Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Voyager Princess: Two Thousand Miles on a Pashley!

[image via Katie Doncaster]

I have been wanting to feature this story for a while, and it now seems like a good counterpoint to my earlier post about long distance cycling and upright bicycles. Not everybody finds it necessary to use a bicycle with drop bars for touring - especially not Katie Doncaster, who travelled on her Pashley Princess Sovereign from Strasbourg, France to Nessebar, Bulgaria. 

[image via Katie Doncaster]

This is Katie's Pashley, named Mathilda. As you can see, she sightly modified it for touring in terms of accessories and luggage: She added extra pannier hangers, a waterbottle mount, and a handlebar bag instead of the wicker basket. But the upright sitting position of the bicycle has very much been retained.

[image via Katie Doncaster]

Katie and Mathilda travelled a total of 3,900 km (2,423 miles) together, passing through France, Germany, Austria, Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania.

[image via Katie Doncaster]

Nights were mostly spent camping, with all the necessary equipment carried on the bike.  Much of the trip was over flat terrain, but there were a couple of spots with some hills as well.

[image via Katie Doncaster]

Katie's route took her through Austria along the Danube Bikeway, and it was neat to see some familiar places in her images. The most I have ever cycled on this route was 50 miles, which is laughable compared to the length of her trip.

[image via Katie Doncaster]

I am amazed by Katie's accomplishment - who wouldn't be!  2,423 miles on a roadbike designed for touring would have already been beyond impressive. But to cover that distance on a Pashley... I put that in the category of "jaw dropping".  Just to remind you, this is a 5-speed upright bicycle that weighs over 40lb (unloaded) and offers only one hand position on the handlebars. I would not be able to do it.  But everybody is different. If Katie did it, it's certainly possible. Only you can determine what is possible (and comfortable) for you, and you never know until you try!  Anybody planning a cycling adventure before the summer is over?

39 comments:

  1. I cannot wait to have my husband read this blog entry!!

    He has been pretty pessimistic about what I'll be able to bike in regards to when My Pash finally comes home.

    I don't see any problems in biking long distances because I have any expectations. I plan on taking her out and going until I'm too tired to go any further.

    Kudos to Katie for showing all you need is a bike and the determination to make it happen.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Love this story. Kudos to Katie!

    Here's another story about an inspiring individual:

    http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=2458325

    Freddie has averaged over 80 miles per day for over 40 years on a bike that weighs over 100 lbs. loaded!

    Alan

    ReplyDelete
  3. Doesn't the Princess look so perfect next to the tent?

    I think touring is possible on any bike. It's easier on certain bikes. But, a lot depends on how you choose to tour. You can cover 1000km in 10 days or 50 days (and sometimes I think the slower you go the richer the experience).

    I'm heading "down-south" (Western Australia) in Oct. Katie makes my proposed 550km trip look like a stroll in the park. I will be on my Surly LHT which is more of a traditional tourer, but, being as non-atheletic as they come, I'm only interested in the distances between bakeries and breweries! (I've also been known to push the bike up the bigger hills).

    Touring on a Pashley might just be the excuse to slow down and enjoy the experience that we all need. Congrats, Katie!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Million Mile Freddie is one of the Gods of long distance cyclists. His main ride is currently a Waterford 1900 (with a quarter million miles on it) presented to him by Richard Schwinn hisself, but his rain bike is an old Schwinn Suburban that's almost as much rust as original yellow paint.

    His average may be 80 miles per day, but he's been known to put in over 200 per day for days at a time if he's trying to get someplace.

    Both bikes have Wald steel touring bars on them.

    ReplyDelete
  5. What BB said! I'm happy for Katie because I'm sure she had a wonderful time. I'm also sure she's fit, but her "accomplishment" isn't some grim feat of perseverance in the face of self-imposed equipment deficiency! She knows the secret that "it's not about the bike" but about belief in one's self and a spirit of adventure. I'll bet the upright bike simply encouraged a luxurious leisurely pace.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Wow! This makes me feel guilty for whining last week about being tired after a 20 mile ride on the Pashley (I was ill, but still!). Never again shall I whine about any length I ride after reading this story. Thank you so much for sharing. It's really fun to see a Pashley loaded up for touring as well. Quite impressive.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I know, makes me feel like a sissy too! To comfort myself, my working hypothesis is that the Pashley's ride depends a lot on the presence of hills. It can cover long distances quite fast on relatively flat terrain, but the hills are what kills. At least has been my experience with mine.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Drops for touring seem to be a peculiarly American (and British) obsession. Here on mainland Europe touring with drops is the exception, not the rule - though I have to admit I don't see too many Pashleys on the long distance routes.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Fantastic post and what a dream journey to take! I have only been cycling a for a couple of years and have not yet even done an over night two day cycle journey. I am very excited about the prospect of starting by touring exploring my local area of shropshire and moving into the mountains of north wales. Like most of us i spend too much time on the net researching the perfect bike! Trying to find a bike that does the job but satisfies aesthetically! I love retro but also there is something cool about pure function over form.
    Although I wont be choosing a pashley. Not my thing , this post has openned my mind to other options. great post as usual!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Then there is Heinz Stucke who has somewhere over 600,000km (no that IS NOT a typo) on a heavy 3 speed. I can't find his current stats, the link is about 4 years old.

    To me cycle touring is a state of mind and should be less about the equipment and more about what you see and who you meet. And I suspect you get to meet more people if you don't look like an escapee from a super hero cartoon. ;-)

    Aaron

    ReplyDelete
  11. This is a fantastic story! What an achievement! Do you know if she consciously decided to travel on her Pashley, or if it was the only option available to her?

    ReplyDelete
  12. I'd think the main limitation on the hills would be the gearing and not so much the weight of the bike. Dedicated touring bikes are typically not lightweight, 30+ pounds unloaded is not unusual. How low is the Pashley's low gear? At least you know the Pashley is a solidly built bike, mechanically it will hold up over the miles.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Excellent post. It's a good counterpoint to some of the dogmatic opinions out there! While I cannot conceive of replicating what Katie did, I am proud to say that I just completed my first tour ever. It was a 2-person self-supported trip. My boyfriend, an experienced touring cyclist, figured out the route. I concentrated on getting fit enough to do the 250 mile route. Which I did -with some whining- despite intense heat on the first couple of days. I rode my beautiful ANT mixte touring bike, mustache handlebars. Just last year I made the leap from recreational weekend rides to commuting 16 miles round trip to work. What's next?! Katie's an inspiration.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Wow, this is beyond inspiring, what a great story. Did Katie do this trip all by herself? I'd love to hear more about this, what motivated her to embark on this kind of trip and her thoughts on cross continental touring by bike...


    S.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Simply Bike - Yes, it was a solo trip!

    Girl in a Thunderbolt - I think it was a bit of both. It was her bike, and she thought "why not just go on my regular bike".

    Moopheus - As someone who owns a Pashley, I think it is the weight and the form of the bike. I have a 7-speed hub with a low gear that is low enough for hills. But the rear end of the bike begins to literally drag me down if I travel up a hill for a sustained period of time. My single speed mixte flies up hills in a much higher gear.

    Nick - It depends where in mainland Europe. Plus, what about French randonneuring?

    ReplyDelete
  16. When I've toured in Europe, I saw many fellow-tourists--Germans, mainly--who pedalled bikes loaded with everything but the kitchen sink. Those bikes had flat or upright bars; some were hybrids, but I saw a few (usually older) cyclists on Dutch-style bikes with internal gears.

    It's true that most dedicated touring bikes aren't light to begin with. And, really, how much benefit are you going to get from a 17 pound bike if it's loaded with 40 pounds of gear. Many of those really light bikes aren't made to be loaded down, anyway.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Wow, how totally cool. That looks like so much fun. And really inspiring and humbling.

    Moopheus -- I think the 5 speed SA hub that comes standard on a Pashley is geared pretty high. I liked this for flat terrain but I used to labor over the Williamsburg Bridge (a pretty significant hill actually) in 1st gear on my Pashley. Like literally I would be breathing heavily at the top and I am in good shape -- it was dispiriting and tiring. I agree with Velouria that it is something to do with the form of the bike (surprisingly steep seat tube angle combined with heaviness?). FWIW, I go up that same hill easily, sans cardio event, even with tons of cargo in 3rd gear on my Retrovelo that has a Shimano nexus 8-speed hub.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Neighbourtease: it is fairly trivial for a bike shop familiar with chaincased bikes to take the rear wheel off for a moment and fit a larger cog onto the Pashley's hub. The stock cog is fairly small.

    A slightly larger cog will lower the entire hub's range of gears. Your 1st gear will be easier to spin on the bridge. If you don't spend much time in 5th as it is, and don't wish for a higher gear you should definitely do it.

    My (diamond-frame) Pashley has a stock cog and it took me over a year to work up the strength to regularly use 5th. I sometimes still ponder changing the cog. The only (theoretical) downside is that the direct drive 3rd gear will be too low for regular flat-terrain use.

    ReplyDelete
  19. My Pashley Princess has a Shimano 7-speed (coaster brake) hub, with the lowest cog changed to 23t. This gives me a very nice range of gears that I really cannot complain about. I typically start from 5th gear, then switch to 6th once I pick up speed, and this is an efficient gear to travel in on flattish terrain for my daily trips. If I start going super fast downhill, I switch to 7th. If I am climbing, I typically use gears 3-4, with gears 1-2 reserved for those "special hills".

    The problems start when the climbing lasts for more than, say, a quarter of a mile. The Pashley loses momentum fast, and once that happens there is just nothing to be done except crawl up that hill at a snail's pace. My low gears are low enough to do it, but it is nonetheless frustrating.

    ReplyDelete
  20. So impressive! Her Pashley fully-loaded looks incredibly serious. What a beautiful ride.

    For me, the weight makes a significant difference but only on really hard and steep hills. I've biked the Oma the 35+ miles into Portland (OR) for a weekend away and it was a wonderful ride - especially as my riding partner/ husband carried my pannier on the way in. On the way home I carried a pannier - still wonderful, though we took it slow and easy on some of the gentle rises along the Columbia River.

    The Oma's lowest gear (of 8) is comparable to about 2nd gear on my road bike. Even unloaded, I often end up walking my Oma the 2nd half of our steep-steep hill home because once I stop to rest a minute I can't always get her rolling uphill again without a fight.

    She's just a heavy bike and I have to be in top form and feel specially energetic that day to keep powering up my home hill with a half-full basket of groceries up front or a few light books and papers in the pannier on the side.

    But she's an endless delight to ride on more level and gentle ups and downs and I don't mind walking her the last 1/4 mile home.

    On our long rides this summer (8o+ and 230+ miles) I took my lighter aluminum Specialized hybrid (retrofitted with upright handlebars and a Brooks saddle - I know, gilding a gunnysack, but it works for me) and carried my own pannier (a long 4-day weekend and then a 6 day trip).

    I have to say, I loved it when my daughter took my pannier for me before the last two major hills of the Coastal Range - losing the 25 lbs of pannier made a huge difference for climbing those monsters. I can't imagine even trying it with a 50lb bike.

    In many ways I would love to ride my Oma because it is incredibly comfortable. I'm sure it could be done even for 40ish riders like me. But I'm not there yet. At least not at the speeds in which my riding companions want to complete our long rides.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Hey, this is a very inspirational story!

    I think that these trips are possible on any bike. It is all in your attitude to the trip.
    In my travels I have met riders doing long trips on all types of bikes, and I cannot see any correlation between type of bike and happiness. I think the only real requirement
    is reasonable reliability - and bikes like the Pashley have that in spades. You can always gear a bike lower...

    Aaron, I was lucky enough meet Heinz Stucke and have him later visit me for dinner. His bike is really heavy as he carries a huge box of brochures which he sells to finance his trips, in addition to the usual touring/camping gear. He only has a three speed hub and sometimes walks up hills. But the point is that he is out there, seeing the world with his own eyes, at his own pace, and enjoying it. I found him a really inspirational person.

    John I

    PS: Velouria, just for interest, here is a link to one of our trips - no need to post this if you don't think it is appropriate for your blog:
    http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/southindia2008

    ReplyDelete
  22. MDI, It is so nice to hear that it took you a while to acclimate to fifth gear as you seem far more athletic than I. I think I am going to do as you suggest and go ahead and lower the gearing on the bike. I have had it on Craigslist, but there has been little serious interest at what seems like a fair price. Maybe this will help and I can enjoy it more in the interim.

    ReplyDelete
  23. In regards to the gearing of XRD-5 equipped Roadster Sovereigns, I concur - the range is situated on the tall side. This is from my experience riding one around the relatively flat terrain of Toronto daily for the past 7 months. Hills are not easy. Has anyone any idea of how large a cog will fit under the chaincase? I'll be happy to coast down hills.

    FYI Sturmey Archer has changed all their 5-speed offerings from 225% range to 256% range (making new, shiny, SLS-50 series shifters incompatible with old non "W" series XRD-5s, argh) which may help buyers of NEW Pashleys get up hills...

    But I've considered switching my Roadster to a Nexus, as you did, Vel.

    They're so beautiful.

    My girl's 1996 Princess has a 4-speed Nexus, and I'm so jealous.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Go Katie! In an age where touring bikes are light and agile taking a heavy bike laden with gear on such a long trip is an adventure not for the faint-hearted. Her Pashley looks very workmanlike loaded to the gills but I don't envy her the hilly parts!
    For at least the first half of last century, when you think of it, if you wanted to go on a long tour your only choice was a heavy bike. I ponder: did people ride for 2,000+km on a trip back then? A lot of people went camping using their bikes as transport, but usually for shorter journeys. (Memories of Enid Blyton's Famous Five setting off on their bicycles for a holiday spring to mind!)

    ReplyDelete
  25. Just FYI, I am not so sure that a Shimano Nexus 7-speed is so great. I made this choice before I knew much about bikes and it seemed at the time that the more speeds the better. In retrospect, I would have probably chosen a nice, simple 3-speed coaster brake hub with a wide range. They are less fuss and I hate switching gears back and forth all the time: Just give me a versatile 2nd gear in which I can go most of the time, a 1st gear for climbing, and a 3rd gear for the occasional super-fast downhills. Modern 3-speed hubs have a range that is nearly as wide as 7-speed hubs, so the only thing you get with the 7-speed is more gears, not more range...

    ReplyDelete
  26. The SA 5-speed hub is a breeze to set up, changing cogs is fairly easy and the chain case does fit a slightly larger cog without problems. Wheel removal and re-attachment is quite simple.

    In comparison, Velouria's 7-speed Nexus is an absolute dog to set up and I dread having to take the rear wheel off. The cable attachment/indexing mechanism is bizarre. I am not sure if they did it to go around SA patents or if there is genuine "improvement" in there, but I much prefer a Sturmey Archer indexing mechanism.

    ReplyDelete
  27. For the purposes of this post - touring on a Lovely Bicycle - I will disagree about gear range vs. number of gears available.

    Flexibility in your gear ratio to maintain a comfortable cadence (the speed at which your feet are moving) is really important when it comes to long distances and varied terrain!

    That little nudge from 4th to 3rd can make all the difference going up a long hill.

    Standing up and pulling on your handlebars for torque on a loaded loop frame is less than fun!

    For city riding on flat terrain, yes, 3 speeds are lovely, though. I could get by, probably.

    The nicest thing about these hub-geared bikes, in my opinion, from an interface standpoint anyway, is their total ease of shifting.

    And the Nexus is the better performer in that regard, too!

    ReplyDelete
  28. I think I'd prefer to be in the upright position rather than hunched over with drop bars on a trip like this. I'm not dissing drop bars but for me that position is preferable if I were focused on speed and calories burned. I'm considering getting a road bike with drop bars but it will be an exercise only bike. With the swept bar handlebars and upright position, one has the advantage of being able to enjoy the scenery, as well as the added visibility.

    ReplyDelete
  29. All I can say is WOW! Way to go girl!

    ReplyDelete
  30. This is so cool. She is a HERO to me. This is the sort of thing one does when you decide not to let life slip by.

    Spindizzy

    ReplyDelete
  31. Thing is that I can sustain 18-20 mph on level ground on my road bike with the *same amount of effort* it takes to go 12-14 mph on my Pashley. Over the course of 5 hours, that could be the difference between 60 and 90 miles. Not trivial, right? On hills, both uphill and downhill, the difference in effort becomes yet more pronounced--the road bike can double the speed with the same effort.

    Another factor is that the recovery is quicker with the road bike. Altogether, that's what makes Katie's journey so impressive. It's fascinating. It's not just weight that accounts for the varied difficulty, it's the cycling position of a proper dropped barred road bike vs an upright Pashley loop frame. So, another round of congratulations to Katie.

    ReplyDelete
  32. I agree completely MDI.

    Cycling the length of the Danube would be an awesome trip. It’s a great accomplishment. But when I think of doing this on a Pashley I’m thinking it would be easier and faster to run to the Black Sea with my stuff in a wheelbarrow. OK I’m exaggerating (only slightly) but this kind of trip is what road/touring bikes are made for and the differences in effort/comfort would be enormous. Not to disrespect her accomplishment. Has she published an account of this trip, anybody know? Would be very interested to read more about it.

    ReplyDelete
  33. I agree that you may be able to cover more miles with less effort on a dedicated touring bike, yes drop bars are more efficient (usually). However in many cases the point is touring is to see things along the way. Not necessarily how efficiently they can be done. I tour on several different bikes. Some of my best tours have been 30 mile days on a Raleigh 3 speed. Some of my worst days have been 40 miles on a dedicated drop bar tour bike, bad enough that I was ready to stop and ship the bike home via Greyhound.

    For many people myself included the pure joy of riding a bicycle where and when I want is the end all. Also there are many people who cannot physically tolerate a drop bar no matter how well set up it is. I have a friend that cannot, the only bike he can tour comfortably on for any distance over 20 miles is either an upright or a recumbent. His current tour set up is a Greenspeed GTO with a Burley trailer. He has done several 100 mile days on that rig, whereas he would not have been able to cover that distance on a drop bar bike.

    To each their own...Ride On!

    Aaron

    ReplyDelete
  34. that is pretty awesomeeee! wow 2000K, thanks for sharing this :D
    go katie+mathilda <3

    ReplyDelete
  35. As regards someones comment about walking up the big hills, Yeah, so what? If your'e in your granny and flailing/plodding/flopping up a big one you will probably get to the top just as fast on foot and you will loosen up and stretch on the way, you will likely pass a few folks who stay on the bike too long too. I think getting off and pushing sometimes is a good thing and more people might find it helpful...Let's see, if we ride up part of the way, push it to the top and then collapse for a bit and wheeze...It's like a triathlon for regular folks...

    Spindizzy

    ReplyDelete
  36. Lovely Bicyle! It is very random that I've just started literally using blogspot and stumbled across your article that you wrote about my trip. I'm very touched that you wrote it and from all the really kind words that everybody else has written.

    Sitting upright is certainly the way to tour, you can see everything and after all that is what it is supposed to be about, not how many kms you can do in a day.

    In truth, I'm not sure I'm much of an inspiration. I have often wondered since if I have a few screws loose. But then again I would do it all again tomorrow. I decided that Matilda would be quite capable of doing the trip rather than buying a new bike after being inspired by somebody else who was riding a Penny Farthing, Joff Summerfield. I decided if it was possible to ride around the world on a Penny Farthing, and if another man could skateboard across Australia, not to mention crazy individuals I had been following on the internet riding their bikes from one end of Africa to the other than following the Danube seemed achievable for Matilda & me.

    Having to walk isn't so bad but having a map with contour lines would have helped so I could have planned better for it as got stuck in the middle of nowhere a couple of times. And this nearly got me in a bit of trouble.

    Unfortunately, I haven't ever documented this on the internet or anywhere public (somebody was asking). I have had the best intentions to do so and all my handwritten journals & maps are still patiently waiting for me to finally do it one day.

    Again thanks everyone!

    Katie & Matilda (I name all my bikes!)

    ReplyDelete
  37. Katie, thanks so much for commenting here! I am glad that you've kept all the journals and maps, and hope someday you will publish it. Sometimes it is better to wait a few years pass after something like this before writing about it anyhow.

    One thing I am wondering: how long did the trip take you overall?

    ReplyDelete
  38. Fucking hell. I'm so wish that was me. I'm to scared to go bike touring. Did she do it on her own . Camping in the wilderness sounds .lots of fun.

    ReplyDelete
  39. I rode the Danube this year and that bike would have np problem doing the trip. One of my companions was on an original 30yr old hybrid. Most of the bikes hired out over there for the trip are not disimilar to the Pashley.

    ReplyDelete