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Wild Nights On Cycle Tours


Beside a mountain lake in British Columbia in 2014, I was awoken just before dawn as a grizzly bear mistook my tent for a bush and sat down on top of me in the darkness.

The previous evening had been particularly cold. The geese had pecked away in the shallows, whilst I cooked dinner hurriedly amongst the boulders on the shore. When dusk touched down, they finished their meal and began to take off, pacing across the lake, wailing mournfully against the mountains as they climbed sharply above the trees. I quickly finished my own meal and changed my clothes; packing them away in a dry-bag with the stove. I then turned on my headlamp, and walked out into the surrounding forest to hang my bear-bag for the remainder of the night.

Alone at 6,000′ on the Great Divide MTB route, it was certainly one of the wilder places I had spent the night. And yet – as I hopped around in the bracken, blowing on my frigid digits and repeatedly failing to pull the bear-bag into a high enough tree – I thought about some of the other wild places I had stopped on bike trips over the years. And how, at the time, they had seemed just as intimidating as this night I was going into now


The rancher’s son Martin arriving with water and dinner

Before that point, one of the remotest places I had ever spent the night was on a sheep ranch in Patagonia, Chile. My Korean cycling partner and I had approached the farm at dusk after being battered by the wind all day. It was bleak and cold, and we were hungry and out of water. We rolled back the barbwire gate, and wheeled our bikes onto the property.

A figure appeared. A weather beaten rancher, coming towards us through the gloom. Just feet away, he stopped and fixed us with his one good eye whilst the other flickered madly over us. We had little language to explain our needs, but an hour later we were warm, and installed inside a barn. Soon after, his son Martn knocked on the door. He was on horseback and had brought a gift. A dinner of lamb steak, eggs and mashed potato with nothing expected in return.


South American alligator roadkill

If that was the remotest night I had spent on a bike trip, the scariest had been in northern Argentina, while making a solo crossing of the Esteros de Iber wetlands. It was nearly dark and for the last 30minutes I had been cruising down the potholed road looking for a place to pitch the tent. The fading light was golden, and the sky was reflected in the marshes, like heaven brought down to earth. Spying a disused track, I bounced my bike off the road and crashed my way through the undergrowth to find a pitch on high ground, away from the alligators that crawl out of the swamp.

In the darkness before dawn, my worst fears were realised though, when I woke to find a silhouetted creature crawling up between the inner tent and flysheet, making its way across above my head. But as day broke the alligator began to make a strange purring noise – and I soon had a brew going on the stove and was sharing hot milk with two very small, rather cute and extremely cold Argentinian kittens.

Baby “alligators” kept at bay with a sandal to stop them setting themselves and the tent on fire before breakfast was ready


And so when the bear sank down on top of me in the Canadian Rocky mountains, I’d already had my share of remoteness and anxiety whilst wild camping. The animal’s crushing weight was perhaps my final comeuppance for trying my luck and exploring beyond the limits of where I should dare to go.

But like the Chilean rancher, the Argentinian alligator and so many of the other perceived dangers that make us pedal home and lock up the doors at night – we can often find they dissipate, when confronted, and prove nothing more than the crushing weight of our own preconceptions and fear.

Indeed, this is how it proved inside my tent. With a kick and a shove, I managed to free my trapped legs. Then, with a shake of the fabric, the bear shaped object astonishingly disintegrated into a brief snow flurry, before disappearing altogether.

…The remnants of the “bear”

In the first light of day I unzipped the tent wearing all of my clothing, and inspected the broken branch from where the overnight snow had suddenly fallen onto my tent. Next I dug out my bike, retrieved my bear-bag and then continued pedaling into the brilliant new landscape.

Call for Comments

  1. Have you ever been on an overnight bike trip?
  2. Did you have to overcome any fears of the unknown?
3. Where is the line between adventure and recklessness?

Next Up: The Cycle Touring Cookbook

Matt Maynard is a British outdoor journalist, environmentalist and photographer based in Santiago, Chile. 2016 credits include: BBC Travel, The Guardian, Mens Fitness and Red Bull. His stories seek to draw on that clarity we have when living life with determination and truthfulness.

Find more of his adventures on Twitter @MattNMaynard, Facebook and at his website

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Urban Legends fashion show video

The folks of Momentum Magazine posted the Interbike Urban Legends Art & Fashion show video with help from Masi Bikes. You also see details about the bikes, accessories and clothing at Momentum Planet.Videography by David Niddrie and Gwendal Castellan. Photography by Wendell Challenger, Richard Masoner (aka Yours Truly), Carlton Reid, Joe Sales.Edit by Tim Grahl:I pulled up Commute by Bike this morning planning to post this video but Fritz beat me to it. However, I did want to add a few of my thoughts on the significance of having an event like the Urban Legends show at Interbike.As discussed frequently here, the bicycle was hijacked in our country by the “sport” of cycling and a huge part of the problem is the reluctance of the industry to change that. Interbike 2008 was my fifth year at the show and I am still constantly surprised by how people can’t get their heads out of their asses long enough to look past their full carbon widgets and shaving grams off their race bike to see that we can all benefit by focusing on urban (normal) cycling and offering real people real bikes to get around on.In all my past years of Interbike there has not been one extra-curricular activity surrounding the show that was focused on the normal rider. While I stood in that ballroom and watched the Urban Legend fashion show, I was thrilled beyond words that this was taking place at Interbike.While I completely believe that each one of us makes a difference when we daily choose a bicycle over a car, seeing a shift in the bike industry this way means more products for normal people to take up cycling and more resources spent promoting every day cycling.Congratulations to Momentum Magazine for putting on the show.A huge thanks to Interbike for taking the chance on inviting them in.And more hope than ever for the bike industry… I think you’re starting to get it!

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Too cold to ride!

That excuse will no longer work.  According the this NY Times article exercising in the cold is not bad for you.  Contrary to conventional wisdom your lungs are fine in the cold.

…lungs are not damaged by cold, said Kenneth W. Rundell, the director of respiratory research and the human physiology laboratory at Marywood University in Scranton, Pa. No matter how cold the air is, by the time it reaches your lungs, it is body temperature, he explained.

The biggest thing to keep in mind though when commuting by bike or exercising in the winter is to dress properly.

One mistake winter exercisers make is wearing too much clothing. You don’t want to sweat profusely because you overdressed.

It is really tricky to figure out how much clothing to wear the first few times you go out.  The rule I use is that when starting out if I am a little chilly to cold I will be okay on my ride.  But if I go outside and feel nice and warm I know that I will quickly over heat and start sweating too much.

Typically when I ride in right now the temp is about 35-40 degrees.  My clothing selection has been fine tuned over the past couple weeks and is lees than I had initially thought.  Here is what I usually wear:

  • Windstop vest
  • Long sleeve wool jersey
  • Sleeveless undershirt
  • Bib shorts
  • Leg warmers
  • Wool socks
  • Toe covers for my shoes

This tends to keep me just right on dry days.  When it is raining I substitute the long sleeve wool jersey and very for a short wool sleeve jersey and jacket.
If you are in the fence about going out in the cold in exercising or riding I say try it and you might be surprised how fun and invigorating it is.