Tour Bikers Guide for Filthy Casuals: Gear and Maintenance

HELLO and good day.  I am now going to talk to you about the things I know the least about. Bike gear and what to do with it.  OK, maybe that is self-effacing.  I did just pedal 3,300 miles unsupported on a bike I maintained myself but women are trained from birth to question their technical knowledge and Joey did help a lot. ANYWAY.  We already did a gear post at the beginning of the trip which you can read here for the full list of what we started out with.

Pile o’ gear the day before we left


For this post I want to focus on what we used, what we didn’t and what seemingly meaningless gear saved my ass.  Learn from our struggle friends:

GEAR

Clothing

What we used:

  • all of it
  • no really, we did
  • all the fleece (1 jacket, 1 pair pants)
  • all the t-shirts (3 on rotation)
  • all the shorts (2 bike shorts, 1 regular)
  • all the “other” (thermal leggings, 1 mid layer, 1 pair wool socks, 3-5 pairs normal socks, my neon visibility jacket)
  • THE LAUNDRY DAY DRESS–this begs more explanation.  Bring a piece of clothing (I chose a sundress) that packs small and you can wear to the laundromat when you need to wash everything you own.  Keep in mind this piece of clothing will not get washed the whole trip.
  • rain coat oh god (I brought my showers pass rain jacket and it was primo but I wish it had a hood for non-biking dryness situations)
  • I think we did this right

What we didn’t use:

  • The warm clothes for any purpose other than a pillow after July 1st.
    • I wouldn’t have sent them home either way because I fear hypothermia and you should too.

Tools

What we used:

  • Pedal wrench: only used it once but by golly I was glad we had it
  • Multi-tool: all day erryday
  • Chain Lube: yup, see below
  • ZIP TIES AND DUCT TAPE: don’t leave home without them, kids.
  • Tire levers: bring extras, you’re gonna break some guaranteed.
  • Needle Nose Pliers: surprisingly omnipotent.
  • A million bandaids: not really a tool but I got a lot of bug bites and Ru scratches that benefitted from my stash.

What we didn’t use:

  • That giant, 5-lb, adjustable wrench that we did not use but I took on a nice tour of the western states: Oh wait!  I think we used it to hammer in tent stakes a couple times. Not worth it.

Housing

What we used:

  • Hammocks
  • Extra boat straps
  • Tent & ground tarp: we brought both the tent and hammocks to give us more freedom to rogue camp.  The tent was definitely better for privacy, rainy days, snuggling the dog, and rest day gear storage but there were rogue campsites that just wouldn’t work with a tent.  Hammocks give you freedom to camp on uneven ground and in tight spaces.  Ru hated it though because it meant he had to sleep in his trailer.
  • Joey’s hammock tarp:  We slept in the tent when we knew it would rain but the tarp was our go to for emergency rain situations (ex: the freak rainstorm when we crossed the CA/OR border in May)
  • The slack line: I carried this for the whole trip and Joey used it several times.  Not my favorite thing and kind of heavy (50 feet of webbing adds up) but it was a great way to make friends.  Buuuuuuuttttttt frisbees are lighter.
  • All the extra rope and p-cord: you can never have enough and you will use all of it I promise.
  • A pack cover: my “waterproof” panniers were not and I also had things that wouldn’t fit, bungeed to my panniers overnight.  Pack cover kept everything perfectly dry even during that freak rainstorm outside of Sandpoint on Lake Pend Orielle.  I just used the one I already had for backpacking to cover my 70 L pack and it was fantastic.
  • Z-rest ground pads: I started the trip with a bullshit piece of blue foam I had been using for about 5 years.  it quickly wore through in even more places than it had before and I trashed it in Spokane waaaayyyyyy after it had exhausted its usefulness.  The z-rest egg-carton style ground pads are more comfortable, fold better (like an accordian) and keep you warm by getting you more off the ground.  Would recommend to a friend.

What we didn’t use:

  • The tarp that I brought which turned out not to be a hammock tarp but a short, worthless shaped, piece of not-that-waterproof-something.  Moral of the story: when you find gear in the basement while moving out of a house test it out before taking it on a 90-day trip.

Bike Replacement Parts

Things we used:

  • Flat pedals: if you are going to ride with clipless pedals you ABSOLUTELY need to bring a pair of flats.  We carried ours the for 3,000 miles before we needed them but once you need them there is no substitute and no way to fake it.  What else are you going to do?  Find a stick exactly the right width and jam it into the pedal socket?  Don’t try that, it won’t work.  Bring some flats.
  • Brake Pads: we had a couple extra pairs of these and Joey replaced his in Bend.  Another thing there really is no substitute for.
  • Tubes:  we only had one flat on our bikes the whole trip….and it was on the first day.  HOWEVER the trailer went flat every other day like clockwork.  Start stockpiling tubes for all your wheels

Things we brought, but didn’t use, but were really glad we brought anyway:

  • Extra tire:  We rode on Schwable Marathons and I would 10/10 recommend to a friend.  They did great.  We started thinking my back tire was close to blowing in Glacier so we bought an extra tire in Whitefish.  My tire held the whole rest of the trip!  I wouldn’t advocate for this cavalier attitude, though. It should have blown, it is completely bald with significant chunks down to the green wire warning zone in many places.  I am not a doctor, but having the extra tire might have let the universe spare my tire the blowout because it knew it could wrought damage in other places (aka my bike shoes’ demise).
  • Extra flex connector for the trailer: This is a lynchpin piece.  It is a manufacturer specific, disposable piece meant to be replaced every few years…..or every couple hundred miles.  So of course we brought one.  And of course it sat in the bottom of my pannier the whole trip and was never touched.  BUT if the connector on the trailer had given out we would have been screwed.  We only went through about 5 places on the trip that had the capability to get us the piece we needed and it all would have taken about 3 days to complete.  Keep in mind the ease of replacement when thinking of what parts to bring.

Creature comforts

Things I used:

  • Face wash towelettes:  I worked at a beauty company before leaving on the trip and so I had access to some hoyty-toyty personal care products I would not have gotten otherwise.  And let me tell you they were great.  I had a box of ~25 Ursa Major Fantastic Face Wash towelettes that lasted me the whole trip and never failed to brighten my mood.  These babies were peppermint, cedar, and lime scented and would clean me up and help me sleep soundly after a long dusty day on the road.  It doesn’t have to be this product but I would recommend bringing one thing that will help bring you out of a bad day.  For me it was washing my face with these aroma therapy wet ones, but for you it could be a little bottle of essential oil, or a cooling sleep mask or whatever.  Keep in mind it could leak in your pack though.
  • My ankle brace:  I brought it as a security blanket, knowing that I have weak ankles and I hadn’t hurt myself in damn near a year.  Turns out I needed it.  If you have old injuries and are planning on going out for a month or more, bring the brace or add an extra ace bandage to your med kit just in case.
  • Wilderness Wash: lets you do camp laundry. So clutch.  For me, rinsing out my mid layer and hanging it out to dry knowing it won’t smell quite so mildewy the next day was a mental life saver.
  • Paperbacks: Sometimes you need an escape from your escape.  There were times on the trip when I didn’t want to be on the trip.  Who is happy for 90 days in a row while doing the hardest thing they’ve ever done?  Not this girl. A paperback is a great way to get out of your head for a minute.  I read the first 4 books in the Outlander series (summer reading trash but hey what up), 12 Years a Slave (found it in a free library and had to compensate for my white guilt and smutty reading choices), and East of Eden (feeling academic to try to will myself back into the real world).  Free mini libraries in peoples’ yards are great, check them out.
  • Chamois butter:  Not all people need tis, but I am prone to saddle sores and by the time we got to Ukiah I needed it bad.  It can be pricy but a lot of bike shops have many tiers of quality to choose from.  I used a couple different kinds and the best one (which also happened to be the cheapest) was called “Udderly Smooth” and was originally developed to prevent chafing on cows from milking machines.  Whatever I’ll take what I can get.
udderly-smooth-chamois-cream
yeeeeuuuuuhhhhhhhh

Things we didn’t use:

  • A journal:  Maybe I would have used this more if I wasn’t posting all my travel logs online but it just took up space and absorbed things I spilled in my pannier.  Would have left at home, had I known what I know now.
  • A lipstick crayon I didn’t know was in my toiletry bag until it melted and smeared all over it:  beware the secret hangers on.  Check your things for all non-essentials and don’t let any irrelevant mess makers hitch a ride.
  • Stupid beanie with a light in it:  I brought this infomercial type product to try to kill two birds (light and head warmth) with one stone and it was uncomfortable and broke in the third week.  Stick with what you know works, don’t fall for convenience products.

MAINTENANCE

So I might be saying things that all bike people already know but these things were news to my filthy casual self.  There are things you need to do when you ride your bike long-distances every day, every week, or as needed to make sure your bike loves you as much as you love it.

  • LUBE YOUR CHAIN:  it takes less than 5 minutes and it will make your bike love you.  Also it will get rid of the crazy grinding noise that is making you nuts.  If you have been riding for a week or so, or if you have been on especially grimy or dirt/gravel roads you should do this.  Lean your bike on something with the chain facing you.  Get a rag (we ripped pieces off Ru’s disgusting dog towel) and hold it on the chain while you spin the pedals backwards.  After a couple full rotations of the chain the gunk it probably off.  Now hold your chain lube above and squeeze a thin continuous stream over the chain for 2 or so rotations.  Voila!
  • Tighten your brake cables:  Cables stretch.  You should tighten them so you can stop.  I am no good at explaining this so here is a very useful video to show you.  You can have to do this two or three times before your brake pads actually need replacing.
  • Keep your tires inflated:  Basic, I know.  But when you are loaded your tires can get flatter faster.  For road riding you want your tires between 80 and 100 PSI.  Ask a bike shop for their floor pump.  Doing it on your hand pump with 100 lbs on your rack is a bitch and a half.
  • Just take it in for a tune up:  After a month of riding, I took my bike to REI and paid the $30 for the lowest level tune up.  It was worth it, got all new cables and gave me peace of mind.
  • DO NOT IGNORE PROBLEMS:  it its clicking, its clicking for a reason.  Don’t wait for your shit to fall apart, it is not all in your head.
  • DO NOT BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP: bike shop folks love a tour story and they will do what they can to help you out, even if you’re a noob.

These are my brief thoughts on bike maintenance.  Most of these are basics to prevent further problems so keep on top of them and your bike will thank you.

Pile o’ gear halfway through the trip


 

 

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