Category Archives: Tips

June Diary

It’s been a great June. We’ve done some riding, some planning and some interacting with other cycle tourists. Our summer tour to Hokkaido grows closer each day, and we’re getting more and more excited. This is what we’ve been up to this month.

Bikes, tents, beautiful scenery: it's why we do what we do.

Bikes, tents, beautiful scenery: it’s why we do what we do.

The month begain with an overnight trip to nearby Lake Inawashiro. We sent our gear in the car with our friends, and rode our unladen bikes over the Ou Mountains. On the other side, we camped for free on the shore of the lake. We ate amazing barbecue food, drinking beer and playing cards as the sun went down. There are some pictures here. A week later, we rode past the same spot on day one of the charity event Cycle Aid Japan. Over the course of 160km of riding, we made some new friends, and gave ourselves some pretty impressive tan lines. It was exhausting, but very satisfying. You can read our report here.

It was his butterfly handlebars that made me suspect he was a cycle tourist. It turned out that Ushijima-sensei has cycled all over the world. He gave us details of his homepage.

It was his butterfly handlebars that made me suspect he was a cycle tourist. It turned out that Ushijima-sensei has cycled all over the world. He gave us details of his homepage.

Things are falling into place for our summer trip to Hokkaido. Our bikes will make the journey there by courier, and we’ll take a slow train over a couple of days. Our travel plans are here. Exploring the volcanic Shikotsu-Toya National park is how we’ll spend the first week of our tour. Clare and Andy, our friends in Hokkaido, will join us for a weekend of riding, then our destination is Rishiri Island in the far north. More details here. Preparations are going well – we’re just waiting on a few deliveries right now. It’s only three weeks away, and our excitement is starting to build.

We’ve had some interaction with other cycle tourists this month. Stefano got in touch with some questions about cycle touring in Tohoku during August. We answered them in this blog post. Eric and Amaya from World Biking arranged to stay with us via the Warm Showers network. The idea of hosting them really excited us; we were looking forward to hearing stories from their seven years on the road. Unfortunately, the visit fell through. Maybe our paths will cross some other time instead.

Lastly, we’ve been experimenting with some other online services. Byron from the excellent Tokyo By Bike blog introduced us to Flipboard. This is an example of a cycle touring magazine we’ve curated. What do you think?

We’ve had a great June, and we’re looking forward to a great July too. Next month is all about Hokkaido. We’ll spend the first part of the month getting ready for the trip, and the last part riding around a beautiful national park. We can’t wait.

Reading List

Each month we collect a few articles that we’ve enjoyed reading lately into a list. Here are our picks for June.

Our top pick is Cycling Dutch Girl’s post about her trip to Hokkaido, Avoiding Bears, Finding Beers and Going Bare. We loved the photos, especially as we’re visiting many of the places pictured on our own trip.

Joe Cruz at Pedalling in Place wrote about an amazing day in the Dolomites. Find out here how he got on with his folding bike amongst a peleton of thousands of road bikes. Again great pictures, and a great article.

We really enjoyed this article by Devon and Charlotte of Travelling Carrs. Their two days in Albania were manic, it seems, but also a huge amount of fun. Very entertaining.

Finally, in the light of our CTQOTW about bear safety, we recommend reading Nick’s post about how he survived a bear attack. It’s harrowing stuff. Find it here.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , ,

Reader Question: Touring in Tohoku

We received an email about cycle touring in Tohoku from Stefano. We thought we’d reply with a blog post, in case any other readers have similar questions.


Hello,

we are thinking of coming to Northern Honshu in August for some cycle touring. Do you know this area and what kind of climate to expect?!

Our ambition would be to visit some more humble rustic areas, not necessarily go great distances – maybe 40 miles per day for a week in a scenic area, arriving by train (with low geared Bromptons) from Tokyo.

Could you recommend any areas – preferably inland rather than coastal??

thank you,

Stefano


Hi Stefano,

Thanks for getting in touch. I’ll try to answer your questions.

First of all, we live in the Tohoku region of Japan. Tohoku consists of the six northernmost prefectures in Honshu: Aomori; Akita; Iwate; Miyagi; Yamagata; Fukushima. We live in Koriyama, a medium sized city in Fukushima prefecture. Much of Tohoku is rural, so if you’re seeking the rustic, you’ll have lots to choose from.

Some recommendations of things to do and see, and routes to ride:

  • Ouchijuku is an Edo-period postal town in the south of Fukushima prefecture, with straw roofed buildings and traditional crafts on display.
  • Nikko is a small town in Tochigi with several famous temples and shrines, including the mausoleums of the Tokugawa Shoguns.
  • The Abukuma-do caves are limestone caves in Central Fukushima.
  • Riding along the Abukuma River was one of the highlights of our Honshu Coast to Coast tour. From Nasu, you can follow the river for 150 miles to the Pacific Ocean. The golden rice fields will look amazing at that time of year.
  • For inspiration on day routes to ride in Tohoku, take a look at the Cycle Aid Japan 2013 website. Many of the middle courses would fit inside your 40 mile daily target. We took part in the event last week.
  • August is a time of festivals in Japan. Most towns will have some kind of matsuri going on during the summer. The three big summer festivals in Tohoku are:
    • The Akita Kanto festival: many lanterns carried on spectacular bamboo structures.
    • The Sendai Tanabata festival: giant paper dolls decorate the streets of the city.
    • The Aomori Nebuta festival: beautifully painted paper lanterns illuminated by candlelight.

    Any of those would be an unforgettable experience. If you want something smaller, check the Prefectural Tourism websites via the links below to find out about local festivals too.

Climate: August in Japan is hot. For us, coming from England, it’s really hot. What kind of temperatures are you used to? Daytime temperatures in Fukushima regularly break 30°C during August, with the north a little cooler, around 25°C. It can also be very humid. Be prepared, and pack hot weather clothing, sunglasses and a cool hat. If you plan on camping, a light sleeping bag should be fine.

Trains: It’s great that you’re bringing Bromptons. It will give you a lot of freedom to move between different areas by train or bus. If you plan on making several rail journeys, it might be worth considering either the JR East Pass, which lets you ride the bullet trains and express trains, or the Seishun 18 Ticket, which only lets you ride local trains, but is much cheaper. Both are a good deal, and both can be purchased once you get to Japan. Bikes on trains in Japan must be bagged, but with a folding bike that’s not too difficult.

There’s a lot on offer in Tohoku in summer. Travelling by train and folding bike is a great way to experience this part of Japan. If you have any other questions, please let us know.

Have a great trip.

David and Laura


We’ve put together a reading list of useful links below:

Official Tourism Information in English by prefecture:

General information about cycling in Japan:
Kancycling: a great site that’s full of useful information
Japan Cycling Navigator: another excellent source of information
Tokyo by Bike: Byron focuses on issues affecting urban cyclists, and much of what he talks about applies to all cyclists in Japan.

Do YOU have anything to add about cycling in Tohoku? Please join the conversation in the comments below.

Tagged , ,

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.

Tagged , , ,

Cycle Touring Question of the Week #2: Touring with Electronic Devices

CTQ2-Question

What electronic devices do you tour with? Any tips on packing, charging or maintenance?

Why are we asking this question? Off the bike, gadgets play a big part in our day-to-day lives. We carry our smartphones everywhere, and use our laptops, eReaders or tablet almost every day. We’re curious about other people’s technology habits when cycle touring. We’re also interested in how to care for and charge devices on the road. We cast our research net widely. We asked cycle tourists via Twitter and delved into touring journals. This a cross-section of our Twitter responses.

CTQ2-Twitter

Everybody here tours with a camera, and at least two other devices: eReader; mp3 player; GPS; computer (either laptop or tablet). Cellphones and smartphones, which combine several functions, also featured often. The touring journals we explored yielded a wider range of results, but with broadly similar findings.

Cyclists Locale (link to journal) Electronic equipment
Adam and Beth Asia and Europe netbook, iPhone, Kindle, 4/3 camera
Peter Newberry Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand video camera, tripod with fluid head, microphone, audio recorder, headphones, GoPro, Macbook Air, digital camera, smartphone, external hard disc
Andy Yap Northern Europe cellphone, GPS, camera, iPod
Brent Irvine Istanbul to Lisbon camera, card reader, radio walkman
Julian McCarthy UK to Gibralltar camera, laptop, Kindle
Ken and Tricia Copenhagen to Milan cellphone, camera, laptop, eReader

Every cycle tour is different, and every cycle tourist has different technology preferences. Cyclists take many kinds of electronic devices on tour. We think they fall into five different categories based on how they are used.

Recording – that sunset as you rode through the Pyrenees, that truck driver who shared his coffee, that nail sticking right into your wheel, that frosted dewdrop outside your tent – images capture the flavour of your time on the road. Taking photos and writing journal entries lets us share the amazing memories we’ve made. Updates from the road are entertaining for friends, and a great way to document your trip.
devices: camera, smartphone, dSLR, laptop, card-reader, extra hard drive

Communication – access to the internet means access to news, maps, weather and local information like details of campsites. Email or telephone means contact with other people. With public wi-fi and the right device, opportunities to connect are everywhere. Whether arranging a place to meet your Warm Showers host, or wishing your mother a happy birthday from the other side of the world, it’s good to have the option of getting in touch.
devices: iPod, smartphone, Kindle, tablet, netbook, laptop

Multifunctional – The choice between packing one device that does several things, or several devices that do one thing is an easy one, provided that the multi-functional device does all its jobs well. My smartphone is a camera, music player, web browser, and video edit suite, as well as a phrasebook and GPS. An eReader loaded with guidebooks is a great planning tool, as well as a relaxation aid. The versatility of a laptop might persuade you that its weight is worth carrying.
devices: smartphone, Kindle, tablet, netbook, laptop

Specialised – Sometimes you need a specific tool for a specific job. Peter Newberry chose to take high quality video equipment on his filmmaking trip around SE Asia. Heavy gear can lead to compromises in how you tour – Peter didn’t carry a tent, and stayed at guest houses with power sources. At the lighter end of things, a dedicated GPS device is a popular choice for travellers moving between several countries, where a using smartphone’s GPS function is prohibitively expensive.
devices: GPS, audio-recorder, microphone, video camera, lighting

Leisure – after a hard day on the road, it’s important to refresh your mind, as well as resting your body. An iPod or Kindle offers hours of entertainment for very little packing weight. Devices that help pass the time are good for evenings and rest days, and are especially useful when you are unexpectedly stuck somewhere waiting for a visa or a transport connection.
devices: mp3 player , Kindle, smartphone, radio, speakers, laptops

So what should I take with me? That’s for you to decide. If you think a particular device is worth packing, then it probably is worth it – for you. Choosing equipment is always a compromise between utility, portability and cost. As useful as the gear mentioned above may seem, none of it is essential. If you want to, you can ride around the world three times without any of it. In the same way that bicycle touring isn’t a contest about who can ride furthest or for longest, nor should it be a contest about who carries the least. On a short tour, it can be a nice change to do without your gadgets and gizmos for a while. On an extended tour, it’s nice to have an occasional taste of home comforts that are rare on the road.

If you’re able to carry it, and you want to, you can take almost any gadget with you. Is that a good idea? You decide.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

We haven’t dealt with the second and third parts of the question we asked, about charging on the road, and about packing and caring for electronic devices on a tour. We’ll cover that in a later #ctqotw. If you’re itching to find out more about charging on the road, we recommend visiting this page by Dave from Tired of IT, and this article by our friends at Cycle Traveller Magazine. If you’re interested in packing devices for a tour, check out the second part of this article on laptops by Andrew and Friedel over at Travelling Two. Thanks to everybody who helped out with this Cycle Touring Question of the Week. Thanks especially to @cycletraveller @davecollett @cyclingeurope @rollingtales @cyclinghobo @DavefromTWJ @TwoWheelTravel @alexscycle and @pikesonbikes, to the journal writers above, and to Dave from Tired of IT, Andrew and Friedel at Travelling Two and Tim Travis of Down the Road Keep an eye on the hashtag #ctqotw for more cycle touring questions and answers.

Tagged , , ,

Cycle Touring Question of the Week #1: Wild Camping in Bear Country

tweet1

What precautions do you take when wild camping in bear country?

Why are we asking this question? We’re from England, a land of no bears, and we live in Japan, a land of many bears. Our local area, the Tohoku district, is home to the Asian black bear. Our summer tour is in Hokkaido, home to the Ussuri brown bear. We need to sharpen up on our bear safety because we will be touring more or less exclusively in bear territory during the next year or so. We’re cycling through Miyagi, Yamagata and Niigata prefectures in April and May, just around the time that our local bears start to get more active.

We needed some pointers, so I asked on Twitter. I received some interesting advice on what not to do from @velohobo, who explained that Tomas Aperlo deals with bears by…

“…building a fence of sorts out of branches around his tent and leaving the food next to him. As the bear approaches, Tomas hears the bruin breaking branches and jumps out of his tent and scares the beast away.”

(full article here)

Sounds crazy, right? But not quite as crazy as the approach that I found on Allan E. Stokell’s site (via a comment he made on Travelling Two).

“…even the smallest animal sounds like a bear when you are awoken at 4:30. Twice I’ve had nocturnal visitors to my site. Not knowing what else to do, I started barking like a dog. It seems to work.”

Building alarm fences? Scaring away a bear? Barking like a dog? Surely there’s a better solution. Luckily, I got a simple, straightforward tip from the ever-helpful Andrew and Friedel at Travelling Two.

tweet2

When managing any risk, it’s important to assess the likelihood of the risk happening. Andrew and Friedel are right to highlight how rarely cycle tourists meet bears. In the grand scheme of things, cycle tourists are much more likely to be injured by careless motorists than by wild animals. Even so, I’m still curious. What can I do to reduce the chance of a bear in my wild camp?

There’s plenty of bear advice available online, especially about the bears that are native to North America, so I dug around a little more. Several backpacking and camping forums suggest storing food in bear-proof containers. I’m not sure how practical they are for cycle touring – most I’ve seen are either bulky, or heavy, or both. The more I searched, the more two common themes emerged in what I was reading.

Keep your food away from where you sleep. This means not cooking in your tent. This means not eating in your tent. This means not storing your food in your tent. Not smelling of food will mean not attracting animals.

Make your food a difficult target. Make it hard to sniff out by wrapping it well. Make it difficult to get at by hanging it off the ground. If it’s easier for the bear to find food elsewhere, it won’t hang around.

There’s a great explanation of these principles on this Boy Scout Troop’s website. I particularly like the very clear illustration of how to set up camp in a triangle formation, with sleeping, cooking and food storage locations each at a separate apex. The site also offers a handy guide to hanging your food safely.

image

Summary:

  • Bears sightings are rare, so relax.
  • Keep your food away from where you sleep.
  • Make your food a difficult target.
  • Consider the triangle formation.

And of course, if all else fails, you’re welcome to try barking like a dog.

Thanks to everybody who helped out with this Cycle Touring Question of the Week. Thanks especially to @cycletraveller @velohobo @travellingtwo @advcyclingassoc @twoonfourwheels and @cyclingtheglobe for your help on Twitter, and thanks to Boy Scouts of America, Troop 69, of Apple Creek, Ohio for the information on your website. Keep an eye on the hashtag #ctqotw for more cycle touring questions and answers.

Tagged , , ,