Lessons from the Saddle

Pedaling for hours and days and miles give you a chance to contemplate the details of life.  Sometimes they’re important.  Sometimes they’re not.

Enjoying the Tour:

You Are a Curiosity

Someone pedaling a bike loaded with panniers full of travel gear gets people’s attention and piques their interest.  Don’t be shy.  Take advantage.  They want to hear your stories, tell you theirs, and offer advice.  Pedal up and say hello.  It will make the ride a lot more interesting.

Water-Proof Matters

Wet gear is useless.  Get waterproof bags and test them before the tour, just to make sure…even if the forecast is for sunny skies.  Rain happens.

Riding Challenges:

Hills are Fair

If you’re riding in a loop or out-and-back, up equals down.  If you have to struggle up, you get to ease down.  If you coast down, you have climb back up.  It’s just that simple.  Of course, if you shuttle to the high end and start there – that’s cheating.

The Wind is not Fair

Sometimes it’s at your back and sometimes it’s in your face.  Sometimes it’s strong and sometimes it’s barely blowing.  You don’t get to choose, and it doesn’t have to equal out.  “Prevailing Winds” don’t always blow in the promised direction.  And worst of all, a wind at your back doesn’t feel good nearly as much as an equal wind in your face feels bad.

Roads are Faster than Trails (usually)

Off-road trails have benefits, but if you want to get there fast, take the road.  It will probably be more direct and have a faster surface.  Of course, you’ll probably climb more hills, risk injury and death in traffic, and see less interesting scenery.  But you’ll get there faster.

Start Breathing Hard Before you Get to the Hill

It’ll psych you up for what’s to come and make you more eager for the challenge.  Plus, it’ll start loading your blood up with oxygen so it will be there when you need it.

Fully Inflated Tires Feel Good

As much of a pain in the butt as it might seem to pull the pump out, find the presta adapter, and get down on your knees to hook up the pump head, it’s way better than pedaling 40 or 60 or 100 miles with soft tires.

Black Flies Are Faster Than Mosquitos

It’s easy to outrun mosquitos. Black flies can keep up. You have to pedal at least 10-12 mph to keep them at bay, which isn’t always easy with a loaded bike on a rough dirt trail.

Rail Trails Aren’t (Necessarily) Flat

Rail beds were designed to keep the grade low – usually less than 3% – but in mountainous areas those modest grades can go on for a long time. You might climb steadily for 10 or 20 or 40 miles, never getting a chance to stop pedaling and coast.


If you’re going North, and you own a down Sleeping Bag…Take it

Even if it’s the middle of summer and the forecast is for mild weather…it gets cold in Canada and the Rockies.  It’s not worth saving 4 ounces just to end up cold in the middle of the night.  If the down is too warm, unzip it and use it like a blanket.  Really, I mean it.

Air Mattresses Lose Pressure Overnight

There’s this thing called the ideal gas law:  PV=nRT.  P is pressure, T is temperature.  If the temperature goes down over night, so does the pressure.  If your mat is soft, it may not have a leak.  It probably just got cold.  Inflate it fully right before you lay down.  You’ll sleep better.

Tent rain flies don’t stay waterproof forever

If you are planning to camp, test your tent fly.  They lose their waterproofing ability after a few years and need to be treated every year or two after that.  A wet sleeping bag in a downpour makes for a VERY bad night.  Trust me…I know.

Bike Maintenance:

Make Sure you have a patch kit and know how to use it

Flats happen and sometimes they come in groups.  I once opened a brand new tube to find that the valve stem had worn a hole in the rubber.  There are times where your only options are to patch a tube, call for a ride, or push your bike miles down the trail.  If you’ve never done a patch, practice at home.  Also – make sure your glue is good.  You don’t want to find out the tube has dried out when you are miles from help.

Pack a Rear derailleur hanger

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes a mishap can cause the chain to bind.  The intentional weak link is the bracket that the rear derailleur is fastened to.  It bends or breaks so the frame doesn’t get damaged.  These are not standard parts.  A local bike shop will probably have a replacement derailleur and chain, but they are less likely to have the hanger.  They are small and light.  Buy a spare and take it with you.

More to come…

I’ll be adding more to this regularly.

If you have something to contribute, please submit it in a comment.