The Bike Mechanic’s perspective on the 2013 North American Epic
Well, the North American epic is off to a great start. Ten days of riding behind us and a rest day in Whitehorse is ahead.
Meeting everyone on the first day was a little daunting. Meet the people, see the bikes and help assemble them. A flurry of bike worries, name memorization and backgrounds to learn of. In the last ten days, we’ve gotten to see them as the riders they all are. Different strengths, ages, backgrounds, and all of them have really impressed me. In preparing for one of these tours, people worry about their health issues, state of mind, bicycle and general capabilities. Once they set off, most get largely forgotten and the team forms. They pair up with those of similar pace, interests or just for a change.
As the bike tech, I’ll try to keep my writing to bikes and leave opinions on scenery, food and camping for the others.
One way of describing the collection of bikes gathered at our camp each night would be eclectic. Some ride touring bikes, others ride slick equipped mountain bikes and a few prefer the performance of a road bike. Too early to describe any as the “right tool”, but still I wanted to narrow down which I would pick if I were riding daily. Here are some thoughts…
The mountain bikes should be ideal on the rougher sections of road, and would be if they retained their original tires. The narrow slicks installed ride a little rougher than I like, but the suspension takes the edge off if not locked. Consistently some of the fastest riders, these seem like a good idea for someone planning to sample some of the awe inspiring mountain bike trails we will be passing by on our way to Mexico City. As a note, our first into camp most days rides a knobby shod 29er (your results may vary)
Pavement scorching road bikes will get you there with the greatest efficiency, and provide surprising reliability. It’s important to remember that road bikes will put other parts of your body through discomforts if the road turns irregular. On a tour which involves putting many hundreds of kilometers on each week, picking a road bike with three chainrings would provide you the luxury of seated climbing on those tough days. Wheels on these bikes can be an issue to fix on the road, so best to pick one with a full compliment of conventional spokes, should you decide to join for more than a few sections.
Touring bikes would certainly make up the lions share of bikes on most tours, and why not. These bikes are tough, easy to fix, and have attachment points for all the bags you could want. Saying that, one of the great reasons to take an organized tour, is not needing much in the way of carrying capacity. Touring bikes might be the closest fit for a tour like the NAE, but picking a lively one would be my preference. Should your tour involve Long distance Hauling, and Truck like capacity, a beefier choice might give peace of mind.
The Bike Fridays are the outliers, but have many advantages. Twenty inch wheels might seem like a poor choice for rough roads, but the two riding them seem to have no more complaints than the rest of the pack. Speaking of pack, that’s of course the real advantage of a small wheel, breakdown bicycle. You might be able to avoid your airlines ever increasing bicycle surcharges, but remember that these are not folding bikes. Taking one apart, or reassembling could take you an hour, even with a mechanical touch. Then there are the boxes, which with different dimensions than a standard bike box, could leave you making a new one for every flight. The company itself, leaves the mechanic in me a little frustrated. Custom sizing and North American manufacturing should keep their customers happy for years though.
This is just a quick overview of the bikes I’ll be wrenching on for the next four months, but no matter what you have right now, if it’s well maintained and comfortable for you, it could be the “right tool.”