Travels

I never got round to posting a link to my current bike travels in the Americas.

So here it is.

Happy riding.

Riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. A little late.

Taking a break…

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Taking a break: a warming cup of sugar-packed chai on a Spitian backroad.

So, what next for Out There Biking?

With the whole world up in arms with talk of the credit crunch, and the accompanying (or is it encouraging?) blanket media attention, we’ve decided to take a year out for 2009. Cara’s pursuing her medical studies, and I’ll be off to stretch my legs with some bike travels in the Americas.

So this last post, for now, is to thank all to all those who have joined us over the last few years. We’ve really enjoyed running these trips and meeting you all, and I know we’ll miss the high mountains of Spiti and Ladakh come August. We’ll keep you updated with regard to future plans for the tours, but if you can’t wait, then do check out Redspokes, who also run some great rides in the region.

In the meantime, we aim to leave the site up as there’s plenty of general information to be found there, should you want to go it alone. (It’s down at the moment, while we change over our server package.)

All the best for the New Year.

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Spiti in late September. This year we were lucky with the weather, until the very last day, when an almighty storm lashed down. A few days later, the region was blanketed in snow – we’d only just made it out in time…

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A home away from home. The Sunshine Guesthouse, our hangout in Manali.

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OTB’s inimitable Mascot. Those who have met him will be pleased to hear that Chandra’s living the good life in Tabo, lounging in an apple orchard and barking at marauding sheep.

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Baba Phunsok and a completely perplexed member of his extended family. Baba’s one of our fantastic support crew, without whom we couldn’t run these trips.

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Cheeky Bike Gromit. Our bike are always like magnets to the local kids, who materialise from nowhere to clamber aboard and fettle with gears.

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The girls tend to be a bit more shy, and if you’re lucky, will reward you with one of their winning smiles.

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And lastly. There are few places as fascinating and complex as India. While our trips are tough, they can never be compared to the life of one Delhi’s many cycle rickshaws…

Pics 1 and 4 copyright EF

Flying with BA, and Ground Effect bike bags

If you’re coming to India with us from the UK, there’s no doubt that British Airways offer the quickest and most direct service (T5 issues being sorted by the summer…). As our time in India is relatively short given how far we’re travelling, those extra saved hours on either end – and the fact that a direct plane reduces the chance of damaging trusty steeds – are a real bonus. What’s more, BA’s prices have been really competitive over the last few years.

But like most airlines, BA have been shuffling around their baggage policy recently. Since last year, bikes have travelled for free as an extra piece of sporting equipment, taking any pressure off baggage allowance quandaries. The only stipulation was how they’re packed (pedals off, handlebars turned etc…) and that they’re within a 23kg max weight – no problems there. This year, they’ve introduced a clause stating that while this is still the case, the total dimensions mustn’t exceed 158cm – that’s the height, plus the width, plus the length. Unless you have a folding bike or one with S&S couplings, this is pretty much impossible. Somewhat confusingly, BA also state that standard bike boxes and bags will still be accepted, even though these exceed these dimensions. Anyway, so while it looks like everything will be ok, it’s worth finding the smallest bike box or bike bag that you can, just to try and avoid any issues with surly check in staff.

With this in mind… Although nothing short of a big, heavy hardcase will guarantee the safe passage of your bike, we’ve had very good experiences from Ground Effect’s very diminutive Tardis. With the addition of some locally sourced bubble wrap, cardboard and pipe lagging, it’s really well designed to protect your frame, and packs down to A4 size for easy transportation in the jeeps – for those coming on the Manali-Leh tour. We’ve had several people use them in the last couple of years, and they’ve got a big thumbs up. So well worth looking into, and impressively priced at £60.

Lastly, it’s always worth checking your airline’s bike policy and printing it out to avoid any confusion at the check in counter. Ringing a day earlier to confirm the fact you’ll be bringing a bike can also help.

Photos: Big skies on the Morei Plains, Ladakh.

Cog and Embrocation

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I’ve long harboured a desire to start up a small scale touring magazine, concentrating on soulful stories backed with sumptuous pictures. Interviews with individuals who’ve undertaken epic journeys. Reportages on businesses, like framebuilders, involved in the touring world (who often do things for love rather than money). Real world product testing, whether it be in the Scottish Highlands, the Mongolian plains or the Atacama Desert. Yes, I know it’s very niche and not economically viable, but it doesn’t stop me wishing…

Anyway, while I was in Portland at the North American Handbuilt Bike Show, I came across a couple of small scale publications bucking the trend of commercial convention. I was drawn to these magazines both by their photography and the passion behind their words. Although their heart beats to a different biking rhythm than the one I know, they’re inspiring enough to make me want to experience it through their pages, and share in their biking obsession. Track and Fixed, in the case of Cog, and Cyclocross, in the case of Embrocation.

Neither are currently available in the UK – more’s the pity – but if you drop them an email, I’m sure you can get a copy sent. Or maybe you know some shops who would like to stock them? I like to get my hands on all the bike magazines I can, but putting my money towards these small, soulful publications gives me the most pleasure.

From the pages of Embrocation…

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Lovely cyclocross -inspired pictures.

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A piece on framebuilder Chris Igleheart, who I was fortunate enough to meet.

And from the pages of Cog…

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An interview with framebuilder John Kendziera.

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A photo essay on Japanese Keirin racing.

Barcelona’s Bike Hire Scheme

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I just read a press release about a scheme in London to introduce bike hire parks at 300m intervals around the city, hot on the heels of Paris, which recently unveiled 10,000 bikes at 750 points around the capital to unanimous success. The aim is to have one in ten trips in London made by bike, which will tie in with a Legible London signage system to encourage people to walk – apparently fifty per cent of tube journeys in London are quicker by foot.

Barcelona has started something similar, and judging from the amount of red and white stork-like bikes flitting about, it seems to have proved just as popular. In fact, it’s so successful that they need to build more bike parks in the popular spots, as finding a parking slot to return your bike can be tricky. Another teething problem is in the electronic parking slots themselves, some of which aren’t locking the bikes properly. Still, I’m sure these niggles will be sorted out, and it’s certainly encouraging to see it being used so wholeheartedly and effectively.

In France, the bikes cost about a Euro an hour. In Barcelona, the bikes are free for the first 30 minutes – ample time to get around the city. You then have a twenty minute period before being able to pick up another bike – easily taken up by shopping, or a stroll down the Ramblas. If you go over your 30 minute allocation, there’s a small fee that’s knocked off your credit card. It would be perfect for tourists, who could mix and match their forrays around the city, but for the fact that you also need to sign up to the scheme – around 20-30 Euros a year.

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Getting a bike is simple. Swipe your card, which releases one of the bikes from the pound.

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Grab your wheels and go for a spin. At the end of the ride, drop it back in its plug, which locks it in place, at any of the bike parks dotted about.

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The bikes are sturdy, funky, practical little things, with an adjustable saddle, mudguards, tough Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres and a simple three speed hub gear. There are LED lights for the night too, though they didn’t all seem to be working.

Barcelona is surprisingly bike friendly, with plenty of bikes lanes and some great routes around the harbour and along the beachfront for a sunset amble.

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North American Handbuilt Bike Show

(below) One of my personal favourites. This Jeff Jones-inspired ti 29er is the handywork of Black Sheep Bikes from Colorado, and picked up best ti bike of the show.

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The blog has fallen into a state of neglect over the last week, as I’ve been consumed with bikes, bikes and yet more bikes at the North American Handbuilt Bike Show, held in Portland, Oregon. (note that you can find all the web links to the builders below on the official site)

Now in its fourth year, it proved to be an incredible, inspiring show, host to 152 exhibitors and 7000 attendees. Perhaps it’s better to describe it as a lavish gallery of bicycle artwork. I spent the first of three days simply ricocheting round in semi-dazed confusion, eyes flitting from one fillet brazed frame to another, diverted by a fancy lug, or elaborate paintwork, or a custom rack.

The US frambuilding scene is experiencing a real renaissance. Thanks to a variety of seminars, the show’s a place where framebuilders can gather to hang out, drawing inspiration from one another, and raising the ‘fully custom’ bar yet further. Because we’re not just talking about custom tubesets and sizes here. This is taking the word custom to a completely new level, with mind boggling individuality and obsessive attention to detail. With standards so high, there’s a lot of attention grabbing antics to stand out from the ‘crowd’. Inevitably, not all bikes are to everyone’s tastes (just like art, I guess), but no denying the skill and sweat that’s gone into them.

Here’s just a few pictures of bits that caught my eye, though they’re only a snapshot of what was there.

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(above) I was at the show with one of the UK’s premier bespoke builders, Robin Mather, who’s a big fan of JR Weigle (of Framesave fame). I can see why. Exquisite bikes.

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(top left) The show was also rich with ‘Randonneur’ style machines, harking back to the golden era of the 1930s, when these bikes were built for unsupported long distance riders covering distances of up to 1200km. This one, by Ahearne, was amongst my favourites, with individual touches like stem mounted shifters and double chainstays. (top right) Custom racks were racks were aplenty, like the lovely ones on the Vanilla stand, which included stainless steel guides to protect paintwork. (top left) In the wake of the 29er’s acceptance by mainstream manufacturers, there were a dozen 650B wheeled bikes (roughly half way between a 29er and a 26in tyre), championed by Kirk Pacenti, they included this gorgeous singlespeed from Sycip. (bottom right) What do you get when you gene splice a ‘cyclocross frame with Panaracer’s 700x45c knobblies? Not a 29er, but a Monster ‘Cross, as these bikes are being called. This one was built by Black Cat with plain gauge tubes for serious abuse. Continue reading ‘North American Handbuilt Bike Show’

Portland: Fixie Fixation

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I’ve headed over to Portland, Oregon, to visit the North American Handbuilt Bike Show (NAHBS), a gathering of the finest custom framebuilders in the land. Seeing as the show starts at the weekend, I’ve been hanging out with Trystan, who I toured with in China and Tibet when I was cycling home from Sydney. Portland’s the most progressive bike city in the States, so it’s refreshing to see bike lanes, and plenty of commuters using them. There’s also a plethora of excellent indie bike shops, like Veloshop (stunning Vanilla Bicycles Speedvagen on display), River City Cycles (very nice Ahearne 29er), Veloce (Indy Fab loveliness) and Clever Cycles (butch Big Dummy prototype). Continue reading ‘Portland: Fixie Fixation’


Please check out our main website for details on our bike trips to the Indian Himalayas.

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