Gear: Tale of Two Bicycles
Surly_is_a_pretty cool company. They make bikes, really good bikes, bikes built out of chromoly with strong welds and good character. Just ask a guy named Troll. We all chose the bike named Troll for Bound South and have built three of them nearly identically to one another. Yet we have all developed individual relationships with our bicycles and our gear since leaving Alaska. Bicycle touring is certainly not all about this equipment; there are many tourists who could probably get by on used hybrid bikes and backpacks. One has to keep everything in perspective and take nothing for granted. We are thankful everyday for what we have: a superb bicycle and three bags of stuff each. This post marks the first step in a series chronicling all the stuff of Bound South that you usually just glimpse in pictures; the Trolls, the trinkets, the tools, the tent, the luxuries and the immense satisfaction that comes when the little things don’t let you down.
The bikes are a natural place to begin. If our Trolls could be personified, they would be much like Surly’s officially unofficial spokesman: they are honest, unusual, they ride lots, and they do great with laughter. Within a few days of leaving Alaska, I had christened my Troll Angus. There was no real reason, except that I was raised on a farm-and-ranch, love a good steak, and thought that the name suited my bicycle. My day begins with “Good morning, Angus, today seems like a good day to kick butt, don’t you think so?” This bicycle is a tractor with panache. It can do just about anything. I do have another bicycle at home, though. To be completely honest I have three but I don’t like to dig too deeply into the ugly details of my addiction. Don’t tell Angus. We’ll focus for now on my Lieutenant, my go-fast bike, my pretty little thing that weighs 17 lbs and speaks Campagnolo. It’s my Giant TCR Advanced road racing bike that I picked up after my Bianchi cracked.
If I want to race or to fly around the roads on a training ride, my Giant is my dream bicycle. If I want to get groceries, it’s like a Ferrari with no trunk. Before Bound South, I had never seriously ridden anything other than a road racing bicycle. The zen of skinny tires and humming pacelines was all I knew. When I first took a ride with Angus that fateful day in Fargo, ND, I was admittedly a little bit hesitant. Angus is heavy. Angus rolls a little slower with big, heavy, fat, bulletproof Schwalbe Marathon tires. Angus is designed to be flicked around dirt singletrack like its brother the Surly’s 1×1. Unloaded, Angus can be twitchy on the road due to its dirt-optimized geometry. He behaves very nicely on pavement and dirt while loaded. What can I say? Angus possessed everything we needed to ride from Alaska to Argentina and he could carry it with class. Angus was a new friend yet somehow also the bicycle I’ve known my entire life. Angus represents a beautiful marriage of theory and practice; he is a chromoly touring bike that can run sturdy Surly racks, bombproof disc brakes, broad fenders, fat tires, and God’s uber-German-bicycle-gift to man: the Rohloff. Angus forced me to reconsider what I could expect of a bicycle.
Angus and other bicycles like him represent an idea that I find intoxicating. That idea is that bicycles shouldn’t be limited. If your bicycle is only a weekend exercise machine that has your back screaming in an uncomfortable position, chances are that it will hang dusty and unused. If your bicycle is only a rusted commuter with no brakes that risks your life with every cross-campus trek, it probably won’t last long before it hits the trash heap. Angus would have me believe in the celebration of form and function; that a bicycle can be your beautiful commuter, your grocery store getaway, and your trail explorer or bicycle camper on the weekends. Or maybe it can take you all the way to Argentina, if you’ve got the legs and the will and the time to let it take you there.
A few people really get this, and with any luck they’ll shake up the world and get more of it back onto a bicycle. It seems a world away, but I think of our past photography presentations at Bend Velo in Bend, Oregon and Velocult in San Diego, CA. These were highlights of our journey through the United States where we stopped at a bicycle shop, put our photography on a screen, and met the local cycling community. We shared our story and learned more about the places we were traveling through. These were shops where the owners really got it. Too many people have forgotten what makes bicycles so powerful and so functional and so beautiful: they become intertwined with our everyday lives. Here’s to hoping that shops like this can thrive and make a difference.
As for Angus, we’ll be hopelessly intertwined for a very long time. Assuming Angus doesn’t die or run away, he’ll be around for the rest of my life, serving as my faithful companion through hardship and illuminating new horizons with every turn of his wheels.