torstai 7. kesäkuuta 2007

Be prepared


These thoughts and lists were born on our common cycle tours; when you are sitting on the saddle from morning till evening, you have time to think. I have planned to make this kind of summary for many years - now I finally have time and stamina to do it.

Here, I have gathered some of our experiences and mistakes underway trying to pass you our feelings and maybe prevent you to make the same mistakes we have done.

If You:
  • are less than 30 years
  • are a mountain-biker, who prefers off-road
  • like to cycle > 20kms/h
  • like to cycle in rows watching all day long the back of the guy/lady before you
  • make only short trips back and forth with minimum equipment
  • are any age whatever, but not interested in cycling or your health and like only to lay on your on sofa and prefer cars
Maybe this site is not for you....

But if you:
  • are an elderly gentleman/lady; not a young tiger any more
  • like to cycle at your own pace watching around and stopping where it suits you
  • are maybe a little overweight, but would like to get rid of of those extra kilos
  • are concerned at your health
  • have time (one to two weeks) and some extra money to spend on riding
  • are interested in seeing new places and meeting new people; can communicate with other languages than your own dialect
  • are tired of ready-made tours and would like something more active
You got it !

Being quite fat as an youngster, I have lived my whole life in a roller coaster; some time my weight has gone up with speed and next month come down heavily. When younger this was no problem (you are so active), but when you are aging you have to do something for it otherwise you die young. I have tried to change my eating habits and add up my calory consumption; and here comes cycling.

My good friend (since childhood) Mr. Juha Muurinen suggested on one common cycle tour in the summer of 2004; " why do we always cycle here in the cold of Finland instead of going somewhere south and warm".

Since I am what I am, the proposition occupied my mind for several weeks ahead and when the opposition came, I was ready for it. Being in my middle-ages, a little over-weighted and concerned of my health, had extra time and a little spare money, being a cycle-freak - well this is definitely for me - now or never. Please see my blog "Tour de Spain" on the subject from 2004.
Equipment - the Bike

Equipment - the necessities

Above you can see my bike and the necessary equipment I usually take to my tours.
The bike is not exactly designed for trips we make (a Spinning), but I got it cheap and have furnished it fit my needs. After several punctures in Slovenía and here in Finland, I changed to a puncture resistant 28" rear tyre (puncture resistant tirecasing to be precise) and a proper tube. The old was only 23" and would not last. It would be also good to lose some weight

I am 176 cms, which defines the bike size.

I got feedback(to be called RR from now on-Readers Request) from one lady cyclist about gel-covers on top of the saddles. She asked me if I have experience of them; I have one and have tried it; nowadays it lays somewhere in my warehouse. A saddle cover surely would have been necessary on Helsinki-Tallinna society´s (Hetas) common cycletrip to Saarenmaan, Estonia some years ago. With no advance exercise and with a hired broad saddled mountainbike over 200 kms, you can guess the rest. My ass was like those red-assed baboons in the zoo.

A light for night riding is missing (in the Czech Rebublic; the police was only concerned of our lights-"lichtung" not at all of our accommodation for the night-we were badly lost in the middle of the night)
Being a gentleman I try to finish during the light hours. Of course it does not always work out, but I have a handy light for such cases. Now I have bought a headlamp for the purpose.

And of course a pump is necessary; check your valves (Presta etc,) an buy an adjustment piece to your pump so that you are able to use gas-stations´air services. It is impossible to inflate tubes enough with a hand-pump.

The bike has 3x9=27 shifts, which I think is too many. The more important is; the size of the biggest disk in rear (freewheel). After the Slovenian tour I had the freewheel fixed from 25 to 28 and the difference is immense. The bigger the biggest is ; the lighter the ride provided the chain-wheel (in the middle) is the same (mine is 30-35-52), if it says anything. I can assure you that you are going the miss the big-sized rear wheel, when climbing up > 1.000 ms and not so fit as you think.
see below

My bicycle dealer says that the new wheels (cassette, cogs) shall last for 5.000 kms and the chain-wheels( in the middle) ; the double.

Moreover, I usually have with me my heart rate monitor and occasionally also an altitude monitor (on Tour de Andalucia).

On our trips we have noticed how easily our sight fools us. The road seems to to go even, but the bike goes like jammed. You stop and have a glance backwards; holy shit, we are going still upwards all the time. I started to think about it and after a while got an idea. What, if I put a level (vatupassi) on my bike`s horisontal tube easily at sight, so that I can have a glance at it every now and then ; it surely shows how we are going. The biggest problem was to get the level absolutely straight, but after a series of trial and errors, I got it working.

Below you see what other equipment I usually take with:
Equipment - the optional

It is better to practice at home with your new shoes before the trip. I personally have fallen in Finland a few times with my new shoes locked (minor injuries). Once in German traffic lights in some city , I almost drove over a lady, when my partner suddenly stopped to give way (being a gentleman) and I did not know his intentions. It is better you agree on the common hand-signs beforehand. Nowadays I don´t use them locked in a big city traffic at all; the situations come so fast.

  • If you suspect you are not enough fit for the tour; go to see your doctor
  • I personally always supplement my insurances by taking a separate one for my bike and equipment and it paid itself (after Holland I had to claim for damages)
  • Obtain some kind of crate for your bicycle and dismantle it according to your airline`s regulations at home. We have here in Helsinki a special bike-shop, who willingly give away their extra crates for free. Because we mantle our bikes and leave the crates behind at the place of the ride`s start, we always have to find replacements. Once in Prague we spent almost a day finding suitable crates for the bikes and that is no fun at all. On the other hand a crated bike is considered a luggage and does not cost you any extra provided the weight rules are followed (on a prearranged trip you have to pay 50€ for instance for a golf bag)
  • Learn to use your (new) camera properly at home to avoid unpleasant surprises afterwards. I took 210 photos on our Slovenian tour and noticed at home that some of them were in MVI-format instead of being a jpg.
  • Take a photo of your bicycle and write down the serial number in some safe palace. In case your bike is stolen abroad, it is easier to communicate with the local police (in some countries they only speak their own dialect). We have always been very strict about our bikes; only once in Barcelona the restaurant keeper recommended us to move the bikes so they are in sight all the time. So we took the window table.
  • For me the speedometer is first of all some kind personal trainer-during the season it is easy to check the kilometers you have cycled and act accordingly (easy to say but hard to fulfil). I recommend the use of it. Without boasting I can say; 2004 I cycled > 1.000kms, 2005 > 1.500kms, 2006 > 3.500kms and this year 1.150kms so far (I have been a bit lazy).
  • Re-pack your bags according to the latest long-time weather forecasts ; no sense taking rain-equipment if it is shining all the time
  • Make some kind of rough estimate and a map of the tour you want make; Mr. Murphy says " if something has the possibility to go wrong; it surely does" Be ready for surprises.
  • Plan the beginning of the trip harder; in the end you may have a "shit trip gear" on and an easy completion may help a bit.
  • We don`t usually plan our day-trips very carefully and reserve the hotels in advance: on a lunch-break it is a good time to glance the map and agree on the target (kms) and hope there is a decent priced hotel available. In Holland we had the accommodation booklet in use and ask our host to phone the next planned destination-everything went smoothly like a silk. But forgot to ask for this phonecall a few times and paid heavily for it. There is nothing so irritating than realize; you have made a cardinal mistake , which you could have avoid by using your head a little. But this is salt of these trips; Mr. Murphy is always riding along.
  • In case of rain pack your passport, cellphone etc. valuables in plastic packs. At lest the mobile-phone batteries are very water counscious.
  • I have no experiences of gps; best maps are available at site but do not buy too detailed ones for small countries; otherwise you could lose the overall picture of the country. Bigger countries need more than one map.
  • The map we used in Slovenia, was obtained free from two Japanese ladies living in the same hotel and we managed quite well with it. The drawings and explanations are my own done afterwards .
  • In Spain local maps can be obtained also from city-halls (if it is not siesta).
  • If you have an evening flight and arrive at your destination late at evening; make the first night reservation beforehand at home (for example in the Internet). The same applies to the transportation from airport to your place of accommodation.
  • If you arrive before noon, I would advise you to leave your bike in the box and travel for example with train to some station along your route. This way you avoid the rushes of big airport-cities (Barcelona, Amsterdam etc.) Of course you take the risk of your bike being broke inside, but if you have an insurance and a camera with you-no problem. Make sure the city is big enough to have a bike repair-shop.
  • Always pack the bike for transport leaving the chains as near the rim as possible (smallest/ heaviest) ; in this way there are better chances for the bike to arrive unbroken. The gears get easily broke or at least the shaft bended. Did you understand my meaning?
  • You should have a good quality bike (preferably a touring-cycle; my first one was not so good and it came to cost me a lot in the long run) with sufficient quality tyres (23-28mm, depending on surface and your weight) , suitable spare tubes, quality rims with durable spokes, perhaps extra brake pads for mountain ranges. When coming down a long downhill (our longest about 40kms) every now and then stop and feel your rims; if they become too hot they can cause a puncture and you are in trouble. It makes no sense in saving. Having 5-6 punctures in Slovenia, I will change a broader back-tyre (28 mm) and try to lose some weight or pack some of my things in front for the next trip.
  • Agree with our partner/s, who one is taking and what;I usually take an adjustable wrench (a monkey w), gsm-and camera-chargers.
  • Change your important gsm-numbers starting with the country code etc. Deposit all important telephone numbers and those of the destination country in your cellphone (In Case of Emergency, passport no, your airlines no, embassy no, necessary Master Card numbers and so on). Make your own list and stick to it but do not lose your cellphone.
  • Be realistic of your condition and chose the country accordingly. Spring-tours are suitable for flat countries such as Holland and when you have cycled all summer long (Finland) and are fitter; you can chose more challenging destinations (Spanish mountains for example).
  • If possible; chose your partner/s that suits/suit you best. You should know yourself (hopefully), but you don`t know our companions well enough even if you have known him/her for ages. If you know, that he or she is accustomed of having lunch at home one a`clock, don´t get surprised if he or she loses temper before lunch. Cycling is not just physical; it is also psychological. Afterwards you surely laugh together at these outbursts. A good sense of humor and flexibility is needed; this is not for tighters (tiukkapipo).
  • Learn to fix your bike already at home. Puncture repair is nicer to practice in familiar conditions than in the middle of nowhere-perhaps 50kms from the nearest town under a burning sun.
  • When you have time; pack your bike at home with the equipment you have planned to take with you; make trips (at least 50kms) at custom scenery to test yourself and your bike. This way your ass gets used to the narrow and hard saddle, but it gets sore only after 2-3 times. Personally I have had sore ass on almost every trip, but in Slovenia I noticed I have learned something. I usually ride in Finland without any extra weight and before Slovenia I made some 350kms.
  • Buy Pampers (own expression); specially designed stuffed cycling pants-usually black in color. I personally have two pairs; one for the road and one for washing. I can assure you; there is hardly anything so painful than a sore ass. In the evenings, when the day is done, you sit in a bathtub (if available) bathing and trying to heal your red ass. Once the bath is over, you can try some cream on the clean skin (I personally use Bacimycin). I know; you don`t believe me ; you are going to bike in cut jeans sitting on your broad an comfortable saddle. I made that mistake once-and that is enough. Try it yourself.
  • Me and my partner are in such a happy situation, that we can chose the cycling times according to our own pleasing. Usually Finnair dictates time-frames (they have special opening offers, for example Lublijana was 150€ for a return ticket). Using offers and local low-season prices ; we have saved a lot. Of course you do not get the best possible service, but you can always bargain (my partner has a special talent for that). Moreover you can compare prices (accommodation in most popular tourist resorts in off season). If you are cycling outside the tourist areas you must take what you get. We noticed in Slovenia, that outside tourist resorts, it was harder to get a decent low price accommodation (in Sezana we stayed in **** star hotel-in 8 pm you do not have too many choices. 80€ for a double room, but the breakfast was heavenly and we cycled long with it).
  • So if possible make your trip off-season; the prices are low, places so not so crowded and the climate is milder than in central European holiday-season in August. But make sure beforehand, that for example the restaurants are open. We (>15 persons) were once in Saarenmaa in Estonia in the beginning of May, but the season started only 15th of May. So everything was closed.
I hope my former English teacher is not a Cyclist.

Why I wrote this story:
  • for myself for a checklist (to avoid making same mistakes next time).
  • maybe for guidance for my soul mates, if you are interested in it - if not that´s your choice
  • as you have noticed the trip would not necessarily become to cost so much, but never spare on the equipment (bike, spares, tools etc.). If you have a puncture 50 kms from the nearest repair-shop without proper tools, then it begins to cost you.


Antero Ylä-Kauttu