Submitted by Richard Dorsett
A week after I returned from my recent tour of Halifax, Nova Scotia to Buffalo, New York (1125 miles), my bicycle was delivered to my door. It was safely packed and in perfect condition.
A challenge faced by every touring bicyclist is getting your bike to where you need it and then getting it home again. Sure, there are places where one can rent a bike, but that doesn’t really work; I like and know my ride and it is set up for the gear I use. So one way or another, my bicycle usually travels with me on an airplane.
When I began bicycle touring I learned right away how to break it down and put it back together. Airlines want the pedals and seat removed, and the handle barshave to be dropped down to fit in a cardboard carton. I have seen some bicycles arrive wrapped in shipping plastic, but that’s too sketchy for me and some airlines won’t take a bicycle that way. Most bicycle shops will give you a carton for free; they have lots of them that usually end up in recycle. For about fifty bucks a shop will professionally pack your bike for you, but since you’ll usually have to reassemble everything yourself, you might as well learn how to pack it as well. (You can have your bike shipped to a bicycle shop at your destination and have it assembled; but doing the work myself is another of my preferences).
If you’re new to touring, pack your bicycle and put it back together a couple of times. Take photos of assembly that you may want to remember; it’s funny how you can forget which way a cable runs or how the handlebars are connected to the fork stem. But practice; the camera is a good technique, but when I arrived in Bogota, Colombia, my phone wouldn’t work and hence no photos. I ended up putting my bearings on the the wrong way; a potentially tour-ending mistake, but a problem I managed to solve.
You’d think that by now airlines would be used to handling bicycles packed in standard-sized cartons, but don’t count on it. When you book your ticket, it is a good idea to let the airline know you have a bicycle as baggage; it’ll get entered in the computer and can help with any confusion when you check in. Airlines have gotten greedy with baggage fees, Delta still charges $150 to check a box. Several weeks ago, Alaska Airlines announced it was dropping its charge for bicycles to $25; I hope other carriers will follow their example.
There are many reasons I travel by bicycle and each trip is full of adventure. An always satisfying moment is arriving at a destination, finding a quiet spot in the airport to put my bike together, and then pedaling away. Some airports are massive or difficult to get away from, but there is an independence to rolling out and finding my way.
There is always a moment of truth when I arrive somewhere. It’s been more than twenty years since I’ve had a lost bag, but every item I tour with is essential. If I were to forget a tool I could be in a world of hurt, one of the reasons I use a detailed checklist. Some things can be replaced anywhere, a pair of socks, for example, but without my hex wrenches, I would be stuck—for awhile, anyway.
There are three websites I rely upon for my bicycle touring. bikeflights.com (out of Portland), will ship your bicycle home using FedEx for about half what FedEx will charge. It’s what I used this last trip to have my bike delivered to my door. I have the airport routine worked out fairly well, but sometimes I don’t want to haul the box around. Other times, getting the box to the airport is challenge enough, so Bikeflights eases the journey.
Anyone considering a bicycle tour ought to sign up with WarmShowers. It is a global hosting site for bicyclists. Like couchsurfing, no money is involved, and it is an opportunity to meet and get to know local cyclists wherever you are. And if you don’t plan to tour yourself, consider becoming a WarmShowers host. Fascinating people are rolling through your town. WarmShowers has just completed an upgrade to its website, and it is easy to use.
And finally, if you’re planning to tour, check out crazyguyonabike.com. This is another global site where touring cyclists post trip journals, logs, and photos. It is full of tips about wherever you may be headed. Even if you plan to stay home in your easy chair, go to the site for some vicarious bicycle adventure travel.
One of the best print resources is Adventure Cyclist, put out by the Adventure Cycling Association, based in Missoula, Montana. These are the folks who developed the TransAmerica trail and maps for other long distance bicycle tours in the U.S.A. The photos alone may be enough to encourage you to pump up your tires and get in the saddle for a ride.
My bicycle is a Surly Long Haul Trucker, a steel-framed touring bike that serves me well. Still, you can tour on all sorts of bicycles and I’ve seen lots, from ancient Schwinns to tricycle recumbents. On my first couple of tours I rode a 1980s vintage Trek 420, which but for having my now favored Surly, I would continue to use. On those first tours my gear was stacked high over the rear rack and panniers; now with front and rear racks, my gear and the ride are more balanced. There are different ways to tour. Many, like me, are out creating their own routes. But you can find supported tours all over the world, where the logistics have been all worked out for you, and all you have to do is pedal. Three days or three months, give yourself an adventure and take a ride.
I’m back home, and so too is my bicycle, but new trips are already taking shape.
October 28, 2017