Friday, June 1, 2012

On the Road without a Roadbike

Barn
I like fast roadbikes, clipless pedals, bicycle computers, GPS, all of it. I do not subscribe to any philosophy that maligns these things in favour of the "slow bicycle movement" or whatever is the latest catch phrase to describe plain old regular bike riding. But I do believe in plain old regular bike riding, and sometimes I prefer it to any other kind. What are those times and what determines them, I couldn't tell you. It just happens.

When I went to Ireland last month I could have arranged to borrow a roadbike there, but opted against it - instead bringing along a folding bike that would have me riding upright the entire time. I knew I'd be slower and have more difficulty in the hilly areas, but somehow it just felt right to do it this way. I did not bring any cycling clothes. I did not bring a bicycle computer or a GPS device. Every day I simply looked at the map before setting off, then wrote out directions on a piece of paper. I explored interesting backroads and allowed myself to get lost. Occasionally I stopped to ask for directions. I did not miss my GPS. And I felt fine having no idea how fast or slow I was going. What did it matter if I stopped every 20 minutes to take pictures anyhow.

Probably at least part of the reason I chose to do things this way, was to see how I would feel after more than two weeks without a roadbike - without that rush I get from the speed, without the reassuring glare of the computer screen and without the ritual of putting on the special clothing I'd gotten accustomed to.

But moreover, I have found that I prefer to ride slower and more upright  when the focus of the ride is on exploring the surrounding area and not on cycling in of itself. Having never been to Ireland before, I really wanted to experience it as a human on a bicycle, rather than as a cyclist. And yes, there is a difference. Even the wearing of regular clothing and shoes played a role in this. The way people react to me is different, and the way I feel in the environment is different.

Now that I know the place better, now that it's more familiar, next time I would love to do some fast road rides along the Antrim coast. To ride through the glens on skinny tires, bent over my handlebars and pedaling as fast as I can. Bliss. A different sort of bliss than this time.

The more experience I gain with different types of bikes and different styles of cycling, the more I feel that the main thing is just to be out there, on your own terms. We like to define things, to draw boundaries. But often those boundaries are self-imposed. The road is calling. The bike is up to you.

45 comments:

  1. Have you thought about the possibility of outfitting a road bike with S&S couplers to enable airplane transport? Always seemed like a good idea to me. But given the challenges of modern air travel, renting/borrowing a bike might be an easier alternative.

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    1. Couplers are a great idea for some. They would not work for me when traveling alone, because I would not be able to re-assemble the bike on my own.

      Rental is tough; I have never seen a decent rental roadbike. Best bet might be to borrow a bike from a local friend who is the same size, assuming that's a possibility.

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  2. Yeah, it just depends what you want out of the experience. As with most of life in general, you just decide what you want, and then arrange the details to make it happen. That doesn't mean you might not go back and do something else later, that doesn't lock you into a particular path for your whole life, it just says "right now, I want this, and this is how I'm going to do it."

    I find life much nicer that way - freer and less limiting.

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  3. you should start another site devoted to your road cycling: call it badass bitch on a (lovely) bike.

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  4. I was also going to suggest couplers. It's a shame you cannot assemble the bike yourself. But you didn't have any trouble putting the Brompton together?

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    1. The Brompton does not require any assembly; it simply folds and unfolds. I stuffed it into a travel case in its folded state and checked that in as luggage when flying, see here. Deflating then re-inflating the tires was the most complicated part.

      That said, even if I had a bike with couplers and were able to assemble it myself, I still would not have taken it this time around. I just felt like I wanted to ride a more upright bike and in my regular clothing this time.

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  5. "...I really wanted to experience it as a human on a bicycle, rather than as a cyclist. And yes, there is a difference"

    well said!

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  6. Also, I appreciate your ability to say there is a difference between a human on a bicycle and a cyclist, without it being a value judgment either way. Because there simply is a difference, that's it.

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    1. There is certainly a difference in how people treat me when I am on a roadbike wearing roadcycling gear vs on an upright bike wearing my regular clothes.

      I think it's about being able to see the person - their face and their individual style - more clearly. It makes us process them as more of a "real person" than as someone in uniform.

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  7. Life's too short to try to reinvent the wheel.

    The best type of bike for touring is a tourer.

    Like the Dawes Galaxy.

    Or the Ultra Galaxy which is my top bike at the moment.

    Tourers from other manufacturers are available, mainly in the UK.

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    1. Maybe.

      If I'm carrying a tent, bedroll, food and water along with my travel gear, I use a full out camper.

      When I am going hotel to hotel and eating at restaurants I've found something less robust does just fine.

      Course I don't own and would not want to rid a full out modern race bike. I have happily done a five day tour on my modern tribute to early 80s era Italian racers with my gear in the large Caradice saddlebag.

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  8. It gets more complex. Some of the race oriented forums this Spring are abuzz with news several teams at the Giro de sumpthinuranthur swapped their 23s for 25s.

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    1. Oh no, I got to get me some 25mm tires like the pros!
      : )

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    2. The next set of tires I get for my road bike will be 25mm. Just a but more cushioning and I shouldn't lose too much speed. I had my bike built so it could accommodate up to 28mm tires. The 25s will be for Boston area roads, not for one of these tours Mathews mentioned.

      Saw your Royal H today but didn't want to invade your privacy by looking at it too closely.

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    3. It is no longer my Royal H : )

      Oddly, I have never had 25mm tires on a bike. 23mm, 28mm, 32mm, 35mm+ yes, but never 25mm. I should give it a try.

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    4. I'll let you know how the 25mm transition goes. I have 200-400 miles left on the current set before replacement.

      I thought that you were in the cafe but it looks like the bike fooled me.

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    5. I will chime in here. As a cat-6 transportation cyclist I switched to 25s on 19-21 mm (internal) width rims way before it was cool. The advantage is that tires are light but your have a near vertical sidewall, better grip, and a slightlier cushier ride without much decrease in rolling resistance. In fact, my favorite wheels are ultra-light XC 29er race wheels. These things weigh 1550-1650 gs and have no rim braking surface which makes them spin up very fast.

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  9. It's been really interesting watching how your bike preferences have changed and evolved over the past few years. Good for you!

    These days I'm mostly interested in transportation riding, riding upright, not wearing special bike clothing. But I have no beef at all with fast-riding lycra wearers!

    It's just all about whatever path you're on in your own journey. or something. :)

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  10. I find this post interesting as I come from 40+ years of club riding but have mixed all types of road riding the last few years.The general public give you more respect riding sit up style bicycles in normal clothes as modern club road cycling has changed so much over the last few years.Based on style,image and equipment lots of road men give cycling a bad image by aggressive behavior on the road.

    Chris531

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  11. Wait, did the Co-Habitant go with you to Ireland? I see another picture on flickr with both of your bikes next to the barn.

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    1. No, I went to Ireland alone. The barn pictures were taken in Maine last weekend.

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    2. No wooden barns in Ireland. Old beautiful ones are stone with slate roofs, new ugly ones are concrete block with corrugated metal roofs

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  12. I would like to know if the Brompton was always the Ireland bike and if the Ireland trip was always the Brompton trip. If not, it seems at some point that the two fused together. I think the fact that the Brompton was a shiny new toy and Ireland a shiny new place (to you) must have added a gloss to whole project that made it all the more exciting.

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    1. The two were independent. The Ireland trip was planned some time ago. When I got the Brompton it made sense to take it along.

      I know what you mean, but I never really saw the bike as a shiny new toy and I was already quite used to it by the time I went to Ireland. I also don't see travel as any more exciting than non-travel; I've been moving around for most of my life and it's kind of the norm for me.

      It's really not about the Brompton per se. My first century ride was in a country that was very familiar to me, on an upright bike that was similarly familiar. That too just felt like the way to go.

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    2. I see. I find it interesting that you now have the impulse to ride a road bike around the same area. Do you think your choice of bike is influenced by the place or landscape at all, or can you conceive riding any bike in any place or landscape depending on your mood and the kind of experience you desire? I am thinking less in terms of practicalities (I'm a cultural geographer by profession; practicality is not our forte) and more in terms of cultural fit. So, for example, does it feel better to ride a Gazelle in Amsterdam, a Pashley in London, and an Abici in Milano? Or, conversely, would it diminish the experience to ride the Pashley in Amsterdam, the Abici in London, or the Gazelle in Milano?

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    3. "cultural geographer by profession"

      Oh that is so exciting!

      The reason I want to ride a roadbike on the coast of Northern Ireland next time is pretty straightforward: Since I already went through it slowly, with my huge bag attached to the bike and all that, I can now do it fast and not feel like I'm missing out on anything. I can now experience what roadcycling is like on this terrain.

      As for cultural specificity of bikes... If I understand what you're asking, then no I would not necessarily get a special kick out of riding a Pashley in London and a Gazelle in Amsterdam and an ANT in Boston and so on. But I do think that some bikes - especially those that evolved over time - are designed with the local terrain in mind and therefore are at their best in that locality. The Dutch bike is probably the best example of this, but I am sure there are others.

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  13. Well said!
    It's always fun to see how your perspective changes riding the same route on a different type of bike, I recommend returning to Ireland on a road bike as soon as possible ;-)

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  14. I like to wear (or at least bring) clothes that can pass for "normal" on tour for the reasons you said--you just look more human.

    Yeah, I'm wearing padded shorts. But I usually have pants or a skirt over them.

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  15. Perhaps this time you were the cycling tourist and next time you will be the touring cyclist.

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  16. This is why I have so many bikes, from upright city bikes to road touring to full-suspension mountain bike to road racing bikes. Each has their own place to ride to suit the mood I'm in.

    When we travel, we are usually touring within cities vs. riding between towns in the countryside. So we usually just rent ordinary hybrids and put up with a sometimes crappy ride. But that's OK since we're there to see the city, not a bike tour.

    If we ever do a countryside tour, I think we'd have to either find a quality rental or just go through the hassle of shipping bikes.

    We did rent Bromptons in London. It was a wild ride, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
    http://ladyfleur.wordpress.com/2011/11/27/48-hours-in-london-with-a-brompton-bike/

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    1. "This is why I have so many bikes..."

      Can't argue with that : )

      Thanks for the tip on Brompton rentals in London, good to know!

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  17. For us the meaning with roadcycling is to discover the (new) road: to see what there is around the next corner - on our single bicycles (touring/audax) or one of our tandems (audax). The biccyles I use to the train station could be used for this as well butthe others are better.

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  18. Have you competed in an official bicycle race?

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  19. Oh my, the conversations you inspire! You have piqued my intrest in your stable of cycles, and where you have ridden them and enjoyed them the most. I am aware you have done profiles on each in the past, but how about an update? The picture for this post is just so lovely, thank you

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    1. I cycled the Republic of Ireland on a Miyata 1000 Touring bike in the mid '90's. The road surfaces were not that good and my rear wheel suffered at the end of the tour. "I explored interesting backroads and allowed myself to get lost. Occasionally I stopped to ask for directions." I can remember asking directions from a lady handing out her upstairs window; a very elderly gentleman crossing school children, etc., etc. Those are the thing you remember.

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    2. I think you will find the roads much improved. At any rate they were downright spectacular compared to what I am used to in Massachusetts. Here I ride every day on roads with chunks of pavement missing.

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    3. Funny, I was finally able to bring my bike to your fair city and bicycle around Boston and it's neighborhoods for a few days and found the roads way nicer than my expectations. Really nice city to cycle around! Then I went to Maine and cycled...Wow!

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    4. The roads in Lithuania were better than in Portland. Probably because we drive on them so much here, it's impossible to keep them in good repair with the money we have.

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    5. Anon 1:14 - I'd like to know where you went! Where I commute in Cambridge/ Somerville the roads are not nice at all. And out in the countryside (Lexington, Concord, Carlisle, Lincoln) they are even worse.

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  20. Hi V! -- I cycled from Framingham into Alston, then around Brookline, Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and can't remember the other names. Found some good bike shops, too. The roads seemed no worse than here in Saint Louis and I was expecting pot holes the size of ones I experienced from my years in Ithaca! Then Maine was around Newcastle and immensely enjoyed the rolling hills and farms :)

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  21. Another well-written and thought-provoking blog, Velouria. Thank you so much for doing what you do. Reading your blog teaches me things, makes me think of things I have never thought before, takes me places I have never been, and really brightens my day!

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  22. So enjoyed reading this post! I am from Northern Ireland originally (from the Ards peninsula on the east coast), now living on the east coast of Scotland. Was very chuffed that you were made so welcome back 'home' and that you had a great time. The Antrim coastline is a very special place indeed.
    Even more chuffed that you were putting a folder to good use! I bought one last year to experience this 'slow bicycle movement' myself - having spent some 15 years riding racing steeds. I love Daisy (as she has affectionately become known) to bits and am such a convert to riding in civvies just to get around and do regular day-to-day activities (I don't drive anymore so it seemed to make sense to have a more practical steed to get about in).
    I fully understand what you mean about the experience of this sort of riding being wholly different - not only do I get a different experience of my surroundings while going that little bit slower, I find that other people tend to be that little bit friendlier towards me, and they show an inordinate amount of interest in the 'little wheels'!
    Long may that continue. Vive slow cycling and folders!!!!

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  23. great post, agree so about the being out there on your own terms to discover yourself, your bike, and some reality/life (just returned from France and a tour on a Hase Tagun, no less, and found bagfulls of all three)

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