Planning a California Road Bike Trip
July 13, 2006 11:55 PM   Subscribe

California or southwest geography buffs -- a great 200 miles of travel, starting within a day's drive of San Francisco? Road bike tourers -- tips on preparing for and planning a bicycle tour?

I've never done any sort of touring before, so please excuse the scattershot grouping of questions here. Any kind of feedback or tips you can give me are great.

I'm taking a week off, so I'll be leaving San Francisco on Day 1 by bus, train, or my own car. I want to get myself somehow out of the Bay Area. From there, I'll road bike for about five days, then get back to San Francisco by Day 7 to return to work the next day. I hear that a good travel estimate is about 40-50 miles a day? So, I'm trying to find around 200 miles of nice travel. Any suggestions you have on a route would be great.

My best idea for the route so far is this, down the eastern side of the Sierras -- start in the South Lake Tahoe area, head south on 395 to Mono Lake, past Lee Vining (just east of Yosemite), to Mammoth, to Bishop, to Lone Pine, then spend a day tooling around Death Valley -- July's the best time to visit, right? ;) What do you think about that? Too far to go in 5 days? Stop earlier and take side trips (like what)?

A better stretch of road? I really like being in sagebrush country, and the open views you get in the desert at night, so I wouldn't want to be nestled in the woods the whole time. (My total dream ride would from Moab to Taos via Shiprock. But I can't pull that off in 7 days -- the nearest airports are in Salt Lake and Albuquerque.) I thought about something in the Mojave, if there were anything high altitude enough to be tolerable (??), or something headed north on the eastern side of the Sierras... but I don't know much about those areas. I don't mind heat, but obviously, there's a certain limit where everything is too baked and glaring to even be tolerable. I'm not really interested in the coast, the Bay Area oak woodlands, the Central Valley, or the Trinity Alps / Mt. Shasta area.

Good sources for non-highway road routes? How have you planned your camping locations for bike trips? The best I've found so far are these journals.

Route aside, I'm trying to pull together a touring setup and the gear I'll need super quickly. I have a road bike without those eyelets for pannier racks, so I'm choosing between alternative rack setups or a bike trailer. The trailer seems dorky and unwieldy, but the bike store clerk thought they were great.

I'm planning to go as light as I can while still camping out -- no cooking gear (almonds, dried fruit, whatever I find at markets); a sleeping bag, ground pad, and tarp in case of rain; basic clothes; and basic bike repair stuff. I've done a lot of camping, but no bike touring. Any especially helpful bike gear I might otherwise forget?

I don't know much about bike repair and am going alone, so I'm going to learn what I can between now and then, and otherwise stick to roads where I could probably hitch a ride to the next town in the back of a pickup if something else breaks. My bias is that things aren't as hard as they seem -- I completely over-prepared the first time I went camping, so I'm thinking I could pull this off. But I would like to hear cautions or tips on how to keep myself out of hot water.

I've been told that before I go I should practice fixing flats and that the number two priority is to learn to adjust brake and derailleur cables. Anything else? In the way of repair, do you think I need to bring anything besides a patch kit, a few spare tubes, tire levers, and hex wrenches?

Any other thoughts?
posted by salvia to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
before I go I should practice fixing flats
This is very true if you are not already practiced.

As far as levers, wrenches, and so on, get a single good multitool like the Alien, or whatever. I'd also recommend bringing a spare spoke (and make sure your multitool can be used as a spoke wrench), and have your shop, or someone you know, show you how to fix a broken spoke (and how to adjust the spokes to put a wheel roughly back in true if it takes a hit).
posted by Wolfdog at 3:37 AM on July 14, 2006

Spare spokes are good (tape them to the chainstay.) Buy, you'll need something to remove the rear sprocket cluster if you break a spoke on the drive side of the rear wheel.

Care to guess which spokes break the most?

The Fiberfix can be used to replace a spoke, without needed to remove the rear sprocket. Ideally, you'll have something that will let you cut out the broken spoke, but the instruction show you how to cope if you can't.

Since you almost certainly don't know basic wrenching (since you stated you don't know how to fix flats) you'll need to take your bike into your local bike shop and have them go over everything. In particular, you'll want them to true and stress relieve the wheels -- that alone should keep them spokes from breaking, provided you don't overload them.

If this is a race style 20 spoke wheel, you need new wheels. There's a reason touring bike have 36 spoke wheels. Since it is weight that makes wheels expensive (in an inverse relationship, of course,) decent touring wheels don't cost that much.
posted by eriko at 5:30 AM on July 14, 2006

(The Fiberfix is, in fact, what I carry - good call.)
posted by Wolfdog at 6:18 AM on July 14, 2006

You are headed into rough territory with lots of long low grades and a few murderously steep ones. Give yourself more time than you think you'll need.
posted by mrmojoflying at 6:50 AM on July 14, 2006

Kingsbury grade will be very very challenging for day 1.
posted by cushie at 7:11 AM on July 14, 2006

Strange, that's where I just was for vacation! We drove from Livermore over 120 and then down 395 to Lone Pine (and back) staying at various campgrounds along the way for day hikes, etc.

Anyway, I don't know much about bike touring, but not bringing some (real) food might be a mistake -- there are not really a lot of towns between Mono and Lone Pine. And they aren't really that big (except Bishop really, although Lone Pine, Big Pine, Mammoth area all seemed to have the basics). You will probably want something a little more filling than snack food after 40-50 miles of biking .. and the campgrounds aren't always terribly close to the towns so it's not like you can (easily) pop into town and go to the diner (which might not exist!) One night you might end up 20-30 miles from a town with only snack food to eat. Not really satisfying. A small backpacking style stove, plus some dehydrated food wouldn't be *that* heavy I would think...

The campgrounds also seem to mostly be up in the hills at least a ways. Kind of a tiring last leg of the ride each night too... It's also very very hot this time of year. Bring some water purifying method (tablets, filter, whatever) as not all campgrounds have potable water and you won't really have the choice a car camper has to just keep going onto the next campground if you don't like it. (It is possible there might just be good campgrounds every 20 miles off of 395, but that doesn't mean it would only be 20 miles for you). Plus, you might run out of water in the middle of nowhere and have to find a stream. ;)
posted by R343L at 8:15 AM on July 14, 2006

I will also concur on the convenience of having a Fiberfix, especially if you don't know the exact length of the spokes on both of your wheels. A spare spoke isn't something that you can just ask for at a shop, as using a spoke with few mm's variance from the rest of your spokes can caise further damage to your wheel rim.

Also, if your wheels have less than 36 spokes on them, that's another reason for getting a bike trailer. You can get racks that clip around your chainstays from Old Man Mountain but the more weight that you place on the frame, the greater likelihood of broken spokes.

Also, if you're going to be expecting rough roads, you should consider running with wider tires (at least 25mm's if not 28s or 32s if your rim will support them)

Basic repairs that you should be taught before you set out.

How to fix a flat.
How to replace a spoke (and very basic wheel truing)
How to replace a broken chain link

These are probably the most common show stoppers on a tour, and should be situations that you should prepare for. Learning to adjust and tweak derailleur and brake cables (while handy knowledge) are not as necessary if you have the bike tuned up by a shop before your tour, a 200 mile tour will not alter your chain tension or brake pads enough to warrant a re-adjustment.

Get a cycling computer with an odometer if you don't have one already. It will help immensely with navigation, if you start plotting intricate backroads routes. Have at least two water bottle cages, if not a 1.5L Camelbak or similar hydration pack. Have a good pair of head and taillights for riding in the dark.

Be conservative in mileage estimates. Adjust estimates after your second day on the road.

Over and above all, recognize that you are travelling in such a way that you can cover large distances, but still retain the freedom to slow down and talk to people. Use the locals while you're travelling. Ask them for places where one can get a good breakfast, or a good park for a nap. Don't be too afraid or too rusehed to meet and talk to strangers. It's one of the beautiful aspects of bike touring.
posted by bl1nk at 8:28 AM on July 14, 2006

Response by poster: I'll go check the type of tires I have.

Those of you telling me about the grades -- is there a good way to find this out? Besides this? Is there some easy tool people use to generate those section-view cutaways of the elevation changes?
posted by salvia at 9:40 AM on July 14, 2006

Toporoute Ride Planner. Use Google Maps to point-and-click a route for yourself and leverage USGS data to see elevation grades. GMap Pedometer is somewhat similar but I've found that it's generally slower about delivering elevation data.
posted by bl1nk at 10:04 AM on July 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Cool, thanks, bl1ink.

The tires are 28c and have 32 spokes. So, it sounds like I should get a trailer. They sound so awkward, though. Anyone compared panniers to a trailer?
posted by salvia at 11:13 AM on July 14, 2006

mmm ... actually, I'd say that panniers are feasible for your bike. I've commuted with 28c and 36 spokes and been fine. (~10lbs of gear on rear panniers). My comment was more geared to the impression that you had some road bike with like, 16 spoke radially laced wheels and 23mm tires. I do a fair amount of randonneuring and have ridden with guys running 700x25 tires on 32 spoke wheels with a rack bag containing most of the kit that you mention (repair tools, changes of clothes, road food, batteries, electronics, etc.) and had no problems on the 250 or 400 mile brevets that we've had to do. Sleeping bag and ground tarp shouldn't add that much to the weight.
posted by bl1nk at 11:58 AM on July 14, 2006

Response by poster: Hmm, one is 700x23c, the other is 700x28c. So, it sounds like I should change the 23c one, which I bought off my racer roommate. It's a Fuji Roubaix with Shimano 105 components, and it seems like it must be a few years old since it doesn't look like the pictures of current ones. Steel frame, aluminum front stays (? the vertical part). It has three-ring gearing in front, the only thing I knew I needed.

My brother just announced his work is sending him out here on a business trip that week, so I've decided to stay in town, push back any trip for a while -- do a weekend trip soon and plan ahead to do that Moab->Taos ride in the early fall. I will also use this list of fix-it skills to start learning between now and then. Might look into doing something with the randonneuring group, too. Thanks for all the advice so far!
posted by salvia at 12:57 PM on July 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Shimano 105 is the low end race group, but they're fine components -- really and truly, the one to buy if you want speed and reliability, in that order. (If you reverse the order, you want Tiagara or R-600.) No problems there, good parts on a good frame.

Yes, by all means, get rid of that 23 tire, but 28s are fine -- I ride 700x28 on my touring bike, I'm a very big guy, and I've never pinch flatted with them. Provided you're not hitting 200lbs total on the frame, you won't be overstressing anything.

I like panniers, but the big issue is how much rear trail do you have? I ride touring frames, with relaxed geometry and lots of trail, so the panniers are far enough back that they don't cause problems. On a racing style frame -- which the Roubiaix is -- the rear triangle is much tighter, there's much less trail, and there's a chance that your heels will be hitting the panniers when you ride.

The one thing that might drive you nuts will be the bars -- they're going to be low, because racers live for the flat back. Getting them up as high as you can will cost you a bit of speed you probably don't have, but will dramatically increase your comfort and your ability to see.
posted by eriko at 8:21 PM on July 14, 2006

« Older Which sites use these colors?   |   God's watching me have sex! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.