Multi-modal Transport: Re-thinking Bicycle Season

As we reach Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of summer activities, we are reminded that we so far have failed to get a start on bicycle season 2012.  Not that we haven’t planned: it just hasn’t materialized.  After we returned from Florida, early in December, I repaired the broken spoke on the Green Machine and applied anti-corrosion treatment to the parts savaged by the Florida mangrove swamps.  But, the bike sat, unridden, all winter and into the spring.  Recently, we realized we weren’t going to be “competitive” in the touring category this season, so we canceled a tour planned for Colorado in August, forfeiting our deposit in the process.  But, we can’t not ride at all: we just need to re-evaluate our goals and plan accordingly.

We elected not to take our bike with us to Alberta in early May, as it was still snowy there. Oh, there were bicyclists out the weekend we arrived, but the weather, predictably, turned cold and wet.  We did get in a few short hikes between snow and rain showers, though.  On our return, the fact we were much belated in our spring training was realized with the arrival of our first WarmShowers bike tourist.  Sarah, from Seattle, was starting on a fast trip down the coast to southern California.  We convinced her to take the quieter backroads to the coast instead of the busy highways, and offered to guide her part way.  We elected not to make a test run with the repaired but untried Green Machine, so I dusted off “Rocky,” my trusty old Specialized Hard Rock commuter machine, and accompanied her as far as Cloquallum, a bit more than halfway to Elma and more well-traveled roads, turning around at the Bucks Prairie store for a 27-mile inaugural spring ride.

Tour-season sendoff at the Bucks Prairie Store, Cloquallum

The next day, we did get the Green Machine out for a shakedown test on our favorite local short loop, a 10-mile rolling ride through Shelton Valley, dodging the inevitable loose dog, but otherwise running fairly smoothly until reaching the furthest point from home, when our SRAM X7 rear derailleur suddenly ate the internal springs, leaving us with no chain tension. We stopped and manually shifted into the second-largest freewheel sprocket, giving enough tension to stay in gear and use the three hub gears to get us home.

When a good derailleur goes bad

The good folks at Green Gear Cycling, makers of Bike Friday, promptly sent out a new RD, though there were literally minutes left on the warranty. Meanwhile, our second long-distance cyclist of the season arrived, Lang, from Korea, via Alaska and an over-winter stay in Vancouver. He was headed south to Los Angeles, and wanted to pass through Olympia rather than take the rural route through Elma, so I once again cranked up the commuter to lead the way out to Highway 3 South, a twisty maze of dips and climbs through our neighborhood to avoid the drop to sea level and heavy traffic through town.

Lang, continuing his trip from Alaska to Los Angeles

The new RD arrived and I installed it before we were due to depart for Bend, Oregon on a short outing with friends, but no time to test drive the new unit. The weather forecast called for rain, so we elected not to dismantle the bike and left it behind. However, we had been discussing the need to be able to take the Green Machine to an alternate starting point without the ordeal of packing and unpacking the machine when we were not taking public transit or traveling multiple days. Or, since we had been through a bikeless period waiting on parts, a way to transport our old Santana tandem, “Leviathan,” to either ride it on rougher trails or deliver it to a shop or prospective buyer, should we try to sell it again. At this point, it seems prudent to keep it, since the load capacity of the packable Bike Friday is considerably less, making it less suitable for touring on roads where the two-wheel trailer is not practical or it is subject to greater stress.

Front fork secured, ready to load the bike by swinging it by the rear rack onto the mid-tube cradle.

For a number of years, we had been weary of the need to clean and jerk the 60-pound Santana overhead and then maneuver it no-handed onto the front fork clamp and rear bottom bracket support of the 24-year-old Yakima tandem rack, which did not fit our new Jeep, in order to transport it anywhere. We had decided that, should the opportunity arise, we would replace that rack system with a swing-out system to allow the bike to be attached one-half at a time, for easier loading. Since we had decided to provide a means of transporting the Bike Friday more or less intact, and REI had one of the side-loading types on sale, we ordered one before leaving for Oregon, along with a new set of rack clamps to attach to the factory roof rails, to replace the old rain-gutter clamps.

The Green Machine, racked for transport with minimal disassembly

The intention was to re-use the 18-year-old crossbars from the old rack, purchased for the old 1994 Jeep we replaced last year. However, the protective end caps on one of the bars had been somewhat abused over the years, and 18 years of Pacific Northwest and Montana weather and 286,000 miles of highway had taken their toll. I had to saw off the rusted ends of the bar, and force the old clamps off one end, over the bulging plastic coating. The cut ends revealed solid metal with just surface rust under the outer coating, and the bars were more than long enough for the new Jeep, so it went together without too much incident, and appears to be sound. Of course, we now drive with that characteristic buffeting drone of the slipstream tumbling over the round bars, that we have missed for the past year and a half.

What we have learned from our own recent touring experience and from our long-distance touring guests is this: it is all about the journey, the places and people you encounter, not about riding X miles per day or getting there entirely on your wheels. This is why we bought the Bike Friday–to have the flexibility of one-way bike trips, starting and ending anywhere accessible by public transportation. Re-instating the roof-top car carrier system also means we have the freedom of making short loop trips easily without starting from home or having to take the time to pack and unpack the bicycle, like driving to the children’s house in Olympia and riding the rail trails that pass by the end of their street, or engaging in out-and-back trips from base camps, then moving on the next day.