haul Truckers.

Dave, Mr Sato, Laura, and two new Surly Long Haul Truckers.

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Cycle Touring Question of the Week #3: Preparing a new bike for its first tour

CTQOTW3-Q

Why are we asking?

It’s a timely question for us. Our brand new bikes will be ready for us to collect from the shop on April 6th. We want to prepare properly before taking them out on the road, and to lay the first foundations of a caring relationship between us and our bikes.

It’s good to know how. Part of the appeal of cycling touring is the independence that it offers. Confidence comes from knowing how to set up and maintain our equipment; it means we can concentrate on the ride without worrying about the bike. Self reliance is satisfying. Our city has limited access to specialised bike shops – most only handle mama-chari city bikes. DIY is our only option.

A sample of the answers we received on Twitter.

A sample of the answers we received on Twitter.

There were several types of advice about preparation that we found, including: mechanical checks of the bicycle and its parts; adding custom components, like a new saddle; bicycle fit adjustments; test rides; security advice. There’s some overlap between these categories. For example, painful test rides can mean a further fit adjustment is required, forming a kind of feedback loop. Some mechanical adjustments are only possible after test rides, such as tuning up extended cables. We summarised the tips we found into five steps.

Five steps to preparing a new bike for its first tour

Step 1: Initial mechanical checks – check over the bike from front to back. Make sure every bolt is tightened, everything that needs lube is lubed, and that the moving parts move the way they’re supposed to. There are several simple bicycle maintenance guides available online – we like this one by London Cyclist. For your first check, go through everything on the monthly checklist. Use this as an example that you’ll repeat regularly. Build good maintenance habits. Buy a calendar. Set up your ongoing maintenance routine, and stick to it.

Step 2: Add-ons and upgrades – install any required parts that don’t come with your new bike, and replace any parts that you want to upgrade. Our new bikes ship without pedals, racks or mudguards, so we need to add those before we can begin touring. Check local laws, which may require bikes to be fitted with lights and a bell. We’re adding dynamo hubs to our front wheels. Many cyclists replace the standard saddle for a more comfortable model, or swap in handlebars of a different shape.

Step 3: Adjustments for fit and test rides – the position of the saddle, handlebars and pedals can have a big impact on the comfort and power output of a cyclist. The owners’ handbooks that we reviewed (Trek, Specialized, Kona) give a simple introduction to bike fit. Peter White’s overview of the principles of bike fit is great for more detailed information. We recommend following up your initial fit with a series of test rides, using Sheldon Brown’s guide to bicycle pain to address any discomfort you experience. Test, adjust, test, adjust, repeat until comfortable. Don’t forget to test your fit with the kind of rig you’ll be carrying when touring, as additional weight will put different demands on your body.

Step 4: Post break-in tune up – a new bike needs to be tuned up after a certain amount of riding to account for cable stretch. Slight stretches to new cables affect braking and gear shifting, with more pull needed to brake, and trouble shifting into the far ends of available gears. This can be solved with a little adjustment, but different types of brakes and gears require different tune-up methods, so it’s worth checking with a reliable source like Sheldon Brown or Park Tool first. This first tune-up is another good opportunity to go over your monthly maintenance checklist.

Step 5: Fully loaded test overnight – before riding across continents, ride around your county. Choose an appropriate destination, and then ride your fully loaded bike out to it for a test overnight stay. Be generous when planning your journey times, so as to have lots of room to make alterations to how your gear is carried. If you can arrive with plenty of daylight left, it’ll be easier to examine your bike. Inspect racks and other load-bearing parts, and check for signs of rubbing or scraping. Do this on top of your other every ride checks at the end of the day. When you’re satisfied, sit back and relax. Take a photograph. Enjoy the moment.

Your bike is the single most important piece of equipment when cycle touring. With good preparation and maintenance, your bike can give you amazing freedom to explore the world, with the immense pleasure of doing it at your own pace, and the satisfaction of travelling under your own power. Take care of your new bike, and it will take you places.

Joshua Tack of the Adventure Cycling Association has put together a really good pre-tour bike maintenance checklist, much of which also applies to a new bike. Check it out.

Thanks to everybody who helped out with this Cycle Touring Question of the Week. Thanks especially to @TravellingTwo, @MrMarkBeaumont, @cyclingeurope, @alexscycle, @goingbybikes, @cycletraveller, @ShaneCycles, @tiredofitdotca and @DanielMartinAdv on Twitter. Thanks to Sheldon Brown, Peter White, Park Tool and Josh at ACA, who I’ve linked to above, and to Andreas at London Cyclist.

Keep an eye on the hashtag #ctqotw for more cycle touring questions and answers.

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