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Bike touring and offseason weight gain + loss

Happy new year! About this time last year, I shared my struggle with offseason weight gain. For those of us with a distinct touring offseason[footnote]if you can tour year-round, the rest of us jealously gaze in your direction![/footnote] being off the bike means you have to keep an eye on what you eat and the other activity you maintain, or you’ll have more to haul up those hills in the spring.

Here’s the dirty secret about bike touring – it can be a lousy way to maintain weight loss. Sure, you’ll probably get in better shape during your ride, but a lot of people find they gain weight back shortly after their tours because they don’t adjust their eating habits off the bike. I know that was a problem for me two seasons ago.

My experience

larger guy on bike
How I felt in January 2014.

When I weighed myself in January 2014, I couldn’t believe the number that was staring up at me from the scale. Only 5 months before, I had biked a substantial part of the Pacific coast and was in pretty good shape. A two month book tour and a half winter later, I was the heaviest I’d ever weighed.[footnote]True story – I got the call that my grandmother had passed away, and I went through two thoughts. First, “tomorrow is the first day of my life when I won’t have my grandmother in my life.” Second, “holy sh*t, there is not a chance in hell I’m fitting in my suit for her funeral.”[/footnote] My post-tour eating habits got the best of me. I needed to drop a substantial amount of weight and I was motivated to do it in a smart, healthy way.

Step 0 – Admit it’s time

Before you do anything, it’s time to stare in the mirror (figuratively… let’s not be creepy here) and admit you let things go a bit. Until you’re ready to do that, the next steps are a lot harder.

Step 1 – Set your goal

I used an app called LoseIt to come up with a weight goal and a weight loss goal. Losing a couple pounds per week is probably the healthiest way to go, even if you want to go a little faster. It’s sustainable and leads to better habits.

Step 2 – Watch your intake

The app made this a lot easier, but be ready to be shocked at the caloric deficit you need to maintain compared to what you cram down during a tour. It’s pretty much the opposite vibe. For me, I need to watch calories and focus on eating whole foods rather than processed ones, especially those that are carbohydrate heavy. You may have a different experience, but generally speaking watching what you eat and avoiding the things that pack in the calories or otherwise are your kryptonite is the way to go.

Step 3 – Stay active, but watch for the calorie trap

Everyone’s body is different. For me, weight loss is almost all about what I eat. In fact, there’ a bit of a trap… when I exercise, I have a tendency to eat more calories than my exercise creates in deficit. In other words, exercising a lot makes it harder for me to lose weight. I know – total trap, right? That’s not the case for other people, but it was a surprising finding for me. Your mileage may vary!

Step 4 – maintain

So much lamer than real hills.
So much lamer than real hills.

From heaviest to lightest this year, I was down 50 pounds.[footnote]about 23 kg for you metric types[/footnote] That’s a lot of weight off, and it took a ton of work and discipline to achieve. It made a huge difference in how I felt on my rides. I know I’ll gain some back over the holidays,[footnote]spoiler alert – already have[/footnote] but there’s no way I’ll be in the same position over the late winter and spring as I was last year. That gives me more opportunity to hop on trainers and exercise bikes to stay in bike touring shape, which gives me a leg up on early season tours.

Do you struggle with offseason weight? If not, what do you do to maintain being in bike shape through your offseason? Share your thoughts with the community!

Amtrak train

Amtrak and touring bikes

Amtrak and touring bikes: this is a long story with a steadily happier ending. Once upon a time Amtrak only allowed touring bikes if they were packed in a box and checked with baggage at certain stops only. Since then roll aboard service has expanded on certain lines and we may (maybe… possibly… perhaps…) be seeing true roll-aboard service expanded to all lines. Read on…


In June 2014, Amtrak announced new baggage cars allowing checked unboxed bikes for all long distance routes “by the end of the year.” Well, it’s the end of the year… so are we a step closer to easier travel by train with our touring bikes?

Well, the silence from Amtrak doesn’t strike me as a good sign. When I got an update on Amtrak Express bike shipping service in St. Louis (thanks Kurt Werstein) it reminded me of the “end of the year” comment on bikes checked for passengers. Digging a bit today revealed little to suggest the rail transportation provider is likely to meet that goal. Although I haven’t had the opportunty to confirm this, a commenter on Amtrak’s original post announcing the new baggage cars noted we may be waiting a lot longer:

I just called Amtrak about this and was told the cars are still in production so won't be out for another 6-12 months. Very disappointing to find out they are still so far away from being in use.

If you’re a masochist and prefer additional demoralizing fodder, read some of the comments by the curiously-in-the-know AMTK207 (cough cough Amtrak employee?[footnote]rank speculative opinion[/footnote] cough cough). The optimism that Amtrak will implement better national bike checking policies (to at least approach its excellent bike service on the west coast) seems to be fading. I’ll keep an eye on this into 2015.

UPDATE: looks like the first baggage cars are indeed in use, if only as a test. That might mean we’re in decent shape for unboxed bikes in the new baggage cars by next summer? Hoping to hear more from Amtrak as we head into spring…

UPDATE UPDATE: The baggage cars began on the Capitol Limited between Chicago and DC in mid-September 2015 and roll-on service is in effect at every stop. Listen to my experience on The Pedalshift Project 035. The Amtrak press release gives some good info:

Good News for Capitol Limited Customers: Bike Service Begins Aboard Trains 29 and 30


Effective September 15, 2015 Amtrak is pleased to announce that starting September 15, passengers can bring bikes on the Capitol Limited for only $20. Before bringing your bike aboard, please note the following:

  • Arrive Early If you are checking a bike, get to the station at least 30 minutes prior to train departure to allow time to get your tickets and take your bike to the baggage car.
  • Bike Reservations Bicycle reservations are required. Reserve your bike on Amtrak.com by selecting “add bike to trip” when booking your train travel. You can also call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245) or make reservations at any Amtrak ticket office. Bike reservations cannot be made through Amtrak’s mobile apps. Don’t forget to bring the ticket (travel document) for your bike to present to the conductor.
  • One bike is permitted per person, and only standard size bikes are allowed. If your bike has a large seat/saddle bags, you will need to remove it from the bike before loading it on the train. The seat can either be carried on the train or checked, where permitted.
    Loading and Storing Your Bike Once you arrive at the station, take your bike to the coach/baggage car where it will be stored during your trip. A crew member will open the baggage car door.
  • You must be able to lift your bike onto the train and stow it in the rack. You must also attach the stabilization bar with the strap provided to your bicycle frame. Amtrak employees are not responsible for storing or securing bicycles. Upon arriving at your destination, a crew member will guide you to the car to retrieve your bike once the train comes to a complete stop and it is safe to do so.

Enjoy your journey aboard the Capitol Limited, and thank you for choosing Amtrak.

The Capitol Limited pulling in at Harpers Ferry
The Capitol Limited pulling in at Harpers Ferry
sequoia at home

Shipping bikes with Amtrak Express — good or bad option?

Many bike tours begin or end with the need to transport your bike long distances. Depending on your needs shipping bikes with Amtrak Express may be an economical and effective option for you. I shipped my touring bike back across the US following a tour… how’d Amtrak Express do?


Amtrak did a great job shipping my touring bike home. See part one to see my thought process on why I went with Amtrak Express in the first place.


Amtrak did a great job with the shipping.[footnote]I should mention, thanks to reader Kurt Werstein for pointing it out, that I never mentioned how Amtrak tells you when your package arrives.  They’re old school… no Internet tracking system for them. Shipping bikes with Amtrak Express? Don’t expect scan codes and automated arrival mechanisms. You receive a phone call. Sort of wish we could track when the box changes trains, but I suspect there isn’t a scanning system at all for packages.[/footnote] My bike arrived in excellent shape. You can tell a lot about the handling based on how dinged and dirty your bike box looks after traveling. With a couple of small exceptions the box itself was flawless. That gave me a good feeling as I unboxed, knowing there was a much lower probability of opening up a bad surprise.

Two things to bear in mind when considering shipping your touring bike by Amtrak Express…

  • Don’t expect the delivery forecast to be accurate, particularly if you’re shipping long distances. Shipping bikes with Amtrak Express means you need to have some flexibility. My bike arrived several days after the forecast. Amtrak trains are subject to the whims of Conrail and other heavy rail along certain corridors, so schedules are often hours late. That could mean missed connections. So, a corollary… don’t ship a bike with a need for a date certain. Amtrak will hold onto your bike for days after delivery (with a small charge for more than 2 days) so bake that into your plans.
  • Getting your bike at the station may take longer than you think. I expected to go to some desk and see my bike box somewhere behind the clerk. At DC’s Union Station at least, that isn’t the case. A couple of very nice Amtrak guys spent about 20 minutes in the bowels of the station retrieving the box. So, when shipping bikes with Amtrak Express don’t expect a quick trip when you pick up.
Shipping bikes with Amtrak Express -- Sequoia homecoming
Sequoia’s homecoming – that’s the Capitol dome in the background!

Shipping bikes with Amtrak Express — Conclusions

I like Amtrak an awful lot. The Amtrak Express service worked for me because of a lot of reasons I mentioned before. I suspect I won’t always use Amtrak Express over flying back with my bike, but given similar circumstances, I wouldn’t hesitate to use them again.

Have you ever used Amtrak Express to ship your bike to or from tour? Share with the Pedalshift community here in the comments!

Border2Border Tour: Tour Journals x10

It’s hard to believe, but this tour crossed the 500 mile mark today, day ten of my travels from Victoria, BC to the California-Mexico border. Each morning I record a short tour journal… Follow along at soundcloud.com/pedalshift or keep an eye open on the @pedalshift Twitter feed. The Pedalshift Project will get a shiny episode of its own in a week or so once I cross the Golden Gate into San Francisco for a few down days. I the interim, check out the Pedalshift Tour Journals!

Mt. Baker over water

Border2Border Tour: BC to the Olympic Peninsula

Quick reminder: the best way to follow the tour is to follow @pedalshift on Twitter. That will be the hub of all the thoughts, pics, tour journal podcasts, etc. Daily or near daily Tour Journal podcasts are on Soundcloud, or you can subscribe to the feed here.

Some quick thoughts from the last few days:

  • The BC and Washington State ferry systems are phenomenal. Timely, well-priced, and punctual.
  • Dramamine stops me from feeding the fish, but the “non-drowsy” formula is bull.WA ferry
  • The Washington State campgrounds are as rumored. I’ll be in Oregon soon. That’s all I have to say about that.
  • The headwinds around Hood Canal today we’re BRUTAL. Worst I’ve ever biked in – I didn’t have an anemometer on me, but based on experience I’d say it was easily 30 mph with 40 mph gusts. Crazy. Still did a metric century (insert pat on back here).

  • I still have yet to meet anyone who is out for more than a weekend trip, which is surprising. I would have expected to meet some through bikers by this point, but I figure it’ll happen.
  • Saw a bald eagle in the wild, which is still a thrill.

  • Love my bike with no name. I miss the Goblin in some ways, but this bike is a beast up hills with the new gearing. I can spin up even the steepest of grades, which is how it should be.

The bike with no name

  • I even got work done tonight on my computer at a campground, therefore fully justifying bringing it.

That’s it… more to come tomorrow!

Seattle tour start

Kicking off the border to border bike tour

The Heat Stroke Avoidance Alternative Border to Border Bike Tour has begun! I may just refer to it as the Border to Border or B2B tour from now on, largely because I can’t remember the larger name and because it’s so far from warm on the coast that the memories of forecasts in the 107-109 degree range are all but a memory. Take a listen to episode 004 of Pedalshift Project for more on that.

I began my journey with a visit to my cousin in Seattle, which was a nice treat considering my original plans did not take me north of Portland. Since he was planning on rowing the next morning, I got up with him at 5:19am. I felt every bit of that early hour through the day… trust me. A 40 minute ride later and I was boarding the Victoria Clipper to Victoria, BC.

Victoria Clipper

First, I took a dramamine. I. Am. Not. Fit. For. Seafaring. I’m a landlubber. Whatever. But thanks to this wonderful concoction that I used to have to take crushed in applesauce before long car trips (#protip: not recommended) I got through the rough seas to Canada.

I saw a sign that made me happy:

eat poutine

And then I was full and happy. Bless you Canada for poutine.

I spent a leisurely couple of hours winding my way north on a series of regional trails through suburbs and agricultural areas. A stop for blackberries was a welcome layover from the unusual heat and steady sun exposure. After about 20 miles (translation: “aboot 33 kilo-meeters” – I love you Canada. Don’t ever change.) I was at the picturesque McDonald Park, part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. Camping was a little pricey at CDN$13.75 (no showers, primitive toilets, but water, so yay for that) but the tree cover was spectacular, reminding me Burlington Campground in the redwoods of CA.

McDonald Park

One other thing to note… the smells. I love that hint of salt water as you get near the coast, but around here you also get the cedar-ish smells of the conifers mixed in. It’s a nice balance and one I don’t get very often.


Mt. Baker over water
Mt. Baker over the water from Sidney, BC

Here’s today’s Tour Diary – a reminder I’ll be doing more of these audio snippets and tweets than posts. The tour diaries will be tweeted but you can also subscribe to them as a podcast or check them out on Soundcloud.


Report: Amtrak to allow unboxed bikes “by the end of the year”

File this under “cautious optimism.”

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Amtrak will be installing new baggage cars with what may allow roll-on service for unboxed bikes on all of its long haul routes “by the end of the year.”

The bike touring community has long been prodding America’s long distance train transportation provider to consider making such a service available, particularly at stations that serve active touring routes. Amtrak has had roll-on service available on a limited number of lines, but now it appears the country is figuratively opening up for multimodal bike touring adventures.

A few questions remain to be answered:

  • Will this policy hit all at once, or will some routes get the service before others?
  • Will this be true roll-on service or just boxless baggage service? Will it vary route to route?
  • If this is roll-on service, will it only be available at “baggage stops” or will all stations allow passengers to arrive and depart with bikes?
  • How much will the bike service cost a passenger? Will it differ based on distance traveled or be a flat fee?
  • Will this policy impact the new folding bike rules?
  • How will transfers work?

Amtrak has periodically announced big things for bikes on their trains, but this may be the first time it has announced a timeline with all routes getting a boxless option. From a bike touring perspective the notion that we can now roll up to the stations without having to disassemble and box our bikes is beyond welcome. I believe this will be a huge economic win for Amtrak and the towns with stations near bike touring routes.


Update – A careful read of the Amtrak blog post about its new baggage cars reveals something in what it doesn’t say.

Also, the new cars will be equipped with built-in luggage racks that will be able to secure unboxed bicycles (hooray!).

Hooray indeed! But, notice it doesn’t mention roll-on service? It’s possible this new baggage set-up will allow roll-on service (they are certainly testing it in some locations) but it’s also possible bikes will continue to be treated as checked baggage, without a boxing requirement. More to come!

(The post has been updated to reflect this important distinction.)