The Pedalshift Project 049: Biking the C&O, wet weather wear and revisiting touring bike gearing

Back from biking the C&O over the weekend, I share thoughts on the western end of the trail, my new favorite wet weather gear purchases and revisiting touring bike gearing so you never have to suffer through hills because of your bike!

The Pedalshift Project 049: Biking the C&O, wet weather wear and revisiting touring bike gearingHey it’s the direct download link: The Pedalshift Project 049: Biking the C&O, wet weather wear and revisiting touring bike gearing (mp3)

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The Journal: Revisiting the C&O

  • This weekend’s trip to the western end of the C&O (Hancock to Cumberland)
  • Wet start. A very wet start. Rain gear reviews in Gear Talk.Good experience on the WV backroads from my place to Hancock.
  • Hancock is getting sketchier, which is sad.
  • Chose WMd Rail Trail over C&O… again.
  • Two inch wide tires are so great on a wet C&O.
  • Please have fenders people.
  • A signal-less night meant watching a great doc I rented on iTunes, Inspired to Ride about the Trans Am Race co-starring friend of Sprocket Podcast Nathan Jones. Check it out. Three words: Triple Overnight Centuries.
  • Spent all Saturday rolling and recording field notes for a new project: Pedalshift Guide to Bicycling the C&O. I’m building a free resource page at that I’ll be supplementing over time. At some point I might put out a beefier trail guide and I’ll be asking for your help on what to include. More to come.
  • The trail was muuuuuuuuudy – super muddy!
  • Quite a few people touring the trail even this early in the year
  • Saw a guy on a Dahon!
  • Got into Cumberland starving and ready for some Crabby Pig… had some great beer and enjoyed it a lot.
  • Tried the YMCA camping option and found it quite excellent… 12 bucks gets you full access to the facility if you feel the need to work out after a ride (heh) but more importantly, wifi, showers, very good water fountain to refill up and a decent camping spot. Downside is they didn’t have a portapotty so overnight meant you were out of luck when the facility is closed (I was told it’s normally there though). Also, there’s an auxiliary train track about 20 feet away and the one train that went through that night was a tooth rattler. You cannot escape the trains in Cumberland if you’re camping… Evits Creek is the same story, bur worse because it’s on the main CSX line. Also no wifi, no shower, and it’s 4.5 miles away rather than 1. But… it’s free. I’d do the Y again if only for the proximity and shower.
  • Used Amtrak roll-aboard service again and it was great… train was delayed 1 hour from Chicago but got me to Martinsburg in 90 minutes. A nasty 20 mph head and cross wind impeded my 21 mile ride to the cabin, but it all worked out fine.
  • I just love the C&O… with the Amtrak fast-forwards (DC-Harpers Ferry-Martinsburg-Cumberland) you can mix up the ride and take advantage of the trail for the time you have!


Starting the ride in a cold downpour…
Semi-fail with the stove on this trip.
Paw Paw Tunnel!
Paw Paw Tunnel!
End of the line(ish)… half mile to go!

Pedalshift Plus

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Preview of Pedalshift Tour Journals Vol. 5: California Coast, now available at Pedalshift Plus!

Gear Talk

Wet Weather Gear

As I mentioned earlier, I bought some great wet weather gear that literally saved the first day of my tour from a washout. I thought I’d share my newfound love for these three critical new parts of my touring gear, with Amazon affiliate links (if you’re into getting gear there).

Showers Pass Men’s Double Century RTX Jacket
Best rain jacket I’ve ever worn. My old one is a 20-year old Nike one that has thoroughly lost its waterproofness and I needed a new one. This is light, packs SUPER small and sheds water like nothing I’ve ever worn. As a guy who runs hot, I appreciate the high ventilation options and easily accessed pit zips. It’s built for cycling with a long tail to keep the belt line covered. It’s just awesome and what you’d expect from a Portland-based company that knows rain. A ding: I got white because they have no orange. #needsmoreorange
Showers Pass Waterproof Wool Socks
Ok, these feel weird. Kind of like scuba socks? They’re on the heavy side too. BUT THEY ROCK. These are three layers that allow moisture out but not in. My feet would have been cold and raw in the rain I rode in, but they remained warm and dry. It was weird because I could feel the squish of the shoes but the feet were aces. Best wet weather socks ever.
Columbia Trail Summit Running Gloves
These seem to be on the way out or at least are becoming less seasonably available… but the good news is they are on discounts at lots of places, so now may be a time to grab them. These fit snugly but are totally soft and comfortable with the added bonus of having those index and thumb thingies that let you work touch screens. Like any “waterproof breathable” item they fail after enough exposure to the rain. What made these different was the layer of reflective material inside the gloves… while the gloves got soaked by hour 3 of the ride, my hands remained totally warm and comfortable the whole time. And really, that’s the big bucket of win. Water rolls down your arms and gets into most gloves. It happens. For long days in wet weather, these are my new go-tos.

Touring bike gearing

Basics are in Pedalshift Project 015 – learn about gear inches and gear calculators.

When you’re buying or building a bike for touring, the most important touring bike gearing is one you don’t use very often but you need it more than any other one. That’s your granny gear, AKA the one that helps you climb and haul stuff up hills.

When I started touring I had the misconception that bike gears were universal… “3rd gear” was “3rd gear” regardless of bike. Um, yeah… newbie!

I found I was struggling to keep up on hills and thought I was somehow in worse shape… the reality was I was pressing into high gears and the people ahead of me were using mechanical advantages I didn’t have.

SO… you’re new to this… or you want to improve things on hills… what to do? You want to be really small in the crank set and huge in the cassette. Here’s what I roll on:

44/32/22 crank set
11-34 cassette

So, I have 22 teeth in the small chain ring up front and 34 in the rear cassette… that translates to a very climby 18.5 gear inches with the tires I have (700×2″).

Compare that to the stock Safari (at the time) that had a climbing gear of 23.5 gear inches. TOTALLY noticeable.

And my FIRST bike… the one that I struggled with on the CA coast? Good lord… 35.6 gear inches. That’s basically a mid-gear for my current Safari.

SO… do you have trouble with hills? You shouldn’t and you don’t need to. They should be challenging but not things you dread and want to avoid. The next time you are looking to improve your touring bike gearing situation, start with replacing the cassette. Replace the crank. Do both if you can… work with your LBS to get as low of a gear as you can – your top gears will suffer but this is a touring bike and you rarely end up in them anyways.


Mark Van Raam:

Thanks for your recent podcast 048.  One question on the Pacific Coast ride.  Is it possible to not take any cooking equipment and still eat OK?  I’m not a coffee drinker and could live off 7-11 food (pop tarts, hot dogs) or better grocery stores, diners, etc.  I want to pedal the whole thing (Canada to Mexico border), don’t want to do the whole cooking thing.

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The Pedalshift Project theme is America courtesy of Jason Kent off his self-titled solo album. Check out his band Sunfields‘ album, Habitat, wherever cool music resides.  I heard Jason’s new album in January and it is AWESOME. More info when that drops this spring!