Bike touring hasn’t been a big part of my world in 2009. Other than the CDN GDR tour my cycling was either mountain biking, snow biking, or utility/transportation riding. I don’t mind as I really like to be on a bike no matter what the reason and bike tours are best enjoyed when the time is right – not when you try and make them happen. The only trouble is I have a couple virgin touring bikes that I wanted to get on the road and try out. One of them, my Thorn Nomad S&S, has seen lots of action about town hauling me and my gear, but that’s just not the same as bike camping. So I picked a weekend in late September that Sharon had plans and decided to do an overnighter on the Bow Valley Parkway.
I left late on Saturday from Canmore Alberta so most of my first day’s ride would be in the dark. I haven’t done much in the way of long night rides this year since I haven’t been training for or riding brevets. I missed the solitude and quietness of late night rural highways. The first stretch along highway #1 was quite windy and slightly uphill the whole way. Since it’s so busy with traffic between Alberta and British Columbia you can’t really call it a peaceful ride, but it is in the Canadian Rockies and the scenery is spectacular. By the time I rolled past Banff it was pitch dark and I had both my Dinotte 200L-AA lights going and had deployed all my reflective gear as well as a Planet Bike Superflash taillight. I was happy to soon reach the turn off for the Bow Valley Parkway and leave the dense high speed traffic of the main highway behind. As expected traffic on the Bow Valley Parkway was minimal and much slower. Most of the time I just rolled along in my little bubble of light with only the noise of my tires on the road and the sounds of the forest for company. As with previous night rides I found familiar climbs that are quite challenging in the day are much easier at night. They seem less steep and less strenuous somehow at night. I’m not sure why, but I guess it must have to do with the fact you can’t really see the climb or much of the road and that must make it easier mentally. Although I also experienced a weird time dilation effect as well. I didn’t have a bike computer on the Thorn, but I knew how far my camp site was and I knew roughly how fast I was going, but it felt easily like it took twice as long to finally reach camp. Riding the same bike back in the daytime I didn’t have that feeling at all – strange.
I rolled past the locked gate of the campground as it was closed for the winter and had my pick of over a hundred sites. I grabbed a nice spot next to a creek and set up my small tent. The forecast didn’t call for rain so I left the rain fly off. I wasn’t cooking on this trip so I just had some snacks to stash in the metal food locker. I’m not sure if bears were still active at that time, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I settled snugly into my down sleeping bag and listened to the sounds of the forest. It would have been a very peaceful night if I hadn’t been attacked by a giant spider inside my dark tent. The only part of my body exposed was my face so of course that’s where I felt his legs!! I flicked him off with one hand and got my headlamp out with the other. Once I located him it took 3-4 direct hits with the heel of my trail runner to stun him and another 6-8 hits to kill him…that was one tough spider!! Did I mention I don’t really like spiders??? I finally got myself sorted out and back in the bag ready to sleep when I felt rain on my face….that meant going back out into giant spider territory and putting on the rain fly…=-( Oh well – there wasn’t much choice so I just got it done. Happily with no further killer spider incidents and I enjoyed a cozy sleep in my tent with the sound of rain drops against my fly.
It was dry when I woke up, but it looked like some serious rain could fall so I packed up camp and hit the road back to Canmore quickly. I managed to get most of the way back to Banff before the rain started in earnest. I didn’t have full rain gear with me so I just threw on my rain jacket and made the best of it. My Thorn has fat fenders on it so I wasn’t getting wet from the road and my clothes were warm enough to keep me comfortable despite the rain. It also helped a lot knowing that a warm meal was waiting for me at the end of the ride. I rolled into Canmore with my food radar on high and pulled into the first eatery that caught my eye. After ordering 2 full meals I settled into my chair enjoying the warmth and dryness!
- I used front panniers on this trip mostly just because that’s what I had at hand. My other panniers were at my GF’s and I was too lazy to go get them. Like the Surly LHT the Thorn Nomad was designed to carry a rear only load or a load balanced front and back. It doesn’t love a front only load. It was fine to ride, but it didn’t show the characteristic truck like stability that it did when loaded in the rear.
- The Thorn was comfortable and the long wheelbase/steel frame/fat rubber ate up the bumps and road irregularities nicely. Given its strength this tour wasn’t much of a test for the the frame.
- The Rohloff hub continues to roll along without needing attention. The straight clean chain line is quiet and very aesthetically pleasing. My placement of the shifter works, but as I noted in an earlier post I will move it to the right grip area for easier access. This tour just confirmed that plan.
- Ortlieb panniers were handy when it rained. I didn’t have to do anything or worry about my gear getting wet.
- Marathon Extreme tires worked fine, but are clearly overkill for a paved tour. I don’t notice much difference between them and the same size XRs on paved roads. I have since sold them. My Thorn currently has some Continental Travel Contacts on it and I’ll probably try some 2.0″ Marathon Supremes in 2010.
- Dinotte 200L-AA lights worked well and provided lots of light even on the fast descents. They don’t last terribly long on high power, but my rechargeable batteries don’t get a lot of love so that’s not the lights’ fault. I could have set them on medium or low power for the flats/climbs and turned them onto high for downhills. One issue I had was the lights are not focused and throw a lot of light up into the eyes of on coming drivers. In a city with lots of light this isn’t so bad, but on a totally dark road it’s blinding so I had to cover them partially with my hands when a car came along.
- Brooks saddle – I’m always happy that I can now ride a bike without wearing padded shorts…=-)
- Platform pedals – besides not having to wear bike shorts my second favourite thing is being able to ride in street shoes.
- I’m really glad I got around to installing the stainless steel Berthoud fenders on my Thorn. They went on much easier than expected and provide excellent coverage even without a front mudflap installed.