Because I am an old man with one foot in the grave, more interested in the location of the bathroom than in the attentions of the fairer sex, I have decided to spend a week or two trying to deny the effects of my advanced age on my body. I will cycle New England. To be more specific, I will cycle the Hudson Valley, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and the North Shore of Long Island, about 600 miles in all. There’s nothing particularly challenging about the course for a good cyclist. One of the earliest bike races, the Paris–Brest–Paris, involved cycling 1200 kilometers in under 90 hours. I have the luxury of taking all the time I want, the main constraint being the amount of money I can, or cannot, spend on hotels. The weather will be close to perfect, in the 60s and 70s with a hint of drizzle. I have a new bike, which has been newly tuned up, and a new set of tires, both of which should help me avoid annoying inconveniences like flats or broken spokes. Unlike the cyclists in the Paris–Brest–Paris I will not be riding at night and I will be sleeping at regular intervals. So my trip will be something between a “tour” (where you pack heavily and camp out) and a “brevet” (where the goal is basically to see how long and how far you can ride until you drop). For me the goal is mainly to take photos and enjoy the Autumn weather. That about “denying my advanced age” was mainly a joke to get your attention, although if I fade away and die like Tom Joad’s grandfather in The Grapes of Wrath, please bury me on the side of the road, write a quick note to let people know I died of natural causes, and find an eloquent preacher like Jim Casy to say a few words over my body.
Because I am staying in motels and buying food from local supermarkets, I will be traveling as light as possible. Weight not only means more difficulty getting over steep hills, it means broken spokes, and there are only three things I fear more than broken spokes, creepy clowns, distracted soccer moms in SUVs, and bears with hand grenades. Flat tires are a pain in the ass, but easily fixed. Broken chains are fairly rare. Clunks, squeaks, rattles, and other odd sounds are annoying, but easily ignored until you can get to a bike shop. Broken spokes are very common, difficult to fix, and stop you cold. Please Lord if you must torment on this trip, send creepy clowns and bears with hand grenades, but spare me the horror of broken spokes. I have a spoke wrench but fuck me if I’ve ever learned how to true a wheel. So I will be going light, bringing only the following.
1.) An entry-level road bike, a Giant Contend 1. Weight about 20 pounds. Cost, $810 dollars plus tax.
2.) Myself. Height about 6 feet. Weight about 180 pounds. Price? Part of the “unnecessariat” so basically free to any salvage company that can haul me away to the scrap heap.
3.) A folding tire, 4 CO2 cartridges, a CO2 pump, a pair of Pedro’s tire levers, 3 spare tubes, a Topeak Road Morph Frame Pump, 4 “Grease Monkey Wipes,” 4 spare batteries for my light set, a Topeak multi tool, a pair of Shimano SPD clipless (or clip in) pedals, and a 6mm Allen Wrench. I’m running Continental Ultra Gatorskins, which are heavy tires even in the 700 x 23 version, but they are remarkably resistant to flats. Flats can be fixed, still suck. With any luck, the tool kit will just sit in my saddle bag, unused. Total weight, about 5 pounds.
4.) Two changes of clothes, two pairs of “jogging trousers” purchased at an Aeropostale going out of business sale, two T-shirts, two pairs of briefs, two pair wool socks, two cycling hats, a Giro Foray road helmet, a pair of Shimano SPD cycling shoes, and a flannel shirt purchased at Walmart (I know I know but it was only 8 bucks). Total weight about 4 pounds.
5.) A Sony RX-100 point and shoot camera. Weight. About 12 ounces.
6.) A Samsung Tab E 9.6 Inch Android tablet with a 32 Gigabyte MicroSD card added on. I almost wish I had purchased the 7 inch version instead. The 9.6 tablet is light, but I would have been able to keep the 7 inch tablet in my handlebar bag and not my backpack. Weight, less than a pound.
7.) A 10-Liter Deuter Speedlite backpack. Weight, almost nothing.
8.) A water bottle, a liter of water, 5 granola bars, and a very light cable lock (don’t get your hopes up thieves. My bike will rarely be out out sight.
I believe that brings everything, myself and all my gear, in at under 200 pounds. My bike is a happy accident. I bought it mainly because it was cheap and because they were selling it at the local bike store (the store you buy your bike from is more important than the bike itself, trust me) but it turned out to be a rare stroke of good luck. Most road bikes have an 11-27 cassette with a compact 50/34 crank. The Giant Contend 1 has a 50/34 compact crank but an 11-32 cassette. That means the lower gears are almost as good for climbing hills as the lower gears on a hybrid or a mountain bike, but the higher gears still have the speed of a road bike. It’s a tricky combination to keep in tune. I had to go back to my bike mechanic the day after I bought it and have him adjust the gearing in between repeated test rides. But it’s the perfect combination for long distance rides with a lot of steep hills. Professional racing bikes have 54/30 cranks and 11-24 cassettes, both of which let you go incredibly fast, but are also overkill if you’re not riding in the Tour de France. The Sora groupset on the Giant Contend 1 is fairly modest and wouldn’t satisfy many gear heads, but it’s robust, cheap, and ubiquitous. Every bike store has spare parts.
So that’s about it. With any luck the long ride will keep me out of trouble and off of Twitter for a few weeks. Updates will be frequent but will consist mainly of photos. Off I go. Next Stop, New Paltz New York and the Walkway over the Hudson.