Monthly Archives: January 2013

Breathe Deep and Meet the Locals: Biking in the Himalayas

So you’ve made the decision, you’ve got your gear together, and the tickets have been put on the credit card. The easy stuff has been done and now it’s time for the real work to begin. Where do you look for travel advice? Who can you expect to find out there? What are the inherent dangers in doing a circular bike trip at the foot of the Himalayas in Northern India?

If you listen to the advice out by the U.S. Department of State then you won’t feel like going very far at all.

“Jammu & Kashmir: The Department of State strongly recommends that you avoid travel to the state of Jammu & Kashmir (with the exception of visits to the eastern Ladakh region and its capital, Leh) because of the potential for terrorist incidents, as well as violent public unrest.”

This obviously isn’t what you want to hear if you are about to set out on the Rishikesh Loop that will take you right through the middle of this area. But, what if it’s just America overreacting again? Maybe the pragmatic British have something different to say.

“We advise against all travel to rural areas of Jammu and Kashmir other than Ladakh; all travel in the immediate vicinity of the border with Pakistan, other than at Wagah; and all travel in Manipur,” states the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office website.

The next line has more grim advice, “We advise against all but essential travel to Srinagar and Imphal,” which is unfortunate as Srinagar is exactly where you have to go. Then the British Foreign Office puts the final nail in the coffin of your dreams by saying that air travel is the only way to get around up there. Time to start reaching for the ticket cancellation option?

Not so says Navneet Prasad, a foreign exchange student who lives near the area in question. He explained how Paul Woollams would have fared up there.

“Even after he left Rishikesh and started heading into the Himalayas he wouldn’t have looked too out of the ordinary,” says Prasad, “there are people from all over the world there, it is one of the most visited places in India.”

But what about the more remote areas as you move into Jammu and Kashmir?

“People out there don’t have experience of people from America or the United Kingdom, especially riding a bike,” laughs Prasad.

“It’s crazy, even though I live in India and I know these things happen, nobody would expect him to be doing these things up there.”

Local hospitality plays a critical role in an adventure like this. Since this style of trip involves the rider spending long periods alone, friendly contact with the locals becomes even more important.

“Paul would have been treated really well, because people would have been curious to know things about him,” says Prasad.

“Where is he from? What is he doing? They would want to know these things.”

It also appears that location affects friendliness in India as well.

“People up north are different, their behavior and nature is really good,” beams Prasad, “even the military up there wouldn’t have cared, they would have been really helpful.” A fact confirmed by Woollams himself.

So the locals and military are on your side, now it’s just a matter of turning the crank and moving forward. Which is of course easier said than done at 15,000 feet. To put that idea into perspective, here are the heights of some popular tourist destinations: Cuzco (11,000 feet), La Paz (12,000 feet), Everest Base Camp (17,700 feet), and Kilimanjaro (19, 341 feet). At these heights altitude sickness can have a severely debilitating effect on a rider. Confusion, fatigue, irritation and an inability to sleep could seriously derail your plans.  But, don’t let that sort of thing put you off too much, The Center for Disease Control website carries plenty of advice on how to tackle the problem. All that’s left to do is to cast those doubts aside and begin the countdown to the road trip of a lifetime.

© 2012 Jamie M. Bradley All Rights Reserved

Choosing the Right Ride for Your Epic Journey

Data complied by the U.S. Census Bureau and released in its 2012 Statistical Abstract shows a steady increase in the number of people taking up cycling. Apart from a couple of blips in 2005 and 2008, when the number of people cycling declined, cycling has maintained its status as a growth pastime in the United States.

So what happens if you decide that cycling to work, or getting involved with a local club just isn’t enough? What if you decide as Paul Woollams did that you want to go out and see the world on two wheels? How would the average person go about getting kitted out? These are the moments when it’s probably best to seek out the advice of an expert.

Matt McMillan and Ian Venable are both bike builders and avid cyclists who work at Lee’s Cyclery in Fort Collins, Colo.

“I’d recommend a touring specific bike,” says McMillan, “something with a steel frame.”

“Yeah, steel definitely, because it’s stout and it’s repairable,” adds Venable.

The importance of having a steel frame becomes obvious when you realize that even in the most remote areas of the world, there is someone who can fix it.

Next on the list of components that need to be able to hold up to the rigors of multiple environments are the gear sets.

“If it’s a self-supported tour, then you’re going to need to carry a lot of gears, something like a mountain bike rear cassette,” says Venable.

There is also the dilemma of wheel choice; should you go with fashionable 29-inch wheels or something else?

“26-inch is the most common size, they do make touring frames with these wheels,” says McMillan, “add onto this something with a wide range of gears, something that can haul your load.”

It is possible to walk into a bike store and pull something like this straight off the rack, have it tuned up, and then head out on your journey. But how much money are you going to pay for such a bike?

“Probably about $1500,” says McMillan, “maybe a little bit less.” Of course, there is the other option of a customized build at the store.

“You can make it as expensive as you like,” laughs McMillan. “I guess I wouldn’t want to put absolute top of the line stuff on there, because some of that is very specific and not every part of the world is going to have parts available.”

“You’re bound to have mechanical issues, it’s just a matter of time. Something that’s going to be fixable is going to become more desirable.”

So armed with a wallet and desire, what brands should the prospective traveler have in mind?

“Shimano, they’re known for their reliability,” says McMillan, “they are also worldwide.”

There are also multiple versions of steel frames available, so picking the right one is an exercise in weighing up competing variables.

“A frame is not a frame, there are many, many different types of steel out there,” says McMillan.

“There’s Reynolds steel, Columbus steel, Tengay steel, and many more that I don’t even know about.”

The steel itself varies on lightness and strength and so does the price. But McMillan felt that it wasn’t completely necessary to go for the top of the line in frames all the time.

More importantly, you’re going to need some wheels to get yourself on the road. McMillan and Venable both have some suggestions.

“An aluminum alloy wheel is just going to be stronger and lighter than a regular wheel,” says McMillan.

“It’s probably worth spending a little more on the wheels than you would think.”

Venable suggests a particular brand prospective riders should be thinking about, “Shimano XT hubs with Sun Rhyno Lite rims.”

“They are really good value and they are bombproof.”

Surprisingly, you could put all of these separate components together for roughly the same $1500 that you would spend on an off the shelf model. So why bother?

“You would just have much more bike in terms of quality, and it would be personalized to the specifications that you wanted,” states Venable.

So when you get that desire to go a little further than nearly all other riders, get a plan together and make your way down to your local experts for some professional advice. It will pay off in the end.

© 2012 Jamie M. Bradley All Rights Reserved

Liquor Store Caters to Changing Tastes

In the cavernous retail space occupied by Wilburs Total Beverage in Fort Collins, CO., manager and beer buyer Jeff Matson ponders just exactly how many craft brew brands he has in the store.

“You know, I can’t keep count, it changes every day.” After a period of mental calculation, along with a visual inspection of the endless shelves and coolers, Matson felt semi-confident of the number.

“About 500.”

As a beer buyer, Matson has to have his finger on the pulse of what his clients desire. In Matson’s eyes there’s one product that’s going to blow up over the summer.

“Ciders. Within the last year or so ciders have really been making a comeback. I was buying cider years ago and people were laughing at me. After pounding beer after beer after beer, you have a cider and boom! You’re ready to go back to beer. It’s just a nice cleanser.”

Matson is such a large fan of ciders that he has been steadily cultivating the shelf space that gets devoted to the esteemed apple product. This is of course the tricky part of being a beer buyer, trying to anticipate a whimsical public. Past trends often leave things no clearer either. Last year it was black IPA. This year could be a variation of that, or something completely different.

“It’s funny, things will always come in waves. I remember all these doubles and imperials that were strictly for anniversaries. Then they became the norm, just because we can. Then it was oak ageing, I remember the first bourbon stout I had, now you can get bourbon everything. Of course, we now have the wild ales and the sours.”

It seems that in Fort Collins you can throw a stone in any direction and hit a brewery, a brewpub, or somebody just making homebrew in their garage. Matson felt there was an underlying reason for this explosion.

“It might be because of Odell and New Belgium being from Fort Collins. It’s something that people who grew up here in Fort Collins can claim as their own. Because of them making beer, then people are more likely to try other craft beers.”

However, in setting up the way that his store marketed craft beer Matson had been careful to not alienate the uninitiated either.

“The best selling craft brews I have in the store comes from my ‘mixed six’ area. I got three doors (refrigerator door space) dedicated to just singles. That was one of the first ideas I had for the store.”

In doing so Matson allowed for people to just try a little bit of what the fancied each time, instead of asking people to commit to a whole six pack of something they’d never tried.

“It’s just a great tool to introduce new beers.”

For people who do know what they want, which local brewery does Matson think dominates the market share in store?

“You know, of course, New Belgium. But I tell you what, Odell is creeping,” laughed Matson.

© 2012 Jamie M. Bradley All Rights Reserved