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.


Blu Dill said...

Looks like a great trip. Wondering how you attached your bob trailer to the back of your xtracycle? Did you weld on the bob nuts to the back of the tubing?

superpants said...

do you have any close up pics of how you attached the bell seat to the bike? did you just cut the legs off and screw on to the deck?

superpants said...

do you have any close up pics of how you attached the bell seat to the bike? did you just cut the legs off and screw on to the deck?

David Pulsipher said...

Hey @superpants - I drilled holes through the bottom and bolted it down (in the back), and then ran a tension strap over the front. I can send you pictures if you'd like.

superpants said...

Thanks David. That helps. Just got my haul-a-day bike and might be doing something like that soon.

Jade Graham said...

It carried all of our sleeping gear (tent, bags, pads, pillows) in the water proof DrySak. cheap flights to Jeddah