COLUMNS The Bike Madame

A Bicycle Goes On Vacation

ColumellaHELLO, I’M COLUMELLA, a workhorse commuting bicycle who contends stoically with the worst wind, rain, hail, junk in the road, and ugly pavement the North Coast can throw at me. When my rider told me we were going on a weekend trip to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, I spun at the opportunity! Vacation riding required some adaptations from a workaholic like me, though, so I had to prepare both mentally and physically.

First there was the weight issue. I’m a chunky folding cycle who’s used to carrying my rider and her lunch, work clothes, and water. This trip was the first time I wore panniers, which caused me to gain a few pounds and wrought havoc with my balance. That’s why you and your rider should practice with a load (whether it’s in panniers, a trailer, a big backpack, or some combination of these) before starting on your trip. Not only will this help you both to adapt to a different balance point, but you can also adjust the panniers, rack, and other things in case your rider gets whacked in the leg while pedaling or your fenders rub against your tires. If you have a two-sided packing system such as panniers, be sure your rider puts items of roughly equal weight on each side so you don’t list to port or starboard and send the rider overboard.

Cruising under a load also alters your braking and hill-riding experiences. Because you’re now Atlas shouldering the weight of the world, your rider will need more time to stop (and with the extra bulginess, it’s also easier for him or her to fall over if you come to a quick halt). You’ll also speed down hills and need to use lower gears to crawl uphill. A long trip with lots of ups and downs ideally calls for a cycle suited to such terrain. Luckily, none of the hills we traversed were especially steep, for I don’t come equipped with many gears.

Once I got used to the idea of recreation, I enjoyed my vacation. Vancouver Island is beautiful, and the city of Victoria is bicycle heaven: you can ride in the street and motorists don’t crowd you, and the dedicated walking-riding Galloping Goose Trail provides a nice connecting route throughout the city and its environs. I got to cruise past magnificent scenery on highways where cycles are permitted on the wide shoulders, and signs aimed at us direct us on and off the highway and onto local bikeways. I had one phobic moment crossing a metal bridge, but a sign reassured me and my rider of our right to stay in the center lane and not get passed by motor vehicles. Amazingly, we never collected the honks, rude gestures, and yelling we’ve gotten all too familiar with on our daily rounds while sharing the road with other vehicles.

The ferry from Port Angeles, Washington to Vancouver Island was also cycle-friendly. After twiddling my chain on a customs line, I was rewarded with a front-row seat from a bike rack on the bow of the ferry to smell the salt air (extra lube helped my sensitive components to avoid the bike equivalent of a sunburn), watch a humpback whale spout, spy-hop, and dive, bask in the admiration of other passengers who’d never seen folding bikes, and flirt with a sleek touring bike who shared the rack with me.

Next year, I hope to take a longer jaunt. Until then, I’ll roll alongside the RVs and log trucks while dreaming of new pavement beneath my wheels.