Author Topic: Western Express feedback  (Read 2347 times)

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Offline gfornes

Western Express feedback
« on: January 03, 2020, 09:10:35 pm »
I am new to this forum so excuse me if I may be redundant in my requests.  I would like to get any feedback from those who have ridden the western express route (west to east) for the san francisco to pueblo portion.  I plan to ride transam in June and looking for more insight regarding gearing used, gaps between water/food supplies (especially nevada and utah) and any other noteworthy tips.  I am 59 years old, a lifelong cyclist but this will be my first long expedition, mostly likely with at least one other rider. Thank you in advance to those able to share.

Offline John Nettles

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Re: Western Express feedback
« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2020, 09:22:29 pm »
Welcome to the ACA forums!  You might consider checking out the journals over on CrazyGuyonaBike.com  https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/categories/?o=39A&category_id=201&doctype=journal .  Tailwinds, John

Offline jamawani

Re: Western Express feedback
« Reply #2 on: January 04, 2020, 12:59:04 am »
I've ridden the Western Express multiple times across Nevada and Utah.
But I'm from the West and my first couple of X-USA rides were less remote.
Adventure Cycling does warn that this route is not for the uninitiated.
Not only are there the physical challenges, but the mental ones relating to emptiness.
For riders used to 80+ mile stretches without services, it is no big deal.
But for Easterners or Europeans it can be daunting.

For ex. - From Baker, NV to Milford, UT, 85 miles & three mountain passes.
Very, very little traffic - you can change pants in the middle of the road.
(There is an abandoned ranch house halfway with a hose with ice cold well water.)

Offline John Nelson

Re: Western Express feedback
« Reply #3 on: January 04, 2020, 01:48:51 am »
The full TransAm is wonderful. Most people who use the Western Express are trying to reduce the time requirements. Some like the desolation and ruggedness of Utah and Nevada. If neither of those reasons describe you, then why would you want to skip Grand Teton, Yellowstone, the stunning Lochsa River valley, Hells Canyon and the Oregon Trail?

Offline gfornes

Re: Western Express feedback
« Reply #4 on: January 04, 2020, 09:13:49 am »
Thank you all so far with feedback.  Could I get some folks to weigh in on gearing (total weight of bike/gearing)? I have a 34/50 compact with 30t topend cog on the rear right now. My estimate for total gear weight would be 70-75 lbs and my ride weight is around 165-170lbs. It would be great to do the entire TA but extra mileage equals more time and I am limiting myself to 60 total (including rest) days. Planed departure is mid June.

Offline John Nettles

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Re: Western Express feedback
« Reply #5 on: January 04, 2020, 11:23:12 am »
Assuming your bike is included in the total weight, then you are a OK.  Remember, you can always ship stuff home or to the ending destination so you can bring it home with you.  It is extremely common for people to ship stuff back home.  Personally, I would need as low a gear as possible as a 34/30 low is not very low.  It seems you can never get low enough and high gears are way overrated.

If I understand your trip (San Francisco to Pueblo in 60 day), you have more than enough time.  If you mean San Francisco to Yorktown in 60 days, it is doable but pushing the miles a little bit at the expense of being able to stop and see the sights.  I figure you have at least 3 days just for travel & unboxing/boxing bike. You don't say if you are going to Yorktown or not or where you live.  If so, you still have to add a day to get to the transportation hub.  If there is a way to add two weeks, it would make a huge difference as to the quality of the trip.

Weather-wise, you are heading out during the hottest part of the year.  It is doable but be sure to always carry lots of water, especially in the very low humidity west where services are limited.

Tailwinds, John

Offline gfornes

Re: Western Express feedback
« Reply #6 on: January 04, 2020, 11:49:18 am »
Thank you John - Yes I am planning on going all the way to yorktown on the TA out of Pueblo or perhaps work my way from kentucky southeast to Charleston (still up in the air). Plan to average 60-75 miles per day with a rest day every 7-10 days DOW. I am more curious to know if the climbing out west is more long gradual climbing like the Blue Ridge Parkway (which I've ridden 5x) or steeper.  Is there an elevation change chart (over the mileage) for the Western Express route that anyone knows of? I have not purchased any mapping yet fyi.

More tailwinds! Gerry

Offline John Nettles

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Re: Western Express feedback
« Reply #7 on: January 04, 2020, 12:06:14 pm »
Generally speaking, the climbs out west are much longer but less steep.  I don't know of an elevation chart but I am sure they exist if just in sections.  Of course, they are on the maps.  Anyway, if you did the BRP without difficulty, you will be fine out west.
The Ozarks in Missouri are similar to the BRP, lots of shorter but steep ups and downs.
Tailwinds, John

Offline staehpj1

Re: Western Express feedback
« Reply #8 on: January 05, 2020, 06:35:36 am »
Thank you all so far with feedback.  Could I get some folks to weigh in on gearing (total weight of bike/gearing)? I have a 34/50 compact with 30t topend cog on the rear right now. My estimate for total gear weight would be 70-75 lbs and my ride weight is around 165-170lbs. It would be great to do the entire TA but extra mileage equals more time and I am limiting myself to 60 total (including rest) days. Planed departure is mid June.
That sounds like a lot of weight and not very low gearing.  How low the gearing needs to be may be dependent on how much you are carrying.  It isn't clear to me what you are including in either "total gear weight" or "ride weight".

I am not inclined to include consumable in gear weight since they are variable during the day(s).  So I don't count food (which I try to carry only enough to get to the next restock point plus just a little in reserve), water, or fuel.  On my first tour (Trans America) I started out with maybe 50-55 pounds of gear and consider that VERY heavy.  I'd never pack that heavy again.  I have gradually learned to pack ever lighter and lighter.  My last coast to coast trip I had a base weight of 14 pounds (camping and cooking) and I was pretty comfortable.  There are a wide range of packing styles ranging from between those two styles.

My suggestion would be to try really hard to limit yourself to no more than 30 pounds of base gear weight and to consider if possibly you might be able to go lighter.  Going to 20 pounds didn't require too much of a change in touring style still no really requiring too drastic of a change in my habits, below that requires more adjustment.

I notice you said that you were limiting yourself to 60 days.  If that limit is self imposed, can you possibly consider an open ended schedule with another 10 days or so allowed?  Then you could do the TA.  In any case I suggest a non rigid schedule with a open ended finishing date if possible.  It can suck to have to be on a set schedule.  There will be days you will not want to make the planned mileage and days where you have a tailwind and can knock out double what you planned.

BTW, on rest days...  Just me, but I have not usually found them to be useful.  I generally find it better to ride at least a little every day.  I am more inclined to take half days now and then and even then it is often to do something off bike like hiking or something.  Actual rest days with no forward progress are pretty rare for me on tour.  They either mean there is something pretty special that I want to do or that I am sick (this happened only once).  I find I recover better if I ride at least a little.

Offline zzzz

Re: Western Express feedback
« Reply #9 on: January 05, 2020, 08:10:05 pm »
I took this exact ride in the same direction 8 years ago (I left September 1) and I’ll give you my thoughts. I loved this route, particularly the WE portion, and in fact prefer it to the part of the TransAm you are missing. But I thought the really isolated sections were magic, like you were on another planet, it doesn’t agree w everyone.

Some specific answers to your questions:

- I had a 34/50 w a 28 in the back and I was fine but I was 145 lbs and was carrying 20 lbs

- if you have ridden the blue ridge parkway multiple times you will be fine on any of the climbs out west UNLESS you have a problem with the air at altitude. The climbs you will see are long but the grades top out at 7%. Find a rythym, stay out of your red zone, and get used to it because you may be going uphill for up to 2 hours.

- there are indeed some long stretches between towns or even any kind of house, ranch or store. Carry at least 2 Platypus 2 liter water bags with you. When you don’t need them they roll up into nothing and don’t weigh anything. When you need them they hold a lot of water.

- if you have not been to Zion NP before, break off route for a couple of days at Ceder City and visit it and do the 2 big hikes (angels landing and observation point), you will be glad you did. And NO MATTER WHAT, take the 11 mile side trip and see Bryce Canyon.

- and I agree w staephpj1 about days off, I ride everyday. But there are many people on this site for who the days off wondering the small towns, seeing the historical sites, meeting the locals, are what makes the trip. The important thing is to do the the trip you want to do.

- which brings me to my last point. I hope your potential companion and you are really well matched. I always tour alone because I don’t want to negotiate when we start in the morning, where we stop to eat, or we stop for the night, or a dozen other daily  decisions,24/7,for over a month with anyone on the planet. Also, many many more people interact w you along the way when your by yourself then when you’re w even one other person. You may want to think about the benefits of going solo.

Feel free to PM me as your planning moves along and you have questions about specific spots along the way and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Pete

Offline CMajernik

Re: Western Express feedback
« Reply #10 on: January 06, 2020, 10:40:14 am »
Carla Majernik
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Inspiring people of all ages to travel by bicycle.
800/755-2453, 406/721-1776 x218, 406/721-8754 fax
www.adventurecycling.org

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Offline Buddy_Hall

Re: Western Express feedback
« Reply #11 on: January 07, 2020, 03:33:46 pm »
I have ridden the Transam and the Western Express.  I liked them both, but the Transam is special and is THE route across America.  FWIW, I suggest you ride the Transam in it's entirety.  The Western Express is definitely not easy, but neither is the western section of the Transam.  Riding the entire Transam puts you in special company with others that have done it. Really, the best thing I can suggest is for you to read my journals - I have a lot of detail and suggestions in those that would help you make a decision.  Transam; www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/BuddyHall (scroll to the epilogue for advice and stats and such, although if you are serious about this trip you will want to read it all).  Western Express; www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/heart_attack (be sure and read Day 24).

Regarding your gearing, allow me to be blunt; it's too high for touring.  You need lower gears, something at least 22 gear-inches or lower.  You will never have a day of touring where you say "Gee, I wish I had higher gears so I could have went down the mountain even faster" but you may often regret not having lower gears - especially in the Appalachians, though there are some steep climbs in the Ozarks and a couple in Utah on the Western Express.  Best of luck with the tour,

Buddy Hall

Offline staehpj1

Re: Western Express feedback
« Reply #12 on: January 07, 2020, 04:54:18 pm »
I liked them both, but the Transam is special and is THE route across America.
For me that is true.  It is special to me because I always dreamed of it since it was Bikecentenial in 1976.  That may not be true for everyone though.  It is a good representation of what the country has to offer in any case.

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Regarding your gearing, allow me to be blunt; it's too high for touring.  You need lower gears, something at least 22 gear-inches or lower.
Meh, I have crossed the country a couple times with a low gear of 25 gear inches, once with a really heavy load and been fine.  I've met folks who were happy with quite a bit higher gearing and folks who really felt like they needed 18 gear inches or lower.

Lots of folks rode across the US with pretty limited gear ranges back in the days of 5 speed freewheels.  Many of them had nowhere near as low of a granny as we are accustomed to these days.

I do agree that you are better off to be sure you have a gear low enough for you and that having a high enough gear is pretty much never a problem.  I just don't agree that there is anything magic about that 22 gear inch number.  It will vary quite a bit with the rider and the load.

Offline Pat Lamb

Re: Western Express feedback
« Reply #13 on: January 07, 2020, 09:28:54 pm »
My vote is to get as close to 20 gear inches as possible.  As the saying goes, "what's not in your legs needs to be in your gears."

There are a few potential mitigations.  If you're young, strong, and lightly loaded that 30 gear inch low might suffice.  If your pride and your ankles don't mind walking, you'll be fine.  (Just don't wear out some nice, expensive bike shoes like I did!)  OP is going west to east, so you'll ride yourself into shape by the time he hits the Ozarks and Appalachians.  IMHO riding the Blue Ridge will get you ready for the western climbs on the TransAm (don't know about WE), and riding all the BRP approaches will get you ready for crossing the eastern mountains.

True, back in the day Bikecentennial riders managed with five speed clusters.  They also wore cotton t-shirts, bandannas, no helmets or sunscreen.  It can be done, but I wouldn't consider it ideal.

Offline staehpj1

Re: Western Express feedback
« Reply #14 on: January 08, 2020, 05:49:27 am »
My vote is to get as close to 20 gear inches as possible.  As the saying goes, "what's not in your legs needs to be in your gears."

I am definitely not going to say the Op does or doesn't need to go to any particular gear choice.  I always figured that until fairly recently typical touring bikes were limited to a 24 tooth ring at the smallest and either a 32 or a 34 tooth cog at the largest.  So yeah that puts you right around the 20 gear inch range given typical touring size wheels and tires.

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There are a few potential mitigations.  If you're young, strong, and lightly loaded that 30 gear inch low might suffice.  If your pride and your ankles don't mind walking, you'll be fine.  (Just don't wear out some nice, expensive bike shoes like I did!)  OP is going west to east, so you'll ride yourself into shape by the time he hits the Ozarks and Appalachians.  IMHO riding the Blue Ridge will get you ready for the western climbs on the TransAm (don't know about WE), and riding all the BRP approaches will get you ready for crossing the eastern mountains.

I have met quite a few mostly young riders who fit this bill.  Some touring light and some not particularly light.  If I remember their setups correctly I'd guess their gearing to be in the mid to upper 30's in at least a couple cases.  I recall a few of our group complaining in camp about not having low enough gearing for the hills we encountered that day and the guy with the gearing in the upper 30's being incredulous, saying "you guys all have triples, how can it be a problem?"  FWIW, he didn't pack particularly light.  My point being that this can be very much an individual thing.

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True, back in the day Bikecentennial riders managed with five speed clusters.  They also wore cotton t-shirts, bandannas, no helmets or sunscreen.  It can be done, but I wouldn't consider it ideal.

Many of them did.  Some lived to tell about it.  Some even had the time of their lives :)