Thursday, May 8, 2008

Bilenky!

I had mentioned in my earlier post that I would talk about the bikes, so here I go. I picked up a pair of Redline D440’s. These are chromoly frames—fully rigid—with 29er wheels (700c). Out of the box they are designed to be mountain bikes, but the wheel size will also support road tires (or cyclocross tires for road/light off-road use), and because the fork and frame have disc mounts, the brakes can easily be upgraded, which I did to Avids. Gearing is simple—1x8, so no front derailleur, and the frame also has mounts for racks/panniers, making the bike suitable for touring. What this all means is that with this one bike, I can ride road, off-road, a mix of the two, with or without touring bags. That’s pretty versatile in my book.

I’m a total convert to the 29er wheel platform, and I’ve committed myself to this totally by making my “bike of choice” for trail riding my 29er singlespeed hardtail.

Anyway, as if the inherent characteristics of the bikes weren’t cool enough, I had the frames custom modified by a frame builder in Pennsylvania (Bilenky) so that the frames can easily be split into two pieces for packing/traveling. The amazing thing is that you can fit a complete bike into a suitcase that the airlines will take WITHOUT charging you the $100-$150 (each way) extra surcharge. My bike isn’t assembled yet, but every review I’ve read about the S&S couplers states that you absolutely can NOT tell that the frame is two pieces screwed together. Jean rode her bike and had no complaints. I’ll keep you posted.

The retro-fitting was not cheap, but it’s an investment and after a couple of trips, it will pay for itself. Our biking travel just got bumped to the next level.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Mini Bike Trip #1

So, Jean and I just returned from our first self supported bike trip. Sure, we’ve been on MANY different bike trips, including Iowa’s RAGBRAI to our tour down Germany’s Romantische Stra├če, but those were “supported” (someone schlepped our gear for us), or part of an organized event. We’ve also been on plenty of trips where we drive a car full of bikes and gear to a destination, get some riding in, and then drive home. We’re now embarking on the type of travel where we roll out of our front door with our bikes—and whatever else we need for the trip—and then just go. Well, the one caveat is that we have to drop our dog off at the spa (kennel), so we’ll usually be leaving the car there and using that as our step off point.

Because this was going to be our first trip, I planned something close to home. A short ride from Ipswich to Newburyport, Massachusetts, with a side trip down the National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island for a total of just under 30 miles. I wanted us to get used to having gear on the bikes, and we were supposed to have two new bikes to break in as well.

Oh, and I planned all this as a surpise to Jean. First, I ordered the bikes—one for each of us. I’ll talk more about the bikes later. Then I booked a reservation at a decent bed & breakfast/inn in Newburyport, then I booked Luna’s stay at her spa, then I prayed that the weather would hold out.

All weather reports indicated that Saturday would be clear and that Sunday would have a cloudy start with rain later in the day. I could certainly work around that!

When Jean learned of the plans, she was excited—we’d be having a min-adventure!

The weekend finally arrived, but we only had one new bike (again, more on the bikes another time). That was fine though, Jean would take her new “adventure bike,” and I’d ride my cyclocross bike. She was set up with panniers (waterproof bags on either side of the back wheel), and I had a small bike trailer (and a waterproof gear bag).

We were packed, we dropped Luna off, and we hit the road under VERY overcast skies.

About two miles in, we had our first detour—literally. Route 1A (a more scenic route) was closed because a bridge was out, forcing us on to Route 1 (a busier, not-so-scenic route). It only put us a few miles out of our way and there was a enough room for us to ride that we didn’t feel like our lives were in constant danger. Once into Newburyport, we made our way over to Plum Island to ride the 12 mile (round trip) out and back ride to the end of the Wildlife Refuge. Lunch was on our agenda first and we stopped at Bob’s Lobster Shack for chowder and salmon burgers. That’s when the rain started. A good, steady, dismal rain. Fortunately, we have lots of gear and that meant rain pants, jackets and socks. Jean even had waterproof gloves. We made our way down the Plum Island road but we did cut a few miles off when we realized that the scenery wasn’t going to change and the rain wasn’t going to let up.

We made our way back into Newburyport—into downtown, and found our accommodations—the Essex Street Inn. We secured our bikes and exploded into our room, covering everything with wet gear in hopes of fostering some evaporation.

Then it was hot showers, warm clothes, and off for a nice dinner and a movie—how civilized.

The next morning, we woke to a thick misting drizzle that later changed to driving rain. Our gear was dry (except for my gloves), so we got dressed, got packed, and started pedaling. With no side trips this time, and the detour expected, we made the short ride from Newburyport to Ipswich in less than an hour (remember, carry/towing our gear), and exploded into the Element with wet gear, bikes, and a wet dog.

It was only a short trip this time, but it was a blast. We’re planning our next one and we’re thinking of better packing methods, better route planning methods, and better weather.