A lightweight fixed-gear bike tour of France and Spain

Posts tagged “Make your own gear

Why are we riding the bikes we are riding?

Our bikes are awesome, you may think, but why would we want these particular bikes on a two month long unsupported bike tour in foreign countries, perhaps in remote areas of those countries, and almost definitely in mountainous areas of those countries? They don’t exactly seem like the ideal choice. And they aren’t.

There are a lot of things wrong with them. Well, not wrong, but less-than-ideal. First, we built them ourselves, with little or no prior experience. There are two issues wrapped up in that sentence. Part A is that we built the frames, using a relatively new and alternative technique, one that we had no experience of, and no-one, except our good friend The Internet, to show us the way. Part B is that we built up the bikes ourselves, meaning we installed all the parts, and didn’t go to a bike store once.

The second issue is a similar issue, also one of quality. We built these bikes really cheaply, probably only spending $300-$400 each (not a bad result for that kind of money, eh!), including the costs of materials and tools. That didn’t leave much to spend on parts.

The third shortcoming of these bikes is the way we set them up, as fixed gear bicycles. For those who don’t know, fixed gear bicycles were the original kind of bike. There is only one gear, and no freewheel. This means that you can neither change gears for riding up hills, nor coast (stop pedaling while the bike is in motion) on the way down. Most bicycles used for bike touring have more than 20 gears, ranging from very low, which lets people crawl slowly up steep hills while lugging around piles and piles of touring and camping gear, to very high, which lets them reach high speeds without having to pedal uncomfortably fast.

To summarize:

  1. Issue 1 — Part A) bike frames could fall apart                                                                                — Part B) bike parts could fall off
  2. Issue 2 — bike parts could cease to function because we didn’t invest in good, reliable parts
  3. Issue 3 — we will not cover as much distance as a cyclist on a geared bike carrying an identical load

So…Why are we riding the bikes we are riding? There are several answers to this question, and you can read them in upcoming posts over the next few days.


EEK! Poles

What you saw in the earlier post tittled “EEK!” was a sneak peek into the ultralightweight trekking poles Adie is making. Trekking poles (or hiking poles, whatever you want to call them) are obviously not used much when cycling. Trying to coordinate the pole plants with the pedal rotations, while steering the bike without your hands would just be too tricky. Trekking poles are used when hiking; they help with balance, and take some of the stress off of your legs, especially in hilly areas. We plan on doing about two weeks of hiking in our two month trip, in the Pyrenees and maybe also in other Spanish mountain ranges.

So, you might think, carrying trekking poles when only 1/4 of our time will be spent trekking has got to be overkill. Well, actually, we will use these poles every day. The reason is that the tent we will be using (not homemade, unfortunately; it is the TarpTent Squall 2) is supported at the front by two straight poles. The poles that come with the tent are very thin, and flex too much to keep the tent up in strong winds. So, most people use trekking poles instead. The poles Adie is building weigh about a quarter less than the lightest commercially made poles on the market. So there isn’t too much guilt in carrying them either!

The poles use grips and tips sold as replacement parts by major pole manufacturers, but the actual pole sections are aluminium tube typically used for tent poles. The grips are replacement Leki grips, but to make sure no-one confuses these poles with commercial ones, Adie used a Sharpie to change LEKI to EEK! So now you know! The height of the poles are poles are not adjustable (but since they are custom made to Adie’s preference, they don”t need to be) but the poles will disassemble into two approximately 24-inch long sections for packing and storage.

Here is what Adie has done so far:


Replacement grips


And tips

Aluminium tent pole sections marked for cutting, there are three diameters which "nest" inside each other

Black pole sections glued into silver pole sections to increase diameter to match Leki grips
Replacement tips glued onto thin diameter pole which fits inside normal diameter black pole
Rob’s steady hand performing magic


More to come when the poles are complete!

Handmade Foldable Bowl

We have been making many of the camping and cycling related items that we plan on taking on our trip (from stoves to bags, both coming up soon in future posts). To test out our new 2.3 ounce waterproof silicon impregnated nylon fabric that Adie brought back from New York, we decided on an easier project to get used to sewing the material. We had heard of foldable bowls on our favorite bike touring sites and felt we could make just as good a design ourselves, and one that weighed considerably less. We designed our bowl “square bottom stuff sack style.” Although the top was round we found it easier to sew the bottom into an 8” inch square. The bowl was also around 8 inches high.

We used extra bicycle brake cable housing as our structure, it formed a ring around the top that was sewn in (above) and formed a 3 sided bracket that fit into pockets on 2 sides and the bottom of the bowl.

Above the almost finished bottom of the bowl. To make it we folded the fabric in half, sewed the 2 seams and then folded the fabric to make a rhombus. Then we measured and cut along the chalk lines. It’s all explained in the square bottom stuff sack link above.  We attached an opened ended tube across the bottom for the bracket  and then Rob hand sewed the side pockets which took a long time! We then used a mix of silicone seam sealer and white spirit (paint thinner) to seal all the seams along the inside of bag so water wouldn’t get out. we had to do this several times to make sure it was water tight.

Now we have a 7 Liter foldable bowl to store food, wash dishes/laundry etc and it only cost us around $3 -4. If you would like to make one of these or just see the process in greater depth, we plan on writing a detailed how-to on the website instructables.com soon. If you have any questions about this or other projects just post in the comments.