In a world increasingly preoccupied with throwaway materialistic things; where people are constantly busy earning money to pay for those things, or so their children can have those things;
This is the story of my dreams of travelling the world by bicycle. Because it's there. And because I dont want to die without experiencing the truly important things in life .

A sense of wonder and a sense of adventure.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Hand Made in Appleby.

I pretty much forgot that Xmas was fast approaching and having only enough time to get myself a present I had to advise Adi that it might be best in the interests of saving time that she rush out and get herself something.

Just in the nick of time we managed to wrap them up and put them on the mantel piece. Talk about stress! I don’t think that Adi would have wrapped hers unless I insisted. After all you’ve got to do things correctly don’t you? As for sending cards to friends and others… sorry couldn’t get that motivated about it. I know that will be me removed from your next year’s Xmas card list but I’ll just have to take that like a man.

I had only enough time to send one card and that was to my mother. A bit silly really because she has forgotten much of the last 92years including me. My sister tells me that she is a favourite among the rest home staff. I fear this is only because she sleeps most of the time and when not in deep slumber she steers into space with a smile on her face. I always used to be a smiley, uncomplaining baby and I expect I will also exhibit the same traits when I’m in a rest home.  I will get a rest home report saying that” Niel is a very well-mannered and conscientious member of the residents”. And they will be happy to keep me on as I pay well and cause no disturbances.

Adi and I cycled to a Xmas Eve movie, The Hobbit of course. Adi just can’t get enough of dwarfs and orcs. I somehow think that the whole thing could be somewhat improved with the addition of a legion or two of warrior elf maidens. I don’t particularly mind whose side their on as long as they fight hard and ruthlessly.

Come Christmas day I felt that I still had time to make myself another present or two so after opening our presents and entertaining Karen and Terry for morning tea in the summer room I set too constructing a couple of carbon neutral bike racks in the back garden. I suppose they’re not quite carbon neutral as I used an electric skil saw to make them and they can’t really I suppose be described as organic as they are treated in enough chromium , arsenic and copper to kill fungus for the next 2000years. But they are jolly good at holding my bike up!
And Bits Left Over For a Single!

What did Father Xmas get me for Christmas you all ask??? He got me, besides the pest proof bike rack kit, a Campagnolo brake set!!!! (With cable kit). I have no intention at this stage of putting it on the Mercian as I already have an XTR v brake set which I love and has stopped me from going over the edge in many exotic countries.(Santa what were you thinking??) But when it finally dies I will have a Campag cyclocross brake set to replace it with. And until that time (probably around 2025) it can live in the workshop with all the other spare parts that bear the magic inscription ‘Made in Italy’ and are of no real use at the moment.

And once Adi had got the wrapping off her present… low and behold it was a bag. But not any bag in my book. No it was a Vespa luggage bag which was bought by Santa to obviously encourage Adi and I to set out on another Vespa / Mercian adventure. Adi feels certain that although Santa didn’t tell her specifically where we are expected to Vespa / cycle, it must be across Canada next year and I’m not about to disagree.

So once all that excitement was over the day was almost dusted. Just enough time to whip over to the neighbours orchard to nick some berries for the Pavlova and down another rum and coke.

It was supposed to rain this week but those are promises that refuse to come to fruition at the moment and so once again I will have to tweak the neighbouring orchards irrigation system so that it delivers us a bit of the clear stuff as well.

Cant thank Santa for that one.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Bidding for Good Stuff.

Working p/time in a bike shop and being a bit of a retro man has its disadvantages. The main problem being this, although the new season’s stock excites the rest of the staff and customers it rarely makes my pulse quicken.  Whereas some of my workmates have trouble taking home any of their pay my wages are safely deposited for Adi to spend on mundane things like our weekly groceries.

And things aren’t likely to get any better in the future as the sort of stuff I’m interested in is only likely to come into the shop occasionally as a result of a repair job or when a customer wants to show me his latest heritage project. These bikes are never for sale at a reasonable price or likely to be used for anything other than a quick spin along the cycleway on a sunny afternoon.

Things were looking grim until I discovered TradeMe the second hand internet site. Now my prayers have been answered.  Tinkering about on bikes for close to forty years gives me an advantage when looking at old stuff. I can peruse other people’s bike junk at will and get a bit of excitement when bidding on things. I can now acquire some of the top quality components that eluded me when I was growing up. Back then I foolishly wasted my money on stuffed toys for potential girlfriends instead of investing wisely on handmade race frames and cycling kit. I still managed back then to buy quite a bit of bike stuff (a lot of which I still have) but I could have done so much better if I hadn’t been distracted in other ways.

The final gem in this whole thing is that this once top gear is usually as cheap as chips because today’s punters are focused on the latest offering from China in carbon fibre. I can snatch up a handmade lightweight steel frame or Italian brake set for the price of an evening out. I’ve missed the odd thing due more to my poor bidding technique or lack of attention than any concerted opposition. But I have now mastered this and feel pretty confident generally in winning my prize. I certainly have a better strike rate than I ever had with the high maintenance girls at college and Uni.

With a bit of forward thinking I should be able to continue to stock the workshop to such an extent that when I want to complete a repair or start a new cycle project, I will have all the retro parts on hand. This leads me to my current project of re building Adi a touring GT Zum to replace the one she had nicked in Vietnam recently. Her new bike is now complete and has been road tested. However she lost with her old bike a set of retro touring wheels that I had put on the bike because they were more reliable and tougher than the sport wheels she usually runs day to day. I had a pair of campag record hubs and a pair of Shimano 600 hubs waiting but no 36hole Mtb rims to use.

Low and behold, what should surface on TradeMe?

Only three brand new 1990’s campag mtb rims and a matching pair of new and still wrapped FIR mtb rims!! All for chicken feed!  Mavic rims are still available but are difficult to get here and are expensive. I simply need to buy a couple boxes of DT spokes and hey presto 2 pairs of new /old wheels. You can never have too many wheel sets for your Mercian.

O that’s right, one set is for Adi but I’m sure I can borrow them if the need arises.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

"I have a Free Period Sir".

 I was out on my bike today cycling to the garden centre with my trailer on to pick up a bag of compost.T'was a  beautiful day as I zoomed over the newly re-designed cycleway bridge (you can actually cycle over it now! And it only took the engineers two attempts to get it right!!) Not a soul was about either on the cycleway or around the properties that border the track. It is a Tuesday so I presumed that everyone was busy at work. The busy bees working long hours so they can keep their children fed and the car topped up. Not to mention making the payments on the big screen TV and not so portable BBQ.

With Adi Doing the first Leg I Get to Sleep In.

Anyway I digress. I had a funny feeling of being naughty some how. As if I should be at work as well. A feeling you get as a school kid when you take a sicky and then go into town to buy a new bike frame that you just cant stop thinking about.I felt today like the work police might stop me on the track and say "Hey you there, shouldn't you be at work?" I couldn't say that I had a note from my mother to be out, so I thought I'd just tell them either work was closed today or that I had a free period.

Thinking about it later on I thought I could use the excuse kids use in this country, that "it's a teachers only day today sir". ( They of course don't put the 'sir' in. That's for my fathers generation. My generation would simply reply shaking in their bike shoes. Today's generation would simple add ,"what's it to you anyway?!")
  In my case I'd suggest that it's an employers only day at work. Both situations equally as productive and great excuses to get up to no good on your bike.

So what has 'Niel the Wheel' been up to in the last month since coming home from Vietnam without Adi's bike?

Well, talking of employment and feeling guilty for being out, 'Niel the Wheel' has quit his job at the bike shop!!!
Yes I have. And it was a difficult decision because the flexibility that that job offered, allowing me to take off to far away places on my bike, I thought would be impossible to find elsewhere. The bike shop while I was away was facing challenges of its own and was having to head in new directions due to the state of the economic climate. And although these changes didn't directly effect me I felt the need to make my own changes. It just wasn't the same when I went back after cycling in  Asia.

Some things were the same. But there was a lot that wasn't.

So with thoughts of maybe buying a rental property and doing it up, I handed in my resignation. I grabbed my M.U.M, pedalled out the door, cycled South along the cycleway and under the QE 2 bridge. (Submerged during high tides when cyclists need to don scuba tanks or hold their breath for approximately 2 minutes.) I shot like a missile along Queen Street Richmond and instead of going home and closing the door on my cycle retail career I instead cycled straight through the doors of the cycling opposition (Avanti Plus Richmond). Finding a hook out the back I hung my bike  on it, threw on a staff shirt, and went about confusing customers who had recently seen me dusting bikes just up  the road in Nelson.

I was no better than a bike shop whore.

My new hours are great. I'm the weekend man. The staff and owners are great. And although dusting bikes is quite therapeutic I'd rather be selling them. My only trepidation is that I think the customers are setting me up for a fall, as on my first weekend I sold 5 bikes! Steady on chaps. I'd rather start out slowly and build up to that.

With Adi Up the Road Cycling I Suppose There's No Hurry.

Having secured weekend work, I took off with Adi on a four day cycle / Vespa assist bike ride down the East Coast of the Sth Island. The weather and scenery were great. Sharing the Vespa riding and cycling we managed over 200km days without problem. Two cycles, two people and a hard working 200cc Vespa. What fun!

O You Poor Thing You Must Be Buggered. Do You Want Me to do Some Cycling Now?

Back at home I'm busy rebuilding a GT Zaskar touring bike for Adi. Sneaking the odd bit of Italian bling in for me when I do the ordering is not easy though.

Got to go now because I have just seen some (new) retro Italian rims on the local online auction site that would look just great on 'Adi's'  the bike. But first I have to work out how to bid on such things.

Next blog I'll try to convince myself and anyone else interested on the merits of a Sunday twilight ride. Well it would be a 100km Sunday afternoon ride in the summer. A 100km twilight ride in Autumn and would morph into a 100km darkish ride in the winter as we would not leave until 3pm in the afternoon. Wouldn't that be something different? I've already started without you. It wasn't too bad. I might need some friends though as we move past the longest day. Some hard men that will not be phased by riding the back country as darkness beckons. Iron men who dont mind leaving Sunday dinner warming over a pot of hot water on the oven.(Or we could stop for greasies?)

There's nothing else to be missed on a Sunday evening. You need a mortgage to afford the once popular Sunday roast. So why not work up an appetite for the bangers and mash?

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Did Ya Miss Me?

Sorry I haven't made a post recently.

But I've been out cycling.

A spring day on the east coast of the South Island, NZ. If it wasn't for the stink of seal shit you'd think you were in heaven.

Things have been happening, and I'll continue 'Niel the Wheels' story in a few days. For now I thought I'd just let you know that I haven't hung up my wheels for good and joined the chubby bum brigade, as they go about their daily chores of carting themselves and kids around in the SUV.

For now I have to check out Adi's latest parcel that's just arrived full of bike bits intended to rebuild her  touring bike. I'm pretty sure I managed to sneak  a Campagnolo rear derailleur for myself in that order.

"O' there you are you little beauty"

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Home From Vietnam

Finally we are home again.

 And for me the trip from Saigon was not without some additional stress. I packed my bike and we checked out from the hotel without problem. The hotel arranged a taxi to the airport and Adi was able to carry my bags as she was of course without cycle. So that part was easier than usual. Poor old Adi it was difficult for her to leave town without her cycle and gear.

We had given ourselves plenty of time at the airport so for the first time ever, and for additional security, I decided to get my bike (enclosed in its bike bag), plastic wrapped. I then checked everything in and was advised by the airline staff to leave my bike over in the corner to be picked up by the oversize parcel staff.

That’s when I felt the need to advise them that there was no way I was going to leave my bike in a corner of the terminal since earlier in the year I had done just that in Rio, and British Airways had then conveniently forgotten to place it on the plane I was on to Morocco.

Chief ruling Air Malaysian check-in man said “That sort of thing doesn’t happen in Saigon and never on Malaysian Airlines”

I asked for that in writing and of course got the, no we ask you to sign, relieving us of certain obligations but I can’t imagine us signing anything. At this point two men in blue overalls with Malaysian Airlines logo turned up and threw my Mercian on a trolley stacked with other luggage so I assumed all was well. I did however ask the Chief Check-in man whether he recognised those men. You can’t be too careful when your bikes concerned. Something that we should have been more concerned about two days ago when Adi’s bike was nicked.
Airport Fun and Games.

It was a two hour flight to Kuala Lumpar and then because the airport hotel was full another ten hours trying to sleep on a bench in the transfer lounge. I watched three movies on the ten hour flight from KL to Auckland when I probably should have been sleeping. Due to an overkill of Jason Strathan movies and not a lot of shut eye, I arrived in Auckland at 11.30pm  in not the best of spirits.

“I’m sorry sir, all the oversized items have been unloaded are you sure you had a bike on this flight?”


If I didn’t know better I would have thought that they lost my bike on purpose. But I do know better, and realise that they would have to be organised to do that, so it just had to be chance.

Another sleepless night in Auckland wondering what the chances are of ever seeing my Mercian again. And no real sympathy from Adi as she was in the same boat already. I should have been celebrating our return to Aotearoa . Instead I was trying to get my head around how two cyclists can leave the country for a month’s holiday and then have to return with nothing except their hand luggage!

Breakfast was nice. Toast and marmalade. Adi got real muesli for the first time since we left home.

No-one needed to help us with our bags when we boarded the taxi to the Auckland domestic airport. Since by this stage we had been reduced to one bag each.

Thirty minutes prior to boarding our flight to Nelson the baggage service guys rang me to say they’d found the Mercian and he had cleared customs and would be on my flight to Nelson.


And just to finish the whole episode off, Adi and I almost missed the flight to Nelson! I don’t know how that happened. Forty passengers and my bike patiently waited ten minutes for us to realise that that was our plane with chocks away and pointing skywards at gate 1.

A quick word to the loaders as they closed the rear loading hatch to confirm that there was a bike on board and I could finally relax.

Air New Zealand coffee never tasted so good. And two boiled sweets offered, let’s make it four I could do with the sugar.
Adi's Step Dad Jim Painted Her a Great B'day Card.

Home again. With the Vietnam chapter at an end I can now concentrate on getting another part-time bike shop job and getting back into long distance cycling.

Paris –Brest –Paris  2014 beckons.

And of course I have to rebuild Adi another Zaskar Urban Machine (ZUM). I’ve got the frame I just need to rummage around in the workshop and find a few bits.


Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Back Home.

The trips over.

The Southeast Asian experience is over thanks to the theft of Adi’s bike and all her belongings. I know that some people are hard up and think of tourists as having ample money but I think anyone that steals the bike and gear from a visitor touring the country is pond slime basically. In fact I think locals committing crime against visitors are below pond slime. A visitor to your country is already at a huge disadvantage with language and cultural problems to overcome. To take advantage of that and put them in even more stress shows that you are a total disfunctioning retard.
Must Be a Bike Shop Around Somewhere.

We had successfully negotiated Saigon during the morning rush hour and were stopping for our first drink break 30kms out and on our way to the Cambodian border. The day before we’d arranged visas for Cambodia from the embassy here in Saigon.

Anyway we lent our bikes on top of each other against the café/stalls wall with my bike on the inside and then had sat down at a table not 2mtrs away. Unfortunately although Adi was facing the bikes I had my back to them. I should have known better and while sitting there I thought of shifting but didn’t. Ten minutes later in which time Adi reckons she saw nothing, we went over to the bikes and Adi’s was gone! It was obviously a huge shock to Adi but I immediately realised that the bike had been stolen virtually right before our eyes. I jumped on my bike and did a cycle around the area as did the café staff on their bikes and scooters but of course we found nothing. They then rang the local police and gave Adi a ride down there.
One Cambodian Visa Please. No Make That Two.

This is the point where I learn first-hand how useless the Vietnamese police are.

I’m not totally naive; I thought that reporting the bike stolen and filing a report would take some time. Especially with the language problem.  I won’t bore you with the details but after 7 hours (I kid you not) the officer finally had all the information and this was with the help of a police translator who had extremely marginal English. During this time we were witness to the officer and translator playing games and looking at pictures on their I phones, joking with other officers about my bike which I’d parked near the interview room and finally entertaining their friends some of which were drunk on rice wine. After all this time and after we had signed countless statements the officer then refused to give us any kind of a copy for our insurance company ( something I knew we would need).

In an act of anger I finally said enough was enough and slammed my fists down on the table, which made all the officers including Adi jump, and told them to arrange a taxi to take us back to the hotel. Useless officer no.1 then said that he would contact the Captain to see if we can get a receipt for reporting the loss. And we should come back tomorrow to discuss it.
U/Officer No.1 and Translator with Her i Phone.

The thought of another wasted 7 hours tomorrow at the police zoo left me with a restless night. I contemplated cycling there and back to save the taxi fare but in the end after ringing in the morning from the hotel with the help of the hotel staff I decided the whole thing would be a waste of time.

Adi persevered with the help of the hotel receptionist and in the end they both went back to the police station and got a statement from the Captain which consisted of a report written by Adi and stamped by the doubly useless “Captain”. I didn’t go because I knew that it would probably end in bloodshed and me being locked up.

Earlier in the year British Airways lost my bike and all my gear when I was flying to Casablanca so I know how poor Adi feels . (Bike later recovered). But we were really luck in that my bike this time was carrying 80% of the gear and being a hand built Mercian is worth considerably more than Adi’s off the Shelf GT Zaskar. So the idiot that stole from us chose the wrong bike and got just Adi’s clothes, her camera, and a bike that I can replicate when I get home.

While gently simmering in the police station I contemplated dropping Adi off at the airport and carrying on to finish the mission. But quite honestly earlier in the year cycling for two months across South America on my own was enough for me. It’s no fun I have found going through the daily motion just to say you have cycled yet another country. We contemplated buying Adi a cheap motorcycle for her to continue on but useless officer no.2 seemed to think that you could not take a Vietnamese scooter across the border to Cambodia.

So tomorrow Adi, Mercian and I head back home to good old New Zealand and we have to leave Adi’s bike here to rust in the tropics.

I think it is worth noting though that cycle touring these sorts of countries is all good while things are going well but once you need the authorities you can be pretty stuffed. I find as I get older I am losing patience with dirty and disorganised countries.  I think I would consider coming back when as much effort is being put into renewing the countryside as is currently being put into renewing the population.

It’s time for me to concentrate on our cottage in the countryside and to get that vegey garden growing. Time to batten down the hatches as the world economy tail spins.

Friday, 14 September 2012

New Helmets.

Well, we’ve just about cycled the length of Vietnam now. We’ve been in the country for three weeks and in that time we have cycled from Hanoi north to Halong Bay which is just South of the Chinese border. We then turned our bikes south and have cycled all the way down the coast and are just shy of Ho Chi Min  City. We have four days left in the country before we cross into Cambodia. Assuming of course that we can get a visa in Ho Chi Min.

In that time I have witnessed the friendliness of the people and their willingness to please. In fact the only sour face in the country remains that of the customs officer in Hanoi when we arrived. For anyone reading this blog and thinking of cycling un- assisted through the country I can make the following suggestions;

Firstly bring a pair of ear plugs.  If you insert these at the beginning of each days ride then the constant blasting of the bus and truck horns won’t disturb your mind wanderings so much while you’re on the bike. In addition to this you won’t feel obliged to answer every hello that is fired at you from the roadside homes and businesses. The first hundred or so of these each day are tolerable but after that I just simply can’t be bothered. After the hellos you often get “what your name”? I have on different occasions been Niel the Wheel, The Duke of Winsor, Humpty Dumpty, but my favourite is Rambo. Only because I have watched too many Rambo movies in the past.

“We’ve had our Vietnam” and now I’ve just about had mine.

Your earplugs will also come in handy if you lunch at any of the village cafes. Most have a loudspeaker set up somewhere and for no extra you can be entertained by Vietnamese pop or Karaoke broadcast at jet engine volumes.

Obviously don’t bring camping gear or a cooker as there are Hotels and Guest Houses everywhere. You may want to bring an electric jug though so you can boil some hot water for a coffee or tea. Otherwise you are off down to reception to try to explain that you want a thermos of hot water.
Heading West along the South Coast of Vietnam.

Bring a good knowledge of your bicycle or bring a bicycle from the 1960’s because that’s the model, either 26” or 27”, possible 28” that the bike mechanics are familiar with. Having said that, I am sure that they would love to expand their knowledge by practising on your bike. And I have no doubt that they would give it back to you with a smile complete with 27” wheel shoehorned in where your 700C wheel used to be.

We are here in the wet season and every day threatens rain. And we have had really heavy rain. Don’t bother bringing a rain coat. Adi and I have both a heavy coat and a light jacket. Neither are used. When the temperature rarely drops below 30C rain is a welcome relief. It saves you the bother of using roadside hoses to cool yourself down. Do however fit mudguards to your bike and if it won’t take them then get a real bike. The guards will stop you wearing all the crap and shit washing around on the roads. Bike chains hate this sort of weather so bring oil or buy it along the way. Any kind of oil will do. It doesn’t have to be $20 special blah , blah , blah. Twenty dollars will buy you a four star hotel room for the night or 20litres of oil if you want to carry it.

Finally I am really pleased that I decided not to bring my cycle helmet as I have bought two different ones here. Not only are they incredibly trendy when worn and make me irresistible to the girls, but one boosts ISO 9000 safety standards. I don’t know if my friend Rob ( our local Policeman ) is reading this but I have one for use on my Vespa when I get home and one that will make me look like Bradley Wiggins as I time trial the Mercian to work and back.
Look like Bradley Wiggins in Your New Helmet.

Still have to organise a place to work when I get back. But where-ever that may be I will look the part in my English time trial helmet made in Vietnam. And at $8 NZ a helmet I thought I might do what the NZ cycle importers do and bring in a few thousand and sell them for $45 NZ each. (That’s the trip paid for).
Or for the Vespa.

Place Your Order Now. I Can Bring Back A Thousand Or So.




Thursday, 6 September 2012

Hotel Security.

Today started like any other as we cycled down the Vietnamese coast. We left Da Nang and the 5 star hotel that we had checked ourselves into, (because we couldn’t be bothered looking for a cheaper one the day before), at about 8am. The road south was un- interesting and reasonably busy with loud tooting buses and trucks. The wide shoulder proved effective at keeping us away from the worst of the traffic. However at regular intervals the locals had decided to use it for sun drying rice so we were forced to ride through their intended dinner or do battle with the heavy traffic. When there was no rice to avoid we were often further tested overtaking slow cyclists or scooters.

Like all other days so far we had regular drink stops along the way and just prior to reaching the day’s destination we stopped while the heavens opened up and it absolutely poured down for about 10 minutes. Delivering what looked like Nelson’s monthly total of rain. When temperatures are constantly at about 31C the rain is hardly an issue for us. But it plays havoc with the bikes, washing all the oil off and promoting accelerated rusting.

The day would have been a bit of a bore had it not been for the Dung Quat Hotel. At our arranged destination for the day, (a town of little scenic value and having nothing going for it that I could see) up rears a 4 star Hotel. Adi says” let’s go there”. I say “no we need a cheaper night”.

So we check it out and sure enough its 880 000 VDN . I’m telling Adi to get on her bike when the manager comes out and says they will do it for 700 000 VDN. The hotel is worth 880 000 but I have already told the manager that we can easily get a 400 000 one in the town and that would be good enough for us.

Since 700 000VDN is only what we would pay for a motor camp in New Zealand we agree to take the room on the proviso that the bikes are secure.

The staff are friendly and the room is great. I feel a little sorry for them as we are the only guests except for a Chinese business party and their wives.

Now I want to warn all my friends that buy Chinese made bikes like Treks, Specialised, GT, Avanti and all the others.


I know I’m not in China at the moment, but just across the border. But the Chinese are here on holiday. Flush with all your money the Chinese are holidaying in Vietnam, Thailand and other such places and driving all the quiet reserved nice tourists away. Until you’ve vacationed next to a bunch of Chinese business men and their wives you will never be able to comprehend the noise and mess and total disorder these karaoke playing fun lovers can generate. I tell you I thought Americans were loud but these guys are in a totally new league. Sure the American accent makes you wince and Aussies on the piss are pathetic but being around Chinese having a good time is not a place you want to be.

After suffering dinner in the restaurant with the Chinese party, Adi and I made our way back to our room. Only for me to be called to reception by the manager, who was very concerned for our bikes, which had been locked in the security manager’s office.

He needed me to sign a statement that our bikes where all ok as the security manager had noted that my bike had no saddle (I remove it with the saddle bag that is attached to it) and that Adi’s bike had one less drink bottle than my bike and also had no bell!

I couldn’t quite understand this concern at the time and didn’t want to sign anything without first seeing the bikes again. So we all went down to security to inspect the bikes as Adi went back to the room for a coffee. Sure enough when we got there the said bikes were exactly as I had left them with a very disturbed security man scared that something was amiss as Adi’s bike also had no temperature gauge or compass, items that my Mercian comes standard with.

I signed and dated in triplicate that I was still happy with the bikes and thanked the security manager for his devotion to duty.

On the way back to the room I thanked the hotel manager also for his care and he advised me that the security manager had rung him three times that evening to voice his concern regarding Adi’s bikes missing equipment, so he had to sort the issue.

The whole incident left me wondering why I had bothered to put a cable lock around those bikes.


Sunday, 2 September 2012

One Week In.

I’ve been cycling with Adi in Vietnam now for about a week. The cycling physically has been easy. In fact after 7 days we only encounted our first hill yesterday and had we wanted to we could have gone through the tunnel at the base. The road over the top looked quiet and more scenic however, so we cycled over there.

The bikes have decided that resistance is futile and for the last few days I have not needed to fix anything. In fact now the most trying thing is the constant hellos from every third person. I’ve never been a particularly sociable person so replying to constant hellos tends to tire me more than the cycling. There’s always some hello coming from the houses or yards that border the road or a child screaming it in the distance. I probably manage to acknowledge only one out of four hellos and my limit is strictly one hello per person. One hello is often not enough for some people. Whereas in South America I could ignore all the locals who whistled at me or used some other rude means to get my attention, it’s hard for me to ignore a genuine hello.

I have noticed while riding along among the hordes a few things that could be improved upon. I think firstly that if people are carrying 3 or 4 ducks or geese on their scooter they should be restrained in some way. Otherwise they can fall off and then their necks drag on the ground.

When carrying huge pigs on the side of your scooter you need to have animals of similar size on each side otherwise it’s hard to keep the scooter going in a straight line.

Don’t bother offering cycle tourists chickens from your cages. They probably aren’t in the market for a chicken or any other living animal. A prepared chicken mixed with a bit of rice probably would hit the spot though.

Don’t bother offering two New Zealand cycle tourists straight from winter and having cycled all day in 36C heat a free sauna as part of the hotel package. Hotel showers are fine cold but mini bars should be turned on!

Yesterday Adi convinced me to take the track off the main road and down to the beach. I have to say I was hesitant because the area we had been cycling through was a bit trashy and I felt the beach wouldn’t be much better. But since it was the first time we had got close to the coast I agreed. We bumped our way down the scooter trail to the surf and the water was not only reasonably clean it was as warm as a bath.

We just dived straight in with all our cycle clothes still on.  Twenty minutes later we were back on the bikes and heading down the main road south looking for a hose down. Hose downs have become a survival mechanism in the heat. There seems to be an abundance of water in Vietnam and people are often seen hosing down their scooters or trucks along the road. I got such a positive response from the first person I asked to hose me down that it has now become a habit. After a good drenching received from a local woman hosing her car we were ready to run the scooter gauntlet to the next Hotel.

Adi’s got a bit of the travellers diarrhoea at the moment. A bit of the cycle, squat and squirt. I feel sympathetic although it’s a great way to lose weight. Having had it for two months in Peru and Bolivia earlier in the year I not only lost a lot of weight but also got damn good at finding toilet stops in an  instant and virtually hauling myself off the bike and into a squat in one motion. The dinner menu, once translated slowly by Lei, didn’t help Adi’s stomach. She turned down the hedgehog and weasel but I was surprised when she opted out of jellyfish because I thought that might settle her tum.

Joking aside I was greedily finishing my Vietnamese soup when I had this horrible thought that I might have my own weasel head submerged at the bottom of the bowl ready to greet me as I drained the last of the broth.

Our new friend Lei who works in room service and speaks a small amount of English confirmed my thoughts.  They get very few tourists in this part of Vietnam. When word gets out that you can get fresh weasel and dog for just a few dollars and as much rice as you desire I think the tourists will flock here.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Adi's Bike is Testing Me.

It’s the second day in Vietnam and I am coming to the realisation that I think I could really love this place and that I have already had enough of Adi’s bike.

Adi’s bike is acting like a pain in the arse. Adi insisted before we left NZ that I put 23C tyres and tubes on her machine. Because I felt sorry for her, and because I wanted it to be a bit easier for her, against my better judgement I put the skinnies on.  For my Mercian I stuck with the tried and very tested 26 x 1.75 ultra-puncture proof Conti’s. I love 26 X 1 tyres but not for cycle touring in far off lands.

Yesterday I had to fix Adi’s first puncture from  rough handling on the flight from NZ. But today when we went down to start off Adi’s bike decided to puncture in the rear 2 minutes down the road. The puncture yesterday wrecked the tube so I binned it. The rear puncture today occurred at the valve stem so I had to bin the tube. Once I’d fixed it we carried on down the road where Adi punctured in the front wheel and once again due to the hole being on the corrugation pattern in the tube, I had to throw the tube away. Three tubes down in 2 days! I had only brought 6 spare tubes for Adi’s bike and we have 2 months on the road. I can also tell you now that although there are back yard bike shops everywhere here none of them sell 26 X 1 tubes. In fact all they seem to sell are the old imperial tubes. The choice is 26 x 1 3/8 or 24 x 1 3/8.

I can also advise anyone who thinks all 26 tubes are the same that they most certainly aren’t, and trying to get a 1 3/8 tube into a 1” casing does not make Niel a happy chappy either.

Desperate situations require desperate measures and after managing to stuff a huge tube into the tyre, and once we were on the road again, my brain was busy looking for a solution. Ten kms down the road I spied a bigger bike shop and went in to buy a 24 x 1 3/8 tube because I thought it might stretch a bit and that that would thin it out and the whole thing might fit happier in Adi’s tyre.

Fifteen minutes later after arguing with 4 Vietnamese bike mechanics each telling me that nothing they had would fit that bike and I was wasting my money, I had my tube. Five minutes later I had it in and she looked like a pretty good fit! (Actually at $2NZ a tube it hardly broke the bank.)
A 24 x 1 3/8 Will Fit !

On the road again with the temperature gauge nudging 36C and as humid as a sauna we cycled on towards Halong Bay. Just before we were about to expire from the heat we stopped at a roadside stall and ordered in our best Vietnamese an ice cream and  a coke. What we received was a box of 10 ice creams and a lovely cold 2ltr bottle of coke that the shop owner had to cycle down the road to get. Awesome, although we could only manage 8 ice creams between us. The whole lot costing a staggering $6 NZ.

Ten kilometres before our destination Adi’s bike decided to test me again. This time by breaking a rear spoke on the cluster side. And as if that wasn’t enough a local scooter driver reckoned we needed to make an immediate left hand turn. Adi decided at this stage she didn’t like her bike anymore and that she’d ride mine. So I told scooter man that unless he was a mind reader he couldn’t possible know where I was going and if he was a mind reader he would realise that at this moment I would like him to piss off! I told Adi that she wanted the skinny tyres on her bike so she could ride it the last 10kms to the hotel with the rear brake off so the wheel would go around.

So here I am at one of the best hotels in Halong Bay writing my blog after fixing Adi’s broken spoke in the bath using her chain as a chain whip and removing bike grease from everything that I touched while I did it.
Locking the Chain to Something Solid.

I got the grease off all the hard surfaces like the reception counter, elevator buttons, and complimentary coffee cups but have given up on all linen marks.

We are both happy cyclists after hot showers, and a full buffet meal. And at a room rate of $100 US / night they can afford new linen and curtain dry cleaning.

Tomorrow we have a look at Halong Bay and then start south down the coast towards our eventual destination of Singapore.
Harlong Bay.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Touch Down.


Hello Vietnam.

 The most stressful part of cycle touring is I find arriving in a foreign city and having to assemble the bikes, find the hotel, get money out and acclimatise to the weather.  I thought that Hanoi would be right up there on the old stresso meter but in the end I was worried unduly.
Go to Vietnam and Become Instant Millionaires

We were so tired when we arrived at the airport that I grabbed a cab and we were delivered to the hotel without delay and due to a bit of research on my behalf, also without being ripped off by the taxis driver. After crashing for an hour or two, where I lay in a foetal position listening to the sound of people shouting, scooters roaring, and cars tooting beneath our balcony, we got up and braved the outdoors.

I think every second scooter ever made is now residing in Hanoi. If I wasn’t so shell shocked I would have been in sheer delight at the number of Vespa’s buzzing around. I didn’t see any PX200’s like the ones Adi and I have at home but the number of the later models was just mind blowing. Our walk outside was short. Just far enough to find a restaurant for later, and to gain a few supplies. It was however long enough to put me in a cold sweat wondering how we were going to get out of Hanoi on our cycles in the morning. More importantly I wondered how we were going to get out of town in one piece. The traffic was just chaotic.

It is of course impossible to have a cold sweat here. Currently it is 33C and about 80% humid.  Later in the evening after we had had dinner and I had assembled the bikes and fixed Adi’s puncture (no. 1), I noticed that the din outside the window had calmed down. Unlike a lot of big cities the Vietnamese must go to sleep during the night. Just maybe if we got up early we could sneak out of town in the quiet.

No chance. The Vietnamese go to bed early so they can get up early. We were off at 7am and officially entered into the scooter world champs.

Three hours later not only were we on course, thanks to my h/bar compass, but I was also having the time of my life.  Scooters chugged past hauling ducks, pigs, bags of goldfish and assorted building materials. On top of this the locals are so friendly and smiley it just puts the rest of the world to shame.

So far the only sore face guy has been the customs guy at the airport. But then aren’t they all.

After four bottles of iced tea at a roadside stall, (where Adi made a lifelong friend out of the lady that ran it), we were ready for the final stint to a hotel a further 10kms up the road.

Adi zoomed off ahead and I hung back chatting to scooter chicks coming past and offering all sorts of polite encouragement.

I have to say that the kids here are cute.

O, there you go. I get distracted for a minute and I’ve lost Adi.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Petrol at Record Highs!

Who cares.
That’s it. Tomorrow we’re off to Vietnam for a bit of pedalling and sweating. Adi usually does more sweating than I do. However with temps expected to be in the mid 30’s and humidity up at 90% I think I could be glowing as well. A week ago I got Adi’s Bike configured into touring mode and checked everything so she was happy with it. Adi likes 23mm tyres for all her cycling but I put my foot down and said for touring she will have to use wider tyres from now on. I got sick of having to fix countless punctures on our last tour together across the US . I thought if I’m fixing all punctures I can decide on the type of tyres used.

 My companion went out to test ride the new tyres and immediately over-ruled my putting my foot down. She advised me that if I wanted to arrive each day at our destination before dark then I had better put her skinny threads back on again. So after another hour in the bike shed sorting tyres and tubes her GT was ready.
Adi's Touring Bike on the Left Ready to Go.

My Mercian adjustments went well as was expected since I had used it earlier in the year on an overseas tour. I decided for this trip that I would use my Campag 10speed wheels and a different Brooks’s saddle but other than that she was set up in a conventional sort of way.

I did my last stint at the bike shop last week before departure and it was sad leaving the place again. I’m never sure when I head off cycle touring whether there will be a job for me when I come back but I can’t let this stop me as I live to ride and none of us are getting any younger. The regular customers wished me well and Lisbeth loaned me a map of Asia and a novel about another couple who had cycled to Singapore. Great bedtime reading.
Ready to Rumble.

So tomorrow I’m on my bike without my helmet for an illegal dash to the airport. Most of it is along cycle paths but a small stretch will have to be covered in fear of a $50 fine from the nana state. Then its bike disassembly and packing into bike bags being carried. I’ll give myself plenty of time for this as I have to do Adi’s bike too.

Shave my legs… then water off, power off, lock the door.

Will leave Woo to look after the place and then it’s good bye NZ, hello Asia.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

More Work Less Play.

Next week I may be required to work at the bike shop to cover for Scott, who’s off to Aussie on holiday. Aussie’s not so bad, although currently they are having trouble getting their heads around how we could be beating them in the Olympic medal count. I can see myself cycling there again in the next two or three years as I concentrate on riding the Paris – Brest – Paris. I think riding the qualifiers could be easier over there with more long distance events and participants. I will never forget my roots though, and will hold my head up high tolerating all the sheep jokes.
Hard at Work. Floor Pumps Dont hold themselves Up.

When I was younger like most people I was impatient. This impatience manifested itself most frequently when I was trying to fix my bike. I would for instance put the second coat of paint on a newly painted frame before the first coat had properly dried. I would try to cover the freshly stripped metal fully with the first coat usually not bothering with primer. This would of course result in an orange peel effect or wrinkles on the surface like your grandmother’s skin. This impatience reached its height in my adolescent years. I remember re-spraying an English Falcon frame in my seventeenth year and after all the coats of paint had gone on (complete with the original Reynolds 531 decals and lacquer), she looked pretty good. However unfortunately for the new owner the base layer of paint had not had the required drying time and the whole thing was just a week or so away from de cloaking. So sad to wake up one morning to find your pride and joy was just an illusion. The new owner was genuinely getting an English Falcon frame, although he rightfully felt duped. An angry phone call from the gentleman concerned instigated my immediate departure. Back I went to my university flat in another city leaving my Mum to sort it all out. My Mum’s shot of me now and enjoying rest and relaxation at her local rest home.

O’the sins I’ve committed by being impatient. I’ve wrecked perfectly good pieces of equipment just because I couldn’t wait for the shop to be open when I needed an extractor, or other tool to do the job properly. Cranks that I take off now in two seconds without thinking about it, would in those days have been bashed off after half an hour’s stressful effort. Inflicting surface damage and mutilating polished alloy surfaces.

Why you ask have I mentioned this now? Have I butchered a lovely piece of retro cycle componentry? Worse still, have I damaged the Mercian by being heavy handed? No, none of the above. I’m pretty mature and reasonably knowledgeable now, when it comes to the mighty bicycle.

I’ve buggered Adi’s laptop!!!!

The stupid thing!

 When will I learn not to piddle around with it? I won’t let Adi use my netbook because I’m scared she’ll wreck it. And I go and sabotage her laptop big time. Her pressure pad wasn’t working so I initially managed to fix that. But once I’d done my dash I had somehow managed to uninstall virtually every program on the thing. It still starts up though so I could have gone further!!!

I blame part of this on not knowing when to stop, and partly on the unseasonably constant rainy days we have been having.  I know this is a prelude to what we may expect to receive in Vietnam in two weeks but its driving me nuts. I can’t get the roof painting done and I can’t get blue skies for my weekly training rides.

And all the time Adi’s laptop sits and stares at me. Adi herself is pretty good about it since she only uses it for face book and writing emails.
A Little Performance Enhancement.

Last week after deciding to form a cycle touring club I proposed that all current club members and trainees should get together and go out on a trial run. I chose a one hundred and ten kilometre circuit with mixed seal / gravel and forestry road sections for the outing. Early on it was muted by the trainee that the club not be called the Tasman Cycle Touring Club but Tasman Touring Club. She was quickly put in her place by a more senior member present and that was the last said on the matter. Once we’d got to the forestry sections I looked around and found that said trainee had done a runner and had taken an easier route home. That won’t bode well for any aspirations she might have of full member status and the eventual position of peloton leader. Things got pretty messy towards the end of the ride when we found to our dismay that the valley road was closed and currently being deconstructed to install new pipework. Bolivian roads came to mind as I cycled down the valley. I found nine out of ten times in Bolivia I would end up cycling along the river bed. This didn’t eventuate along the Maitai and a jolly good day was had by all. The trainee was found on the settee with a cup of tea when I got home.
Backcountry with the TCTC and the Trainee's Done a Runner.

If the rain ever eases up this week I will put the word out, and the TCTC will hit the road again.

I will also put and second the motion that the club in the future begins to concentrate on getting members fit for the next Paris-Brest –Paris in 2015.

I see a patch of blue, there might be a ride on tomorrow. The TCTC trainee number one is suggesting that gravel roads could be a bit muddy……

Over ruled, and toughen up.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Fretting About Facebook

There’s three and a half weeks to go until Adi and I fly off to Hanoi with our bikes! It’s a good thing too that I’m going because I’d not be a happy chappy if I wasn’t.
Winter training under challenging conditions.

I think if I wasn’t off on another bike adventure I’d instead be wandering around the house in a depressed state looking for that next piece of chocolate or black jelly bean that would lift my mood temporarily. I place most of the blame for these feelings on Facebook. I generally feel pretty good about myself and semi motivated until I log into Facebook and catch up with what everyone else is doing. I can’t boast hundreds of friends yet but those friends I do have on-line are invariably cyclists and to be more specific, cycle tourers or cycle adventurers. This has come about by friending anyone with any reference to cycle travel whether it be to work regularly or the other side of the world. I have never been such a sad case as to go looking for people. I simply accept or deny the suggested friendship of people that contact me. If they have a picture of a touring bike on their profile they’re a friend of mine. So when I log in I am bombarded with stories and pictures of people cycling in faraway places or having fun times on their bicycles.

Shit that can make you depressed. Especially if you have nothing currently planned on your cycling social calendar. I’ve now learnt to write and post my own blog before I hit the Facebook site. Otherwise by the time I’ve read about everyone else’s trips, whether it be across Russia, or climbs in the Dolomites followed by an espresso’s with friends, I simply don’t feel like relaying my own days adventures any more.
Facebook Browsing May be Depressing. Solo Cycle Touring was Sheer Loneliness. 

Compounding the problem is the fact that whereas once I had a modicum of normal people as friends I have over the last year unfriended a number of them for posting either too many pictures of their babies, making positive comments relating to automobiles, or making religious statements that I don’t understand. I’d like to say at this point that I realise now that I was wrong and that I need some balance among my Facebook friends. So of the religious nutters that I have left you can feel safe as I see now that you are at least passionate about something. (Misguided as it may be).

Following on from my last post when I thought my bike was too cluttered I have removed my now outdated light set and have replaced it with the latest offering from Cateye in normal self-contained H/Bar lights. At the moment most of my night riding is on road and all I need is a good LED light. It’s also portable enough to use all year around as well as cycle touring. I got wind that the latest Cateye HL530’s were 30% brighter than the one I currently had in the shed so I gave that one to Adi and bought the new one for myself. After staring at Adi’s and my new one constantly trying to decide if the stats were correct I can now tell you that they both cause temporary blindness. But I think my sight came back marginally quicker after staring at Adi’s for a minute or two. If I am ever doing an all-nighter I can mount Adi’s and my own light side by side on the H/Bars for extra lumens.

In a couple of days I’m off to the medical centre for my final rabies shoot.  I never got around to getting this in South America earlier in the year. Adi was talking to the doctor about my trip and he said that I was irresponsible not getting all my shoots and that I could be bitten by a monkey and die an agonising death. That’s patient confidentiality for you. The nurse actually told me after my second shot that I was 90% protected. But Adi says that she doesn’t want me foaming at the mouth in Malaysia after arguing with a bidon stealing baboon. I think personally that I’m more likely to be knocked off my bike, run over and killed by a multi-tasking mother while I ride to the airport, but there you go I’ll just have to fork out the money for the final vaccination.
Potential members of the new Tasman Cycle Touring Club will be carefully vetted. I'm not sure whether this one will make the grade.

On a totally different subject, I'm pondering on whether I should start up a cycle touring club in Nelson / Tasman area when I get back from Asia?
The 'Niel the Wheel Cycle Touring Club For Gentlemen'. Or maybe  'Tasman Cycle Touring Club' for short.
Initially because I would be the only member, we could go on 150km rides with at least one coffee stop along the way. Rides would always start at my place , end at my place and would never begin earlier than 10am.
Essential Kit

O' and once membership climbs to two I get to ride at the back in the slipstream.