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Loading Up A Brompton Bike For Touring

Posted November 1st, 2013

We recently received an email from Peter, who wanted to tell us about his 3 week trip around Europe on a Brompton folding bike.

Peter especially wanted to share his touring set up on the Brompton. He pointed out that it’s possible to carry a lot of luggage on this little bike, with no modifications.

Brompton Folding BikePhoto by Peter Provaznik

I carried around 40 pounds (20kg) on it: half of that was in my waterproof front bag (including heavy camera gear) and the other 20 pounds was on my rear carrier (tent, sleeping bag, Exped Synmat) in a drybag. It travelled very well!

The front bag on Peter’s bike is sitting in a standard Brompton folding basket and the dry bag on the back is held tight with straps.

This touring setup may not be for everyone, but it’s great if you want to combine bike riding with public transport. It gives you all the freedom of bike touring and all the flexibility of being able to easily hop on a train, bus or boat if you want to skip ahead a few kilometers.

As Peter’s experience shows, you can even take your bike to the dining car of the train for a nice meal!

brompton in train dining carPhoto by Peter Provaznik

Nine Tips For Cycling The Cabot Trail

Posted August 30th, 2013

The Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia must be one of the most scenic bicycle rides in all of Canada, if not the world.

For a taste of the experiences that await you on this 300 kilometer road, set your mind on breathtaking sea vistas, framed by dramatic cliffs; curvy roads through timeless fishing villages; old-growth forests in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and some truly epic climbs.

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On a recent trip around the Cabot Trail, we picked up a few tips that may be helpful to anyone planning to ride this classic route.

#1. Prepare For Wind

We camped for a week in mid-August and experienced stiff winds every day, blowing clockwise around the trail. It’s true that the views are better if you travel anti-clockwise (with the sea on your right) but on balance we would recommend going with the wind. This was also the choice of most cyclists we saw during our visit.

The strong winds also meant that our camp stove quickly burnt through fuel, even though we used firewood and stones to build a wind break around our stove. Keep your fuel bottles topped up, and preferably take a stove that uses either white gas or fuel from gas stations. We could not find gas canisters anywhere on the trail.

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Our stove surrounded by a make-shift windbreak.

#2. Pack Lightly

It almost goes without saying that when the hills are steep, it pays to travel as lightly as possible. We wouldn’t normally recommend dehydrated campers meals as they’re fairly expensive but it might be worth carrying a few on the Cabot Trail to save weight. Remember, sustained climbs at grades above 10% are common. Some grades even reach 15%. Ideally, you’ll get a bike with thin tires and a couple back bags. The exception is Meat Cove (see tip #7). In that case, you’ll want more robust tires for the dirt roads.

Rest Stop on French Mountain Climb

Rest stop on French Mountain. Photo by Bobcatnorth (flickr).

#3. Not All Campsites Have Water

There are campsites dotted regularly around the trail, including several in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Of the six main campsites in the national park, however, only those at Cheticamp, Broad Cove and Ingonish have water. The private campsites around the trail have all the services you’d expect (eg. wi-fi, water, showers). Expect to pay $25-30 Canadian a night for camping. Firewood and ice is usually available at campsites, for an extra charge.

#4. Reserve If You Plan To Stay In Hotels

Nearly every B&B, hotel and hostel we passed had a ‘no vacancy’ sign outside. If you don’t plan to bring a tent, you’d better reserve a room.

#5. There’s A Bike Shop In Cheticamp

We saw one good bike shop along the trail: Velo Max in Cheticamp. The owner does plenty of work preparing bikes for tour groups and should be able to help with any mechanical problems.

#6. Take Hiking Boots 

Most cyclists breeze around the Cabot Trail in 3-4 days but there are so many world-class hiking tracks on the Cabot Trail it almost seems criminal to pass them by. If you can, lengthen your stay by a few days and stop to explore on foot. You’ll see a side of Cape Breton that isn’t revealed until you walk away from the road. You could easily spend 10-14 days doing a mixture of cycling and hiking on the trail.

We do realize that hiking boots are a heavy addition to your panniers. If the weather isn’t too hot, you might consider using your boots both for cycling and walking. We personally find hiking boots very comfortable for both activities.

DSC_7396Ready to walk the trails of Cape Breton.

#7. Meat Cove Makes An Amazing Side Trip

The most northerly community in Cape Breton is Meat Cove. It’s literally perched on the edge of a cliff, overlooking a sheltered bay.

Meat Cove
Meat Cove view. Photo by Kaymoshusband (flickr).

Don’t kid yourself: this is a tough side trip. You’ll travel 30km off the Cabot Trail. The hills in the 15km leading up to Meat Cove are steep and relentless and the final 8km are on a rough dirt road. Still, your hard work will be rewarded by the stunning views and you can treat yourself to a bowl of chowder and a cold beer at the campground restaurant. There are also several hiking trails that lead up the hills and to hidden bays.

DSC_7323Chowder at Meat Cove

For an easier option, cycle the relatively easy (and entirely paved) 18km to the picturesque fishing community of Bay St. Lawrence. There you’ll find a campground, grocery store and delicious fish ‘n’ chips at the harbour.

#8. Be Aware of Bears And Coyotes

This is wild country, particularly in the national park. Bears and coyotes call the forests home, so if you are hiking or plan to wild camp, take appropriate precautions. Don’t eat near your tent or keep any food inside. More information is available on the national park website.

DSC_7397Lobster Supper with all the trimmings in Baddeck.

#9. Celebrate With An All-You-Can-Eat Lobster Supper

When you’ve completed the Cabot Trail, you deserve a treat! We very much enjoyed our meal at the Baddeck Lobster Suppers. With unlimited chowder, mussels, salads and desserts it’s the perfect place to fill up your hungry cyclist’s belly. If you don’t fancy lobster, they also roast salmon on a maple plank. Delicious!

These articles provide further tips and advice:

 

 

12 Great Bike Touring Photos

Posted March 6th, 2013

Our recent photo contest to find a cover shot for the upcoming 2nd edition of the Bike Touring Survival Guide received an outstanding response: over 700 photos were entered!

With so many great photographs, it was very difficult to shortlist just 10 photos. We ended up picking 12 favourites. There were many superb photos beyond those shortlisted but, for various reasons, they weren’t quite suitable as cover shots.

The shortlisted photos will now be judged by two bike-touring photographers, Paul Jeurissen and Amaya Williams. The winning entry will be announced on Friday, March 15th.

Without further delay, here are the 12 shortlisted photos (in no particular order). Clicking on the photos will take you to the image on Flickr.

#1. Early Winter In China by Cyclingthe360.com
Early Winter in China

#2. On Tour In Chile by Garths On Tour
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#3. Iceland by Mattaos
Matts photos

#4.  Land of volcanoes, sandy paths and salty salars by Gerard Castellà
BTSG2013

#5. Back On The Road by Solidream
Back on the road

#6. Laguna Tuyaito, Paso Sico, Argentina by Piciclisti
Laguna Tuyaito, Paso Sico, Argentina,

#7. Cañon inesperado by Alvaro & Alicia
Cañon inesperado

#8. On the way to Uspallata, Mendoza, Argentina by Ana Carolina Vivian
Somewhere on the way to Uspallata, Mendoza, Argentina.

#9. Kluane lake, Yukon (on the Alaska Highway) by Lorelyruss
throughthestreetsofanywhere.wordpress.com

#10. Near Passu by Sloths On Wheels
Near Passu

#11. Descending From The Atlas Mountains by Leave Only Treadmarks
Descending From The Atlas Mountains - Morocco

#12. Magical road near Skuru by Vellowallah
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The Day We Almost Died (And Why We’ll Keep On Cycling)

Posted February 20th, 2013

This picture was taken a few moments before we almost died.

The day we almost died

The day was March 21st, 2008. We were biking across Iran with our friend Bijan, on our way to the holy city of Mashhad. By 7am, we’d finished breakfast and packed our bicycles. We picked up the camera one last time, snapped a quick shot of our camping spot from the night before, and rolled our bikes onto the road.

On the face of it, the cycling conditions that day could hardly have been safer. The road stretched out straight ahead and far behind us. Visibility was excellent. There was a shoulder, and no traffic at that time of day.

We took the first pedal strokes. Up, down. Up, down. As we eased into our rhythm, Friedel contemplated crossing the road to take a photograph of Andrew passing by.

Then it happened. We heard the squealing of tires and saw a blur in our rearview mirrors. Bijan shouted something. A fraction of a second later a car flew by our left side at incredible speed. In front of our eyes it rose into the air, rolled a few times and landed upside down on the other side of the road.

Silence. Terrible silence. The kind of eerie calm that only happens in the face of tragedy. In all honesty, we aren’t sure if it was truly silent or if we were just in shock. We realised that someone had just died in front of us and we were mere seconds away from being part of that accident; another statistic on the roads.

Three people died that day. Three children were left without parents. We could so easily have been among them. If we’d been cycling in the other direction on the road, if the car had veered right instead of left, if Friedel had crossed the road to take a picture….

That night, we wrote in our journal:

By the end of today, we felt even more pleasure than usual in the simple things in life. We stopped to camp by an irrigation channel, dipping our toes in the cool water and being happy only because we’d lived to see another day. You just never know what tomorrow will bring.

The next morning we got up and carried on, cycling down some of Iran’s most beautiful roads.

the next morning we carried on

We continued on our world bike trip for another 18 months, crossing Asia, Australia and North America. We kept cycling because we realised that turning tail and heading home wouldn’t save us from an untimely death. Such events are simply a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thankfully for us, on that day we were (just barely) in the “right place”.

Not so for Peter & Mary, who sadly died earlier this month on Thailand‘s roads. Like our experience in 2008, however, their fate only encourages us further to continue doing the things we love, with the people we love. We’ll do our best to stay safe, of course, but ultimately we also realise that death is a fate that awaits us all and we don’t want our last moments to be the closing act that follows a lifetime spent on the sofa. As the famous quote goes:

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!’

So if you’ll excuse us, we have a cycling trip to plan….

Posted in Inspiration

Che Guevara: Bicycle Tourist

Posted January 18th, 2013

We’re just back from a month of bike touring in Cuba. Trip reports and photos are on the way (once we’ve recovered from jet lag and found time to put all our thoughts together).

In the meantime, here’s an intriguing image we discovered in Cuba, of famous revolutionary Che Guevara on a bicycle tour!

Che Guevara: Bicycle Tourist

We found out in a museum that this image was taken during a 4,500km bike tour of northern Argentina in the early 1950s.

Although it isn’t immediately obvious from the photo, Wikipedia says Che had fitted a small motor to the bicycle. This was a precursor to his later (and more famous) travels, outlined in The Motorcycle Diaries.

Posted in Cuba, Inspiration