Thus far– less than a week, really– bikepacking the GR5 route has been a rich experience. I use the term bikepacking loosely, for at times we are amidst city bicycle traffic, overdressed for the occasion. At times, we encircle local forests along dirt doubletrack– roads to rural homes or geometrically organized forest service roads. And sometimes, we are riding singletrack– walking, horseback riding, or sometime even mountainbiking trails. The promise of the GR and official European walking routes is a diverse overland experience, easing from city to country several times daily, from pavement to dirt at will. These are not wilderness trails, exclusively. They are not exclusively singletrack. They are always different. For Europeans that dream of famed bikepacking routes across the globe, such as the Colorado Trail or the Great Divide Route, do not overlook the opportunities out your front door. Coloradans and Californians should be jealous of the routes that exist here, for several reasons.
An expansive network of local and long distance routes: With the North Sea behind us, signage now points towards Nice, over 2000km away. This location near Bergen op Zoom is the intersection of the GR5/E2, GR11, GR12, and GR17.
Signage, guidebooks and maps are copious. Lael and I are following red and white blazes marking trees, signposts, electrical boxes, buildings, and fences. Most of the time this is all we need, Occasionally, signage is lost of damaged and we are sent looking for the route. With the right approach, even these wild goose chases are part of the fun. We consider it like a treasure hunt for grown-ups. Guidebooks are available. Local maps and guides are always available at libraries and tourist offices. Wandelnetwerk (walking trails) on the left, fietslus (bike trails) on the right.
While we are simply following a red and white breadcrumb trail, major junctions also have public maps. Most often, these maps show major cycling routes or local walking trails. Even without the GR5 route listed, we can identify nearby towns and roads should we need to navigate locally. This map actually shows the GR routes that pass through Bergen op Zoom.
Wet weather has cordoned the camera to a dry corner of my framebag, but the riding is great! Well-drained singletrack and doubletrack through lush forests is countered with visits to small towns with libraries, markets and bakeries. We awoke this morning to sandy riding along these inland dunes; this afternoon, we go searching for the Westmalle Abbey, one of only seven genuine Trappist breweries in the world. During the day, we visit two libraries to dry off and write home.
While backpacking Europe has become expensive, as the price of hostels, lodging and rail passes have increased, bicycling or bikepacking Europe presents an affordable way to travel. Following rural routes, we find plentiful campsites in picturesque settings. Our major daily costs are food and wine. As we enter Belgium we add beer and chocolate to the list. The variety of cheese, wine, and cured meats expands as we near France, and the prices decrease. We eat better here than anywhere else, and it doesn’t cost any more.
And unless you like the look of pit toilets, stock tanks, and barbed wire, European bikepacking offers more exciting architecture than the popular routes in the States. We asked directions through this area and were told to turn left at the “great white house”. Turn left here.
There are 11 major walking trails in Europe, designated E#. For example, we are following the E2 route, which coincides with the GR5.
We have also followed some of the North Sea Cycle Route, a mostly paved route which encircles the North Sea through the UK, Scandinavia, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. Finally, the EuroVelo association has developed some excellent long-distance cycle routes across Europe, mostly paved or graded surfaces. Lael and I have ridden some of the popular EuroVelo6 in the past, and found it to be well-signed, selecting interesting routes with low-traffic volumes. The opportunities are endless.
The GR5– locally called the LAW-5, Deltapad, or the E2– is an elusive dream. Once on the trail, as a hunting dog on the scent of something good, we keep our eyes peeled and our noses to the ground. If we can keep our tires and eyes pointed toward the next red and white blaze, the rewards are great. When we lose the trail, which has happened thus far with some frequency, we simply follow the next logical signed cycling route, bike path or walking path. Perhaps the best part about following the GR5 is that we never ride with traffic. And when we lose the trail, we still aren’t really riding in traffic. Some routes follow dedicated cycling lanes alongside a street, but even this is hardly ‘in’ or ‘with’ traffic in this country– drivers and cyclists are equally respectful of space and life and the dance between the two never raises and eyebrow.
But our focus is on the GR5, a long distance walking route from the North Sea in the Netherlands, to the Mediterranean at Nice, France. Between these two points are Belgium and Luxembourg, and a whole lot of time in France; the route includes the Ardennes, the Jura, and the Alps; and the entire trail is signed with red and white blazes, as are other GR trails, while guidebooks and maps are also available. It has only been a few days, but so far the diverse riding has done nothing but put smiles to our faces.
We left Hoek van Holland along this signed GR route, although it seemed to be going another direction. We abandoned in favor of cycle paths and a place to stay in Rotterdam. We would return to Maaslius to reconnect with the route.
At Maasluis, a ferry crosses the Maas river. As we disembark, we spot red and white blazes and spend the first km along neighborhood singletrack. Much of the riding reminds me of riding as a kid.
The GR5 follows paved and unpaved cyclepaths, as well as established walking routes (like unpaved walkways near the city), and sometimes very small lanes.
Camping opportunities abound, especially along the waterfront. This waterway was in use by many recreational canal boats.
The trail is locally called the ‘Deltapad’, or delta path, named for the delta region of several rivers that drain continental Europe into the sea. The trail follows a lot of grassy doubletrack along dikes and dams.
No reason to buy a map in the Netherlands. Signs, numbered routes and point-to-point routes makes navigation easy. I have a basic map of the country for reference. Mostly, we travel without a map, which is liberating. Public map displays serve to keep us traveling in a uniform direction. Still, while chasing red and white blazes we have made at least a few circles.
Mountainbikeroute (aka VTT, BTT, or MTB) is an exciting word. Some Dutch singletrack along the GR5, near the Voornes Duins.
To a coastal overlook, like California or elsewhere we have been.
Where to sleep? This looks good.
Butter, salt, shallots, tortellini, and herring in tomatensaus.
The next morning, we wind through dunes and coastal forests, making a full loop back to this point. Retracing our steps, we find exactly where we went wrong. Retracing our steps was a little muddy.
Finally on our way, the trail leads to the beach, which was partly rideable in the intertidal zone. Thinking of the Pugsley, or even those bold 29+ wheels I built for Cass’ Krampus. Just a little more rubber would have helped.
Within a few moments, we are back in town. Historic canals and churches one minute, sandy forested singletrack the next– nothing to complain about.
It has been a wet week along these coastal islands. Still, more dry than wet is the realization that time is better spent outside, than staring at the weather channel.
Our camp last night atop a sandy hill, tall pines breaking wind from the Nordzee.
We’ve lost the GR5 for a moment, realizing that we had followed another walking trail. We will rejoin the route in Bergen op Zoom, headed towards Maastricht, NL through Belgium. Three and four dollar bottles of organic wine end every day. Coffee and stroopwafels begin the day.
New wheels. Stout, tubeless friendly Stan’s rims weigh in at about 550g or less. They are a pleasure to build and accept high tension. Out of the box, they are extremely round.
Stan’s Flow EX rims (29.1mm wide) to Shimano 3D72 generator and SRAM X7 cassette hub. 2.3″ WTB Exiwolf tire rear, and 2.4″ Maxxis Ardent tire front.
Thanks to Two Wheel Drive for the use of tools and shop space, as well as for providing expertise and repair parts.
I’ve kept away from suspension forks for a long time. Part frugality and part aesthetic rigidity, there have also been some real concerns that a suspension fork is not prudent for “the long haul”. Enter: Lael’s secondhand Reba fork, acquired last fall before embarking upon the Colorado Trail. Re-enter: memories of my early 2000′s Gary Fisher Tassajara with tight mountain bike geometry and a Rock Shox Pilot suspension fork. Expect: a summer of trail riding in diverse conditions all over Europe. In the past, I have argued for the utility of a fatbike for diverse and rugged conditions. In the same vein, I plan on taking a true mountain bike to Europe– a steel Raleigh XXIX 29er with a suspension fork. The right tools will allow the full realization of an idea. A suspension fork may be the right tool.
I removed the lowers from Lael’s Rock Shox Reba fork and replaced the dust wiper seals and lubricating foam rings. All parts were cleaned, degreased and regressed. This is no more challenging than repacking a loose ball bearing hub. This reduces some of the mystery of the fork, and inspires confidence in the technology.
The main suspension functions (air, springs; dampening, rebound) are housed in the “uppers”, which are the brass colored rods shown above. The inner diameter of the “lowers” house the uppers and act as a track for the suspension travel. A precise fit, good seals and lube allow the two to travel past one another with ease for many thousands of cycles. The Reba is an entry level quality fork, in contrast to the inexpensive forks found on budget bikes. For the price, the fork provides a highly tunable ride, and smooth operation. A common term when dealing with fork maintenance is stiction, which quite literally means static friction. Static friction is the force required to engage an object from rest– less force is required to overcome kinetic friction and to continue the same motion (once already in motion), ceteris paribus. Thus, clean lubed suspension stanchions allow smooth operation and respond to subtle trail inputs. Really, it is all quite simple. Below, the seals and foam rings are removed on the left . Old parts in place on the right.
New foam rings on top, and rubber wiper seals on the bottom. These parts were $22.99.
New foam wipers, soaked in SRAM Red Rum oil. A 15w oil is recommended for this fork. Heavy oils are likely to remain for longer. Lighter oil may reduce friction (and stiction). Finally, install the seals and reassemble the fork.
SRAM provides detailed technical documents for all of their forks here. Specifically, this document provides a nice pictorial overview of Reba maintenance.
Identify hole location, mark with sharp tool. Hammer and punch to create impression. Drill holes with small bit, patience and cutting oil. Drill hole to size with larger bit. Install threaded rivet nut with the “Brute” Rivet Nutter tool.
I selected to install three rivets in such a manner that allows a standard water bottle cage, a Salsa Anything Cage, or a Topeak Modula XL cage. Specifically, the Salsa Anything Cage must be located above the chainrings. The 64 oz. Klean Kanteen that I hope to use is too wide to clear the chainrings, but is narrower than the crank arms.
The standard H2O cage uses the lower two holes.
The Salsa Anything cages uses all three holes.
The Topeak Modula XL cage uses the upper two holes.
At the rear, I drilled into each seatstay to install a butchered Nitto mini-rack to be used as a Carradice saddlebag support.
The seatstay bridge had a small drain hole, which I enlarged and tapped for an M5 bolt.
I have a habit of drilling holes in new bikes. I installed water bottle mounts to my Surly Pugsley last spring. And, I drilled the seatstay bridge on my VO Campeur to accept a VO Pass Hunter rack..
Updated 4/18– The VO Campeur is still for sale for $800, or $875 with two VO Pass Hunter mini racks. The bags are sold. More listings soon.
Leaving town, cleaning house, selling stuff. I only need one of everything. The Gear Sale page is accessible from the pages above and will house all items for sale. It will be updated as new items are added to the list. Check back soon for a purple 18″ Surly Pugsley and Lael’s Cannondale Hooligan.
The following items are currently listed, including a complete VO Campeur touring and commuting bike. The complete bike is available for $800.
The North American Handbuilt Bicycle Show has proven to be a showcase for bicycles and ideas that find their way onto mass-market bikes, and into the mainstream. “Touring bicycles” have followed a hard line for decades, demanding 700c wheels, drop handlebars, and attachment points for fenders, racks, and water bottles. Recently, the traditional touring bike is challenged by modern concepts born on the dirt tracks of the Great Divide Route, above treeline on the Colorado Trail, and on the 1100mi Alaskan Iditarod Trail. Riding off-pavement promises low traffic volumes, excellent camping, and extraordinary scenery. To access remote settings via unpaved routes, several deviations from the concept of a traditional touring bike can help.
This elegant example of a traditional 700c touring bike by Breadwinner Cycles features front and rear racks, drop bars, fenders, lighting, three chainrings, and a pump peg. Breadwinner Cycles is a new brand from framebuilding veterans Ira Ryan and Tony Pereira.
Harvey Cycle Works, Kevin Harvey (Indianapolis, IN)
This light touring model from Harvey Cycle Works features larger volume 650b tires. The rim is smaller in diameter than the bike above, but the frame allows a larger tire for a cushioned ride on rough surfaces. This bike hides a lot of modern features, including cable-actuated hydraulic disc brakes mated to Campy 11-speed levers.
Littleford Custom Bicycles, Jon Littleford (Portland, OR)
The Littleford Expedition tourer makes use of 26” wheels as the foundation for a rugged world-tourer. 26” wheels are the most common wheel/tire size around the globe– the smaller wheel is inherently stronger, and the larger tires cushion the ride and provide traction when off the beaten path. Rugged racks carry a full load of luggage.
Hunter Cycles, Rick Hunter (Davenport, CA)
Another popular concept in off-pavement riding is the 29” wheel. While the rim dimension is actually the same as the 700c wheels on your road or touring bike, with a voluminous tire the outside dimension of the wheel is nearly 29”. Larger wheels improve the capacity of the bike to roll over obstacles and maintain momentum. This can be helpful on rough, washboarded roads such as the Great Divide Route. This bike built by Hunter Cycles pays homage to vintage mountain bikes from the 80′s, with modern considerations, including disc brakes and big wheels. More on the Super Scrambler on this previous post.
Breaking from the traditional concept of touring with racks and panniers, this Cielo commuter/tourer is wearing rugged canvas and leather bags inspired by ultralight bikepacking equipment.
Moots (Steamboat Springs, CO)
Moots Cycles displayed this titanium drop-bar 29er, designed to race the Tour Divide (GDMBR) and the CTR (Colorado Trail). While this design retains drop bars common on road touring bikes (and aero bars!), it is otherwise outfitted like a mountain bike with knobby tires. A framebag and other bikepacking equipment will round out the luggage system on this bike, which includes several mounting points on the fork for water bottle cages or the Salsa Anything Cage, which is a simple harness system for small bundles of gear. Pictured on the fork are two new Manything Cages from King Cage, constructed of tubular stainless steel to overcome some of the failure risk of the aluminum Salsa cages.
Pushing the concept even further, this custom creation from English Cycles loses the drop bars in favor of a multi-position upright bar. Aero bars will still be useful on long stretches of smooth dirt and pavement, as this bike is planning to race the Tour Divide as well. The full luggage capacity is shown, including two standard water bottle cages on each fork leg. The fork is also built to swallow a fat tire (26×4.0”) in the off-season.
Not into ultralight racing concepts? This Moots bike is designed as a rugged trail-building machine. With integrated racks front and rear, it is loaded with a chinsaw and a multi-function shovel/axe, as well as a enough beer for a small crew. Built around the 29×3.0” tire introduced on the Surly Krampus, this bike has the capacity to reach remote places. Imagine losing the chainsaw and strapping a tent and a sleeping bag to the back.
Black Sheep Bikes, James Bleakely (Fort Collins, CO)
In a similar vein, this Black Sheep fatbike features integrated racks front and rear on a slightly elongated wheelbase. In the wake of longtail cargo bikes, medium length cargo bikes have become a popular solution for handling less than epic loads. 26X4.0” tires will go anywhere you can imagine “touring”. Start dreaming!
The king of all touring bikes at NAHBS this year is this longtail fatbike from Hunter Cycles, built for Scott Felter of Porcelain Rocket. Rick has been building for years, and Scott sews custom bags– the combination of their expertise creates an integrated touring bike for one of the most remote tracks in the world. This summer Scott plans to ride the Canning Stock Route in Australia, which is over 1000mi of sandy desert doubletrack with no resupply points, and a limited number of water sources. Thus, this bike is designed to carry a month of food, several days of water, and several pounds of camping equipment. In addition to the framebag, Scott has made custom panniers for the rear rack– each double the size of a large Ortlieb bag– and a front handlebar roll to carry camping equipment. On 82mm rims and 4.8” tires, this bike is primed for expeditions on dirt, sand, or snow. More on this epic touring bike on this previous post.
It was the year of the 29×3.0″ Surly Knard tire at NAHBS 2013, most certainly.
Andy Peirce waves the 29 inch flag proudly, riding single and tandem models around southern Colorado’s rugged dirt roads and trails. Born out of a converted potato barn in the San Luis Valley near Del Norte, CO, his bikes are trail tested and approved by some of the most discerning riders around. Here, butted, curved and ovalized tubes– sometimes all at once– build upon the experience that Andy and his wife Tammy have on their previous 29″ mountain tandem. They were happily riding on voluminous 29×2.4″ Maxxis Ardent tires and Velocity P35 rims, until the 29×3.0″ Surly Knard tire was released. At that moment, Andy began work on a new bike. This flagship tandem model on display at NAHBS is the result. For dirt road adventures, the bike wears a suspension-corrected steel truss fork. For more rugged singletrack treks, a suspension fork will take its place. Curved tubes abound. Note: custom titanium handlebars and stems, Rohloff Speedhub, and Black Cat swinging dropouts, all on an oversized 29″ wheelset. This is a full-featured mountain tandem. Nothing like this is available off-the-shelf.
Custom features, including a Rohloff hub, big tires, and Black Cat dropouts.
Black Sheep bikes deserve to be shipped with blue ribbons. Founder James Bleakely produces the most innovative titanium bikes in the country, showcasing challenging new designs for fat tires and tandems, or both. This tandem features a titanium truss fork, custom titanium handlebar stem combinations, and a curvaceous frame. A lightweight parts kit and I9 wheels complete this dirt road bomber. This bike is proof that NAHBS is a showcase for real designs. I visited Black Sheep last summer and experienced tubeless fatbike tires for the first time. Thanks for the inspiration James!
Moots makes nice titanium bikes in Steamboat Springs, CO, and you already knew that. Considering the association with founder Kent Erickson, their passion for innovative titanium designs is no surprise. This fully-equipped IMBA trail bike is ready to cut new singletrack, camp out for a few nights, and carry enough beer and whiskey for the whole crew. With 29×3.0″ tires, this bike is ready for a full week of work, singletrack rides, and a weekend of fun. The custom framebag is crafted by Scott Felter of Porcelain Rocket, and integrated titanium racks allow potentially massive cargo loads. The orange rim tape complements the Stihl chainsaw. The bell doubles as a shot glass, made by King Cage in Durango, CO. The handlebar is absurdly wide. The chainsaw guard is custom-made of titanium. Details are important.
Engin Cycles of Philadelphia, PA displayed a third mountain tandem featuring the new Surly Knard 29×3.0″ tire. Additionally, this bike features new product from Paragon Machine Works, including a new multi-purpose dropout system, a tapered steerer tube, and a prototype chainstay yoke designed to clear the new 3.0″ tire. This is a rugged travel touring tandem with S&S couples and a stout wheelset with cutout Kris Holm rims. The bike utilizes a slight offset in the rear to accomplish a full triple drivetrain with a 3.0″ tire and a 73mm bottom bracket.
Another blue ribbon mountain bike from Curt Inglis. It looks like a Schwinn Excelsior, and rides like nothing else. This bike features the new Paragon chainstay yoke, as on the Engin tandem above.
This is either half-fat or double-fat. This frame from Funk Cycles wears a “normal” 29×3.0″ front wheel and a 3.8″ Surly Larry tire on a 47mm Schlick Northpaw rim in the rear. The outside diameter of both wheels is similar, but the rear wheel allows maximal traction and flotation at low pressure.
Full carbon 29+ from Appleman Bicycles. Somebody had to do it. Check out the one-piece bar and stem combination with the wood inlay.
Don’t forget, many existing fatbikes will accept the new 29×3.0″ tire, including my Pugsley and newer Salsa Mukluks with Alternator dropouts. The tire will also fit many rigid suspension-corrected 29er forks.