18 August, 2016

The Price of Adventure

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Firstly, let me say that I am firmly against the idea that you need any special bike in order to have an adventure, and thusly feel the category of “adventure bike” a little ambiguous and misplaced. What they mean to say is, people have begun to ride their bike outside of the two preconceived categories of “road” and “mountain” in such a manner that aspects of both are being included. Sure, you might technically be on a road, but it’s made of dirt or gravel. So we call it a gravel bike? No, that’s too specific a terrain. Cyclocross? Again, we don’t want to pigeonhole these into one particular activity. Adventure. That should cover it. But to me, it’s like calling it a “driving car” or a “reading book”—what else are you gonna do with it? Bicycles are vehicles of adventure, regardless of the subcategory they fall into.

Nevertheless, I find myself drawn to these types of bikes because I’ve never really felt like a part of either the road or mountain camps. I can identify with an “adventure bike” because in essence adventure is what compels me to ride and I’m a sucker for the associated imagery. I’m not looking for the lightest components, nor am I looking for the gnarliest segments to bomb, I just want to get out and see what there is to see. If it involves an unmaintained trail, that’s great, because the bike is suited towards handling that terrain. A paved cycle path, no problems there. Decent performance on all terrain over something that excels in just one.

The problem I find is that with this “new” category comes the steep cost of purchasing a bike that fulfils this role. Online, forums are full of people asking “I’m interested in _____, which bike should I buy?” with cost a seemingly irrelevant factor. Specialized and many other companies now offer specific framesets and fully built bikes that are labeled “Adventure” and are thousands of dollars. I’ve never spent that much on a bike in my life, nor do I really want to.

My interests then turned to another type of “do-all” bike, the Surly Long-Haul Trucker. Many people praise its versatility, and it’s not incredibly expensive. But I soon realized that many hard tail mountain bikes from the late 80s and early 90s were very similar in geometry to the LHT, and that’s when I decided to build up my own adventure bike.

On the local classifieds was a 1990-something Giant Sierra for €50, a model which those in the U.S. will probably not be familiar with as the moniker was used mostly in European markets. Steel frame, quill stem, 26” wheels, and nothing too fancy in terms of components. And a purplish-blue paint color.

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The more I looked at it, the more I envisioned it being my poor-man’s Long Haul Trucker. Rack and fender eyelets galore, and even the mid-fork braze-ons that are hard to find nowadays. With the exception of maybe disc brakes, which the Surly foregoes on the base model LHT anyway, there isn’t much difference in terms of specs. I played around with drop bars and decided I liked it, so a spare set of Nitto bars found their home atop the Giant’s quill stem along with brake levers from the parts bin. The drive train was serviceable, but the chainring teeth were worn, so I ordered a new version of the Shimano Alivio crankset that this came stock with. Pedals could have stayed on, but I had recently won a set of Crankbrother Mallets, so those were installed as well. Add a new set of off-road tires, new bar-end shifters (the most expensive component) and a Plasti-dip paint job, and I had a custom adventure bike that cost me less than €150.

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I wasn’t so sure the Plastidip was a great idea, but it was the most convenient way to test out a new color without stripping the paintjob and decals. Worst case scenario, it would peel off, and I could either re-apply it or do without. The first couple coats were tan, but then I changed my mind and finished with two coats of olive drab.

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With the bike itself finished, I wanted to then add a front rack, but wasn’t sure what kind. I decided on a lowrider style, though it seemed like there were only two types available from manufacturers: inexpensive and unreliable or over-built and crazy expensive. I also wanted to utilize the mid-fork braze-on for added security. I ended up settling on a moderately priced pair of racks from eBay, which promised to accommodate many types of rigid forks, but the mid-fork eyelet and the rack didn’t match up, so I used the lower eyelet for the bottom attachment and a hose clamp on top.

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The Ortlieb panniers were probably the most expensive items, but I got the pair on sale. The handlebar bag was also on clearance at a local bike shop, and I wasn’t sure it was going to work, but for €20 I decided it was worth it to give it a try. It mounts via an additional “stem” that just happened to be the right diameter and fit underneath the Giant’s quill stem. There’s a security combo lock built into it as well, which I thought was pretty neat. And finally, it matched the front panniers in color and material, which is more important to me than I’d like to admit.

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Now, I could end here and you might think I pulled this off without any major hiccups, because the Internet allows you to portray yourself as perfect as you’d like to be, but I won’t. There are some pretty major problems with this build that I will need to address eventually. Firstly, I used the canti brakes that came with the bike for the front and a spare V-brake on the back. Neither of these are particularly effective. The canti has pretty poor stopping power, and the V-brake, coupled with road levers, has insufficient cable pull. Cane Creek sells a version of the same levers I have that are meant for use with V’s, but these were what I had lying around, and so I used them. Another problem is the drivetrain— I figured bar-end shifters would be pretty self-explanatory, but I haven’t been able to access all three rings on crank. Maybe I messed something up during the installation, maybe they don’t allow for it, I’m not really sure. I’ll keep messing around with it until I either figure it out or learn to live with it the way it is. Finally, with the front rack and handlebar bag installed, I’ve no idea where to attach a headlight. I think I can use the eyelet at the crown of the fork to mount something, but I’ll have to look around for some ideas.

So there it is, my poor-man’s Long Haul Trucker. I’ve taken it on a handful of rides since completion, mostly on dirt and gravel roads, but also some mild singletrack, and it handles really well. It wouldn’t be my go-to for anything technical on account of the drop bars and aforementioned brake issues, but for long stretches of unpaved roads it’s pretty close to ideal. The seatpost rack I threw on lets me strap a dry bag or compression sack onto the back for additional storage in lieu of a “proper” seat bag, but if I plan on anything beyond an overnight, I’ll more than likely tack on a full rear rack with two more panniers. Now to get some use out of it before the summer is over.

- Bicyclist Abroad

 

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05 July, 2016

Eroica Limburg 2016 (Valkenburg, NL)

Peugeot Riders

The Eroica is a cycling event, but it’s also a festival with music and food and a celebration of all that is vintage. It is as much about aesthetics as it is about cycling. Beginning in Italy in 1997 as a nod to the cycling races of yore, there are now Eroica events held in Spain, Britain, Japan, and California. This year the Eroica will debut in Uruguay, and this was also the first Eroica event in the Netherlands. Perusing social media, I found this out just two days before the event took place this past weekend, so you can imagine my excitement in learning that Eroica was coming to Valkenburg, a historic city in the south of the Netherlands some 30 kilometers away.

Umberto Eroica

This didn’t give me time to enter the event myself, as there are very specific regulations on what type of bicycle you can use and none of my current bikes fit the criteria: pre-1988, original components, downtube shifters, toe clips, etc. There are allowances for new, steel-frame bikes built in a classic road racing style, and my Soma Stanyan would probably fit the bill, but not in its current configuration. Nevertheless, being a spectator would be almost as much fun, so I got a campsite in Valkenburg and rode on down to the start the next morning.

RGB Rider Eroica

There was a huge turnout across a spectrum of riders, many trying to strike the right balance between function and fashion. Wool jerseys, “hairnet” helmets, and crotched cycling gloves were most common, and plastic water bottles were in the minority. Luciano Berruti, an Eroica celebrity of sorts, represents the epitome of the retro-cyclist chic, some might say by virtue of the fact that at 73 years old, he is quite vintage himself.

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Some of the modern builds blended in almost seamlessly, though this was largely due to careful selection of classic-looking components and accessories.

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It was impossible to capture the entirety of the event—while some riders were departing the starting line others were showcasing their vintage bikes and accessories, and others were just arriving. The biggest group of riders were the “team” from Brooks of England, with their blue jerseys and of course, Brooks saddles. Jools Walker from Velo City Girl was amongst them on a classic celeste green Bianchi, as well as Henk Dekkers on an original red Brompton folding bike.

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I checked out the starting queue for a while, grabbed a complimentary espresso, and decided I’d ride on up ahead to catch the riders as they began their 60, 100, or 160 kilometer journeys. The Valkenburg centrum with its bridges, gates, and numerous cafes provided a picturesque backdrop for a classic event such as this. 

Eroica Start Birdseye

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Through the Gate Eroica

After several groups of cyclists passed, there was a window in which no one was riding, so I followed the course myself, trying to eye the next good vantage point. Eventually, I came to what looked like the entrance to a tunnel, so I stopped outside and waited for more riders to show up.

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Again, when things slowed down I decided to ride further on and maybe catch some riders as they came out the other side of the tunnel. What I hadn’t realized was that this wasn’t just a normal tunnel, but rather a tunnel access to the labyrinthine Valkenburg caves, through which the course was routed. I’d have to say that riding through those caves was probably the most fun I’ve ever had on a bike- they were that cool (no pun intended).

Coming out of the caves, however, puts you onto one of the most difficult climbs of the Eroica Limburg. I rode a little more than halfway up before deciding that my Dahon, fully loaded with bags and panniers, was not suited for this type of riding. So instead, I grabbed some snapshots as riders made their way up the hill, some dismounting, others pushing through, but no one turning around (except of course, me, but I was not an official participant).

Raleigh RIder Eroica

 

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I rode back to Dersaborg Park, where the festival was taking place and the finish was located, to pass the time and peruse the stocks of old bicycle components. I hadn’t the desire to do a classic Eroica build before, but I certainly did while looking at all the classic bikes there. If there was a part you needed for a build, there was a good chance you’d find it there.

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Finally, the cyclists began to trickle through the finish line, and they were greeted with applause. We enjoyed watching the classic steel, and in a few cases aluminum, paraded by as the riders made their procession through the photographers and other interested parties. Many headed straight for the Brand Bier tents, and others waited for their counterparts to cross the finish line as well. I fantasized about which bike I would want to ride, and what outfit I would need to pull it off. In any regard, I have a whole year to figure that out, but I will definitely attend the next Eroica Limburg, if not another iteration of Eroica in another country.

Golden Peugeot Eroica

The creator of Eroica, Giancarlo Brocci’s vision for the event is centered around wanting “…people to rediscover the beauty of fatigue and the thrill of the conquest”. I don’t know about all that, but it sure looks like a lot of fun.

- Bicyclist Abroad

 

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30 June, 2016

Scenes from the Stadt [Hamburg]

Batavus Train Station

The Mrs. and a couple friends of ours were running a half marathon in Hamburg this past weekend, so along came I and the little one to visit the historic city and be a spectator to the race. Upon arriving, we checked in and waited for our friends who had driven separately. Apparently, they had gotten caught in the Hamburg Critical Mass, which for those who aren’t familiar with the term, is a very large gathering of bicyclists that more or less take over the streets to promote awareness of social issues or just to celebrate bicycle culture. Too bad we just missed it!

gov bldg hamburg

Hamburg is an interesting place historically, architecturally, and geographically. Prior to 1871, it was it’s own country. Now, it is both the second-largest city in Germany and its own federal state-- so it has its own identity outside of Germany proper. I knew it as the place the Beatles got their start, and I suppose, the birthplace of what would become an American food staple.

Riding past the Beatles

While I never got the chance to do any cycling there myself, there were plenty of bicycles to look at as we strolled along different parts of the city. We visited the Reeperbahn, or the famous “Red Light District” of Hamburg, found the Beatlesplatz (you can sort of make out the silhouettes of the Fab Four in the photo above), and took the U-Bahn to the Rathaus, or city hall, in the Altstadt.

Hamburg Harbor

The Elbe River runs through the city, as it was an important trade route from Europe to the rest of the world and made Hamburg what it is today. Canals abound, but we decided to check some of those out the next time we visited the city. There was simply too much to see in one weekend, and the weather was often uncooperative.

Radisson Hamburg

While maybe not as bike-friendly as Münster, Hamburg is bustling with bicycles, especially around the university, near where we had stayed. And like many cities in Europe, many abandoned bikes have accumulated over the years, some missing their more valuable components or becoming permanent installments on the street. We ate at a burger joint (had to partake in the city’s namesake food, even if it was a veggie burger) that was beside a cargo bike shop that featured all sorts of interesting and unique cargo bikes. They are really becoming a common sight outside of Dutch and Danish metropolitan areas.

Hamburg Streetshot

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Not having ridden there myself, I can’t say for sure how good the cycling infrastructure is, but it has to be better than Düsseldorf, a city I love in spite of its magically disappearing bike lanes. While the ADFC ranks Hamburg as the 35th in cycling safety, Copenhagenize ranks it 14th overall in its list of bicycle-friendly cities, due in part to its extensive cycling strategy, implemented some eight years ago by the Hamburg Parliament.

Searchlight bike

Also of note is the Vattenfall Cyclassics, Germany’s only UCI race, which is hosted in the city each year and involves a huge swath of participants, exhibitors, and spectators, including a children-specific event called the Schul-Cup. The Jedermannrennen is an event in which anyone can partake. More information about Hamburg’s cycling efforts can be found on the UCI’s website.

Not cycling-related, but if you’ve ever wondered where the world’s largest model train diorama is, that’s in Hamburg, too.

- Bicyclist Abroad

 

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