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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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The Bike-Friendliest Little Town in America

I’m sitting in Bites on Broadway in Skagway, Alaska, a hundred-year-old saloon-cum-coffee house, watching tourists walk down the wooden boardwalks. For every dozen tourists, there’s a local guide biking past. The guides look lean compared to the typically tubby cruise ship passengers. They ride up to the post office mailbox across Broadway to drop off letters to the Lower Forty-Eight. There are bike racks up and down Broadway, taking up prime car parking space, tucked into alleys, by back doors, and by front doors. They’re often half full, sometimes more. The diversity of bikes in Skagway is stunning: fixies, fat bikes, beach cruisers, touring bikes, tandems, BMX bikes, mountain bikes, choppers, penny farthings, sidecars, trailers, and tag-alongs. During the summer, easily half of the folks in Skagway rely on bikes for their primary transportation.

The bike racks along Broadway in Skagway are typically full.

Skagway is laid out in a grid twenty blocks long north to south, and four blocks wide east to west. It’s barely a mile from one end of town to the other. It’s flat. Aside from the wind, it’s perfect for bikes. During the summer tourist season, more than half of the vehicles are driven by professionals, who are unfailingly courteous to the cyclists who abound in Skagway. The speed limit in town is a sedate twenty-five miles per hour, fifteen in front of the all-grades-in-one public school. Bike racks are everywhere. While permanent bike theft is virtually nonexistent, “borrowing without permission” is a more widespread problem.

Families ride their bikes to the parks. Kids ride their bikes to school. Off-duty guides ride their bikes to trailheads. On-duty guides, bartenders, waitstaff and retail workers all ride their bikes from home to work and back. After school is out, packs of kids ride around unsupervised. “Gut feeling,” Dustin Craney, General Manager of Sockeye Cycle Company, said, “it’s gotta be a third to a half of people [who use bikes for their primary transportation]. It’s hard to get in a car and drive three blocks. It’s easier to just walk or ride.”

Ashton, one of the baristas at Bites on Broadway, poses with his penny farthing bicycle.

The Skagway town government has had more than a little to do with the ubiquity of bicycles in Skagway, after recognizing that there simply wasn’t enough room in downtown Skagway for every summer worker to own and park a car. According to Dustin, they “made an effort to increase the bike parking options in town. As you’ve probably noticed, some of the racks get pretty full sometimes, especially the one at Second and Broadway, near The Red Onion, it’s almost just always packed with bikes. [The city] is pretty responsive to accommodating needs, when they see bikes laid all over a building because there’s not enough parking, a bike rack sometimes shows up there. The downtown area, for as small as we are, is relatively heavily used by vehicles. [The municipal government] wants to be encouraging of people bringing their bikes into town and not bringing their [car] into town, especially when you’re driving, like, eight blocks. Don’t come down here and park all day, take up parking space, take up road space. Leave your car at home and bike in!”

“I just love biking past the [Skagway] school and seeing the rack entirely chock full of bikes, and seeing all the kids get out of school and there’s a little train of kids biking down the street.” -Laura Patton, senior Sockeye Cycle tour guide.For all of its friendliness to bikes though, Skagway isn’t an officially designated “Bike Friendly Community.” When Dustin and Sockeye Cycle Company urged the Borough Board of Superintendents to apply for the designation a few years back, there was a bit of pushback. Dustin explained, “There were and are concerns about the Klondike Highway, and the amount of traffic on that highway. It’s basically the one road in and out of town. It’s a bike route, it’s an industrial highway, it’s just a general commercial and recreational transportation corridor. It’s heavily used by a ton of different user groups…They were concerned that if they were prioritizing bicycles or encouraging more cycling that it was gonna be a conflict with the industrial traffic that also uses that corridor.” Nora, a mechanic at Sockeye Cycle Co., shows off her Salsa Fargo fat bike.

Cruise ships dock for the day in Skagway and depart in the early evenings. At nine in the morning, the downtown boardwalks are crammed with passengers from the two, three or even four cruise ships that dock simultaneously. Twelve hours later, at nine at night, the sky is just as bright but the streets belong to the locals. From May until August the sun doesn’t set, so much as slip along the northern horizon, and locals pedal around town long past when they’d be asleep in the summer. Daytime is work time in a cruise town, and nighttime is playtime. And after a few beers at The Red Onion Saloon or the Happy Endings Bar, it’s not uncommon for folks to (un)intentionally “borrow” a bike to get home.

There’s a casual attitude towards locking bikes in Skagway. Nine out of ten bikes aren’t locked up. Folks trust other folks. Bikes aren’t stolen in Skagway, they’re just “borrowed without permission.” The practice is prevalent enough that the Skagway Police Department issued a notice that borrowing without permission was, legally speaking, theft.

Bike thieves aren’t hanged in Skagway, so long as they return the bikes that they “borrowed without permission.”

Dustin Craney explained that “there’s a big gray area in Skagway between ‘this bike was stolen’ and ‘this bike was just borrowed and it was totally fine.’ [It’s] this gray area of, ‘it was borrowed, the owner didn’t know about it, but it’s gonna be returned.’ …There’s not a lot of people that lock up their bikes in Skagway. There’s not a huge threat that cruise ship passengers are going to steal bikes and bring them on the cruise ship. And then the only other way out of town is up the hill and through the border. A lot of people are going to be hesitant to steal a bike and take it across the border. With the small town that we live in, it’s also hard to steal a bike and then use it because the owner probably lives within five blocks of you. There’s not a huge issue with bikes disappearing and never coming back.

But what there is an issue with, especially later at night near the bars, near the downtown area, is bikes kind of wandering and finding their way into a different yard in town or a different bike rack than it was parked at. There’s a combination of comedy and frustration with it at times depending on if it’s actually your bike…At 1am at The Red Onion Saloon, they all look the same. It’s, hey this bike’s not locked up, I need to get fifteen blocks to my house, I’m just gonna borrow this one, I’ll ride it back into town tomorrow and park it in the same bike rack. I’m sure it happens without people noticing sometimes. They left their bike there for a couple days, and it’s still there, and they don’t know that it’s had a couple rides…[Bikes] might just be relocated overnight, but then there’s a search and they’re found, and everyone’s ok with it…It is a little bit of an unsaid ethic in this town; if you need a ride home at night, grab a bike, and leave it -I don’t know if I’m encouraging that- grab a bike, leave it in your yard and bring it back the next day; it’s probably ok. People realize that if their bike disappears around here, it’s probably not forever. You’ll probably find it. It’ll probably show up. At some point.”

Kill your TV.

Wesley Cheney leads Klondike bike tours for Sockeye Cycle Co. in Skagway, Alaska. He earned his Eagle Scout Badge with Troop 216 in Springfield, Vermont, biked from London to Rome via the Route Napoleon, sailed with the USS Kearsarge to Equatorial Africa, earned a Bachelors Degree in Philosophy from Old Dominion University, completed the final Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200km Brevet, and most recently delivered freaky fast sandwiches for Jimmy John’s in Norfolk, Virginia. As a professional photographer, he has captured images of Harrier jump jets, Norfolk Southern intermodal trains and mountain bike races. Wesley has built, pedaled, paddled and sailed bamboo bicycles, bamboo kayaks, and bamboo sailboats. In the off-season he sings in the choir of Christ & St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, teaches screen printing at 757 Makerspace. He regularly contributes questions to The Thomas Jefferson Hour, plays the ukulele and the flugelhorn, reads the New Testament in German, and prefers to wear a kilt.