Monday, July 22, 2013

Family Bike Tour Gear Review & Logistics Wrap Up

After blogging on my other site about our multi-day family bike camping-tour, I decided I also wanted to talk "gear" as well because that was a big part of the trip, but the family blog isn't the best venue for that.

During and after the trip I made a few mental notes of things I'd change or improve upon. I also wanted to go through everything we had in case any one was interested in that type of thing. I know I am.  I don't think this is an exhaustive list of everything you need, but rather, one of many reference points available for family bike touring.

Ashley's Bike.

Ashley's bike is a Trek 820 "Multitrack." As best I can tell, it is a late 90's to early 2000's steel mountain bike frame. Mountain bikes can make great touring bikes. Stout tubing, and braze-ons for racks and fenders, with clearance for big comfy tires. 

Her bike also features:

For cargo:

Aside from an old Specialized (who's totally in my doghouse for giving crap customer service) saddle, everything else is stock Shimano components.

Ashley's bike performed fantastic. The tires couldn't have been better suited for what we were riding. Ashley, like me, rides in a very upright position on this bike and both Ashley's sister and her brother in law commented that they liked our upright position and said it looked more comfortable. On a family tour, you aren't going fast - so being aero offers you little benefit unless you are facing SERIOUS headwinds. We didn't, so being upright was great.

What I would change on Ashley's bike

I'd like her to have more stability when stopping the bike. Her single leg kickstand withstood the pressure it was under - just barely.

This double leg kickstand looks pretty nice.

We were also on some dusty parts that kicked up a lot of dirt into our little feller's eyes when they were in the trailer (more on that fiasco later).

Ashley's fenders are the economy version of Planet Bike's offerings. Next time around, I'd like her to have the Cascadias. I have these on my Xtracycle and love them. Planet Bike fenders are super tough, easy to install, and nice to look at (for a plastic fender).

Ashley's saddle is pretty, lame. An old hand me down from one of my old bikes. I'd like to see Ashley on one of these puppies.

It also just occurred to me that I should ask Ashley what she would change about her bike. Classic husband move.

Ashley reminded me that her pedals could use improving. Right now they are just basic, plastic/generic nothing fancy, hence, no support. Wider, platform pedals do a better job of distributing the weight over your foot and can make a difference over the course of several days of hard riding.

I have a clear blue version of these on the Xtracycle and they are fine. I have heard many bike-tourers rave about the MKS "Lambda" as well.

David's bike, the Xtracycle, "Chewbika"

This is a mid-late 80's Giant Chinook. It was originally a more royal blue with red & white accents, but a little scuffed up. As a birthday present, I had it powdercoated "Saphirblau". Or... a more dark blue for you non-german speaking folk.

Chewbika features the following:

Nitto M-12 front rack
Wald 137 Basket
Nitto Dirt Drop Stem
Nitto Albatross Handlebars
Shimano Ultegra Bar End Shifters
Aforementioned Platform Pedals
Old DiaCompe Crankset
Brooks Flyer Special Saddle
Xtracycle Free Radical Kit
Xtracycle Kickback Kickstand

Other modifications to the Xtracycle to make it child friendly include:
"Hacked" (literally) Bell Child Seat (for Ed, age 22 months)
Re-purposed Crazy Creek (style, REI Brand) chair (for George, aged 4). Also purchased some nice nylon straps & buckles from REI for a lap/seat belt.

The set up also included my caboose, the Bob Yak. I sort of improvised this set up. It being our first tour, I wasn't sure how much room we'd need so I erred on the side of being able to carry enough stuff to supply the Duggar Family. Also included on my Bob was the DrySak.

I do not regret this decision, and I can't say that it affected the handling of the bike too much, other than making it heavier and balance became a little precarious when loading/unloading the boys. I cannot imagine trying to do what we did, and not having the Xtracycle Kickback Kickstand. It was crucial.

As for the Bob - it is a great trailer. It is supposed to attach through the rear quick release on your bike, and is very sturdy. It carried all of our sleeping gear (tent, bags, pads, pillows) in the water proof DrySak. If you want to try touring and don't want to do ANYTHING to your existing bike, you can buy a Bob and become nearly tour ready.

Going forward, I think I'd like to utilize the cargo bags of the Xtracycle better, before resorting to the Bob. We were also assisting our family with some of their larger gear which made taking the Bob a little more necessary. It also was fortuitous in that it allowed us to pull our "wounded soldier" back to home base.

Here I am on the final leg of our tour, pulling two boys, the Bob Yak, and our injured Burley Bee. We have had the Bee for 4 years and it has been a great addition to our family. It was the device that allowed us to first bike as a family, when George was only 6 months old.

About the Bee:

We had been having some issues with the wheels, prior to the trip. Nothing serious, but in retrospect, a variable we should've accounted for BEFORE starting a tour.  Heard some clicking, and sometimes had some issues with the quick release mechanisms.  Long story short, one of the wheel's assembly blew out making it impossible to secure without rendering the wheel totally useless. So, we abandoned it on the side of the trail, tried to hide it as best we could, and hoped we could pick it up on the way back.

Fortunately, it was still there and I hauled it out the last 20 or so miles. Just so lucky that the Xtracycle and other bikes traveling with us could make up the slack.

We have since replaced both the wheels and now it rides as great as ever. I think Burley makes great products and endorse them without hesitation. Much better quality than entry-level offerings at other big box stores.

Camping Equipment

I've spent a good deal going into the bikes, but that was only half the story. We also spent a good deal of time in camp, and camping.  We used some camping equipment that performed admirably, and less than ideal. Just want to go over an idea of what we brought and what we might leave home next time.

Out tent is a Mountain Hardware Lightwedge 3. We have had this tent for about 5 years and I love it. It is light, easy to set up, waterproof, and nice to look at. It has nice functional "roof" pockets that are perfect for stowing the things you have on you just before you go to bed (cell phones, glasses, flashlights, etc.) This is the first tent of our marriage, and as such, pre-dates our children. At the time, a 3 man tent felt like a luxury. Now, with two children, it is VERY tight confines. We can make it work for the next year or so, but very soon we will be in the market for a 4 man.

It packs up pretty small, and is only 5-ish pounds so is definitely a decent bike-touring tent. 

Sleeping bags:
Dad - REI
Mom - Kelty
Son 1 (4) - Kelty
Son 2 (22 mo.) Disney

All of this was fine for summer camping. I'm ashamed of my second son's sleeping bag but he loves it and was just fine for the summer. Fall temps might require some warm pj's to go with it.

We have a couple of these camp pillows from REI and they are fine, but they don't pack down that small so I'm interested in options that minimize bulk.

Sleeping pads - a key area of concern because I knew we were going to be tired at the end of the day and a fitful night of sleep just wasn't going to cut it.  In our prior camping adventures, Ashley and I had always used his & hers REI camping pads. They were ok - but if I'm going to be honest with myself I think that most of the "thermorest" style pads offer little comfort beyond sleeping on the bare ground.

Enter Big Agnes to the rescue.  I remember reading a review somewheres on the internet by some bike-campy folk who really liked their Big Agnes pads. I ordered two.

Air Core

The AirCore is a complete revelation. So comfortable. Easy to inflate deflate. Slept on it once and really enjoyed it.

The Clearview is a good idea - and "feels" about the same as the Aircore, but is a real pain to deflate. The material sticks together and is very difficult to get all of the air out. Left me very frustrated - I returned it once we got home and got an Aircore for myself.

The boys used our old REI pads and had no complaints : ).

Other camping odds & ends.

Found some roasting sticks at a local grocery store. Are pretty small and go easily inside the pannier of the Xtracycle. Will bring those again.

The real unsung hero of our trip was our Igloo 2 Gallon Water Jug.  Not for the weight conscious, this thing was incredibly valuable for supporting a thirsty group of 9 people during a summer tour.  We all had water bottles and would fastidiously fill them up at stops, but it was SO nice to have ice-cold water after our bottles had been emptied or warmed by the sun. I don't think I'll ever tour without this bad boy.

Bought a "rugged Personal Size" lantern that was WAY too big. Will leave that home next time. Plus, summer time means longer days so light was rarely an issue. More of a car camping item, and for fall/spring when days are shorter.


We were pretty simple on this one. Both the Mrs. and I opted for Chacos on the feet. Don't regret this decision at all. Chacos are really sturdy and provide great arch support. Plus, they are conducive to adventuring and are impervious to rain/water so in many aspects they make an ideal touring shoe. Some people thing you need toe protection and wear the (in my opinion, hideous) Keen shoe. I'm not a Keen hater, I have some of their shoes for regular bike commuting, though like Crocs, I think Keens are cuter on children than adults.

We both wore entry-level bike shorts from Performance bike. I opted for some basic nylon gym shorts on top of those and some basic underwear. For the most part I was pretty comfortable, though by day 4 my rear end was pretty tired.

I wore basic t-shirts for the top - two of the days I had "athletic" type shirts made of some synthetic material that stinks to high-heaven at the end of the day, and two cotton-blends. Both performed ok. Not really into lycra-kits.

The kids wore basic summer clothes - t-shirts, shorts, and crocs.

That is about all of the essentials for this tour. We are planning another, shorter tour for Labor Day weekend.  Perhaps in Wisconsin.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or need further explaining/advice. Would love to hear from any one interested.

Friday, October 26, 2012


Working slowly on getting this blog back up and kicking. Lots of idears rattling around.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Bike Trains

Bike trains are one tool for bikey families to get their kids biking with other kids and families, to school in a safe and fun environment.

Check out this awesome bike train in Portland.

For more information on bike trains - visit the national safe routes site.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Importance of Rough-housing

Nothing could bring more happiness to my dad-soul!

The Importance of Rough-housing

Thursday, March 3, 2011

montana-izing my road bike

Daily bicycle commuting in Montana has some serious perks, and also its challenges. Gone are the days of my 24 round trip, traffic filled trek. Replaced with a much more scenic jaunt (with only two traffic lights).

While the length of the commute has changed, so have my needs for my road bike. It seems as winter begins to wane up here, there are periods where the roads are bone dry for more than several weeks at a time. During this time, I can give my winter rig a much needed break, but more importantly not ride the studded tires on dry road. Considering they were the most expensive tires I've ever purchased (though worth it), I want to get my money's worth out of them.

So that means I get to ride my road bike. I made some slight changes to it and wanted to show it off a little.

I got rid of the 700x25 continental gator skins, and upgraded to the 700x30 schwalbe cyclocross tires. The schwalbe's offer me a little more cushion, and also flexibility for biking home in an unexpected snow storm and or in the great sand dunes bike lanes on my commute home.  I got rid of my beloved honjo fenders, and opted for some very charming "fluted" fenders from Velo Orange on sale. 

My winter bike is utilizing my rear rack and panniers, (it's nice to have extra storage space in the winter for gear substitutions), so I still needed a little something to tote my lunch and belongings to / from work.  After a little searching on the internets and via recommendation from Russ Roca - I settled on the Little Dear by Swift Industries.  It is a very handsome bag, holds all my belongings splendidly, and is slightly larger than all the other saddle bags I found in its class.  Definitely recommend.

I had a basket on nitto m-12 rack earlier... but it failed so now I'm reticent to try that again.  I think I'd like to use it as a front bag support and ultimately... one day... the support for a dual-dynamo front light arrangement. That would be so awesome.

I'd love to hear about any winter/spring adjustments you've made to your bikes... or problems that you are currently wrestling with on how to make your bike fit your commuting transportation needs.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

live work balance

Give this a gander and let me know your thoughts, parents, workers, people.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

flying with kids - pt. 2

Last week I posted about flying with kids.  Thanks for the tips.  I'm proud to report that George passed with flying colors.  I was a little nervous, not so much about George, but my ability to keep him entertained and happy.  There were a few times he asked for "Mama?" in kind of a sad wimper, but overall he was very content and we had a lot of fun.  It was a good bonding experience for me and my son, to spend nearly a full day together going on quite an adventure.  Here are some thoughts about the experience, boiled down into digestible bullets.
  • TSA security is absurd. George had just fallen asleep and they wouldn't let me push him through the metal detector.  I had to get him out, remove his tiny shoes, and in the process wake him up. Infuriating.
  • After getting off the first plane (we had a layover), I had one of George's shoes in the diaper bag and one remained on.  I believe I had up to six people tell me that I was missing a shoe before I made it 100 ft off the plane.  Is there something about a dad with a child that says clueless? Was it the spacey look in my eye? Would people have stopped me if I was a woman? I don't know - but I did think it was interesting.
  • Old ladies are great to sit next to.  Grandmas or grandma wannabes.  They love little boys.  George was so fond of the lady sitting next to us, he began stroking her jacket arm from her shoulder down to her wrist.  It was really sweet.
  • Supplies.  Very important to bring a sippy cup.  I poured George's apple juice into it and let him put the ice cubes in there as well.  He was in hog heaven.  It would've been a disaster to have him try to drink out of their cups.  The can would've been a slight step up in spill security.
  • To the people at United who put me in a middle seat with a child - shame on you!
  • To the 5'2" lady who tried to recline her seat into me - shame on you!  I'm sure it was frustrating that your seat didn't recline (my knees were there).  I'm also sure that you enjoyed George kicking the back of your chair.  I didn't feel the need to stop him.  
  • Had lots of snacks - all the good stuff and felt totally prepared.  Was never hungry.
  • During the layover I let him completely roam wherever he wanted.  I could not have cared less that people had to walk around him.  I think this was good so that he didn't have a surplus of energy getting onto our second flight.
All in all I think the experience was great and I'd do it again for sure.  It was mostly that my wife is doing a great job as the primary raiser of our child, but I'll take a little credit for trying to meet his needs all the while.

Thoughts about flying, people reclining their seat into you, the TSA, dad-inept-stereotypes? Come one come all!