Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Bow Valley Bike Tour

I set out with my friends Anna & Kurt for some bike camping fun this past holiday weekend. Since Kurt was a novice cycle tourist and Anna always complains I climb like a goat I rode the Big Dummy loaded with all the group gear. Normally I tour on a lightly loaded Long Haul Trucker so the extra gear and heavy duty bike would be quite a change. I'm not sure how much I ended up carrying exactly, bicycle weigh scales being absent on the highways we traveled, but I'm guessing it was in excess of 100lbs with our car camping tent, tools/spares, double set of stoves and cookware, food, more food and snacks! Did I mention all the water, beer, more beer and wine???...=-)

By keeping the mileage low and choosing a beautiful route along the Bow Valley Parkway we ensured everyone had a lot of fun. Riding a heavily loaded Big Dummy evened out the pace nicely and meant I always had a welcoming committee at the top of the steepest climbs...=-) We had intended to take a jaunt up the Icefield's Parkway, but heavy rain in Lake Louise and a grim forecast persuaded us that riding to higher elevations was not a great idea. As it turned out the worst rain fell when we were outside the bakery in Lake Louise. A clear sign that we were in the good graces of the Cycle Gods!...=-)

Although I had checked on campground status with the Banff Park Office on the Wednesday prior to leaving for the tour only one of the campgrounds I had confirmed would be open was actually open. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we were able to ride around the locked gates and have some prime camping spots all to ourselves on a long weekend...=-) We took a primo spot by a partially frozen creek in sight of a small waterfall. The sound of running water was very peaceful in our empty campground.

The Big Dummy handled the load with aplomb. After about a block I was able to get a handle on the slower steering due to the heavily loaded front panniers. The BD proved to be completely stable and the long wheelbase made fast descents super fun. It was a bit like riding in a softly sprung Cadillac. Riding with all that gear and 2" wide Marathon XR expedition tires made climbs slow & challenging. I had a 40T chainring installed with a 16T cog on the Rohloff. This provided a reasonable gear range on all, but the most ridiculous pitches. I will probably use the 38T chainring for any future heavily loaded mountain tours, but around town the 40T is perfect. The Titec H-Bar provided several hand positions, but I didn't find them as comfortable for touring as drop bars. They are great for hauling heavy loads around town so I'll play with the bar height a bit to see if I can adapt to them for long days in the saddle. Interestingly I was getting numb hands with a pair of old gloves on that have served me well for thousands of KMs, but the combo of these gloves and the H-bars was not a happy one. As soon as I removed the gloves the numbness disappeared.

As expected I received a lot of attention riding the Big Dummy. Many double takes and several astonished comments about how much gear I had on my bike. Every time we stopped and bought more supplies the Big Dummy had no trouble finding space for a few more bottles of beer or some extra snacks! Tour with a Big Dummy and your traveling companions will love you...=-)

I have to admit I had a hard time mentally adjusting to the loaded Big Dummy. I'm used to being pretty fast on tour and zipping up climbs. Gearing down and slowly grinding my way uphill was a change of pace for me that took some getting used to. Watching my companions zoom away when the road turned skyward made me yearn for my Long Haul Trucker and ultralight camping gear.

All in all it was a wonderful trip filled with lots of laughs and it reminded me I live in spectacular spot on the planet. I'll definitely be hitting the road with my bike and my tent a lot this summer!

For my Flickr photos of the trip click here - for Anna's Flickr photos click here.

If anyone wants help planning a bike tour in the Canadian Rockies around Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper - feel free to contact me. I can help you with super fun routes from 2 days to 2 weeks long through some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever had the privilege of laying my eyes on.


patmando said...

Did you do all of your riding with no pedal attachments. Or did you just use all the extra storage space to carry an extra two, three pairs of shoes.

Are you riding with platform pedals on all your other bikes except the Fujin?


Vik said...

Hey Pat,

For the moment I'm riding platforms on all my bikes, but the Fujin. I've got combo pedals on the LHT that are clip in or platform. I'll evaluate how I feel throughout the summer and take it from there. So far I'm quite happy with the platforms and it's great to jump off the bike wearing runners and go about my business normally.

For really high performance riding or mtn biking I'd still use clipless pedals though.

Josh said...

Looks like a fun time!

Pete.B said...

Hey Vik,
Great write up and pics.

I'm still building up my BD but hope to take in some trails in my local area real soon.

If you've got the time, you might consider sharing your route on Bikely.com .

(not a shill for Bikely , no, really...)

S said...


I'd be curious to hear your impressions of touring with the xtracycle vs panniers on the LHT. I'm in the midst of rebuilding my xtra on a proper frame right now and am intending to use it for weekend tours. For the last few years it has only been a town bike. There seems to be some debate about the xtracycle for touring and I've noticed reduced efficiency when spinning mine around town but the frame it is on right now is kind of small for me so the position isn't the best. What do you think? Would you rather be on the LHT or the xtra for a long tour?

Vik said...

I think you could tour on either the LHT or a Big Dummy for a long tour. Keep in mind I have my BD setup with fat tires and an upright cockpit and my LHT [700c] setup with a lighter spec and drop bars.

So for me the choice would depend on the load I was carrying and the type of roads I'd be on. The more rough roads and the heavier the load the more I'd want my Big Dummy. The more I'd be on nice asphalt roads and the lighter my load the more I'd want my LHT.

There is nothing stopping you from building up a Big Dummy with drop bars and lighter parts for a bike that was more suited to fast road touring.

Another thing to consider is will you be flying or using other forms of transportation on your tour? The shorter LHT will be easier to manage when flying and dealing with baggage restrictions.

Sorry I can't give you a more clear cut solution, but both bikes are really versatile and can be built up for many styles of touring.

nollij said...

Nice write up Vik... makes me want to visit your neck of the woods with my Dummy...

Sue said...

Hi Vic,
I am planning a 7 month cycle tour in Europe for 2010. I currently ride a hybride with an xtracycle extension and love it. I want to xtracycle through Europe, but want a bike that is more efficient for longer distances and drop handle bars so my hands don't go numb. I am debating between a new touring bike with my xtracycle components added or a big dummy built for touring. Weight and performance are issues for me. What are your thoughts?

Vik said...

Hey Sue,

I love the Big Dummy and it could work well for you, but shipping would be a pain.

My gut feel is you'd be better off with a LHT and your Xtracycle added to it.



That way you could take it apart for the flight over the pond.

OTOH - several vendors are discounting Big Dummy frames at the moment so now may be a good time to buy.


I think the Big Dummy would ride better with a really heavy load. With a lighter touring load they would probably be similar.

Another idea is to buy a LHT and just try it like it is. That way you'd have a hybrid cargo bike and a touring bike depending on the trip at hand. I find the LHT rides great with panniers and it's much easier to box and fly with than a Big Dummy or an Xtracycle.

Sue said...

Thanks Vik. My partner will have a regular touring bike with panniers, but after having the freedom of the xtracycle for so long, I'm not keen to go back to panniers. I'll check out the flight options! That is a very good deal on the big dummy frame! Thanks again.