AXC - The bike

AXC - The bike

Monday, April 14, 2014

Loaded for bear


Carrying a lot of baggage
It was a beautiful weekend in the Philadelphia area, and I hope you all got a chance to go outside and enjoy the sunshine and warmth.

I took the opportunity to enjoy the sunshine by riding my bike with 30 lbs of gear strapped to it!
This was the first time I’ve ridden the bike “fully loaded.” Meaning that I put on the front and rear saddle bags, and strapped gear to the back luggage rack.
There were a couple things I wanted to check by doing this; first and most important was to see if all my crap was actually going to fit in my bags and on the bike!! And to that end, I was a little surprised to find that everything fit pretty easily, with a little bit of space to spare. Now, granted, I didn’t load everything in the bags yet… in fact I still don’t actually have every last bit of gear yet. I’m still finalizing that. Also, the front luggage rack isn’t stabilized and ready to be loaded yet. All said, I was probably 10 – 12 lbs shy of my final travel weight. (about 25% light)  This was fine, because the second objective was to finally ride the bike loaded down and see how it felt and how it rode! And it was ok if the first trip was a little light.

 I have christened her 'The Beast', as my beast of burden.
If you think about riding a bicycle, and how it feels and maneuvers, then think about loading it down with about 30 pounds of extra stuff hanging off the front and back of the bike - pretty much any logical person is going to expect the bike to be awkward and unwieldy, right?

Well, much to my surprise, there was almost no noticeable difference in how the bike handled! Sure, I think if I was slaloming through cones at 25 mph I’d probably notice a difference, but in regular casual riding it felt perfectly, surprisingly, fine!
The few differences I noticed was that (obviously) it was a little slower to stop, and of course it was took longer to get up to speed. And even then, my overall top speed was slightly (but noticeably) slower.

The ride on Saturday was just a trial run. I didn’t go far, just 17 miles on the flat Schuylkill River Trail (SRT) – From Norristown to Oaks and back. It was early, but there were still a lot of people on the trail, enjoying one of the first truly great spring days. Overall the ride was uneventful, and I intentionally took it easy.

The ride on Sunday, I opted to go a little further to push myself more physically and see how I felt. I had time to do about 23 miles.  This ride was later in the afternoon, and there were more people on the trail.

Front view, stop staring at her large bags.
An interesting thing happened on the Sunday ride; people kept coming up beside me and asking me “where are you going?” So it seemed that the loaded bike was an invitation to chat, or just made people naturally curious. Certainly, a bike loaded for bear on the SRT is not very common, so I can see how it would stand out. But I wasn’t expecting it to be a conversation starter. People getting in their workouts on the trail tend to be isolationists, its rare that they even return a smile or a ‘hello’, which is why I was surprised when a couple rode up beside me and started chatting me up! Not that it was unwelcome, if you’ve talked to me at all in the last 3 months you know I won’t shut up about this trip, so I was happy to chat for a bit with strangers as we pedaled in the sunshine. And, by the 4th person who asked me “where are you going!?” I wasn’t surprised at all. People were excited and interested in the idea of a cross country ride, and most of them expressed a dream to try it themselves some day, dropping the ever common phrase 'bucket list item.'

Later on during the ride I was feeling pretty strong, so when a rider passed me at a pretty nice pace, I sped up and fell in behind her in a draft. (Rider courtesy; I let her know I was behind her and drafting, she looked back to see who I was, and then said she was impressed I could keep up!) I held the draft for about 3 miles, at about 20 mph. Hell, *I* was impressed I could hold that pace! But alas, only for a short time. I thanked the woman for the pull, and dropped down to a more reasonable pace. Still, it felt great to really open up and ride at speed, I was impressed I could do that and that the bike felt both comfortable and stable.
Rear view. Don't tell her she has a big ass, she's sensitive about that.

In all, it was a fantastic weekend for riding, and I was happy to load up on the sunshine. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Wait, what!? Seriously, you’re riding across the whole country, surely you must be joking?

Yes, I’m serious.
And don't call me Shirley.

Why are you doing this, are you crazy?

I’m doing it because it seems like a neat way to see the country, have a nice break from reality, and get to ride my bike lots over the summer.
As for being crazy, I’m not qualified to answer that. You’ll have to follow my blog and make up your mind for yourself.

How far is the ride?

4300 miles (give or take.) Thus the name of the blog!
But even though it’s easy to remember, you should bookmark it anyway.
Or even better, sign up on the right --> for automatic e-mail updates!

Where are you riding?

We start in Virginia, dipping our rear wheel in the Atlantic and then ride west, finishing in Oregon by dipping our front wheel in the Pacific. Passing through 10 states and 2 mountain ranges along the way.

How long will this take?

3 months.
We start pedaling on May 4th!

Who is this 'we', kimosabe?

I'll be riding in a group, there are 15 of us; me, 13 fellow riders, and a tour guide. It’s an organized tour through Adventure Cycling Association. I do not know any of the other riders, although I expect to know them pretty well by the end!

How far are you riding each day?

We’ll average 55-60 miles a day. On days when we’re crossing mountains, we might do less, and on the flat plains of Kansas we might do more. Although I’ve been warned that there are wicked head winds in Kansas (and maybe tornadoes.)

Are you riding every day?

Most days. There’s a rest day about once every seven days, give or take.
We might stop sooner in order to rest up for a hard day to come, or pedal longer so we can get to a location that’s worth stopping and spending a day at.

Where are you staying along the way?

We will be staying at various camp grounds most nights. Sometimes we’ll stay at a local hostel and occasionally in a hotel (with a real bed!)
Yes, there will be showers.
No, not every day.

How are you carrying your gear?

There is no support van following us. This is called a ‘Self Supported’ tour, meaning we carry all our own gear; tent, sleeping bag, clothes, etc.
I have saddle bags that mount to my bike, called panniers. I have 2 bags on the back, and 2 bags on the front. Plus some gear tied down to the luggage rack on the back. I’ll post pictures of the bike ‘fully loaded’ so you get an idea of all the crap I’m carrying.

What are you doing for food along the way?

The group is carrying camp stoves and cooking gear. We’ll be stopping at grocery stores most nights and will cook dinner and breakfast each day for the group. Plus we’ll bag up a lunch for the day.
Some nights when the weather is too crappy to cook outside, or we’re just too tired, we’ll eat at restaurants.
Part of the cost of the trip goes towards a communal food budget, so I don’t have to pay for food each day.
However, with the massive amount of calories I’ll be burning each day, I assume I’ll be eating second breakfast and second lunch most days, plus pretty much any ice-cream I come across.

It’s a good thing you already own a nice bike, huh?

Sadly, my super fancy racing bike is not suitable for a cross country ride, the same way it’d be more comfortable to drive cross country in a nice sedan versus a two-seater sports car.
I had to buy a new bike for this trip. A sturdy, heavy, steel framed touring bike that is more comfortable, can handle the luggage load, and survive the various road conditions I’ll encounter along the way.

What if your bike breaks down?

Let’s all collectively cross our fingers and hope that doesn’t happen.
Assuming that plan doesn’t work, I have a backup; I’ll be carrying spare tubes and tire, spare spokes, and the tools I’ll need to do simple on the spot repairs. If something is more catastrophic than I can fix on the road, I’ll catch a ride into town and find a bike shop.

How often are you updating this blog?

I intend to post an update a couple times a week. This will not be on a set schedule, but rather when I feel I have something interesting to say, the time and energy to write it, and power and internet to upload it.
You can sign up for e-mail updates on the right side of the blog so you don’t miss any exciting* posts!!

*I make no guarantee that all the posts will be exciting.

How are you getting back?

I’ll fly home from Oregon and ship my bike back. No, I’m not riding home.
I’ll be back August 8th. If anyone wants to throw me a coming home party, I’ll want cake, advil, and a very soft chair.