Monday, October 28, 2013

An Enjoyable Ride to the Top of Table Mountain

North of Oroville, California, are the north and south Table Mountains--and on a Sunday morning, October 20, I finally rode to the top of the north mesa. The photo at the right is a view from Oroville of the south table with the north behind it.

Sunday morning was a good day to make this ride because the traffic was light. I rode almost the whole way but walked toward the top off and on while taking photos. Also, to be honest, I felt no compunction to bust a gut. The road is steeper as one approaches the top! I had not been on this road for many years. There is a bleak beauty to the place. I really enjoyed the climb, so I must be getting in shape. The ride from my parents' place was about 25 miles roundtrip. Table Mountain is a big part of Oroville, dominating the landscape above the town and being a winding trip all adolescents seem to drive at least once.

The beginning of the ride is like much of the outskirts or Oroville--some flats and a bit of climbing as the road eases into the foothills.

I chose this ride on Sunday morning, October 20, because I just felt like climbing. I'd grind down to my low gears, and when that wasn't good enough, I'd gear up about three and stand and mash the pedals.
The green sack is filled with all the clothes I took off between eight and nine o'clock. The sun heated the mountain up quickly, and maybe the climb warmed me, also! The fall is the perfect time to ride and climb because the temperature misses the extremes.
Because the road skirts the ravine and is not at the top of the mesa, the views are bound by trees as the ride ascends. Colors are faded by the morning sun, but the silence and the space were just what I needed.

That's California's Central Valley in the distance.
In the haze are the Sutter Buttes, the smallest mountain range in the world. One thing I like about riding into the foothills is how quickly one can get above the valley and gain a new view of the environment.
There are several "tables" to Table Mountain. Cherokee Road goes to the second table, wending its way between the two mesas. The road is twisty and quirky, often leaning the wrong way into a turn or sagging at the road's edge where the earth has slipped away. Sunday morning allowed me to enjoy the road with little traffic.
This is the top--looking pretty normal until turning around and seeing the vista from the mesa's edge. Because the mesa is big, except for the lava runs, much of the environment looks like the valley with scrub oak and bleached grasses. The road across the top is pretty flat, having some ups and downs as it winds through the lava flows.

This is me at the top. Further on, according to Google Maps, is a ecological research station. If I would have known that, I'd have pedaled a little more. It's a unique experience to pedal up the steep hills and then to reach the top and see a flat expanse. Where's the downhill? In this case, a ways across the mesa.

Here's standing on a bluff after ducking through a barbed wire fence.
It appears that the slopes ease off to the valley. It was not possible from where I was to capture the precipitous drop-off of the mesa that is so dramatic from the valley.

On the way down are a series of ravines and saddles as the lava spread and cooled.
Bypassing the first table is a climb and then a drop down between the two tables to a short series of meadows. These meadows were used for dirt and mud trucking and other motor mayhem, at least in my brother's time.

Cherokee Road continues on as Oregon Gulch Road heads off and on into the boondocks. These steep roads are OK because it rarely freezes or snows. On those rare occasions that it does, folks just stay home till the sun melts the freeze. I stopped off here on way down the mountain.

At the bottom of the gulch is a stream. The road continues on into the canyon "breaks" as washboard gravel. Even though close to town, one can quickly get into an area where few people travel. People live on these roads, but there certainly is little through traffic, although the road does loop around to Highway 70. This photo is a "where the sidewalk" or paved road ends moment.

I didn't want to mess with washboard gravel and the possibility of puncture vine thorns. However, up this road my mom attended a one-room school in the boondocks over 70 years ago. The school is gone now. This photo is at the bridge where the pavement ends. There was a pretty stream below. Maybe the trip to the school site is one I'll take in the spring before all the puncture vine thorns mature and harden, as they are now in the fall.
The reservoir above the powerhouse diversion dam creates a quiet boating experience. I saw folks kayaking there the first morning I rode this far. I ate a 2nd breakfast beside the water on my first trip in this direction a few weeks ago. I only got as far as the reservoir on that first trip and had to return because of limited time.
My gag shot. Here I am next to the bridge over the aqueduct that moves the water to Southern California. I wonder if someone called the sheriff: "We've got a 555 on the Cherokee Road aqueduct bridge . . . " As I was setting up and taking the shot, a couple in an SUV came whizzing by, shouting "Woo Hoo!!!" Let my freak flag fly.
Then it was down to the Feather River and across the pedestrian/cycling bridge. When I went to high school, this was the only bridge. Now just east of this bridge is one for cars.
This trip may be the cap of my biking here in Oroville this year. It looks like I'll be going home in a little over a week. I'm glad to be going home (I've been here for 6 months), but the riding here in Oroville is a great variety of valley riding and mountain climbing, whatever I want. I can always visit again, though--and I will.

Copyright 2013 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Raleigh Detour 2.5 Bicycle Review

"Probably the best buy for a light touring bike," said my local bike shop guy in southeast Iowa, "is the Raleigh 2.5 Detour."

"A touring bike for $350?"

"Well, it's got a steel frame, no shocks, a granny gear, and 700C tires. Sure, you get more for the Detour 5.5, but it costs $300 more. If you're looking for solid yet inexpensive, then the 2.5 is a great buy. An extra $70 will get you a rear rack and fenders."

A sudden trip to California to take care of my elderly parents for six months led me after two months to remember this conversation and purchase the 2.5 Detour. I can say that I am satisfied with the results.

I have to be with my family every day, but once my brother (who had broken his leg) was able to cook breakfast for my parents, I began taking day rides in the morning, usually from around fifteen miles (we're six miles from town) to thirty miles.

The bike has handled very well--it climbs well, the components have held up, and I've found the bike comfortable. I've managed to put in about 300 miles a month, so I'm now probably close to a thousand miles on the bike.

If I had to change anything, I'd probably get a better seat. The stock seat squeaks a little and is somewhat wide--not restrictively bad, since I haven't been cycling over 3-4 hours, but a more upgrade seat would probably be my first choice.

The granny gear helps a great deal on the mountain roads here in northern California in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. I use a Bike Pro canvas folding bag that hooks onto the rear rack. This combo lets me shop and also carry around a few bike tools and spare tube.

Greenline Cycles, the local bike shop in Oroville, California, ordered the bike for me, and it arrived in a week. I received a free tune-up after three months. I'd feel pretty comfortable using this bike for touring, as long as I didn't weigh it down excessively. Using my Burley Travoy trailer, which would lessen the strain on the wheels, I think I could even do longer tours.

My point, though, is that this is a great bike for the money. For $350 plus another hundred for accessories, a chance to hit the road with a new bike is pretty wonderful.

Plus, it comes in blue.

Copyright 2013 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Saturday, September 28, 2013

"Distance" and Perspective

Table Mt. Blvd., Oroville, CA
I remember when riding my bike two miles to downtown Fairfield, Iowa, was a big deal.  After all, it included the steepest hill in town that required using my bike's lowest gears!

Now that I have been riding in Oroville, California, for several months while staying with my parents, the six-mile ride to town is just a normal thing. My gauge has adjusted, expanded.

Part of the "adjustment" is physical conditioning, but the other part is mental. For me, the physical conditioning was not a big change. What changed was with retirement more time to ride--even though I can't be gone for much more than three hours usually. The longer distances came naturally.

I've been reading journals of self-contained bicycle tours and came across the following statement: "Today was a short day, only 30 km." Thirty kilometers equals 18.6411 miles. This is now an unremarkable distance for me, too.

Pacific Heights Rd., Oroville, CA

The longest I have bicycled so far is 43 miles. This morning I rode for three hours before turning around because of time--28 miles--and I would have loved to have continued riding. I'm looking forward to when I have more time to ride longer distances when touring.

Many long-distance touring cyclists regularly travel 50-80 miles a day--no big deal.

There is a joy when the body is working well. There is a joy from moving under ones' own power. There is a connection with the environment while riding a bike.

That sense of unity is worth attaining, and it's worthy of celebration.

Copyright 2013 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Day Rides in Oroville, California . . . I'm Still Rolling

The best decision I've  made in a long time is that once I realized I'll be spending about six months caring for my parents and brother, I chose to buy a bicycle. I made that decision about two months into my California stay, and I thank my wife for endorsing and encouraging me to action on my desire.

I've now been taking day rides in the Oroville area. These rides are good for both mind and body. The physical activity involved with spending time with people who are blind or who use walkers or wheelchairs is limited. I'm glad I have the time and the opportunity to be active more according to my current needs and abilities. Thank you, everyone, for giving me the chance to engage in something that gives me joy.

Crazy Guy on a Bike is a website that provides the space for individuals who ride bicycles to post journals and photos about their bicycle travels. Neil Gunton is a bicyclist who is also a computer programmer. He toured on his bicycle one year . . . and developed a website to share his exploits. He has opened that site up to others, including me. CGOAB now includes thousands of journals with photos, product reviews, a bicycling forum, and much more. The site now has a life of its own (still shepherded by Neil), including the possibility of donation to support it. Thank you, Neil.

Here is my profile for CGOAB. It includes my journals/photos, my travels so far. Below are photos and comments about my travels during this time that I am away from SE Iowa while taking care of my family.

This photo represents for me much of the reason why I am bicycling. The shot is a creative experience--seeing the opportunity and taking the shot, and then working with the photo, cropping, turning it to a b & w photo, and playing with contrast. I think I've created a mood that represents (at least for me) what I was experiencing at that moment on Lone Tree Road west of the little town of Palermo: the power and grandeur of nature, the wonderful mystery of life, and the underlying, silent, pure potentiality that is the basis of all activity and individual intelligence.

Taken about 8:30 AM, this photo isn't technically great, but the sky and the morning were. This was the first time I had ever been on this road. Although I can deal with traffic, its lack that morning provided deep satisfaction. In no hurry, I stopped, took photographs, enjoyed the morning, and appreciated being there. The only sounds were those of nature and the whisper of my tires on the pavement. The sky was huge and bright and beckoning. The road before me was an invitation. I gratefully accepted the moment given me, pedaling toward the horizon, alone yet completely connected.

Here I am on a gravel road, a 2.5-mile connection to the next paved section. I enjoyed the change the gravel gave me, and I enjoyed the new environment. I met one auto on this road, a farmer in a pick-up. I like how on these rides I have an overall time frame of travel, since I am caring for my family, yet within that time I am free to rest, explore, or just ride. I usually take some food and stop somewhere along the way for a snack and an opportunity to let the world come to me rather than my coming to it. "Earth abides" is the phrase that sums up this photo for me: I am engaged in the everyday task on eating, yet around me, those eternal rhythms of nature paint the environment with large strokes. The distant bleached fields of grasses--who can miss that we do not move through nature but that we never leave it, that we are part and parcel of it.

This ride was along the Feather river above the fish hatchery. It's a beautiful ride, yet I couldn't escape the memory of how beautiful the river was before the environment was altered by the California water project in the 1960's to dam the river (several times) in order to provide water for Southern California and flood control and recreation for Northern California. In many ways, I think Northern California got the short end of the stick. The rugged canyons and isolated gorges of the area, laced with the river branches and streams, was such a beautiful and unique environment, now buried by man-made reservoirs. What we have created has its beauty, but certainly a beauty no greater than the original.

All that talk, and then a truly grand experience like riding a bike over the suspension bridge at Lake Oroville--great moments come from within as much (or more) than from without. This ride involved climbing, an experience that I had little of or for short duration in Iowa. So, gearing down and grunting or getting off and pushing, both of these experiences I enjoyed and tucked away. The pay-off of the suspension bridge was a treat. Up in the mountains and above the water, the quality of light and sound are special. Vision expands to distances and sound echoes and deepens to silence. I feel like a stone dropped into a pond; I expand, becoming more and more as I become less and less.

This last spring I retired from teaching after 34 years. Even though I am needed now to take care of my family, I can still find time to pursue that which brings me happiness. I need to keep remembering that

Copyright 2013 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Local Bike Shop Adds Juice Bar, Spa, and Yoga Classes

"Around the country, bike shops are shifting gears. The National Bicycle Dealers Association 2013 survey of 4,000 establishments found that 12% have coffee bars, 11% offer spinning classes and almost 5% serve beer. About 1% offer massages, yoga or full-service restaurants."

This is the new trend or profile of the local bike shop, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. The market researcher who profiled this new twist to bike shops predicts a five-fold increase of such diversification by 2018.

This diversification is an attempt by some bike shop owners to accomplish two things:
  1. create alternative streams of revenue
  2. attract new customers
These goals certainly have value, yet I hope that this trend toward having the local bike shop be a combination shopping site, mechanic's shop, watering hole, and health spa is a cultural change that recognizes that bicycling is our future--a green, healthy, and economical means of transportation.

So I vote a big YES for my local bike shop to add a table outside and a juice bar inside, copies of Adventure Cyclist magazine available for reading, and good company to be found.

One last cautionary word from one of these new age bike shops: "Of course, there's always a concern about keeping grease out of the refreshments."

Copyright 2013 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Thursday, May 23, 2013

How Bicycle Touring Is Changing--For Many, Less is More
Even though I am currently away from home and my bicycles because of family business, I am at least reading and enjoying what others are doing.

I looked to buy a used bike to ride here at my hometown, a Trek that needed a lot of work--I knew at least the frame was OK--but the price was too high. I'm still without a bicycle and am reconciling myself to walking for exercise. I like walking but also like traveling further distances in a shorter time--more to see.

An article from the blog The Path Less Pedaled discusses five ways bicycle touring is changing. Here they are short and quick:
  1. shorter trips (such as overnight)
  2. multi-modal adventures (for instance, Amtrak + bike touring)
  3. family friendly touring with the kids
  4. tourism industry recognition--country roads = bicycling heaven
  5. off-road and gravel touring--"exploring new, unpaved territory"
If these ideas seem interesting, check out the original article: 5 Ways Bicycle Travel and Touring Are Changing.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Montague Navigator Folding Bicycle, Amtrak, and a Burley Travoy Trailer: more information

In January I bought a Burley Travoy trailer for commuting and bicycle touring, detailed in my Jan. 15 blog post. (Addendum: just found out the trailer now comes in yellow.)

In February I bought a Montague Navigator full-size folding bike to use on Amtrak, detailed in my Feb. 5 blog post.

Travel luggage on Amtrak will be three carry-on bags: the black bag shown which will hold the Travoy and can be stuffed with tent and other items; the black Montague canvas bike bag (not shown) that will hold the bike and more gear (I will probably make a simple cover for the chain to keep the inside of the case cleaner); and the green knapsack above the black bag in the photo. This will include travel items and food to use on the train. Burley sells attachments to use to clip bags to the trailer. I may buy those to easily attach the bag, or I may make my own fasteners for much cheaper. Easy, expensive ($15 for 4 clips; $15 shipping) or some Velcro. I'll probably go with cheap, but the cool-looking, durable clips from Burley are pretty snazzy!
Now it's time to talk about the changes to the basic plan.
  1. Amtrak service extends, using there connecting bus service, to my parents' hometown of Oroville, California, so I can get on Amtrak in Ottumwa, Iowa, and travel straight to Oroville. This will save me motel money that I had originally planned for disembarking at Roseville, California.I won't be riding 60 miles to my parents' home but rather 7 miles from the Oroville bus stop.
  2. I've included a Velcro strap-on mirror for the Navigator--easy to remove for folded transport.
  3. I've changed seats from the basic seat included with the Navigator (not an unusual move for bike purchases). I'm trying the Terry Cite-Y Gel. My next choice would have been the Liberator, but I felt I'd be spending more time in an upright riding position.
  4. I don't believe I'll be taking the Navigator's back rack because I have to remove the seatpost rack when I use the Travoy's seatpost trailer hitch. I can use a small knapsack for a few tools, a tire kit, and sundry for day rides. I might think of a small handlebar bag, too.
I used the Montague Navigator/Burley Travoy combo yesterday for a quick trip down the lime-chip bike path to the store. The experience was easy and enjoyable. When the weather warms and dries up a bit, I'll try a practice overnighter to a local campground in order to see how easy it will be to transport the materials I plan to take with me on Amtrak to California.

Copyright 2013 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Mirror for the Foldable Montague Navigator

Those cars are big, fast, and solid. We bicyclists need to see behind to know what's closing in on

I have a bike mirror on all my bikes. I've bought a helmet mirror but have yet to really like it. Bike mirrors tend to last a while--a season to several years--and then the bike falls over or the mirror gets whacked while entering a doorway, something like that, and the mirror breaks.

The issue is different with a folding bike, though, because the very act of folding the bike and packing it around or storing it beside the desk at the office offers more possibilities to bump the mirror.

One solution I'm trying now (and it seems to work) was found, oddly enough, not at my local bike shop or on some online source but at the local Wal-Mart. Their little nook of generic bike gadgets had a Velcro, strap-on bike mirror, made by Bell.

I actually can't find online the exact equivalent of this mirror; perhaps is a new version put out by Bell. This mirror has a flex handle, which helps with bumping, and the Velcro securing strap is smooth, lacking a buckle for folding over that I saw from an online photo of an earlier model. Other versions of this mirror have rigid attachment shanks (the more easy to snap) and buckled Velcro attachments. Some users, though, in reviews have mentioned that the rigid shanks are better because the flex version of the mirror vibrates or has to be regularly adjusted. I imagine the bumpier the road, the more this might be true.

So far, my procedures for portaging the bike now include unfastening the mirror and sticking it into my pocket when folding the bike. At $7.96, I'm not sure how durable the mirror will be, but even buying one a season is certainly much cheaper and wiser than having a headbutt (or tailbutt) with a recreation vehicle.

I plan to tell my local bike shop owners about the mirror so that they can stock it. That way, the local bike crowd will have a greater chance of seeing this product while browsing bike stuff. For me, the local super-store is not my first stop for bike gear. Funny things happen, though, and I'm glad to have a mirror for my Montague Navigator folding bike that works.

Check out the photos I've taken of the mirror I use. I think the articulated neck and the smooth grip are key details that led me to try this particular version of the strap-on mirror.

Copyright 2013 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved
The products mentioned were bought by the author, who is--at least at the time of this writing--not a representative of any company mentioned, nor does he wear the blue vest and work at Wal-Mart.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Fairfield, Iowa, to Lacey-Keosauqua State Park on Bicycles

Yes, it was our first overnight trip by bicycles, and we were traveling just twenty-five miles to the second-oldest state park in Iowa. 

It was 2010. We were excited, and we had a successful, enjoyable trip. Now, three years later, mu wife and I are at mid-March, waiting for the weather to change so we can make up for our lapse of three years.

This trip is chronicled on an online site, Crazy Guy on a Bike, that is dedicated to bicycle tours--from day trips to around-the-world odysseys. Our little excursion was for three days with two nights in a tent. Here is the link for the site and the journal narrative:
SE Iowa 3-Day Tour: Fairfield to Lacey-Keosauqua State Park
Created as a state park in 1921, the park has 1,653 acres of varied terrain--hills, bluffs along the Des Moines River, and woods and prairie meadows. We enjoyed hiking the trails, swimming in the lake, and the modern facilities in the campground. We also traveled the two miles to the county seat of Van Buren County, Keosauqua (population a little over 1,000) for lunch.

My wife and I learned a lot from the trip, in addition to having fun. The Crazy Guy on a Bike website is a great source for learning from the experience of others. (That way, you don't have to learn everything the hard way!)

Two overnight bike trip journals were those of Alexandra Greene and of Jackie Sindrich, both bike camping in New York.

Link to Trip Journal
Alexandra and her husband traveled overnight with the two small children. It was a first-time adventure that included fun and some pain from their lack of experience. Their 75-mile trip (37.5 each way) taught them to not take too much, to plan meals more carefully, to understand that Google maps don't include elevation, and to realize more the special needs of traveling with young children.

Link to Journal
Jackie traveled solo there and back a total of 112 miles along Lake Erie. Her experience was different--less baggage and less to worry about. She was also traveling some territory that she was familiar with. What I like is how she didn't worry about equipment so much, using a $30 tent and a pool-floatie "sleeping mattress." She carried the camping equipment on a rear rack, secured by bungees, and all her personals in a small knapsack.

I've enjoyed reading journals of all lengths of trips on Crazy Guy on a Bike, from multi-year around-the-world trips to day biking. However, the first-time journals are interesting because as a novice I can learn from others' experiences. For instance, both of the above journals mention to bring bug spray!

Copyright 2013 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved
Photos from CGONB, copyright of the authors, links provided

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Bicycle Touring on a 1977 Huffy One-Speed

Jeff Teel got into bicycle touring by adding some baskets to his 1977 one-speed Huffy (distributed as an Open Road model by Montgomery Ward). The baskets were for transporting veggies.
"During the summers of 2008 and 2009, I used my bike sometimes to make weekly trips to nearby Eureka to pick up vegetables from a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) that we were members of. I purchased the rear baskets for that reason. It wasn't until later that I determined they'd work for touring."
He writes about his adventures in three journals at the Crazy Guy on a Bike website, a site that supports many hundreds of trips taken by bike touring folks all over the world. His three documented trips add up to 50 days of travel that include tent camping and 2,458 miles of travel.
  • Morton, IL, to Springfield, MO, in nine days (2010)
  • Morton, IL, to Laurens, IA, to Mount Zion, WI, to Morton, IL (2011)
  • Morton, IL to Northern Indiana and Back (2011)
Neither Jeff's travels nor his equipment are exotic, yet he got on his bike and pedaled down the road--if not a road less traveled then certainly in a manner less used. He's not all low tech either.
He maps his route and uses GPS to maintain his route. He posts to CGOAB via email. He upgrades the gearing on his one-speed, changing the rear sprocket from 19 teeth to 20. (see image below).


Jeff's Montgomery Ward Open Road, manufactured by Huffy in 1977, at an earlier time in American bicycle touring history--say 1900--would be considered a wonder of technological achievement. We don't need much to travel by bike, mostly the incentive. Even with his simple equipment, though, it's evident that Jeff has done his planning. The resulting trips are obviously full of pleasure and achievement.


Friedel and Andrew Grant say it well in their free e-book Bike Touring Basics. Their book is also available as an Amazon eBook and has been reviewed by me.
"Above all, don’t be put off by an obsession to figure out every last detail. Like any journey, there’s a lot to think about before you take those first steps but, at its core, bike touring is really quite simple. The most crucial ingredients are a bike and a desire to ride that bike beyond your front doorstep."
 For me, Jeff Teel's bicycling adventures show me two things besides the Grants' encouragement to just start and not worry about too much. One learning lesson is that it's not necessary to obsess on planning, that the basics will do and what more is needed is become evident. The second lesson is that there can be great beauty and enjoyment close to home, that we don't have to travel across the country or around the globe to find a beautiful adventure. For those who seek the far horizons, I applaud your audacity and may well find myself one day joining your ranks.

But for now, a weekend down a local lane and a night spent in a cozy county campground--that's my incentive and my dream.


Copyright 2012 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved
Images are from CGOAB and have been posted with links

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Commuting by Bicycle in the Snow--Netherlands Style

As I watch this video of bike commuting in Utrecht, Netherlands, there are several key points to notice.
  1. No wind, or very little.
  2. No ice, or very little--but the slush could be tricky.
  3. Hats, no hats, scarves . . . the temperature must be just below freezing but not by much.
  4. Fenders and bikes that look a lot like the old Schwinn style 3-speeds.
  5. It ain't no big thing.

Right now as I write, the temperature is about 30 degrees. Wind? "Northwest wind 15 to 25 mph with gusts to around 30 mph increasing to 25 to 35 mph with gusts to around 40 mph."

I wouldn't mind a little snow and no wind. There's something very reassuring, though, about a place that's figured out how to get by--at least in the city--without a car.

Here's one with a little more extreme weather.

I think maybe tomorrow I'll ride my bike--if the wind lets us and I feel strong. Notice my equivocation? Got to stay strong to outlast the flu season. That excuse should last me for a while . . .

Dawn the next morning: 15 degrees Fahrenheit, winds up to 29 MPH, wind chill at -11 degrees . . . ah, well . . .

Copyright 2013 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Ride 160 Miles and Earn a New Bike: the Montague Navigator and the Burley Travoy

My plan is to ride my bike more this year, to use the bike as both a commuting and a recreational vehicle.

It galled me to think that I had to throw that resolution out the door in order to visit my parents and brother who live in California 2,000 miles away. My solution is the title of this post, "Ride 160 Miles and Earn a New Bike.

I'll present the plan, but first let me introduce the bike, a Montague Navigator folding bike.

Montague became famous in the bike world by making military folding bikes for paratroopers. They still make their Paratrooper model, but I chose a more standard bike because it has some features that fit my needs better.

For the Christmas season, my wife and I bought a commuter bike trailer, the Burley Travoy, that we plan to use for weekend camping.

Here are the events in the order that led me to buying my "160-mile bike."
  1. I buy the Travoy and begin researching on the net and on Google maps local touring routes.
  2. I research folding bikes, thinking to the future, but only find bikes in the $2,500 range until I discover Montague bikes.
  3. I discover a bike route planned by the Central California Cycling organization from Sacramento to Chico, California. The route passes through Oroville, where my parents live, and the route passes right by Sacramento International Airport.
  4. It appears the airlines will accept the folded bike as an extra, checked bag, but I worried about the soft bag ($100 and a smashed bicycle) and the price of the hard case ($400-500 and a smashed bank account).
  5. Then I thought about Roseville, a town close to Sacramento that is an Amtrak junction. I could travel from Fairfield to Roseville and ride my bike to Oroville. Two days of riding, stopping halfway in Marysville, and staying at my parents' place, and the bike is about half paid for in one trip.
  6. Amtrak ticket, $400; lodging (4 nights, 2 each way), $400 max; trip food, $100 = $900. Since we usually plan between $1,500 and $2,000 for the trip (plane, motel, car), I've just paid for a big hunk of the bike in one trip. Cool.
It looks like over-60 adventure cycling, but 40 miles of riding a day is definitely an attainable goal. The land is essentially flat, and I'll be commuting and riding weekends all spring. I usually stay in a motel to allow my elderly parents to keep their routine, but I'll pitch my tent in their carport so I can slip outside when they need a rest.

Amtrak allows for two carry-on bags. "Each passenger can have a total of 2 carry-on bags, each not to exceed 50 lbs. (23 kg), 28 x 22 x 14 inches (700 x 550 x 350 millimeters)."

It also states the following, regarding bicycles: "Folding bicycles under the dimensions of 34" x 15" x 48"/860 x 380 x 1120 mm will be allowed onboard all trains in lieu of a piece of baggage. They must be considered a true folding bicycle."

The Burley Travoy bag, packed with extra traveling items, measures 22" x 18" x 9", within the carry-on luggage strictures. The Montague Navigator, folded and bagged, measures 36" x 28" x 12", which meets the folding bicycle requirements for Amtrak.

Thus, I can carry on these two items, along with an under-the-seat bag with food and a book, and travel green this summer . . . and pay for my bike along the way.

I even found a route from Fairfield to Ottumwa (the eastern junction with Amtrak for me). There are even more possibilities--maybe I'll ride the bike from Ottumwa to Fairfield on the return journey if the train arrives on time at 9:00 A.M. I'll get a ride to Ottumwa when I begin the adventure, though. Two days on a train after having ridden a bike on a mid-June day for around three hours--the conductor would probably kick me off the train for bad hygiene. Can't have that!

Copyright 2013 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Friday, February 1, 2013

Bicycle Commuting as a Way of Life: Take Copenhagen, for Instance

What makes commuting by bicycle an enjoyable experience?
  • Accepted
  • Safe
  • Easy
I think these three concepts make riding a bike in town a fun and fulfilling experience. They create an ambiance that allows for the relaxing joy of pushing the pedals to get somewhere.


Belonging to a group is a comforting thing--at least it can be if the group is protected and celebrated by the powers that be. In order for the citizens of a community to embrace bicycling, having the government embrace it first is a big plus. And that embrace must be on the social level, the regulatory level, and the structural level. The city must celebrate bike riding as a positive addition to the city's lifestyle, it must pass whatever regulations are needed to promote bicycling, and it must change the physical structure of the city to make folks on bikes feel included. Copenhagen, for instance, is a city that has made riding and parking a bicycle just as normal and natural as driving a car--more so, perhaps. Bicycles own the town!


Creating a city environment that provides safety for the cyclist is essential in order for people to choose riding a bike rather than driving a car. Some of these environmental changes must affect the emotions of the bicyclists. They must not only be safe but also feel safe. One means of providing this sense of safety is through the city's legislative decisions; the city must walk the talk so that others can . . . ride with pride? The biggest way of providing safety is to change the structural organization of the city, to adopt those street and traffic alterations and modifications that other cities have found to be effective means of making a city bicycle safe. One intersection in Copenhagen had ten serious bicycle accidents a year; with some changes to the environment, that dropped to one. Now, that's a measurable commitment to bicycling safety!


In my little Midwest town of Fairfield, Iowa, the streets are set up for cars. It's easy to get to where you want to go in a car, to park, and then to do your business. My town also has a wonderful system of lime chip bike trails. Some can be used a bit for commuting, but most of the trails are for recreational riding, not commuting. Therefore, the sense of commuting being easy and inviting can still be improved. Increasing the structural changes for riding in the city area and providing easier parking opportunities for bikes-giving them a higher profile--will allow those who would ride bikes and who don't to see and believe how easy commuting by bike would be. In Copenhagen, the city even has plastic cars which fill a street-side parking slot. The plastic can be raised in four sections to safely and securely harbor cargo bikes, which are bigger and more expensive than regular commuter bikes.

Below is a video where Americans who were attending an international conference on bicycling in cities speak out their reactions to how Copenhagen has made its environment a bicycle-friendly reality.

I think you'll like the comments and the visuals.

It is impossible to make Fairfield a year-round biking city, of course, because the winters are too harsh. Oh, yes, some hardy souls do bike year round, but ice and snow and blizzard conditions just don't make it feasible for everyone. There are some times when the conditions make riding a bike an extreme sport.

Still, for six months a year, bicyclers can give it a go in my hometown. For two to three months more, it is possible to bike, and for about three months, put biking up there wilth climbing Mt. Everest. The city should concentrate on promoting those easy months. Let's get Grandpa and Grandma out their on their bikes, along with everyone else.

Copyright 2013 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Burley Travoy Bike Trailer: A January Test Run

Yesterday it was in the 50s in Iowa, warm and a little windy. 

I needed to buy groceries and decided to try out my new Burley Travoy commuter bicycle trailer. After all, soon it will be highs in the 20s again.

Hooking up the trailer to my trusty old Fuji Thrill mountain bike that I've converted to my winter commuter bike, I took off down the road to the store about a mile away. Riding into the wind, I didn't notice much resistance from the body of the trailer. I did notice some road noise with the empty trailer, but that disappeared when the trailer was loaded on the way home.

The Travoy rode like a dream, both empty and loaded. There was no sense of pull or drag, although I found coming down one gear and increasing my spinning revolutions made for a more effortless trip. What I did notice was people staring as I rode by. I imagine in the summer when I hitch the Burley Travoy trailer to my Burley Koosah recumbent, I'll get even more stares--the Freightliner tractor and trailer of bicycles!

The great joy was to stop at the store, unhitch the trailer, and roll through the doors to shop. For this trip, I didn't take the top bag, but think I would have if I had it to do again. I would have put the bananas in the top bag to ensure there would be no bruising. Rolling down the aisles, I added items, filling the green grocery bag about three-quarters full. Pulling up to the check-out, I unhooked the bag, set it on the counter, and then helped the cashier empty it. Then, as the items were scanned, I packed the bag for the trip home, placing the heavier items to the bottom and back.

The trailer actually rode better with a load; it seemed more stable. As I rode past the kitchen window on the way to the front door, my wife saw me and said to herself, "There's a photo opportunity!" And that was the genesis of this blog post with the photos.

I'm looking forward to using the Travoy this summer with our weekend bike touring. I think it will work well and ride with more stability than the rear panniers on the recumbent.

Burley makes a duffle bag with specialized attachment hooks for their Travoy trailer. "That's your birthday present," my wife said with a smile. My birthday's coming in about three weeks. I'd better order soon! Judging from the dimensions of the bag and it's looks, my challenge will be to not pack too much on camping trips!

Using the Travoy will add some joy to my commuting, although I imagine I will most often continue to use my Bike Pro City Bags that attach to my rear rack. They are very handy. For big shopping days, though, and for local weekend bike camping, I think the Burley Travoy adds a lot of potential to my bike-riding capabilities.

Copyright 2013 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Families on Bicycles: Families That Ride Together . . .

I've always been attracted to the idea of not having to separate family and work. 

A mother at work with her child in a crib or playpen beside her is a good image in my mind, and so is that of the father at work, maybe at his business, and the child there alongside him, soaking up the knowledge, experience, and family vibes.

I know this isn't always possible--in fact, usually not possible--but that's something I think we should lament as a culture. Companies that make a place for children within the business environment I applaud. Not only does doing so support the family and employees--"family values" in the best, least politicized form of the term--but I think having young ones among us adults keeps us more human and less cogs in a machine. Employees (and bosses) might find themselves less apt to lead "lives of quiet desperation," to use the words of Thoreau.

In a culture that can easily fragment a family, isolating and diminishing its members, some families have been using the bicycle as a means to accomplish staying together. 

Although their website TravellingTwo doesn't mention much about their personal lives and how they earn money to fund their touring, Andrew and Friedel Grant are now the "Traveling Three" with their young son. Their accounts will probably become more personal--and already have with the video of their bicycle touring with their son at five month of age and their article "Where Baby Sleeps When We're Bike Touring."

Family on Bikes' Tour Interactive Map
John Vogel and Nancy Sathre-Vogel "of Family on Bikes are just a couple of ordinary school teachers turned homeschoolers who are following [their] dreams." They and their two sons hit the road, touring the United States and then Alaska to Argentina. They have documented their travels on a website inspires and educates adults on how to tour and children on the wonders of our world's geography. Writing books about their travels, connecting with corporate and individual sponsors, and lecturing are the means they are currently using to fund their lifestyle choice of how to raise their boys to men. Mom and Dad are working hard to make their website a valuable resource for education, and I think they're doing a great job. Any teacher or parent who wants to stimulate a desire to learn about the world should plug into the Vogels' website.

Currently on a bicycling adventure on a trip across Central and South America, the English couple Steve and Pippa Genner, after successful European tours with their two sons, are another couple who want to share the adventure of being a family--and are using the bicycle as the vehicle (literally and figuratively) to do that. Their current Americas tour is journaled (with great photos) as "Life is like a box of chocolates." The Genners credit the inspiration for their trek to Pippa's mother, who "at the end of the 1950s, packed her bags and headed off into Europe to search for the land of the midnight sun"--and who happened to meet the man whom she married along the way. The family also credits the Vogels, whose Americas odyssey inspired them.

Just as the Genners followed the Vogels' journey day by day when the Vogels traveled Central and South America by bike, you can right now follow the Genners. They, as of this blog post, are in Panama. Read of their experiences and check out the photographs they are posting.

I don't know about you, but that morning country road in Panama looks a lot more appealing than the frosty, freezing rain and snow of Iowa in January! The Genners' tour journal and many other journals at the Crazy Guy on a Bike site are available to see the different lives or vacations that others are choosing. Many of those choosing to travel by bike are doing it with their families.

Kids like to move--and parents need to. My mom's advice for a long life is "Keep moving." Alone, with your significant other, with your children or with your friends, bicycling is a healthy way to interact with the world. Even if you don't make the big tour many are chronicling, perhaps enjoying the adventures of others will inspire you to get on your bike and enjoy a micro-adventure in your hometown or the country surrounding it.

Every day there is the dawn, and you could be on your bike enjoying that new morning.

Copyright 2013 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Miles from Nowhere: Book Review

Miles from Nowhere, by Barbara Savage is one of the greatest bicycle travel journals or travelogues ever written.

Published by The Mountaineers, a non-profit outdoor activity and conservation club founded in 1906, every year the organization, in cooperation with Larry Savage, awards The Barbara Savage/Miles from Nowhere Memorial Award to "an unpublished nonfiction manuscript that presents a compelling account of a personal journey of discovery undertaken in an outdoor arena."

Beginning as no-nothing bicycle travelers and challenging the hills, winds, and rains of the American Pacific coastline, Barbara Savage and her husband Larry continue on through the Yukon and across and down the United States to Florida. Then it's on to Europe, Morocco, Egypt, and on around the world.

Here is an excerpt where they link up in the British Isles--a safe and clean ride except for the rain--with a friend from southern California who rides with them for a time:
"Tough! You folks 'er real tough. I'm dyin', and ya'll 'er goin' a mile a minute. They'll never believe this back in good 'ole Paso Robles," Cary chucked in his country drawl. "I thought the rough part o' yer undertakin' would be gettin' used ta pedalin' long distances. Heck, that's only a fraction of it! You've gotta get used ta bugs in yer food and campin' in animal manure and shoppin' fer food three times 'er more a day. An' then at the end o' the day, when yer tired and hungry, you've gotta search fer a good campin' spot and cook up yer dinner on that little stove before ya kin eat. And then you've still gotta wash the dishes before ya kin go ta bed, and lotsa times y go ta bed dirty. And besides all that, ya hafta bicycle in the rain and git all wet and miserable. Now that's what I call tough!"
Tough is indeed the world used to describe the Savages in this chronicle of their two-year odyssey around that world that began in 1979. Some experiences were sublime in their beauty, and some experiences they barely survived. Some experiences describe the openness and goodness of humanity, and some experiences described the closed narrowness and poverty of humanity.

All the experiences of this bicycle trek are told with Barbara's riveting prose style, with a great attention to detail that does not slow the rapid pace of the story. Although I don't use the term much, I can definitely state that this book is a real page-turner.

Here is The Mountaineers' description of the book:
This is the story of Barbara and Larry Savage's sometimes dangerous, often zany, but ultimately rewarding 23,000 miles global bicycle odyssey, which took them through 25 countries in two years. Miles From Nowhere is an adventure not to be missed!

Along the way, these near-neophyte cyclists encountered warm-hearted strangers eager to share food and shelter, bicycle-hating drivers who shoved them off the road, various wild animals (including a roof ape and an attack camel), sacred cows, rock-throwing Egyptians, overprotective Thai policeman, motherly New Zealanders, meteorological disasters, bodily indignities, and great personal joys. The stress of traveling together constantly for two years tested and ultimately strengthened the young couple's relationship.
 Online reviewer Renee Sproles commented:  "Enduring physical and mental hardships as well as relishing the pleasures of creation and human kindness, Barbara Savage sparked in me a yearning to break free of my daily routine and reach out to others however I can." She titled her review "a wake-up call from your daily routine."

This book awakens the adventure in us and enlivens our humanity. It provides us a wider picture of the world, expanding our sense of what it means to be part of the family of humankind. It increases our appreciation of our luck of living a life of privilege, compared to many in the world.

Read the book; get on your bike and ride. Remember that the tour bus doesn't really capture the reality of the land you're touring. On a bike, you are immersed in the world, surrounded by it--as heady and as scary an experience as learning to swim. Miles from Nowhere is an out-of-the-bathtub-and-into-the-ocean experience. Certainly invigorating, often chilling, but absolutely unforgettable.

Copyright 2013 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Bike Touring Basics: a book review

World bicycle travelers and authors of Bike Touring Basics, Friedel and Andrew Grant, describe their book in the introduction as "a compact and inspiring introduction to the world of bike touring, from the planning stage through to the equipment you might need to get started." They state the book's purpose even more concisely on the title page: "A mini guide to bicycle touring, for people planning a first exploration of the world by pedal power." These words accurately describe the Grants' tightly yet warmly written eBook on the what-to's and how-to's of the bike touring world.

The front cover indicates Bike Touring Basics contains information on "bikes and gear," "life on tour," and "inspiration." Many chapters begin with a quotation from some experienced world bicycle traveler. For instance, the chapter "Why Go Bike Touring" begins with a quote by Rebeca Jensen, a portion of which is as follows: "Bicycle touring is heightened awareness. It's the difference between microwaving and cooking a meal from scratch. It's the difference between standing awe-struck in front of a painting and clicking past it on the internet."

All these quotations are linked to sites on the web, and many more avid bicyclists who helped create the book are also listed, so the book becomes a source or index for a much wider world of experienced bike touring that the Grants have connected with. A free PDF version of the book is available at the Grants' website,, but it is mentioned in the introduction to the e-Book that the PDF is not as full, lacking some information, links, and photos. The image on the cover, for instance, "was taken at 4,500 meters on the Puna de Atacama in northern Chile." It was part of a multi-month bike tour in South America, by Harriet and Neil Pike.

The touring experience of the Grants, coupled with their interaction with the world bike-touring community, provide a powerful sense of credibility to the book. The contents of the book range from the motivation of why to tour, to costs, route planning, on whether to sleep in hostels or to "wild" camp, equipment (gear), buying a bike, and loading up the bike. Equipment covered includes a balance of American and European gear. The Grants are Canadian, have lived in England, and are now living in the Netherlands, "a cycling paradise."

I found this book very readable--easy to follow and a nice balance of heart and intellect, satisfying both. I'll let the authors finish up this review.

". . . bike touring really is something anyone can do. You don't need to be super fit or below some arbitrary age barrier. You don't even need to know a lot about bike touring and you certainly don't need a fancy bike."

"Finally if you remember nothing else then remember this: people of all types and descriptions are out there right now, pedaling across their countries, continents and even the world. You can too, and you'll have the time of your life along the way."

They go on to mention that it doesn't hurt, though, to gain a little knowledge before striking out. Bike Touring Basics is an enjoyable and inspiring place to gain that knowledge. Here is a link to a YouTube video on the Grants touring with their five-month-old son. They seem like nice folks.

Copyright 2013 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013 Goals for Tom Kepler Bicycling

Let's keep this simple. Achieving four goals in 2013 will ensure that this blog has been successful in its first year.

Goal 1: Local Biking Opportunities
  • What interesting places are there to bicycle in and around Fairfield, Iowa? 
  • What biking does southeast Iowa have to offer in Jefferson County and the counties that surround it? 
  • This blog should record routes, images, and videos that everyone can access.
  • A specific goal is to create a series of videos of the Jefferson County Trails, posted at YouTube, so that there is online information about the trails and the pleasures of riding them.
Goal 2: Travelogues and Journals
  • Where have you toured around Fairfield, Iowa, and what was it like?
  • Where by bike have my wife and I toured on day trips and overnight camping trips?
  • Indulging my journalistic penchant will increase the motivation for my wife and I to get on the road (and trails) with our bikes and enjoy the day or the weekend.
  • Blog posts, including YouTube videos, will record routes and experiences.
Goal 3: A Variety of Biking Experiences
  •  What are others doing on bicycles in the Fairfield area?
  • This blog should provide the opportunity for other riders and families to record their experiences with articles, photos, and videos. Making contact with those people is important.
  • Long day rides (like "centuries," 100-mile rides), single-track riding (with mountain bikes), group rides, and fund-raisers are already part of Fairfield's bicycling experience. Why not write about them and let others know what is happening?
  • This goal should also include the experience of different age groups.
Goal 4: Equipment, Gear, and Accessories
  • What kind of bikes are people riding, and what kinds of stuff are they taking with them?
  • Reviews of books, camping gear, bicycles, and bike-specific accessories are great to have available. 
  • It will be good for others to know what's available both locally (at A.J.'s Bike Shop in Fairfield), in other local southeast Iowa towns, and online.
  • Links can also be established for resources beyond this blog.
These are the four 2013 goals for Tom Kepler Bicycling: highlight biking in the Fairfield, Iowa, region; create written and visual records of local bike touring, including day tours and longer tours; share the diversity of bike experience in Fairfield by other riders; and to introduce and review equipment that might be useful.

 It's January 1st . . . a long way to spring. Maybe I should have added a 5th goal--more patience!

Copyright 2013 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved