Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Monday, November 10, 2014

Ireland - All About the Bikes

After 15 posts on our trip to Ireland last fall, what else could I possibly have to share about this trip...

Well a few folks have asked about our bikes and other gear. So I'll just do one final post all about the bikes.

I flew with my 4 year old Seven Axiom with S&S couplers - a bike that now would most likely be classified as an Airheart.

David had this brand new Seven Evergreen to christen with some proper Irish rain.

And John took advantage of the fact that he and David are the same size, so he borrowed David's Weigle. Eagle-eyed readers of the blog may have noticed that John did manage to sneak in some rides on David's new Evergreen on a couple of occasions.

It is really handy that they can just hop on each others bikes without changing a thing. David is able to ride John's bikes when he comes to the US and John can just ride David's bikes in Ireland, eliminating the need for either of them to pack and transport bikes for those trips. 

Four years ago, after many years of flying and traveling with our coupled tandem, John and I added two S&S coupled single bikes to the stable. Traveling with a coupled bike can definitely be easier, but it is not totally hassle-free. Clearly one can't be intimidated by the prospect of doing a little wrenching on your own bike or having to figure out how to get the puzzle pieces to fit into the case. However, the smaller case required for a coupled bike certainly makes transport to and from the airport less hassle than with a full size bike case. And now with some airlines are charging ridiculous fees ($200+ each way in some instances) for bikes, it's nice that S&S cases pass as standard luggage, thereby avoiding the special bike fee.

Speaking of fees, many airlines have now added baggage fees for any checked bags, not just over-sized and overweight. However Aer Lingus still includes one checked bag at no extra charge, with a full size bike box still allowed as that checked bag.  We took advantage of this to bring over Dave's new bike in a full size box. I brought my coupled bike in the stealth case.

When I ordered my Seven frame (4 years ago), I spec'd it with clearance for fenders and 26mm tires, and Seven is nothing if not precise! In retrospect,  I really should have had it designed to take the fattest tires I could use with my chosen rim brakes and fenders. I realized my mistake pretty quickly when we brought the bikes to Ireland a couple of years ago, and I longed for more tire volume to go with the mandatory-in-Ireland fenders. So last winter, I had the frame modified so that I can now use a 700X32 tire with a proper fender. I was quite happy to have that extra plushness this year.

I also brought my new PDW City Fenders this year and boy did they come in handy. The PDW fenders are rock solid and provide full coverage. David had the same fenders on his Evergreen.

David and I also both used Grand Bois tires. I had a 700X32 tire in the rear and 700X28 in front (max I can use with the Seven fork). David had 700X32 for both front and rear. Thanks to the tendency to pick up flints and thorns in wet weather, these tires proved a bit more prone to flats than we typically experience riding with them in the US. Sadly, there was one day in Sligo where David had so many punctures that he used up every tube we had between the three of us and then had to patch. Superstitious as I am, I refrained from pointing out that I was using the same tires with no trouble. But the flat tire gods must have read the thought-bubble as later I also suffered a rash of flats in Carlow.

After we returned to Boston, John bought some Clement X'plor USH tires to send over to Dave for winter use. We think these will be better on the wee boreens. These tires are designed for more mixed conditions, as opposed to being high-performance lightweight road tires, so they won't be as fast as the Grand Bois tires when just rolling along, but since the clock keeps running when you stop to fix punctures, they should prove faster at the end of the day.

All those punctures were useful in demonstrating one distinct advantage of disk brakes over rim brakes. Our hands were consistently cleaner after fixing a puncture on David's disk brake equipped Evergreen than on the other two bikes with rim brakes.

And while our fenders (which were also identical) did an admirable job of keeping bodies and clothes clean, at the end of the trip David's chain-stays and seat-stays were almost spotless, while those on my bike were grimy from brake pad residue.  

Aside from the obvious stopping power and modulation in all weathers, another big advantage of disk brakes is that there is no restriction on tire size imposed by the brake. On a frame with rim brakes, tire size is limited by the brake caliper, cantilevers (mostly) excepted. A frame builder can maximize the size of tire allowed by designing the frame so the brake pads are at the bottom of the slot, making the chain stays long enough to accommodate the largest tire that fits through the brakes, and leaving adequate width between the stays. Of course, the fenders will take up some of that precious space under the brakes, and depending on the shape of the fender and the shape of the brake arms, things can get even tighter. I like the Tektro R539 rim brakes, as the shape of the caliper is compatible with a wide fender. Disk brakes eliminate all the tire size restrictions caused by rim brakes, however, moving tire size constraints to frame design with the length and placement of chain and seat stays and bridges. So for me, the superior braking control with disks is just a side benefit. The real benefit is being able to use comfortable tires.

Muddy tracks proved a challenge for the tight space between mudguard and fat tire on my bike.

Although David and I used the same size tires on this trip, thanks to his disk brakes, he could have used a much larger tire. I, on the other hand, was maxed out. I'm not complaining about the bike I brought. It really was great for the conditions we encountered, but it's certainly nice to have the added versatility (not to mention the cleanliness) afforded by disks. If Aer Lingus is still not charging/penalizing for full size bike boxes next year, I'll probably bring my disk-brake equipped Honey (with even fatter tires!) when I return.

All three of our bikes had Schmidt generator hubs to power our lights, which, given the limited daylight at this time of year, came in handy. With all that stopping to take photos and fix punctures, as well as taking photos of people fixing punctures, we found ourselves needing lights on more than one occasion.

Between the three of us, we used several different means for carrying gear. I had originally hoped to get up to Northern Ireland for some touring with a friend, where I'd need to carry all my own gear. So I brought a large Revelate seat bag, which expands to hold a massive amount of gear. I also had a Dill Pickle handlebar bag for the stuff I wanted at hand. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Dill Pickle bag proved amazingly waterproof when left out in torrential rain overnight. However, since I didn't end up going out touring on my own, I didn't actually use the Revelate to its full potential - on this trip.

These days, there are loads of bags available for carrying gear on a bike without a rack or special mounts from folks like Dill Pickle, Revelate, Porcelain Rocket, Oveja Negra and others. When we got our coupled (single) bikes, I specifically did not get rack mounts on mine, so John would have to be handicapped carrying my gear, as well as his own. But now we have acquired various bags that work without a rack so I no longer have the no-rack excuse for making him carry my gear!

The bike that David loaned to John for this trip had a large waterproof Ortlieb handlebar bag mounted. This worked well for John's camera gear while we were on the wet coast. It also had a Carradice saddle bag, which John left on for carrying that case of spare inner tubes that we needed. 

For the point to point part of our trip, John had brought over a pair of somewhat minimalist, but waterproof panniers from Arkel, the Touring Ultralight. These are the lightest waterproof panniers we've found. He's been using them for commuting a bit and they saw lots of use on our tour in Oregon earlier this autumn. I'm happy to report that my laptop (a small Macbook air) stayed dry inside these panniers for both trips. John reports that the panniers were rock solid and silent on bumpy roads.

David also had a Dill Pickle handlebar bag mounted on his new bike. Dill Pickle bags are pretty awesome bags, having been thoughtfully designed and refined over time by someone who clearly rides a bike lots and uses the bags. In additional to all the well thought out design features, the bags are nicely customizable. When ordering, you can select various interior and exterior pockets, map case, etc, and you can also pick from a variety of custom colors. David selected a nice green bag to go with his lovely new green bike.

Since Dave's bike was so new, he hadn't yet set up any other means of carrying gear. We figured we'd simply move the Carradice over from the loaner bike if we did any point to point riding together. In the end, we just did day rides, so we left things as they were.

For gearing, we all had compact cranks with wide range cassettes. I have a 12-36 cassette, which with my 34-50 crank gives me a low gear of less than one to one. I used that low gear on quite a few occasions, sometimes because of gradient and sometimes because of wind. In my not so humble opinion, having that nice wide range of gears just makes a bike more versatile. Honestly if you aren't using your low gears, you are likely missing out on some great rides and scenery.

It would certainly be my recommendation for anyone considering a similar trip to prioritize versatility and bring a bike with fenders, sturdy, cushy tires and low gears, along with good proper rain gear and, of course, a camera!

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