S1E118 – Spencer on Bike Packing Pt. I

Episode Summary

This week on Live Like the World is Dying, Spencer and Inmn talk about bike packing and how cool bikes are. What is bike packing? Where can you ride? What do you need? Find the answers here.

Guest Info

Spencer can be found on IG @spencerjharding or at www.spencerjharding.com

Host Info

Inmn can be found on Instagram @shadowtail.artificery

Publisher Info

This show is published by Strangers in A Tangled Wilderness. We can be found at www.tangledwilderness.org, or on Twitter @TangledWild and Instagram @Tangled_Wilderness. You can support the show on Patreon at www.patreon.com/strangersinatangledwilderness.


Live Like the World is Dying: Spencer on Bike Packing Pt. I

**Inmn ** 00:15
Hello, and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcast for what feels like the end times. I’m your host today Inmn Neruin, and today we’re going to be talking about something that I’ve been wanting to do an episode about for a really long time because I really love to do it. And I think what I’m going to learn in this interview is that I have been doing it really wrong. Or not wrong, but making it so much harder for myself. And it’s just going to be…it’s going to be a lot of fun. And today we’re gonna be talking about different ways that you can travel long distances, or short distances over strange terrain, on a bicycle. And we’re gonna be talking about bike packing. But before that, we are a proud member of the Channel Zero Net of anarchists podcasts. And here’s a jingle from another show on that network. Doo doo doo doo doo. [singing]

**Dissident Island Radio ** 01:27
You’re listening to Dissident Island Radio, live every first and third Friday of the month at 9pm GMT, check out www.dissidentIsland.org for downloads and more.

**Inmn ** 02:15
And we’re back. Thank you so much for coming on the show today. Could you introduce yourself with your name, pronouns, and just a little bit about what you do in the world? And what you’re here to tell us about today?

**Spencer ** 02:32
Hi, my name is Spencer Harding. My pronouns are he/him/his. I do a lot of things related to bikes and I have for the last…oh, at least 10 or so years. I’m currently a photographer, writer, and editor for a website called theradavist.com. We do all manner of cycling related articles and content reviews. I’ve worked as a bike mechanic at local community coops and full on bike shops a like, and I’ve been traveling by bike since 2009 pretty regularly. And that’s been a huge focus of my interest in bikes and kind of my forte in bikes.

**Inmn ** 03:18
Cool, cool. Um, it’s funny because I know you real life and we, you know, we like play dnd together and I actually didn’t know that’s what you for work. And I just knew you knew a lot about bikes. So cool, great.

**Spencer ** 03:40
I don’t love that I’ll know people for years and years and years and I think in a lot of the communities I’ve been in for years, no one really asks what anyone does. And it’s not really important because we’re all just doing these weird niche activities or hobbies together. And it’s kind of fun.

**Inmn ** 03:55
Yeah. I’m going to immediately go offer a little script. How did you get into bikes?

**Spencer ** 04:07
I got into bikes right on the verge of the huge fixed gear craze that happened in like the early aughts.

**Inmn ** 04:18
Oh yeah, I remember.

**Spencer ** 04:21
So I was in school at Long Beach State in Southern California. I saw some people riding around bikes. It was the begining of my second year of college. I was moving off campus and I realized that I could buy a bicycle for the same price as a parking pass. And it took me as long to ride from my apartment to my classes as it did to walk from the parking lot to my class. So I took the, what, $130 that that parking pass would have been and I bought an old Schwinn off Craigslist. And it’s been all downhill from there.

**Inmn ** 04:59
[Laughing] I’m sure it has not been all downhill, but I appreciate the pun. We’ll get into this later, but I did a big–introduction to me and biking–is that I have always just really loved bikes. Like similarly I had this thing in high school where a car became suddenly unavailable to me. And I lived in like a suburb of a suburb of a suburb. And I was like, can I take my dad’s old Schwinn that’s in the in the crawl space and ride it to the city? And the answer was, yes, I could. But like, fast forward many years to going on my first bike tour, and we like went over the continental divide and I was like, "So it’s all downhill from here, right?"

[Laughing] That’s one of the things. You never trust the elevation profile. There’s always more up somehow. You could be on top of a mountain and somehow there will be some more uphill.

**Inmn ** 06:11
Yeah. Always uphill. Always. Um, cool. Well. So yeah, let’s just kind of happen to it. Um, what is like…what are the different kinds of scopes of bike travel? I feel like there’s like a lot of words that were new to me as of a couple of years ago where I was just always "bike touring." But now there’s all these kind of other words that people use that maybe seem like little subsets of bike touring, like gravel bikes or bike packin or r maybe there’s other words that I don’t know about.

There’s so many buzzwords, and most of it is marketing, and like an ever smaller niche-ification of bikes. When we talk about bike travel, I think the word that comes to mind is bike touring, like, everything is bike touring. You’re touring on a bike, you’re riding, you’re exploring, you’re traveling by bike. The buzzword of the last decade has been "bike packing." And there’s a lot of arguments about what that means, what that constitutes, what’s bike packing, what’s not bike packing. I won’t go down a huge rabbit hole. I feel like the word bike packing ushered in a more modern sense of ways to pack a bicycle as opposed to what was classically bicycle touring. But if you’re traveling by bike and you’re strapping shit to your bike, you’re going bike touring, Call it bikepacking. Call it gravel biking. You can call it…there’s a multitude of other things like that. But when it boils down to it, it’s all bike touring in my mind.

**Inmn ** 08:09
Yeah. Okay. Um, golly, I’m going to immediately go on another tangent because I… [Spencer encourages it] It’s reminding me of like…. I suddenly found myself thinking about like, wait, I wonder if Spencer knows the history…like what the history of the development of the bicycle was? This is a question I should have sent to you yesterday. And I mean, maybe you do, maybe you don’t–

I’m not super familiar. It popped in my head like I should probably do some sort of research. I mean I know the vagaries of it. But nothing specifically. I couldn’t sit tell you names or dates or anything like that.

**Inmn ** 08:53
Totally. But it’s like, it is something that people have…like people have been riding long distances on bikes since bikes were invented, which is something that I find really interesting. Like there’s…. Which I know you could take like a rewritten fairy tale and call it like absolute historical fact, you know but have you ever had any Angela Carter books.

**Spencer ** 09:22
I haven’t.

**Inmn ** 09:24
She got famous for like rewriting the for rewriting a lot of fairy tales. And people were like, "Oh, you rewrote them with like a feminist lens." And she was like, "I absolutely didn’t. My goal was to bring out the innate horror in all of these stories, and these stories just happen to be really like femicide-idle. And so that reads is feminism because the main conflicts in them are misogyny." But there’s this story called Lady of the House of Love. About this vampiress who like lives in a collapsing, ruinous castle in Transylvania and is the offspring of like Dracula or something, who’s just like quite bored in the world at this point. And there’s this like whole diatribe in the story about this guy who she lures into the castle who has been traveling around France in Europe on a bicycle. And this is my funny tie in, and this is like in… this is like, in the early days of World War Two when this… Yeah, that’s what…. And it’s like, it’s like these little nods where I’m like, okay, it’s it’s a fictional story, but I’m like, that sounds like a real thing people did, just travel around Europe on a fucking bicycle.

**Spencer ** 10:56
I am 100% sure that there is some real world influence. Yeah, there’s all those memes, you’ll see. Like, there’s some Scandinavian guy who just lived by his bike forever and ever. And, you know, big beard and all that jazz. I can’t think of his name. But I can only imagine that there’s some truth or they met some weird guy in a cafe one day and decided to just write them into the story after that.

**Inmn ** 11:23
Yeah. Okay, wait, but back to the things. So if you had to kind of put a definition on what bike packing is, what is bike packing?

**Spencer ** 11:37
So I would even back up to just bike travel. So bike travel is riding your bike multi day–so that could include a single night–somewhere, taking whatever you need for that journey, whatever that may be. Totally self sufficient. Maybe just change the clothes and a credit card. But using your bike as a means to explore and travel to somewhere.

**Inmn ** 12:08
Cool. Cool. That sounds right. And what…. I guess maybe this…. It’s like maybe some of these specific classifications kind of seems like it maybe gets down to what kind of bike you’re riding or what kind of gear you’re using? Or like something? I don’t know.

**Spencer ** 12:35
Yeah, there’s been some discussion last few years about intent. So by touring, they’ve gone to the more recreational side of the venn diagram. So people on vacation, people going for a weekend trip, or for enjoyment. And by packing has, since it came at a time when people were packing less stuff on their bikes in new and creative ways that lent itself to more off road or very light and fast travel. So some people had defined bike packing as like a racing intent or like a competitive intent. And there are bike packing races. Someone who’s staying with me right now, Austin Trace, she’s training to ride the Arizona Trail and possibly some others. And that’s an incredibly long distance. That’s 800 miles of off road. There’s many like 3000 plus mile bike packing races that happen all over the world over. So some people say bike packing for that kind of competitive intent. Some people will say they’re going bike packing, when they’re going camping for a weekend. There isn’t really a line in the sand that I can thoroughly really draw. Bike packing is definitely like a new buzzword that’s popped up in the last few years. And it encompasses everything that bike travel or bike touring would, depending on who you talk to or how you want to delineate that.

**Spencer ** 14:07
Yes. And this is another fun thing where we have like, you know, all bikepacking Is bike touring but maybe not all bike touring is bikepacking. So all road bikes are gravel bikes, but not all gravel bikes or road bikes. If you really want to get into it–and this is even…I just wrote a review talking about how the word gravel needs to be split into two things because we’re getting a recreational version of what gravel means and a competitive version of what gravel means, and those things are very different. Roughly speaking a gravel bike is traditional-ish road bike. You know, curvy handlebars, road levers. You’re just getting bigger tires and typically a more relaxed geometry. That’s the easiest without going into a whole mess of other unnecessary details, but the just is road bikes with bigger tires optimized for riding on dirt roads, like farm roads, forest roads, things of that sort.

**Inmn ** 14:07
Yeah. Okay, that makes…that makes sense. And then there’s this other word that I’ve been hearing people use a lot lately, which is–and by lately, I mean, this is years ago and I’m just like, really behind the the ball on things–but like, gravel bikes?

**Inmn ** 15:35
Okay. Where can you ride a bike?

**Spencer ** 15:40
These days? Where are there

**Inmn ** 15:41
Or rather where are places that you can not ride your bike to?

**Spencer ** 15:46
Legally speaking or terrain-limiting speaking?

**Inmn ** 15:50
Terrain. Let’s go with terrain limiting for right now.

**Spencer ** 15:54
Okay, we don’t need to dive into like the Wilderness Act limitations on mechanized travel. There are, if you’re looking into that, there are so many crazy bicycles out there these days. There are very few places that you could not ride a bicycle. You’re looking at incredibly steep and loose terrain or very deep snow or sand. But even that…like there’s so many cool things with…like fat bikes have opened up just an incredible amount of terrain and versatility that wasn’t available even like, you know, 20 years ago to bikes. And that’s even expanding now. I’ve heard about some cool stuff I can’t talk about, but there is some cool new stuff coming down the line that I’m very excited about in the monster truck realm of bikes. So there’s…. Off road in the last few years has just totally exploded with gravel, with the accessibility of fat bikes, and like what those can…. So, fat bike, if I’m talking about, you’re talking about four to five inch tires. They’re just massive. So you run those incredibly low pressures like 10psi You’re riding on snow, you’re riding on sand, like, you know, that just opens up so many things that you can experience by bike and can travel across. And you can type in "adventure fat bike," and you’ll get some crazy shit in fucking Alaska. A bunch of my friends have done it and they’re just like…they have little boats and they’re putting a bike on boats and they’re riding down beaches and like…just places you would never would ever expect you could ride or get a bike to. And they can get a bike there and they can ride it. So there’s obviously limitations like verticality or steep terrain but as far as like surfaces, you’re…the world’s kind of your oyster these days with that. There’s so many options.

**Inmn ** 18:07
Okay. Wow. Some of those are new to me and I’m like, okay, cool. Cool. Cool.

**Spencer ** 18:14
I have a fat bike I just built it. You can come over and ride it. Play monster truck. Come over here, Inmn. I’ll show you next time you come over for dnd.

**Inmn ** 18:22
Wow. Love it. I, you know, on…. So like a background for me is my first bike tour, I didn’t know anything about bike touring. I just knew that I wanted to do it. And so me and my friend Marie, we like…I met her up in Portland and then we rode our bikes to–Portland, Oregon–and then we rode our bikes to Boston.

**Spencer ** 18:56
Oh, wow. Okay. [Laughing with incredulity] My first bike tour was taking the train to Santa Barbara with my like messenger bag and then riding back to LA as an overnight. You went full hog. Okay.

**Inmn ** 19:11
Yeah, first first time ever riding a bike more than I could ride it in a day.

**Spencer ** 19:19

**Inmn ** 19:19
It…you know, we’re gonna go with a blend of impressive and utterly reckless.

**Spencer ** 19:30
I know and I want to talk to this in the end too. Like, you can be really reckless on a bike and if shit goes totally pear shaped just…. Yeah, and like the accessibility of things going wrong and the ability to fix those or to get out of those situations is just such a cool component of bicycle touring that you don’t get with like cars or motorcycles or, I mean, I guess hiking even less so, like there’s even less to pickup. But yeah, tell me the story. How did it all go, you know, on the way to Boston?

**Spencer ** 20:05
Oh, those are the worst.

**Inmn ** 20:05
Um, well actually, you know, we’re going to talk about that a little bit later, probably. But just, as this one funny tie in, was that in Glacier National Park, we met a…we met someone who is about to finish his bike tour. And he had been…he’d ridden the entire continental divide on a bicycle with like a little, like one of those little swivel trailers.

**Inmn ** 20:06
Or, actually I don’t know what they’re called. They’re like two wheels, in line.

**Spencer ** 20:20
Oh, the bob trailer.

**Inmn ** 20:42
Yeah, the bob trailer. Yeah, yeah. And he had crossed the Continental Divide like 30 times or something over the course of it. And it was utterly incomprehensible to me at the time. I’m like, "Are you riding on trails?" And he was like, "Sort of?"

**Spencer ** 21:03
If I may do a quick… So the Continental Divide Trail is a long distance hiking trail that is mostly not bikeable due to the Wilderness Act thing with the wilderness stuff. I think the route you’re referring to is the Tour Divide.

**Inmn ** 21:18

**Spencer ** 21:20
Yeah. So those things kind of get interchanged, but they’re vastly different beasts. The Tour Divide is a very popular off road route that a lot of people do these days and is one of the first mapped long distance routes, and still remains one of the longer documented off road touring routes in the world, too, which is super cool.

**Inmn ** 21:42
Cool. Okay, wait, I’m trying to try to follow a little bit of a thread here. [Pauses, thinking] And maybe this is where to start. How do you…how do you start traveling long distances by bike in, you know, whatever capacity, whether you’re like, I want to ride to a neighboring city, I want to ride across the country. I want to ride into the wilderness. These are vastly different. How do you get started? How do you get started?

**Spencer ** 22:19
So my start was literally, my friend in college gave a talk, and at the time I was a backpacker. I’d done some backpacking, like three, four days. Stuff like that. And my friend gave this talk about how she went to France and took a bunch of kids bike touring and they took all the camping gear and they put it on their bikes and they just rode their bikes for like two months. And that blew my fucking mind. I was like, wait, I could put all my camping gear on my bike and go ride my bike. And this is in the very like first few years of me riding bikes. I was like, "This is the shit. I love this. Wait, I can go camping and do this?" So that was my first introduction. And I literally, New Year’s Day, 2009, I took my road bike and my like good o’le Chrome messenger bag and I zip tied my sleeping bag under my saddle rails on my road bike and I took the train to Santa Barbara and I rode from Santa Barbara down like Highway One, like out near point Magoo, and I camped for the night. And I rode back to Long Beach the next day. And that’s part of the Pacific Coast bike touring route. So it’s just another established route from Adventure Cycling, who also does the Tour Divide, which you mentioned earlier. And that was my first time properly traveling by bike, and I was like, "This is cool." And a few months later a good friend of mine, Julia, who had just ridden across the country, kind of as you did. I can’t remeber if she started in San Francisco or Portland as well. But she did that same trans-america ride. And she was like, "Hey, I just got off school. Like, I don’t want to drive back to Southern California. Do you want to just like take a bus up here, and we’re gonna bike back to LA together?" So I went back a few months later that summer and tried…like I got a different bike that had racks and all that shit and some bags. And you know, as that ball rolls, you get more bags, you get more specific stuff, you get bikes that are designed for it. And then I rode back from Santa Cruz to LA and then I was like, "This is fucking sweet." So, two months later, I flew to Seattle and rode all the way back to Santa Cruz that same summer too. So that ball kind of rolled pretty quickly for me. So, I think it’s literally taking…like at the time I had a messenger bag and a sleeping bag and a stuff sack and that was what I took and I had a little tiny pocket stove and a sleeping pad. I don’t know if I even brought a sleeping pad. I might not have. I have to look back at the photos. It might have been strapped to my handlebars or something. But it’s really what you have. If you have most any kind of like reasonably lightweight camping gear, from car camping to backpacking. Like, all of that gear translates. And if you have a bicycle, there’s–especially these days–almost…there’s so many ways that you can affix things to your bike.

**Inmn ** 25:14
And yeah, it’s kind of funny, because I feel like I’ve seen this funny arc of like "bike luggage" or something. I don’t know what to call it. [Spencer laughs] Where, like, when I was trying to get into bike touring, it’s like–I’m sure like gravel bike/bike packing/offroad stuff, I’m sure I’m sure all that stuff existed, but I was less aware of it. But in the realm of bike touring, it seemed to be all about like how to like really neatly contain a lot of stuff on a bicycle, you know? And, like, now I see people’s gravel bike or bike packing setups, and it’s literally just like shit strapped anywhere that it could be.

**Spencer ** 26:02
Yeah, so if we’re gonna get into like, if we’re gonna delineate two words, we’re gonna do bike touring on one side and we’re gonna do bike packing on the other. If we look at bike touring luggage, or traditional touring luggage, was usually two to four panniers [rhymes with "your"], Panniers [Rhymes with "yay"]. There’s a whole video you can watch about someone from Webster’s talking to my buddy Russ about how to actually pronounce that fucking word. It’s a bag strapped to a rack. You can argue about it all day long. Typically two to four panniers, maybe a little bag on your handlebars, some water bottles, that was kind of the traditional setup that’s been around since the inception of bicycles. Bike packing is when we’re moving to more off road focus. So you, obviously panniers are just little hooks on a rack and maybe a bungee. If you’ve ever written off road with those they don’t…they tend to eject. I’ve got buddies who have got busted collarbones from catching someone’s unwanted, flying paneer

**Spencer ** 27:02
Oh, no.

**Spencer ** 27:03
So in the other corner, we have more modern bike packing bags, which arose from a cottage industry of people developing bags for things that they wanted to do that didn’t exist at the time. There’s a ton of them, like Revelate Designs has been around since the beginning and were big pioneers in a lot of these venues. And typically what that looks like is you have a bag on your handlebars. It’s typically a double sided stuff sack, say 10 to 15 liters. Smaller, bigger exist. That’s rolled on there, secured with some straps. There’s harnesses and all that jazz. A big thing in bike packing that has really bled out to a lot of the other aspects of cycling, it’s really convenient, is using the main front triangle of your bike. So bags that fit the center of your bike and fill that space.

**Inmn ** 27:56
That’s like the spot kind of like underneath where you’re sitting, right? It’s like the space between the seat and the handle bars, right?

**Spencer ** 28:01
Correct. So, if you’re thinking about a bike frame, this kind of goes back to the–I wanted to actually mention this in the history too–so a double triangle, like a diamond. So you have two triangles. You have the front triangle and the rear triangle. That design has been around nearly since the inception of bikes and fundamentally hasn’t changed, which is kind of miraculous. There’s there’s always going to be some kooky weird shit that people are cooking up to make bikes better. But 99% of bikes that have ever existed have been the same design, and it’s still the best and most efficient. So, you’re filling that front triangle with gear. So it’s where you would typically have your water bottles and things like that, but being able to put four liters of water, as opposed to two bottles, and a bunch of camping gear is more efficient. So frame bag. And then there’s a bag attached to your seat post called a rocket bag or a butt bag or…[laughs] And this is where stuff gets real bondage-y. There’s like 17 straps holding those fucking things on. They sway if you don’t pack them right. And there’s a bunch of designs to make that better, and we’re getting really close to really nailing it. So you have those kind of are your three main staples for bike packing bags. There’s bags that strap your fork, there’s bags that go onto your down tube, there’s ones that attach to your stem to put snacks in. If there’s a tiny spot in your bike, there’s a bag for it, I guarantee it. And those are kind of your two corners of like bicycle luggage.

**Inmn ** 29:32
I see. I see. You know, what I…. Something I weirdly really appreciate about some of these bike packing luggage, or whatever, is when I was…when I was first hearing about some of this and I was like, oh…. Like I remember like 10 years ago when people were starting to have frame bags and stuff, and I was like "Where do you get a frame bag, like where can I go and buy this?" And the answer was, you had to just know someone who fucked around and made one and wanted to make you one. And it was like…it’s like watching an entire–like, you know, fuck an industry, but it does make it more accessible for people that there’s like more people making these things–but an entire way of making things, or a culture of making things, like erupting from like watching some people just fuck around with fabric and like cordura and vinyl and shit and just like…. Yeah, I don’t know. I feel like…yeah, it’s like watching that and watching the same thing happen with messenger bags like 15-20–I know, it’s been more–years ago. But I don’t know, it’s something I’ve weirdly always appreciated about like bikes is that there’s been a lot of innovation not on an industrial level. It’s like on the level of people just messing around with stuff in their garages and figuring out some really cool things. I don’t know, does that…does that track? Is that real? Am I under the right perception?

**Spencer ** 31:11
100% There are so many cottage bag makers and a lot of them have scaled up and some of them are still really small. And a lot of the innovation is still coming from those cottage industries. Big companies have caught up. So there are a multitude of companies offering frame bags produced overseas that you can get at REI or on Amazon. There’s a there’s a host of options. Industrial production has caught up to it. One thing that’s cool that they will never be able to do is there’s a bunch of frame bike bag sewers–builders? What’s the word? And you can send them a photo and they’ve written their various different scripts and computer programs and you send them a photo of your bike with like a ruler in it. And they will make a custom tailored bag exactly to fit your bike where you can put bolts through it, like just over the internet. And that’s somethingl…. Like I personally have one from Rogue Panda. Nick is a crazy mad scientist and incredibly innovative. Yeah, you can just send him a photo of your bike or if they have the dimensions already in their system, they just sew you an exactly perfect custom bag. So you can get a bunch of off the shelf things that will work for most bikes, but if you have a weird like I do, or many that I do, you can get a custom one, and that’s something that’s always going to be around as like a cottage level industry.

**Inmn ** 32:38
Um, okay, how…. Or…. Okay, so say…let’s say I want to…say I want I want to ride my bike from where I live to a neighboring city. It’s like…maybe it’s four days away, or something, by bike. What…or, this is a regular thing that I want to do. This is a thing that I want to kind of invest in doing. And I’m asking this from the perspective of, so like on my month long bike tour, I feel like there was a way to have a bike that I didn’t fucking hate riding. And so I’m wondering…I’m wondering kind of like what kind of bike do I need to do that? What will make my life be less terrible? I was on an old Schwinn steel frame that I put a mountain bike drive train on, essentially. And some like other mountain bike parts. I like converted it to 700s [wheel size]. I didn’t know anything about fat tires. I just had like–

**Spencer ** 34:03
It barely existed back then. So yeah.

**Inmn ** 34:05
It was like, I don’t know like one and a half inch ties. This is embarrassing to say at this point.

**Spencer ** 34:14
That’s fine. I can’t tell you the breadth of dumb ideas around bicycle.

**Inmn ** 34:22
Yeah, yeah. And it’s like my life was so bad in comparison to my road partner who was riding a Surly Long Haul. [Specialty touring bike]

**Spencer ** 34:34
Yeah. So to segue out of this, if you ask the internet, the internet’s gonna tell you the Surly Long Haul Trucker’s the best bike touring bike for blah, blah, blah, blah. I’m going to tell you right now, the Surly Long Haul Trucker rides like fucking dogshit without about 100 pounds of gear on it, and I don’t think is the right bike for almost anyone in this current day and age ofbike touring. But let’s get into your actual question. So the cool thing about touring is the bags will fit to most bikes without racks or rack mount. So if you have a bike that’s comfortable, that fits you, it’s probably…it can probably be made to be some kind of touring ready. So every bike is a bike touring bike if you have enough gumption. I’ve written tall bikes halfway across this country on multiple occasions. So I wanna say that you can always a specific bike tailored to the trip or the adventure you want to go on. But you can probably make whatever you have work. And I could recommend, if you give me more specifics, I could be like, yeah, you should get this size tire. This is a great bike for that. Like, height matters. All right, before I run away on this, let’s start at the…let’s start at the bike. So more important than any other consideration is whether you have a bike that’s comfortable for you? Does it fit you?

**Inmn ** 36:07
What does that mean?

**Spencer ** 36:09
So bikes come in multiple sizes for different bodies, different heights. Like, I’m all torso. I’ve got relatively short legs for my height, but I’m like 6’1" so I ride an extra large bike. If you’re 5′ or shorter, you might write an extra small. That’s going to be…those bikes are gonna fit differently. So there’s a varying size run. So most importantly, you want a bike that fits you. And that’s going to mean different things to different people, depending on if they have any back issues or what have you. So comfort is going to be kind of paramount to start. So your four day trip, is it off road? Is it mixed between the two? Is it single-track mountain biking? You’re not going to take your Schwinn Varsity on a bunch of single track trails in Arizona, because you’re not going to have any fillings or teeth left at the end of that ride. So, once you have a bike that’s comfortable, once you have a bike that fits you, then you want to say, "Does this bike…is it adequate for the terrain?" And that’s typically going to be tire size. So tires come in a bunch of different flavors, but you’re pretty much looking at anywhere between a 26" rim, a 27.5" rim, or a 29" rim, which is also coloquially referred to as 700c. And those come in–oh my God I’m really in the rabbit hole here–so many sizes. But, so is your bike comfortable? Does your bike fit you? Do you now have the appropriate tire size for the terrain you hope to traverse? And we’re going to assume that you have all of those things. And the next consideration will probably be luggage. So how much frame bag space do you have? Can you get a frame bag for it? Do you have mounts to put a rack on the front, or even the back, of the bike? You want to make panniers to go on there? You can strap anything, like anything with the stuff sack, you can strap. I mean the quintessential like bike co-op special is the old kitty litter boxes with hardware hooks and some bungee cords. Like, do you have a cat? Do you use cat litter? And these are all things that can become bike touring luggage. It’s so up to you and how you can fit it. I’ve seen such a plethora. There’s such a rich community of people DIYing these things. And there’s ways to use like old cutting boards to make handlebar rolls to hold stuff sacks, you know? Like, I could go on and on. So the next thing you want to figure out is how are you going to pack all your shit on your bike? And okay, we’ve got that. There’s a plethora. And next thing is food and water. Is there water available? Do I need a water filter along the way? Where can I get more food, snacks, etc… along the way? How many days of food I need to pack? Those water and food options are probably going to inform how you pack or what kind of luggage you’re going to need, beecause those your essentials. Like if you want the bike to move, you have to pedal it and you have to be alive to do that. So you’re gonna need to eat and drink.

**Inmn ** 39:36
Yeah, can I have a little segue off that? It was funny on this cross-country bike tour, like our attitude about that changed throughout the trip, you know, where it was like–Marie definitely had more like bike touring experience than I did–but like when we started, we were in rural Oregon, we were in Montana, we were in all of these big western states. And we didn’t have a water filter, which is probably something we should have brought. But like, you know, we weren’t camping. We weren’t–or sorry, we were camping every night, but we weren’t trying to ride off to find nice places. We were like, whatever’s along the road, you know? And so we were like, "Okay, well, we just have to bring all of this stuff with us." Like, I think we had like two weeks’ worth of food each and three gallons of water on us at all times. And it was utterly absurd, like our bikes were so goddamn heavy. But we often went a week without going to a grocery store.

**Spencer ** 40:57
That could be the reality of your trip. And there’s some of these long distance routes, especially the off road ones…. Like road touring, if you’re on established routes, like highways or secondary highways, you’re gonna hit a gas station hopefully once a day, if not every other day. And like, you know, it’s not gonna be great food. But that’s…those are all considerations to how much you need to pack. And that’s…that’s typically the first thing I would be like where’s my reasonable resupply? Especially ifwe live down to the desert, like water is the main concern and the limiting factor for a lot of my trips. Like how much do I have to carry? Where can I get it? How can I get it?

**Inmn ** 41:39
Yeah, cuz it’s like, you’re not–unlike being in the Northwest or something, you’re not just gonna happen on a stream that you can like….

**Spencer ** 41:47
Exactly. I mean, maybe you can if you know that’s there. But that’s a big if, and I’ve planned to get water from a stream and then I got there, and the stream was dry. And I was like, "Oh, this is going to be interesting."

**Inmn ** 42:01
But yeah, sorry. You’re talking about water, food, etc… I don’t know what you were going to say next.

**Spencer ** 42:09
Yeah. So once you figured out how much water and food you need to be able to carry between places that you can get water or food, then you’re gonna go to gear. So clothing, is it going to be hot? Is it gonna be cold at night? And then you’re thinking about sleeping. So tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, at the bare minimum. How warm is that sleeping bag need to be? What’s the weather going to be like? Is it going to rain a lot? How nice of a tent do you need? How many people are going to fit in that tent? And once you’ve figured out those things, those are all going to inform all the decisions we made already about like luggage. Like oh, I need to make a three person tent because there’s three of us. Are we going to split it? Yada yada yada. If you’ve been camping at all, you understand that these are like kind of the basic things you want to have with you. Or maybe you’re going there’s a hotel every night and you’re like, I’m just gonna get a hotel in and take a shower, and people do that and it’s great. It’s a different way to tour.

**Inmn ** 42:10
We met someone like that who was credit-card touring, as it’s called, I think. And, you know, I have a friend who just writes crazy distances in like single times, but like meeting this person who was like…he had a very fancy performance road bike and a couple regular small water bottles and like some granola bars and in his fucking lycra pockets, or whatever, and a credit card that was it. That was every single thing this person had.

**Inmn ** 43:07
Still bike touring. My 20 year old self would be would be shaking at me saying that but still bike touring.

**Inmn ** 44:01
Yeah, I mean if you got a credit card and he just like fucking get a hotel every night.

**Spencer ** 44:08
But, you know, these are considerations with things. Like, I’ve stayed at hotels on bike tours. Like I had a real shit day got rained on for like this last trip I did in the Midwest past summer. We got stuck in like damn near a tornado. And I was putting up our tent in the downpour rain and then it was drizzling the whole next day. And I was like, fuck it. I’m getting a hotel. Going off route. I’m going to a hotel. Sleep in this hotel and shower and dry all of our shit out. And these are things you want to consider and this is all part of what goes into considering to go on a bike trip.

**Inmn ** 44:44
Yeah, um, so we’re getting close to the end of our time for today. I didn’t say this at the beginning, but this is a two part episode. And I’m wondering if we could kind of end today’s episode with, could you just tell us a story about going on a bike tour. Could have gone well, could have gone horribly. Kind of whatever. Tell us about a trip that you went on and kind of like what… Yeah. Yeah.

**Spencer ** 45:21
Alright, I’m gonna tell you about my favorite bike tour. And it will bring it back together because you met that lovely gentleman in Glacier on the Tour Divided some years ago. So my buddies Kurt and Sam–this was 2016–so fledgling days of kinda packing bags. This is when one of the bigger companies, Blackburn, was getting into making bags. They sponsored a bunch of folks to go ride big long off-road routes. My friends got this scholarship sponsorship thing. And I was like, okay, cool, like, I’m gonna go meet them. I just finished up work. I worked as a bicycle tour guide, but the van stuff, not so much the touring that we’re talking about, but going to hotels, yadda yadda yadda. And I got off work, drove out there. I took my dad’s hybrid from like 1994 and I strapped a bunch of bags to it. And we went riding down. They had like slick bikes, all the new bags. But the fun thing was they were big rock climbers at the time. So we were carrying all of our camping gear and a full 60 meter rope, a full trad rack of cams and nuts and like our climbing harnesses and shoes, and every week we were climbing at least once a week. So we’re doing trad climbing up some mountains in Montana or Wyoming or wherever the hell we want that being that week. And we packed nothing. We had…. Like none of us had real tents. We have like one spare tube between us because we just didn’t have room for anything with all the climbing gear. It was just so reckless and stupid. We hitchhiked a ton and climbed a bunch of shit that was really sketchy. And it still to this day is one of my favorite memories of traveling by bike, just getting to go climb and just riding those wide opens stretches of Montana, Wyoming, a little bit in Colorado. And it was just the dumbest fun. God I miss you, Sam and Kurt, if you’re out there listening somewhere. That was my bike penultimate trip that had been on. It just…it was silly and dumbn. There’s photos and videos of that from years ago that I can send you some links to or whatnot. But the joy I still take from those memories and that trip stick with me.

**Inmn ** 47:35
Hell yeah. That’s wonderful. Um, one of my like, weirdly favorite memories of going on bike tour was–and we’ll talk about this a little more in part two–but is preparation, how to prepare for a trip, how tolike plan an actual trip, you know. And me and Marie didn’t plan literally at all. We just hopped on our bikes and started riding. Every day we woke up and we were like, "Yeah, let’s go on that road. That makes sense. Whatever. It’ll be fine." Weirdly, we did end up on…we accidentally ended up on Adventure Cycling routes, you know? Which makes sense. They were the most logical roads to ride on. We just didn’t know. But our lack of preparation and planning was actually the most fun part of the trip.

**Spencer ** 48:39
So my buddy Kurt on that trip, and we did a bunch of subsequent trips, and I’m a big planner and Kurt hates planning. He made me fly to fucking Columbia with zero plan and like one half contact that we called when we got to Bogota and a bunch of paper maps and was like, "Nah, we’re just gonna figure it out." Speaking of accidentally winding up on ACA routes, did you the pro move where you found someone riding in the opposite direction and you asked if they were done with their maps because you were going the opposite way?

**Inmn ** 49:11
No, that would have been smart. But we didn’t… We met a couple other people on bike tour. We were incredibly surprised. We met exactly three people on bike tour on a two month long trip and I was actually surprised about it.

**Spencer ** 49:30
Wow. I wound up on that TransAm for a little bit. And I didn’t have any maps because I was being a total of shit bird and would be like, "Hey, you done with that section?" cause I didn’t want to buy maps.

**Inmn ** 49:42
Yeah, they’re expensive.

**Spencer ** 49:45
I mean, Adventure Cycling is a really lovely organization that has done a lot of good and they’re a nonprofit. Do you ever, did you guys go through Missoula and go to the headquarts?

**Inmn ** 49:55
We did. We got the free ice cream.

**Spencer ** 49:56
Popscicles and soda. Yeah. Okay, well, that’s why those maps are so expensive is they gotta give free sodas and ice cream to all the dirt bag toursists that won’t buy them.

**Inmn ** 50:07
Yeah, yeah. Cool. Well, that about does it for the time that we have today. Before we go, are there any things that you want to plug, any projects, any places that people can find you on the internet where you would like to be found? Anything like that?

**Spencer ** 50:29
Anything on social media, is just Spencer J. Harding. Like I said, I write for the theradavist.com. You can type my name in there and there’s a bunch of reviews and trip reports and stuff like that. My website is just SpencerJharding.com. There’s a bunch of photos organized there from a bunch of my bicycle travels, if you want to check that out.

**Inmn ** 50:50
Yeah. Cool. Cool. And for folks who…just to let you know what we’re gonna be talking about next time, next time being next week, we’re gonna be talking about how to actually plan a bike trip, what are things you should be prepared for kind of like on the road, why traveling by bike is just a really cool idea–if you haven’t been swayed already–what are its limitations, and how does this fit into preparedness models for any kind of collapse or disaster situation that we might be in. So tune in next time.

**Inmn ** 51:33
If you enjoyed this podcast, then go hop on a bike and ride around and see what happens. And also, if you like this podcast, you can please just tell people about it. It’s the best way that people hear about the show and one of the best ways to support us. But if you would like to support us in other, I think, sillier ways, you can support the show financially. And you can support us financially by supporting our publisher Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness. And the best way to support us is to go to tangledwilderness.org and buy some books. There’s some really cool books you can buy. You can buy a cool TTRPG that me, Margaret, Casandra, and Robin wrote called Penumbra City. You can get a lots lots of other really cool books too. And you can also support us by supporting our Patreon at patreon.com/strangersinatangledwilderness. And there’s a bunch of different levels of support that you can give us, anywhere from like $5 a month, which kind of gets you a lot of cool stuff. It gets you discounts, it gets you digital versions of all of the stuff that we publish and just like lots of really cool updates. You can also get a zine mailed to you every month, that we put out as part of our monthly feature, which if you also just want to hear those, you can read them on our website or you can check out another podcast that I do called Ttrangers in a Tangled Wilderness, where we take our monthly feature and turn it into an audio zine and interview the author. And then there’s another fun part of it, which is that for $20 a month, you can get us to thank or acknowledge anything that you want us to thank to or acknowledge, whether that be you or a cool organization that you want to get shouted out, or whether it’s just someone you love and care about. Or as I’m still plugging for, a fictional or theoretical concept. So check us out on Patreon and we just want to give some special shout outs to these folks right now. Thank you alium, Amber, Ephemoral, Appalachian Liberation Library, Portland’s Hedron Hackerspace, Boldfield, E, Patoli, Eric, Buck, Julia, Catgut, Marm, Carson, Lord Harken, Trixter, Princess Miranda, Ben Ben, anonymous, Janice & O’dell, Aly, paparouna, Milica, Boise Mutual Aid, theo, Hunter, SJ, Paige, Nicole, David, Dana, Chelsea, Staro, Jenipher, Kirk, Chris, Michaiah, and Hoss the Dog. Thank you so much for everything and we hope that you’re doing as well as you can with everything that’s going on and we’ll see you next time.

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