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Set goals for your next bike tour

My next bike tour will be a quick weekend getaway – nothing too fancy or too far, but a tried and true rout on the C+O Canal towpath from DC to Harpers Ferry, WV and back. As I continue to slim down and tune up for the big cross-country ride this summer, I’m using these smaller rides for setting goals. Here’s some tips on setting goals for your next bike tour…

Make your goals realistic

One of my goals is to try to make better time – I tend to average about 10 mph on the C+O, but I think I can do better. I can certainly average 15 mph on a flat paved surface, but is it realistic to assume I can do the same on the bumpy, knobby, rooty surface of the C+O? No way. Rule number 1 – if you want your goals to mean something, make sure they’re realistic. My goal is to average between 11 and 12 mph while in the saddle on this trip, on this surface.

Make your goals measurable

Some people set goals that are a bit touchy-feely… “I want to have a good time.” I don’t think that’s a terrible goal, but on a bike tour (nod along with me if you’re feeling me here) there are moments of high highs, and sheer, detestable, awful lows. But did ya have fun? From a goal-setting perspective, I like things I can measure and compare to avoid these subjective questions. I’d like to average 11 mph, not just go faster. I’d like to have zero flats. You see, everything has a number in some way.

Test new gear and new ideas

On a shorter trip, my goal-setting might be less measurable and more about changing my set-up or even techniques. This trip features an entirely new set of tires (thanks GAP!) so I want to see how they feel. Even though it’s a bit more subjective, I can still find a way for measuring and setting goals – what’s the ideal tire pressure on a surface like this? A short ride can help me refine the right answer, and then I can use that towards goal setting for this trip, or maybe help achieve a later goal.

Don’t let setting goals dominate your bike tour

This is still supposed to be fun – if you set goals like achieving a certain distance, but you’re cooked after a long hot ride, it’s more than ok to bail on that goal. It’s something to shoot for, not a measure of success or failure. You’ll get em next time killer…

Reward yourself

I mentioned a few months ago that I’m trying to shed some weight before the big ride. I’m happy to say I’m down 30 lbs since that post. Now, I still have more weight to lose before I achieve my overall goal, but I’ve already decided I can reward myself with a “day off” my insanely regimented eating and tracking regime once I get below 10 lbs to go. You better believe that day off reward is a motivator for me, even though it’s well before I achieve the ultimate goal. Do the same… make sure you reward yourself for meeting mileposts (literally, perhaps?) on your tune-up rides!

photo courtesy of Vik Approved on Flickr (cc) Heading uphill from Elkford to Elk Pass and Alberta.
GAP and C+O signpost Cumberland, MD

Spring bike tour on the GAP, Chapter 3: Finances

You may remember the pedalpreneur challenge: I rented my cabin out for a portion of the time I was on tour on the Great Allegheny Passage last week… did that mean this tour made money? To the toteboard!

Total net revenue from rental (after cleaning costs) = $348

50% one-way car rental to Pittsburgh = $108.50

cost of food = $53.16

50% of gas = $32.15

campsites for two nights = $0

50% of hotel in Frostburg = $35

If you count the tour over after I rolled into Cumberland, it’s a total profit of $119.19…. buuuuut, there’s the little issue of transporting myself back to DC and the need to delay one more night because of the train schedule:

hotel in Cumberland = $91

Amtrak to DC = $35

This puts me over by a total of $6.81. So, it’s official… my tour did NOT make money, and is firmly in the red by about 7 bucks.

But was that really the point? Hardly. Consider the alternative… my cabin sits vacant for the time I’m not even there. My trip costs me a ton more than $7 AND let’s not forget the additional equipment costs I’m taking on in new tires. (I don’t include those in the trip costs because I had intended to replace those tires after the ride.) So, by being creative and taking advantage of property I have and don’t intend to use while on tour, I’m supporting my bike touring lifestyle. I very well may have made a few bucks if I avoided hotels, blown out tires and Amtrak tickets… maybe next time!

GAP bridge

Spring bike tour on the GAP, Chapter 2: takeaways

In this chapter I’ll run down the lessons and takeaways from the spring bike tour: what I think of the GAP, the choices I made and the subjects I intend to learn more about.

Rating the GAP

Mason Dixon Line on the GAP
Mason Dixon Line on the GAP

I like the GAP, but I don’t love it. It’s picturesque, and has a fun route. It has the challenging climb as a component and the surface is largely quite nice. The camping options are good (amazing in some cases – see the rundown in Chapter 1 on the first night) but not as plentiful as the C+O. For a linear trail it is terribly signed, particularly closer to Pittsburgh. Those sections are newer, so I suspect it’s all a work in progress. I guess I’m a C+O guy since I reside most of the time within a few miles of it in DC and WV.

My gear

Schwalbe Marathon Supreme
Upgrading to Schwalbe Marathon Supremes

Given the tire debacle, it’s clear I need to spend more time before the tour checking for possible wear. I believe the tire degradation was something I might have discovered ahead of time, and would have prompted me to replace the tires before the trip. I had intended to make the change after, and that clearly cost me half the tour. In addition to the tire issues, some of my waterproof gear was less than waterproof due to pinholes in panniers and drybags. I’ve invested in Tenacious Tape to seal all of these up. A pre-ride check would have helped keep my gear dryer.

I’m on the continuing trend towards taking less gear and replacing what I have with lighter options. I can continue to reduce my gear bulk and weight. I mentioned my stove experiment, and I had better luck with my Esbit titantium stove than my DIY alcohol stove. I’ll keep tinkering.

My choices


I’m largely ok with the choices I made, but I think two areas could have been better:

– I needed to be more patient with repair attempts on the tire. I’m pretty sure if I had sat and just thought about things for a few minutes I would have had more patience to take the tire off again and make a more resistant repair to the tire before it degraded. I’m pretty impressed the wheel handled all the rim riding I did (fully loaded too!) but I bet if I hadn’t been in such a rush to catch up with MJ, I might have been able to boot the tire and inflate the tube. Speaking of, I found these great tire boots I’m intending to ride with from now on – they’re analogous to big tube patch kits.

– This is the second tour I had to quit on because I didn’t have enough time to finish. A half day or zero mile day could have saved this tour, but I couldn’t have reasonably returned to DC in time to afford that. From now on, I hope to be more flexible to avoid the disappointment and cost of a bailout.

Continuing education

dollar bill boot
an actual dollar bill boot, image courtesy of teamestrogen.com

I’ve enjoyed learning about emergency trailside repairs lately (see my recent emergency repairs post) and the “dollar bill trick” as I call it definitely helped keep the herniating tube from bursting right away as I pedaled uphill. That said, I think I want to have even more emergency hack techniques at my disposal to solve problems long enough to get me to the next bike shop. I have to say, I’m happy my memory of using zip ties for snow traction helped me come up with a way to keep my tire on my rims as I made the last 9 miles to the next town before sundown. But there’s always more to learn.

Tomorrow… with all the drama and the extra expense, did I still manage to pay for the entire bike tour by renting my place out? The pedalpreneur challenge meets simple arithmetic, revealing the answer!

I was pretty happy to see ACA retweeted yesterday’s post, so if you’re new to PedalShift, welcome! Read more about what this is all about here.

Three Rivers, Pittsburgh

Spring bike tour on the GAP, Chapter 1: the trail, the weather + the equipment fails

In this chapter I’ll give a full overview of what happened on my spring bike tour: the original plan, the weather challenges, and the final equipment fail that led to an involuntary end to the trip.

The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) begins in beautiful Pittsburgh, PA and winds about 150+ miles to beautiful Cumberland, MD. From there, the Chesapeake + Ohio towpath (part of the National Park Service) winds 184 miles to Washington, DC. It’s an amazing resource for bike touring, and I’m happy to say I’ve now biked every inch of it. Just… not all at once. More on that in a second.

I was joined on this trip with Mysterious James, or MJ as we like to call him around here. The idea was to do a full through tour from Pittsburgh to DC in 5 1/2 days. Day 1 was a short day to account for the drive from DC. We got a one-way car rental which turned out to be an efficient and cost-effective way to get us and the bikes from DC to downtown Pittsburgh, just a short ride from the start of the GAP.

Day 1

The confluence of the three rivers in Pittsburgh is a heck of a way to kick off a tour. From there, we rolled through an odd assortment of sidewalks, trails, backroads and other connectors to a truly spectacular campsite about 25 miles south of the city.

GAP campsite


This was, simply put, the best free privately run campsite either of us had ever stayed at. The adirondack was well-built, and there was abundant, free firewood. The plastic chairs were a really welcome touch too. Amazing resource!

The only complaint from Day 1 was the lack of adequate signage. On more than one occasion we questioned if we were still on the GAP, and the mile markers didn’t correspond well to the official route from the website. The campground, for instance, was 2 miles further than indicated… not ideal when you want to end the day. Of course once we got there, all was forgiven. Did I mention the free firewood?

The Yough

Day 2

Day 2 was a 60 miler to Confluence, PA. Once we got out of the industrial outskirts of Pittsburgh into a more rural setting, we found the ride and the trail to be more enjoyable. A lot of the trail towns were as advertised – nice amenities and easy to get to from the path. Confluence was a bit of a disappointment given my expectations from the “word on the street.” It must be great on weekends, but on a Thursday, everything was closed. The Army Corps of Engineers campsite was open, except for the bathrooms… despite being fully lit inside. It was a bit odd, but this is early in the season, so no judgment. We were still basking in the glow of the first campground, after all.

bikes in the rain

Day 3

We knew it was going to rain, but we got lucky in the sense that it held off until well after packing up. In fact, it even held off til the moment we started rolling. For the next 8 consecutive hours, however, the skies opened up and a steady hard rain accompanied us up the 1% incline for the next 45 miles. As hills go, this barely registers… but the constant nature of the climb on muddy trail made for tough, slow going. MJ was on fat tires so he had a much easier way of it. I was on touring tires that weren’t skinny by any stretch, however I can now confirm that proper tire inflation makes a big difference… because my rear tire wasn’t retaining much in the way of air.

Long story short, the rear tire had been compromised after a couple of seasons of touring and a fall’s worth of exposure on the bike rack of an RV during Tranquility Tour. I began losing air as a slow leak, but was able to pump it up every 10 miles or so. Around 30 miles into the day, the tire gave with a loud gunshot sound. MJ was well ahead and I discovered when quickly switching out the tube that the sidewall of the tire had a massive tear in it. I used the dollar bill trick I linked to from my emergency repair post, but it didn’t hold. The new tube burst from the tear like a hernia. In retrospect, if I had been a little more patient and less intent on catching up with MJ, I might have been able to successfully boot that tear. However, I chose to remove the brake pad fro the side of the herniation, and drop the pressure down to get rolling.

The long slog on a flat tire was hard on my right knee – I developed patellar tendonitis that has taken a few days to heal up. It feels like sharp stabby pains on the top of the knee cap – the same pain you get when your saddle is a bit low.

An hour behind MJ, I eventually caught up at the top of the hill 7 long miles later – the Eastern Continental Divide. I showed him my issue and we tried plans A-D (“what? I only have 1 inch of duct tape?! WTF!?”). Right before we were about to roll the unmistakable hiss of the last of the tire pressure met our ears. With the sun setting in about 90 minutes and no real option to fix the tube properly with measly patch kits (much less the tire tear), we decided to hotel it 9 miles downhill in Frostburg. MJ rode on as I vowed to push my bike there in about 3 hours.

About an hour into the push, and with the sun rapidly setting I remembered the old trick for better traction on ice… zip ties. When that came to mind I realized I could ride on the flat tire and keep it on the rim, protecting it somewhat, if I ziptied the tire securely on the wheel. Minutes later I was texting MJ as I was coasting down the trail. I made it to the hotel just after sundown.

zip tie fix

My knee was causing me a fair amount of pain, and after a bad batch of wings at a pizza place, and the discovery that the college town had no bike shop, I knew I might need to call the tour in nearby Cumberland. Although there’s a good bike shop there, the C+O historically has worse conditions, and my knee was not prepared to slog through more soft trail. So, I booked a train back and left my bike at the bike shop to get some repairs done.

MJ rode on and reported conditions were dry and enjoyable (no more rain for the rest of his ride). My train ride back taunted me with over 60 miles of views of the C+O looking very rideable. My knee would let my head and ego know that the additional 184 miles would not have been pleasant. I’m still not sure which of these anthropomorphized entities  won the argument over whether quitting was the right bet.

So, that’s the story.

Tomorrow, the takeaways, including what I think about the GAP.

Friday, did the unanticipated expenses cost more than I made in my pedalpreneur challenge?

GAP mileage marker

Great Allegheny Passage spring bike tour: lessons + more

Bike tours are sometimes more about the lessons than starting and finishing when and where you intend. This tour is certainly no exception.

If you followed the pedalshift twitter feed, you already know my #PGHtoDC hashtag wasn’t much of a prediction. I had a major tire malfunction on one of the rainier days I’ve ever toured. I biked uphill in the mud about 7 miles on a practically flat tire, then downhill an additional 9 (again in the mud) essentially on one full front tire, and the rear rims. My knee bore the brunt of it all.

There are all sorts of lessons from this bike tour, and I intend to spend the next few blog posts going over them all. I also have an update on the pedalpreneur aspect – remember I was intending on spending less on the tour than I was making renting my place? More to come on that!

Next posts, all coming this week

The full story – the GAP, the weather, the equipment fails

Takeaways – equipment repairs, upgrades and planning

Did my tour make money or did the costs exceed my rental?


Pittsburgh to DC via GAP and C+O

Opening Day (for bicycle touring)

I’m not a particularly big baseball fan, but opening day always feels like a real sign of spring. In honor of that today, I’m happy to (coincidentally) announce that after weeks of soggy and/or freezing and/or wintry weather, the first 2014 tour is set:

April 9-14, 2014.

My biking companion (the eponymous Mysterious James for long-time readers over at the uncommonly silly blog) and I will be hitting the GAP and C+O from Pittsburgh to DC… likely through some mud… perhaps some less-than-ideal weather… but we’re making it happen.

I’m toying with the idea of some audio and possibly some video on this one. Stay tuned.

muddy ortlieb panniers

A muddy start to the bike touring season

My first S24O of the year got postponed due to mud yesterday. Fun ride, but as the mud got thicker and harder to pedal through on my 1.5″ tires, I abandoned hopes of reaching the campground 8 miles further and called it a day halfway there. I haven’t seen the C+O Towpath in this bad shape for a few years, and I’m worried it might impact my multi-modal trip in a few weeks without some serious drying time…

a very muddy c+o canal towpath

How to tour more by renting your space

One of the key parts of PedalShift is trying to answer the question: “how can I tour more?”. For most, the major barrier is time, with money coming in a close second. I’ve found a partial solution that works for me, and I’d like to share it – renting my space out to vacationers while I’m not using it.

It’s not a revolutionary concept, of course… it’s not like I invented renting my space out, but it manages to neatly fit the touring lifestyle. First, it generates revenue that can supplement income, which may mean you can work a job that provides more time off or increases the amount you make as a self-employed business owner or consultant. Second, it takes advantage of an asset you control but don’t use while away. It’s kind of a win-win.

For some, doing this only while you’re on tour or otherwise out of town (business trips? holidays?) can generate the kind of income that means the difference between camping in thunderstorms and splurging on a hotel. That alone is a great justification. For others, if you have alternate accommodations available (significant other or family nearby? an opportunity for a mini tour? a camper?) the prospects of opening rental of your home or apartment all year means real income possibilities. It all balances on how much of an alteration you’re willing to make to your current lifestyle versus the income you could make.

There are cons to all of these pros… but strikingly few in my experience. I’ve had a couple of odd renters, but nobody that’s done much more than make silly decisions. There’s certainly more wear and tear on my place compared to if it were unoccupied. A lot of people ask me if I ever worry about people stealing things. The service I use (AirBnB) has some pretty nifty security features included picture ID verification, and social media linkages. Most importantly though, all rental fees are paid upfront, and due to minimum stay requirements a “bad actor” would need to shell out hundreds of dollars merely to get access to my place. Plus, I get final say on any potential guest, so if I don’t have a good feeling, I can always decline the request. I haven’t had anything “walk” in over a year of rentals, and the only repairs I’ve had to make were to items that tend to be problematic when I’m around too.

I started last spring almost on a lark, and I’ve exceeded my expectations – I grossed 20% of my pretax income last year. My carrying costs increase (slightly higher utility bills, cleaning fees, plowing my driveway a bit more often) but overall the income goes right into my touring and savings funds.

The best part about all of this? I can manage it from anywhere. With a mobile device and a good working relationship with my cleaning partner, it works like a charm. More on how it all works in future posts.

When I started this site, I mashed together a word: pedalpreneur. Other than being a mouthful, it was a concept I wanted to develop and discuss in the PedalShift community… what kinds of business ideas are out there to help us tour more? What kinds of things can we do on tour itself? There are lots of examples of this… artisans who work from the road, consultants who can take calls from virtually anywhere, writers and photographers who make a living chronicling their adventures… the list goes on and on. If you work on the road while you tour, I’d love to hear more from you! What kinds of things have you learned?


larger guy on bike

Offseason conditioning: Step 0

One of the great things about bike touring is it’s impact on my fitness.

I’m buring 8,000 calories a day! For weeks on end!

I can eat anything I want! And I’m over forty!

And then… winter.

Not everyone who loves bike touring (or adventure cycling, or whatever else we call it) has a distinct off-season, or lives in a place where weather conditions dictate a major decrease in biking. But it’s certainly my issue. Every fall I look back on a great 7-9 months of adventure, and somehow end up gaining weight that I inevitably have to haul up a big ass hill* in a few months.

Some people on tour “bike their way into shape” and that works out fine in a lot of cases. This year, I’m hoping to get a little (ok, a lot) leaner ahead of my rides, so I’m reverting back to watching what I eat in a way that almost makes it a game. I’m using an iOS app to help track calories in much the same way I use mapping apps to track my miles on the bike. It’s not nearly as fun, but I know it will pay off down the line.

So, step zero is getting to the point where I can load myself AND the gear on my bike below the max weight threshold suggested by the manufacturer and the laws of physics. Since my gear can’t lose weight as easily, that’s where I’m at for the next couple of months. I’ll bet I appreciate it on those hills come spring…

Do you have issues with offseason fitness? Or are you geographically better situated? Or are you a commuter that laughs at ice and cold who doesn’t face this challenge?


*technical term

vintage image courtesy of Nebraska Outdoor Addict

This is a second publication originally posted January 26th – due to a technical problem, it self-deleted (I know, really?)  but thanks to the magical powers of double publishing to uncommonlysilly.com, it was preserved. For good, or for bad…