Monthly Archives: May 2015

How Surly Saved our Cycle Tour

Eric with his new Surly Ogre.
Eric with his new Surly Ogre.

In Auckland about three weeks ago, Eric bought a new bicycle. This purchase was NOT an impulse buy. It was NOT a spur-of-the moment decision. It was a long, drawn-out process that made sense in the effort to save money and make do with a perfectly good two-year old bicycle, but it didn’t make sense in terms of health, riding satisfaction, and patience from me. Now that he’s been riding his new Surly Ogre for the past three weeks, I’m so sorry he didn’t buy it sooner – a LOT sooner.

Here’s the backstory:

We purchased two mountain bikes in Malaysia and rode them for about a year while we were living there. Eric’s steel frame La Pierre was a sturdy bike with stays for racks thus making it a logical choice for his touring bike. My aluminum frame BMC did not have the stays but Old Man Mountain racks that mount on the axels took care of that problem. Eric, although never experiencing problems on short rides in Malaysia, was unhappy with his bike from the first very first day of cycle touring. I, on the other hand, was very happy with my BMC so I was having trouble being sympathetic with his complaints.

First he had problems with his bum – serious problems – sores, blisters, and bruises from bones hitting rivets on the seat. One day, on impulse at a tiny cycle shop in Thailand, he tossed the old seat in the trash and bought a new Brooks saddle.The fact that this tiny shop selling mostly Chinese bicycles carried Brooks saddles, the gold standard of touring saddles, the must-have saddle, the mother of all saddles,  was the impetus to buy. But the impulsiveness of buying the saddle, not realizing it was a “narrow” and thus the wrong size, never solved the problem. ( At that time we didn’t even know Brooks saddles came in sizes)

Next Eric began suffering from shooting neck pains. Internet searches for causes of neck pain while long distance cycling led to the discovery that Eric’s bike frame was too small. Not only was it too small, his model and size were designed for a female. Horrors! His complaints increased but he was still unwilling to trade “Pierre” in on a new model. Eric adjusted his seat forward, backwards, up and down. He bought a stem extension for the handlebars and tried moving the bars up, down, forward and backwards. He asked me countless times to look at his posture while he was riding to see if I could determine the problem.

Eric: How do I look now?
Me: (barely glimpsing up from my Kindle) You look fine…

The neck problems worsened. Our daily routine now included stops at pharmacies to purchase creams and pain relievers and stops at cycle shops to look at touring cycles and pick up another bottle of chain lube and cleaner…

Eric’s pace got slower and the frequencies of stops increased. For the first seven months of our tour I was in front, but I could always see Eric in my rear view mirror. During the last few weeks in NZ, Eric was so far behind that I often lost track of him. I could stop, check FB, and post a picture in the time it was taking for him to catch up. As he approached he would complain I was going too fast or mention (for the umpteenth time) that my bike is lighter than his.

Eric: I can’t go any faster. My bike’s heavier than yours.
Me: Well then, buy a new bicycle.
But, he still didn’t take action. Complaints, sore neck, slower speed, no decision.

For the final two weeks in New Zealand, my patience was at an all-time low. We tried putting Eric in front and he would lead at a mere 10 kph (we can almost jog that fast), or I would cycle in front and get one kilometer ahead in a period of two kilometers. Ride. Stop. Wait. Ride. Stop. Wait.

At this point we were still visiting every bicycle shop in each town that had one. Eric looked at bicycles, I wandered aimlessly in boredom, Eric would see a bike that “might” work, and we would walk out.

Eric: That Kona was the right size and a good price.
Me: Well, buy it.
Eric: I’m just not sure. I hate to give up on my La Pierre. After all, it worked fine for a year on short rides in Malaysia. I’ll think about it.

Finally, in Thames, NZ while waiting for our bus to Auckland, Eric went into yet another bicycle store. I stayed at a coffee shop and read my book. He came back excited because he’d found “the” bike, a Surly Ogre.

Eric: I like the Surly Ogre. I thought I wanted the  Surly Disk Trucker with the drop down handle bars, but  after a test ride, I prefer the Jones handle bar. It feels great on my neck. . Plus, I think the owner will sell it for a good price.
Me: Great. Go buy it!
Eric: What shall I do with my old bike?
Me: (ahhhhh – Walk up to someone on the street and tell them it’s their lucky day..) I don’t know. Just leave it at the bike shop.. It’s  the least of your problems.
Eric: I’d better think about it.

We hopped on the bus to Auckland. Eric used hotel time to get touring bike information. He found the website Cycling About which has an extensive resource ranking  touring bikes from all over the world that he felt ready to make a decision and purchase.

A few MORE days later and more of  Eric’s talking about bikes, (I’d tuned out by now)  I prepared a list of Auckland bicycle shops and phone numbers and handed it to him.

Me: Here…Quit talking about your sore neck and new bicycles and buy the bike you want/need so we can move on. I suggest Wallis Cycles. Their website says they have Surly.

The beach in the background is pretty nice, too.
The beach in the background is pretty nice, too.

So he did. And he’s happy. And he’s keeping up.* And he’s quit complaining. And, he’s leading. And, on the flats and downhills he’s way ahead. And he’s got fewer aches and pains. And, he’s out loving his bicycle: oiling the chain, pumping the tires, and taking lots of photos of it.

Because he’s happy, I’m much happier. I don’t have to wait. I don’t have to pretend to be patient. I can just ride. Thank goodness for his new Surly.

*Not only is he keeping up, he’s now so far ahead that I can’t keep up. His rest periods have gotten shorter, his pace has increased 10-fold and he’s having F-U-N.

I wonder if I need a new bicycle…..

A Visit to the National Wool Museum

The Bicycle Brigade used trains and bicycles to travel to sheep stations.
The Bicycle Brigade used trains and bicycles to travel to sheep stations.

Did you know that sheep shearers in the late 1800s often traveled over 1000 miles during shearing season to shear all of those 100 million sheep? And did you know that to travel these large distances the shearers used bicycles and trains? This bit of information, gathered from the National Wool Museum, grabbed my  attention because  Eric and I are also using the trains and our bicycles to cover the large distances in Australia.

After cycling through hundreds of sheep stations (It took me forever to understand that a “station” is like ranch, not a place to catch a train) over the past four months, a visit to Australia’s National Wool Museum in Geelong, Australia seemed like a logical place to spend some time before cycling south to Torquay.

This museum is great covering everything from sheep to shawl. As a matter of fact,  even though I thought I understood sheep farming pretty well from my kindergarten field trips to the local sheep farm near my country school, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

There were many things I liked about the Wool Museum. First was the warm and friendly greeting by the museum docent. I could feel his pride for the museum which only made me more eager to see the contents. The building, a lovely example of late 1800s architecture, is well restored and a perfect location for the museum. The working Axminster Gripper Carpet Loom is an excellent example of sophisticated technology for it’s day; the design of the grippers that look like the beak of birds are still used on carpet looms today. Watching a demonstration of the machine helped me understand the industrial weaving process. I also enjoyed seeing a video of a recent sheep shearing contest and another video showing sheep herding dogs at work.

Here are some random things that I learned:

The Axminster Gripper Carpet Loom can weave 27 inches of carpet in 20 minutes. So, if I had some room on my bicycle and a lot of extra cash, I could order and bring home a new runner for my hallway the same day.

The cards used to set the design are binary (on/off) similar to modern computers.
The cards used to set the design are binary (on/off) similar to modern computers.

There was a large strike of sheep shearers when the owners introduced the faster and larger 4 bladed shearers over the old 3 bladed style. Imagine a pair of clippers causing a loss in job security just like robots and factory atomization do today.

The bigger shears on the left caused a strike.
This guy is not too happy about the  bigger shears on the left.

The song “Waltzing Matilda” is based up shearing disputes in the 1890s. I’ve always loved this song and I’d thought it was about a man dancing with a broom (probably from the picture in my elementary school music book. ) I also learned some new vocabulary: “billabong” is a water hole, and “Matilda” is a bundle used for holding personal belonging.

Not only do I recommend this museum, I have a use for the information I learned. Next time I board an Australian train, I’ll ask the folks at Australian Rail if the sheep shearers of the 1890s had to box their bicycles before loading them on the train.  I’ll bet they didn’t. *


*We were allowed to roll our bicycles on to the commuter trains in Sydney. But to ride Rail Australia between Yass and Melbourne we had to box our bikes. What a hassle!

Cycling from Melbourne to Geelong Avoiding All Highways

View of the Docklands, Melbourne

Today I feel like we’ve successfully navigated a maze – a maze of cycle paths, cycle lanes, dirt tracks, rural roads and sidewalks to arrive in Geelong without riding on a single highway.

Sometimes it was pure luck. Sometimes it was Eric’s research into cycling routes to Geelong. Sometimes it was just a “gut” feeling that led us under overpasses, along industrial parks, through residential neighborhoods, or by stagnant streams.

Our route was a little longer than this...
Our route was a little longer than this…

Avoiding the highways did not make the route more scenic. As a matter of fact, most of today’s “safer” routes skirted large industrial zones with the smell of resin, paint, diesel engines, or sewer gas accompanying the view of smokestacks, large steel drums, pipes, pumps, machines and heavy trucks.

Avoiding the highways did not make the route shorter. Today’s ride was 94 kilometers, about 22 kilometers longer than we first had planned.

But, avoiding the highways did take us to many places we wouldn’t have seen from a car or the train as many people suggested and I have a better understanding appreciation of the diversity and comprehensiveness of Australia’s industry and commerce.

We started near our hotel in downtown Melbourne and took the bicycle lane heading west on La Trobe to the Docklands, a revitalized residential/shopping/entertainment area complete with a large Ferris wheel. There we connected with a busy cycle commuter path with a steady stream of riders racing to work. We were cycling in the opposite direction, away from town, and tried our usual “hellos” and waves but it was “all business” for those commuters so we concentrated on the path. We enjoyed watching the large truck-like cranes that drive between the rows of containers stacked two high and pick up containers to load them onto ships or trucks.

Melbourne in the background.
Melbourne in the background.

The next portion of our ride skirted around the ports of Melbourne. I like seeing these ports and imaging where all the containers are going and what they contain. I also enjoy seeing large companies guessing that raw materials are being shipped in and finished products being shipped out or vice versa. I was Toyota, Dow Chemical, and a large Resin manufacturer to name a few.

This is a bicycle repair station on the Federation Trail- tools, pump, stands - super cool.
This is a bicycle repair station on the Federation Trail- tools, pump, stands – super cool.

After we left Melbourne and the port area we sometimes followed the Federation Trail, a cycle trail with some historical information at different places along the path. A long portion of the trail was parallel to the Princess Highway and had been paved next to what had been (and possibly still is?) the sewer system for Melbourne. The trail was quite smelly and a little noisy but it was protected from traffic which was our goal. One plaque told us that many years ago the sewer smelt so bad at some places that even the animals wouldn’t graze near it.

Unfortunately there is a LOT of graffiti on the trail signs and all over Melbourne.
Unfortunately there is a LOT of graffiti on the trail signs and all over Melbourne.
One sign to get us back on track.
One sign to get us back on track.

Leaving the Federation Trail we headed to towns (really just farm crossroads with a church near each intersection) of Little River and Lara. By the time we arrived in Lara, daylight was fading so we tried to get a room at the Lara Hotel. As it turns out the Lara “Hotel” is only a casino and a bistro so I now have a new meaning for the word“hotel.”

One of the prettier parts of the trail.
One of the prettier parts of the trail.
We appreciated the extra advice for passing motorists. This is the scenery near Lara.
We appreciated the extra advice for passing motorists. This is the scenery near Lara.

The setting sun caused us to pick up the pace. The head wind also added a few knots so the next 15 kilometers towards Geelong were a real grind. We somehow found a cycle path that took us on the bay side of the Shell Oil Refinery and other large industrial sites. I know this doesn’t sound beautiful but, to be quite honest, I have never been this close to an oil refinery. I’m not sure we even allow people to get this close in the US..Guess I’ll have to cycle to Texas to see.

Last bit of industrial riding before the city of Geelong.
Last bit of industrial riding before the city of Geelong.

The final 5 kilometers into Geelong is a dedicated (painted green) cycle lane along the bay. We arrived just as the sun was setting. The sailboats bobbing in the bay, joggers running along the bay, and the stately homes overlooking the bay were a nice way to arrive to our destination.

Sipping a Victoria Bitter (VB for short) is taking the ache from my legs and writing this blog is putting a smile back on my face.

Finding Adequate Accommodation in Australia

Changing countries has meant learning a whole new culture for lodging. I don’t know why I’d assumed that New Zealand and Australia would be the same. Maybe it was the fact that our camping loyalty card in NZ is valid at certain campsites in Australia. Or maybe it was because countries have motels. Or maybe it was because citizens from both countries eat meat pies. Whatever the reason, I was thinking that we would understand the camping, motels, and hotels in OZ as well as we did when we left NZ.

Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

From backpacker hostels and campgrounds to motels and hotels, the amenities and types of lodging in both countries is slightly different. While tents and cabins at holiday parks (camp grounds) worked well for us in NZ, the weather has been too cold for tenting in Australia and the camp ground cabins, to date, have been more expensive than motels. And, where the backpacker hostels were prevalent in NZ, they are fewer and farther between (or we just haven’t found them) here in OZ.

The Bungundore YHA has a warm fireplace and a good piano in the common area.
The Bunganoon YHA (our first hostel in Australia) has a warm fireplace and a good piano in the common area. Hope we can find more like this.

So, it was time to try a new type of lodging – the hotel rooms at the pubs, (taverns) located in many small towns and at occasional rural crossroads.

For our first pub/hotel experience, we found the Exchange Hotel in Goulburn. It is barebones accommodation – bed, towel, a bar of soap, bathroom down the hall, and a breakfast room featuring toast, cereal and coffee. Overlooking the peeling paint, dated furniture, and wall heater that gave an orange glow but lacked any heat, we were delighted to find cold beer, a pleasant atmosphere and friendly, regular, that-bar-stool-has-my name-on-it patrons downstairs in the pub.

We enjoyed the relaxing music at the Executive Hotel in Goulburn.
We enjoyed the relaxing music at the Exchange Hotel in Goulburn.

Even better, on the night we stayed, there was live music. (It felt like we got concert tickets included in our room price). Jasmin Jones, the female singer/songwriter/acoustic guitar player who entertained us with her lovely voice and good guitar skills was on a promo tour of her new album and this pub just happened to be on the road to Melbourne. (for a free download go to her website It was our lucky night.

Feeling pretty good about our first pub hotel, we tried the Bungadore Royal Hotel in Bungadore the following night.

The Bungadore Royal probably looks the same as it did when horses pulled up to the front..
The Bungadore Royal probably looks the same as it did when horses pulled up to the front..

The Bungadore Royal Hotel is located in a very old building (feels like late 1800s) and the main pub area is heated with a wood burning stove stuffed into an old fireplace. The remainder of the building including our upstairs hotel room was au natural. Actually, most of the windows were open when we arrived probably to mask the 100 year old musky smell.

The downstairs parlor area has a computerized machine that appears to be an electronic bookie where people can place bets on the horse races, harness races, and greyhound dog races that are playing on giant TV screens throughout the pub. Another side room has about 10 busy slot machines.

The atmosphere at this pub was extremely lively bordering on raucous. It was packed with rowdy ex-rugby players celebrating a ten-year reunion. Between guzzling “scooners” (pints of beer), slamming down shots, and searching for designated drivers their “party” was plenty of entertainment before we headed to bed.

While I was typing this blog in our old, tiny, cold room I could feel the bass from the speakers reverberating through the floor and into the wall behind our headboard. The electric floor heater opposite our bed was making more noise than heat. And, the electric blanket barely warmed my calves and toes..

But, the good thing about a scooner of beer after a hard day of cycling is that sleep comes easily and before I knew it, morning light was peeking under the shade.

Pub accommodation, although not like home, definitely provides a roof over our heads and some evening entertainment in some of these remote areas of Australia.

Just Spit on It

Eric pulling a tiny rock out of the disk brake pad near Lake Taupo, NZ.
Eric pulling a tiny rock out of the disk brake pad near Lake Taupo, NZ.

Eric is our bike mechanic. His performs routine maintenance fixing the things he can and deciding when we need to visit a bicycle shop for things he can’t. His attention to our bikes gives him something constructive to do during our free time. It gives me the freedom to pursue my interests: Skyping our kids, posting to FB, blogging, and reading. Here’s a shout out to having a husband/mechanic to keep our wheels spinning. Here are some of the things he does:

Cleans and oils the chains almost every day. I’m sure his fetish with clean chains keeps us rolling smoothly and increases the life of our chains and gears. And there’s nothing better than riding on a smooth, quiet chain. But I’ve lost years of my life waiting for the chains to be cleaned or for another visit to a cycle shop and discussion of “the best” cleaners and lubes.

Replacing the hydraulic brake fluid.
Replacing the hydraulic brake fluid.

Adjusts the brakes. Last week, I rolled into Auckland with brakes that sounded like a train squealing on a rusty track. They we so loud that I announced my arrival to EVERY kiwi (bird and human) that I was arriving. Thank goodness Eric took the time this morning before coffee and still wearing his nighttime boxer shorts to bleed the brakes, add new brake fluid, and replace the worn pads. I, on the other hand, sipped my coffee and chatted with our daughter for an hour.

Keeps the tire pressure at proper levels. Yesterday’s pump up made the ride so much easier. But pumping the tires with the little, lightweight, portable pumps is hard work. I can skim the morning headlines while Eric pumps and sweats.

Eric's baggies of tools and supplies.
Eric’s baggies of tools and supplies.

Fixes flat tires. Just so you know….I can fix a flat. But why should I bother when Eric is a master?! My method is to just replace the tube and toss the old one in the trash (kind of like throwing money down the toilet) Eric, on the other hand, is the master patch man. He can patch and patch and patch thus stretching our retirement dollars.

In spite of ALL that Eric fixes and maintains, he hasn’t remembered to put a drop of oil on my squeaky pedal.

Here’s today’s conversation:
Me: Did you put a drop on oil on my pedal?
Eric: Oops. I forgot. And, I’ve put all my tools away. Let’s get going.
Me: Do you know how annoying the squeak is all day? I just count squeaks rather than look for penguins or kiwis. It’s sooooo hard to get into my Zen.
Eric: Well then, just spit on it. Spit (water) is the best lubricant.

So I did. And, it worked.

Thanks, Eric.