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Travels and Adventures

Cycle touring in Mexico

Editor’s note: Between trips to work and school, many of us often dream of hopping on our bikes and taking a lengthy tour of someplace exotic. Read on for some tips on cycle touring in Mexico.

The Mexican landscape is large and diverse; there are mountains that soar into the sky, beaches that stretch for miles and ancient ruins that will take your breath away. From the bustling cities you’ll visit on Cancun holidays to hidden villages full of charm and Latin flare, a Mexican adventure can mean many different things.

Cycling in Mexico is an amazing way to navigate the country. For cyclists who are wary of the trials and tribulations of a trip deep into South America, Mexico presents the perfect option; exotic but not too exotic, a comfortable range between first world amenities and new world adventure.

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Routes
One of the most popular cycling routes in the country is for cyclists to venture down the Baja Peninsula and then hop onto a ferry headed for mainland Mexico. There are alternative routes down the Pacific coast but none rival the stunning scenery (if well-worn trail) of the Baja journey.

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Roads
Roads in Mexico include toll roads whose profits go to maintaining wide-shoulders and perfectly smooth road surfaces which are ideal for cycling on. The toll roads are also quite safe for cyclists, as there isn’t very much traffic on the toll roads and they also bypass almost all of the towns along each route.

Camping
Camping is often the preferred method of accommodation for cyclists and this is easily done in Mexico. Locals are incredibly friendly and happy to share camping site recommendations or even to help pitch a tent.
Small towns and villages are quite safe and a good bet for a setting up a night’s camp, just be careful not to wander off in search of ‘hidden spots’ in the larger landscape, campsites should be easily accessible and close to a town or village.

Visiting
Couch surfing has become incredibly popular in Mexico, thanks in large part to Mexican mothers who genuinely love to spoil visitors with delicious food and generous hospitality. While couch surfing is most popular with younger travelers, it is a great option for cyclists looking for a home cooked meal and a friendly (and local) face to help sort out the next day’s route. Local hosts are also known for providing authentic and interesting information about the towns they call home.

Safety
Visitors to Mexico are likely to see police officers with rifles in the street at some point during a visit. This is because the Mexican government has been cracking down on drug gangs and violence in recent years which has meant more armed men in the streets and checkpoints on roads (which apply to cyclists as well) but rest assured these officers are there to keep everyone safe. However, visitors are well-advised to avoid city-centres at night and exercise general caution to ensure that a Mexican cycling adventure is the trip of a lifetime.

Cycling in Mexico can be great fun, so why not take a chance this summer and do something a little different?

Night Riding: personal observations and experiences

From a Darwinian standpoint, it may be that fear of the dark is an inherited trait, passed down since the beginning of time by those humans prudent and afraid enough of the dark to avoid being eaten by nocturnal predators.

Lamppost, Gateshead Request for condition reports on street lighting. One of these is on every lamppost. Photo borrowed from http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1199747

Lamppost, Gateshead
Request for condition reports on street lighting. One of these is on every lamppost. Photo borrowed from http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1199747

There is definite wisdom in being wary of traveling in the dark. However, humans are able to learn and adapt, and riding in the dark is no exception. Having made some errors and sustained injuries during night riding, I have kept some strategies for riding at night that have helped me avoid major trouble thus far (knock on wood).

RL had posted an article a while back about riding at night and below are the comments taken from that article. I have them summarized below:

Be safe, first and foremost: wear a helmet; find a route that keeps you away from the major streets…even if it means extra miles or time…it’s worth it to find a quiet back street with little or no traffic; wear clear or amber sunglass lenses after dark; put in a little extra thought…use your own super tuned senses and hyper alert riding habits to keep yourself aware of any other moving objects, as well as upcoming potential hazards.

See and be seen: reflective vests; orange reflective triangle pinned to your back, blinkies, DOT reflective tape, reflective stripes; the goal is to light up like a Christmas tree…better a geek with a heartbeat than a macho fixie rider without one; run two headlights (one steady, one blinking); helmet-mounted light to shine into the eyes of oncoming drivers; consider a product made for motorcycles called the “halo helmet band”;  have a good back up light.

Be prepared: may get flats at night…so carry a head lamp to make bike repairs a lot easier.

One way to get noticed and seen.

One way to get noticed and seen.

Below are some of my own tips for night riding, some of which echo the advice given above:

1. Slow down. The less you can see, the less time you have to react, so the higher likelihood of crashing if you go at your normal daytime speed.

2. A key distinction with bike lights is being seen versus seeing. Both are equally important. When cars see you, they avoid you. But if you don’t see your surroundings, you risk the chance of an accident.

Example: my blinkies did not help me see a piece of car tire in the middle of my bike lane late one night. It got caught in my spokes when I rode over it, and my bike stopped dead in its tracks, and I catapulted forward. I was also going pretty fast that night.

I use a yellow reflective strip, a white reflective plate, and a red blinker (Blackburn Flea)

I use a yellow reflective strip, a white reflective plate, and a red blinker (Blackburn Flea)

Solution

– As stated above, you can run more than 1 headlight on your bicycle, one flashing to be seen, one steady to see.

– There are a wide range of powerful bike lights, like a 4000+ lumen lamp for a pretty penny.

– Try slowing down just a tad; if I had ridden just a little more slowly, I feel that the severity my accident would have been reduced.

– If all else fails, and you just cannot make out the road ahead of you, try what I call “vicarious lighting.” This technique basically takes advantage of cars’ bright headlights as they pass you or drive towards you from the lane of opposing traffic. By looking at the road as illuminated by these headlights as the car drives ahead or towards you, you can gauge if there are any major debris or potholes lying ahead for the next 10 meters or even further, depending on the circumstances of the car, the curviness of the road, etc. You just have to train your eyes to track the area of the road illuminated by the car and estimate when your bike will reach any area of potential concern or danger. However, use this technique with caution because in the few seconds when the road is not illuminated, you cannot guarantee that a cat, for example, has not scurried in front of your bike.

Using a car's headlights to help illuminate the road ahead.

Using a car’s headlights to help illuminate the road ahead.

3. Usually, I bring only one pair of lights (front and rear) and have a USB charger to charge them up at work. But sometimes, I have picked up a riding buddy on the way home who doesn’t have any lights. Or, I am biking in a group and one person’s lights have died. In this situation, I “split” the one set of lights between two people: put the front light on the front cyclist and the rear light on the rear cyclist. Of course, the pair now has to be much more careful about keeping a safe distance from each other.

How I use a pair of bike lights for 2 bicycles.

How I use a pair of bike lights for 2 bicycles.

4. Dooring sucks during the day time, and I’m sure it sucks even more at night. To reduce my chances of dooring at night, I slow down. I also keep a distance from the parked cars on the side of the road and am especially vigilant when a parked car’s lights are on or if I see any movement inside of the car.

5. Last, but probably the most important, in my opinion, is planning. If I am thinking of biking a new route and know I will likely be riding at night, I try to drive the route before biking it. Sometimes, I even drive the route at night if I feel it necessary to scrutinize the surroundings before committing.

Questions I consider while driving and surveying the route:

– Do other people bike this route? If there are and I can safely drive by them, do they seem very cramped for space?

– How fast do cars drive on this route?

– Does it seem safe in the surrounding areas at night? Is it a busy street at night and well lit, or is it desolate and scary?

– What is the quality of the road? If I can feel lots of bumps while driving, it will probably be about 500 times worse on a bicycle. And you run a greater risk of pinch flats, among other bad things.

Thinking about these sorts of issues is critical to preventing major trouble during a commute, especially at night when bad can get worse very quickly if you are not prepared. If any of these questions cause concern, time to look for another route.

If you have any other tips about biking at night, feel free to comment. Do good and ride well.

Review: Mountainsmith Bike Cube

If you ever travel with your bike — and by travel I refer to packing your bike and gear in your car and driving to the start of your ride — listen up. This past summer Mountainsmith sent me their Bike Cube Deluxe to review. The deluxe refers to a souped-up version of its Bike Cube.

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Per the Mountainsmith website,

The Bike Cube Deluxe features a roll-up tool organizer, padded changing mat, a padded eye-wear pocket, specific spots for helmet, shoes, etc., it ensures that you never again show up at the trailhead with just one shoe. The Bike Cube Deluxe offers excellent organization and keeps all the essentials for your next road, cross or mountain bike ride at the ready. Works well as a stand alone piece or in conjunction with our Modular Hauler Systems. Feel like a pro at your next race and arrive in style!

Features:

Tri-panel load access
Organizer pockets for tools, food and accessories
Interior shoe & clothes divider (orig.: interior mesh sleeves for shoes/helmet)
Coated mesh for ventilation
Fleece-lined eyewear pocket
Roll-up bike tool organizer (original: zippered bike tool compartment and tool organizer panel)
Removable, padded changing mat
Adjustable shoulder strap included
Padded haul handle

Materials:

150d Baby RipStop Poly
210d Rip Stop Poly
840d Ballistic Poly (added)

Dimensions: (same as bike cube)

15″ x 15″ x 15″ (38 x 38 x 38 cm)

Volume: (same)

3417 cu. in. / 56 L

Capacity:

All the necessities for your next bike ride

Weight:

4 lbs 5 oz / 1.98 kg (original: 2 lbs 1 oz / .9kg)

I set out to put their advertised claim to the test that this cube would help for ride day – organizing “helmet, pump, shoes, and accessories well stashed and ventilated for that next impromptu outing; spend more time in the saddle and less time gathering up your gear.

The original bike cube comes in basic black; this deluxe version comes in red. Now I’m a sucker for the color red and bikes, so this deluxe bike cube immediately had my attention. Though not exactly something to use for the daily grind of bike commuting, I did find myself using this bag for regular weekend bike adventures (escapes from the urban jungle for daily rides) and even to ride my first ever Tour of the Mississippi River Valley (better known as TOMRV) earlier this year. This cube held all my needed bike gear for the daily outings, plus accommodated my overnight essentials for the weekend TOMRV adventure.

The removable padded shoulder strap (included with this deluxe model, sold separately for the basic) is definitely the way to travel with this cube. It’s like a large gym bag – cube shaped – but I never found it too unwieldy to tote. In the past I’ve sometimes refer to myself as the bag lady… as my former method of toting my gear was to use multiple reusable shopping totes. Though a great method, I often found items getting smashed into the bags and nothing having a definitive place; stuff just landed in a random bag and often was difficult to find. This cube keeps my stuff consolidated in one easy to handle bag — haul by shoulder strap from door to car and then by the handy handles for lifting into and out of the car.

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I found myself improvising with how to best use the pockets and space within this bag. The mesh sleeve for the helmet worked great; the helmet fits perfectly! I also used another sleeve for my gloves and cap. I just put my shoes in the bag (no sleeve). I found myself using the extra mesh pockets to stash extra nutrition (bars, powder mixes) and mp3 player.

It was great to be able to pick up the bag and be ready to go. All my bike gear just stayed with the bag, so no more forgetting my shoes when traveling with my bike (yes – once drove out to a weekend invitational ride sponsored by a local club – only to realize I had forgotten to pack my shoes!).

Now – it’s all there at the ride destination –
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Instead of all those multiple bags I used to carry, Mountainsmith’s deluxe bike cube helps you distribute all those necessities for easy access once you arrive at your destination and need to get ready — to ride, to race, etc. Since I already have my tools in a case and/or in my bike’s seatbag, I did not much use the roll-up tool organizer.

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However, my friend had recently purchased a separate bag to roll and carry his tools and I realize the usefulness of such a compact carrying organizer; I’ve since thought of reorganzing my tool case to travel in this roll-up organizer and using it with my commutes, too.

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I also never used the padded changing mat, which stashes unobstrusively in a side pocket.

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I have friends who mountain bike or who ride cyclocross who would appreciate this pad more than me.

Most importantly, I had ample space for clothing — whether it be a change of bike clothes and/or off the bike clothes, extra layers, off-the-bike shoes, etc; I could easily pack enough to account for those surprise weather conditions when traveling with the bike.

There is no right or wrong way to pack this bag — organize it your way to make it work for you.

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There is a convenient pad to divide up the center storage area/pocket, so you can store your shoes and clothes.

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I appreciated all the ventilation this cube offers, too, especially to let my gear breathe and keep my gear from stinking up a “stuffy” bag.

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When I rode TOMRV, this bag got hauled by the vans to and from the overnight destination. At the end of day 1, bags were strewn about a lawn. This bright red cube stood out from the pack – both due to its shape and color

Since it was rainy the morning of day 2 when I had to set the bag outside for the crews to pick up, I simply placed clothing items I didn’t want to get soaked into plastic bags and put them in the cube. Then I put the cube on the top of the heap of bags to be loaded into the truck… and set out – worry-free.

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Conclusion? After a summer of use, the Mountainsmith Bike Cube Deluxe barely shows signs of wear, so this rugged bag is designed for the long haul. It’s a great investment – at an MSRP of $79.95 – if you find yourself driving to the start of trail, ride, or race.

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

Time and Space Warp Bike Commuting

So, every once in awhile, I decide to take a little trip down memory lane to my times as a bike commuter in Honolulu. Especially when it’s butt-ass cold for a sissy Californian like myself over here in Portland, Oregon. What the isht are we going to do in January, cycle peoples?

PDX butt-ass cold

Oh man, mad props to Elizabeth for all-year commuting in Chicago…

Lucky for me, some time-traveling crystals were on super sale on Amazon.com. I installed those suckers on my Schwinn le Tour II so I can time and space warp bike commute my way back to Oahu…
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… where I may have encountered a walking Shrimp Monster or something. I checked the GPS app that came with my crystals, and it pinpointed me smack dab in the middle of Honolulu. Turns out I wasn’t lost afterall, just in the middle of a Shrimp Monster protest night. Frickin’ keep calm, and cycle on – the wall told me.
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So what’s a confused and befuddled time-and-space-warping cycle lady supposed to do in a time like this? Three things, obviously:

1. Steal a lavender beach cruiser from your nearest friend or aquaintence.

2. Bike to Waikiki using the new and somewhat improved bike lanes.

3. Jump in the water to clear the fog and warm up!

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Maybe there were some other bikes at the beach too… Bikey friends of the coaster brake/fatty tire variety. Even a $1.25 craigslist score that the lifeguard bragged about!

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And what’s a trip back to Oahu without some takoyaki at Shirokiya? Totally worth all the money I spent on those bike crystals just for takoyaki.

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Until next time, Honolulu.
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Interbike 2013: Overall impressions and trends

As the saying goes: we went, we saw, we were overwhelmed (as usual)…our Interbike 2013 coverage is drawing to an end, so we wanted to share our overall impressions and thoughts with you. This may be a bit long-winded, but bear with us; as the venue for Interbike is giant and the products on display are legion, so too is describing everything adequately.

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(RL and Art getting ready to head into the belly of the beast)

First off, the venue: Interbike moved to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center for 2013. By most accounts, it was a mess — an oddly-shaped hall that was a bit smaller than its previous home at the Sands. Despite a mostly-working smartphone app AND paper maps, we got lost inside about a dozen times. Many others reported the same. Getting lost had its good and bad points; good in that we often stumbled across something we might not have seen otherwise, bad in that we had a very limited time on the show floor this year (one full day and two hours the second day before departing). Getting lost soaked up valuable time, and we wound up missing a lot of stuff we would have liked to see. It’s hard enough to cover the event in three full days…rushing around in less than half that time was a heroic effort for RL, Art, and myself.

Second was the outdoor “paddock” area, where a number of manufacturers were set up. We made it out there ONCE, and mostly by fluke. While the paddock area was clearly visible from outside the facility, once we were on the show floor, it was very difficult to find the access doors to that area. We missed a lot of the fun stuff going on out there…the test track for e-bikes, the race track for the U.S. Crits finals, etc. Our one positive experience was getting to lay our hands on the Motiv Shadow E-bike out there.

Let’s talk about some trends. First, camouflage clothing/accessories . It’s funny; while it popped into my mind that, “hey, there’s a lot of camo stuff this year”, it didn’t really register. Since my spouse is in the military and I live in a mostly-military neighborhood, I am surrounded by camo 24/7 and don’t even think about it. Luckily, our friends at Urban Velo spotted this trend, too: http://urbanvelo.org/camo-is-the-new-black/

Next, disc brakes for road bikes…holy cow, was there a ton of buzz for this emerging technology! Disc brakes started trickling onto the road scene last year, but this year the floodgates were wide open, especially with the development of hydraulic systems that fit into road levers.

How about fatbikes? Love them or hate them, they were EVERYWHERE and everyone was talking about them. We wrote about it here, and even got to try one out. Whether or not you are a fan, it looks like fatbikes are here to stay…at least until the next hot trend appears. And they are pretty versatile; they excel on snow, but they also do a fine job on other surfaces. Add some slick fatties on there and most would serve as a bombproof commuter rig!

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(I love this photo and will post it every chance I get!)

You like bright colors? The bicycle industry has your back…and neons are about as big as they were in the 80s. Neon yellow and orange accents were everywhere, from sunglass frames to bicycle frames, from clothing to helmets. Orange was the really hot color this year…the brighter, the better.

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If you’re into mountain bikes, the big news is that 27.5″/650b wheels are quickly replacing 26ers. Some brands have even dropped their 26″ bikes completely in favor of the new (old) size. And, since the wheel size isn’t as radical as 29ers, fewer compromises have to be made in terms of frame geometry…the 27.5″ wheel might truly be the ultimate wheel size for MTBs. Check out our sister site Mtnbikeriders.com for the benefits of that size and lots more Interbike coverage.

As can be expected, lights are getting brighter and brighter and the prices seem to be going down as cheaper battery and LED technology is made available. We saw a lot of light manufacturers with lights for every purpose, and at dozens of intensities. Our friends at Serfas had a model that pumps out 2500 lumens — far more intense than car headlights!

E-bikes are continually growing in market penetration; it’s great to see this segment growing. We saw models with front or rear e-drives, but prefer the ebikes with rear wheel drive. Based on our experiences testing them, rear-drive models are easier to handle/ride and they look better too.

We really like that some of the manufacturers are sticking to the $500-$650 price range for a commuter bike. This price range offers a LOT to most commuters, with many of the models coming stock with fenders and racks and other commuter-friendly accessories. We also noticed (and greatly approve!) that commuter bikes were not relegated to the dark corners of displays…many builders had their commuter lines front and center along with their more racy bikes. That, to us, is the sign of a healthy market segment.

If you like using your phone as a GPS/mapping/ride data device, we noticed that there were a TON of phone mounts for bicycles…lots of new companies producing versatile and innovative mounts for many phones.

One thing we NEVER like: parts and even bikes are getting more and more expensive. It’s too DAMN HIGH!

Finally, after processing everything WE saw and after reading Interbike coverage on a host of other sites, we realize there was SO MUCH we missed. We simply missed a number of great new commuter products, especially Giro’s “New Road” line of casual cycling wear. I think that’s going to be a hit and we regret not getting photos and details to share with you.

For a really comprehensive look at what Interbike meant to seasoned cycling journalists, go no farther than Red Kite Prayer’s analysis of the event. It’s a thoughtful look from folks who are far more expert at analyzing the trends than we are.

We hope you enjoyed our coverage of Interbike 2013…and we plan on bringing you more coverage next year. With luck, we’ll be able to spend more days on the show floor next year so that we can cover more territory.

And, of course, we’d like to thank our sponsors for this year’s Las Vegas Trip. Black Tiger Jerky was very generous in allowing us the funds we needed to travel. Like what you saw here on our coverage? Then PLEASE SUPPORT Black Tiger…they make delicious jerky, and with Christmas coming up, their flavors make great stocking stuffers!


Interbike 2013 Coverage Proudly Sponsored by Black Tiger Jerky
Black Tiger Jerky