Friday, August 12, 2011

Traveling by Bike

Bike Travel!
As you may have noticed, we are staying on the coast for a little while - our annual working vacation. This is something we've been doing at the end of every summer for the past six years. When we lived further North, we used to go to a place in Maine, and after moving to Boston we began staying on Cape Cod. I've been writing about that for the past two summers, and it's funny how over time our trips became increasingly bicycle-oriented. Two years ago we went by car as usual, but for the first time took bikes and cycled around a bit during our stay. Last summer we arrived by car again, but got around entirely by bicycle once there and attempted some high mileage day-trips. This summer we no longer have a car and really did not want to rent one just for the trip. So after discovering that Cape Ann was accessible by commuter rail, we decided to come here instead and do the whole trip on bikes. Another reason for choosing Cape Ann, is that it is a popular starting point for long rides up the coast of Northern New England. There are no decent routes north directly out of Boston, and what cyclists often do is take the commuter rail up here before proceeding north. So that was the plan: To arrive on our bicycles, to get around by bike, and to cycle up the coast as far and as often as possible in the course of our stay.

Rivendell and Surly Go Traveling
Our main challenge was figuring out how to transport our belongings. This is not a bicycle-specific trip, so we needed more than a change of cycling clothing and rain gear. We are living here for two weeks and doing all the same things we do at home - including work-related stuff. We needed our regular clothing and footwear, personal hygiene products, bedding, towels, laptops, a variety of electronic devises, some necessary books and documents, and our camera equipment - in addition to the cycling clothing, tool kits and raingear. And all of that we fit into the luggage you see here.

Rivendell with Handlebar Bag, Saddlebag and Panniers
For a number of logistical reasons, we decided the most practical course of action would be to turn one person into the pack mule - and since I already had a front rack and a large handlebar bag on my bike, it made sense that this would be me. I had planned to eventually get a touring-specific rear rack for my Rivendell anyway, and so that is what I did. Between the two of us, we packed a total of five bags for the trip - four on my bike and one on the Co-Habitant's.

Rivendell with Handlebar Bag, Saddlebag and Panniers
The rear rack on my bike is a Nitto Campee with removable lowrider panels, to which we attached a set of Carradice panniers, while using the rack's platform to support a Sackville SaddleSack. These bags plus the Carradice saddlebag on the Co-Habitant's Surly contained our clothing, bedding and laptops. My Ostrich handlebar bag contained camera equipment, electronics and various other miscellaneous items. Everything was packed very tightly, and I estimate that my bicycle weighed around 100 lb when all was said and done.

Rivendell with Handlebar Bag, Saddlebag and Panniers
The ride to the train station from our house is 4 miles through some of the busiest parts of the city. I have never ridden with my bike loaded up like this before, and the prospect of trying it for the first time in Boston traffic was nerve-wrecking. Overall, the bicycle handled fine. Once it got going, I could not feel the weight at all, and the heavy handlebar bag did not affect steering. But at very slow speeds - especially when starting and stopping - there was a fishtailing effect in the rear that took some getting used to. Also, with so much weight on the bike, the brakes were less effective than usual, which I had to keep in mind when stopping on a downhill. The frame itself had an interesting feel to it  - as if it was "yielding" to the weight (mildly flexing?). The resulting ride quality was in some ways nicer than with the bicycle unloaded. Having survived this ride in traffic, loaded touring on the open road does not seem in the least daunting. Going slower than usual is, of course, a given - but the reduction in speed was not as drastic as I thought it might be. Even cycling uphill (which I got to experience once we arrived to Cape Ann and rode from the train station to the place we are staying!) was not as difficult as I expected. Thanks to a helpful reader after my description of our previous commuter rail experience, we were able to board the elusive bike train, which made the trip more pleasant still.

Carradice Pannier
Once we arrived and settled in, we removed the lowrider panels from the rear rack, transforming my bike from a full-on pack-mule into a lighter ride that could still carry food and equipment when necessary. I will write more about this particular rear rack in a separate post; it is pretty neat and versatile.

Drying
The place where we are staying is somewhere between a cabin and a shack on the architectural spectrum and is the size of a small garage. It is situated on a rocky cliff overlooking the ocean, and there is a beach down the road. Despite the stormy weather, we love being here - just the two of us and our bikes. Yesterday the sun finally came out and we did a 50 mile "warm-up" ride, hoping for more soon. And it feels great that we were able to drag all of our stuff up here without needing a car. It was important to us that this did not feel like a compromise compared to the previous times we've gone away, and it most definitely does not. We were able to fit everything we need into our bicycle bags, and not having to deal with a car here feels extremely relaxing. I highly recommend giving traveling by bicycle a try!

39 comments:

  1. Hey there,

    Thanks for the great write about your trip. I was inspired about a month ago,based in part to some of your entries, to ride the commuter rail from Portland to the end of the line and ride to the coast. It was a wonderful, mostly leisurely ride (save for a monster climb over the coast range). This brings me to my question.

    I did the ride on my only bike, a LHT with albatross bars. Perfect for my daily 15 mile round trip commute, but not quite what I want for a touring, day riding bike. So, I'm curious how the co-habitant has enjoyed his Cross Check?

    Maybe other reades are looking for a second, somewhat affordable, all-rounder type bike. Good for long day rides, quick but comfy and capable of a little loaded touring.

    Enjoy your trip!

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  2. Nothing like a good old bike adventure!
    It's so great that you are out doing this type of travel. My friends and I just did a similar journey (we actually crossed paths at North Station). We did a train trip from Salem, Ma, Express Ferry to Provincetown and then rode to Harwich. Getting around this area on bicycles is easier than most people think.
    We have done some amazing rides on the North Shore, but more inland and south than you are now, so I could give you so some info on more beautiful places to explore.
    Enjoy your time, and safe travels.

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  3. V, that looks like great fun, especially because you get to do it with the co-habitant. It reminds me of trips I've taken camping with my boyfriend, except that he's always the one loaded up with the gear!

    I just finished my 9-day Ireland jaunt on bikes with my students (coming slowly along at rideblog. I swear it takes longer to blog about it than do it), and I rode with my first, albeit small, square handlebar bag full of stuff. It was a great convenience. Now I want one on all my bikes!

    And yes, it made me want to do some bike touring too. Seeing Ireland by bike was a totally different experience than driving. I felt like I saw much, much more (obviously) and experienced everything more accutely. Rain? We felt it. Cows? We smelled 'em. Castles? We went to 'em. It was great.

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  4. Miachael - He loves his Cross-Check and is pretty fast on it. The Cross-Check is supposed to be more lively than the LHT. It is also lighter. But if you are riding with upright handlebars on seriously hilly terrain, just changing over to drop bars will help tremendously as well.

    snarky- I am looking forward to reading about your trip! The internet connection here seems to come and go with the tide, so I haven't had a chance to read and comment on other blogs.

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  5. How does you kickstand, if any, handle all that weight?
    Mine can't even handle one full grocery bag. Granted, it's a cheap one and I have front suspension but still.
    Thinking about changing it for something more sturdy.

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  6. Not well. I stopped using the kickstand and began to just lean the bike against walls and fences - which is easy, because the bags keep it sturdy. I don't think it is a matter of how good the kickstand is. We both used to have Pletcher double-legged kickstands, and bikes fell over on those as well. I actually prefer the Pletcher/Greenfield single kickstands.

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  7. Is something different? Where are your shifters? Did I miss something?

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  8. Am I the only person out here who thinks it odd that the co-habitant suckered you into hauling all of your stuff? Shame on the co-habitant and shame on you for letting that happen! :-)

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  9. CH: Let's go on a bike vacation!
    V: Sounds great!
    CH: How about if you carry everything?
    V: Sounds good to me!

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  10. Actually we fought for it and I won!

    kiwigem - The shifters traveled onto the brake levers : )

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  11. More weight carried by the frame definitely smooths out a ride. It's like running lower pressures, which you are effectively doing.

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  12. Anon 11:46 - Ah, so that was you! I was so surprised when another loaded Rivendell went through the doors in the opposite direction at the exact moment we did : )

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  13. "Am I the only person out here who thinks it odd that the co-habitant suckered you into hauling all of your stuff? "

    Man, I almost asked the question but decided against, lest I offend again!

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  14. "Actually we fought for it and I won!"

    May I ask why?
    Right now this is one of the weirdest cycling statements I have read. I would like to understand.

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  15. " The shifters traveled onto the brake levers : )"

    Scandal!

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  16. You travel in style. Love the look of your touring setup.
    And brifters! Hope you like them.
    I have been plotting a grand scheme to load bikes onto Amtrak and tour the Northwest, visiting friends along the way. Not sure it will materialize, as my wife doesn't relish the thought of loaded touring. Perhaps I'll end up like you, happily carrying all the gear.

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  17. You are a wonder woman. I would have made my husband carry most of the load :). He has more muscle and better balance than I do.

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  18. You're all making me feel weird! I thought it would be fun to carry all that stuff on my bike, I've wondered for some time what it would be like. As far as strength, it was really not very effortful at all. I think the Rivendell SH was designed to thrive under serious weight, so I was glad to have been able to test this aspect of it. Balance was a bit of a problem, but only when stopping and starting, and I quickly got used to it.

    FWIW, when I carry cat food and packages and groceries on my Gazelle, it becomes close to a 100lb bike as well! Of course the bike itself weighs almost 50lb...

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  19. Eh, when you get strong many things are possible. Get stronger people!

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  20. V, I do not think it's weird at all that you carried the stuff!

    Also: looks really fun!

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  21. I'm not yet at the brifter tipping point, but I did just modify the Hillborne with indexed shifting. Eff that mother-effing friction shifting. I was so tired of it slipping out of gear!

    You guys look like you are having a grand time!

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  22. I think you're wonderful - number one. And I think this kind of travel is the best - number two.

    Thanks for doing such a good job getting people to see that the bike as a form of transport is not just for super-crazy-athletes. Anyone in basic good health can do a ride like this. And enjoy it.

    Someday when my husband and I get to come ride our long-planned Massachusetts bike ride, I trust that there will be so many more wonderful bike-friendly places than when we first started reading about it just because of lovely cyclists like yourself!

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  23. Hmmm, I often see couples touring with the woman carrying everything, even hauling a trailer while the man often has little or nothing on his bike. I also almost always notice the man is in front happily riding away while the woman is way back, not smiling so much... But the rivendell sh is meant for it and it must feel good to finally test it out.
    So, why did you decide that person would carry everything instead of balancing it out between you? I must say the handlebar and saddlebags are a great idea. My husband and I just went on a 2 day jaunt and would have really appreciated leaving the panniers at the lodging and having smaller bags to carry food, water, cameras, sweaters and maps during the day.
    Your trip sounds wonderful!!

    Michael: the lht is a touring bike right? It's supposed to be perfect for touring and as an all rounder. I ride mine daily and on longer rides and little trips, but not so happy with it. I also have albatross bars and they are useless for hills! Very unstable so I cannot go fast, and am switching the handlebars this weekend. Are you saying that you are unhappy with the lht? Depending on your size, the surly's just might be too overbuilt for you which is what I have realized. I need something much more refined and light that can also carry loads.

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  24. Did you get the Campee rack locally? I'm about to give up waiting for the VO camper rear rack and the Nitto looks like it might even be superior in some ways.

    Is there a reason you only post lo-res to Flickr? I find myself wanting to take a closer look at some detail on one of your bicycles - only to be brought up short.

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  25. Oh, I do not think you're weird at all. I admire that you wanted to carry the entire load. It's good to know that it's not as difficult as one would think it would be and gives us encouragement to give it a try someday.

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  26. I can understand the desire to take the load. You've got a bike designed to carry stuff, so lets see how it really carries stuff. Also there's something good about the feeling of being on the road with all your stuff, under your own steam. That feeling of independence, of travel and adventure.

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  27. i'm sure you had some help lifting it onto the train! loaded bikes are so unwieldy when not being ridden. i detach all my bags before i have to carry it up or down the stairs (which i guess you did in this case as well??)

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  28. Jealous. My commuter train doesn't have a bike car and they don't allow bikes. If it did I'd be able to get to the trail head for the C&O Canal in one direction (which can take you from D.C. to Pittsburgh completely segregated from roads)and the mouth to the Susquehanna River in the other. :(

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  29. Heather - It's interesting about that. We are fairly well matched now in physical ability, so who is faster depends largely on levels of tiredness and the bikes we are riding. Sometimes he is faster, sometimes I. But when you are riding mostly for the scenery, it hardly matters. Also, when the bike was loaded we both rode slowly, with me following him very closely and him aggressively "clearing the way" on left turns at intersections so that I wouldn't have to make sudden stops. It was great fun actually, for what could have been a nightmarish ride through city traffic. We had a whole system worked out in advance.

    Ridonkulus - I was able to just wheel the bike onto the train and back, there was no drop between the train and platform. This isn't true for all the commuter trains - some have a steep drop - but the Boston-Rockport line is v bike friendly.

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  30. I installed the same Nitto Campee rear rack on my Rivendell Road Standard several years ago. I think that it's one of the best and most versatile racks around.

    I haven't used the low-mount panels to date, and have only used it to carry my Berthoud GB799 small panniers. I think the Carradice Kendal panniers that you're using look very well suited to the low-mount panels (Berthoud also makes some panniers that would suit well, but they're tres expensive!).

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  31. So glad you had a better train trip with the bikes this time. Are you going to go 'full-hog' sometime soon and get the tent and camp stove on the bikes?

    I know exactly what you mean about the feel being nicer in a way with the bike loaded. My LHT loves being loaded up, it sort of purrs. I always feel like a grand Victorian dame sweeping through a room scattering all in my path - so smooth :)

    Keeping my fingers crossed for a camping trip post sometime in the future.

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  32. BB - Neither of us are attracted to bike camping per se. Speaking for myself, it's because I need a good night's rest if I am to cycle all day, and I just can't get that kind of rest in a tent. I do like the idea of "credit card touring," where we'd just go on for days or weeks, stopping at cheap motels along the way. Problem is that we cannot get away for that long for a cycling-only trip.

    Pimadude - Yes, I was surprised to learn how relatively economical the Carradice panniers are; I think the equivalent-sized Berthouds are 4x the price.

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  33. You never answered the question why it was decided that one bike should carry 85% of the load? Besides the SH having racks installed.

    "I'm not yet at the brifter tipping point, but I did just modify the Hillborne with indexed shifting. Eff that mother-effing friction shifting. I was so tired of it slipping out of gear!"

    Indexed shifting is wonderful, I don't understand why some folks prefer friction. Also Brifters are pretty awesome if you ride on the hoods most of the time.

    Hope to read more about your trip soon.
    AC

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  34. AC - We could not afford to buy two of these rear racks simultaneously, and we thought that if we load my h-bar bag with 20lb of weight then my bike would actually handle worse than if I also put heavy panniers at the rear - so it made sense that I get the rack.

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  35. See? Us loaded tourists aren't nuts! It's not really much harder! Slower, yeah, but not necessarily harder. Especially once you get going, you have momentum on your side, and it's not really any slower or harder than riding unloaded.

    It does take getting used to how the bicycle handles differently, though. Every time Shawn and I stop somewhere for a few days and take the loads off our bicycles, the front end of my bike feels really wiggly for the first day.

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  36. And after reading others' comments: I take it you never went camping as a kid? Sleeping in a tent is of course different than sleeping in a bed, but if you have the right air mattress/pillow/sleeping bag (and there are very comfortable ones that pack down to almost nothing), I find I sleep just as well, if not better! I bring earplugs, too...if all I'm hearing is nature sounds or a highway I'm okay, but people talking/snoring can keep me awake. Hence: earplugs.

    In your part of the country, I bet there's LOTS of hosts on warmshowers.org...we've had nothing but good experiences through warmshowers! Shawn and I often end up with a comfy bed in our own room. And most warmshowers hosts are also cycle tourists themselves, so they know that you're tired/hungry/sweaty when you arrive. And, almost best of all: warmshowers is FREE. So it's like credit card touring, without the need for much of a credit card!

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  37. Any trouble with that bike (all loaded up) on the commuter rail? I take my bike on the train fairly regularly, but I also have a Montague folding bike, so taking the bike along, even when I'm not riding it, is super easy.

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  38. You go for very long rides, rt?. I always prefer short, but roads which I feel like more country side where there are less motorists to pass by. The reason I prefer a shorter ride is only because I don't wan to carry a lot of things with me. , a small with my camera, a water bottle and some snacks obviously. That's it. I enjoy it like heaven. I live my 1950s Goodyear.

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