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This article is an opinion of my own and my experiences dealing with technical wear. I do not assume any responsibilities of you wrecking your own clothing wear. Always-READ labels from your clothing to determine proper washing and drying procedures at all times!
The rather sexy stunt that Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake tried to pull off at the last Super Bowl may have helped coin the term We have a clothing malfunction. I think it is safe to say that we have our fair share of clothing malfunctions with our fancy waterproof shells (Gore-tex, Entrant, Texapore etc) and Polartec fleeces (Malden Mills) and Thinsulate gloves where they seem to LEAK when drenched.
The name Gore-Tex came from the name of the inventor W.L Gore & Associates Inc from Texas and is by far the premier waterproof breathable material. A misconception with some people is to expect that a Gore-Tex jacket is made entirely by Gore-Tex material.
Although the jackets membrane is Gore-Tex, an outer shell helps protect the membrane from the elements scratches and general abuses. It is this outer shell which is coated with a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) coating sort of like wax on a car. This DWR coating helps bead water, preventing the wetting out effect of the shell and helping the jacket breath.
If you want to test your DWR coating, try pouring water on one the jackets sleeves. If it holds water and you can drink from it, the coating is still there and when dispose of the water, the shell surface should be relatively dry. If it starts to soak in wetting out this means its lost its DWR coating. It is this loss of DWR, which effectively stops your breathable jacket from breathing, from water plugging the breathing holes of the outer shell. The feeling of your jacket leaking is really not from the Gore-Tex membrane but from your sweat since the jacket now becomes a sealed oven. As your sweat soaks you, your body starts to cool down and you feel downright clammy.
So how did your jacket suffer a malfunction?? There are a number of reasons, ranging from washing your jacket after every outing, which is really not necessary, to washing the jacket with a commercial detergent. Washing your Gore-Tex jacket with detergent like Tide or a fabric softener is bad for the DWR coating After a couple of washes, you will notice that your jacket will no longer bead water.
I was the one who washed my expensive Sugoi jacket always after a ride, following the label, and it seemed to have worsened the performance to a point that its more like a wet towel rather than keeping me dry.
I knew I did something wrong, so I went and researched for a proper washing agent and found NikWax Tech Wash, which is supposed to be super friendly with any DWR finish. I also found NikWax makes a DWR restoring solution called NikWax. TX-Direct or an equivalent by W.L Gore called Revivex is supposed to make a dead Gore-Tex jacket breath AGAIN! So, using my dead Sugoi jacket as a test subject, I hand washed the jacket with NikWax Tech Wash . I let it drip dry for a day, put the dried jacket into the clothes dryer set on delicate, and that did the trick. My Sugoi jacket came back to life breathing again. What did the trick was the heat from the dryer that sealed and restored the DWR coating back into action. I did a water test under the tap to make sure the coating works and it held a blob of water that I could drink off it -- impressive!
You should be careful with the dryer since technical clothing dries quicker than regular clothing, so you can essentially COOK your expensive jacket by leaving it in the dryer too long. Monitor your heat drying process carefully until the clothing feels almost warm and dry to touch. The final finish will have a matte shine look to it like when you first got the jacket. The smell is like a new jacket too!
By the way, I don't wash any of my technical wear too often now. I just use a wet towel and rub the Coolmax material inside the jacket and the outside shell so it doesnt smell bad. Or if I am lazy, I just soak it in cold water and leave it for 15 minutes to let the salt from my sweat that clung to the garment dissolve. I only have to Tech Wash the jacket or any technical wear if it is really filthy and coated with sand and mud.
Last but not least, you might be wondering with the age of washing machines why I still hand wash all my technical wear? Saving the electric bill is one positive side and some upper body exercise does me good, but the main reason hand washing is good for technical wear is control. You can control how much solution you put in to get the maximum cleaning and waterproofing effect from these solutions.
You dont need a whole bottle of Tech Wash (about $15) to wash a few waterproof breathable jackets. NikWax products are available in your local outdoor stores like MEC.
Looking at my fellow riders on our trips, I see some people riding with saddles that are too low (rarely too high). Even more commonly, they have too great a distance between their saddles and handle bars, leading to a stretched-out, locked-elbows position that can lead to back or shoulder pain. I have spent the last couple of years dialling in the fit on my bike and would like to pass on what I have learned in the process. Read on if you are interested in finding a comfortable position on your bike that lets you ride longer distances in comfort.
One option of course is to go to a professional bike fitter. This is especially a good idea if you have knee problems that need to be addressed by special cleat adjustments. But, this costs money. Also, fitters would mostly be working with competitive riders. If you want a more relaxed position on your bike than a racers, a fitter may not take this sufficiently into account. This latter point is especially true when the fitter is the person selling you the bike. (S)he may decide that the perfect fit for you is the bike they want to sell you, instead of what is really in your best interests. I think you can achieve a good fit without going to a fitter if youre willing to put a bit of time into it. Even if you went to a fitter, you might still want to make small adjustments as problem areas reveal themselves on longer rides.
The assumptions for the suggestions I am going to make are that you are fitting a bike with drop bars and are using clipless pedals and cleated shoes. Also that you own a set of allen wrenches and arent afraid to use them. (You know who you are). The main point with bike fit is to make only small changes at a time, try the change out for a bit and then, if necessary, change some more. If the change gives you pain, change back right away; dont expect the pain to disappear.
The sequence I found to work for adjusting fit is to:
1. Adjust your cleats so that the small notch at the outside of the ball of your foot is over the middle of the pedal (spindle). As I said above, adjusting the cleat angle to change toe in or out in order to adjust for knee pain is beyond my level of competence. Adjusting your foot position on the pedal first gives you a starting point from which the other adjustments can fall into place.
2. Adjust your seat post height. A good starting point is to adjust the height so that when your heel is on the pedal, your leg is straight. This means that when your toe is on the pedal as you ride your knee will have just a slight bend in it. A saddle that is too low is likely to cause knee pain because your knee is hyper-extended at the top of the stroke. A saddle that is too high will have you rocking side too side, which can also cause problems. Some people pedal with their heels held a lot higher than their toes. They would adjust their saddle higher than a person who rides with their feet in a more horizontal, flat position. Again, its a matter of making small, say 2mm, adjustments up and down and seeing how that feels to you. My experience is that I know right away when my saddle is too high, it just feels uncomfortable, and I set it down to just under this point.
3. Adjust your saddle fore and aft position and the slant of the saddle nose. These adjustments interact with saddle height: as the saddle comes back it slightly lengthens the distance to the pedal, as the nose of the saddle rises it slightly lessens the distance to the pedal. This is one adjustment where it took quite a bit of trial and error to find what works for me. I also had to find a saddle that fit me well before these adjustments were effective. (As far as I can tell, saddle fit is a totally personal thing; what works for one doesnt work for the next. One of the narrowest, hardest saddles out there turned out to be the most comfortable, for me. For more info on my saddle fitting epic you can contact me at the address below.)
My understanding is that moving the saddle back is good for climbing and riding longer distances, while having the saddle forward is better for sprinting. Tour de France racers would have the saddle back, criterium racers have it more forward, tri-athletes and time-trialers have it very far forward (to the point that their bike geometry is quite different). I have found for the kind of riding I do (touring) I prefer to have my saddle further back. Some people say that you should adjust the saddle so that your knee is centred over the pedal when the crank is at the 3 oclock position. However, from everything I have been reading and trying out, this does not seem to apply. It is a matter of personal preference and what type of riding you do.
The adjustment that I found made a big difference was the angle of the saddle. Raising the nose just a bit from the horizontal has allowed me to stay more planted on the saddle, not slide forward on it. This has helped a lot with adjusting reach to the handlebars, discussed in point 4 below. I now no longer slide forward toward the bars, so my arms are not having to support my bodyweight as much and my shoulders and hands no longer get sore. However, raising the nose of the saddle can put more pressure on your sensitive bits, er, down there. When I raised the nose too far I knew it right away and backed off the tilt just a bit. Once I had found the right angle for the saddle, I then fine-tuned the fore/aft and height adjustments.
4. Adjust the reach from the saddle to the handlebars, and the height of your bars. On modern bikes with threadless headsets, some height reduction can be made by removing spacers from beneath your stem. To get more height you would usually have to buy a new stem with more rise, or there are steerertube extenders available if you want to go really high. To have more or less reach (distance between bars and saddle) you need to buy a new stem. Raising your bars reduces the reach of the stem but should also reduce the reach you need as your back becomes more vertical. You should determine what bar height you need and then decide on reach.
Riding with your bars higher gives you a more relaxed, upright position that can be easier on your back and neck. However, over longer distances, I find if my bars are too high it actually becomes less comfortable for my back; it shifts too much of my weight on to my lower back. It is also a less efficient riding position, both for power output and aerodynamically, so you will be working harder to ride the same distance. OTOH, the very low bar position that some racers use is likely to be very hard on your lower back, specially if youre more of a Thanksgiving turkey than an Easter chicken. Personally, I have my bars about 25mm below my saddle height.
Here are some indicators to help you find a good stem length: With hands on the brake hoods, your upper arms should be at about 90 degrees to your torso, and your elbows should have a slight bend in them, so that your arms can absorb road shock. Riding with your elbows locked can give you sore shoulders and neck. Reaching too far forward can strain your lower back, not reaching forward enough transfers too much of your weight on to your arms and shoulders. You should not change your saddle position to adjust for reach find the right saddle position, then use stem length and rise to adjust for reach and bar drop. (For us math nerds out there, reach is given by cos(A+B)*SL+TTL where A is the stem rise [given as degrees from the horizontal], B is the head tube angle, SL is the stem length and TTL is the length of the top tube.) If your present reach is too long you can estimate how much shorter a stem to get by sliding your hands back along the top of the drops until you can bend your elbows without straining your back forward. For flat bar bikes set the reach to the bar a bit further than on a drop bar, because the drops sweeping forward and the brake hoods add to the effective reach.
It is a good idea to adjust your brake hoods before determining how well set up your reach is. Most bikes come set up with the ends of the bars pointing horizontally back. This usually results in there being quite a kink in your wrist when your hands are on the hoods. Tilting the bar ends downward a bit can alleviate this kink; its more comfortable. A rough guide is to have the ends of the bar pointing down toward the rear brake. This will also have the result of slightly raising your riding position, and slightly reducing reach. If you spend a lot of the time riding with your hands in the drop position, you might want to make less of an adjustment than if you sped more time on the brake hoods. For those of you who mostly ride with your hands on the flat (middle) part of the bar, that's probably an indication that your reach is set too far or your bar height too low.
A quick note on bike fit when purchasing a bike: I see many club members, especially women, riding with a locked-elbow, strained-forward position. I think this is because they are riding bikes fitted for men. Women usually have relatively shorter torsos and longer legs, so many bikes that have the right standover height for them would have too long a top tube. Sometimes the top tube is so long that they cannot get the proper reach even with the shortest stems available. Some manufacturers are now making some of their models available in women specific design versions. However, you have to be careful, because some manufacturers or sales people will claim that compact frames (slanted top tube) are a good fit for women. The reverse is true, as compact bikes usually have longer top tubes relative to their standover height, exacerbating the problem.
The WSD versions are usually only available on a few road models, usually not touring bikes or mtbs. I see this poor fit effect on many women riding mtbs. Not only are they riding stretched too far forward, but the bars are far too wide for them. For road bikes, the rule of thumb is to get bars that are as wide as your shoulders, for us tourers going slightly wider might be OK. Too wide or narrow a bar can cause shoulder problems. With mtbs, even I, who have, I assume, shoulders that are wider than most womens, usually move my grips inward a bit for a better fit. Women riders would likely benefit from doing this as well, or even cutting down their bars, especially as manufacturers dont seem to match bar width to bike size on mtbs as they do on road bikes. I suppose if you mostly ride single track its good to have a wide bar, but riding on-road for longer distances this can cause discomfort.
If you would like to get more specific advice on improving your fit, either before or after purchasing your bike, you can reach me at vanbikeclub AT yahoo.ca
or, see you on a ride.
"Live and work but do not forget to play, to have fun in life and really enjoy it." - Eileen Caddy
Ever notice that when you havent been on your bike for more than a week, your mind starts to crumble? Small tasks become larger than life and you get a little short with everyone around you.
When life gets hectic and I dont get my cycling sessions in, everything else seems tougher to deal with. There is nothing more calming than a couple of hours on my bike.
This became more evident to me over the last couple of weeks as I was working during the day and studying for an exam in the evenings and weekends. This was a period when it seemed there was just not enough time in the day. I was not on my bike for over a week. As the exam approached all I could focus on was I'll write the exam on Friday night and then I get to go for a ride on Saturday morning.
One of my favorite routes for after work is to conquer the UBC hill. First I have to get through the traffic on Cornwall which is one of the quickest ways to leave work behind as I concentrate on all the cars, cyclists and pedestrians sharing the road with me. By the time I get past Alma Street the adrenaline is pumping and I am ready for the hill. I ride through Spanish Banks, admiring the view as always, and then start climbing. The UBC hill is known to be tough, but relatively short. As I climb, I wave to the cyclists sailing down the other side knowing that will be my reward when I head for home.
The top of the hill approaches and then I continue along Marine Drive around the backside of UBC. My speed picks up as I head for the downhill on the southwest side. My turnaround is at the intersection at 41st Avenue, where I climb back up southwest Marine Drive which is a gentle climb that is great for the heart rate.
Again my speed picks up as I round the bend and go swooping downhill on N.W. Marine Drive into Spanish Banks. This is where I am reminded of how incredibly beautiful Vancouver is.
My ride completes along Cornwall and over the Burrard Bridge back into the West End. Endorphins have kicked in and whatever seemed so tough during the day has eased. I take a final sweep around English Bay and head for home.
The tips below pertain to all riders, whether riding individually or in groups, but they are especially important to remember when in a group, since its easy to get caught up in socializing or in hurrying to catch up with your friends.
Momentary inattention is the number one cause of accidents -Be aware of what is in front of and BEHIND you, watch your line, and keep your hands near your brakes.
Stop at all stop signs and lights on your own. Whats clear for someone else might not be clear for you.
Its especially important to keep a straight, consistent line so other riders and drivers can predict where youre going.
Ride no more than two abreast, AS IS REQUIRED BY LAW. Ride single file in traffic or on trails. Leave room for cars, pedestrians, and others at intersections or places where you pull over.
Leave enough room when riding to be able to dodge obstacles without putting others in danger. Remember also that other riders might not be comfortable if you come too close.
It's safer to pass on the left since road debris or potholes are more commonly on the shoulder. Also, most riders will not be expecting you on their right.
Call and point out obstacles and traffic for others behind you.
Please use the hand signals for turns well in advance of an intersection so others can respond to your movements. Remember that a left arm extended straight down with the hand lowered means the rider ahead of you is slowing down or stopping.
Cyclists who participate in Vancouver Bicycle Club events must obey British Columbias Motor Vehicle Act laws and any other applicable local bylaws. Some laws that apply to cyclists include:
Cyclists have the same rights and duties as drivers of vehicles. Although cyclists must ride as near as practicable to the right side of the highway, nothing in the Motor Vehicle Act requires a person to cycle on any part of a highway that is not paved (like an unpaved shoulder).
Furthermore, please observe these courtesies and safety tips:
ICBC's Bike Sense - The British Columbia Bicycle Operators Manual is an excellent guide to bicycle safety and traffic skills. http://bikesense.bc.ca.
What? Panniers? Whats that? And why do I need them these days?
These days, most people relate cycle touring to bike touring outfits like Tour BC, BACKROADS, B&H and others too many to list! All of these tours are just as tough as the tours some of us do self-supported. Although I have done some of them, I always prefer to do self-supported touring myself because I am not stuck on someones schedule. When you tour on your own, it means you need to carry your own luggage.
So this begs the question. How does a cyclist carry his or her own luggage for hundreds of miles without impeding the performance of the bike, while promoting comfort and stability? That is where panniers come into play.
If you look up the French dictionary, the word panier literally means basket note a single one only. So in the old days, that is what they used to carry stuff while cycling across European towns. As progress in bike technology marched forward so did the evolution of the bags -- the modern panniers -- and as you will see in an old 1936 photo with the link I have provided -- http://www.teatreetourers.com/images/nostalgia/capel14.jpg -- showed they havent changed much.
The panniers you buy nowadays can be separated into 4 main categories. Open mesh non-water resistant, water resistant, semi-waterproof and totally waterproof.
Is there such a thing as an open mesh non-water resistant panniers? Believe it or not, there is and its mostly used for grocery shopping. What is so unique about them is that they are almost flat when folded, to be carried into the store and can then be instantly converted into a pannier with hooks and a stabilizer bar to carry your groceries home. If all you do with your bike is run errands, a pannier like this will be light and inexpensive to own.
But if you are looking to buy a pair now, the Cordura made water resistant panniers is commonly sold in stores everywhere. The semi-waterproof and waterproof panniers are sold in lesser quantities and with fewer choices in between. The main reason is cost. Good waterproof bags are very expensive and only reserved for those willing to venture out to ride in the wettest Vancouver weather or planning on an expedition trip. If this is not you, save your money and invest in a pair of good Cordura bags instead and place a couple of plastic bags in to serve as liners to keep your stuff dry.
Cordura based panniers come in different shapes, sizes and quality. What I mean by shape is that they either come as top loading or side loading and sizes are the capacity in liters that they can hold. Unlike side loading panniers, top-loading panniers have no compartments to separate different items. You have to stick everything you have in from the top and when you want to get at something at the bottom of the pannier, you have to unload everything out. While this may seem like an advantage having side loading panniers, top-loading panniers design can exceed their rated capacity somewhat by the empty space provided by having no compartments, meaning you can jam in more than you think. There are now top-loading panniers that come with lots of mesh and non-mesh pockets and a zippered side compartment (the best of both worlds), but may be priced similarly as a pair of top loading waterproof panniers. The choice is yours, but a lot of people I have seen on my tours chose medium sized side loading over top loading panniers for the front simply because they can readily get at their snacks, keys, tools and the rain gear when everything is well organized.
Both of these types of panniers come in small to expedition sizes, but choose wisely. The bigger the panniers, the more stuff you can put in which ultimately means the heavier the bag will become. For a weekend tour, anything around 30L for a pair would be a good starting point.
And finally, always buy a pair of panniers with a solid metal or tough plastic backing to keep them from flopping side to side on the rack during a climb and stainless steel or impact resistant plastic hooks for durability from continuous rack mounting and dismounting. These are usually standard equipment available from the best pannier makers like Arkel, Serratus, Ortlieb, Madden and Vaude, but there are others that may lack these basic features. Be patient and shop around, but the usual rule of thumb is you get what you pay for. So, if you currently have a pair of your own and want to come and join one of our starter overnight trips and cant afford newer bags, those you have now would probably do just fine.
Long weekends always remind me of why I choose to cycle. The Saturday morning paper was filled with the usual news of long weekend traffic;€“ accidents, lineups at the border, and sailing waits for the ferries. As I read the paper that morning, I was thinking of where I would ride that day. The sun was out and the temperature was rising making it a great day for a ride.
The day before I had already been out for a ride, scouting out one of the routes we will use for the upcoming exercise rides. With the work being done on Oak Street I had seen the traffic backing up in other areas of the city.
I headed out towards Steveston, which is still one of my favourite rides. It was an absolutely glorious day and there were many other cyclists on the road. On the return, I noticed how much the traffic had picked up. The cars on Granville were backed up onto the Arthur Laing Bridge. Being on a bike I had the advantage of just whizzing past them.
On Sunday, I rode out to Horseshoe Bay to take the ferry to Gibsons to visit my sister and nieces. This time the traffic was not too bad. The VBC group that was touring the Sunshine Coast was coming off the ferry. They had amazing luck on the weather.
It was on the way back on Monday that I again got to take advantage of being on my bike. There was a sailing wait to get back to Vancouver and again I got to ride by all the cars and be first in line. The advantage of cycling on to the ferries is that you get to be first on and first off.
If you haven't yet tried cycling when you are using the ferries, you will find it is a great way to avoid the traffic and lineups.
Hope you all had a great holiday weekend!
the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes
monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a
bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on
anything but the ride you are taking."
- Arthur Conan Doyle, 1896 article for Scientific American
In mid-May 2003, Jim Rainey and I embarked for a month long holiday in the Czech Republic, my former homeland. We spent a few days with my family and friends in and just outside of Prague before departing on our cycling tour.
We approximately circled the southern part of the country from the centre (near Prague) west, south, east and back. We cycled about 1,350 km in 18 days and used additional three days for sightseeing, bike maintenance and bumming about.
The first three days were tough. In spite of the low altitude, there were steep, some quite long, hills, one after another. Some grades were 15-16%; the steepest one was 18% on rough cobblestones. And all that climbing was just for catching glimpses of three castles we did not even visit! However, there was no alternative once we started.
It would have been fun if we were not on heavy touring bikes loaded with camping gear. Nevertheless, the countryside was picturesque and the roads were nearly empty of motorised traffic and in good order. A few times, we rode under a canopy of beech trees fully shrouding the road.
By the second day, Jim developed an intense hatred for my perceived hill-climbing masochism. He presumed that I was wickedly trying to mangle not only his holiday but also his body. He became highly proficient in using juicy four-letter words aimed at all directions but mostly mine.
This was going to be difficult. I began to worry that I might have to finish the trip alone while Jim started to visualise the jazz scene back in Prague.
However, it turned out well. In retrospect, as much as our companionship was not always amiable, travelling with a man proved to be simpler, if less desirable, than travelling with a woman.
When the verbal spears pierced my skin, I took off and let Jim to find his own way to the day's destination. We agreed without complicated negotiating and checking everything available on where to stay overnight, where to eat and drink beer and how to continue on the road. Furthermore, Jim's language mellowed once we got over the hills.
Whereas initially I spent what seemed like aeons waiting for Jim at every hilltop, by the second week, after we dropped off our camping gear, Jim was in the lead most the time. I just wished he wouldâ€”or couldâ€”read the road signs before charging ahead.
My nephew, Jakub, joined us for a couple of days. He had not realised what he got himself into. Up six kilometres we climbed; the winding descent was too steep to be enjoyable. Up eight kilometres; down again. Jim decided that lunch was in order by 11 a.m. It was hot and humid.
Sensing another climb, Jakub and I abandoned him to another schnitzel lunch, the only menu item he had mastered to order, and kept on going to get it done with. We guessed right. It went on and on for 14 km through a pretty larch and pine forest we found hard to appreciate.
Jakub's physique disintegrated half way up. It took him about an hour to join me at the top. We were at the highest point of the trip at about 1000 metres of altitude. We were starving. It was two o'clock.
The descent was long and gradual on a smooth, quiet road. Another half hour brought us to a small village, Lenora, with a nice garden restaurant in a baroque mini-château. Food was seldom more welcome. Assuming that we had only about 30 km to go and that the hills were behind us, I had a huge meal with a couple of beers.
Soon after we got going again, there was a 12% descent; it was followed by a 12% ascent. I cursed. The penalty for gluttony occurred three times. I lagged behind. Jakub caught up with Jim and they waited for me. Then Jim erupted cursing where the f---ing campground was, how many more f---ing kilometres I intended to ride and what a f---ing holiday it was to climb hills all day every day.
The fiery oratory revived my energy. I escaped the antics in high gear. Finally, after riding 100 km for the day, I stopped in front of a small pension, where I had stayed previously, and waited for them.
It was like paradise. The owner brought us complimentary beer, which we enjoyed on the lawn by the lake. We did our laundry and had a nice venison dinner with a few beers in a garden restaurant next door. Nobody complained any more.
As much as we encountered no more long hills, most days, there were a few 12% "bumps". Also, it seemed that we had some head wind no matter what direction we turned.
South Bohemia and South Moravia are perhaps the most interesting and historically significant regions of the country. The countryside is lush and scenic. The terrain, in general, comprises of rolling hills. There are numerous large fishponds, dating to the 15th century, connected by canals, rivers, deciduous and coniferous forests, fields and hedges, and ecological reserves. Picturesque, historic towns, a few of them listed as Unesco's World Heritage Sites, are well preserved or nicely restored and to visit all castles and châteaux would numb one's mind.
We visited a few of them. At nine in the morning, when we took the tours before getting on the road, the only other visitors were school children on the-end-of-school-year field trips. Those were highly energetic groups but admirably well disciplined by their tired teachers. The guiding was customised for the children, with frequent references to the fairy tale movies that had been filmed on the locations, in Czech. However, at every site, a printed room-by-room guide in English for unimaginative adults could be borrowed for the tour.
We ate in taverns and restaurants and, with two exceptions of staying in campgrounds, where renting a cabin was cheaper than pitching two tents, stayed in comfortable and inexpensive pensions that mostly included breakfasts. A few times, the landladies did our laundry without being directly asked.
People everywhere were nice and helpful to us and the country has truly moved on to modernity: there are clean, modern toilets everywhere and consumer goods and groceries are available in abundance. Unfortunately, there is no escape from smoking; it is everywhere!
Restaurant food is reasonably tasty if heavy and greasy and also rather monotonous like elsewhere in central Europe. Meat is the king and dumplings are the queens of the traditional Czech cuisine. "Vegetarian" meals come with cheese and sometimes ham. As of the last few years, though, pizzerias are becoming common. The drink of choice is beer. It is excellent; some say the best in the world-the original Budweiser and Pilsener are both brewed in Bohemia and are named after the towns where they are brewed-and is quite forgiving to over-consumption. Prices are more than reasonable by Canadian standards.
A great many young women are stunningly beautiful, dress expensively and sexily but do not appear very fit. Unfortunately, the youthful beauty is fleeting. Nevertheless, flab or not, the dressing vogue continues well into the middle age.
Smoking and cell phones appear to be the expression of the young-female identity. For guys, it seems to be drinking beer-women, however, also indulge quite commonly. Beer drinking appears to be the national pastime. However, except for loud German tourists, it is rare to see drunks.
Many roadsides and fields were flaming with red poppies. I found it hard not to waste film time after time. By early June, cherries were ripening and we could indulge along most back roads. The trees seem to be in public domain and nobody harvests the crop. However, cherries and beer do not make a happy combination. We had to be careful in choosing our priorities.
Toward the end of the trip, we skipped a couple of cycling stages by train. Six connections in eight hours! If I were not able to speak the language, we would have never made it or, most likely, even attempted it. Even then, it was tight. At one point, we were on an express train that was delayed and it looked like we were going to miss our next connection. Guess what! The conductor got on his cell phone and arranged for the next, also an express, train to wait. Thankfully, the two trains were on the same platform. What an exhausting adventure!
Buying a cup of coffee on a train, as Jim did, was easy. Drinking it was not. The ride was so bouncy that, by the time he had his first sip, half of the coffee was spilled on the floor and into his crotch. A can of beer, which I chose, was certainly a lot easier to handle and enjoy. Train toilets, even for adventurers, just cannot be recommended.
In one of the towns, I had my bike fixed. The fellow replaced two cables and housings, adjusted the derailleur and did a tune-up for about $8.
We lucked out with the weather. For the first few days, it was cold but dry. Perhaps, it was a blessing because the steep hills would have been much harder had it been hot. It did get hot and humid later on, up to 35 ºC. There were frequent, but short, violent rain and lightning storms in late afternoons or evenings, but we were always sheltered by that time. We rode for only about three hours in drizzling rain and I did not even bother to wear rain gear.
The highlight of the trip, on the last evening, was stumbling onto a folk music group, Jitrocel, rehearsing and playing for each other and other musicians in the garden restaurant of a small hotel. There was no charge, the musicians, as well as the rest of us, were drinking beer, after a while, they loosened up, started to improvise, some traded instruments, the musicians from the audience joined the act, and the show kept gathering tempo until midnight. It was the only time on the trip I overindulged on beer. However, the atmosphere, gentle music, beautiful voices and lyrics, and an interesting conversation with a couple of women, social workers who work with gypsy children, made it worthwhile.
However, the god of temperance punished me the following day. Riding out of town, there was a six kilometre long, steady uphill. It is not something to recommend to anyone with a hangover on a hot, humid day. The climb proved to be highly curative, though.
Beside cycling, we enjoyed and endured visiting with my family, dining and beer drinking with my former mates and friends from the technical school and the university, and sightseeing the architectural splendour of Prague. The city was much less overrun by foreign tourists than during my previous visits.
Regretfully, we did not have enough time to sample la haute culture of Prague. On any given evening, one can choose from a variety of classical music concerts, opera, ballet and numerous plays for those who understand Czech. Jazz venues are plentiful. Tickets are much cheaper than in Vancouver but are frequently sold out.
Then there was the last big get-together with my friends and family
in a Prague tavern well known for good beer and reasonable food, an
accordion player drifted over to play nostalgic songs from the past...
...and the holiday was over.
Bike manufacturers are certainly talented in making excuses for us to open our purses to splurge on the next "cool" model. Yeah, you know "I got to have those disc brakes, lighter frames, forks and especially shocks with lots of plush travel." Go fast and go further motto certainly helped those newer Atkins' dieted models move out of the showrooms and onto the roads or trails. Among those models they have created, a whole slew of touring styles have formed.
First off, I don't want to discuss the merits of each style - I am sure all of you have your preferences, and neither do I want to champion each touring style over another.
Some purists still believe that a self-contained and sleep by the road or in the bushes type of cycling touring is still the "only" real touring deal. It is like saying the proper way to eat rice is with a fork and spoon and not with a chopstick or by your own bare hands that some Asian cultures do. A touring style should be a choice we make and love to do.
While I had done mostly self-supported touring myself, I had only done 1 supported SAG tour with Tour BC and my positive experiences with them.
Self-supported touring gives you the flexibility and freedom you don't get from supported touring. You can alter your route, schedule, food selection and even your own accommodation - felt like staying in a 5 star hotel like I did one time while touring the Western US states. The only down side is that, you have to carry most of the survival gear and in some trips, LOTS OF WATER - that's heavy especially if you are carrying more than 5 liters. With that entire load, you cover less mileage compared to having no load at all. But with all that gear, nothing keeps you moving if you don't have a strong mental mindset, because self-supported touring will test your mental prowess to the limit.
Self supported touring - Coast Mountain Loop Tour
Photo: Lynn Mallett
You heard of people that had changed their views and made them more appreciative of life and a better person after a long cycle trip - it might have to do with this mental makeover.
In contrast, supported touring provides gear support by hauling all your stuff (food, gear and water) on their support vehicle while you concentrate on the joy of cycling. Couple that with a modern light bike and you can cover a lot more mileage! So, it is not at all uncommon to see these type of tours covering 50 to 160km a day. While you will also need strong mental mind to complete long days on supported trips, there is always a certainty of where you are ending up each night and also a peace of mind that you are not always alone. In most supported tours, there is mechanical support available so you are not SOL in the middle of nowhere and never mind getting your hands greasy from the chain. Another advantage of supported touring is the route selection, which can be well crafted by seasoned local organizers who know the way of the land better than you do. Some can even provide interpretation services like a full-fledged tour company would be - Butterfield and Robinsons, which my ex-boss went with on a cycle tour to France comes to mind.
If you have the money and are short of vacation time, supported touring might provide you with just the ticket.
Increasing in its popularity today is the self-guided touring category, which lies in between self-supported and supported. Basically, you are given directions to go and all your itineraries will be taken care of. Cost is cheaper than fully supported, because it can be tailored to your own personal or group preference. And you can go with a smaller group, thus beating the line up to the washroom on larger supported tour groups.
Either way, we are all presented with a choice on how we like to tour based on what we want and those choices are made possible with a great selection of bicycles and touring equipment we now have.
At this time of year when you are cycling, people will come up to me and ask "How can you be cycling in this weather?" Or they will look at you and just shake their heads.
You get the same reaction from co-workers or people when you come inside. The worse the weather is outside the stronger reaction you get.
I expect that type of reaction from non- cyclists but I have encountered the same from cyclists. I think a lot of cyclists are so accustomed to the wonderful weather in Vancouver they cut their cycling off needlessly just because the conditions are no longer ideal like in the summer.
I hail originally from Alberta. I remember cycling with big knobby tires in slushy weather until just after Halloween as it would always snow around that time of year. After that it would always snow more and get too cold and icy to bike unless you want to court frostbite and pneumonia. I did try studded tires at times in the dead of winter and think how lucky I wouldbe if I could cycle year round.
Nowadays I am in Vancouver and with the exception of the higher regions of the North Shore in colder weather we have such mild weather that with the right attitude and a little preparation you can cycle year round.
Some cyclists have the usual list of reasons for not cycling in the winter in Vancouver. They include:
1. It's too wet.
2. It's too cold.
3. It's too dark.
4. How do you change a flat in the rain?
5. People can't see me in the winter.
To prepare you have to make sure your hands, feet and head keep dry and warm. There are a whole array of gloves, overboots, socks and helmet linersthat you can experiment with. I have seen also seen all sorts of creative solutions including plastic bags.
There are also a lot of jackets and rain pants out there but you have to find something to fit your pocketbook and needs. Generally the better these breathe the more you will pay. Just remember as long as you are dry and have a layer of air from layering your garments you will probably be warm.
You need fenders or splashguards to keep from getting that unwanted stripe of grime down your back.
There are many bicycle lights out there to fit whatever conditions you expect to find yourself in.
A spare tube is prudent for cycling in the rain and those instant patches seem to work better as you don't have to wait for glue to dry to repair the tube.
Any cyclist would be wise to remain very visible summer or winter, so you should be prepared visibility-wise already.
But some cyclists still say, "Why go to any of that trouble?" There are pluses to cycling in the winter in Vancouver. The bike routes that are heavily used the rest of the year are not busy and easier to enjoy.
There is an exhilaration to get your aerobic workout out in the crisp, invigorating air instead of in a gym breathing in the sweaty odors of all the people working out.
After going on a long cycle on a cold, wet, rainy day your meals are heightened from the hardships and your hot showers never felt better.
I realize that everyone has a different comfort level but I would urge you to try a little winter cycling with a little preparation and a positive attitude. Who knows? Even if you only get out and about in the winter a few more times than usual. You might really like it or even appreciate more what you have in the summer.
My wife and I were on the outskirts of Phuket and were not planning on cycling on our holiday, but we had an opportunity when we found out the resort rented mountain bikes.
The bikes looked OK but the all the chains were quite rusty so I was checking them out mechanically and the resort bike guy noticed me checking the shifting and offered to oil the chains.
He gave us a map, bottled water and some suggestions for routes. We set off on a good tarmac road with very little shoulder. It was a little hazy looking at the landscape in the distance but very sunny with the feeling of cycling through very warm fog.
We found ourselves drinking even though we weren't working very hard. We cycled around Pru Je Sarn Lake. The lake had lot of mangrove trees and lush tropical growth around it.
After cycling around the lake we took a dirt road past some tin shacks that would always have rusty mountain bikes, scooters and black chickens around. The road got sandy in places and we had to slog through.
We made it back to a tarmac road and went past houses with Water Buffalo tethered to stakes grazing with the little birds perched on them.
We didn't worry about the ubiquitous scooters because you could always hear them from far away. People don't wear helmets and it's quite common to see up to 5 people on one scooter. The people were friendly and curious.
The roads snaked around the hills where rubber trees and rice paddies were planted. The houses got bigger and more prosperous and coconuts, pineapples, bananas and papaya surrounded the houses.
Photo: James Mikado
We flagged down a teenage girl on a scooter and using the map and our limited Thai and her limited English we got some directions.
After the plantations the road went down into the village of Baan Mai Khao. There were food stalls in the village that smelled appetizing but my wife decided to err on the side of caution and not eat anything but I did have a bottle of coke There were also some open air restaurants and dilapadated stores.
Looking around the village it was interesting to see a beauty shop crammed into such a small space and to see everything so open air.
We checked out a large golden Buddha in front of a large building that we didn't know what it was.
After going through the village we made our way to the Buddhist Temple.
There was a festival going on outside the temple with an open outdoor area with a large gathering of cats waiting patiently for food from the cooks.
The cats were so scrawny!! The cats were ultimately rewarded and were quiet throughout.
We locked up the bikes and took off our shoes and went through the temple. The temple was so ornate inside as well as outside. It is such a contrast when you look at the drab neighborhood right beside the temple.
After viewing the temple we cycled past some prawn hatcheries and some fishing holes where they were using long 20 foot fishing poles. We saw people walking with fishing poles on their way fishing and went past a sea turtle hatchery, school and some beaches.
After making our way back to the village and through we were going to backtrack on the dirt road back to the Lake but there was a herd of loose. Water Buffalo on the dirt road that we were hesitant to ride through so we continued on the tarmac and took another dirt road. Eventually we found our way back to the tarmac road by the Lake and made our way back. All in all, a great day, cycling in rural Thailand.