Bike Stomach

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What is bike stomach? (credit to my friend Jeff, who as far as I know, coined the term, at least in my circle of friends)

If you’ve ever done any kind of intense physical activity like long distance cycling, running, or swimming, you’re familiar with “bike stomach”. When you are done your workout, you are ravenous, and food takes on especially intense flavors. Cheap cheese curls taste like mana from heaven, and a Pismo Beach cinnamon bun with cream cheese frosting makes you die a little inside in gooey, delicious pleasure. (Photo above taken at Old West Cinnamon Rolls, Pismo Beach, CA)

 

Add to that the fact that there’s no guilt (you just burned thousands of calories), and bike stomach is one of my favorite things about cycling.

On our future tours, Steve and I are going to start blogging about our food encounters, seeking out the best and most unique food we can find in the communities we ride through. I’ve created a category on this blog callled “Bike Stomach” where our stories and photos will be posted. We’re not on tour now, but we’ll try to do some bike stomach posts in our hometown of San Diego.

Collecting Artifacts

On our Pacific Coast bike ride this summer, Steve & I reflected a lot on what it is that we really need. On a bicycle tour, you are limited to what you can carry, so you naturally spend time ensuring that you only carry what is necessary, to some extent or another. Whether it be 15 lbs or 80 lbs, it’s a far cry from how much you can put in your apartment at home.

We both realized that we have so much “stuff” at home just sitting in closets that’s never used or appreciated. We missed almost none of that stuff. It becomes just a burden to clean, find space for, and move.

So when we got home, we both started the process of downsizing. Some stuff was easy; that smart watch I never wore, for example. But other stuff was hard. And I realized what made it hard: for the most part, it’s the memories they invoke.

We, as humans, are conditioned to collect artifacts throughout our lives. Many of these items are nothing more than artifacts; representations of past travels, interests, and friends. These physical items run the gamut from cheapo souvenirs from a shop in Paris, to the quilt your mother spent 6 months making for you.

Some of these artifacts are incredibly difficult to part with. What is it that gives them this power? And how can we avoid them from blocking us from our passion to travel and live unencumbered?

I’m not sure I have the final answer, but I do have something that’s working for me. For most of the items, its power comes from the memories they evoke. Although there is something to the physical handling of these objects, most of the memories are invoked by sight alone. So I decided that simply taking a digital photo of them and then discarding them (donating, gifting, selling, etc) is enough to reclaim the physical space they are taking while retaining the meaning. So that’s what I’ve been doing.

This doesn’t work for everything. I don’t know how I’ll ever part with the quilt my mom made for me or the lock of hair from my kitty Gus. So I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll need to keep a box of these artifacts around because they are so special. I try to limit the amount of space taken up with this box, but I don’t think it’ll ever be zero.

For the most part, I’ll take a photo, and then file it away and never look at it again. The memories are still there if I need them, but I have the space back. Sometimes I will think of something and look it up in my photo album, or browse through my photos, and the memories it brings up are the same as if they were physically there.

I think I have some improvements to do though. In some ways I fee like I’m merely moving the problem from the physical to the digital realm. I now have an eneormous photo collection that I maintain, backup, sort through, etc. Have I really de-cluttered? So far what I tell myself is that I already need to keep my digital photos maintained, so it doesn’t really add any extra mental energy.
Also, some of these items invoke particularly painful memories, like the clippings of my kitty’s fur. Is it healthy for me to try to detach completely by tossing these items without a photo? Or is it important to keep some essence of this part of my life with me?

I think it’s important to keep my particular goals in mind here. I’d like to be able to travel more easily, so anything I can do to minimize physical possessions, even if it comes at the expense of increased digital possessions or emotional weight, is a step in the right direction!

Dreaming…

As good as Google Maps is, nothing quite sparks the imagination for future trips as a world map pinned to the wall… Where to next by bicycle? Any recommendations?

My Ultralight (ish) Pack List

Now for something practical. When I was planning for our Pacific Coast bike trip, I scoured the Internet and books to find example packing lists so that I could have a basis for what I took. Below is the list of actual items I took with me and a short discussion of how well each item worked out.

Video

I made a YouTube video with all my gear.

Test Runs

Steve and I made 4 test runs before the big trip, where we biked out to a nearby campground with our bikes fully setup to make sure we worked out all the kinks. If you have time, I highly recommend doing this, as we made small changes each time that made our final trip much more enjoyable. Sometimes we’d have a friend join us and act as a SAG vehicle (which we used once!), just in case we ran into trouble we couldn’t fix.

Weight

It wouldn’t be an ultralight packing list without gram weights of each item. My overall goal was to be comfortable on and off the bike, even if that meant a little more weight here and there, so this is not by any means a strict ultralight pack list, but my theory is: as long as you enjoy the ride, you did it right. My overall weight carried was somewhere between 8-10kg, including clothes worn but excluding water, food, and the actual bike. You could easily eliminate a lot of the items I have below to be even lighter, but in my opinion, this is a good balance between weight and comfort.

Bike

  • Specialized Roubaix Expert (~8kg) – the choice to use a carbon road bike is uncommon for bicycle touring. For this tour, on mostly good roads, going through lots of cities with decent bike shops, being summer (so I don’t need to carry a lot of extra clothing), and rarely being far from populated areas, it worked for me. Were I to do a longer tour, in colder weather, rougher roads, or further away from bike shops that can work on the specialized components of this road bike, I would look at a more traditional touring bike.
  • Pedals – Crank Brothers Egg Beater 3 – I love these pedals; they are lightweight, very durable, and I never have to look down to clip in because you can clip in in 4 spots. Plus they work great even if they get muddy, and the cleats continue to work well even when significantly worn.
  • Two 33oz Magnum water bottles (170g) – You could probably save some weight by using disposable Gatorade or water bottles.
  • Bike protection – To protect the carbon fiber frame with all the velcro, bags, locks, etc. rubbing on it, I used a combination of clear packing tape and black electrical tape and carefully taped under areas that would get a lot of friction. Two layers seemed to do a good job preventing any scratches, rubbing, and dings. You can also buy clear protecting stickers at most bike shops, but I found the packing tape to be cheaper, more versatile, and to work just as well. I also wrapped the entire top tube with a thin strip of velcro (soft side in, prickly side out). This served several purposes: it protected the top tube from scratches; it added a cushion beneath the heavy titanium bike lock that was mounted on the frame; it gave me a place to stick extra pieces of velcro while packing/unpacking my bike; and it was a source of extra velcro if I needed more at some point.

Cycling Clothing

  • Bib shorts and jersey (~370g) – since we only brought one, we picked one of our favorite kits for a team we trained with for AIDS/LifeCycle. It was made by Pactimo and has a very comfortable chamois, which we were thankful for. Next time, I would opt for regular shorts over the bibs, since using the toilet can be quite complicated with bibs!
  • Gloves, socks, sweatband, helmet (390g) – nothing really special here.
  • Bike shoes (695g with cleats) – In order to avoid packing another set of shoes for using in restaurants and shops, I chose to use mountain biking shoes that could pass for normal sneakers. The Pearl Izumi X-Alp Drift IV worked well.
  • Heart rate monitor (55g) – I find it easier to gauge my exertion by keeping an eye on my heartrate, so I took this with me. It was useful, but on a future tour I’d probably leave it at home because it’s a nuisance to put on and it wasn’t essential.
  • Sunglasses (~25g) – I’m near-sighted so require a prescription to see. I chose a pair that are prescription and transition from clear to dark in the sun. That allowed me to skip bringing my contact lenses and solution and use these lenses at all times. I did opt to bring a pair of off-bike glasses as well for style reasons (those wrap-around glasses are great for riding but look a little funny when you go out to eat), but you could easily get by with just one pair.
  • Withings Activité watch – I hate pulling out my cellphone just to check the time so I opted for this watch. It also tracks activity, swimming, and sleep automatically, which is nice.
  • Road ID – you don’t want to think too much about this one; just get one.

Cold/wet-weather cycling gear

  • Arm warmers, cycling cap, thick wool socks (DeFeet Woolie Boolie) (165g)
  • Ultralight rain jacket (50g) – I started out with this as my only jacket but after some 40 degree nights, I added an off-bike jacket to my list (see below).

Off-bike clothing

I chose to use Icebreaker merino wool clothing because it is very light, comfortable, breathable, odor resistant, and dries quickly after washing. They are also very good about exchanges and returns; we stopped at their stores in Vancouver, Portland, and San Francisco to exchange some items that had minor problems or were the wrong size.

  • Two pair Icebreaker underwear (105g)
  • Lightweight Icebreaker shorts (185g)
  • Two lightweight Icebreaker tee-shirts (250g)
  • Icebreaker socks (40g)
  • Swim suit (~100g) – just a minimal pair in case we went swimming. In actuality, I mostly ended up using these as my laundromat clothing while everything else was in the machine.
  • Leg warmers (155g) – Never needed these on the bike but they were handy in some camps that had lots of bugs and also on chilly nights. We opted for these over another pair of long pants because they are lighter and could also be used while cycling. They don’t look very stylish though!
  • Patagonia ultralight down jacket (270g) – Bought this part-way through the trip after some 40 degree nights. Packs up into its own pocket fairly small and is very light. Worth the weight if you’re in a cooler climate.

Shelter

Here is where I opted to invest some money. You can get a reasonably lightweight (1kg) single person tent at REI for around $200, but there is a small cottage industry popping up making ultralight shelters and camping gear out of Cuban fiber, a crazy light, waterproof, ultra strong fabric. I had heard great things about ZPacks from a friend, so I gave them a try, and I have to say I absolutely love their tents. I justified the cost by thinking about the money saved vs. just a few nights in a hotel.

  • ZPacks Solplex single person tent (439g) – very comfortably fit me (5’10”), my sleeping pad, and all of the gear from my bike. The only downside to this tent is that it is not freestanding, so it requires staking (minimum 6 stakes). This was never a showstopper, but there were some nights where the ground was difficult to stake where a freestanding tent would have been better. Also, if I had known Steve would be traveling with me, we could have invested in the 2-person version of this tent, which would have saved on our total weight. The 2-person version also has a freestanding add-on option available.
  • Carbon fiber tent poles (92g)
  • 12 Tent stakes (~100g) – I took a variety of stakes with me for different soil conditions. My favorite were the reasonable and readily available “mini groundhog” aluminum stakes from REI for $2.50 each and 10g each. The great thing about these is they are compact, pretty light, hold the ground well but slippery enough to go into dense dirt, and you can hammer them a little without worrying about breaking them. I tried several other kinds of stakes, and here’s my verdict: carbon fiber – useless unless you know you will only be staking in perfect grassy fields; you can’t hammer them in dense soil and their round shape doesn’t hold well in loose soil. Ultralight titanium stakes (5g each) – okay for very dense soil but useless otherwise; bends extremely easily. Titanium V stakes (9g each) – excellent for staking in sand, but can’t be hammered or even pushed with any force; I destroyed 3 of these in dense dirt before switching to the mini groundhogs.
  • Cuban fiber repair tape (~10g) – just in case something tears! Didn’t need it after 20+ days of camping but did use some to patch some silnylon compression sacks that tore small holes.
  • ZPacks 40 degree down sleeping bag (386g) – amazingly warm and comfortable and packs super small in a compression sack.
  • Thermarest full-length pad (~400g) – love this pad, but if I were to have to buy a new one, I’d consider a partial-length pad to save some space/weight, since your legs don’t really need to be supported while sleeping.
  • Sleeping pad patch kit (5g)

Security

It’s a bummer that we have to worry about this at all, but traveling with a fancy road bike, I felt like it would be a high theft target. Because Steve and I were traveling together, the bikes were rarely alone, but it gave us peace of mind knowing that a thief would have to be pretty determined and/or make a lot of noise in order to take our bikes.

  • TiGr lock (760g) – I really love this lock. It locks onto the top tube of my bike frame, so it takes up no storage space; it’s titanium so it’s reasonably light; it is very secure and would probably take a very determined thief over 5-10 minutes to cut through with heavy duty tools; it has a pick-resistant lock; it’s longer than a U lock so you can lock it further away from poles and you can use it to lock more than one bike (Steve and I shared this one lock). The only downside was that it wouldn’t lock well on thicker poles, and sometimes we couldn’t find an angle that would lock both bikes. On a future tour, I might consider taking an additional lightweight cable lock to cover these cases, even though cable locks are notoriously ineffective against bolt cutters or even fingernail clippers.
  • Front and rear lights USB chargeable (100+g) – unless you are planning to ride at night, you probably only need blinky lights to get the attention of drivers.

Bags

  • Camelbak Lobo (490g) – Many people hate wearing anything on their backs while riding. Steve and I both don’t mind it, but this may not work for everyone. I liked the convenience of being able to sip my water and not having to worry about filling up as often. It was also nice to be able to access many things in the pack without having to unpack the compression sacks I was using for on-bike storage. I also kept everything of value in my Camelbak or in my jersey pockets, so it was very easy to lock up and leave the bikes unattended without worrying about fishing out prescription medication from packs and other critically important things.
  • Two waterproof compression sacks (Sea to Summit sil-nylon) (70g each). One contained my tent, poles, sleeping bag, and cold weather gear and was strapped with velcro to my handlebars. The other contained my other clothing and was strapped with velcro below my seat. The velcro straps worked overall very well and are super lightweight, but they had many problems. First, the bags would be packed differently each day, so they would sit at different angles on the handlebars, putting different pressure on the cables or swinging from side to side under the seat. I was constantly messing with the on-cable derailleur adjuster because it was rubbing on the bag. Second, the velcro gradually ate holes in the silnylon. Since we didn’t get much rain, it wasn’t a big deal, but I spent a lot of time patching the holes with Cuban fiber repair tape (which worked excellently by the way). Finally, the bags had to be completely repacked and re-strapped every day, which took quite a lot of time. In the future, I would seriously consider some of the excellent seatpost and handlebar mounting systems like Specialized’s Burra Burra line. The extra weight may be worth it in this case.
  • Frame bag (~135g) – I found one that fit in the unused space in my frame’s triangle between my water bottles and used this to store tools and lesser-used items like extra velcro and repair tape.
  • Top tube bag (~135g) – I used a large capacity one to store wet wipes, food, sunscreen, etc.
  • Day bag (~150g) – This came in very handy carrying clothes to/from the shower as well as carrying large food items (beer and chips!) to camp. I think something like a musette bag used in cycling races would be perfect for this (and maybe lighter), but I couldn’t find one exactly right.

Cooking/Eating

We made the decision to eat things that didn’t require cooking or to enjoy local food at restaurants. I wouldn’t say we are full-time foodies, but we definitely played the part of a foodie during this tour! This helped us save on weight and have more interaction with people in the towns we rode through. (The foodie scene in Portland, by the way, is phenomenal!) We did a test run with an ultralight titanium stove and fuel pellets but found them too much of a hassle to deal with if we were just cooking occasionally. If we were to do a tour in an area with fewer foodie options, we would look into bringing a lightweight camp stove that takes fuel canisters that can be found anywhere.

  • Mini lighter (10g)
  • Plastic Spork (10g)
  • Cooking chopsticks (28g) – I didn’t actually bring these on this tour, but we met another cycle tourist that had these, and they are perfect for cooking food on an open fire pit in camp. Will definitely bring these on future tours.

Medical

  • Prescription medication and vitamins (varies in weight) – if you need to take vitamins or medication for something while cycle touring, it can be a huge pain, as we found out, especially when the pills are bulky. What we ended up doing was getting vacation authorizations for our prescriptions and then mailing multi-week supplies of vitamins and meds to the various cities we were stopping in. We luckily knew someone in each major city who agreed to hold the package for us. That way we didn’t need to travel with huge quantities and weight of pills.
  • Emergency medication (Tylenol, ibuprofen, Benadryl, allergy, etc) – it’s easy to find this stuff anywhere, so you just need enough for a few days’ worth.
  • First aid kit (35g) – bandaids, latex gloves, alcohol swabs, joint wrap, antibiotic gel packets, q tips

Toiletries

  • Wet wipes (60g) – when you have to go, you have to go.
  • ZPacks camping tooth brush (~10g).
  • 1 oz tooth paste (30g)
  • Floss (10g)
  • Tiny micro-fiber camp towel (20g) – you have to wring it out a lot, but it can get you reasonably dry.
  • Hotel bar soap (40g)
  • 1 oz sunscreen (30g)
  • Lip balm (5g)
  • Extra contact lenses (in case my glasses break or get lost) (5g)
  • Off-bike glasses & case (40g) – see comments above about cycling glasses
  • Nailclippers (15g)
  • Deoderant 1/2 oz sample size (15g) – When crashing with friends or for nights without a shower.
  • Bug spray (50g)
  • Small amount of toilet paper (5g) – easy to keep this replenished after it gets used in public restrooms.

Tools/Repair

  • Compact multi-tool (~100g) – some ultralight purists advise taking individual wrenches and tools, but I opted for a very compact and lightweight multi-tool that included a spoke wrench and chain tool in addition to the regular tools.
  • 5 patch kits (10g)
  • 1/4 oz chain lube (10g) – I found some very small dropper bottles (you can use old eye drop bottles) and filled it with chain lube for emergency lubing.
  • Paper towels (10g)
  • Tire irons (20g)
  • CO2 cartridges x 3 + inflater (~175g) – these are totally optional since we had a mini pump, but they are much easier to use when repairing flats.
  • 2 spare tubes (140g)
  • Spare tire (150g) – I found the lightest weight spare tire I could find and strapped it to my frame with velcro. It’s only for use to get to the next bike shop and doesn’t need to be a heavy-duty touring tire. This came in handy one day when I noticed my existing tire had shredded, so I rode the lightweight spare to the next bike shop and got a Schwalbe Marathon to replace it.
  • Extra cleats and bolts (40g)
  • Small amount of duct/gorilla tape (20g)
  • Super glue (5g)
  • Tiny camp knife (20g)
  • Micro frame pump (55g) – I’m not very happy with this pump. Since it doesn’t have a hose to connect to the tube’s valve, it is very easy to rip open the tube at the valve stem joint. I did this once on the trip despite being extremely cautious to avoid this exact problem. I am on the lookout for a better frame pump that has a hose to avoid this kind of failure. Even if it adds a little weight, if it’s easier to use, then I could get rid of the CO2 cartridges.
  • 4 large binder clips (20g) – use for hanging laundry, etc.
  • 4 CR 2032 batteries (5g) – replacements for my watch, HRM, and headlamp.
  • Presta/Shraeder valve adapter (5g)
  • Spare derailleur hanger (~20g) – I strongly recommend everyone find out which derailleur hanger their frame requires and carrying a spare. There are hundreds of different hangers, and bike shops don’t stock all of them, so if you break yours, you could be out of commission for days waiting for the replacement to ship. Steve bent his during the tour, which was repairable, but after bending back a couple of times, the metal will fatigue.

Electronics

  • Cell phone, charger, and case (255g) – I used the huge iPhone 6s Plus, which was nice for looking at photos and reading eBooks, but I’d seriously consider the super-light iPhone SE for a future tour.
  • Bike computer and cable (130g) – The Garmin 1000 was great for following along pre-planned routes and keeping our friends updated of our progress via Strava, though the battery life isn’t great (8 hours of continuous use), and the on-device turn-by-turn directions are horrible.
  • Two EasyAcc 6,000mAh Ultra-Slim LiOn battery packs (115g each) – These have the best capacity:weight ratio that I could find, and 2 of them are actually lighter than any other single 12,000mAh battery I could find. We kept these topped off as often as possible when we had access to electricity or used our solar panels to charge throughout the day. Then we charged our Garmin and phones from the battery packs.
  • Micro headlamp (85g) – found a super tiny headlamp that takes watch batteries that worked fine.
  • Solar charger (227g) – This item deserves its own blog post, but briefly: The Sunctactics sCharger-5 5W solar panel is awesome. Super compact and lightweight, charges fast in direct sunlight and slowly under clouds, and waterproof. We strapped them on the back of our Camelbak and on partly-sunny days were able to get 2,000mAh-4,000mAh of charge on our batteries. Add in an hour or two of opportunity charging at lunch or in camp, and we were easily able to keep our electronics charged. With cloudy days, you can maybe get 1,000mAh of charge per day, so we had to conserve power a bit more.
  • Ear buds (5g)
  • Camera (305g) – I went back and forth on this one but finally decided to bring along a nice point-and-shoot camera (Canon G7x). I love photography so was glad I did, but it was a bit of a hassle and a lot of extra weight. The camera requires a 12V charger so won’t charge from the solar panel, so I’d recommend another point-and-shoot that charges off solar to others. The Olympus TG-4 may be a better choice, given its ruggedness, waterproofing, and 5V charging ability.
  • Camera case (~200g) – I tried 3 different cases before finding a small, super-rugged Chrome Industries bag that fit the G7x perfectly and strapped with velcro to my Camelbak so was always readily available. The bag was a limited edition that I picked up in their San Francisco store, so unfortunately it’s not something I can link to.
  • Extra camera batteries and charger (125g) – I carried enough extra batteries to last a week. This wouldn’t be as necessary with a camera that charged over 5V USB.

Miscellaneous

  • Wallet, cash, credit cards (55g)
  • Passport (35g)
  • House keys (15g)
  • Cheap pen (3g)
  • Extra zip lock freezer bags (5g) – great cheap dry bags for your phone and other items.
  • Extra velcro (10g+)
  • Extra zip ties (10g)
  • Small length of thin cord and Figure 9 hooks (20g) – for hanging laundry, etc.

Getting Used to Your Stank

When we were planning to do our ultralight 6-week Pacific Coast cycling tour, one of the questions most of our friends asked us was, “Wait, how are you going to wash your cycling clothes? I’ll bet you are going to stink to high heaven when you get back!”

We initially thought about bringing more than one kit with us, but aside from the weight and volume, there were several other reasons we opted to bring just one:

  • Simplicity – with just one cycling kit, there are no decisions to make. “What are you wearing today?” became part of our silly wake-up routine at camp each morning. You know what you are wearing every day, and you know that each day you will try to find a way to wash it.
  • Drying – Many of our days were cool and damp, and didn’t have enough time to dry completely when washed. If we did have multiple kits, whichever one was wet would have had to be packed damp, potentially getting everything else in our pack wet as well.
  • Continuity – Kind of a silly reason, but it’s pretty amazing that we are wearing the same thing in all of our photos!
  • Pride – We chose a kit from a team who we trained with for the AIDS/LifeCycle ride, the Pork Pedalers. We absolutely love the pork-inspired kit and all of the hidden details and inside jokes on it, and we were proud to be able to represent them on our journey.

So how did it work out?

Well, each day that we arrived at camp, we had to make a decision of whether to wash the kits. We had showers at almost every camp, and some camps even had wash basins, so it was almost always possible. So the tradeoff was: how bad will they smell in the morning vs. how horrible will it be to put on a damp chamois?

Some days like in the Redwoods, it was warm and dry, and we had partial sun in camp, plus wash basins, so it was a no-brainer. They’d be clean AND dry in the morning. Steve tended to opt more towards getting used to his stink and avoiding the shock of a wet diaper in the morning, while I preferred a soggy chamois for a few minutes to ripe spandex.

The thing is, you’re going to stink after an hour of cycling anyway, and your body heat will quickly dry out any clothes you’re wearing. At least that’s how we justified it to ourselves; come to think of it… it could explain why some store personnel refused to acknowledge our presence…

We were also lucky enough to have a chance to use a laundry machine about once a week, which kept everything from getting TOO smelly. Of course, with only one change of clothes, what do you wear when you’re washing them?

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Who Am I?

There are some who call me… Tim?

I’m just one more cycling-obsessed guy who wanted somewhere to share my adventures and experiences.

In 2016, I completed a 2,300 mile self-supported ultralight bikepacking tour from Vancouver, BC, Canada to Tijuana, Mexico with my partner Steve. We met many cyclists along the way doing the tour, but our ultralight setup and touring style stood out, and I thought that maybe our experiences would be interesting to others with similar two-wheeled dreams.

Take what you want from what I have here. It’s based mostly on my own experience, and I’m sure it won’t work for everyone, but I hope that it gives you some ideas and gets you out there. To paraphrase a journal entry I saw at a hike/bike campsite in Washington, “A lot of people talk about it. Some people do it. To those out there doing it, ride on!”

A little more info in case you’re curious: I’m in my early 40s, live in San Diego, work from home, and love to cycle. I’ve done 2 fully-supported rides (southern France and the Thailand Coast) as well as 4 multi-day fundraising supported bike rides. I’ve ridden over 7,000 miles in 2016 and probably over 40,000 miles in my life. I’ve also done my own self-supported tour from Vancouver to Tijuana in 2016.