Coffee, Camera & Kilometers

Beautiful adventures on two wheels

We met a couple from Amsterdam as we breakfasted in our campsite at the eastern foothills of the Harz Mountains.

They were traveling the R1 cycle path in the other direction, aiming for Berlin. We’d just passed the 600km mark in our trip from Berlin, and it was a much longer, harder 600km than any of us had expected.

Heart-pounding inclines. Windswept croplands. Biting horseflies. Our thighs hardened. Our skin browned.

After days of mountain climbs and misdirection, we were inhaling a breakfast of muesli, yogurt, coffee, boiled eggs, sausage, cheese, nuts, plums and bananas. We were unkempt, sunbroiled savages.

By contrast, the Dutch couple looked fresh and lovely. She styled her hair and did her makeup. They ate a light breakfast of melon and grapefruit.

He casually boasted about the boring flatlands they’d passed and the 124km day they’d recently done. (She quietly clarified that they’d only completed 22km the following day and had slept heavily.) He was excited for topographic variety.

We wished them well in the hills ahead and sailed down toward Münster at high speed, laughing as a black rainstorm slicked our skin.

We embarked last Monday, and the piles of experience since then makes it seem like ages ago. 

One of the most surprising things for me so far has been how easy it has been to get lost and misdirected. 

In an age of geolocation with smart phones and fairly precise mapping, we’re still searching in bushes and scouting up pathways for obscured signage and missing landmarks.

I’ve clearly underestimated the time it takes to get over mountains and across streams (sometimes while waiting for ferrymen to return from lunch), but we’ve gone 465 kilometers so far, and each day we rise, pack up the gear and embark with the hope of making good time.

(Illustration today by Dave!)

We embarked last Monday, and the piles of experience since then makes it seem like ages ago.

One of the most surprising things for me so far has been how easy it has been to get lost and misdirected.

In an age of geolocation with smart phones and fairly precise mapping, we’re still searching in bushes and scouting up pathways for obscured signage and missing landmarks.

I’ve clearly underestimated the time it takes to get over mountains and across streams (sometimes while waiting for ferrymen to return from lunch), but we’ve gone 465 kilometers so far, and each day we rise, pack up the gear and embark with the hope of making good time.

(Illustration today by Dave!)

What Should We Bring?

There will be rain.There are few guarantees in life, but I think rain is an awfully a good bet.

We’re down to just one week before the bike trek, and everything’s starting to seem much more real.

Especially real is the fact that we still haven’t received our shipping container from the US, and most of our gear is presumably still trapped inside it.

Our poor little box has been held up with customs in England since the end of May (though we’re promised by our man in the field that we’ll see it this week). I found it particularly amusing that the customs agents wanted clarification on what I meant by listing “Camping Gear and Backpack” on the manifest.

IF the crate arrives in time, and IF some things we’ve ordered from the bike shop come in and IF our online shipments arrive by end of the week and IF Dave and Lauren are able to find everything they need on Friday and Saturday (because nobody buys anything in Berlin on Sundays… it’s just not that kind of town)… IF all that happens, we should have the right gear to roll out next Monday.

That’s a lot of IFs.

Here’s what’s on the bike tour packing list:

CAMP GEAR

  • Tent
  • Tarp
  • Thermarest Cots
  • Sleeping Bags
  • Headlamp (+batteries)
  • Pillow

COOKING GEAR

  • Jetboil Sumo
  • Frying Pan
  • Lighter/Matches
  • Plates
  • Cups
  • Titanium Sporks
  • Spice Kit
  • Collapsible Washtub
  • Sponge & Biodegradable Dish Soap
  • Swiss Army Knife
  • First Aid Kit

BIKE TOOLS

  • Tire Levers
  • Multitool
  • Air Pump
  • Patch Kit
  • Mini Pliers
  • Bike Bags

BAGS

  • Front Pannier x2
  • Back Pannier x2
  • Basket

ELECTRONIC GEAR

  • Camera
  • Gorilla Pod Tripod
  • GoPro + Accessories
  • Bike Computer
  • Phone + Charger
  • Solar Charger

NECESSARIES

  • Wallet
  • Keys
  • Journal/Pen
  • Passport

CYCLE CLOTHING

  • Cycling Cap
  • Sunglasses
  • Gloves
  • Arm Warmers
  • Cycle Shorts x2
  • Bandanna
  • 1-2 Tank Tops
  • Riding/Hiking Shoes

OTHER CLOTHING

  • Sleep Mask
  • Stuff Sacks for Organization
  • T-Shirts
  • Long Sleeved Base Layer
  • Wind Breaker Jacket
  • Leggings/Pants/Tights
  • Shorts
  • 2-3 underwear
  • 2-3 socks
  • 1-2 sports bras
  • Swimsuit
  • Flip Flops
  • Nicer In-Town Shoes
  • In-Town Purse
  • In-Town Skirt

TOILETRIES

  • Shampoo/Conditioner
  • Body Wash/Soap Bar in Plastic Bag
  • Toothbrush/Paste/Floss
  • Minimal Makeup
  • Razor
  • Nail Clipper/Tweezers
  • Lip Balm
  • Lotion
  • Bug Repellant
  • Deodorant

At least, that’s the plan. We’ll see what actually fits onto the bike and whether all our things (and people!) arrive here before we leave. One week to go!

So, dear reader. You’ve now seen my list. What would you bring (or leave)?

papotinturkish:

This summer, Lauren and I will be biking from Berlin to Paris. That’s a long way. In terms of training, our motto has mostly been “We’re Too Busy and Lazy To Properly Prepare”. But we did take one quick bike jaunt from our little inner-İzmir hamlet of Göztepe to the outer-İzmir beach suburb of Güzelbahçe.

Bicycling in Turkey is not the most straightforward task. Bike paths are a new arrival this year, and are limited to short sections of the urban waterfront. The streets are chaotic dealers of death filled with drivers both maniacal and oblivious. Sidewalk coverage is spotty, and those that one can find are filled with obstacles and rough terrain. Blazing a path is a hodgepodge adventure of sprinting across highways, tromping over brush, and finding yourself on a baking-hot 140kph highway.

Click the slideshow to see commentary.

Great to see our comrades on velos braving dust, sun and insane drivers for a practice ride! Just 10 days before we roll!

Bike-Tour Budgeting, or Touring with a Well-Filled Spork

During our anticipated three weeks on the road, we won’t be working, and we certainly will be eating and exploring. And of course, that sort of thing costs money.

So, knowing that we enjoy really good food and niceties like hot showers, how much is enough to save up for cycling across Germany and France in three weeks on two wheels?

The folks at Traveling Two have done budget breakdowns for a number of locations, and for their around-the-world bike tour, they put the average daily spend at $23, including flights. Of course, they’re factoring in countries where the cost of living is a bit cheaper than in Europe.

We do plan to camp, cooking breakfast and dinner at the campsite. Lunches might be picnic-style, or we might be wooed by the siren song of a cafe or bistro along the path.

I expect we’ll also want to stop off along the way to enjoy historical sites, museums, breweries, hot springs and a range of other attractive distractions we encounter in our rambles.

We also tend to buy organic produce and grass-fed meat/dairy, and so I imagine we’ll probably spend more on food than average bike tourists.

Based on what we normally spend here in Berlin, here are a few example prices and estimates for what I think we’ll probably spend on our bike tour.

It is important to fuel your ride with fresh foods and the occasional ice cream cone.

EATING

Example Breakfast for Four Hungry Cyclists: Omelette with Goat Cheese & Tomatoes; Coffee; Dried Nuts & Fruit

  • € 2.50 8 Bio Eggs
  • €1.50 Organic Cherry Tomatoes
  • € 2.90 Goat Cheese
  • € 1.80 Goat Milk, .5 Liter
  • € 2.00 Walnuts, 150 grams
  • € 2.50 Apples, 4 pieces
  • Ground Coffee (€ 5 per 250 grams)

About €13.50 (€3.30 each)

Example Dinner for Four Hungry Cyclists: Pork Chops with Mushrooms, Green Salad, Red Wine

  • € 26.00 Free-Range Pork Chops, 4 pieces
  • € 5.00 Red Wine, 750 mL
  • € 4.00 Chanterelle Mushrooms
  • € 2.00 Bio Salad Greens
  • € 1.00 Bio Red Peppers

About €38.00 (€9.50 each)

Clearly, my imagination is living it up with these example meals. I think we could also get away with a cheap ‘n simple camp chili for €2-3 per person and be perfectly happy.

But, taking the gourmet approach into account, I think we can assume lunch has a cost between breakfast and dinner, so that’s roughly €6.50 each, putting us at about €19.30 per person, per day for four exceedingly well-fed cyclists.

You must sleep well to ensure peak performance on your cycle.

SLEEPING

As for lodging, I expect we will mostly camp and sometimes (perhaps when it’s raining?) choose to stay in an inexpensive B&B or guest house.

Campsites range from €5 for a two-person tent to €25.

I’m seeing most B&B rooms ranging between €50 and €85 per night, depending on the location.

Over three weeks, I imagine we’ll average a lodging cost of about €35 per night, per couple.

Time for relaxation is important for post-ride restoration.

OTHER THINGS

And then there’s the miscellany. Why wouldn’t we want to stop along the roadside for an attractive wine tasting or exploring a dripping cave or enjoying the simple purity of human nudity in the baths of Baden-Baden?

So, why not throw €15 into the daily “whatever” budget?

For those playing along at home, that brings us to €51.80 per person, per day for the 21-day trip. That’s €1,087 and change.

Of course, that doesn’t include the cost of gear, the train ride back from Paris to Berlin, any necessary bike repairs or that spooky category known as “the unexpected,” but I think it does give us a ballpark idea of what riding in style costs.

Just three weeks before the big ride!

Maintaining Balance

The nude bicycle. A thing of beauty.

With just five weeks until our bike trek, I’m back on gear.

Today I’m thinking about weight and balance, particularly with regard to packing up our bikes for touring. Once you start adding baggage, things get awkward.

On our last multi-day cycle adventure, J and I used a rack in the back with a load on top, a pannier bag on each side and a basket up front for cheeses, baguettes, bottles of wine and other roadside miscellany.

It worked, but the downside of loading all the weight on the back of the bike is pretty obvious: you can maintain side-to-side balance, but you lose your forward-to-rear balance.

When you need to go up hills, you may feel like the front wheel is jumping up. (Wheelies are fun when they’re voluntary. Not so much when they’re a surprise.)

Bicycle with front and back racks

From all I’ve been reading on tour bike packing (for example, this piece, The art of an ideal bicycle touring pannier set-up ) the smarter cycle setup entails side-to-side and front-to-back distribution of weight.

It seems like touring cyclists have struggled for a long time in the quest for durable front racks. (I found this German piece by a cyclist who’s far more into home engineering than I am. I do not plan to own an arc welder.)

Thankfully, there are now a variety of front-mounted cycle racks in the marketplace. They’re just a little harder to find than the back-mounted racks, and they’re still a little trickier to fit to the bike. (Also, in Germany, they’re commonly known as “Low Riders,” so we must search for “Fahrrad Low Rider” to find what’s needed.)

Since I have suspension on the front fork of my bike, I must seek a front rack that accommodates that. If I were in the US, I’d investigate the ones from Old Man Mountain which come recommended on the bike touring forums.

Here in Germany, there are a few other options, but much depends on where you have options to attach the rack. Some bikes come with threaded holes on the front fork; mine doesn’t. So I need clamps to stabilize the upper section of the rack. I’ll use the threaded holes in the bottom of the fork to fasten the bottom of the rack.

So, back rack, front rack. That seems pretty good for distributing our camping gear. Of course, there are a lot of storage locations and a lot of different types of bags for bikes. I’ve drawn a diagram of the most common bike storage locations.

Bag storage across the bicycle

A. The back rack: Two side bags (about 40 liters storage capacity for each) + one shallow bag strapped to the top of the rack.

B. Seat bag: A possibility if you’re not packing anything bulky on top of the back rack.

C. Tube bag: You can strap a bag to the top-tube, but it’s not my first choice. I like a water bottle holder and a space for my lock.

D. Handlebar bag: For lighter stuff you need easy access to. Like a map.

E. Front-rack top bag: Depends on the rack. Not really a possibility for suspension bikes, I think.

F. The front rack: Two smaller panniers (about 20 liters storage capacity for each)

I’ve seen a lot of touring bikes with a lot of different weight distribution setups (some cyclists just pack very light, using only front panniers and a top bag on the back rack… impressive, no?), but for this trip, I think I will try out options A, D and E: back rack, front rack, light handlebar bag.

Next time: bag shopping! : )

Consider the Perineum (And a Few More Thoughts on Seats)

And now, a tender topic: the perineum.

First off, what’s a perineum? Wikipedia has a long definition with images, but in short, it’s the area of flesh between your goodies and your anus.

As it turns out, you get to know your perineum pretty well if you cycle for long periods in the wrong position or on the wrong seat.

Let’s just say that after our recent practice ride, J and I became very interested in bike seats.

One of the main problems with bike seat shopping is that you can’t really judge the quality and effectiveness of the product by just holding it and looking at it. And there’s no polite way to just mount a seat in the bike shop and give it a good workout without buying it.

Additionally, there’s the lesser consideration of how it looks on the bike. Obviously, perineum wellness comes first, but a nice-looking ride can’t be discounted in the buying decision.

Some of the information I found on bike seat selection here at REI seems quite sensible: buy a saddle based on your posture, expected cycle usage and gender.

I like that they answer the “Why the center slit in some saddles?” question. (Again, perineum.)

They’ve also included special consideration for the leather seat.

J ended up taking a slender gel saddle with the interior cut-out. He reports that he’s been happy with this arrangement so far.

For my part, I’ve been attracted to the rugged good looks of the Brooks saddle for years, but the question in my mind has always been about the comfort trade-off. (Not to mention whether they’re okay in the rain.)

I particularly enjoyed this gentleman’s evaluation of the benefits and drawbacks of leather bike seats.

Essentially, a leather seat is like a pair of leather boots. They’re more expensive, need more care, require break-in time, hate the rain and sometimes bleed dye all over your clothes.

The upside is a seat that’s cushy and custom-pressed to suit your booty.

Unfortunately for me, Berlin can be a very rainy city and my bike lives in the open courtyard. A wet leather saddle is not a happy leather saddle, so if I don’t also purchase some kind of saddle bonnet, I’ll need to go with synthetic materials.

But which bike seat is the best for touring? As it turns out, this question has been asked, and the folks at Bike Touring News have answered.

Surprise, surprise: it’s not necessarily leather or synthetic. It’s the saddle that fits your buns. And your buns are not like everyone else’s.

BTN offers advice on a few ways to learn about your anatomy down there, so maybe I’ll be getting personal with a pile of Play-Dough soon.

Make note: they do offer their information with a grain of caution. "Sometimes despite the best research, trial and error ends up being the answer. Taking your measurements and understanding your riding style are the beginning of your quest."

If measurements are the beginning, let’s hope a happy, healthy perineum is the trophy at the end. (Ba-dum ching!)

Berlin Bike Signage… Trustworthy?

Bike Signage in BerlinIgnore the political propaganda and check out that bike signage!

I’m sure there are brave/foolish souls who have successfully embarked on long bike adventures without a few practice rides, but when you have a beautiful holiday weekend, bikes and a destination, why put off such important preparation?

With all that in mind, J and I chose a mid-afternoon ride toward the pretty little town of Potsdam (about 28k from home base), figuring we could ride as far as Lake Wannsee and see how we felt at that point.

It was my assumption that practice rides would be good for building bike-ready muscle, but I wasn’t expecting the other, equally important side benefits we discovered.

http://www.domaene-dahlem.de/Note the happy Oreo-patterned pigs in the background.

One of the finest reasons to cycle is the opportunity for serendipitous discovery. Our practice ride passed by countless attractive distractions, including statue-filled city parks, a street fair, an educational farm museum and a bunch of shops and cafes I’d love to go back and explore.

We checked a map before leaving, but we kept it tucked away for the rest of the trip and allowed Berlin’s bike signage to guide our way.

Big success there. The signs are placed in fairly obvious locations and spaced out at reassuring intervals. It’s as if someone who rides a bike was doing the planning.

Wannsee StrandbadGiant chess at the Wannsee Strandbad (beach).

On arriving at Wannsee, we felt great and pressed on to Potsdam.

I was pleased to see there are choices in the paths from point to point… you can opt for the quicker, less scenic route, or the meandering forest path. We went for the speedy route to make the most of the light.

By Potsdam, it was clear to J that he needed to investigate a different seat, and my derailleur was acting up. Sensations that are tolerable on city rides become exaggerated after 20k or so.

In Potsdam, we road around town until we found a cute cafe (http://www.cafe-rothenburg.de/) with outdoor seating, which had the dual advantage of celebrating the summer evening while avoiding any olfactory offense to our fellow diners. (Though it turned out that they, too, were a pack of cyclists.)

Cafe RothenburgSchnitzel with White Asparagus in the foreground, Matjes Herring Plate at the rear.

After dinner, it was growing dark, so we took the designated bicycle car on the speedy S-Bahn to get home, and we watched the sunset from the train windows.

I didn’t bring an odometer, but I’ll guess we went between 30-35k, tested the signage, dipped our toes in the sand, enjoyed the scents and smells of a forest-lined path and learned a little about our equipment. A successful practice ride all around!

Just as an aside, I continue to be impressed at the broader range of people I see on bicycles in Germany.

US cyclists tend to be younger, and most often, they’re men, but in Germany, cycling seems to be more common across age and gender. Packs of old people cycle. Families cycle. People cycle with their groceries and garden supplies. It’s all so ordinary, which is wonderful.

Seven weeks until our mighty bike adventure!

A Brief Interlude While We Change Venues

All but the clothes on our backs…

The summer bike trek from Berlin to Paris will be greatly simplified by starting our journey from a new home in Berlin!

You’ll notice I haven’t been blogging recently. As it turns out, moving overseas is kind of a major project.

After spending the last two months organizing, selling, giving and donating the great majority of our things, we were able to bring some little things and summer clothes in the bags that accompanied me on the plane and rest of our belongings went into the box you see here, roughly 5’ by 5’ by 5’.

This box (from a company called UPAKWESHIP) will soon float across the sea on a container ship (modern miracles combined with ancient transport technology!) and join us in our new nest.

And no, our bikes did not fit into the box.

Truthfully, our NYC bikes were fine ponies… good, sturdy beasts… but they were purchased for city biking in a city that loves to devour bikes through theft, through potholes, through hazard-filled streets and through bike lanes filled with pedestrians, emergency vehicles and delivery carts.

On the other hand, Berlin is a city of dedicated bike lanes shaded by trees. And so, the new home provides us with an opportunity to start fresh.

With that in mind, we say goodbye to my old pony, this handsome blue vintage FUJI Gran Tourer road bike:

And hallo to the new bike, this Wheeler Ecorider:

(Pay no mind to that cucumber and the leeks nestled into the rack.)

The Wheeler is a city bike, so it’s heavier than the road bike, but it comes stocked with lots of city bike charm, including fenders, chain guards, integrated lights that charge when you ride, an upright posture and fatter tires that are much smoother on cobblestones than my skinny FUJI rims.

Jack swapped his fixie Schwinn Super LeTour for a similar city bike style, and while we wait for most of our camping gear to arrive on the slow boat, we’re looking forward to scheduling some test rides to the lakes around Berlin.

So, the blog begins anew. The countdown to the adventure resumes.

Our go-date now looms in mid-July. That’s just about 8 weeks!

Will the big box with our camping gear arrive in time? Will our knees blow out on the practice rides? Time will tell! Stay tuned, dear reader!

Gear. A Confession.

Eggs. In my trusty Jetboil. On the windowsill of an Italian hostel.

Can I confess something? Some people have alcohol problems. Some are powerless in the record shop or the shoe department or at the makeup counter.

My problem is outdoor gear. I love the promise and possibility in every titanium cook set, multi-tool and ultra-light backpack.

I steer myself away from REI and Paragon and Eastern Mountain Sports like an addict avoiding the path that parades past the bar. These places are dangerous toy stores full of OOOO! LOOK AT THAT!

So yeah, it’s minimalist-travel inspiring and mentally soothing to read something like this Lightweight Tour Packing List. Thinking minimally helps my rational adult mind to tell the greedy inner child to just chill out already, but sometimes comfort or convenience is a great argument and the gearhead wins.

This’ll probably end up being a multi-post entry as we move along with the planning, but here’s the first:

Top-5 Toys I’m Already Intending to Bring on Our Big Bike Tour:

  1. Jetboil Ask Jack. He knows how gaga I am over my Jetboil. We took the Jetboil to Italy and boiled eggs on the windowsill of our hostel. We took it to Mexico and I made my morning coffee with the French Press attachment. We took it to the Florida Keys and made very respectable fish stew. We took it to Montreal and I boiled hot cocoa all over the porch of our yurt. I’m aiming to get the pot support so we can do more than boiling, and I think the Sumo Companion Bowl Set might end up being fun for enjoying morning coffee with Dave and Lauren on this trip.

  2. iPhone (with a European SIM) GPS! Selfies! Connection to the great internet oracle! Yes, I consider an iPhone to be necessary gear for 2014. I promise I won’t spend all my time on Twitter…

  3. And if you’re going to bring a phone, this Goal Zero Switch 8 Solar Recharging Kit ends up being totally justifiable based on its planet-friendly charging abilities, right?

  4. Alien Bike Multitool. The kids these days are buying the Alien 2, but I got this little guy back when it was just the Alien. It’s over 12 years old now (retro!) and I rarely need it, thankfully, but it’s comforting to know it’s packed along for the ride for quick work on flats and wiggly parts.

  5. Therm-a-rest Luxury Lite Cot Sleep is SUPER important to me. I’m not 20 anymore, and we’re not hiking into the wilderness, so my need for “Lite Luxury" sleeping wins over ultralight travel on this trip. Also, the last camping trip was on a Big Agnes air mattress, and I now realize that experience is not for me. Too wobbly. Too bumpy. Made me too lightheaded after blowing up the mattress.

(Not to be a brand loyalist, but if I do buy another sleeping pad, it’ll be a Therm-a-Rest, probably the ProLite Plus, which is thin, not wobbly and doesn’t make plastic noises when you roll around on it, which I did when I tested it over at REI last week.)