Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Tweed Run

This was sent to me by a reader (thanks Dominic!), that should be of some interest. Reminiscent of the 3-speed tour, it's the Tweed Run, put on by a fixed gear group in London. How awesome is this?!

From their flyer:

Ladies. Gentlemen. Announcing the first LFGSS Winter Dress Club Run: a social ride with a bit of style.

We will be gathering for 2pm in Hanover Square. Please be prompt; at 2, we'll head down to H Huntsman & Sons, 11 Saville Row to begin the ride. The route will be a fairly leisurely ride through London. No need to pack Kendal Mint Cakes, the ride will include a stop at a tea shop at Tour de Ville for mid-ride fortitude, and will finish at the Bethnal Green Working Men's Club for refreshments and cheer.

Proper attire will of course be expected, so dapper gents and elegant ladies, polish off your lugged steel beasts and prepare your best outfits. Suggested attire: woolen plus fours, harris tweed jackets, flat caps, fair isle jumpers, alpaca coats, merino wool team jerseys, cycling skirts and perhaps a jaunty cape for the ladies, cravats or ties for gentlemen, and of course a hip flask of brandy.

Be sure to dress with a bit of panache, there will be prizes awarded for:

Most dapper chap
Most dashing dame
Best moustache (open to both men and women, of course)
Most enviable period bicycle
The Doff of The Cap award for most civilised behaviour on the day

For more Tweed Run here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Gloves not to buy...

Mourning the loss of one of my Swobo gloves, thereby rendering it only half as useful, I picked these up at a local LBS (PI Grip-Lite Glove). I know, I know. Not wool, but I wanted to give them a try.

Well, they're gloves and they do indeed cover your hands as advertised. However, the seams are pretty weak and I split the palm open on this last trip. I wasn't doing handstands or anything on them, just plain old touring riding and they split! I probably only had about 300 miles on these gloves.

To their credit, my hands were warmish. The interior material these use inside is sorta weird though. It made my hands felt like they were perpetually sweaty with this weird warm slick feeling. Eww.

Needless to say, I'm not a fan of these. I wish I had purchased them at REI so I could exchange them for some proper wool ones. Bummer.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Trip Report: LBC to O'Neill Regional Park

Here is the route that Laura and I took to O'Neill. For all the city riding, it was a relatively mellow ride. Partly because, I suspect, the rain. A little grey in the sky and Southern Californians don't leave the bed. This, of course, worked in our favor.

The main road we used to cross OC was Lampson. It has a Class 2 lane on it for most of the way and where it doesn't, it is a pretty low-traffic street with Class 3 signage.

About 20 or so miles into the ride, we stopped at the Filling Station, for a remarkable breakfast. Laura had the French toast breakfast (two eggs, bacon, french toast) and I went for the Belgian waffle breakfast. Both were amazing. The bacon were nice thick cuts, not the weeny sort of Farmer Johns bacon (apologies to FJ fans). Both the French toast and waffles had a slightly buttery flavor which added a nice nuance. The syrup was top-notch. It wasn't cloyingly sweet like others, but just the right balance of sweetness and body.

After an amazing breakfast (and several cups of coffee), we mounted the bikes again and headed for the hills on Chapman. After the traffic circle, Chapman becomes a manageable arterial. Chapman slowly thins out and climbs and at one point becomes Santiago Canyon road. Suddenly, you find yourself right smack in the middle of some rolling hills. While I wouldn't say it was say as scenic as something like Orcutt in San Luis Obispo, on that grey drizzling day you felt many miles away from The OC.

Santiago Canyon weaves its way around the hills. You pass Irvine Lake, which was my first thought of a camping spot. However, upon a quick visit, we were glad we were going to O'Neill. Irvine Lake looked nothing like it did on the website. On the site, it showed a beautiful lake surrounded by a thick ring of trees. The reality was disappointing to say the least. The trees were gone (burned in last round of fires?) and that was left something that looked like an overgrown mud puddle.

Riding a bit further, we eventually got to Live Oak road. At the intersection is a famous little biker cafe called Cook's Corner which is suppose to have some great food. When you turn on to Live Oak, you're greeted with a sign that says "Steep Grade Ahead". That's usually a good place to strip layers and pop some Starbust or Sweetarts into your system.

The road takes a firm turn heaven-ward at this point. It's a stiff but shortish climb (about a mile or so). At the top both of us were grunting and using equal parts brute force and The Secret to will us over the hump. From there, it is more or less downhill through a corridor of oaks (I'm assuming from the name) into the campsite. That portion of the road is just heavenly. It's beautifully paved and riding through the tunnel of trees you feel like you're somewhere in the Northwest. Beautiful.

O'Neill is a nicely maintained park, and one would hope so for it's $27 camping fee ($15 for additional nights). It's well manicured while still looking rustic. We chose a site by a dry creek and far (as far as we could get) from the road (site 58). Our site had a firepit, BBQ thingy, and two picnic tables. There was lots of flat space to pitch a tent and we had two trees that hung over our site.

While the site was far from primitive and the sound of some passing cars never completely disappeared, it was still pretty darn good for an urban camping experience. When we were there, there was a lot of empty sites. I'm sure during the summer the place becomes a zoo. However, on this particular weekend, it was bliss.

We cooked some corn beef and potatoes for dinner. Boiled some water for hot chocolate We made a fire ($5...the ranger looked a little surprised when I bungeed the bundle to my rear rack) and watched it slowly burn down. Not bad, considering we started in the streets of Long Beach (home to Snoop and Sublime) and were still in The OC.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Another great weekend tour...

We got back a few hours ago and we're beat. Our trip from Long Beach to O'Neill Regional Park was a great success. We managed to find some great roads that crossed through Orange County and got us to the park. We got a bit of weather which made the trip even more magical. It didn't feel like a typical sunny blah Southern California day, but almost like Oregon. The weather also helped in keeping people off the roads and out of the campsite (almost all the sites around us were empty!).

Here are a few snaps. I also put the our route to O'Neill up on Bikely here, for those who are interested (thanks to Carl and Adrian for some route tips).

I'll post a bit more later in the week.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Touring through "The OC"

Is it even possible to tour in the land of The OC? The county of fake boobs, cars that cost more than most houses, and McMansion developments sprouting up around every corner (anyone here watch "Weeds"?).

Well, when I get the touring itch, I have to scratch it. So against all odds, we're going to find a suitable location to S24O in The OC. At first, I considered Irvine Lake (I didn't even know they had a lake!), but reader Carl and his friend Adrian tipped me off to O'Neill Regional Park.

I brought it up with Chris, local touring guru, and his eyes lit up. Back in '71 O'Neill Park was the site of his very first bicycle tour and his first bit of free camping. Back then, it was a different place. It was largely undeveloped and there were many dirt roads to adventure.

I think there have been changes since then.

However, I'm hopeful. By many accounts, O'Neill is suppose to offer decent camping (as far as suburban-ish camping goes). So I'm packing up my bags and getting the cooking gear together for a quick weekend out.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

More Wool on Sale! IBEX outlet

I'm always poking around online for good deals on wool clothing. You guys know the drill. Resists odor, keeps you warm when wet, etc.,

I pointed out some great deals on the SWOBO site last week. This week, take a gander at what IBEX has on sale in their outlet (this is the link for the men's clothing....there is a women's outlet too)!

Of particular interest are all the great deals on wool shirts. Though perhaps not designed specifically for riding in, there is no real reason why they wouldn't work (a little cheaper than the cycling specific stuff...and you can wear them off the bike as well).

Take for example the Ridgeline Zip shirt that would make a great SS jersey for only $39.

Or these spiffy Frisko Zip S/S shirts that are sharp looking zippered polos. A great commuting shirt! Regular price was $115, sale price is $57.

Or these LS Striped Zip shirts that are reminiscent of the striped shirts on Riv, but about more than half the price at $44.

You get the idea. Anyone else have great links to good prices on wool?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Welcome District (and other) readers!

The local weekly did a small profile on me this week and talked a bit about Epicurean Cyclist (thanks Rachel!). So welcome to you new readers that are interested that may be interested in touring.

Here are a few links that will give you a flavor about what this site is about and a video montage of a tour I did (I don't usually just obsess about wool underwear). I hope you enjoy the site and hopefully I'll be able to recruit some fellow tourists in my own home town to go on some adventures :

-Grant Petersen's article on S24Os from Adventure Cycling.
-The joys of small rides.
-Videos of English bike tourists in the 50s using the train.
-A video of some good riding tips (filmed here in Long Beach, btw).

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Wool Man-gere - Justin Charles

For me, nothing seems to work better than wool for base layers. I've been slowly replacing all my cotton shirts and boxers with wool ones.

For the last few months I've been wearing the wool boxers that Riv. sells. They're great but to be honest they've always felt a little on the thin side for me. I bought a few pairs to put into rotation so I wouldn't stress them too much, but alas, one of them is in serious need of darning.

So, I began searching for another source for wool boxers. Both Ibex and Icebreaker sell wool boxers and they all hover around that $30-$35 range, which for boxers seems a little spendy.

Well, I discovered Justin Charles recently. It's a man's man outdoor store. None of this wussy Eddie Bauer crap or hipster Ambercrombie :) That said, it's also a rich man's man store. Some of the stuff is spendy, however their Merino Thermal Underwear section is on par with others.

A particularly good deal is their 6 inch Merino Boxer at $19 (save me some guys). I just received a few pairs yesterday and they are NICE! The wool feels a bit thicker than the Riv ones, so I'm hoping they'll wear a little better. There are a few more seams and I haven't taken it on a super long ride yet to see if that will be a problem. However, my first reaction is that they're a steal given the quality and the price.

So if you're looking for some Man-gere, check out Justin Charles.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Rider's Wanted

At the moment, most of the rides I've talked about on the site are So. Cal and Central California centered. I'd like to feature some rides from other parts of the country and make this a sort of clearing house for short tours / S24O rides. So if you like to ride, camp, eat and have a camera handy, then feel free to submit a ride reports. It doesn't have to be epic, though those are nice too.

If you'd like to submit something, feel free to email me!

SWOBO Sale / Love for the Merino Bobby

SWOBO is having a yard sale on some great items! If you want some wool clothing with a little more styling, then they're your ticket.

Sunday Bobby
I have to confess, I've been lusting after the merino bobby for a while but it was a bit too spendy for my wallet in these tough times. However, they're on sale and I ordered a few of them. Let me tell you, they're pretty awesome as far as polos go (something that I thought I'd never wear). The lines of the collar on the bobby are sharp and contemporary. The polo sports a single breast pocket attached with some red stitching for a little bit of contrast. There is also the signature sewn in chain plate on the left sleeve with red thread, so as not to be confused with those nerdy polos :)

The wool has a nice smooth hand and instantly feels like a shirt you've owned for a while. The wool weight is thinner than say the typical Riv wool shirt but thicker than an Ibex baselayer (is this wool-speak making sense?). I've only owned the shirt for about a day or so, so these are short-term impressions, but I think these have a good chance of being some of my favorite shirts.

These shirts are casual enough to wear just lounging around but also look nice enough to wear on a night out or at some meetings. Definitely a step up from the basic wool crew cut T-shirt. For me, I forsee these being my "go to" shirts on Spring and Summer days for photo shoots (heck I'm going to wear one at an assignment in a few hours). They would also make great riding shirts or touring shirts (they're a little more respectable looking so it doesn't look like you just tumbled out of the woods).

Anyways, a great buy and at this price you can get a few.

A few other things of interest that I don't own so I can't really comment about...

Men's Bruno Knicker
These are a nice looking knicker. The Yard Sale price makes it bit more competitive with say the offerings from Chrome and Bicycle Fixation (and definitely Rapha). If it's the typical Swobo quality then these would be a steal!

Women's Hickey Knicker
I'm not a woman, obviously, but if I were these would be on my short list. In the era of 3-digit knickers, one that comes in at $60 and made from Swobo is a good deal.

Men's Merino Origins T
Priced at around what a Smartwool or Riv. merino shirt would cost, but with nicer better styling.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Subscribe to EC (electronically)!

I've gotten a few requests to add an RSS feed or subscriber thingy for E.C, so I put up a gadget that Blogger offers (see stage left). Can someone try it out and tell me if it works? And no, it's not a quaint trick to get you to subscribe (though that wouldn't hurt either).

EDIT: Thanks everyone. It looks like it works!

Women's Wednesdays - Silk Tunic Review

After much begging and pleading, Laura is going to start contributing every Wednesday, giving a female perspective on gear/touring, etc., So, for you female readers, I hope you find these helpful and insightful (rather than my constant oggling of handlebar bags :)

It’s January in Southern California, which naturally means that it’s 80 degrees outside. Strange, yes, but it means I get to dig out one of my new favorite riding shirts… the Indian silk tunic.

Last fall, we took a ride up to Little India (aka Artesia, CA), and I took the opportunity to browse some shops for a shirt or two. I figured that folks in India are used to hot, humid weather, so surely their traditional fashion must be designed to withstand these conditions. In this small little shop, I worked with a very friendly saleswoman who pulled a whole pile of shirts for me to try on. I ended up walking out with two of them, the green one above and it’s bright blue cousin, because they were only $15 each.

Now, I don’t think the print on this shirt could possibly be any busier. But, the more I wear it, the more I’m convinced that I’m onto something. Silk is one of those magical natural fibers that breathes well and keeps you cool when it’s hot out. And because this shirt is a tunic style, it fits really loose, allowing the wind to flutter its way through and provide some nice natural air conditioning while you ride. And the fact that it covers my shoulders means that I don’t turn into a lobster while I’m riding. Plus, it’s actually a relatively flattering and almost-stylish look, provided you don’t mind standing out in a crowd.

All of this is to say that, sometimes, non-traditional and not-meant-to-be-technical gear can work just as well as the expensive stuff. :)

Unfortunately, the very nature of how I purchased this shirt means that I can’t put up a link here so that you can go buy your own. If you happen to live near a Little India enclave, or if you happen to be fortunate enough to travel to the real India, then by all means hunt one out. Otherwise, might I suggest thinking about other cultures who live with a lot of heat and humidity? Perhaps there’s an Indonesian shop near you or a Moroccan stall at the local farmer’s market.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Another Handlebar the works

Adam A. of Zugster has been teasing the masses with his Flickr Stream that shows the development of a new handlebar bag.

Monday, January 12, 2009

I've been doing it wrong all these years!

I wrote an earlier post about learning to tie knots. I've just had a major personal knot tying breakthrough (if such a thing can be said to exist). I've always had problems with my shoelaces untying. Laura can attest to this. One of the reasons I like velcro :)

I've recently learned that proper shoelace should be a square knot. Doing a little research, I found that I've been tying my shoes wrong all these years. Instead of tying a square knot (right-over-left half knot followed by a left-over-right knot), I've actually been tying a granny knot (two consecutive left-over-right knots). Apparently it makes all the difference.

I'm going to try some empirical testing by tying one shoe with a granny and the other with a square knot.

Who said an old dog can't learn new tricks!

Epicurean Cyclist...branching out...

While on tour, I feel the most alive and that it is something that I'd like to do for a long time. I love touring and I'm very enthusiastic and I want more people to do it. That's one of the primary purposes of this site, to inspire others to hop on a bike and explore, even if it is just for a weekend to grab a beer :)

I'm exploring the idea of creating a Epicurean Cyclist newsletter that will come out 6 times a year. It will be simple, something like a zine format. You'll be able to stick it in your Ostrich or Acorn handlebar bag ;) With the Rivendell Reader going digital, I think that those that like the tangibility of the printed word are at a bit of a loss (FYI, there's still Bicycle Quarterly which is an amazing magazine for the touring/rando cyclist with discerning taste).

I'm also exploring the idea of creating postcards or some sort of photo book with all the pictures I've taken while touring and in the long-term, creating a series of guides of a rambling nature.

What do you guys think? Would there be any interest? What sort of things would you like to see?

Short Term Review : Dahon Speed TR

The Dahon Speed TR is Dahon's dedicated folding touring bike. After a weekend away with the Dahon with a load, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Having owned a Bike Friday, I wasn't expecting the Dahon to compare so favorably. There's a lot to like, a few things to change, and some things I wish they would have considered.

The drive train works around the SRAM DualDrive II rear hub, which has planetary gears that mimic the experience of having a triple up front, without the problems a front derailleur/ 3 chainrings create with a folding bike. The left hand trigger shifters have little icons that indicate the rough gearing adjustment (little uphill symbol, flat, downhill logo). The cassette is an 8 in the back and is shifted with trigger shifters with numbers from 1-8. Basic stuff.

The shifting was straight forward. Like I mentioned in a previous post, I'm a die-hard friction shifter so I wasn't expecting to like the index shifting of the SRAM set-up. The shifts were crisp and responsive. One GREAT advantage of the DualDrive is that you can use EVERY gearing combination. There's no need to worry about cross chaining since the "triple" is in the rear hub. I found myself really liking this feature. Usually, it would be that the granny gear had only 3 or 4 usable gears in the back and anything beyond that would require an upshift in the front. That's fine, but this shift usually happens on something steep and with a load for me and there's a great to-do in the front. The DualDrive eliminates this problem and I'm free to traverse all 8 rear cogs while in the "granny".

The brakes are V's and stop the bike well. Enough said. For me, the feeling was more responsive than a Brompton's brake and the same as the standard V's on a Bike Friday.

This is one of the areas where I had a few concerns. The front wheel is radially laced to a dyno hub. The rear wheel is laced radially on the non-drive side and crossed on the drive side. For me, I was a little uncomfortable with this set-up. I've built the wheels on Laura's touring bike and my own and can attest to the the strength of a good hand built 3x wheel. During this trip, everything went smoothly. No broken spokes. However, if I were going to take this on a longer trip where I was further away from towns with bike shops, I would rebuild the wheels to 3x in the rear and 2x in the front.

Saddle and Pedals
Stock one is fine, but I prefer a Brooks. So for me that was a no brainer.

After having used the QR MKS pedals for a few weeks, I decided to replace them with the non-QR MKS Touring Pedals. The reason was the QR ones seemed to pop off at inopportune times.

The bike comes with a kickstand but it is useless. It was cut about two inches too short so the bike kept leaning over and toppling. I didn't use it at all while on tour.

The photo above shoes it standing with the kickstand but that took some serious finessing to get it to settle in between the open and closed indents.

The Dahon comes stock with front low-riders and a rear rack. The rear rack is rated only to 25lbs. I don't know if that's a conservative estimate or really how much the rack will take. For fully loaded touring, it would be nice to have a rear rack that is rated to atleast 50lbs.

I don't have any front panniers, so I can't really comment on their strength or how they affect steering.

The rear rack performed well. I had some concerns that my Ortlieb Bike Packer Plus rear panniers would hit the derailleur but they cleared it just fine even when stuffed pretty well. One concern would be for people with big feet or people with panniers that don't allow for any adjustment. I had to adjust the QL2 hooks on the Ortliebs to allow for maximum clearance (meaning that the racks were shoved as far back as possible). I was able to eliminate pannier strike but anyone with really big feet may have a problem with pannier strike (I was wearing size 10 Keens).

If I were to go on a really long and remote tour with this bike, I would probably try to see if I could fit a Tubus rack on this bike or perhaps the folding rear rack that Bike Friday sells.

The Dahon comes with a Euro style rear light that has a steady on setting and that's it. No blinking. It's bright and visible.

It also comes with a front dyno-light. On the website and other samples, I've seen the light mounted at the fork crown. This particular sample I have, the light is mounted low to the fork, which is bad place to put it. Without any bags on the front, the beam is already obscured by the tubing of the rack. With a bag mounted on the front, the light would be rendered useless.

The output of the light isn't that great to begin with, so I would either augment/replace the light with something from Planet Bike (like their dyno hub or battery Blaze model).

This is a real tricky part about this bike. When touring, it is imperative to have a bike that fits well since you're putting in some serious saddle time. With the Speed TR you can adjust fit with the saddle height, some fore-aft and tilt with the saddle rails, and some minor adjustment of the handlebars.

The seatpost is a proprietary diameter (it includes a pump), so you can't swap it out for something with more or less setback.

The handlebar and stem angle/length can be adjusted to some degree by rotating the handlebar around the tube to which it is attached to. This gives you maybe about an inch of height and reach adjustment. Not bad, but if you need more serious adjustment, the proprietary stem design doesn't allow for a quick swap.

Fortunately for me, I was able to get a pretty good fit with the bike. I'm about 5 foot 9 inches with a 30 inch inseam, for reference. A little taller and a little shorter and you're probably in the bikes golden fit zone.

One issue I had was with the handlebars. I usually ride with drops or with Albatross bars, both of which give multiple hand positions in varying degrees. The Dahon comes with a more or less flat mountain bar with a slight bend. Another hand position is provided by bar-ends. I'm sure that the bike uses this type of handlebar to facilitate folding, but perhaps at the detriment of some comfort. Now, that's not to say you can't do long rides with this. Many people tour on mountain bars with bar ends, I'm just not one of those people.

I may experiment with changing the handlebars to bullhorns .

This is a good bike to consider if you forsee yourself doing a lot of tours that require the train or other modalities of transportation. I've had the unpleasant experience of being bumped off an Amtrak train because there were no free hooks available. Had I a folding bike, I would have been able to get on.

The fold is in the same class as the Bike Friday, which is to say that it folds but isn't necessarily elegant.

The Brompton still folds much neater and locks together. Then again, the Brompton doesn't have the great gearing of either the BF or Dahon.

The Dahon folds a little better than the BF since the cables don't get as kinked and the Dual Drive eliminates the risk of banging the front derailleur out of adjustment (which happened often with my BF). It's still not ideal, but certainly acceptable for the occasional fold when hopping a train or a bus.

The Ride
During this past tour, I had a small Acorn bag in the front, a Camper Longflap hanging off the saddle and two Ortliebs on the rear rack. My guess would be that the combined weight was probably around 20-25lbs.

The bike rode really well with the weight. The smaller wheels put the weight really low to the ground and provided a nice stable ride without too many surprises. I had minimal weight on the front so I can't really comment on how a load on the front would affect the handling.

After an hour of adjusting to the bike, I forgot that I was on a smaller wheeled bike. It accelerated well and climbed pretty well too. The gearing provided enough low gears to spin up the hills in Laguna even with a load. If I were going to go to really mountainous territory, I would probably swap out the chainring from a 53 to something more like a 48 or 46. The bike tops out at 114 gear inches (too high for touring) and would benefit with a lower low end (stock low is 21 inches...something in the teens wouldn't hurt).

Standing climbs took some getting use to, probably more from my heavy Carradice swinging back and forth than the small wheels. The bike developed a rhythm that I had to time for, but like all things it was pretty manageable.

I would say that the only time that I felt the smaller wheels made a big difference was in descents. I definitely had to concentrate a bit more when descending at high speeds compared to my Surly LHT. The Surly is rock solid. The Dahon was stable but demanded you pay attention. The same could be said about riding while tired. The smaller wheels made for a more "responsive" ride. Nothing specific to Dahon, but to all small wheel bikes in general.

After this shortish tour, I was pleasantly surprised with the Dahon. Off the shelf it's a capable commuter, credit card tourer and S24O bike. There's a lot to like and it would make a great base for a better touring bike (much like the stock LHT).

If you were to use it for more serious touring, I would do the following: change the saddle, change the pedals, change the front chainring to a 48 or 46t, change the rear rack to a Tubus, possibly change the handlebars, change the wheels to ones with a cross pattern. This sounds like a lot of mods, but considering the bike retails for around 1k, you can do these changes and still be a few thousand ahead of a custom Bike Friday or tour ready Brompton.

If the bike fits you, it's a good deal. If it doesn't and you want a folder, go for a Bike Friday.

Off the Shelf: Recommend
Off the Shelf with Modifications (if it fits you): Highly Recommend

Anyone else tour with a folder? BF? Dahon? Brommie?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Here to Beer - Snaps

Got back a few hours ago and we're pretty tired. It was hot today, which was a bit of a surprise, and that took a lot out of us. The trip was a blast, as always. Not quite the most quaint and scenic of routes (noisy traffic to the left, McMansions to the right going South...and the reverse going North). This ride has more or less confirmed my sneaking suspicion that although the coast route through Southern California is popular, it really blows as far as providing a relaxing touring experience.

The worst of it, for me, was riding through Laguna Beach. Not only were there some rollers to contend with, but also crabby self-righteous drivers. For cyclists that deal with that every day, hats off to you! I almost would have preferred an inland route just to avoid LB. Once we got to Doheny, the roads opened up a bit and only then did the ride really get enjoyable.

It was a success. We rolled into camp a little before 4pm. Pitched the tents, showered in the scalding water (the showers were malfunctioning and set to BOIL) and rolled back into to town to Pizza Port.

We met some nice people on this trip. One was a couple that we stopped and chatted with under the shade of a tree just before Laguna. We also ended up talking to a guy at Pizza Port for a few hours about touring (he was just getting into it). And the other cyclist that was at the Hike and Bike, Andrew, joined us for breakfast and rode with us up to Crystal Cove.

All in all, the trip was a success (despite Laguna Beach) and might be one I'd consider bringing other friends along for.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Mini Bike for a Mini Tour/ The Here to Beer Tour

I've dubbed the mini tour this weekend the Here to Beer Tour, since we'll be riding from here (our apt.) to beer (the Pizza Port in San Clemente). For this mini tour, I'm taking out a mini bike. It's a 2008 Dahon Speed TR. This will be it's inaugural tour (I've used it for some commuting duty but haven't really loaded it up yet).

My first impressions of the Speed TR is that it is a very capable bike. For perspective, I owned a Bike Friday NWT and have ridden (for a few days) a Brompton touring bike. The Speed TR compares very favorably to the NWT and the Brommie. Of the three, the Dahon is the most affordable, coming in under 1k. My Bike Friday was a hair under 3k and the borrowed Brommie was somewhere between 2k and 3k. So for the price, you're getting a very capable folding touring bike.

The brakes are strong on this bike. You won't have a problem stopping. The action of the Avid levers are positive and crisp when compared to what I thought was a mushy brake on the Brompton. Another surprise was the shifting. I'm a friction shifting kind of guy so I was ready to poopoo the SRAM trigger shifters, however I was pleasantly surprised at how responsive the shifting was. In fact, for me, index shifting is still a bit of a novelty so I tend to shift too much with this bike :)

Of course, there is seldom an off the shelf bike that is perfect. I immediately replaced the stock seat with a sprung Brooks (nothing wrong with the stock one, but I prefer Brooks saddles). Also, the pedals had to go. They are the MKS quick release pedals that allow you to remove the pedal without any tools. It works well. In fact, too well. On more than one occasion, the pedals just dropped off and that was after making sure it was fully locked in place. I wanted so much to like them as they are some nice pedals, but they seem to pop off during inopportune times.

Another thing that I monkeyed around with was the dashboard. The bike comes with some bar-end grips, but for me, the bars were just too wide. I slid them off and put in a different set that I could position mid-bar. I also moved the controls a little closer to the center so they lined up with my shoulders.

With all these changes, I was able to make a pretty good fitting bike. I'll let you all know how it turns out after the Here to Beer tour :)

Gear Notes - Woman's Perspective

Hello Epicurean Cyclists! This is Laura, Russ’ partner-in-crime. Russ has been posting reviews on all of his gear, prompting some curiosity in what I take, so I thought I’d write a review of some of my gear. Consider this bike touring from a woman’s point of view.

One thing to note… Unlike Russ, I grew up in Oregon, where I went camping on summer vacation, dealt with rain on a regular basis, learned about poison oak at an early age, etc. Which isn’t any sort of weird superiority claim, just a bit of back-history to explain why a lot of my gear has been with me for awhile, and why it’s not in the following list. For example, my black Moonstone fleece jacket, which I adore, has been in my possession for close to a decade.

Also, I’m just now getting into wearing wool. It took me awhile, because I already had all this capilene stuff, and because I’m a big fan of cotton. But, after watching Russ look more and more stylish than me on the road, I started to change my tune.

Oh, and one more quick note… Even though I’m not one of those women who endlessly primps, I do try to look pulled together most of the time. I care about things like fit and style and whether a garment flatters. Which makes it a bit tough to go shopping, because oftentimes technical gear isn’t so stylish. So, my reviews on items are liable to be as much about how I look in something as how it performs. Sorry, guys, I am a girl after all. Merino Zip T-Neck Shirt
For those of you not familiar with, think of it as a smaller REI, although I’m not sure if they have brick-and-mortar stores. I’ve ordered several items from them and they always ship lightening-fast and arrive in great shape. They also have great sales, so I hunt their site frequently.

When I found this shirt, I figured I’d give it a shot. It was on sale, it seemed to be constructed well, and the pictures make it look like it has a longer torso (important to me because I’m tall and garments with a longer torso look better on me). I’m happy to report that I have been thrilled with this shirt! It is easily one of my favorite garments. It’s roughly a mid-weight wool, very soft. It has thumb loops, a thoroughly functional zipper, long torso (hooray!), and a very flattering style (although, ladies, be advised that it is a bit snug, so consider ordering up a size). Highly Recommend.

Icebreaker Atlas Tank
This shirt is my new favorite bottom layer. Mostly because it has a longer torso, so I can pull it down and layer shirts like I do when I’m off the bike. But, also because it’s thin, snug, and soft. The neckline is a high scoop-neck, which means that it keeps you modest without choking you. The shoulders are set in a bit, so that you have a greater range of motion. Be advised that the fit is very snug, so order up a size or two. I’m already plotting to get several more. Highly Recommend.

De Soto Rapida Low-Rise Triathlon Short
When I bought these shorts in the summer of 2007 for our Oregon Coast tour, you could find them all over the internet. Now, they seem to be only available on Amazon. Go figure. I guess I better snatch up another pair quickly.

I love these shorts for riding. I never thought I would ever own any spandex, and I really resisted for a long time. But, as soon as I started wearing these, I never looked back. One of the things that really turned me off of traditional bike shorts is that you feel like you’re wearing a diaper. So, in looking at triathlon shorts, my logic went, if they’re constructed so that you can run and swim in them, you must be able to walk around off the bike and not feel like a total dork. And, in practice, this is exactly the case. I can wear these on the bike and enjoy the freedom of movement that you get from spandex, along with the wonderful wicking-ness of the chamois. And I can wear these off the bike, throw on a skirt or a pair of shorts or knickers over them, and feel like a totally normal person. And, that’s the greatest thing about these shorts, they’re extremely versatile. Especially if you get the short short version, which hides even better under a pair of shorts. Recommend (if you can find them).

Icebreaker Poppy Beanie
I think Russ is tired of hearing me say how much I love this hat. But, I can’t stop, I just love this hat. I’ve never really been much of a hat person, mainly because I have a small head and big ears, so hats look silly on me. But, with the cold weather, I needed to break down and get one. And I’m thrilled that I picked this one. It’s a nice snug beanie, which means that it fits under my helmet. It’s also reversible, which means that it has two layers of knit wool and keeps my ears nice and toasty. I can also pull it down really far and it doesn’t ride up. My ears have never been happier. And, amazingly, I don’t look like a total goof in this hat. Highly Recommend.

Smartwool Stripeuccino Socks
My accessory weakness is socks. I have more pairs than I can count and Russ is trying to cut me off. But, I’m just really drawn to brightly-colored and fun-patterned socks. They just seem to liven up everything. So, imagine my thrill upon finding knee-high, brightly-colored, striped, wool socks. I now have two pairs of these, and they are worth every penny. And not only because, when I pair them with my biking shorts, I look like I’m part of the roller derby. Wear these with a pair of capris, and your legs are toasty warm. Since I’m not a big fan of leg warmers, these are my stand-ins. And while not meant to be highly-padded hiking or biking socks, I think they are actually quite comfortable. Recommend.

As I’m still building up my arsenal of wool, I’ll stop here and return later with more reviews. If there are any women out there who read this site, put a note in the comments so I know if I should keep giving Russ content to post.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Another mini tour :)

Can't quite keep away from the road this year :) Laura and I are going on another mini weekend tour. Just an out and back to San Clemente to go to Pizza Port. If you're a craft beer fan, you're probably familiar with the brewery. They make lots of great IPAs and hoppy beer.

We're planning to camp in San Clemente and just have dinner at PP. So no cooking gear. Just clothes, our tent and the sleeping gear. We'll probably take the coast south and then try to find a hillier inland route on the return. Should be fun!

Gear Notes Pt. 2 - Wool and Wet

Some more bits of gear that I tested out on the last trip...

REI Wool Hiking Socks
This sock isn't going to win any awards for their looks. Plain-ish. I brought two pairs, one greenish and one blue. Typically not what you would consider cycling socks because of their thickness and length. I wore them with my Keens and they kept my feet warmish and padded while riding and at camp. The loose knit allows plenty of layering opportunities (smaller sock(s) underneath). At $11 (even less sometimes when they go on sale), it's a pretty good deal. Recommend.

Rivendell Wool Semi-Tights
As advertised, these are semi-tight, meaning to say that they're not exactly skin tight, but nor are they saggy Hammer pants. I originally purchased these with the thought that I would ride in them, but ultimately used them as part of my sleeping clothes. I found that I preferred the IBEX leg warmers in the conditions I was riding in, because once we crossed the mountains from the coast, it got warm and I could remove them easily without much fuss. These, however, would be great if it was really cold all the time where you were riding. They allow for great freedom of movement. Recommend.

Rivendell ORANGE Rain Peak Cycling Cap
I have a lot of cycling caps. Some, would say too many. I have some made by Pace, many made by Walz, a few by Swrve, Bicycle Fixation, Kucharik and a Deller cap. I like caps, what can I say. I can't tell you how excited I was when I saw this orange, wool one from Riv (made by Rain Peak). This cap is really nicely made. The wool feels as lush and soft as the wool from Walz (my standing favorite). The orange is a deep reddish orange for orange aficionados. The construction looks top-notch with an 8-panel design that makes for a slightly more Euro looking cap. The bill is shortish and stiffer than the Walz so it looks more natural (as far as hats go) to flip the bill up. To top it all off, there's the sweet Rivendell Bicycle Works logo embroidered on it in a nice contrasting blue. Understated. Classy. But a wink to those in "the know," you know? Recommend.

Kucharik Wool Ear Warmers
I have a love-hate relationship with Kucharik. They've been making wool products for years and are well respected. For me, however, I find they make some things I really like (jerseys!) and a lot of things I don't (caps). It's like shopping at Trader Joes. Those dark chocolate covered ginger snaps sound great in theory, but are a train wreck in your mouth. I admit, I bought it mostly because it was orange. It's a bright orange, more neon-y than red (think brand new traffic cone). It fit over my head just fine, but if you have long-ish hair (as a guy), you will look like a character from Dragonball Z. But, it's meant more for function and not fashion so it works best under a helmet. At first, I was a little irked because the wool seemed pretty thin for the money, but after riding I understood why. Standing still my ears were still cold, but after about ten minutes of riding, everything was nice and toasty. Not having a cap on the crown helped with cooling things off. It also acted, somewhat, as sweatband. So, this makes a great riding ear warmer and not a standing around waiting for the bus looking like an anime character ear warmer. Kinda Recommend.

Campmor Rain Cape (as of this writing it seems to be out of stock)
After a quick ride in the rain, with my friend Chris, we compared relative dryness. He had a Carradice Duxback rain poncho and I had a Jackson Gibbs jacket. Needless to say, he was much drier overall from the waist down. The Carradice stuff is nice, expensive and seems to be out of stock everywhere on this side of the pond. So, I decided to get my feet wet, so to speak, with bicycle rain capes with the Duxback's less expensive, more brightly colored cousin -- the Campmor Rain Cape (Log House Designs). On our trip we got some rain for a few hours so we excitedly stopped under a parking garage to throw our capes on (OK, I was excited, Laura was mortified). The capes come in their own little duffle that is about the size of a large-ish hot dog. The construction is good for something that only costs $30. It's not a particularly complex design, it's more or less a regular rain poncho with loops for your thumbs and this questionable two leg harness in the back. Putting it on, I noticed the hole for the head was a little tight (maybe I just have a big head), so it would have been nice to maybe have some sort of zipper there. The thumb loops worked well. My main problem was the darn leg loops. What a pain to get into since you can't see what you're doing. I plan to modify mine by shortening the loops and putting a small caribiner on one end of the loop and attaching the other to a the belt strap on my pants. This should accomplish the task of keeping the cape from flapping around without the indignity of trying to harness yourself in.

In use, they worked pretty well (again, I didn't have that long to evaluate). They kept the saddles covered when we were at stops. My legs were dry. We were highly visible, perhaps too visible. Laura thought we looked two giant yellow gum drops ambling up the street. Another problem that I hadn't considered was the fact that you couldn't see your front wheel. For Laura that took some getting use to. Also the cape obscures your view of your cycling computer and any handlebar mounted light (fortunately both our lights were mounted to mini front racks). Jury is still out on this one.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

PTD and the siren song of the road...

I enjoyed myself so thoroughly on my last trip that I've been feeling a bit down. That's one of the problems of a short tour (or a long tour for that matter). They always seem to end too soon.

For me, I get my "hill climbing" legs after about Day 3 of a trip. The first few days are about learning to ride with the weight and getting the flow of camp. This last outing, we went home on Day 4, just as my body was breaking into the rhythm of riding every day. That last afternoon I was stomping up hills with confidence and I was throwing the loaded bike around on standing climbs...and then we had to go home.

Just not fair.

I've spoken to other travelers and this "thing" has a name. PTD. Post-trip Depression.

I remember when I first got struck with it was after backpacking through Spain after graduating from college. I came home busting at the seams with excitement, but that quickly gave way to a mild depression. It was my mind catching up with the fact that I was no longer moving.

What's the cure?

I doubt that there is one.

For me, what I enjoy about touring is that I feel engaged every second. I'm thinking about pedaling, about food, about where I'm going to spend the night. The needs and thoughts are immediate. I feel completely and utterly present. As much as I struggle up hills, there is nothing quite like a steep grade and a loaded bike to put you into a state of pure being.

In retrospect, coming home feels so alien. The day after we got back I did some groceries at Trader Joes. What a strange experience after being on country roads for a few days and living out of two bags attached to your bike. It felt so odd and removed, like I was underwater, moving in slow motion marveling at the spectacle of all these people standing in line.

Of course, this passes. And I'm sure that soon enough, I'll be re-integrated into the ebb and flow of "normal" life. But this transition period is strange. Half my mind is in a dream life the other in my waking life. But I wonder if that's how things have to be. I wonder if I couldn't pull the stakes on this tent and hit the road tomorrow. It feels close to doing that, but not quite yet.

I've always heard the road sing out, but this time the song sounds particularly sweet.

Encyclopedia of Bike Touring Tips

Admittedly, not the prettiest website but chock full of some useful information. Check out (pretty easy URL to remember right?). Just a quick cursory glance led me to some great pages such as a link to ALL the national forest maps in California! How about a list of 17 great rides around San Luis Obispo, one of my favorite places to ride.

You can do a text search by topic or search for tips by geographical location. Definitely a great resource.

Knotledge...(excuse the bad pun)

I was never a Boy Scout and to be honest, wasn't really into camping until I started bike touring. If you dropped me in the middle of the woods with a knife and three matches, I probably wouldn't be able to start a proper fire to save my life. But hey, I'm learning. I think the great genius of man is that we can constantly re-invent ourselves.

I grew up with the typical urban childhood (for my generation). We feared the Night Stalker, said No to Drugs, played Nintendo and didn't really learn a lot of practical stuff in school. By practical, I mean if humanity as we knew it broke down tomorrow would we be able to survive.

So, I'm bent on teaching myself some skills that will come in handy around 2012 :) One of them is how to tie a knot. I picked this book up recently at REI.

Rope and knots are pretty fascinating. They are an old and one of the simplest forms of technology. Different ropes have their different properties, different knots can be used to fasten things, or act as a pulley. I don't think the knots will be used directly on the bicycle, but they will come in handy while camping.

I even found a website that shows some animated knots and no doubt, there are YouTube videos about knot tying.

So far, I've got the hang of the bowline, clove hitch around a post and the trucker's hitch. Can anyone else recommend a good one?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Gear Notes Pt 1.

I purchased some new gear to bring on this last trip to help with the weather. While we didn't face any seriously terrible weather, it was cold-ish (definitely cold for a Los Angelean). Mornings were brisk in the 40s, nights may have dipped into the 30s and daytime highs were probably in the 50s-60s. So here's what I thought of the new stuff.

IBEX Leg Warmers
Construction-wise, these leg warmers are top notch. The grippers are fairly grippy, the wool is thin enough for free movement but definitely has some thickness in it to keep you warm. There are zippers around the ankle area to facilitate removal. The wool is smooth and non-itchy.

Now, I'm not a spandex wearing kind of person usually, so when I first rode with these on without bike shorts I was a bit disappointed. They worked themselves loose and after a few miles the thighs were around my ankles. I was bummed. Then, I tried them with bike shorts, which I am assuming is how these things were intended to be used. I wore them so they were layered beneath the shorts and they didn't fall down. So with shorts they're great, without shorts (for me) they didn't work so hot. Highly recommend (with shorts).

North Face Apex Glove
I purchased these after a week of rain here in LA. I wanted something waterproof and wind proof to keep my hands dry and warm. Perusing through my local REI, these seemed to fit the bill. They were waterproof and not overly bulky. They have a thin fleece lining in them for warmth.

In use, I'm having mixed feelings. They seem to be waterproof and windproof, but don't provide much warmth. My hands are still cold (though not as cold without of course) and I think that is due to the fleece. I'm going to try to combine it with some wool glove liners to see if this improves its performance. Not quite sure what I think yet.

Marmot Zeus Down Jacket
I didn't have too much of problem keeping warm when climbing hills, but at camp...brrrr. That is when this jacket came in handy. I purchased this during an REI member sale knocking off a few dollars. Down jackets are said to have the highest warmth to weight ratio. The trade off being their complete failure if they get wet.

This particular one is said to have a water-resistant covering, which probably more or less translates to "don't get it wet," which I didn't. One neat feature of this jacket is that the left pocket doubles as a stuff sack! You turn it inside out and stuff the jacket into itself (sort of like its own personal vortex) and it turns into a neat squarish down pillow of warmth which fit easily into a pannier.

In practice, the jacket worked as advertised and provided good warmth. While I wouldn't wear this to the arctic, it did keep me from shivering when combined with a few wool layers underneath. Recommend.

Power Grips
Purchased off the Riv site, I wanted something that provided some foot retention but could be used with regular shoes. I've tried toe-clips and half toe-clips and they work well with regular shoes, they don't work well with Keen sandals. Keens just have big honking toe boxes. Unfortunately, Keens are my footwear of choice for touring.

So I ordered some PGs. Installation was fairly straight forward and hardware seemed OK. I'd carry some spare hardware and maybe an extra strap if I were going on an extended tour in remote country.

With the Keens, the straps are nearly attached to its end to accommodate the large toe box. So if you have Keens and want to try PGs, get the extra long version! This shortness made it a bit tricky to get into. To be honest, I was getting pretty frustrated the first few days of use. However, by the third day I was able to get in and out with more regularity.

They provided good retention and I got to test them in the rain a little, where they were invaluable. Overall, I'm pleased with them, but I do plan on ordering an extra long version to work with my Keens. I won't say anything conclusive about these, but they feel like they're on the right track. Recommend.

Slideshow of images

Ok, I uploaded a bunch more photos and decided to just post a Flickr slideshow so I can get them up on the site sooner than later. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

I'm Back...some snaps...

Well, I'm back. Just got off the Amtrak bus a few hours ago, downloaded my photos and picked a few that jumped out right away. We're pretty beat. Today was a long day of Amtrak travel that seems to be almost as tiring as bicycling (and sometimes not as much fun).

Anyway, the trip was a blast. We rode some beautiful roads and I learned a few lessons about planning and humanity as a whole.

At one point we were tired, hungry and still had to go over a pretty good climb and it was getting dark. We were in Lompoc on New Years day. No buses were running and there are no taxis in Lompoc. We had booked a room in Santa Maria which was still a good 15 hilly miles away. Not knowing what to do we just stopped to eat at a diner. Somehow it worked out that the manager of the restaurant called her son who had a pickup truck and he drove us over the pass. I'll never lump pick-up drivers again.

We had good weather for almost the whole trip though we had some foggy mornings and got a little sprinkled on in SLO (but hey, we got test out our CampMor rain capes!).

Overall, it was an amazing trip and we really wanted to keep going, but it's not yet quite THAT time, but it's close.