29 March, 2015

Rain Delays (Sittard, NL)

The forecast was 90% chance of precipitation. All day. Still, I was restless, it was the last day of Spring Break, and I needed to go for a ride. I also wanted to take photos. Maybe I’d just open an umbrella and shoot locally. Or, forget the camera and just go, rain be damned. Then, I came across an article from National Geographic’s website and was suddenly inspired to try taking some photos in spite of the wet weather. I packed my camera in my waist pack and layered my rain gear on, ensuring adequate coverage was provided. I forgot the umbrella. Of course, the final touch to my rain ensemble would be my neoprene water shoes, once again proving their versatility.

It being a Sunday, most everything east of the Dutch border was a ghost town, so I decided to head into Sittard, a city in Limburg for those following along at home. While the Germans are busy silently doing whatever it is they do on Sundays, the Dutch are very much out and about, with many businesses remaining open. I stopped by a grocery store shortly to get out from the rain, and happened to catch a mom ride by with her two kids on this thing:

It’s like a bakfiet, recumbent, and tandem bicycle all-in-one. The mom had the helm, the older boy sat up front, pedaling along, and the younger one just kind of sat back there on the rear rack. It was really kind of remarkable, I wish I had stuck around long enough to snap a photo of it in action. If I needed any reminder I was in the Netherlands, this was it.
I approached the town center. The difficult thing about taking photos in the rain is finding somewhere dry to take said photos. There was this overhang between two wings of apartments, so I took advantage of it. If you appreciate symmetry, there is some here for you to enjoy, though it ends just past the apartment complex.

Sittard has cobblestone streets, a lot of old buildings, and several steeples. Gazing up at these when it’s raining is a good way to get water in your eye. Still, I can’t help but wonder how roofs so steep are constructed.
To get to the actual square in the center of Sittard, you pass through any number of alleys or passageways. This was one that I had never actually been through before, and it is attached to a restaurant. There used to be a Halfords nearby that sold bicycles, but it is now closed. Apparently, they went bankrupt in 2014 and shuttered most of their stores. Luckily, there is a half dozen more bike shops in the vicinity.

I took refuge under a restaurant’s awning for a few minutes while I decided which establishment I would patronize. The rain continued on. There were several people on bicycles that rode by, and I took their photo, but they are blurry and terrible and I wish you’d stop asking me to show them to you.
I picked a small bar next to a Giant bicycle shop and had a couple beers while waiting for the water to dry from off of my jacket. There was a beer there I remember from the Bruges Beer Festival, but I can’t remember what it was called. There was a gnome on the logo? Oh well.

Leaving Sittard, I chose a different route than that which I arrived, which is a common practice of mine. Often this leads to getting lost, but I’m ever optimistic that I know where I’m going. I had thought for a moment I had missed a turn I was supposed to take, but I kept going because 1.) tree-lined cycle paths like these are amazing, and 2.) I had an incredible tail wind that basically pushed me along with no effort on my part. I think, however, I might invest in a compass just so I know which cardinal direction I’m headed.

I ended up coming into the town of Susteren, stopping at a local bar to, again, dry off and have a beer. They had Brand IPA, which is one of my favorites, and they had a little Dachshund running around. Everyone was watching the cycling race on TV, except for the person in the photo who is apparently under the table. I’m not certain what he was doing.
I don’t know where the race was being held, but it was raining there and it was raining here, so I’m assuming somewhere in Europe. I spoke exclusively in German and the bartender, who was Dutch, responded in English, so you can imagine how poor my German must be. The rain outside was only getting worse. 

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After having my final beer, I was set on returning home. I still had a tailwind for the most part, so I was very thankful for that. I passed through Echt and on to Maria Hoop, the last Dutch town before crossing back into Deutschland. Passing a stretch of woodlands, I caught a glimmer from somewhere within the trees, and I stopped to investigate further.
It was a bicycle; the make was Livingstone, something I’d never heard of before. The saddle, however, was a Brooks, and of course I knew them quite well. Sadly, it was left uncovered and getting rained on. The bike was locked to a tree, in the woods, for no reason I could ascertain. No one was around and it was getting dark. I left with a hundred mysterious scenarios running through my mind. No doubt its owner had gotten involved in an increasingly complicated series of bicycle-related exchanges and is now dead.

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Returning home, I was finally able to dry off completely. It then began to thunder outside, and I saw a lightning flash light up my window. The rain was fine, but I’m glad to have been spared all of that. As of this writing, it’s still raining. But at least now I’ve proven to myself that the rain itself isn’t such a big deal.

- Bicyclist Abroad

25 March, 2015

Between the Bars

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So, for some time… actually, since I’ve had this bicycle in riding order, I’ve had drop bars on it. Aren’t you supposed to? I mean, if you are riding on a road, you’re meant to have those handlebars that road racers have. It makes you more aerodynamic. You get down “in the drops”and you just fly ahead, the laws of physics left scratching their heads in bewilderment.

Actually, it wasn’t that. It was sticking with what I knew. My first “real” bikes were 80s ten-speeds, replete with cottered cranks and downtube shifters, and of course, drop bars. Were people using them as intended? I think that the existence of the interrupter, er, ‘suicide brakes’ establishes that they were not. I ended up following suit, riding predominately on the tops of the bars and either reaching down or using the interrupters when I needed to slow things down.


The late Sheldon Brown describes the phenomenon as a product of trendiness, which I can understand. After all, the look of a bike is driven heavily by what’s going on with the handlebars. A steel frame bike with drop bars is the quintessential bicycle in my mind. When I built the Soma up, I briefly was going for the path racer look, a la the Pashley Guv’nor, and had a pair of mustache bars for it. Those were soon replaced with some Nitto drops, because if this were to be used in any capacity as a road bike, I would need to use suitable components.

Fast forward four years, and I’ve yet to wear “kit”, yet to install or utilize “brifters”  or give half a damn as to what a Strava is. So where does that leave me? Using drop bars for no other reason than that’s what I’ve always done. So I decided that I would part ways with my Nitto drops for some Nitto mustaches. The model I have, to the best of my knowledge, is the Albatross, though I will frequently confuse/refer to them as ‘North Roads’. The mustache bars were back.

I cut the brake cables, resized the housing, and slapped on some grips. Took it for a spin. Yup- I like this a whole lot more.

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The benefit of drop bars is having multiple positions to put your hands. I get that, but it’s rarely my hands that ache after riding for hours. It’s my back, arched over like I’ve trying to make a Ferarri out of an F-150. With mustache bars I’m more upright, centered, and comfortable. The ultimate extension of this would be a Dutch bike like a Gazelle, where you’re sitting at an angle Marry Poppins would approve of, but I think this is a good compromise.

I’ve also noticed that I’m more aware of the immediate area as I’m riding. It’s not as taxing to look around; I’m already there. It carries through to my disposition, I’m sure.

If you’re curious, the bike I pulled these off of got a pair of BMX-style bars, which also seems to fit it better. My Panasonic is a single-speed pulled from the refuse of Japanese consumerism, and I like it, but it’s a very single-purpose vehicle. That purpose is typically getting from one drinking establishment to another.


So what’s the moral of this story? Don’t be afraid to embrace the particular flavor of cycling you find most enjoyable. Do you like those goofy touring bars that resemble pretzels? Go for it. Are you one of those people that ride a fixie with bars no longer than a breadstick? Well, you’re lifespan is probably much shorter than the rest of us, but good on you. The key to embracing cycling is finding what works for you and not caring what the trends might be. I like to ride with friends, I like to ride for long distances, but I don’t care what my cadence or average speed is, and that’s that. The bicycle is much more than bike racing, and people need to know that. As for me, I’ve got a pair of mustache bars I’m going to enjoy the hell out of.

- Bicyclist Abroad 


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18 March, 2015



Errandonnee. It’s a randonnée, brevet, audax, long bike ride, etc. + getting everyday things done. Ï don’t know, you can ask its creator if you’d like. She lives at chasingmailboxes.com.

Growing up, my dad would frequently use the phrase “running errands”. It was such an alien term to me: what is an errand and why must you run them? Anyway, I realize now as an adult that it’s just a fancy way of saying you have to do all the things that comes along with being an adult. Buying groceries, going to the post office, that sort of stuff. So as a bicyclist, doing these things on a bike isn’t much of a stretch… or is it?

The two bicycles utilized in this endeavor were my Soma Stanyon, for long-distance trips, and the Dahon for local things. Since adding the removable front basket to the Dahon, I’ve developed a convenient method of grocery shopping where I remove the front basket, fill it with groceries, and after checking out, put the contents into the rear basket. I know this must sound incredibly dull, but I’ve always appreciated modularity. It sort of replaces a shopping basket and a grocery bag all at once.

Anyway, on the Soma it was the first time using panniers, which I’ve found to be pretty handy. These in particular are made by Ortlieb. Maybe I’ll do a full review on them later, but they worked pretty well for me in this capacity. On to the actual events…


I. Personal Care

The dentist. I had my annual check-up and got X-rayed more than I think a person is supposed to, but at least my teeth are clean!

07 MAR

18 mi.
II. You Carried What On Your Bike?

A pizza. Not amazing, but luckily the ride home is short enough that the pizza isn’t stone cold by the time I get there.
12 MAR

2.8 mi
III. Store

Just a regular grocery run. There was a sale on this breakfast cereal that had chocolate bits in it.
12 MAR

3.1 mi
IV. Arts & Entertainment

The woods. I was making a movie for my German class, and rode in with my camera, tripod, and amateur acting chops.

08 MAR

2.2 mi
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V. Personal Care

A haircut. I’m doing the medium-length thing right now, but I got it trimmed to clean things up a bit.

09 MAR

8.3 mi
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VI. Social Call

On the same run as visiting the dentist, I stopped by a friend’s house who is recovering from knee surgery.
07 MAR

5.5 mi
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VII. Wild Card

I went on a bike ride because the weather was nice and I had the time. Call it exercise, getting some air, sightseeing around my town, it’s my wild card I’ll use it how I want!

14 MAR

3.9 mi
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VIII. Wild Card

Looking for my lost cell phone. It must have fallen out of my pocket during one of my previous outings, but I retraced my routes and it didn’t turn up. Oh well. I got stuck behind this group of 50+ cyclists all waiting at a stop sign. It was the closest I’ve been to a Critical Mass gathering.
15 MAR

10 mi.
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IX. Arts & Entertainment

I rode to the movies, the longest jaunt of all the errandonnee runs. Chappie was pretty good, and the Dutch theater has Heineken on tap.
08 MAR

24.7 mi
X. Non-store Errand

The military post office, also known as an APO. This is where we get our American mail, but sadly, the box was empty. The ride to base was not wasted—I picked up some Scotch at the NATO exchange.
06 MAR

23.2 mi
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XI. You Carried What On Your Bike?

Eleven (11) VHS from the local second hand store. The Empire Strikes Back, and a bunch of B-movies. Sadly, they are PAL or NTSC or whichever format our American VCR doesn’t play. A VCR must be free by now, right?
14 MAR

7.8 mi
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XII. Store

More specifically, the pet food store. This is the prettiest picture of cat food I’ve ever taken. It’s also the only picture.
15 MAR

3.8 mi

Total mileage: 113.

Wow, really? Those trips back and forth to the NATO base sure add up. And the movies being over an hour’s ride away helped. Things I learned overall:

  • A pizza too hot to eat is quickly brought to eating temperature after 5 minutes on the back of a bike.
  • VHS tapes from Europe aren’t compatible with VCRs from the U.S.
  • If you’re looking for your phone, but don’t know your own phone number, it makes locating it that much more difficult.

I had a good time completing this challenge (as I also did with coffeeneuring) and am looking forward to the next one. Once again, if you’re interested in the details behind these sorts of things, check out chasingmailboxes.com

Thanks for reading.

- Bicyclist Abroad