On the Road – bRad Across America

Who knows what inspires/possesses a young person (or an older one) to race a bike across America? The sheer scale of a ride like that defies understanding. It’s more like an act of faith really, hurling yourself into the void of 4,000 plus miles and a month on the road, believing that the adventure will be worth that super-human effort.

Maybe we’ll find out when our own Brad Smith gets back from the Trans Am Bike Race, which started this weekend in Astoria, OR. The Trans Am follows the route of the 4,233 mile Trans America Trail between Astoria and Yorktown, VA. This is a self-supported event, so the right bike set-up is important.

Here is Brad’s Evergreen SL, ready for travel.


McKenzie Pass, in central Oregon.

We’ll be following Brad as he rolls east. You can check his Instagram, too, for photo updates from his adventure.

On the Road: Seattle with Cascade Bicycle Studio

photo 4We can’t lie. It was nice to fly out of snowy Boston, even if our destination was rainy Seattle. 55F with rain is a welcome break from 10F with mountains of snow lining the roads.

We gave a Tech Talk at Cascade Bicycle Studio, delving deep into the benefits of steel, titanium and carbon, as well as looking at the latest in custom paint and talking about our Evergreen bikes and the act of Evergreening. We never tire of talking about bikes and bike riding. As usual, the questions at the end were the best par.

The guys at the shop were game for a ride the next morning, even though it was pouring. Sometimes the stereotypes are true, it rains a lot in Seattle, and sometimes you still have to ride your bike.

We rode up along the canal, out of Fremont. We climbed what seemed to our New England eyes like impossibly green hills. We hurtled down wet descents, trusting to our local guides. We crossed the ship locks at Ballard near the west end of Salmon Bay, walking our bikes to escape the ire of the very serious people who operate them. There were no salmon on the fish ladder, and the view was seriously compromised by low lying fog and pelting rain, but still, what a ride? We finished at the coffee shop, as you do, and warmed ourselves while we dripped dry on their nice wood floors.

It’s easy to get stuck in your bubble, thinking the rest of the world rides the way you do in the same conditions you do, but that’s not remotely true. We love visiting our friends at shops all over the world, if only to better understand why we build so many different bikes.

On the Road: Zand Martin Cycling the Kazakh Steppe

It’s a long time since Zand Martin came to pick up his Expat S and laid all his Russian military maps on the floor in our showroom to show us what he had planned. Over the course of the expedition (see here, here, here, here, here and here), we saw things go awry and askew as some of those maps failed to reflect a workable reality for Zand and his expedition partner. And yet, they managed to see and document so many of Central Asia’s beautiful, seldom-seen locales, and we couldn’t have enjoyed seeing those landscapes more, one of our bikes a tool that helped bring back those views.

Our On the Road series is about showcasing what riders are doing with our bikes out in the world. Zand is a different kind of rider, a true adventurer and explorer, and we count ourselves lucky to be able to share his stories with you here.

More of Zand’s lovely photos and prose below:

The road has no outlet. There is no bridge, and no ferry. The map is wrong, again. We are crushed, again. We followed the main road towards Ust-Kamenogorsk as our map had it, along the shores of the great reservoir of Bukhatarmskoye. But twenty-five kilometers from anywhere, the road turns to dirt and a branch drops to a languid shore and a rusted, abandoned ferry dock. The family smoking cigarettes on the dock offers us candy and cabbage rolls, and confirms our suspicions, pointing north to the road. “Nyet parom, nyet most,” no ferry, no bridge between here and Ust-Kamenogorsk, Oskemen in Kazakh. They indicate a barge in the lake, the ferry coming to take them west across to a road that leads to Samara. It is 240 kilometers to our railhead by that route, and when the boat docks and disgorges a small truck and two Ladas, we reluctantly wheel our bikes on board.

We had taken a leisurely lunch, knowing we would camp the night by the reservoir and then have an easy morning into Ust. There, we would reach the railhead and the end of our human-powered journey around the Altai. We were fifty kilometers away, after thousands. Moments before we were exultant, our ending close and within the easy reach of a morning’s ride. Now, we are again cast into uncertainty and high challenge. We sullenly eat crackers on a bench by the railing. A trio of weathered Russian and Kazakh men loosen the steel cable loops on the ship-side bollards, and the Odessa slips out of the dock into the narrow reservoir.

We had spent almost two weeks in the watershed, both in China, the mountains along the Austrian Road, and down in the rolling Kazakh steppe along the rivers draining to the Irtysh. Leafy villages dotted our route through the grasslands, simple settlements following a comfortable pattern: spread a handful of shops and markets along the main road, and cluster log and concrete brick houses around it with gardens and hayricks. Every town has a mosque built since the fall of the Soviet Union, often including Timurid and Persian elements like blue tile domes and large brick arched entrances. They are village affairs, humble, and tell the story of Islamic revival in Kazakhstan, encouraged from within the country, and from without.

We relish the sparse green of the villages, and eat ice creams on rickety benches while schoolchildren ask us our name and giggle at our strange accents. In Russian-influenced and settled Kazakhstan, we added cheese and butter back into our diet, along with tomato sauce and real ice cream bars. The wind, unfortunately, continued to plague us until the asphalt ran out on the outskirts of Terekty, and that new challenge gave us a reprieve until we finished the Austrian Road and returned to sealed roads. There, we pass between the mountain walls headed west. North, Siberia begins, while south, whence we came, Central Asia stretches in desert, and glacier. The wind assaulted us, again. We moved west through verdant pasture, crawling into a forty knot headwind for the tenth day. Our first night camping beyond the Austrian Road, we hide behind poplars and wake to several inches of snow. At the latitude of Seattle and the elevation of Pittsburgh.

As we near the far shore, the captain waves us up two stories to the wheel house. The sparse bridge holds a few notebooks, a throttle marked in stenciled Cyrillic, and a great wooden ship’s wheel. He shows us the controls, and jots down distances to our next town: seventy kilometers. We dock as the sun drops, and move a few kilometers on to a rise above the lake. We set tents, boil water, and settle in to our disappointment and our well-exercised muscle of moving on, laughing, and planning. In the last light, two Kazakh horsemen wander by from work in the hills along the lake. We chat, and before leaving one dismounts and urges me into the saddle. Reminiscent of childhood pony rides, the second shepherd holds my reins and we ring camp at a trot.

Of course, there’s more worth reading and seeing on Zand’s expedition blog. Check it out.


On the Road: Evergreening Austin

With the relative calm the holidays bring, we thought we’d go someplace warm and ride our bikes on trails and roads we’d never seen before. We got on a plane and headed for Austin…where it was colder than Boston. Oh, well. Adventures seldom work out as planned. Otherwise, we’d call them vacations.

A large portion of Austin is in a flood plain, so extensive measures have been taken to provide safe runoff for flash flood waters, which means an extensive network of wide culverts, intersecting and rambling across town below street level. Graffiti artists and vandals alike have decorated these subterranean spaces. Nature has intruded in interesting ways. Because Texas is in a prolonged drought, we spent some time exploring this alternative space, evergreening a place that is often not green at all, but still super fun to ride through.

Another great thing about riding in and around Austin is the variety of terrain, everything from primitive mountain bike trails to manicured and paved river paths.

Here is sunset in one of the many arroyos, dry creek beds, that spider through the countryside outside town.

Exploring the arroyos was maybe the coolest thing we did on this trip. They’d twist and turn, test your skills, force you to get off and carry the bike, and then reward you with a waterfall, like the one below.

The landscape surrounding Austin is one of those magical places where you can find yourself spinning through a desertscape one minute, broad stands of thickets the next, and then on under a sprawling hickory at the edge of green meadow.

We woke up on a sunny Christmas morning, snug in our sleeping bags, unzipped the fly and cooked breakfast on the fire. It was colder than we wanted it to be, but it’s funny how a campfire breakfast will put you right.

All photos by Rob V.


On the Road – The Blayleys in Ireland, Part III

When the Blayleys were last on the west coast of Ireland, the touring was a bit more seat of the pants. In the intervening decades, the tourist bureaus have organized, simplified and marked a vast number of routes that make seeing the grassy green sites a much less involved job. John and Pamela met John’s brother David, an archaeologist, to take in as many of the West’s sites as possible.

Catch up on the first two parts of this series here and here.

The Dartry Mountains range across the Northwest of the country in Counties Sligo and Leitrim. A series of limestone plateaus, the Dartries include Benbulbin, which features prominently in the poetry of Yeats.

Here are Pamela and David in the shadow of Benbulbin. Yeats is actually buried nearby in the churchyard at Drumcliffe.

Just inland from Benbulbin is Glenade Lough. A legend holds that a large otter-like creature called a Dobarchú attacked and killed a local maiden here in the 17th century. Neither John nor Pamela reported any sightings.

North along the coast from Benbulbin you find Fintragh Bay, just west of Killybegs, Ireland’s biggest fishing port.

North from Killybegs in Donegal is the Glengesh Pass. Things get pretty pastoral this far up, expansive sheep-dotted moors stretching away in all directions. The Pass itself is a little-traveled road that meanders through the mountains with swooping, whorling switchbacks and some precipitous descents that make for fine riding.

From Glengesh, John and Pamela headed straight out to the Atlantic Coast to see the Slieve League Cliffs, some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe, and were rewarded with the rainbow below, one of the few upsides of Ireland’s persistent rain.

The rain-slick return from Slieve League.

To see more of the fantastic photos from their trip check out their cycling blog. For those of you in New England, we also highly recommend visiting their routes page, which collects so many great rides it’ll take you years to ride them all.