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January 30, 2006

The Contenders

Now that I’ve made up my mind to get a custom frame the choices are seemingly endless but realistically limited by geography and time. Geography is a problem because I can’t go flying across the country to get a bike nor can I talk face to face about the nitty gritty of getting the bike put back together. Time is of concern because although I’m not leaving until May or so companies like Rivendell have a limited number of frames they are able to produce in a year. This isn’t a problem, I’m all for small production companies for almost everything, but I unfortunately don’t have a year or more to wait for a bike. If only I’d decided this months ago.

The person who sealed the deal to get a custom bike was this guy named Allen at Sid’s Bike Shop in NYC. Allen talked with me on the phone for at least 15 minutes about my options of frames and components. I was actually supposed to go in on Saturday, but I actually went out for a ride and then started running errands and ran out of time, but I will stop by later this week or the weekend. It was reassuring to talk with someone who didn’t dismiss me out-of-hand for being female, actually talked about fitting me correctly, and knew what he was talking about. Another bike shop that I called, which will remain nameless, thought that it was ok for me to just order a $2,7000 bike over the phone without test riding it or anything. I asked about having a chance to test ride the bike and the response was that there was one by the same makers but a different style (Traveler vs. WorldTraveler) but that it was being shipped out in a few days. Hmmmm. Bike may be there, may not? Also, the person wasn’t really savvy about touring bikes in general. I know that touring peeps are a pretty small minority, but still…

The two categories are: complete bikes vs. frames.

In the complete bikes category I’m looking at the Koga Miyata World Traveler and the Bruce Gordon Rock N’ Road-Ex. Both of these are designed for fully-loaded touring. The main difference is that Bruce Gordon looks more like a road bike and the Koga Miyata looks like a mountain bike. I am concerned about the road conditions in South America (I’ve been hearing horror stories) which is why I was considering a mountain bike style, but I really need the varied hand positions. Some frame differences aside, it seems that it is predominately the handlebars which are different. Maybe – I don’t know but I can’t imagine that a bike designed for touring which resembles a mountain bike would really be designed for single-track downhill style riding. The other main difference between the two is that the Koga Miyata comes with every bell and whistle available and the Bruce Gordon doesn’t. Take it for what it is.

As for the frame category I’m looking at a Independent Fabrication frame and a Rivendell Bicycles frame. When I mentioned my interest in the Rivendell Atlantis frame to a friend of mine in San Francisco to whom I was telling this riveting bike selection story, his response was something like, “The problem with that (getting a Rivendell frame) is that it will take years.” Yup, we’re back to the time issue coupled in this case with the distance issue. I will still call the nice people at Rivendell and chat, just to cover my bases, but it’s looking like the Independent Fabrication frame is in the forefront thanks to Allen.

He talked with me about cannibalizing my BG components to put on a new frame so I could essentially save some money. I have great Bruce Gordon racks and Robert Beckman panniers designed for the racks and would like to use them again. Then there’s the wheel discussion (700c vs. 26in) which I’m not sure about yet – it seems to be a Texas Instrument vs. HP or Apple vs. PC type argument. I’m a HP, PC type gal (with unavoidable forays into the TI, Apple world) so please, someone, what does that make me in touring bike wheels?

January 28, 2006

The Bikes of Yore

I wasn’t really looking to get a new bike, but I do like shiny, new things. The BG is a great bike, but I never really felt like we bonded – not like my other two: the dear Trek Series 400 and the Schwinn High Sierra. The Trek was my very first, and to this date, only road bike which I bought in 1985. It was racy, bought with my own money, and was probably the first big purchase of my young life. I learned how to ride hills on that bike with my friend Aaron riding circles around me saying things like “You can do it.” My responses were not even remotely close to lady-like and were more in the realm of gutter talk. I got him back a few years later though with the broken toe incident.

Then there is the wonderful 1990 Schwinn High Sierra. It isn’t the lightest bike and it doesn’t have all those fancy things like shocks and weird bar shifters but still serving me well after 16 years. It was my second mountain bike which I bought after annihilating the lower-end mountain bike sold to me by the people who apparently didn’t believe that I was really going to go “mountain biking”. No matter, I had a great time on the bike whose name I forgot and learned many a simple lesson about bike mechanics before selling it to an acquaintance. These two bikes feel like me – I’ve managed to customize them just enough to make me happy. The BG however, even with 4k miles under my belt on it just never felt like home. Maybe I put it on too high a pedestal or maybe it’s just that I haven’t done any extensive riding on it recently.

So there have been four bikes in my life all straight off the shelf and with this trip comes the opportunity to upgrade and get a custom-made frame. Given that these bikes have lasted between 10 and 20 years gives me the courage to go ahead and take the plunge. That way I will have a well made, custom fitted bike that should last at least 20 years if not more. You can always change components, but custom frames are built to last (at least they better be!).

Next: The Contenders

January 27, 2006

The Bike Dilemma

I’m getting nervous and excited. There is still so much to do and I have not raised a penny. I need help with so many things and self-promotion is one big one. So I will procrastinate and focus on something more tangible and only slightly less difficult such as – The Bike, that vehicle that I will be using to self-propel myself over the Andes. The Andes! Yikes.

I currently have a 1996 Bruce Gordon BLT – one of the made-in-China frames with a shop made fork. It has served me well – a 4,000 mile, cross-country journey, but even on that journey, I had a few issues with it. It is a comfortable bike but it feels small and (sorry Bruce) I had some frame shimmy a various times. It does have bar-end shifters which I like very much and I didn’t really have a problem with any of the other parts. I don’t know why everyone is connecting shimmy or wobble with Bruce’s frames or why he gets so defensive. It seems that many bikes get shimmy when loaded and it’s just something you deal with by playing with the loading and the equipment fit. I can’t say that it was fun going down hill with the bike vibrating funny, but I also can’t say that it happened constantly. I wonder if those touring cyclists with custom-made frames have any shimmy problems? Maybe I’ll be able to tell you in the future, but I’m not in the custom frame game – yet.

Next: The Bikes of Yore

January 11, 2006

Making of the Maps (& GIS Files)

I am a GIS person, so it seemed natural to develop a digital version of the proposed route for personal reference purposes, a communication device, and last but not least pretty graphics.

The process followed 3 main steps:

  1. Research and Development of route on paper
  2. Research for digital data
  3. Processing of digital data and GIS file creation
  1. Research and Development of route on paper
    1. Bought paper maps and travel books
    2. Perused books and web journals to develop a route based on things I was interested in seeing
    3. Outlined on paper maps a proposed route from Texas, USA to Usuhia, Argentina ( this later got cut down to South America only)
  2. Research for data Searched the internet for GIS data for South America – specifically road network data
    1. Discovered that there isn’t much out there
    2. What is out there is old
    3. Didn’t search in Spanish but not sure that it would have made much of a difference as GIS is a term that is used internationally as is shapefile (shp). The country names perhaps could have been searched in Spanish as could have the contents.
    4. Found five sources
      1. The ESRI Map Data that comes with ArcView – the data included with the program was adequate, but wanted to see if there were any more complete datasets
      2. - probably the most up-to-date, but expensive
      3. - sort of free, but couldn’t see what I was ordering
      4. - The American Geological Institute has a version of the Digital Chart of the World (DCW) which was created, I believe by National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) before it became the NGA. Could not tell the date of the data and could not confirm whether the DCW was being currently maintained. Also, this version cost money.
      5. - Found a free version of the DCW which resides on the Pennsylvania State University servers. There are many layers to choose from, although some layers are not available for all countries. The ESRI exchange files (e00) files resulting from the online selection process are put into a zip for your downloading convenience.
    5. I choose the DCW from Penn State because it was both free and convenient (listed below are the files potentially available for each country)
      1. Political/Ocean (network)
      2. Populated Places (point)
      3. Populated Places (polygon)
      4. Railroads (line)
      5. Roads (line)
      6. Utilities (line)
      7. Drainage (network)
      8. Drainage (point)
      9. Drainage Supplemental (point)
      10. Hypsography (network)
      11. Hypsography (point)
      12. Hypsography Supplemental (line)
      13. Hypsography Supplemental (point)
      14. Land Cover (polygon)
      15. Land Cover (point)
      16. Ocean Features (point)
      17. Ocean Features (line)
      18. Physiography (line)
      19. Aeronautical (point)
      20. Cultural Landmarks (polygon)
      21. Cultural Landmarks (point)
      22. Cultural Landmarks (line)
      23. Transportation Structure (line)
      24. Transportation Structure (point)
      25. Vegetation (polygon)
    6. Downloaded gazetteer information for each country of interest from but never really used this info – I hope to use it later though
  3. Processing of data and GIS file creation
    1. Extracted the e00 files for Roads, Railroads, Transportation Structures, and Populated Places from the downloaded zip files using WinZip (it's not free, you know)
    2. In ArcView 9.1 (The program I use all day, every day)
      1. Unpacked the files from the e00 exchange format to an ESRI coverage file
      2. Set up a project file to start creating a GIS file for my route
      3. Used ESRI data for background information such as international and regional political boundaries, water files, and cities. The ESRI data that comes with the program did not have as detailed of road files so used the DCW data
      4. Included the DCW data in the project file
    3. Copied and pasted line segments from the DCW road data to my route.shp file (Selecting the line segments by referencing the route traced on paper maps and by proximity to populated places)
    4. Once the actual route shapefile was complete I was able to create and format a map layout
      1. Added the Shaded Relief of the World (ESRI data)
      2. Added the GTOPO30 (30 Arc Seconds) – USGS elevation grid (ESRI data)
      3. Played around with cartography
      4. Printed jpg of route for web
    5. Created separate files and jpgs for each country and the overview map so that they are easy to update while on the road with GPS points of actual route and GPS points of photos taken

I also have begun to experiment with GIS files and Google Earth and have created a kmz file of the route (It’s on my Maps page) but have run into some difficulties based on line segment directionality and file order, but that will be another entry.

January 07, 2006

Amazon is In

The task today was to get the Media Manger and the MTAmazon32 plugins to work and of course work the way I want them to.

These two plugs have a lot of great application but were, I have to say, a little difficult to use. Difficult is in the eye of the beholder though and Byrne Reese, the creator-administrator-producer, was very helpful in his responses. At least I think it was he who responded to the emails of panic. There are some inconsistancies in the instructions, but with a little tinkering I got everything just right - as right as it's going to get.

The one thing that I find weird about these plugins and about the whole blog setup is that everything is dependant on or set up for mass database pulls: last n entries, all dvds in list only, every blog entry with a title beginning with "Why" and that doesn't connect well with one offs or specifics. Perhaps I just have to shift my thinking some more - as it is I think in catagories all day long while processing data to make GIS maps.

But the happy end to weirdness is that there is included with MT (although not listed in the documentation) a nice MT tag called MTentry as opposed to MTentries. This tag allows you to list specific entries. I wanted to use the Media Manager to list books that I used to plan for this trip and I wanted to list comments about each for reference. By using the Media Manager MT tag "MTItemEntryID as the id values in the MTEntry tag I was able to list out the books in my list with the associated "review". I actually have yet to go in and write the reviews and enter the EntryID number into Media Manager, but I did test is out in a test blog and it works. See partial code below.

 <MTMediaManagerItems lastn="10" sort_order="ascend" sort_by="modified_on">
<MTAmazon method="Asin" search="[MTItemASIN]">
<a href="<MTAmazonLink>"><img src="<MTAmazonImage>" border="0"><br />
<p> </p>
<MTAmazonTitle></a> by <MTAmazonAuthor><br />
status: <MTItemStatus><br />
<MTItemIfBlogEntry><br />
<MTEntry id="[MTItemEntryID]">
<div class="entry" id="entry-<$MTEntryID$>">
<div class="entry-content">
<div class="entry-body">

January 05, 2006

December - Summary

  • Worked on website
    • Began setting up Movabletype
    • Set up photo blog with myriad of plugins
    • Refined content
    • Formatted documents for web
    • Struggled with my limited web design/programming skills
  • Created route in GIS
  • Didn’t do as much Spanish
  • Christmas and family visits to Texas and Maryland

November - Summary

  • Worked on website
    • Registered domains
    • Got hosting program
    • Developed content
  • Refined route
  • Started Spanish workbook
  • Ordered tent and sleeping bag and petzl headlamp from Campmor – first real purchases for trip

October - Summary

  • Medicine - Got influenza shot
  • Cut route down again: Ecuador to Tierra del Fuego
  • Now 6-9 months - worried about finances
  • Researched others South American cycling trips
  • Developed a template for documents
  • Wrote documents
    • 5Ws: What, Who, Why Where, When
    • Cycling C.V.
    • Trip Goals

September - Summary

  • Medicine
    • Got 2 of 3 Hepatitis shot
    • Took typhoid oral vaccine
    • Found out that insurance does not cover cholera, rabies, and yellow fever shots
  • Started emailing Hermonie from Germany – she is riding from South to North (Tierra del Fuego to Lima) skipping the Andes and will begin January 1, 2006
  • Researched Central America Route
  • Tried to find a boat from Panama City to Esmeraldas, Ecuador – not having any luck
  • Found out that boats typically go to Cartagena, Columbia and do not go to Ecuador. They used to however.

August - Summary

  • Decide to leave from southern US (Organ Cactus National Park)
  • Trip length will be a year
  • Medicine
    • Researched vaccines
    • Concerned about malaria drugs – don’t want to take
    • Got first Hepatitis A/B shot
  • Researched Mexico route
  • Found out that I can register my trip with the state department which seems like a good idea
  • Started making lists of things that I needed to do
    • Documents to create
    • Logo
    • Web URL registration and hosting package
    • Website creation
    • Gear
    • Bike
    • Sponsors
    • Cool GIS stuff that I could do
  • Started Rosetta Stone Spanish lessons

July - Summary

  • Make decision to go on 1.5 year trip from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego
  • Start planning route through Canada
  • Riding on weekends
  • Meet Everett on bike path – he’s been on world cycling trips
  • Started thinking about raising money for a charity – Heifer

June - Summary

  • Still musing about trip
  • Riding on the weekends
  • Reading and researching books
    • Guidebooks
      • Alaska/Canada
      • USA
      • Mexico
      • Central America
      • South America
    • Hispanic Cultural books


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