Friday, February 5, 2016

Chicago Travel Show Has Me Primed For Adventure



It can get a bit crowded, so be sure to show up early.
My buddy and videographer John Wheeler drove up to Chicago recently to attend the Chicago Travel and Adventure Show. If you haven't been, block off Jan. 7 and 8 for next year's show. Representatives from hundreds of destinations across the world packed into the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, enticing potential visitors with promises of amazing experiences. In one afternoon, I spoke to dozens of tourism folks, each trying to convince me why their destination is worthy of my time and travel dollars. Many of them succeeded.

Want to ride an old-timey bike? Old World Wisconsin can make it happen.
The cycling journalist gets instructed on how to ride a bike. Thank goodness I didn't fall.
So where am I headed to this year, thanks to the Travel Show? I've already planned a trip up to North Dakota to bike the 96-mile Maah Daah Hey Trail, outside of Medora, ND. (I'll be writing about the experience for Bike Magazine later this year.) The 9,000-foot Mount Lemmon near Tuscon, Arizona, is definitely on my riding list for 2016. I'm figuring out dates to do a kayak brewery tour in Traverse City, Michigan. The good folks in Kodiak and Anchorage, Alaska, have convinced me there's plenty of two-wheeled adventure to be found outside the continental U.S. There's probably a dozen or more smaller destinations that wouldn't have made it onto my radar if it wasn't for the show.
You want to ride a Camel? You can ride a camel.

Visitors listen to one of the dozen or so experts give hard-earned travel advice.


The only problem now is my wanderlust is at nearly fatal levels, and I need to hop in a plane soon to find the cure.




Friday, April 25, 2014

Quick 'n Dirty Helmet Review: Lazer Helium

I just received this helmet yesterday, so I'll be adding info as I get a feel for it.

It runs a bit small, so be sure to try it on in your local bike shop. (Yet another reason you shouldn't make all your purchases online.)

Look for my helmet overview on PopularMechanics.com in the coming weeks.

Quick 'n Dirty Helmet Review: Smith Optics Forefront

It's a little unsettling that this helmet is almost a dead ringer for the headgear worn by the speeder bike-riding stormtroopers on the forest moon of Endor. If you've seen Return of the Jedi, you know they don't do much when crashing into a gigantic sequoia tree in a galaxy far, far away.

The helmet fits to size and is pretty comfortable. In addition to the standard EPS foam found in most helmets, the Forefront is designed around a layer of honeycomb-like fibers called Koroyd. According to Smith, their aerocore construction absorbs much more of the impact during a crash, but no numbers are immediately available.

There seem to be relatively fewer air vents on the helmet, which makes me wonder how cool it'll be when temperatures top 90 degrees.

I'll add more information as I log more miles with the Forefront. Hopefully I'll have more luck with it than those stormtroopers on Endor.

Look for my helmet overview on PopularMechanics.com in the coming weeks.




Quick 'n Dirty Helmet Review: POC Octal

I've been wearing the POC Octal on my rides for the last three weeks. It's quickly becoming my go-to helmet for its light weight and generous venting system. The vents on this thing are huge! Although temperatures haven't risen above the low 80's so far this spring, I've ridden some heavy, fast miles and never felt as if I were about to overheat.

I like the orange color to help me standout on the road (and bonus -- it matches my Shamrock kit for cyclocross season).  I've had a few comments, positive and negative, about the helmet's unique, boxy look on various group rides, but its appearance has steadily grown on me.

Look for my helmet overview on PopularMechanics.com in the coming weeks.


Monday, December 16, 2013

12 Days of Christmas: Bike Art and Calendars

During these cold, dark days of winter, sometimes we need a bit of inspiration, a reminder of what we have to look forward to when the mercury rises and roads clear. 

On the wall next to my desk I have a signed Graham Watson shot of the Vuelta Ciclista a Murcia. It's a fairly minor early season race that's nevertheless been won by the likes of Miguel Indurain, Marco Pantini and last year's runner-up at the Tour de France, Nairo Quintana. I look at the poster often. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be in the middle of the peloton, battling for position, but mostly I look at the two perfectly symmetrical rows of trees and imagine the shade on my shoulders, the smell of spring rebirth hitting my nostrils, my legs pumping the pedals at 100 rpms.

The right piece of cycling art can take you away from your cubicle for a few brief moments and transport you to the roads of France, the trails of Colorado or to a small neighborhood in Lawrence, Indiana. Sitting on a shelf in my office, I have another framed art piece -- an old jersey, race number and photo from the day -- one commemorating my lone crit racing victory nearly three years ago. Greeting me nearly every time I walk into my office, it almost always takes me back to my one shining moment in the spotlight, a lone breakaway that had me crossing the finish line more than 30 seconds in front of the rest of the field. How can you not smile thinking about that?

You can find the right poster or art piece at your local bike shop or online at art.com, Amazon, Etsy ... a quick Google search will turn up hundreds of options. If you want your art to also be functional, cycling calendars are the way to go. For the last year, we've been counting down the days with a Graham Watson calendar, featuring some of his best shots from the previous year's road races. The International Mountain Bicycle Association has a great calendar featuring some incredible shots on singletrack, while the Adventure Cycling Association sells one featuring its members' best bike-touring photos. If you're feeling a bit racier, check out Cyclepassion, a high-quality calendar starring some of the best female pro road and mountain bike riders out of their riding kits, or the Pro Tour Pin-Ups, featuring World Tour stalwarts like Jens Voigt, Taylor Phinney and others.




Friday, December 13, 2013

12 Days of Christmas: Overseas Bike Trip

This year I biked up the mountains of the Tour de France and pedaled the streets of Reykjavik. In 2014, my wife and I plan to visit Italy, Switzerland, and, if the stars align for a second European jaunt, Ireland.



There's nothing like the adventure of discovering a new place from the seat of a bicycle. Pedaling strange new roads and trails that you've seen dozens of times on race coverage or that are oddly reminiscent of your ride routes back home. Sharing a table in a crowded cafe with an elderly local with a halting command of English, but a desire to tell you stories about the hometown he's so obviously proud of. Staring awestruck at the ruins of buildings and castles that were considered ancient before your ancestors even made their way to America.

There are almost as many types of bike tours as there are bicycles, so it can be a bit overwhelming. (For tips on how to pick the right bike tour for you, might I suggest this Gadling post I wrote earlier this year.) My friends at the Adventure Cycling Association offer guided bikepacking trips through Canada (truth be told, I don't really consider Canada to be as much of a foreign country as a step-sibling that spent a semester in Paris and came back with an accent), while Duvine, Trek Travel and dozens of other outfitters offer fully supported trips throughout Europe or Australia. I had a great experience with Sports Tours International during my Tour de France trip, although it features decidedly fewer frills than its more expensive counterparts.  

What if you're on a tight budget and can't afford to spend thousands on a tour, airfare and the like? Perhaps the greatest gift you can give -- or be given, as the case may be -- is permission. Take a week away from your family, job and other responsibilities and go have an adventure. Pick a week or weekend, throw a sleeping bag and tarp into your pannier bags and point your bike in whichever direction strikes your fancy. Seek out new roads, strange regional delicacies or unique experiences. Have pancakes in three different states. Try a local microbrewery in every stop on your route. Photograph every weird road sign or animal statue you come across. Find your own undiscovered country. Whatever you do, just make sure you have a story to tell and a smile on your face when you return home.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

12 Days of Christmas: Zipp Gear Bag

For the next two weeks, I'm going to count down the gifts you or your bike-crazy loved ones would surely love to find under the Christmas tree this year.

Every cyclist who travels or races needs a good gear bag, and Zipp, renowned for their carbon wheels, makes one of the best available. The main gear department is roomy, with enough space for multiple kits or sets of clothes. I've been able to fit about a week's worth of clothes in there, provided my picks weren't too bulky. For the winter, expect to get three days worth of jeans, sweaters and thermal cycling gear, tops. You can also find four small zippered compartments inside, perfect for stashing away some Cliff Shots or EPO.


On either side of the main compartment, you'll find two smaller compartments for shoes, a toiletry bag or what have you. Underneath that main compartment, you'll find a separate large zippered space; the ventilation slots makes it ideal for stinky laundry. The lid to the main compartment holds a zippered pocket, a mesh pouch and a slot for your business card in case your bag is ever lost.











The outside of the bag includes four water bottle holders (I usually only use half for bottles and use the remaining spaces for eyeglass cases, baseball caps, belts or other easily stashable gear.) On top, you've got yet another sturdy mesh pouch for your helmet. Topping it all off are the carrying straps (with velcro loops designed for your floor pump) and a comfortable shoulder strap.

I'm on my second bag in about seven or eight years of constant traveling; they hold up really well. Expect to pay about $150 on the Zipp website, although you can find them $25 cheaper or more elsewhere online. Better yet, support your hometown businesses and pick one up at your local bike store. Better yet, support your hometown businesses and pick one up at your local bike store.