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, TwoTravelling.com, 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