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Go, Go Golden Circle! Biking the Golden Circle with BOB


Another broken spoke. My heart sank. My bike tour was going nowhere fast, and it had barely even begun. I had too much weight on two cheap wheels, too flimsy for a Clydesdale like myself. I needed a trailer.
Author Wesley Cheney at the start of his six hundred kilometer Golden Circle ride through Alaska, British Columbia and Yukon, before hooking up with BOB.

I felt my goals were modest enough: I wanted to bike the “Golden Circle” from Haines, Alaska, through the Yukon Territory and British Columbia and back to Skagway, Alaska in less than four days. I would be crossing two major mountain passes and riding six hundred kilometers on the Haines Highway, the Alaska Highway, and the Klondike Highway. I could not afford to have spokes breaking. It would be three hundred kilometers between bike shops and gas stations. I only had one emergency spoke with me.

Admittedly, it was a problem partially of my own creation. I was riding a Trek Alpha 1.1 entry-level road bike. If I’d read the fine print on the warranty, I’d have seen that I exceeded the maximum recommended weight. But I’d been hesitant to ship my favorite touring bike from Virginia to Alaska for my first season as a bike tour guide. I didn’t know if I’d really need it. Instead, I bought a used rental bike from my shop. And promptly started breaking spokes.


If I was going to make it any farther than the ferry dock in Haines, I was going to need another wheel. I didn’t have the time or the funds to buy another bike, even if there were any 63cm touring bikes available, anyway. (Did I mention that I’m almost always the tallest guy in any room?) But there was a BOB Yak Trailer for rent at Sockeye Cycle Co. And I had ridden many miles with a BOB in tow before.

The BOB Yak Trailer is amongst the most versatile of bike trailers, and a worthwhile investment for cyclists who need to get the groceries or go five hundred miles.

I bike by the seat of my pants, literally. The feel of my bike comes through my seat, through my pedals, through my handlebars. Different roads, different trails, and different bikes all feel distinct and different.  If I really want to get in touch with nature, I ride my skinny, high-pressure tires down a rutted gravel road. There’s nature, pounding my palms and soles mercilessly. The same holds true for carrying loads on bikes. The location, size, and volume of cargo directly affect how a bike feels in motion. To the seat of my pants, cargo carried in trailers is more stable and less tiring than cargo carried on bike racks. And carrying cargo in a backpack is even more of an exertion than carrying cargo on a bike rack.

Larger than Life: Touring with a bike trailer spreads the load out, making it less taxing on both the body and the bike to ride long distances with cargo.

Bicycles are physics in motion. And carrying cargo on a bicycle is an act of compounded physics. In addition to balancing myself atop two wheels, I’m also balancing a static load. The higher that load is above my pedals and wheels, the more work I have to do. Lower loads are less work. Handlebar bags and baskets are great for quick access, but when they’re overloaded they make a bike harder to handle, both in motion and standing still. Watching my bike flop over on its kickstand and spill a couple of smoothies over a couple of sandwiches made me swear off handlebar baskets once and for all. Feeling my shoulders ache under the pinch of overloaded backpacks was one thing, but it was another matter to feel the wind gust and jerk bulky backpacks. It taught me that it’s not just the weight of a load that matters, but also the volume. Biking is like sailing. Air resistance is everything. Tucking down into my drops lets me pedal faster into a headwind. The location of loads makes a difference in how the wind feels. Higher loads place the center of resistance to the wind higher on the bike, and require more work, making the bike more finicky and twitchy, and leaving me craving more burritos. Whereas lower loads are easier.


Cargo on the Down Low: The OMM Ultimate Lowrider Rack is a great option for lowering the center of balance on a touring bike, and keeps the weight evenly distributed.

The same load carried in a trailer will be more stable than carried on a bike. When it comes to moving cargo on a bike, two wheels are good. But three, or more, wheels are better. Moving my cargo from my back and my bike to a trailer made all the difference in not only the amount of energy required to ride but also decreased the strain on my bike. The biggest difference was in the number of flat tires and broken spokes that I had to deal with. I already weigh over a hundred kilo. I’m big enough to be mistaken for a (svelte) linebacker. My spokes don’t need the added stress of extra weight. By moving my cargo to a trailer, I removed weight from my rear wheel, moved the center of mass below my bike hubs, and lowered the center of wind resistance. Furthermore, I was able to carry bigger loads, both in terms of weight and volume. The only trade off was that I was carrying more deadweight. Even empty, a bike cargo trailer weighs at least twice as much as a pair of panniers and a set of racks.


You get what you pay for. Buying a bike rack at a big box store may be easy on the wallet, but it doesn’t make for reliable gear. If you’re only using a bike rack once a month or once per season, then it may do just fine. But if you plan on loading your panniers every day, carrying groceries home, bringing books to class or paying the rent by delivering food, then you’ll want to invest in a quality rack.

The Ortlieb Touring Rack R2 is a sturdy, affordable option that beats any bargain bike rack in the long haul.



The replacement spoke sang as I plucked it on the truing stand at Sockeye Cycle. I swapped the skewer on my rear wheel, set my wheel back in the dropouts, and mounted a rental Yak B.O.B. (Beast of Burden) trailer onto the rear of my bike. With my spare clothes, bivouac sack and food transferred from sitting high over the rear wheel to sitting down low behind my bike, I now had a more stable ride, and I was stressing my rear wheel less. Four days and six hundred kilometers later I was exhausted, but happy that I’d made the switch. I only wished that I’d done so sooner.

When I finished my own private odyssey a few days later, I unclipped the BOB trailer and lickety-split, I had a little, lightweight road bike again. Unlike a cargo bike or a touring bike that is always loaded down with racks, the BOB Yak is easy to detach and store when it’s not needed.

And, it looks darn cool.

A rainbow stretches over the Haines Highway and the author’s bike during his self-supported Golden Circle bike tour with a BOB Yak trailer.

Author Wesley Cheney leads bicycle tours in Alaska and Virginia, blogs at The Kilted Writer, and delivers freaky fast sandwiches in the off-season.

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Taking off on cycle tours

“I’d often dreamed of going West to see the country, always vaguely planning and never taking off ” Jack Kerouac

There was a thick red line running north through South America, projected onto my classroom whiteboard. After 2,000 miles the planned bike route doglegged east over the Andes mountains. It then continued across the Argentinian Pampas towards Paraguay before arcing back again through the Altiplano of Bolivia. It formed, I realized, a great big question mark over the South American continent – the unintended metaphor not all lost on my 10th Grade English class.

“I am quitting my job to go on an adventure,” I told them, and, looking over my shoulder for inspiration from the big red question mark, “adventuring means you’re sometimes unsure about what might happen. It means letting go.”

I thought I had rescued my air of uncertainty with that comment. The sniggering at the back quietened down. The speculation about me having been fired due to regularly arriving sweaty and late by bike (and for holding such off-topic lessons) seemed to be on hold.


Next I informed the class, “I will be going alone.” This came as little surprise to a front row student. (The previous week before school she had caught me patting down my helmet-hair and grabbing a necktie from a classroom filing cabinet. Later she pityingly asked, whilst nodding speculatively at my filing cabinets – “Do you live here?”) For the majority of the class, however, I could see this solo trip was quite out of the ordinary.

“There is,” I hedged, “a difference between loneliness and being alone.” And then, directed at the boy at the back -quietly refreshing his phone for social messages of personal approval – I tried to explain that being brave enough to travel with just my own thoughts and a bicycle was an important expression of self-love. “Perhaps the first and most important kind of love there is.” I planned to be alone, but hoped that in the future the decision would bring me closer to others. They kind of got that.Matt-beach

“And all my house,” I said, warming to my theme “will be on my bike” (Like I said, they digged metaphor and it drew some wry smiles and sarcastic comments about which pannier would accommodate the kitchen sink.) I explained how I’d chosen both front and back racks to distribute weight; a beautiful British Brooks saddle and a beetle green tent for camouflage whilst wild camping (see next post). “Choosing what to live without,” I said sagely “is a lesson in knowing what’s important to you.” Filing cabinet girl looked vindicated. The rest, however, looked just a little bit intrigued.

“But how will you know where to go,” a child astutely asked, “and isn’t everything in Foreign?” This initially worried me too, as it was a rather big journey; and I wasn’t at all fluent in Foreign yet. As a start, I’d chosen 5 tourist sights along the journey that moved me – a condor brushed mountain; a glacier that roared; a city on water; the road to the sky and a waterfall that carved countries. The red question mark showed the general route, and the remainder I would decipher from gestures and goodwill of locals, better maps found in country and anything else that came blowing in the wind.rolling-home

“All right,” said one of the brightest students, “I get all that (making the peace sign) hippy stuff but what will you do for MONEY?” I explained that I already had my one-way plane ticket and, once I got there, I really didn’t expect to pay for much else. My accommodation each night would be wherever I chose to pitch my tent (with an ocean or a mountain view at no extra charge.) My transportation would be the two wheels I rolled on, and it’s fuel would be the food I cooked under the stars. A far cry perhaps from their experiences on family holidays to that point in their lives; but a few of them I could see were now smiling – captured by the mystery of an adventure.

condor-brushed-fitzroyAt the end of the day, when all the students had left, I got changed into my bike clothes once again and hanged my tie with the crepe paper. I then turned the projector off and watched as the question mark slowly faded into the whiteboard.

Next Month: “Wild Nights On Cycle Tours!”

Call for comment

What plans have you got for taking off?

Do you find that talking through your ideas helps remove your doubts?

Matt Maynard is from the UK. He used to be a teacher but now is an outdoor journalist, environmentalist and photographer based in Santiago, Chile. (He did go on that bike trip to South America completing three quarters of the question mark before he met a very wonderful Chilean woman.)

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

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Burley Travoy – A New Generation of Trailers

While at Frostbike a few weeks back we were introduced to the Burley Travoy.  A new cargo trailer from the folks at Burley.  This trailer is much different than any trailer you may have seen so make sure to click through all the photos.

Burley Travoy CBB

The trailer is more all than wide, and utilizes different types of bags to hang off of the main structure.  It then attaches to your bike much like a tow behind bicycle would, at the seatpost.

The advantages of this trailer over say the Burley Nomad are two fold..  First, this trailer can collapse down pretty flat, and easy to carry into the office or 3rd floor flat. Second, universal.  Carry a laptop in their messenger bag, get grocery’s with their grocery style panniers.  I am a big fan of interchangeable and universal things.

A Travoy should be coming to Commute By Bike headquarters this spring for a full review.  Bike Hugger currently has one in for review, check out their photos of real life use.

On Twitter : @BurleyTrailers or follow us : @BikeShopGirlcom

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Update: How the Surly Big Dummy Rides

Surly Big Dummy

I’ve been riding the Surly Big Dummy on a daily basis for a month now and am reading to give my thoughts on how it works from a commuting standpoint. This first segment will focus on how it rides.

One of the regular question of longtail bikes is how it rides. In general, it feels like a normal bike. When going straight down the road nothing feels much different. However there are several idiosyncrasies that are important to point out.

The first, and most disconcerting, was the slight give in the frame when going over potholes, bumps and other obstacles. Because the wheelbase is so long, you can feel a slight bow underneath you. It’s nothing bad and is completely safe, however when you aren’t used to it, this difference in ride can take you by surprise.

If you regularly hop curbs or go over bigger obstacles, you’ll want to remember that all of your timing instincts will be off with the longer wheelbase. The first time I pull it over the curb I got knocked off the pedals because the wheel hit a split second later than I was used to due to the longer wheelbase. What I foundis to just stay seated through the whole thing. Since the wheel is so far back you don’t feel the impact as hard and you don’t have to worry about your timing. Not to mention, if you’re used to unweighting the rear wheel this won’t do you much good on a longtail

The final big question is how it climbs. This is where you will feel the extra rear weight more than anywhere else. The feeling that kept coming to me was that I had a bag of sand on a skateboard tied behind me. It obviously climbs better than that scenario, however I could distinctly feel that heavy load behind me. I also feel like it gets increasingly difficult to climb the slower I go. I’m sure there’s somebody reading with a degree in physics that could explain this, but I feel like it’s easier to pull the bike up the hill, especially with a heavier load, when I keep the bike in a harder gear and stand to pedal. When I shift down to an easy gear and try to hamster wheel up the hill I feel like the rear end of the bike is much heavier and it’s harder to get up the hills.

Last weekend I headed to my childhood home and put my father on the bike for a ten mile ride. He only rides a bike a couple times a year when he’s with me, however he’s in good shape due to his job. So during and after the ride I questioned him on what he thought of it. It was interesting that he mentioned a lot of the same things I had already noticed. He liked how it rode and said it felt more comfortable and stable than other bikes I’d put him on. He also could feel the heavier weight of the bike behind him. Like he was “pulling a sack of potatoes” in his words.

The last thing I would point out is the turning radius. Since the bike is so long you’ll catch corners if you cut them to close. This hasn’t caused me much of a problem though, just takes some getting used to.

After a month of riding the Big Dummy I feel completely comfortable zooming around town. Dropping on and off curbs, riding in traffic, ducking between cars, etc all feels very natural now.

I point that out because this bike took me longer than any other to get used to riding. The idiosyncrasies of riding a longtail bike can be very disconcerting at first. So if you’re looking to buy one and get a chance to do a test ride, don’t be quick to judge. I’ve heard more than one report of people disliking a longtail at first and then growing to love it as they got used to riding it.

Ed. This is part of my ongoing review of the Surly Big Dummy. You can click here to view all of the articles from this review.

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First Impression: Surly Big Dummy

An amazing thing happened this morning. A commute that would have normally been by car was instead taken on a bike.

Surly Big Dummy

Commute by Bike has taken delivery of a Surly Big Dummy for review. We’ve been talking about this bike since it was first shown at Interbike in September of 2006. They recently went on sale in February (and quickly sold through) and for most of Spring I’ll be riding this bike everyday to put it through the paces as I use it on a daily basis to see how I can reduce my car use more than ever.

Over the past twenty-four hours since I built it up I’ve put over 25 miles on the Big Dummy and this post will give you plenty of pictures to look through and include my first impressions of the bike.

This morning I had several things I needed to get to my office that were out of the norm. I had a couple big textbooks, my normal bag full of goodies (computer, power cord, etc) and a new coffee pot in the box. This would have normally resulted in me taking my car to the office as the bike I’ve been using lately has no where to store all that cargo. On the Surly Big Dummy everything fit easily.

The Surly Dummy is designed around the Xtracycle system and is rated to carry 200lbs worth of gear in addition to a 200lb rider. The setup you see in the pictures includes the V-Racks, Freeloader panniers and SnapDeck. The Freeloaders are extremely unique and versatile. Here’s the description from the Xtracycle website:

Open ended and expandable to swallow backpacks and guitars, they hang flat and out of the slipstream when not needed. Buckle configuarion allows for over-the-top loading, too.

Indestructable Hypalon inward, UV resistant and fast drying polyester outward. Mesh ends keep your tomatoes and flip-flops from getting lost. Made of coated nylon for durability and weight saving and adds two pockets to the inner panel: a large velcro enclosed pocket for a rain coat, pump or sweater and a small mesh pocket for tools, coins, etc. The material (600d nylon with three layers of PU coating) is water and abrasion resistant. The rip-proof nylon shaves two ounces off (making it 14oz per side) and wears well.

As you can see in these pictures I easily strapped in my bag, books and Coffee Maker. The inward pouches held my tools and digital camera.

Surly Big Dummy Surly Big Dummy Surly Big Dummy Surly Big Dummy

The Big Dummy is only sold as a frame and fork (although both QBP and Xtracycle sell a build kit) so you’re able to build it up however you need. Since this review is geared toward a daily commute, the bike has been built to have a comfortable position for regular road riding. The handlebars are Nitto North Road and tires are Schwalbe Big Apple. This makes for an upright position and a smooth ride.

Surly Big Dummy Surly Big Dummy Surly Big Dummy

I have to admit that my first commute yesterday was extremely nerve racking for me. I’ve never ridden a comfort style bike more than a couple minutes around a parking lot so sitting upright is a new thing and took some getting used to. However, by the time I road home yesterday evening I was getting much more comfortable with the setup.

Getting used to riding a long bike is quite the paradox. On one hand it’s just a bike and rides like one. Once you’re going and pedaling the bike feels no different and is extremely comfortable. In fact the longer wheelbase makes for a much more stable ride, especially at low speeds. You’ll be able to track stand and/or keep from putting a foot down way more than usual when coming to a slow roll or stop.

On the hand, there’s a lot of things to keep in mind while riding the Big Dummy. Just like a tractor trailor has to take wide turns, you have to be mindful going around corners. If you cut it close on a normal bike you’ll catch a curb on a long bike. If you go to ride over a curb or obstacle your timing will be way off. Last night I popped the curb in front of my house and went to lift the rear wheel off the ground and nothing happened… then the rear wheel finally hit. It’s just a split second but it’s plenty to throw everything off. It knocked my right foot off the pedal which caused me to bear claw my shin.

I’m looking forward to getting more accustomed to riding a long tail bike and not having the constant feeling that something is amiss.

Here are a few things I have in store in the coming weeks for a review of this bike:

  • Plenty of trips to the grocery store and other errands
  • A fully bike-support camping trip from my front door to the campsite
  • Changing out the handlebars and tires for a more aggressive riding position to allow for a rougher urban ride and some mountain biking
  • Measuring out 200lbs worth of stuff and loading the bike down to see how it rides under those conditions

If you have any other ideas for how I can put this bike through the paces please leave it in the comments. Also, as always, if you have any questions drop those in the comments as well.

More updates in the near future…

Surly Big Dummy Surly Big Dummy

Ed. This is part of my ongoing review of the Surly Big Dummy. You can click here to view all of the articles from this review.