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Posted July 19th, 2013

We had so many plans for this summer. Among other things, we wanted to cycle around Nova Scotia and France, complete the 2nd edition of the Bike Touring Survival Guide and review some new gear. Unfortunately, that was all put on hold by something unplanned and rather sad.

Until now, we haven’t really felt like writing about it here but now we are ready to share. This spring Friedel’s uncle was diagnosed with cancer and last week he passed away. It all happened very quickly and during this time our focus was as far as it could be from the world of bike touring. We’ll try to get back to normal soon. In the meantime, we’d like to share the eulogy that Friedel gave at the funeral. It has nothing to do with bike touring but it does tell the story of someone who loved travel, cared for others and who we’ll really miss.

Paul was the only relative to come out and meet us on the road when we were travelling around the world, and he often said that if he had been younger he would have joined us.

***

For those who don’t know me, my name is Friedel and I am Paul’s niece. I want to thank you all for being here today, and I’d like to share a few memories about my uncle Paul.

Paul and FriedelPaul was, perhaps, the only person who I can truly say has been there throughout every step of my life. When I was born in the old Truro hospital, the pictures show that Paul was there. We went on summer vacations together. He helped me move when I started university, gave me away at my wedding and visited me nearly every year in Europe, after I moved there in 2000. For over ten years, we regularly visited family in Germany and worked together on our family tree. Paul was a fixture in my life, as I am sure he also was for many of you.

I have so many memories of Paul, it’s hard to know where to start but I thought I’d start with one place where you were always sure to find him: at Joyce’s house for Christmas dinner. Being a Jehovah’s Witness, Paul didn’t celebrate occasions like Christmas but that didn’t mean he would miss a meal at Joyce’s house. He was always sitting at the table, often wearing his trademark suspenders and checked shirt. In front of him would be a plate piled high with turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy. Joyce’s cooking was certainly worth making the trip for. Paul loved the food but more than that, Paul was a people person. He loved the conversation and warmth that went along with these kinds of occasions, surrounded by so many friends and relatives.

During the rest of the year, Paul often visited our home. Each time I saw his van coming into our driveway I’d run to the door and shout excitedly ‘Uncle Paul!’. Once inside, he’d let me sit on his knee and tell me stories in the way only Paul could. I think almost all of you here will be familiar with Paul and his stories. It didn’t matter what the topic was, Paul seemed to have a story to suit every occasion. He loved telling them and they were never short. He wanted to share every last detail. Once, he and his daughter Heather went out for lunch at the China Rose restaurant in Truro. The stories started flowing and the afternoon flew by. Finally, someone looked at the clock. It was 8 in the evening. “Well, I guess we’d better order supper,” was Paul’s response. To sit and talk to someone for hours was never a waste of time in Paul’s mind. It was one of his favourite things to do.

One of the stories I remember best was about coming to Canada from Germany by boat in 1951. Paul was seven years old at the time. On that trip, Paul grabbed what he thought was a grape and popped it in his mouth. What happened next was a dose of salty, shocking reality. Instead of a sweet grape, Paul had actually eaten an olive. He’d never tasted an olive before and he didn’t like his first taste much at all. Shortly afterwards, Paul got seasick. He blamed the seasickness on the olive, and that experience was enough to put him off olives for the next twenty years.

When Paul visited us, sometimes he would bring a present. Nothing expensive or fancy, just some little treasure he’d pick up along the way. Once it was a small pin in the shape of a pink elephant that he’d found on the ground. He polished it up and carried it in his pocket for a few days until he saw me the next time. “This matches your pink jacket,” he said to the six-year-old me. “I think you should have it.”

That was Paul – always thinking of other people. If you needed something, all you had to do was ask. Paul was happy to help, even when the task was something that most others would have found too difficult or too much to take on.

One good example of that was in 1982. I was just a little girl, living in Edmonton with my mum Inga and aunt Rose – Paul’s sisters. They needed help moving home to Nova Scotia so they called Paul and a few days later he was there, ready to help them drive back east with all our stuff packed into one little Chevette, towing a trailer. As it turned out, that year saw some of the worst spring snowstorms in Canada’s history. For 10 days, Paul drove our family through the freezing cold and snow, right across Canada. Everything on that trip went wrong. In addition to the weather, the heater on the car broke. So did the fan belt. The wheel bearings seized on the trailer and in Maine there was a flat tire to fix. As for those snowstorms, they were so bad that once Paul even had to shovel his way into a hotel room so we could all get some sleep. Through all of this, Paul was unflappable. He just kept on going with a smile on his face, and he seemed to have an answer for every situation.

Maybe the reason Paul had so many answers was because he was interested in everything. It was hard to find a subject that Paul didn’t know something about. During his life, he completed courses in scuba diving, sausage making, accounting, Spanish and German – to name but a few of the things he studied. He also learned by doing. As a young boy on his family’s farm in Hilden, Paul took care of the animals, planted the garden and helped make butter. In his retirement, Paul joined the local photography club. At home, his natural curiosity meant that Paul’s house was filled to the rafters with stacks of National Geographic and Reader’s Digest magazines. He had a photographic memory and once he’d read an article or book about something, he could recite the facts back to you without hesitation for years afterwards.

Friedel & Paul at Kinderdijk

There was no doubt that Paul loved learning new things and sharing his knowledge with others. One of his special friends was five-year-old Lilly. She called him Papa Paul. When Paul came to help remodel her family’s basement he let her try out everything: drywalling, painting, plumbing. He even let her smash a hole through the basement wall to put a window in. Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he told her that rough hole in the wall was the finished product. He just let climb in and out of that stupid hole! Instant access to the back yard! Paul could be such an instigator.

Another thing that Paul loved was food. He always appreciated a good meal and was never shy to try out something new. You could hand him a plate full of prairie oysters, pungent Limburger cheese or durian – the world’s stinkiest fruit. Most of us would turn up our noses but for Paul it was no problem. He would certainly try it and let us all know how it tasted. Once someone emailed Paul a questionnaire. One of the questions asked Paul to list four of his favourite foods. Paul’s list went like this.

Number one: pizza. Number two: Chinese food. Number three: pork chops. Number four: spaghetti. Number five: polish sausage , Polski ogorki [pickles], mashed potatoes with butter, roast beef,, or pork ,turkey,chicken, mmmmmmmm gravy , mixed veggy mmmm. Number six: soup. All kinds. And salads. Number seven: chocolate chip cookies.

That list makes me smile. It reminds me of his love of food, and also of the many happy meals we shared together, whether we were out at Joyce’s house for Christmas dinner, with German relatives devouring mountains of cakes or wandering through the Oktoberfest in Munich, in search of a pretzel and a beer. Those were good times.

When my uncle Paul passed, he left some pretty big shoes to fill. I don’t suppose anyone can ever really take his place but the memories from our many shared adventures will keep me smiling for years to come and for that I am deeply thankful.

Thank you.

Posted in Uncategorized
Posted June 15th, 2013

Last weekend we were out cycling when we spotted something different on the bike path: a recumbent-style trailer for kids.

We weren’t quick enough to get a photo of it but later we searched online and discovered that we’d seen the WeeHoo trailer.

WeeHoo trailer
Weehoo trailer in use. Photo by SheBicycles on flickr

We’re still getting a lot of use out of our Chariot Cougar 1 trailer but the WeeHoo is an intriguing solution as Luke grows up. In another year or so (when he’s 2+ years old), we think he’d love this. We like the look of it better than a standard tag-along bike because it would allow him to relax (read, sleep, play) while riding.

It’s also reasonably affordable: $399 from REI.

From what we’ve read so far, the trailer gets fairly positive reviews online. We’ve seen comments such as:

I cannot stress enough how much my kid loves this thing. Between the harness and the pedal straps I’m not worried about her at all. We whip through curvy sidewalk approaches, ride over and off of curbs, hit potholes, have managed to hit 28 mph… all without the first sign of problems.

My daughter is strapped in with a nice, comfortable harness in a cushy seat. Her weight is down low where it doesn’t affect the feel of my bike. The hitch is completely different from other trailers. It uses your seat post as an axle which eliminates almost all loose play. It comes with bags which, while not as quality as nice panniers, are great for putting your kid’s stuff in. Not only can your kid snack while peddling, the Weehoo comes with a cup holder and pocket for snacks that your kid can reach. My daughter can take a little snooze after a long day.

The main downfall of the WeeHoo seems to be its weight: it’s a hefty 15kg or 35 pounds. Tackling the Alps with this trailer might be out of the question but it but it should be fine for touring around the flatter parts of the world. On the other hand, some people don’t seem to take any notice of the weight!

And, for families with more than one kid, WeeHoo’s Facebook page suggests that a new double trailer will be hitting the market soon.

WeeHoo Double Trailer

Do you have any experience with the WeeHoo trailer? Leave a comment.

Posted June 14th, 2013

A few days ago, an email dropped into our box from Daniel, who said he’d just finished designing a new product that might be useful for bike touring.

It’s called the Handleband, and it’s an adaptable smartphone mount for bicycles. It lets you use your phone as a bike-light, ride tracker, navigation tool, and front-facing camera. It’s also a bottle opener.

The idea struck a chord with us. We’ve tried a couple smartphone mounts for our bikes but none were particularly impressive. Maybe the Handleband will fill that gap.

Check out Daniel’s Kickstarter campaign to get the Handleband off the ground.

Posted in Uncategorized
Posted June 2nd, 2013

When it comes to bike touring in Latin America, there are few people who have explored the area more extensively than Gareth Collingwood.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Salar de Uyuni, by elpedalero.

For over 20 years, he’s cycled independently and unsupported through every country in Central and South America and the Caribbean.

In this interview, Gareth shares his experiences and memories of travelling by bicycle in South America. You’ll find more bike touring tips and tricks on his website,  El Pedalero.

1. You describe Latin America as “the world’s greatest adventure travel destination”. That’s a big claim. Why do you think it’s true?

Good question! It is a big claim, yes, and not one I make lightly.

Let’s start with the geography. Latin America has the planet’s longest mountain range, largest jungle, driest desert, biggest salt flat, widest street, highest waterfall, tallest volcano, and longest road. That’s quite a playground for an adventure cyclist.

And there’s the abundance of animal and plant life. On the list of the countries with the highest biodiversity in the world, Latin America has six in the top ten! Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Mexico, Ecuador, and Venezuela, with Brazil at number one (surprise, surprise).

Latin America is also a place of mystery and intrigue. Wherever you travel, you’re never far from the ruins of some lost, ancient culture. Tikal, Palenque, and Machu Picchu are all worth visiting, although I prefer the lesser-known, harder-to-reach sites such as Yaxchilán (Mexico), Kuélap (Peru), and my favourite, Ciudad Perdida (Colombia).

Then there’s everything else: the food, the music, the colonial architecture, the leafy plazas, the hidden beaches, the native traditions, the bustling markets, the crowded streets, and the lonely highways.

But most of all, what makes Latin America great is Latin Americans. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been invited to dinners, put up at people’s houses, given lifts when I’ve been stuck somewhere, and otherwise helped out by friendly, generous, warm-hearted Latinos from all corners of the continent.

I don’t think I’ll ever be finished exploring Latin America.

Making Friends, Oaxaca City, Mexico
Making Friends, Oaxaca City, Mexico by elpedalero.

2. It’s such a huge area and not everyone has years to explore it. If you could recommend just one or two areas to focus on, what would they be?

This is a very difficult question to answer. On the one hand, whichever place you choose, it’s going to be fantastic. On the other hand, you’ll be missing out on a hundred places just as remarkable. Here’s a solution: Get a pad of Post-its. On each square of paper write one place from this list.

  • Argentine Patagonia
  • The Central Andean Altiplano
  • The Chilean Lake District
  • The Mexican Colonial Heartland
  • Central America
  • The Yucatán
  • The Amazon
  • The Gran Sabana
  • Western Cuba
  • The Chaco
  • The River Plate
  • Southern Brazil

Now stick the Post-its all over a wall and throw a dart at it. Whichever Post-it the dart lands on, that’s the area you’ll focus on. The entire continent is amazing and you have to start somewhere, so just start riding.

The Endless Climb, Chilean Andes
The Endless Climb, Chilean Andes by elpedalero.

3. How about a country that’s often overlooked (but shouldn’t be) by most bike tourists?

It’s a tie between Venezuela and Paraguay.

Cyclists skip El Salvador because they think it’s too small to be interesting (not true). And they skip Colombia because they think it’s too dangerous (also not true). But they skip Venezuela and Paraguay for no real reason at all, which is a shame because they contain landscapes unlike any other in the world.

Venezuela has the Gran Sabana, the Llanos, the Orinoco Delta, the world’s highest waterfall, and the Caribbean’s longest coastline. It claims the starting point of the Andes and the headwaters of both of the Orinoco and the Amazon rivers (the Casiquiare Bifurcation).

Paraguay has the Chaco Seco, the Chaco Húmedo, Cerro Memby, Saltos del Monday, Jesuit ruins, and friendly Mennonite communities who are incredibly generous toward travelling cyclists. And the wildlife here will amaze you – Paraguay is the only place I’ve ever seen a wild jaguar while cycling!

Both countries still have all the colonial charm, delicious coffee, unmonitored children, and subtlety-free television programming you’ve come to expect from any self-respecting Latin American nation.

Red Soils And Green Grass On The Gran Sabana
Red Soils And Green Grass On The Gran Sabana by elpedalero.

4. Is there anything in particular that bike tourists should pack for a trip to Latin America that they might not normally have in their bags?

Yes, Spanish! It’s compact, it’s lightweight, and it won’t take up any room in your panniers.

Seriously, a good working knowledge of Spanish will get you out of more jams than your multi-tool, your first aid kit, and that notarized photocopy of your passport combined.

Until you start speaking and understanding Spanish, you’re missing out on the real Latin American experience. And you’re missing out on making lifelong friendships with some of the most generous and warm-hearted people on the planet.

And once you’ve got Spanish, it’s a lot easier to understand and start learning Portuguese for your trip through Brazil.

Bicycle Repairs, Santa Marta, Matanzas, Cuba
Bicycle Repairs, Santa Marta, Matanzas, Cuba by elpedalero.

5. Mental preparation is also important for a bike tour. What are some typical South American challenges that cyclists need to be prepared for?

Garbage! Garbage in the streets, garbage in the rivers, garbage in the forests, the deserts, the beaches. It’s not like this everywhere, obviously, but it’s certainly going to be something you’ll see plenty of on your travels in Latin America.

Noise! Screeching engines, screaming children, blaring loudspeakers mounted atop moving vehicles. And, of course, the music. I love music, but not 120 decibels of pumping reggaetón at 4:00 am from a car stereo parked outside the window of my hotel room!

Dogs! Not all dogs. Just the ones that roam the countryside looking for bikes to chase and ankles to bite.

Bugs! Not the big, ugly ones, but the small, swarming ones: the mosquitoes, the tábanos, the coliguachos, the jejénes, and of course all the microscopic, water-borne invaders.

Unexpected Companion, Bolivia
Unexpected Companion, Bolivia by elpedalero.

6. Where will your next tour in Latin America be, or have you explored it all by now?

I don’t think I’ll ever be finished exploring Latin America. I may have toured through every country, but that doesn’t mean I’ve seen it all. There are so many hidden corners and mysterious landscapes still to see. My next tour will be several years long and will focus on discovering these places for myself. Right now, I’m researching areas within Northern Mexico, south-western Brazil, central Chile, and Colombia’s Pacific lowlands. But as usual, I’ll be winging it once I’m there, making it up as I go.

I’ll also be revisiting some old haunts. It’s been so long since I first travelled in some of these areas it’ll be like visiting them for the first time. For example, many of the horrendously-rough gravel roads I cycled in Patagonia back in the 1990s have now been paved. It’ll be a treat to ride these roads while enjoying the scenery instead of staring at the gravel in front of my wheel, trying to pick the best line!

To learn more about Gareth’s adventures, see his website: El Pedalero.

Posted May 2nd, 2013

Can a Brompton folding bike and a trailer make the perfect combination for touring?

Stijn on his Brompton + Radical Design trailer

In this guest post for TravellingTwo, Stijn de Klerk checks out the performance of the Brompton with the Radical Design series of trailers.

***

A couple of years ago I decided life without a car made a lot of sense.

I still need to drive a car for work but do most other things by bicycle. My trusty full-size bike is often used for local shopping trips, and I bought a Brompton folding bike so that I could use the bike in combination with the train more easily.

With these two bikes I had most transport and travelling requirements covered, except for the times when I needed to transport something big. This was why I added the Radical Design Cyclone trailer was added to the stable. I don’t use it a lot but when I do use it, I love it.

Radical Design Cyclone

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.

Hooking the trailer up behind the Brompton was obvious as both the trailer and the folding bike are portable. I then started thinking: “wouldn’t it be great if the Brompton would fit inside the Cyclone trailer?” but unfortunately the Cyclone was too narrow for this. Then, lo and behold, Radical announced the Chubby trailer: made wider and shorter than the Cyclone and designed to hold a folded Brompton.

Chubby Trailer

As I’m a keen bicycle traveler, the next question in my mind was if I could use the Chubby plus a Brompton bike to create a combination that would allow me to take a train, plane or bus anywhere, including a lightweight camping set-up but with a minimum of the normal packing and luggage hassles that often go along with taking a touring bike and all the associated gear on public transport.

The moment of truth arrived when my cycling friends – Friedel, Andrew and Shane – conjured up the plan to take folding bikes out on a camping trip. The company that makes the Chubby, Radical Design, was kind enough to lend us one for the occasion. I picked it up a few days before the trip, so I had my chance to give it a test.

Basic Chubby Touring Setup
The total weight of a Brompton with a Chubby trailer and a bit of gear comes in at around 20 kilograms. That’s 10-14kg of Brompton bicycle (depending on the model), the Chubby itself (6kg) and your tent and sleeping bag (4kg). This is light enough to pass as regular check-in luggage with most airlines, and you can still carry the trailer (complete with bike and gear inside) by its shoulder strap over short distances. This video shows how it all works.

Any other camping kit or other gear has to be carried in a day pack (as carry-on) or in a small duffle bag (as additional check-in luggage).

Quality And Durability
The heritage of Radical Design’s Cyclone trailer (first produced in 1997), means the Chubby has a long and thorough design evolution behind it. The whole trailer oozes quality and durability. I might even go so far as to say that it’s slightly over-engineered in places, even though it’s considerably lighter compared to many other bike trailers on the market like the B.O.B, Burley trailers and Monoporter. The Extrawheel is perhaps the exception, but that’s a bit of a different proposition.

The overall robustness of the trailer shines through in the Chubby bag. It weighs in at a hefty 4kg (two thirds of the total weight) but equally will take a lot of abuse as it’s made from Cordura 1000 Fabric. Since the bag is there to protect the Brompton, it warrants the weight penalty of this heavy fabric to a large extent. The bag has a beefy, lockable YKK zipper and is reinforced in places where it matters, with extra padding to protect a folded bike inside.

From an engineering point of view I love the all-stainless steel, ball joint and quality Polyoxymethylene (POM) hitch construction. It’s one of the best and most elegant I’ve come across so far while looking for a bicycle trailer, in terms of sturdiness and one-hand ease of use.

Chubby ball hitch

The wheels are easily removed by pressing a button at the center of the hubs, which releases a quick-lock mechanism. They can be used in one of two positions: in the cycling position or in a second location further back on the Chubby, which then turns it into a walking trailer.

The hubs themselves are aluminum with industrial style sealed ball bearings on a steel axle, laced with stainless steel spokes into Brompton-size rims. This means a good selections of tires is available to suit any need and will match up nicely with whatever you are running on your Brompton.

Chubby hubs

Stable Cycling
After giving the Chubby a look over, I decided to take it for a ride around town. As with my Cyclone trailer, I noticed that the two-wheel design made it relatively easy to move around by itself and hitch on/off compared to single-wheeled trailers. This two wheel design makes it inherently more stable, which makes cycling with it a lot less nervous and it can handle higher payloads then most single wheeled trailers. 

Once rolling in cycling mode, it becomes apparent how well-mannered this trailer is. When not loaded too heavily, one hardly notices that it’s there. Due to the fact that it has two wheels, it doesn’t negatively influence the stability of the bike and it’s even possible to rock the bike from side to side going up steeper inclines, much like you would an unloaded bike. One might think it would introduce more rolling resistance, but this is hardly noticeable and I suspect this is due to the relatively light loads the trailer tires need to support.

The only downside to the design might be that two wheels instead of one don’t track as well when on rough terrain or when mountain biking but I wasn’t planning on taking the Brompton on that sort of trip anyway.

Another big revelation was how easy it is to pack and unpack all the gear from a single hold-all style baffle bag. There is an inherent ease of having all your gear behind just the one zip and the amount of space is a dangerous luxury.

Loads of Space

Conclusion
Ultimately, I didn’t get the chance to put the Chubby through a full touring test. The weather forecast for our Easter tour was miserable and I didn’t want to return a completely mud-covered Chubby to Radical Design. That means this test and review won’t be truly complete until I can take the Chubby on a longer ride but my first impression was very favorable.

That said, I did take my Cyclone along for the weekend ride and this confirmed my suspicions about a trailer and Brompton being a perfect combination for touring. I’ll definitely be taking my Cyclone further afield this summer, and maybe one day I’ll add a Chubby to my collection as well.

***

Thanks to Stijn for sharing this review. More thoughts about using a Brompton for touring (based on our Easter trip) have been shared by Shane.