•   
  •   
  •   
 
Posted November 27th, 2014

Last week, we stumbled across the website of Leah Bostwick. In the summer of 2013, she and a couple friends cycled 1,600km across Europe on bicycles that cost just $50 U.S.

As Leah writes on her site, The Vegetarian Traveller:

A wise man once said to me, ‘All you need to cycle is a bicycle and the desire to do it’.  He was right.  It may have been easier if we had trained, bought expensive bicycles, planned a route, or spent the night sleeping in comfy hotels, but we didn’t.  And we made it.  You can, too, if you want to.

On their budget adventure, they dumpster dived for food (and even found free beer!), and cooked on a Beer Can stove.

The-Beer-Can-Cookbook-Cover“Because my road buddies and I were always free camping in farmers’ fields, hiding in sand dunes, slipping into an overgrown thicket of trees, or submitting to a bus stop, my friends and I didn’t have the option to build a full-on fire. The beer can stove was our culinary saving grace.”

After the trip was over, Leah wrote the Beer Can Cookbook — a relatively short but nevertheless useful little guide to cooking cheap, hearty meals on the road with a stove you can make yourself. It includes about 20 recipes and tips for what to put in your bicycle pantry.

Get it from Amazon, or download a copy (PDF or Kindle) from her website. Don’t forget to drop Leah a couple bucks via Paypal to say thanks.

Oh, and there’s also this video that sums up their summer adventure. Take 5 minutes and enjoy the show.

Posted in Books, Food
Posted October 27th, 2014

For years now, our trusty tent for bike touring and camping has been Hilleberg’s Nallo 3GT but this summer we retired our Nallo 3GT in favour of something bigger: the Decathlon Quickhiker Ultralight 4 tent.

P1090337

Why the switch? The Nallo 3GT was simply too small for our growing family. We needed more space for the extra trailer and gear we’re carrying around. We also wanted a roomier porch, where mum and dad could hang out on rainy or cold evenings while Luke snoozed in the sleeping compartment.

Deciding that we wanted a new tent was easy. Figuring out which tent to buy proved a bit trickier.

We generally believe that investing in high-quality gear pays off, so at the start of our hunt we looked at reasonably expensive tents (eg. the Nallo 4GT, the Safir tipi tent and the MSR Papa Hubba). Ultimately, however, we decided that these tents were too expensive for what we needed.

Unlike in the past, we are not currently planning any long-distance, extreme bike trips. We don’t plan to take this tent through rain, snow, hail and sleet.

Instead, we’re aiming mainly at spring and summer touring through Europe, with perhaps a trip to South Korea or Japan next year. If the weather gets really bad, we’ll take a hotel and that means our tent doesn’t have to live up to expedition-quality standards.

The Quickhiker Ultralight 4 met all of our needs:

  • Affordable. It costs €269.95 in Europe.
  • Lightweight. The tent weighs 3.9kg (not including the groundsheet). That’s just 300g more than Hilleberg’s Nallo 4GT (which would have been a logical upgrade for us from the 3GT).
  • Roomy. It’s 15cm higher than the Nallo 3GT and nearly a meter wider.
  • Guaranteed. It comes with a 2-year guarantee.

So far, we’ve used it about 20 times. Are we pleased? Absolutely.

The space inside is as valuable as gold for our growing family. We can sit up easily anywhere in the tent (in our Hilleberg, we could only sit straight up in the middle of the tent) and we can fit our 3 sleeping mats side by side without being squeezed up against the walls of the tent.

There’s even room left over for toys, clothes and random treasures like sticks which Luke regularly picks up, and plenty of gear pockets to keep things organised inside the tent.

P1090333

The large back, mesh window of the tent is another favourite of ours. Since we’re doing more summer camping now, the nights can be warm and with this tent you can open up the back of the tent entirely for excellent airflow.

P1090341

Of course, as you’d expect with a relatively cheap tent, this one isn’t perfect. In fact, it’s missing a few thoughtful details that made our Hilleberg such a delight to camp in. The two main problems we have with the tent are:

  • No tensioners on the pole sleeves. This makes setting up the tent a bit of a struggle. It’s a tight fit to get the poles into the sleeves and seated in the grommets. We find it easiest to lay the tent on the ground, put the poles in while the tent is flat and then stake it out and erect it. Over the winter, we may try to add our own tensioners.
  • Door to the sleeping compartment can’t be totally closed off. Once inside the porch, there’s a second door that leads to the sleeping compartment. The top half of this door is made of mesh, so on cooler nights it’s impossible to entirely seal yourself in (in order to keep the temperature higher). That’s one reason why this is not a good 3-season tent.

Overall, however, we’re very pleased. When you consider the price, this tent is good value and perfectly suitable for summer bike tours. If you want a family tent without blowing the budget, we’d recommend this one.

P1090342

14799707322_04fd78540f_z

14613539997_5e3fd8b906_z (1)

Posted August 26th, 2014

In our first six years of bike touring, we took a fairly traditional approach to packing and setting up our touring bikes.

Our basic set-up consisted of 2-4 panniers on each bike, a handlebar bag up front and a dry bag over the back rack.

Screen shot 2014-08-26 at 3.13.15 PM

A baby changes everything, however, so when Luke came along in 2012 we had to re-think our packing strategy. As a baby, Luke could simply travel in his Chariot trailer (and we could still carry our panniers as we’d always done) but by the summer of 2014 we no longer had a baby. We had a toddler who was taking up increasingly more space.

Luke in Switzerland

Luke was now mostly sitting on the back of mum’s bike in a Yepp seat. This took up the space that Friedel would otherwise use for back panniers. Andrew, meanwhile, was loaded down with back bags and we still hadn’t gotten rid of the trailer (essential as Luke’s hideaway spot for naps and bad weather).

Andrew's bike touring setup

How could we pack everything we needed and still have enough room for a pint-sized passenger? We needed:

  • A way to carry more gear, including bulky items such as tents (which wouldn’t fit easily in front panniers).
  • A flexible solution that would be useful for biking around town as well as for touring.
  • Something that we could also carry on public transport.
  • The ability to easily use whatever we bought on a variety of bikes (we own 7 bikes in total).

It wasn’t long before the Dutch-made Cyclone IV Trailer from Radical Design caught our attention.

We’d heard good things about this trailer from friends (see Stijn’s review) so in April 2014 we took the plunge and bought one. We hooked it up behind Friedel’s bike, filled it with camping gear and took it to Switzerland for a 3-week test drive.

Friedel on bike with trailer

In a word, it was GREAT!

We’re not really the gushing type but let us gush, just for a moment: we have fallen head-over-heels in love with this trailer. It’s solidly built, easy to use and versatile. Best of all, it tows so easily behind the bike that you hardly know it’s there.

Our friend Stijn described his Cyclone trailer like this:

Unloaded, it’s hard to even tell I’m pulling a trailer at all. It functions perfectly and it’s built to last. Even better, it’s as much a duffle bag as it is a trailer and it converts from one into the other in under a minute.

14359059336_a628acc93a_z

The trailer has now become a standard part of our touring setup, with over 1,000km of use so far.

We use it to carry everything we need for camping. The bag has a capacity of 100 litres and inside we are able to fit a tent (currently the Hilleberg Nallo 3GT), a tarp, three sleeping bags, three Thermarest NeoAir mats and two Helinox chairs. All of this packs in easily, while still leaving room for impressive quantities of food.

Big Storage Space
Most of the food that we purchase while cycling goes into the trailer. It’s so easy to just open the top flap and stick food on top of the other gear already inside. This is a bonus, but also one of the potential dangers of this trailer: it’s so big and so easy to tow, that you can be constantly tempted to carry more weight than you really need to.

A bottle of wine? Sure! An interesting rock that you found by the side of the road? Why not! We’re constantly reminding ourselves that just because we can carry something doesn’t mean we necessarily should.

Easy To Attach
Hooking up the trailer to the bike was a breeze. You simply pull back on a spring on the tow bar and clip it on to the hitch. This can be done with one hand and almost no effort.

14378818091_7d00d17d37_z (1)

The well-thought-out wheels are another plus. They’re 16″ wheels (the same size as many folding bikes) and can be removed from the trailer by simply pushing the button at the centre of the hub.

Cyclone wheels

Once released, you can pack the wheels (and the trailer hitch) inside the main bag. This transforms your trailer into a duffle bag: perfect for plane, train or bus trips.

Alternatively, you can move the wheels to a second mounting point at the back of the trailer. This makes it a nifty trolley, which you can easily tow behind yourself while walking. We use it this way for our weekly grocery shopping.

In most reviews, we try to find some disadvantages to mention. It’s rare to find a ‘perfect’ product but in this case we’re really struggling to find anything we don’t like about the Cyclone trailer. It’s well built, well thought out and highly recommended.

One thing to be aware of is the price. The Cyclone sells for nearly €500. If you want a top-notch trailer for touring, then this one is worth every penny. If you want to save a little cash, you might consider the Burley Nomad trailer instead.

Posted July 15th, 2014

Bike Touring Survival Guide Three years ago, we published our Bike Touring Survival Guide.

Our goal was to provide a helpful, affordable and comprehensive handbook for anyone planning a bike tour. So far, it seems to be hitting the mark, with over 6,000 copies sold and a raft of positive reviews. This success encouraged us to continue working on the book and in early 2013 we actively began pulling together an updated version.

What started as a ‘simple’ update turned into rather more. We’ve added maps, freshened up the diagrams, completely revised the text and unearthed dozens of new tips.

Today, we’re proud to say that the 2nd edition is complete! The book totals 450-pages (or 128,000 words) of bike touring guidance.

If you’ve bought a copy in the past through this website, you’ll be receiving an email in the coming days to download the new version. If you want to get a copy for the first time you can do that here.

Finally, let us say Thanks for all of your support over the past two years as we’ve tried to find a way to keep blogging and writing, while still being parents to our young son and holding down full-time jobs. It hasn’t always been easy and at times we’ve considered giving up the website altogether. Your kind comments, emails and feedback have kept us going, so cheers for that!

With the 2nd edition now out, we’re going to refocus on reviving the blog over the coming months. Hopefully we can slowly find time again to share more Bike Touring Inspiration.

Friedel, Andrew & Luke

Posted May 11th, 2014

Caution: this post is being written to the soundtrack of the Teletubbies. As parents of a two-year old, free time is a precious commodity. Bribery is frequently required.

Since an episode of the Teletubbies only lasts 24 minutes, we’ll keep this short and sweet. It’s the story of our Easter tour: six days through Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, including most of the Vennbahn rail trail.

We were cycling with two good friends, Shane and Stijn. As a group, we looked a bit like a bicycle circus with touring setups in all shapes and sizes.

P1060455

We started with the Vennbahn because it was easy to reach by train from our home and was supposed to be flat. We aren’t scared of mountains but flat terrain is unquestionably a great advantage when you’re adding a toddler, a bike seat, a trailer and various child-related goodies to the standard bike touring setup.

What’s that? Flat you said? Ha ha. Try again. As it turned out, the trip involved a fair amount of climbing. Our workout began in Luxembourg City — not technically part of the Vennbahn (the trail begins about 70km further north) but a popular kicking-off point for many people.

Climbing a steep hill in Luxembourg - not technically part of the Vennbahn, but a taste of what was to come.

For us, the steep climb between the campground and the train station signalled the start of a weekend which was great fun but also harder work than we expected. The Vennbahn is largely flat but it also threw a few curve balls our way: unexpected hills, detours where parts of the trail were closed (this led to more climbing) and strong headwinds.

We look cheery in this photo, taken on one of the Vennbahn’s easy and paved sections, but the truth is that we’ve never been so exhausted from cycling 40-50km a day.

profile shot cropped

Normally we’d manage this distance easily but now we were carrying the extra weight of a toddler and all the associated luggage (toys, clothes, diapers). At the end of the day we weren’t resting, we were chasing a toddler around the campsite. This photo is a rarity: it shows one the few moments when Andrew got to sit down.

20140420-_MG_3391

Luke could occasionally be bribed into relative quiet with a pastry. As on so many bike tours in the past, bakeries quickly became a mandatory, twice-daily stop.

P1060677

On most nights, we didn’t make it much past Luke’s bedtime.

P1060655

When we weren’t chasing Luke around, we were marvelling at our different touring setups. We each had a different strategy, to meet different needs. Here’s Shane, with his Brompton folding bike and Cyclone trailer from Radical Design — the perfect combination if you need to take trains and buses as part of your bike tour.

P1060501-edited

Stijn was riding a titanium tourer of his own design with fat tires and a minimum of luggage. He’s preparing for a trip to Iceland later this year and wants a bike that is lightweight and handles well on dirt roads. In 2011, we interviewed Stijn about lightweight bike touring in this podcast.

P1060508-edited

As for us, Friedel was on a classic steel touring bicycle, built in 2005 by Robin Mather. This is the bike she rode around the world. The bike is great but we had to accommodate Luke’s Yepp bike seat on the back, and this made it complicated to carry any other luggage. To be honest, we didn’t do a very good job of loading up this bike. We’re still working out the best way to pack and carry gear, while also having room for Luke on the back. More on that later.

P1060518-edited.

Andrew rode a Santos Travelmaster 2.6 Alu and piled it high with all the junk that Friedel couldn’t fit on her bike, including an 89L Ortlieb Rackpack. Yes, we said 89 litres. That’s not a typo. We should have put a front rack on this bike to better balance the load but ran out of time before we left. Behind the bike is a Chariot trailer — Luke’s place to nap and hide out from bad weather.

P1060531-edit.jpg

A picky person could probably find fault in our packing styles and choices but at the end of the day we all made it and we all had fun. Isn’t that what counts? The most important thing you can pack for a successful tour is enthusiasm and we had that in spades.

Over the next few days, we crossed borders.

20140418-_MG_3334

We experimented with wild cookery. We picked some stinging nettles and threw them into a pot with red peppers and onions. When cooked, they taste like spinach. What a great base for a pasta sauce or soup!

cooking with nettles

We encouraged Luke to walk up the steepest hills, when pedalling became impossible.

P1060614-cropped

And after 6 days and 250km we returned home. We learned a lot from this first cycle-toddling adventure, for example:

  • 40-50km a day is the maximum distance we should plan on cycling. If the terrain is hilly, we need to cut this distance further.
  • Bike touring with a toddler requires a different packing setup. We’re considering a trailer for our next tour.
  • A small bag with toys is a must-have. Luke has a little backpack which he’s allowed to fill with books, dinky cars and other favourite items.
  • Falling asleep in a tent can be difficult for little ones. Be patient and be prepared to extend bedtime.

Now it’s time to prepare for our next tour: Switzerland! Yes, that’s right, after complaining about hills on the Vennbahn we’re going to one of the hilliest countries in Europe. What’s life without a good challenge? We’ll fill you in on that trip when we return in June.