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April 21, 2006

Riding on Brooks

I did it. The Brooks B17S saddle is now perched on my Schwinn to be broken in little by little each weekend as the departure date looms closer and closer.

b17s.jpg

Having never replaced a saddle before (I used to replace the bike – just kidding) it took me a month, a bottle of liquid wrench, and the muscles of some nice guy at Metro Bikes on 6th Ave and 15th St. It was really the muscles that did it as my measly upper body strength couldn’t even budge the damn bolt holding the saddle on.

Out with the old, in with the new and the beautiful, honey colored Brooks was ready to be fitted into its place of honor. But wait, what's this? Instructions? Apparently, my fancy new tensioned leather saddle needs some fancy new maintenance. Just a few little care and feeding items to remember like keep it out of the rain (cover it up), proofhide occasionally, don't re-tension but once a year, and yes it's stiff now, but this will be the best saddle you've ever had - we promise. The first tentative round of proofhiding went off without a hitch - I wouldn't know if it did or didn't really, but why not just assume it did. As far as I can tell, proofhide is a just fancy English word for saddle soap. Actually it's the “new and improved” stable (ha ha) version of saddle soap which isn’t really a soap, but a polishing and softening agent. The saddle smells like a nice, well-seasoned set of tack right now, but unfortunately that expensive leather smell will dissipate. I didn't buy the saddle because of the leather smell, but it's a nice perk to open the box for the first time to regard that beautifully crafted piece of equipment and get a whiff of the scent of leather.

Positioning. Yes, sitting for the first time on a Brooks does initially feel like sitting on a brick. But given that I was attempting to balance on a stationary bike in the basement of the apartment while trying to keep my feet away from the cockroach carcasses littering the floor in the bike room, it's not really a fair test.

Now after two rides, one slipping and sliding and one just about right thanks to Sheldon Brown's essay on saddles the saddle is actually beginning to feel like something to be reckoned with. The slipping was due to the saddle not being horizontal and the unfortunate thing about it being on the mountain bike is that I can't get it back quite far enough. But this is beginning to fits like a saddle is supposed to fit and by all accounts it will conform to my sit bones with time and be my very own - much like a good pair of Birkenstocks.

April 20, 2006

Gear is the word

A gear head is not something I’d ever, previously, refer to myself as, but over the past few months I find myself boring each and every one of my friends with descriptions of wheels (tires, rims, spokes and hubs), GPS units, and saddles to name a few of the categories I can drone on endlessly about. I have lurked on and queried online touring lists such as www.bikeforums.net (the touring list) and www.phred.org/mailman/listinfo/touring. And now know enough to know what I want and more than enough to make me dangerous.

I am officially a gear head neophyte, but a neophyte I’m happy to stay. Creating a new bike is a little bit different from using a package bike or even packaged parts. For instance, my dear old Schwinn High Sierra is still running fine and has been tweaked only a little – skinny tires to accommodate the road riding I do these days, but that’s about all. It’s gone on single-track trails, down steps, up 9W, ice cycling all without the least bit of interference from me. But now it’s been ten years since I though about gear ratios, rim holes (that sounds nasty – huh?), and the perfect tire and frankly after this bike is all put together this newly gained knowledge will fly right out of my head. That is if the combinations work. If they don’t work, then I’m in for some experimentation.

Bikes are very personal items and what works for one person may not work for another. Research is the precursor to purchasing and with research you run into a lot of opinions and rating systems (www.mtbr.com/reviews/). In my opinion, rating systems don’t really help – the “this kicks ass” and “this sucks shit” people cancel each other out and then you are left with the people like me who haven’t had much problems so don’t give it much thought. The way around this is to read the pros and cons comments – that’s where the real dirt comes out. Then you’re back on the bumpy ride of opinions rather than a pseudo scientific glissade of ratings and it’s up to you to look for the trends and begin to form opinions based on what YOU need. It boils down to a personal decision based on price, functionality, fit, and sometimes the strength of the return policy (than you Team Estrogen!!!).

April 10, 2006

Maps, Syringes, and GPS

So the countdown has begun – 2 more months – and all I really want to do at the moment is sit around and read mystery books. It still doesn’t seem that real, but it is. Recent accomplishments:

1) Maps: Finally after much research and deliberation the maps have been purchased. There are two each for Peru and Bolivia. And for Chile and Argentina, countries which both have thriving automotive clubs (www.aca.org.ar, www.turistel.cl/index.htm) one map for the first area to be accessed. I feel more comfortable with maps in hand and true to the nature of maps they all have every-so-slightly different information. I purchased the maps from www.omnimap.com  - a company that seems to have every map under the sun. There is this little issue of paying extra shipment for items on backorder as they are already making a profit on shipping, but it’s better than some of the competitors who charge $1.50 a map. Wait as second, I paid more than that a map. Whatever, at some point it stops mattering and Omni Resourses, for as crappy as the website looks, has the BEST selection of maps and a very nice staff.
  1. Peru: Berndtson map 1:1,750,000
  2. Peru: Lima 2000 map (made with GIS!) 1:1,500,000
  3. Bolivia: Berndtson map 1:1,750,000ft
  4. Bolivia: The Guzman map which may be the best but could do with some cleaning up.  You can’t read stuff because there are other notations piled up on top of each other.
  5. Chile: Valles Centrales #08 JLM Mapas (my initials!) 1: 500,000
  6. Argentina: On backorder

2) Medical Supplies: I’m well equipped now with everything from altitude pills to syringes.  Most of it courtesy of www.travmed.com.  Surprisingly in all the kits and such there is no heavy duty ace bandage so I’m not 100% equipped yet. There is one more shot to go and quite the essay I’m writing on those delightful shots and all the other health related concerns to take into consideration. It’s really quite a lot and we take much for granted here in the land of we-can-drink-water-from-the-tap. Apparently, most of the world doesn’t expect to do that. What the hell do they drink as I’m positive that they are not running around buying bubbly water?

3) GPS: Now here’s an interesting story. I found a fantastic device called the TrackStick (www.trackstick.com) which seems like it will do every thing I need it to do. It will take readings at 1 min to 15 min intervals (and maybe larger interval – don’t know), it weighs about an ounce, yes, an ounce, has an approximate 5-7 day batter life, can store 4,000 readings in it’s baby 1MB memory. Perfect? Yes, but for one little discrepancy that I can’t seem to get closure on. Richard from Trackstick and I have been exchanging emails throughout the day over decimal places and we’re not getting anywhere. Other handheld GPS units display 5 decimal places for their readings because they can – accuracy is 15m – which corresponds in accuracy and resolution to xx.xxxxx . What we’ve been getting into, much to my amazement, is an argument over why if the unit can read to the 5 decimal place in positional accuracy it isn’t reflected in the coordinates which are output to the various formats. The output is xx.xxxx or in other words degrees minutes seconds. So he’s not very happy with me but he is lacking a bit in the customer service area.  I’ve also made it very clear that his product fills a very important niche and I will (most likely 90%) be purchasing it.

  • Pros: lightweight, not as expensive as a handheld GPS with altitude, decent battery life, can export to Google Earth kml files, simple concept and software interface
  • Cons: not waterproof, no return policy (a pricy mistake if you change your mind or it doesn’t do what you think it will do), software not MS certified (got some message from MS when installing about MS security and XP

April 06, 2006

Central and South America by Road (Bradt Guides)

An admirable effort, but just not enough detail. The best info in the guide is surprisingly the general planning stuff at the beginning of the book

Chapter with good info:
1. First Steps – Baby steps which include route, language, guidebooks etc.
2. Your Transportation – Motorized or bicycle and transportation of your transportation
3. Preparation and Planning – GEAR, GEAR and other stuff like repairs for motor vehicles
4. Organized Tours – Whatever
5. On the Road – Number One rule: Don’t take anything you can’t afford to lose and other good tidbits of info.

The rest of the book attempts to be a guide book for all of the countries of Central and South America, but doesn’t do a good job at all. There are a few interesting sounding recommendations, but overall the descriptions are too general to even be of help in planning, much less help when you get there.

Overall, this is an OK book to start your planning process but I am certainly not going to lug it around on my bike for 6 months. Rather, I will copy some recommendations and explore when I am there.

Amazon Link: Central & South America by Road by Pam Ascanio

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