Thursday, 24 September 2009

Ordered a New Bike

I spent Tuesday morning this week at St. John Street Cycles in Bridgwater, Somerset, UK. I had an appointment there to talk to Dan about the Thorn Raven Nomad S&S (Edit: Link now for the Thorn Nomad Mk2), their Rohloff (hub geared) equipped 'adventure touring' bicycle. This is the bike I've ear-marked for this tour and hopefully, many more in the future.

The Raven Nomad is a cart-horse of a bike, designed specifically for tough adventure touring, capable of going virtually anywhere and doing virtually anything and not breaking in the process. In my opinion, it is to the biking world, what the Land Rover is to the automotive world.

I was already familiar with the bike on paper, as I'd downloaded the brochure (Edit: Brochure now for the Thorn Nomad Mk2) and studied it prior to the visit. Nevertheless, that was no substitute for seeing the real thing, so I spent quite a while looking over a shop sample and discussing some of the specification options with Dan. Seeing was one thing, but riding would be another thing again, so let's go for a test ride... 

I left the shop and headed west. My first impression was unsettling, the Nomad was extremely heavy. (No surprises there. The frame is heavy, the wheels are heavy, the tyres are massive and heavy and I expect the paint is heavy too. It's heavy for a reason though, to be strong enough to carry loads over challenging terrain). I fought the bike for the first few kilometres, trying to muscle it like a lightweight racing bike, but there was no instantaneous reward for my effort. The Nomad just rumbled along, soaking up my spirited efforts, but only slowly accelerating when asked.

After a while, though, this perception subsided as I adjusted to the Nomad's operating parameters and I started to enjoy the ride. Firstly, the bike was very stable, tracked around corners well and was generally easy to ride. The XTR V-brakes worked very well with very good modulation (no snatching at all), although the rear brake squealed a bit. Climbing hills was quite enjoyable and rewarding, too. The bike had enough low gears (even enough for a heavy load, I suspect), so I didn't need to strain. I just stuck it in a nice low gear, twiddled away and enjoyed the scenery.

Half way around, I stopped by a lake and watched some fishermen for a while. I also looked over the Nomad again. It's quite a nice looking bike, despite its purely functional remit and very well proportioned. It looked 'right' to me. The frame quality was high, with very neat TIG weldings and robust looking braze-ons. I liked the oversized (6mm) brazing points for the racks and the Thorn racks themselves were also chunky looking and thicker than other racks I've seen.

I reluctantly returned to the shop after an hour of riding. I met up with Dan again and we spent some time producing a specification and quote. I took this away and after making a few changes and checking everything in the evening, I returned to shop the next day and placed my order.

The bike should be ready in 3-4 weeks!

Friday, 18 September 2009

Truly Inspriational

A lot of people have crossed Canada on a bicycle over the years. Quite a few of them have written about their experiences and posted their accounts to the web for others to read. I've read a fair number of them myself and a few of them I have found truly inspirational. Some of my personal favourites are below. Have a read...

Mike's Bicycle Across Canada
Mike Vermeulen's web site contains an account of a ride of 9,700 km, even longer than the one I will be attempting. He started in Fairbanks in Alaska and cycled the Alaska Highway and the YellowHead Highway through the prairie states of Saskatchewan and Manitoba before joining the Trans-Canada Highway in Ontario and continuing to St. John's. His account happens to be the first one I ever read (quite a few years ago).

Biking Across Canada
The "Lone Biker" Erik Straarup is a Danish rider with a reputation for fast solo rides, racking up huge daily distances. His journal is a truly startling account of a "fast" crossing of Canada in 1999 from Vancouver to St. John's. Amazingly, he completed the ride in just 27 days (and 5 hours and 30 minutes)! It's the sheer relentlessness of this guy that impresses me the most; 240km, 280 km, even 320 km, day after day after day and loaded up with camping gear. His account of a record ride around Australia is equally mind-blowing.

I received over Internet some daily emails which described 2 Canadians trip across Canada as they were traveling .They had 2 cars to support them and they only had to bike, therefore I was not so impressed of their average of 250 k pr day and thought that maybe I could do the trip faster, alone and with a tent...
Erik Straarup

From Sea to Sea - An Exploration of Canada by Bike
This one is a highly personal account from a guy called Trevor Hennessey. He really lays himself bare and narrates in graphic detail the various trials and tribulations (there were many), both mental and physical that affected his crossing. He had some fantastic moments as well, but it's his emotional writing that dominates and makes for fascinating reading. Trevor's journal is also the longest and most detailed I've ever read and you can immerse yourself in his writings for days.

The Beetles Cross Canada Bike Trip 2001
Another person who triumphs over adversity is Kirk Nangreaves. Then in his early twenties, he set out to cross Canada with two buddies, Mike and Geoff. Mike seemed not to have enjoyed the experience one bit and quit after a month. A week later and rather out of the blue, Geoff decided to abandon Kirk as well. Kirk, who was not even half way at this point, was clearly devastated, but decided to continue on his own and showing great character and resolve completed his journey solo in 80 days.

After lunch, we stopped at a gas station to refill water. When I came out of the bathroom, there was a pile of food on the ground, along with the tent and Geoff said (paraphrasing): “I don’t mind waiting for you to fix your bike, write your journal or do your push-ups, but I didn’t want to wait for you to look at tourist attractions, so I’ve made a decision: I’m leaving!” And, as I stood there stunned, he took off on his own. I continued to sit there stunned for about an hour, contemplating what to do.
Kirk Nangreaves

Across Canada by Bicycle - Through the North
Most cyclists who cross Canada, my planned adventure included, tend to hug the southern extremities of this vast country. For most people, northern Canada is just too remote and too inhospitable. Tom, a solo traveller from Germany, disagrees and chose a different route, covering some very challenging highways, often unpaved, in more northerly regions. These included the Cassiar Highway, Campbell Highway, the famous Dempster Highway which crosses into the Arctic Circle, the Red-Earth-Road (Highway 88), Route du Nord and Trans-Labrador Highway. These are true wilderness roads for the experienced adventure traveller only. As the author states himself - "No Newbies"!

The Great Canadian Bike Trek
With a similar contempt for convention, Mark Tanner chose to ride while the harsh Canadian winter was still in full swing, setting out from Vancouver in early February! He crossed the snowbound Rockies and then rode across the frozen prairies, facing considerable hardship in the numbing cold on a daily basis until spring finally broke towards the end of his journey.

My mouth is burning dry, I reach for my water bottle and press the mouthpiece against my blistering, dry lips, but alas, the fluid is frozen in its canister.  The bitter cold has taken its toll, I cannot feel my fingers or toes, I'm tired and my bottom hurts, I have been riding up the steep mountain since sunrise.
Mark Tanner

Trans Canada Trail
Tom Couture spent 128 days crossing Canada and covered 10,000 km in the process. What was unusual about Tom's trip was the fact that it was off-road, making extensive use of completed parts of the Trans Canada Trail. Tom kept a GPS record of his journey, in addition to daily altitudinal and distance readings. The data was subsequently used to help produce accurate mapping. When completed, the trail will be 18,000 km in length and the longest recreational trail in the world.

If anybody knows of any other great journals of crossing Canada by bike, please let me know!

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Time For Another Road Trip!

I'm hoping to ride across Canada during the summer of 2010, from Vancouver, BC to St. John's, NL.

Vancouver, BC to St. John's, NL

This spectacular road trip has been, for a long time, one of my major cycling goals. In 2004, I did some quite detailed planning, but never progressed things beyond that. In 2007, I wanted to take on a long distance cycling challenge and considered Canada again, but took the somewhat easier option instead and cycled 5,400 km, fully supported, crossing the US with Pactour. Hopefully, 2010 will be the year...

It's around 7,500 km from Vancouver to St. John's via the Trans-Canada Highway. I'll inevitably cycle a portion of this trunk route (through necessity in certain areas), although I'll want to take quieter roads where possible. This will add some extra distance to the journey, of course. I also intend cycling the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) through the Rockies, from Jasper to Banff, arguably the most scenic road in the world. This will be a significant detour, so my final route will be probably around 8,000 km.

8,000 km is quite a long way on a bicycle and to make sure this adventure is challenging enough, I'm going to be riding solo and unsupported, carrying all of my luggage and camping most nights. I hope to ride about 160 kilometres a day and complete the journey in about 60 days.

Although I'd consider myself a very experienced cyclist, I've never been cycletouring before. In fact, although I've spent a few nights under canvas in fairly harsh conditions (trekking in South America and Africa), I've never actually camped on my own before. I've never put up a tent nor taken one down, I've never lit a stove, I've never cooked a meal in a pot nor brewed up for tea. So, I'll need to put in some practice before next summer.

First though, I'll have to purchase some suitable equipment. I'll definitely need a touring bike as none of my racing bikes are up to the job. I'll need racks and panniers, a tent and camping gear. I've a lot to research, but fortunately, the internet is my friend! I'm currently busy sucking up and digesting all sorts of information to help me plan a successful cycling road trip...