1996 Cross-Country Tour, Conclusion


Well, I'm now hooked on bicycle touring. Before I left I had mentally prepared myself for the day halfway through the tour when I would be feeling totally discouraged and hoping never to see another !@#$%^&! cornfield in my life. But it never happened. After two months on the road I was sorry the tour had to end.


60 days on the road, including 8 rest/sick days. 3954 miles. 461 miles per week, 76 miles per day, not including rest days. 140,700 feet of climbing. I went through a total of 13 states, counting my few feet into Texas and Colorado. I almost had a 14th since Harper's Ferry is actually in West Virginia, but I don't believe I ever went across the river into town.


11 flat tires (3 of them slow leaks). I went through 3 tires on the rear and only 1 on the front (still going strong.) I had seven broken spokes on the rear wheel, a broken rear axle, a lost brake pad, and a trashed pedal. I had to repack both front and rear hubs (including the sealed bearings on the front), wrap new handlebar tape, and install a new computer mount. Also my Zefal fender mounts broke and had to be taped together.

Lessons Learned - Touring Technique

Mileage: If I had to do the tour over again I would do shorter distances. It wasn't the physical challenge of doing 75 miles per day, although I did indeed get tired at times. It's just that by the time you break camp, stop along the way for meals, shopping, and sightseeing, find a place to stay, and set up camp, 75 miles of riding leaves surprisingly little free time. I sometimes wished I had time to do a side trip, spend an extra day in someplace interesting, or just spend more time along the way meeting people and seeing the sights.

Packing list. As an inexperienced self-supported cycle tourist, before I left I spent a lot of time researching what to pack on the bike. I can modestly claim success - I needed almost everything I packed and did not miss anything important. Since then, in the last 11 years of touring I have added a few tweaks to my all-inclusive canonical bicycle touring packing list.

Riding on freeways: Most states east of the Mississippi have a blanket prohibition against riding bicycles on freeways, but most western states allow it in some cases. For example, currently bicycles are allowed on about 1000 miles of California's 4000 miles of freeways.

You might ask why anyone in their right mind would even want to ride a bicycle on a freeway. Contrary to intuition, it is not particularly dangerous, at least once you get outside the cities. Freeways typically have 12-foot-wide shoulders, so you are well away from traffic. Most bicycle-car accidents happen at intersections, and of course there are no intersections on the freeways.

This tour covered over 250 miles of I-15 from Barstow CA to past St. George UT. I did short stretches of Interstate at other points in the journey as well. Other than the traffic noise and the boring scenery, I had no problems at all. You can make good time riding on a freeway because of the lack of steep hills and the fact that they tend to go in straight lines directly to where you want to go. (The same reason cars use them.)

Lessons learned - Equipment

For this tour I used an early-70's Schwinn Paramount "touring" bike. I put "touring" in parenthesis since it was missing some essential criteria like a full set of braze-ons, cantilever brakes, lots of tire clearance, and a strong, stiff frame. The relatively whippy frame probably contributed to the shimmy discussed below.

Standard parts: I feel it is important to use standard parts on a touring bike as much as possible. A good counter-example is the pressed-in bottom bracket on Frank's bike. When it started to slip out he had to ride in an awkward position which injured his knee, causing him to have to abandon the trip. Any parts that are critical to the bike's operation should be easy to replace or repair.

Camera equipment can be bulky, heavy, and delicate. For this trip I used single-use cameras. As I finished each one, I sent it directly to a mail-order photofinisher with return address to my Mom's house. That way she got to see my pix almost in "real time" and they were all waiting for me when I arrived. Single-use cameras are lightweight and they're cheap enough that you don't need to worry so much about breaking or losing them. The quality is fine for outdoor snapshots, which is all you generally need for a bicycle tour.

Since about 2000 I have gone totally digital. One advantage is that you only need to pay for the prints you want, which typically makes it much cheaper than film. In 2000, digital cameras were expensive, but now they are very price-competitive. They are smaller too, since you don't have to carry bulky rolls of film. The ability to crop and edit your photos on the computer is fantastic.

Shimmy: For the first few days of the tour I was fighting a very annoying low-frequency front-end shimmy that happened at many different speeds. I hadn't noticed it a couple months previously when I did my 2-day test tour, but that was with rear panniers only. Moving my entire load to the rear eliminated the shimmy. Yes I know that violates all conventional wisdom which says to put as much weight in the front as possible. I guess the moral is don't be afraid to try differernt ideas and use what works.

Gearing: I will have to partially eat my words about low gearing. The recent discussion on touring@cycling.org convinced me to swap my mountain bike 28-38-48 crankset for the 38-49-54 the touring bike came with, and I haven't regretted it. I used my 28/30 granny gear quite a bit climbing in the Sierras, although the only place I actually "ran out of gears" was on Old Priest Grade heading toward Yosemite. But that is way steeper than most tourists will ever see. (14.6% AVERAGE grade. We walked most of it.) I don't think a lower gear would have helped much since our speed when riding was about the same as when we were walking (3 mph).

Rain cape: This was only the second or third time I have used the Forester rain cape system. (Apparently no longer available but I believe similar capes exist.) Bottom line: It's a pain to use, but I don't know of any other system that can even hope to keep you dry when cycling long distances. Any thing that's waterproof (even Goretex) won't let moisture escape fast enough to keep you from being drenched in your own sweat. The cape is open at the bottom, allowing air to circulate to keep you dry. I still haven't mastered the knack of finding the &^$#@(! thumb loops quickly after reaching down to shift. And whenever I stand to pedal, I end up sitting on the cape when I sit back down.

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