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Messages - John Nelson

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Some people swear by their Leatherman, but before you buy and carry one, ask yourself exactly what maintenance on the bike requires one. Very little to none. Yea, sure, there are some theoretical things you might do with it, but most are unlikely and you can figure out other ways to do those things.

Sure, you can ship anything.

Most tandems are set up so that both people pedal at the same cadence.

It's best to get a bike shop to help you through all the decisions to find what's right for you. You can also study the information available on the Co-Motion web site. You usually pick a base model from their standard selection and then select the options from there. Check out the Co-Motion Speedster line. It might be what you want. You might want a bit wider tires. The custom sizing adds $450 to the price. Couplers, if you need to travel by air, adds another $2000 and the travel case another $720. Racks add $250. The Thudbuster $140. You're above $9000 now. You don't need them, but you might want to go farther and get the belt drive and Rohloff hub.

I have a friends in a similar situation. They do successfully ride a tandem together, but they had to get it custom made by Co-Motion, one of the best tandem manufacturers. Standard off-the-shelf tandems are almost always designed for a larger captain than stoker.

If you go this route, it is best if you work with a bike shop to get the measurements to custom fit you. If the bike shops are willing to work with each other, you should each be able to go to your own local bike shop. I'd recommend you visit one of the Co-Motion dealers in your area. You can find one by clicking on the "Find Dealer" link at the above cited web site.

There are a lot of options depending on whether you want couplers, belt drive, Rohloff hub, etc. Plan to spend in the $3000-$6000 range, maybe more if you go fancy.

Tandem bikes can fit on standard rear hitch racks, usually with the wheels removed to make them shorter. They can also be transported on the roofs of SUVs or station wagons. You can fly with a tandem by breaking it down if you get couplers, but it takes a long time to disassemble and reassemble, and you should buy the fairly pricey cases they sell. It will take two cases to hold it.

AFAIK, there's no problem pulling a trailer with a tandem. You can also use panniers if you prefer.

Gear Talk / Re: Tips for avoiding back pain at night
« on: May 19, 2013, 11:25:39 am »
I use a 2.5" thick air mattress and cannot sleep well with anything thinner. Back pain is such a tricky thing. You'll probably need to experiment with different pads and different firmness of inflation.

I prefer the non-self-inflating pads. Yes, it takes more work to blow them up, but you get a lot more comfort for the same weight and they take up less space. But the only way to find out what you need is to try it--multiple times. Sleep on it outdoors (so you can check both comfort and insulation). Everybody is different.

If you have time to wait for sales, you can probably do better on many items. And there is no one place to get all this stuff. Different places will have different sales on different items at different times. REI has their several times a year 20% off one full-priced item sale which I use to buy big stuff that doesn't usually go on sale. But it might take you two years to acquire stuff with one coupon at a time.

Gloves - $25 I get my summer gloves for under $10 at Performance.
Helmet - $50 I've never spent more than $35.
Front Panniers - $160
Back Panniers - $180
Handlebar bag   - $60
Handlebar - Find USED
Fork   - $100
Pedals - $100 Performance sells SPD-compatable pedals for $20 to $45.
Shoes (w/ cleats) - $150 Cleats come with the pedals, not the shoes. You can get Shimano MTB shoes for $30 to $70 at Performance. Forte brand MTB shoes can be had for even less.
Socks - $25
Clothes - $220 That may not be not enough, but it depends on what's included and what you already have.
Brakes & Cables - $140
Tires   - $100 If you get tires suitable for long-distance touring, you may need to spend a bit more.
Spares (chain, tubes, etc) - $25   The spare chain alone will probably cost you $25. Tubes about $4 each. "Etc" could cost a lot more.
Saddle - $60 Saddles are available in whatever price range you want. The Brooks B-17, favored by many but not all touring cyclists, is around $100.
Shift Cables - $20
Derailleur   - $100
Rack - $45
Tools - $135 You can spend this much on tools, but I recommend you don't take $135 worth of tools along with you on the ride. That would be way too heavy.
Locks - $100 Way, way too much. A $100 lock will be ten times too heavy. A $10 lock is as much as you want to carry.
Chain Lube - $8
Water (CamelBak) - $40
Food - ???
Maps - $151

General Discussion / Re: Cycling Pants...
« on: May 15, 2013, 10:08:12 am »
Whatever you choose, make sure you go out for a few back-to-back long rides in training. Even then it's a risk. Problems like this often don't even show up until the second month of the tour. Normal cycling shorts probably present the least risk. Even if you don't plan to wear them, I might suggest you take a pair of these along as a fallback in case your other pair starts causing you problems. If you are self-conscious about being seen in them, you can pull a pair of basketball shorts over them at stops.

I take two pairs of normal cycling shorts, and I hardly ever use the second pair. I wash out the pair I wore that day every evening and hang them up. They're almost always dry by morning, and I can wear them anyway even if not.

Most people take far too many clothes on tour. It's surprising how little you can get away with. It's hardly ever worth it to take two of the same thing.

The panniers are so easy to unhook. They're worth 160 and the stuff inside (tent and sleeping bag) are another 300-400 easily.
Much more of a theoretical problem than a real one, especially in rural America.

Wow, I've never been called out in the subject line before!

The previous advice is good. Some of the answers are personal decisions. I'll give you my take on your questions.
  • Camelback: Very unusual for long-distance cyclists. More commonly used by mountain bikers. I recommend against it.
  • Air mattress: I could not sleep comfortably without one, so it is well worth it to me from a comfort standpoint, especially for a side sleeper. It is also very important, however, for insulation from the ground. You're going to get cold without it. Only skip it if you have a lot of experience sleeping on the ground without one.
  • Heavy camera: If you are a photography enthusiast, it's worth it. Everybody takes a luxury item or two. If a heavy camera is your luxury item, then go for it. For me, I just take a camera to document my trip and preserve my memories. I don't need National Geographic quality. But then again, I'm not really a photography enthusiast.
  • Stuff sacks: Get your clothes wrinkled? Really? On a long tour, much of the time you're going to stink and look like a bum. Wrinkled cloths will be the last of your concerns. On the other hand, I don't believe that any stuff sacks are necessary except for your sleeping bag. As long as your panniers are waterproof, just throw your stuff in. And don't take anything that doesn't fit in your panniers, except your tent. If you have the "one big bag" style of pannier such as Ortliebs, then you may want some sort of organizing system, but simple zip-lock bags will do that job. For me, I just dump everything in. I only use zip-lock bags to keep small parts together.
  • Water: It varies. You should always know where your next source of water will come from. Carry enough to get there. You'll need at least a half-liter per hour while cycling, more if it is hot. I carry three 28-ounce water bottles, and I also have a 2-liter platypus for those areas without water stops. The platypus only weighs one ounce when empty, and I only use it very occasionally. I also sometimes buy Gatorade for extra supply and either put them in my panniers or strap them to the top of a pannier. Bottom line: know what's ahead and plan for it. If you don't know what's ahead, then plan for the worst.
  • How to lock bike bags: You don't. Put all your valuables (money, cell phone, camera) in your handlebar bag and take it with you everywhere, but leave your panniers on your bike. Your panniers are not attractive targets--people perceive them as full of dirty clothes. Have some faith in people, especially in small town America. You'll have to accept a bit of risk or you'll go crazy. But don't have any faith in the people in Times Square--don't leave your bike unattended there for a second, or better yet, plan your route to avoid Times Square and all other big cities.
  • U-lock: Yes, it's too heavy--way, way too heavy. Take a lightweight cable lock, long enough to run through your frame, wheels, the handles of your panniers, and around a pole. You're not trying to stop the determined thief, just the thief of opportunity. Anything that slows him down for five seconds is going to be enough. As I said, avoid high-risk areas.
  • Charging electronics: Plug them in. You're in America. There are electrical outlets everywhere. Every store, every restaurant, many parks, many campsites, swimming pools. Turn off your electronics except when actually using them to conserve power. Turn off the Wi-Fi. Turn off the cell. Turn off the GPS. If you want to use the camera on your phone during the day, put your phone in airplane mode.

Well, nobody ever faulted ACA routes for being too direct. I did this route last summer. You do have to go south to duck under Lake Superior, but it seems like the ACA sends you farther south than necessary.

If you ask Google for a route from Grand Rapids, MN to Escanaba, MI, it comes up with a 358 mile route. The ACA route between these two cities is 601 miles. Yes, the ACA route is a lot longer, but I would never suggest using an ACA route to somebody who is in a hurry to get somewhere. I'd rather meet Donn Olson at the Adventure Cyclists Bunkhouse in Dalbo, see the world's largest black bear in Glidden and ride on Wisconsin's Rustic Roads than see Duluth.

Note, you're going to think the ACA sends you too far out of the way again in the lower peninsula of Michigan. I sometimes wondered why I spent three days going southwest when I was trying to get to the northeast.

General Discussion / Re: North Nevada & Utah in summer
« on: May 10, 2013, 03:22:04 pm »
I agree that when camping in Grizzly country, the bear boxes available in formal campgrounds are well worth it. Once you're past western Montana, however, that's not an issue any more.

One advantage of the ACA maps is that they list lots of free and legal places to camp that are not actual campgrounds, and thus would not show up in any Google search for campgrounds. E.g., the town park in Hebron, North Dakota or the Bicycle Bunkhouse in Dalbo, Minnesota (neither of which has bear worries). My experience is that the ACA maps pay for themselves many times over just in saving me money on camping. Of course, if you're not on an ACA route, they are of no value.

As I said before, reservations are not usually necessary, and most campgrounds will accept a bicycle tourist even if the are full. One of the problems I have with reservations is that I usually don't know where I'm going to end up at the end of today, let alone a few days from now. Another problem with reservations is that I occasionally find the place I was heading for to be a unacceptable (and I have very low standards) and moved on. But some people like to make reservations anyway for the peace of mind.

General Discussion / Re: North Nevada & Utah in summer
« on: May 10, 2013, 12:02:10 pm »
I camped all the way across the Northern Tier, never made a reservation or even called, and never found a campground full. The ACA maps show you all the campgrounds along the way. Virtually none of the campgrounds I stayed at are listed on the web site you cited. If you're in a car, you can easily go 30-50 miles off route to a campground. If you're on a bike, not so much.

General Discussion / Re: North Nevada & Utah in summer
« on: May 10, 2013, 12:09:23 am »
Yes, follow Going To The Sun Road along Lake McDonald. Then continue on Going To The Sun Road over Logan Pass and down to St Mary. You can camp in any of the Glacier NP campgrounds for only $5. Once you get to St Mary, you can then either go into Alberta (following the ACA route), or go off-route for a shorter trip to Cut Bank if you need to save time.

General Discussion / Re: North Nevada & Utah in summer
« on: May 09, 2013, 11:40:04 am »
I suppose it's too late to change your flight to go to Seattle instead of Portland? Bellingham would be even better. It's about a 40-mile ride from Bellingham down to Anacortes. If you want to skip going to Anacortes itself, it's only 25 miles from the Bellingham airport down to join the Northern Tier in Bay View along the beautiful Chuckanut Drive.

There are many ways to cut miles, but IMHO one you should not cut is Going To the Sun Road in Glacier National Park. Do not take the Marias Pass alternate or you will miss the absolute best part of the whole route!!!

You can cut out 35 hilly miles by staying on 89 from St Mary, MT to Cardston, AB and 40 more by skipping Alberta entirely and heading straight for Cut Bank from St Mary. You can save some miles by staying on I-94 across North Dakota, but I recommend against it unless you really like interstate riding. You can cut off 125 miles in Minnesota by taking the Little Falls Alternate (and a few more by taking the Donn Olson modifications to the Little Falls Alternate). You can save 215 miles by taking the ferry across Lake Michigan (assuming you're taking the North Lakes route), but you'll lose the better part of a day on the ferry itself. There are lots of places where you can save 10 miles here or 10 miles there (particularly in Ontario if you're taking the Lake Erie Connector), at the expense of busier roads and missing some charming back roads. You can cut off another 150 miles by finishing in Portland, Maine rather than going to Bar Harbor. I don't recommend any of these shortcuts, but if you need to cut time, then compromises need to be made.

Spend an hour to take the $20 ride on the Maid of the Mist when you're at Niagara Falls. It's worth it. And camp along the Erie Canal across New York--the towns are charming and the hospitality is great.

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