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, 31 December 2013

2014 ; New Year's Resolution, More of the Same.

It’s New Year’s Day and my thoughts again have turned to the Kiwi Brevet event in two months’ time. On checking the official site I notice that there are getting on for 100 entrants now. I think therefore that it might be time for me to enter. The cost of entry appears to be nothing.
 On closer examination it seems that I have to make a charitable donation to some cause or other. Luckily for us non giving people, they have made it easy by reducing the choices to just a few organisations. I don’t see the ‘Stop Humans Breeding like Rabbits Foundation ‘on the list or for that matter one of my favourites ‘The Society for the Decriminalisation of Child Discipline’. It’s not all bad though as the charities available are cycling orientated. The rescue helicopter option may even come in handy one day if I fall off my bike somewhere remote.
Looks can be Deceiving. Early Stage of the Porika Track.
 I have made ‘forced’ donations to that one in the past and continue to support them thanks to my long involvement with Westpac Bank. The Westpac helicopter continues to rescue foreigners who set off into the mountains and then get hypothermia and decide they’ve now had enough ,or pluck fisherman from the sea who after a beer or two and a quick ciggy then fall into the surf while not wearing their life-jacket. And when my investments once again come up for renewal and I look at the pathetic interest rate that I am to receive for the next 12months, I can at least feel warm and fuzzy in the knowledge that I am doing my bit to rescue un fortunates.
My last Kiwi Brevet practise just before Xmas went well and taught me a thing or two. After loading up my bike and heading out to do the Porika Track and associated gravel back country cycling I returned home the next day with at least three lessons learned. And in fact that 300km Porika /Braeburn and home circuit was so hard that I’m not going to mention what I learnt because fellow Brevet people may be reading this and hoping to learn stuff the easy way. The easy way being not going arse over kite down the Porika (because it’s so steep and chewed out), or getting virtually no sleep at the half way point because the ground was so hard and cold without a bed roll.
Shepherd's Hut.
I can share other useful points though like the fact that the fish and chips at Murchison are disgusting.  ‘Niel the wheel’s tip in Murch is to not spend more than $10 on fish and chips because they are so yuk that you won’t be able to eat any more than that. Financially buoyant   people will be able to stop at the restaurant but if you do that you may be riding into the wee small hours making up all that lost time, and who’s to say that some tosser won’t nick your bike when you’re in there wine -ing and dining your sorry arse.
Not giving any clues away, but the Porika is so rough that I will now triple wrap my tent due to the constant vibrations wearing through any coverings not made from bullet resistant weave. I took minimal gear with me on the trip but with the exception of needing a sleeping mat have decided in the interests of getting back to Blenheim in time( to get back to work at the bike shop) and with a smile still on my face, I’ll dump some other things that I thought were necessities.
I will now not take my portable barometer and weather station. Gone from the list is my brass compass.  There won’t be room for such luxuries as my combination ‘Browning’ stainless steel knife fork spoon (with integrated can opener).
Realistically now I can’t see myself having time sweet talk any locals, so will take no casual / party clothes. This will be strictly business. If it doesn’t involve me moving forward on my bike then it will not be on the radar.
I need one more overnight training ride to fine tune the bike and gear. More importantly I need to suss out the off road stuff around Reefton. Big River is an area I have never been and mentally I need to know that it’s passable on the Mercian. Even if I have to push or pull the bike through what I believe is the toughest part of the event, I’ll feel better when I’ve done it once. So in a couple of weeks I’ll ride on the road to Reefton 180kms, then the next day do the Big River and back to Murchison ~130km before on the 3rd day riding the long way home (another 180kms).
If I’ve got the energy after that I’ll do a day ride over the Mangataupu as like the other off road sections I fear that the Mercian and I may be doing it tough.
The Braeburn . Wet Feet and ................
...... Mosquitos
The photos attached have reminded me of what I learnt on the Braeburn trail. Firstly you realise how lucky you are to still be alive and operational after crossing the Porika Track. But other than that you learn not to ford the splashes at such a pace that you soak everything on the bike including yourself. This is because you will most certainly not have fully dried out by Murchison and will be frozen while you eat your greasy flavourless fish and chips. You’ve got to grin and bear it though. While you stuff it down you’ll be thinking, tasteless as this fast food is, it’s good for me. Full of salt and carbos and washed down with a litre of coke for electrolyte replacement.
Just what the doctor ordered.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Maybe a Christmas Road Trip?

Let’s do something different for Xmas this year, Adi suggested.
Well I thought, we could go out a few days before the day and spend heaps of money at some bulk chain discount store, have lunch at a crap chain food place, then jump into the silver Toyota SUV and grab a Christmas tree on the way home. That would be different. On the way home if we feel a bit stressed we could drop the kids off at some toy shop to be baby sat while we grabbed a couple of espressos, drinking thoughtfully while trying to look cool. The way we looked before we had the kids. Back when life was full of options and before we had to make sure we had the family Xmas all paid off before the new school term started. Before late Feb when we would somehow have to afford Spank and Tiffs voluntary School contributions.
No Adi corrected, let’s do something different on Xmas day, not the days before.
So I thought, we could get up early and open the presents not carefully selected from the chain stores before piling into the silver SUV for a drive to the petrol station. Porning in Dads gold watch might just about raise enough for sufficient  petrol to get around all the festive meals but don’t forget your party hat. Stuffed to the gunnels and trying to get home without becoming one of the holidays road toll,  left wondering  where the day went and why you are not ecstatic at how the day went. After all you spent enough money on it, and you’ve got a bigger SUV than everyone else you’ve managed to engage in Xmas banter.
But no, Adi was correct. A bike ride to the beach and a little picnic would not cut the mustard this year. It needed to be different. Firstly, no pressies for ourselves, we always get ourselves something. And my god I’m sure I had an SUV in the bike shed somewhere. After finding it under some cycle gear it was just a matter of dusting it off and then we could zoom out to a community lunch or dinner probably both if I could only remember where the fuel filler was located.

She needed a wash down and a wax. Best done outside the bike shed, but the only problem was that our SUV hadn’t been used for a few years (5) so I couldn’t seem to move it. The brakes had stuck on. When you have a biggish shed this is not a problem. I simply washed, waxed and hosed down the vehicle in the shed. Plenty of time to rev her up and loosen the hubs later.
Ah, she looked lovely after that polish and buff up. Let’s load her up with all the days’ stuff, stuff that we would normally not be seen dead with. Chilly bins stocked full of food and drink, BBQ clothes, beach 
clothes, sun cream, picnic chairs, folding tables…. Poor clothes so we can get into the community dinner.

Turn the key and we’re off. Isn’t that what SUV’s are supposed to do? Nothing.  Hey it’s not like this on the ads. You turn the key and then you’re on the road with the wind in your hair. Spanky and Tiff are laughing in the back and we’re all gobbling up the kilometres.  Not a sound from our SUV. But then I realise that of course, after 5 years of no use I’ll probably need to throw a new battery in there next to the engine.
 No problem Adi.
I know the battery goes in there. In that vacant space next to the engine.

But first I have to figure out where the engines gone. Two vacant spaces in the back? I’m guessing that the bigger space is where the engine goes. And I now remember that I put it over on the South side of the bike shed about 3years ago. Yup, there it is, on that bench. Its needs a spot of reassembly, but I know that it’s all there, and that it just needs to be put back together. Four or five hours tops then we’ll be off.

Christmas Eve and I need to get my head around the best place to start. The car is nice and clean, so I have made a start. It’ll all go together a lot more smoothly if I have a rum and coke, maybe two, I decide.
We’ve got to be legal this year. Can’t just go out without bothering like we did when we were 20. I’ll need to be registered, to have paid my road taxes and have my warrant of fitness. Do you need an engine for that? I doubt it, after all its just revenue gathering.
I make a mental note to book a bit of Adi’s time and the neighbours because we’ll need to push or tow the wagon down to the garage so the correct papers can be stamped, and the road taxes collected by the government.
Bugger, they’ll be closed now. What was I thinking? Public servants cease to work at least a week before Xmas. They are at their desks in body but what’s left of their mind is already on holiday.

I suggest to Adi that there are a few hiccups with doing the family SUV thing this Christmas and she reminds me why I married her 25+years ago. She’s happy to jump on her bike and go off with me for a day’s exercise and adventure. And what’s more she’ll cook me turkey and crunchy potatoes for dinner. (The potatoes usually need another 20mins or so).
Maybe we’ll get one of those 2014 VW combis for next Xmas.

Don’t be silly Niel, just a poor copy of the original.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

A New Bike and a Box of Bits.

My Adi wants a lighter long distance bike. I don’t blame her really. Her GT urban / touring bike is not the type of bike to do effortless 12hour rides on. The day after her return from an overnight ride I was asked to convert her carbon road bike into an Audax bike. Her GT was described as too heavy and too slow. Initially I thought this would be a simple enough task given that the carbon Genius had the Ultegra triple set up we wanted making for relaxed gearing ratios. However we couldn’t get the more relaxed riding position needed for a long distance bike. In addition to this the Genius had no room for fitting 25C tyres, and certainly no room for mudguards should they be needed for a long wet event.
Carbon Verses Steel. Steel Raleigh is 500g Heavier.

So it was back to the drawing board. My suggestion of using my 1980’s Raleigh Panasonic Team bike and putting all the Ultegra gear on it, with some race wheels was quickly given the thumbs down. I might be the retro man, but my Adi is firmly in the 21st century where ultra-light is right. Adi and the Panasonic would never have seen eye to eye anyway. She hated the frame colour and the Raleigh refused to accept Adi’s choice of carbon bars and stem. As far as that bike was concerned it was Cinelli bars and stem or nothing at all. I had a set of 3T bars and stem that may have been acceptable to the bike, but not to carbon minded Adi. The deal breaker came once I had fitted the Ultegra group set and ascertained that a set of narrow mudguards would work, with race brakes and 25C tyres. Adi said that she’d consider it if we repainted the frame!

Over my dead body!

So I was on the phone to Mitchell at Avanti Richmond where I work, to see if he could find any old-stock cyclo cross bike for a good price. I thought a cyclo cross bike would meet Adi’s requirements of light but strong, with low enough gears, and the clearance for long mudguards. She wanted carbon fibre but the reality of the situation was that a carbon fibre frame would not stand up well to the rigors of overseas travel, and the possible need to combine a bike tour with a long distance event like the Paris – Brest-Paris.
Loading the New Bike at Avanti Richmond. There is a BOB Trailer Under there Somewhere.

Mitchell came up trumps with an Avanti cylocross bike with alloy frame, carbon forks, Tiagra 30 speed and enough other carbon fibre to keep Adi happy. And most importantly the price was right. A couple of days later and the Mercian and I were at the bike shop for the pickup and ride home. The previous days were spent disassembling the Genius road bike and cleaning all the bits ready for either selling (to fund the Avanti) or storing. Knowing full well that today’s junk is tomorrows retro I am very hesitant at selling the Genius carbon frame and American Classic wheels that make up most of the Genius bike. The Ultegra triple and other group set parts will never leave my possession. I may be a Campag nut but I also know quality and versatility when I see it. But the wheels and frame I will begrudgingly sell to help fund Adi’s Avanti. If they don’t meet their reserve I can always peel their labels off and use them at a later date.
15kms along the Cycle way and we were Home.

All this bike building just served to distract me from my training for the Kiwi Brevet. I was supposed to go on my next overnighter this week but have, due to a chronic lack of enthusiasm, postponed it until next week. I was hoping to use a poor weather forecast as an excuse to postpone but as usual the weather was fine. My bike also badly needs a new chain and cluster along with a new large chain wheel, making for a further delay. This is a job needing to be done before I go out of town again. The chain and cluster is easily sorted through work, but the Campag chain wheel is NOS. Fancy that! I’ve been soldiering on with it and had promised the Mercian a new one if it got me across Canada. It did, and I’m still using it.
Assembly in the Bike Shed.

While climbing out of the saddle today in the big ring the chain decided that it would rather be in the small chain ring and promptly went there. This action nearly had my nuts on the crossbar. At my age I don’t care too much about not having children, convinced even that it was the best decision of my life. I don’t however want to suffer the pain of doing my nuts in on the crossbar just because I was too tight to change my crank set. So it was down to the bike shed to put on one of the 4 pre loved sets that I have horded in my used but lovely Chain wheel set area. And could you believe it, none of them would fit without altering the bottom bracket bearing ! Bugger. After trying all my pre loved bearings I had to admit defeat or put on a Jap crank set. Shimano / Sugino both stored for a rainy day might be nice, but not on my Mercian.
More Bike bits.

Having found a near new / used ring on line, tomorrow will see if my bid will be successful and my nuts will be out of danger. Otherwise I can re jig bottom brackets to fit one of the others in the shed or rob Fort Knocks and buy a new carbon triple chain wheel set from Campag. , Then, in three years’ time, I would be looking for replacement chain rings for that on eBay. I may wait for a couple of years and buy the whole thing on eBay / Trade Me for a song.
So many options for the Campag enthusiast. But life would be easier if cycle component manufacturers produced stuff for more than 12 months before deeming them to be obsolete.

Adi is so happy with her new Avanti Audax that she thinks I should get a something similar and two time on my Mercian. A subject we were discussing while riding the local cycleway a couple of days ago. I couldn’t cover my ears while cycling so had to find some other distraction to make her desist from tempting me (La la la.. I’m not listening). Coming around a corner there was a seal sunning itself on the track. Cute seal, problem solved.
Relaxing on the Cycle way.

I may have a whole shed full of bike stuff, but there can only be one bike for me. Me and my M.U.M (Mercian urban machine) do everything together. I’d have been lost in the Andes or some similar hostile spot if it wasn’t for my MUM. Everything I own in the bike shed is just a spare part for my bike. I can’t say that I’m not tempted at times. I’ve ridden plenty of the latest models through work. And nice as they are I can’t imagine spending a lot of time on them myself.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The 2014 Kiwi Brevet.

My Adi had planned an overnight cycle ride this week, and I had planned a couple of days of.. Not much while she was away. Just a day away from her planned departure and she hadn’t made any moves towards cleaning her bike or testing how all the essentials would fit in her bags. So I assumed that my couple of slothful bachelor days were in jeopardy.
Thinking that she may not go and that I would have to spend the night watching’ Lord of the Rings’ or ‘The Biggest Loser’ once again on TV I suggested that I could ride the first part with her. Just to see her on her way so to speak. This seemed to work a treat, with her now expected off to be at 8am sharp the next day. Just what ‘Niel the Wheel’ loves, early starts.

One of the Family got to Sleep In.

O’well I thought. I could be back by early afternoon, have a shower, peg out until dinner time, throw a steak and chips on then settle down to a Matt Damon movie, bliss. I might even tinker with my bike in the lounge. I might even leave it there all night so that I can continue tinkering on it in the morning. I’ll have a leisurely breakfast dining on porridge made the way I like it with lashings of cream and sugar. Premixed with salt of course.
The next day at the 70km mark, Adi goes left into a howling headwind towards Renwick another 100kms away (poor thing), and I should have turned around and gone home, job done. But do I? No I don’t. I didn’t because after you have spent 4 hours cycling up to 700mtrs, and you have the option of another way home, a route that offers more tail wind, two stops for coke and ice-cream, no traffic to speak of and a bit of Bianca Strada thrown in for good measure, what real cyclist could say no?
Not me. And to top it all off I had only myself for company!. There’s always a down side and it wasn’t the company but the fact that a quick calculation had the proposed circuit at 220kms and at some point I’d be sticking my nose into a pretty solid northerly wind. I thought I’d ponder on it at the local store while sipping Coke and eating a filled roll. My fate was sealed when the nice petrol pump / tea lady asked me where I was cycling and I blew my own trumpet by throwing the toughest circuit out there and then adding that I would be home before dark and would probably save at least two distressed animals along the way.

Clearly I couldn’t then just go home, and besides I’d bought too much coke and filled rolls so had to do the full ride or end up coming back 2kilos heavier than when I started.
I won’t bore you with the trip except to say it was everything I expected. Gravel road, headwind, back-country New Zealand. Scenically very pretty, but where does everyone go during the week out there? Nobody to be seen working on the land, no tractors in the fields, no kids being chased by magpies. Tadmor would make a good backdrop for an apocalypse movie. You would have to add a few corpses here and there, otherwise everything else would suffice. No chance for a coffee inTadmor for two reasons, the first being that if I took the time to billy up myself I was worried that I would be riding home in the dark , and secondly the town café looked like it had closed 20years ago. And unlike an American café that is still operating but only looks like it closed 20years ago, Tadmor store really did close 20years ago. The railway line, still visible in places as an outline across the paddocks closed a good deal longer ago than that. And I think the town may still be trying to recover. A lick of paint on some of the dwellings and an extended session with the weed eater might cheer the place up a bit.

Railway Platform Now Abandoned.

At the end of the day I did get home ½ an hour before sunset having ridden 220kms, and having not saved any cute animals, and after carrying my rattily cooker ‘Ken ‘and mug all the way without the time available to use him. I was happy with the mileage but the lack of coffee thing sucked.
The radio tells me its Christmas in less than a month and I can’t believe that for the first year that I can remember I haven’t organised my Christmas present! I can’t even think of anything I want. This is not good as I should be ordering it by now. It’s no big deal though, I’ll just postpone Christmas until I can think of something.
In the mean time until Christmas happens for me around here, I have got my summer cycling sorted. I knew that deep down I must be training for something with these long rides and overnighters, and it’s come to me! With the help of my workmate at the bike shop (who we will call Mitchell) I have decided to enter the Kiwi Brevet 2014 event.
 This is an 1100km ride on backcountry roads around the top of New Zealand’s South Island. Mitchell thought it would be good for me, and bless his sole has offered to swap days with me at the bike shop so that I can have the 5 to 6 days off that I will need to complete the event. It will be a bit longer for me because I’ll have to ride the 125kms to the start/Finish and the same distance home afterwards. I do know a few other people doing it and would consider bludging a lift if they didn’t already know that I get great pleasure in making derogatory comments regarding vehicle support.
Instead I will ask them all if they want to ride over to the start as a bunch and then make derogatory comments about vehicle support when they tell me they will be driving there. Note to self. Don’t miss the start Niel.

It's Hard to Improve on Perfection ,but for the Brevet, Maybe My Small Front Carrier.

So I now have two more overnighters planned in order to hone myself up for the event and to recky parts of the off road sections of the course. This event should really set me up for the summer and hopefully make qualifying for the Paris- Brest- Paris event easier next year.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Fried Sausages.

As expected, preparation for my overnighter went well right up until I had to get out of bed in the morning. The minimal gear was loaded into my rear saddle bag the night before and I dispensed with the front rack and merely strapped the tent on top of the saddle bag. I was a little concerned as to whether the stainless steel bag support could handle all this but put it out of my mind being more worried in the end as to where I would fit my eight fried sausages.
First Step. Clean the Mercian.

There is no way I would start on this proposed route without my fried sausages because there are no services until the 130km mark and this combined with the fact that the first 70kms are all uphill could lead to a hungry and grumpy ‘Niel the Wheel’ should he not have bangers and coke on-board. One drink bottle of Coca Cola and one drink bottle of water. Ample to get me up to 200kms in the hottest of conditions. And I threw in some Whitakers chocolate for good measure. A bit like Cadbury’s chocolate but with actual chocolate under the wrapper.

The Easy Part. Getting Ready the Night Before.

So a seven am start was decided by myself and the alarm set. I managed to have a troubled sleep not wanting to go cycling after all and managed to drag myself out of bed by seven .I was leaning on the toilet gazing absent mindedly into space by 7,05am, porridge in my tummy by 7.20am and then out the door bang on 8am.
Perfect. I know myself so well that the ruse of a seven start had fooled myself into starting at 8am which should give me the correct amount of time to get all the hills out of the way by lunch time.
Three sausages for lunch and 400mls of Coke. Seventy kilometres down and it looked like only 100kms to my destination for the day. I had five fried sausages, 200mls of Coke and a full drink bottle of water left. Plenty and that didn’t include the chocolate. I’d have to be desperate to eat that chocolate during the ride as I had told myself that it would be far nicer to saviour it in the tent at night.
Get Ya Sausages Down Niel.

I started this last 100kms with a light headwind but as time went on the wind got stronger. Two hours down the road and I was fighting a wicked headwind. Sick of the monotony of it I took shelter in an old shed and ate two more sausages and drank the last of the coke all washed down with a bit of water. Feeling a might sick of sausages by this stage I got back on the bike to polish off the last thirty kms into the dry wind. A further hour down the road I was overtaken by an orchard worker riding a bike, so felt I needed to force down sausage number six and a bit of water.
A Man and His Bike. What More Could You Want? Well, Maybe a Tail Wind.

A Kids bus Shelter. I Should Note all these Down for Future Audax Events.

After seventy kilometres of uphill and then another one hundred kilometres of, in my face wind pounding, I was happy to pull into Spring creek camping ground, throw up my tent and head over to the fish & chip shop.
“Two fish, two hot dogs and a scoop of chips thanks”.
Two hot dogs? What was I thinking? I managed to eat the fish and chips but couldn’t get through another two sausages even though they were battered and delectably salty.
In the tent that night I realised that I still had 2 tin foil wrapped sausages left. Adi had gone to a lot of trouble to boil, fry and wrap those little buggers but my dilemma was whether they would be safe to eat the next day. I had carried them all day in my jersey pocket. They would have been incubating at body temperature for over 12 hours. I should eat them in the tent that night, but I really needed them for breakfast. These challenges are sent to test the long distance cyclist. Reasoned decisions need to be made.
I couldn’t actually face another sausage so I ate chocolate that night in the tent and had the bangers for breakfast. Let the bacteria do their worst. It couldn’t be any worse than some of the Bolivian chicken I’d consumed on a previous trip.
I actually didn’t sleep well in the tent as it was a cold night and I hadn’t packed a sleeping mat. My pillow was great, no complaints about the sleeping bag or liner, but not only was I frozen from the ground up but I had sore hip bones from the hard ground. The Blenheim area must not have had enough spring rain for the soil to be that hard. That aside I was up bright and early at 10am for the return 170kms through the Marlborough Sounds and back to Nelson.
Homeward Bound.

A meat pie was put away for lunch and an ice-cream for afternoon tea. Things got even better than that as the light tail wind morphed into something pretty decent. I had sufficient energy to shout derogatory comments at the numerous trunk drivers on this section of the road and make up little ditties about lard arse motorists and shuttled school kids.
And to top it all off I was home at 6pm to catch the day’s news on TV.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Audax UK.

It’s here!

I am now a member of the Audax UK club. I have perused the handbook for 2013 and am ready to begin my training for the Paris-Brest- Paris.
My mudguards have been shined and my Mercian has been fitted with quick release type bolts so that I can attach the guards as the weather dictates. My entry pack contained AUK stickers. They looked like mudguard stickers so that’s where they went. One on the front and one on the rear. Tis a pity that few cyclists in New Zealand will have any idea what the Audax UK club is about. But there you go; it’s not up to me to educate the weekend warriors.

Campag Quick Bolts for Mudguards.

Today I have spent some time cleaning my bike after the last few weeks of long day rides with Adi. Tonight I will fit my front carrier and tomorrow I plan to head off on an overnighter that will have me riding two 200km days around a circuit that I’ve completed in previous years sometimes supported but usually by camping somewhere along the way. All my gear should fit in the saddlebag except my tent which will need to be strapped to the small front carrier.

I put this ride off last week because I was called into the bike shop to cover one of the guys while he supported his wife in the maternity ward. But this week the weather looks good. All I have to do is drag my arse out of bed at 7am tomorrow morning and be out the door by 8am. I will tell myself that this is extremely important because the only fish and chip shop on route is at 180km and if I don’t get there by 6.30pm it could be closed.

My brain is like a sponge and I have learnt from the AUK magazine that long distance cyclists like fish and chips. So I will eat fish and chips. I have also learnt that after a good days ride you don’t want to miss dinner as it doesn’t bode well for the next day’s ride. By 8.30pm I want to be at the campground with a full stomach, a drink in hand, and my tent up.

This will be a solo overnight as Adi is going to hold the fort while I am gone. She intends to do a local day ride of 200kms. Frankly her plan of cycling 100kms and returning home for lunch before then cycling another 100kms in the afternoon seems like a pretty tough mental challenge to me. Once home there would be no way I could motivate myself to go out again in the afternoon. I’m more of the drop me a long way from home with no bus money and I’ll happily cycle home type of a guy. Adi’s other plan is to do my 400km circuit ride next week, when I will be the emergency backup back at home. I particularly like this way of doing overnighters because I can ride at my own pace and eat all the rubbish food I like. I’m hoping to encourage one or two of my friends from the bike shop scene along on future rides. (That’s providing they can find a bike capable of carrying a bit of overnight kit). We will see. Last year Andy came with me and seemed to enjoy it? This year he is somewhat busy having bought the bike shop that I used to part-time in. Owning a bike shop has always appealed until I think about how much cycling I could do around work and realise it would be a big fat zero.

There she is ‘ready for the off’ as the UK types in the magazine would say. I’m not sure whether the bag support can handle all that?

On a Ride the other Day. My Sort of People.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

A New Focus.

So we have been back from Canada for a number of months and I haven't until now put pen to paper. While away I was blogging every few days and I suppose I needed a bit of time to get over the tour across the Canada's, a chance to clear my head before detailing day to day events again.
My head for writing may have temporarily left me, but my enthusiasm for the bike certainly hasn't this time around. While away I decided that I would definitely focus on long distance cycling on my return. I decided that I would make my new priority the Paris-Brest-Paris event in 2015 and I have put the ball in motion since I have been back to slowly get myself ready for that.
Initially on our return a number of important issues needed to be addressed. Firstly and fore mostly I needed to confirm that Mike & Joe at 'Avanti Richmond' still wanted me to work in the weekends. Cycle touring may be a thrifty form of holiday travel but 2 1/2 months living overseas still doesn't come that cheaply, so we needed an income on our return to pay it all off. Adi's bosses also needed her back so kindly re employed her. My beloved Mercian and Ken the cooker were next on my list for 'not negotiable' attention. Ken needed his third leg re brazed on, and the Mercian needed a new set of retro campag wheels constructed to replace the ones that self destructed in New Hampshire. I think it's important when running a retro everything machine , that you have at least 4 sets of wheels available at all times. Well actually its best with retro bikes to have n +1 +?. Where n is the part required on the bike for its operation plus another identical or better part in the bike shed. ? is another part that will do the job currently being searched for on line because you can never get what you need straight away. And frankly, lets face it, its fun searching and bidding for these priceless treasures.
Isn't it a funny thing that women really don't seem to understand this. And I can tell you that when my Adi reads this she will immediately think, that, because I'm "wasting all this spare change on old bike parts" that she can then justify tripling her contribution to the SPCA or Soi. dog in Vietnam.
Do our non fanatical biking partners not realise that we need these choice parts and not so choice parts to keep our and their bikes going!
Of course this reminded me that Adi's back wheel had fallen to bits in mid Canada as well, taking a lovely retro Italian rim with it. So I rebuilt her another set on our return.( But not Italian for her this time.)
Hey, hey , don't you think that. Its just that Italian is wasted on Adi, she really doesn't care. Shimano will do her proud.
Spring Festival Time.

Once again I digress. I decided while cycling each day in Canada that upon my return I would not only start doing longer rides but that I would join the Audax UK club, Kiwi Randonneur Club and the local cycle racing club, (Tasman Wheelers). I wanted to join AUK because they have a magazine, a wealth of knowledge and most importantly a long list of badges that I can somehow go for. This was important to me because in my younger days I must have been the only boy cub or scout that never got a badge. My crowning achievement coming not in the scouts but in of all things swimming club where I was awarded my aqua bear 1 badge for putting my head under without drowning. ( I since left that club without ever learning to swim). Later towards the end of my time in scouts I do recall getting a first Aid badge for putting a medical kit together.

Just in case anyone is wondering, the wet mark on the concrete is from me rinsing my mug.This randonneuring is thirsty work.

I will tell you now that I am committed to putting that embarrassment behind me by going for every conceivable cycling distance in the Audax UK club and achieving it. I will collect those badges and proudly peruse them when I know non of my cycle racing friends are looking.
Which brings me to why I have decided to re join the Tasman Wheelers. The bottom line here is that 'I miss them'. I've been out of the club for probably 7-8 years and I feel like I'm losing touch with the good old local roadies. It's true that most of them are totally dependent upon their cars, are never found cycling more than 50kms from the centre of town, and think that if they were to cycle on gravel road the metal could open up and they would never be seen again. But they are passionate about cycling in their own way and know how to suffer on a bike as long as the weathers fine, there aren't too many hills and they can drive home afterwards and have a hot shower and a glass of wine. And there's nothing wrong with that.
So I will race with them on my Adi's road bike. A bike that I will probably never mention again since it is made from some form of plastic fibre. A bike put together by someone who couldn't care less about cycling, in a country that regards cycling as something that only poor peasants now do. A country that will measure its wealth by how many citizen's can afford a car and the time to sit in gridlock for hours each day while breathing everyone else's exhaust fumes.
By Jove's it is easy to pedal though, and it would be pretty easy to justify cheating on my Mercian once a week if I could afford an Italian one. But if I ride my Adi's one its not like cheating at all because its not mine and I have no emotional attachment to it. The racing should also help my PBP preparation as I will have reason to shave my legs thus reducing drag over long distances.
I am joining the Kiwi Randonneurs club simply because its there, and I will need to complete a number of their long distance events to qualify for entry to the PBP 2015. I cant get badges from them and they have no magazine. In fact I'm under no illusion that on a number of the events I enter next year  may only have Adi and myself in them.

Look. No Batteries...
and 94% correct.

In true retro long distance style, I have my weather station out each morning and upon dialling a favourable daily forecast have already notched up a few 170km rides
Made in the UK. Hence a lot of Predictions involve Rain.

So there you have it to date. A new quest is on the horizon and I will blog as I go. 2015 hopefully will see me qualified and heading for Paris to compete. And being in the Antipodes, such a long way from Paris, means that I wont go all the way there just to do PBP. No. A tour of the Baltic beforehand might be the go. Nothing like a decent tour before the event to knock you into shape. Maybe up to the Arctic and cycle to Paris??

In the next week or so those Brits at AUK should get around to sending Adi and my entry pack out and I can study all the rules and regs set out in the Audax handbook. I will swear my allegiance to The Queen, Country and riding my bike over great distances unsupported. I will promise at all times to have my mudguards properly fitted and not to ever swear at an old person.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Le Grand Arrivee'.

That’s it then.

The cycle computer clicks over to 7350kms and its all over. And I can’t say that it is a day too soon. There comes a time when you are sick of getting up each day and packing away all your stuff, taking down the tent and eating canned fruit and yogurt for breakfast. Only to have to get it all out again 130kms up the road, put up the tent and then repeat all those repetitive tasks that are the backbone of organised cycle touring. You have to be organised to ride across a continent as large as this negotiating all the hiccups along the way, never resorting to taking a vehicle ride and still managing to get to the end in time to catch your flight home. But for me I know that 6 weeks is generally enough.  The problem is that at times countries / continents are more than a 6 week trek across.

Halifax Harbour.
This will be my last post on this adventure. Adi and I are at the Halifax International airport and importantly not only are we still talking too each other but I know that there aren’t many women out there that could do what she has done in the last 9 weeks and still have the strength to lift their 23kg bike bag onto the scales at check-in. I’m certainly lucky to have nabbed her when I did back in 1983 and to have had so many cycle adventures together.

If there was a pedestal at the airport and a medal I’d stand her on it and take her picture. Then post it on the social media sites like all the others you see.  But you don’t get medals or grand publicity for this sort of achievement and perhaps that’s the way I like it. It will be a sad day when cycle touring joins that sort of circus.

But once again Adi, because I know you will read this, welcome to the transcontinental cycle club. No medals but you certainly deserve one.

O and what are we having for dinner tonight.

We confirmed our flights yesterday and were told we will have to pay an additional $50 dollars bike handling fee for each bike, surprise surprise. But what wasn’t anticipated was to find airport security busy trying to load the bikes into a van when we left the terminal building for the ride back to the airport motel.  Their dastardly plan was foiled by the weight of the bikes and gear and their lack of understanding on the dynamics of a fully loaded touring bike. They couldn’t make the quick getaway they normally would with a passenger’s baggage and had to admit defeat and tell us to ‘just not do it again’.

So that’s about it.

Back home to the more comfortable routine of home improvements, bike shop work, and because the Paris-Brest –Paris is on the horizon, a bit of randoneuring and racing.

I will need a racing bike!

I think maybe my retro Raleigh Panasonic with a new Shimano Dura-Ace groupset. (Hope the bike shop will take me back.)

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The Atlantic !

Day 61ish.

So what’s been happening?

I rushed off to the bike shop in Brewer Maine to get a freewheel cassette and chain while Adi got ready for our 150km day to the coast. There were no problems there and I arrived back at the motel about 9.30am, put the chain and freewheel onto my bike and we were away by 10am. I have to say that I was concerned that some other problem would immediately appear with the bike so for the first 20km or so I took it very easy on the Mercian. We encounted a tail wind, but also according to Adi very hilly terrain in the afternoon. I didn’t notice as I was fully concentrating on cycle problems that could occur. After lunch my front gear cable parted company from the derailleur and Adi’s rear pulley wheels started clicking a bit, but neither problem delayed us.

By the end of the day though it was clear that we would not make the distance as it was very hilly and temps were up near 30C. An hour before dark Adi said that she had had enough and we freedom camped in a rest area. (The first official freedom camp of the trip.) Dinner consisted of a couple of filled rolls we had over from lunch and M& M cookies.

Ken was not working well and boiling the stream water for a coffee took seemingly forever while we were bitten alive by mozzies. Adi suggested that Ken’s jet was probably blocked, which I initially poo pooed, thinking that the problem lay elsewhere.

Later though I removed the jet and cleaned it. She was off course correct. Always check the obvious things first. Ken worked well for our breakfast coffee / tea.

Sort of. More a Tidal Estuary.
We were on our bikes reasonably early keen to finally see the coast and Atlantic. We were also keen to leave Maine USA and finally cross back into Canada and New Brunswick. Later after surrendering our US visas to, surprise surprise, a friendly US customs man, we were once again in Canada. There was still no sign of the elusive Atlantic as we headed up the coast towards St John.  Once again we couldn’t make the distance with Adi feeling suddenly ill. (My guess due to not heating the river water properly the night before.)  We shouted ourselves to a proper restaurant meal at premises in St George and finally, ON THE COAST.

The Bay of Fundy. Technically the Atlantic Coast. But Not Halifax Yet.
Five kilometres on we had the tent up in the provincial park campgrounds and I had replaced Ken’s jet with another new one from the spare primus parts I had in the tool kit. And wow what a difference! I should have put a new jet in him at the beginning of the trip! Rocket man.  Adi however wasn’t feeling as chirper as Ken, still suffering from a touch of food poisoning.

And now, the next day, I sit typing this up on the ferry crossing the Bay of Fundy from St John New Brunswick to Digby in Nova Scotia. This marks the beginning of the final day and a half of cycling to Halifax where we can look out at the Atlantic and know that the next point of land would be Ireland.

Eastwards towards Nova Scotia.
In 2007 when we cycled around Ireland we looked across the Atlantic westwards and wondered what Nova Scotia would be like. And now we are about to find out.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Bad Fairies Wont Leave the Bikes Alone.

Day 60 & 61.

The bad fairies will not leave the bikes alone at the moment. Having fixed Adi’s rear wheel and re gigging the trip so that we could reach Halifax in time to catch our flight home, we were on the bikes again. Confident that if we could do 150km days, we would be ok, and even have a day off in Halifax to look around and clean the gear for the flight home.

It was into the White Mountains. These are the last mountains separating us from the coast, and our view of the Atlantic that we have waited so long to see. The weather has been good and the terrain is easily negotiable, although Adi has had to toughen up a bit as the new freewheel that I put on her bike( with her new wheel) is higher geared than her last.

The White Mountain, New Hampshire/ Maine.
This is moose country and Adi has been scanning the forests at the side of the road for a sighting, to no avail. No moosees have been spotted. It’s good to be in the mountains proper again and the villages are almost European, at a stretch. Mount Washington slid by on the right and we started a slow descent eastwards. The evenings here are closing in and we are not yet at Atlantic Time, which starts when we leave Maine and cross into Canada again. Because we are doing longish days on the bike, and because I find it hard to get on the road before 9am, I have devised ‘ Adi & Niel the Wheel time’, and have put our clocks forward an hour anyway.

‘Niel the wheel time’ worked beautifully this morning, getting us away early and giving us an extra hours daylight at the end.

We needed the extra time today when bad karma struck the bikes again. This time to my beloved Mercian. My back wheel started to make the odd noise and on checking I noticed that the bearings were slightly loose. I was too lazy to tighten the cones on the road but did tighten the skewer tension to take the play out a bit. Vowing to tighten it up at camp tonight I carried on. As the day progressed the more bearing noise developed along with a notable rumble. Convinced that I would need to strip it apart and renew the cones or bearings I readied myself for this at camp. (No prob as I carry a complete rear axle kit and bearings).

Yes, Fixing Bikes in Motels Again. Well it Beats Doing it at McDonalds.
By the next 30kms things were sounding so bad in the rear end dept. that I told Adi that we had better look for a cheap motel and cut the day short.

I write this in the motel having stripped the hub down to find that the internal hub race has collapsed and the hub is essentially stuffed. New bearings, axle and cones won’t help this baby and it won’t go another 10kms in this state. It was lucky we stopped or it would be a long walk in the countryside.

One Dead Hub, in Improvised Bike Workshop.
What is even luckier for me, and not so good for the bad fairies plaguing the bikes, is that I have Adi’s old hub from the other days repair and all her spokes. So tonight I will build her old hub into my still ok rear rim with her old spokes and then all I need to find tomorrow is a freewheel and chain to replace my screw on one. We can’t afford any more down time. We have to fix it and do a 150km day tomorrow.

And all going well we will also see the Atlantic.  There are only four days of cycling separating us from the end. The bikes may drag themselves in but I’m sure mechanicals won’t stop us.
ps. That is not a motel towel under my wheel but a motel rag. ie some motorbiker had destroyed it before me and the motel offered it to me so I wouldn't do likewise.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Bang! Then Adi's Back Wheel was History.

Day 58 & 59.

Cycling through Vermont is a pleasant experience. The roads are quiet and the shoulder good. But most importantly the scenery is good. Historic towns and rich farm lands. By lunch time we had reached the capital of Vermont. Another lovely little town and full of great places I thought for a bagel or two with my coffee. We cycled past all the down town trendy cafes and finally stopped into a bagel and sandwich place on the eastern side of town.

Vermont has Choice Cycling.
Dark clouds formed overhead and while we enjoyed cream cheese bagels it poured down outside. I had been told that Vermont was full of interesting people and so I wasn’t totally surprised to overhear two seemingly normal guys at the table nearby talking about the concept of producing robots with human like intelligence. In fact the guts of the conversation was about planting your own mind into a robot so that you could live forever. They then started going on about their star signs and other out of this world mumbo jumbo in complete seriousness.

While this was going on an odd looking fellow started playing on the piano at high volume and the woman at the opposite table began berating her daughter who looked more like her sister, for spilling her drink all over the table and floor.

Piano man then stopped playing and started talking to some strangers, who had just come in, about how he had got a calling at home to contact certain individuals. But the interesting thing for him seemed to be that the message he received had not come via the internet but by some means of telekinesis.

The rain had stopped by this stage and starting to fear that I was losing my own mind I suggested to Adi that we leave.

It stayed fine for about an hour and then it poured again. Two hours later it was easing of but we were soaked.

The Courier has Turned up with Adi's New Wheel.

With only about a week and a half to go before we get to Halifax I thought that we had the Across Canada thing pretty well sewn up. Things however have suddenly got a bit challenging for both of us. The first challenge presented itself last night when doodling on the internet I decided to check out our ferry across the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia. The ferry it seems was cancelled a couple of years ago by the Nova Scotia authorities in order to save money. Nova Scotia is somewhat insolvent it seems. Anyway this revelation had Adi frantically re plotting our route so that we could still make Halifax for our flight.

Proud of ourselves for catching this potential disaster and sorting it out quickly with a few longer days and another ferry crossing higher up the bay, we were then thrown another curve ball today as Adi started down a hill only to have her rear rim part company from itself and the tyre then to blow out with a bang. I was ahead at the time and having been notified by a motorist that Adi was in trouble, I cycled back up the hill to find the damage un repairable.

Adi gratuitously accepted a lift to the next town where we got a motel and I had my night of trying to figure out how to proceed from here. In the end the next day I got on my bike and cycled the 35kms to the nearest bike shop where I bought a new rear wheel/ cluster and chain. A quick chat to the mechanics at the shop and then I cycled back to Adi , put the whole thing together outside the local McDonalds and then we both cycled back east to Littleton, New Hampshire again.

Time at Camp to Save the Old Hub and Spokes.
A nice 100km day for me and a challenge along the way. Adi’s bike is once again running smoothly and in the time she had sitting around she has re-gigged  the route again so that we make the plane and do not have to spend the rest of our lives in Nova Scotia. (Once we finally get there.)

Tomorrow we continue to head towards the coast and cross the White Mountains in lovely New Hampshire.


Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Hooked on Coffee and Bagels.

Day 54.

I’ve had enough fun now, can I go home?

No, O’well , please pass the M & Ms.

 Today started as a relaxing ride further along the coast of Lake Ontario. The day dawned with a clear sky and little wind, the expected storm not materialising last night. One hundred and fifty kilometres of bliss was rudely interrupted at the 70km mark when we went off course in Rochester NY. Rochester looked on paper easy enough to negotiate. The town was about the size of Palmerston North and our route went through the Northern edge.

Having lost our route and ending up in a pretty rough part of town I decided to work on getting through town using the compass. I put my head down and went east. Things continued to look rough enough for me to grade these suburbs as a 6.5/10. I would rate a 1/10 the sort of place where little girls with pig tails are running down the street with their pet puppy and shout hello to you as you sail by. I’ve never encountered anything worse than a 6/10 in New Zealand. And have only ever encounted a 7.5/10 when cycling in Lima Peru. That particular area of Lima I struck on dark, and was so potentially damaging to my health that I decided to stay the night in a hooker’s hotel, before I was mugged on the street. The next morning once I had plucked up the courage to go out it had improved to a 7/10 and I got out alive.

North Rochester continued to look bad, when Adi suggested we stop and check the map! Stop and check the map!!  What’s with that girl? We did have to stop at the odd street light and it was at one of these that a very pretty woman wished me a safe journey. Her actual words were “Go Safely” which was very nice but didn’t ease my mind much.

Anyway the compass never lets me down and we emerged on the other side of town alive and once again wondering how quickly the neighbourhoods can change in some towns.

It was a warm day today and humid. Thirty kilometres from our destination of Woollcott NY we rode straight into a fierce down pour that would have had us running for cover, had it not been getting late. No time for mucking about, no time for jackets. Once again, head down and bum up until we were through it.

Day 55.

I woke up this morning to find that my front low-rider pannier rack had broken. I really have had enough of panniers. They are good to ride with and you can balance the load well with four of them but on the down side they really can’t handle anywhere near the punishment that a BOB trailer can. This tour has been gentle in comparison to some of the journeys I have undertaken and yet both my front and rear racks have failed.  In future I will pay the extra on the plane to bring the BOB and then the worries will be over. In the mean time we have about 1300kms to go and I can fix the rack temporarily with wire from the awesome tool kit I have on board. That is the awesome tool kit that is so comprehensive that it has hastened the demise of the rack supporting it.

Adi awoke to find that she has lost her bike lock. It must have fallen out of her bag along the route yesterday. That’s really not a problem as there are more serious things she could have lost. But it has annoyed her and when she spotted a bike shop at lunch time she went in to buy a new combination lock similar to mine.

A Last Look at Lake Ontario.
It’s now 5pm and we sit outside an ice-cream shop trying to pick the combination on Adi’s new lock. Like a couple of beginners we have managed to lock her new combo lock without first noting the combination!  I take 70% of the blame for this. Well ok maybe 90%. She was having trouble with it so I did the male thing and grabbed it off her, since I assumed it would work just like mine. Well it looks a bit like mine but it doesn’t work like mine. I think she needs to accept some blame as she managed on opening the packet to obliterate the only English section on the extensive instructions. The bit that describes how to reset from the manufacturers no.

A wasted middle age around bike shops has taught me how to pick Chinese combination locks and within 15minutes I had it open, only to lock it again without first noting what hidden number some Chinese factory worker had set it too.

Getting better with the practise, the next time I had it open in 10minutes and had finally identified what the little scoundrel opened on. Nothing like what the French instructions said that it should open on. And for the life of me I couldn’t work out how to reset it.

At this point Adi rightfully grabbed it off me and said she’d use it on the number that Ying Shu Ping the 4th had set it to.

Day 56.


I have found myself in a Subway for lunch. Having fielded a couple of “Where ya going, Where ya cum froms? at the door and one Asian man with his family asking me directions to something. I now have to take a deep breath before I go through the hundred question ritual that Subway insists on in order to get my sandwich.

I only had one question to ask the Asian man outside Subway. And that was, “what on earth makes you think that I could anyway be a local dressed as I am in New Zealand cycling clothes and pushing a fully loaded touring bike onto the pavement?”

Once I’d run the gauntlet at the Subway counter and received my sandwich the counter man said that he could tell I was an Aussie by my accent and that he used to be in the navy on submarines. He had visited many countries including Aussie and NZ. Somehow I think it unlikely that he had visited NZ on a Sub but there you go. He certainly seemed to know all there was to know about Subs of one form or another.

I still rate Subway only slightly higher up the ladder than Pizza Hut. This was confirmed when he told me that they had run out of coffee for the day. (What sort of an establishment runs out of coffee in the US?!)  I have become quite addicted to coffee over here as it’s as cheap as chips and unlike soda pop I can limit the amount of sugar I put in it.

It is good to know that once the armed forces personnel have got sick of whatever they do that there are useful jobs available to them.

Day 57.

Leaving Tupper Lake, NY I was saddened to see that a lot of average country people have ride on mowers parked outside their homes. These mowers quite honestly look more valuable than the dwellings that these people live in. And I think I can safely say that if you see someone mowing their lawn in the US with a push rotary mower, then they must really be on the bones of their ass financially. Cycling by we saw one couple virtually in tears because their ride on mower had broken down, and I think from the look of their house they won’t be able to re finance to get another one. Just as they were contemplating how they were going to survive without a ride on mower a monstrous army helicopter zoomed over the house while on manoeuvres in the area. An army helicopter, that if sold on eBay, would probably get 1000 people off the poverty line. Friday seems to be ride on mower day, and you see amply cushioned men and women out all over the place mowing grass. Sit on Mowing seems to carry on throughout the weekend and I really think it must rate as a no.1. National pass time. It doesn’t seem that great for the waist line but it certainly keeps people focused.

Day 58.                    Burlington, Vermont.

One hour on the toll ferry and we were across Champain Lake and into Vermont. Burlington is our last largish town before Halifax, Nova Scotia. So we have taken a day off here for rest and relaxation. A visit downtown to look around and do a little shopping was relaxing for me but certainly not for the locals while I was there. Minding my own business while pushing my bike through the boutique area I was surprised when the couple pushing their racing cycles behind me had a mishap when one of their high pressure bike tyres exploded.

Well! What a bang. It must have been pumped to 160psi. What a pop!

The result in the built up street was priceless. While ‘Niel the Wheel’ is thinking W the F, the locals are in near panic mode. Mothers grabbing kids, others shout to friends to just keep walking quickly. Fortunately for me the shop I wanted to go into, busy a minute before, emptied quickly and I cruised in once locking M.U.M to a post outside. The whole trip has been very convenient like that, and what weekend warriors need with ultra-high pressure tubulars anyway is beyond me.

The First Signs of Autumn Colours
Tomorrow, and the last push towards the Atlantic and then up the coast of Nova Scotia to Halifax.