Friday, March 9, 2012

To be continued

I'm sure this doesn't come as a total surprise, given the nature of my recent updates, but it's still a bit disappointing - I'm putting the rest of my tour on hold.

The weather lately has been awful, with more to come, and I've had a series of really bad leg cramps, though fortunately those seem to have mostly subsided now. I could still complete my planned South Island route if I left tomorrow, but it leaves me with very little wiggle room for unexpected trouble or further really bad weather - any further problems and I have to start cutting bits off my trip.

This is a to-be-continued, though - I fully intend to pick up my tour again when I get an opportunity; hopefully next summer.

If you've donated for a postcard and I haven't sent you one yet, let me know what you'd like me to do. I'll happily send you one from Christchurch, or if you'd prefer I can send you your money back from my own pocket.

On a more positive note, I've had a fantastic time doing the tour, all up. I've never done anything like this before, and it's been a great experience, and something totally different from anything I've done in the past. I'm hoping it leads to more (though probably shorter) tours like this in the future.

My apologies for letting people down by truncating the tour like this, and thank you for all your kind words and support.

Monday, March 5, 2012

More cramps

I tried a day ride today, out to Little River and back (about 50k each way). About 12k in, I got another cramp in my right leg and had to turn back.

Today was a rare fine day, too - the forecast is not good, though. Eleven of the next fourteen days have rain or showers forecast. I don't mind the occasional shower, but a tour that involves more rainy days than fine one is seeming less than pleasant.

I've not yet decided what to do, but none of the options are appealing at this point.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


So, I was going to head back to Kaikoura today to resume my trip from where I left off. I'd booked a train ticket; the train left at 7. I got up and ready, got on my bike, and immediately got a severe cramp in my leg. After riding halfway to the station it was apparent that it wasn't going to improve, and that cycling 70+km today simply wasn't going to happen, so I had to give up and go back.

I've been getting cramps for the last few days, though I'm mystefied as to why, since I've not been exercising much since my last tour day. I thought - or at least really, really hoped - that I'd seen the last of them, but that appears to not be the case.

Given the combination of cramps and weather, and my deadline for returning to work starting to loom, it looks like I'm going to have to, at a minimum, skip the Kaikoura to Christchurch leg, and possibly cut even more off my trip. Eliminating the Kaikoura to Christchurch leg hurts the most, though, since that means I won't have done the South Island contiguously either.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

My rig

A few people have asked for more details about my trike, how it's set up, and how it's worked out, so here they are.

The Trike

The trike is an HP Velotechnik Scorpion FX. It's known as a 'tadpole trike', which means it has two wheels in front, which are used for steering, and one wheel at the back. Power is transmitted from pedals forward of the front wheels, on a boom, via a very long chain to the back wheel. An idler under the seat deflects the chain to allow it to pass under the seat without having to lower the pedals or raise the seat, keeping the pedalling position comfortable and the center of gravity low.

The trike has a number of gearing and other parts options. Mine's equipped with Avid BB7 cable disk brakes, with each brake controlled by a lever on the corresponding handlebar. Crosslinked configurations are possible, but I think I actually prefer this setup - it lets me avoid skids if I'm braking on a corner.

Gearing consists of 3 front chainrings, a 9 speed cassette, and a 3 speed internal hub, between them offering an astonishing 81 gears. The front and rear deraileurs are controlled using bar end shifters, while the hub has a twist shifter on the left handlebar. This gear setup is moderately complex, but provides an astonishingly wide gear range - from 12 to 120 gear inches, roughly - and has proved to be pretty invaluable on steep hills with my bags full.

If I'd had infinite time and money to prepare, I would've got the Rohloff Speedhub instead, which has 14 evenly spaced gears in an internal hub, but the lead time on getting a custom made bike in was too high for that to be practical. As it is, the current configuration has served me very well.

In terms of riding experience, the trike is a great deal of fun. Being so low to the ground, it feels fast - you have to adjust your perception of how quickly you're going a little bit - and although it's a little slower going up hills, it really roars down the downhills. I've approached 80km/h going downhill in the right conditions, and unlike a regular bike where it quickly starts to feel precarious, I don't have any sense of danger except from the prospect of unexpected obstructions - certainly, a bit of rough road isn't going to send me tumbling over the handlebars.

The rear wheel has suspension, which does a lot to smooth out the ride. There's no way to stand up on the pedals through rough spots like a regular bike, so suspension is more important than ever. HP Velotechnik sell a full suspension model, the Scorpion FS, but it's heavier, and suspended front wheels inevitably comes with some compromise in handling, so I opted for the FX. Some of the roughest roads have had me reconsidering my choice as my feet slowly turn numb from the vibration, though.

The trike handles touring very well, too. The panniers are directly above the rear wheel, and fairly low, and the only effect they seem to have on handling are the increased inertia from their weight. There's space for two smaller lowrider panniers in front of the ones I'm using, but I haven't had any need for them given my light load.


Clipless pedals and cleated shoes are pretty essential for any tour, but a quick consideration of what's likely to happen to your legs if they slip off the pedals of a trike at speed and hit the road reveals that it's even more important on a trike. I've gone with a fairly standard setup with Shimano SPD pedals and matching shoes; the pedals have a flat side in case I decide I just want to go down to the shops on a day off.

The riser that the front deraileur attaches to has mounting points for an accessory bracket for lights etc; oddly enough, HP Velotechnik don't make one themselves, but the competing manufacturer ICE does. After initial experiments with a 3d printed mount (with mixed results), I obtained an ICE bracket, which you can see above.

On the top, a high power LED front bike light, which has so far seen limited use. On the bottom, a GoPro HD Hero 2. Mounting it upside down has had a surprisingly large impact on the video it produces - not only does it no longer tilt to the side when subjected to rough roads, but the rolling shutter artefacts caused by road vibration have all but vanished.

Initially, both handlebars had mirrors attached on accessory bars. A rear view mirror is pretty essential on a trike, since looking behind you isn't as easy as on a bike; using this one has become second nature to me.

The left-hand mirror I've replaced with a 3d printed mount to which I've epoxied a gel phone case for my Galaxy Nexus; this works surprisingly well as a phone mount, and puts the phone exactly where I need it to be able to see it easily and operate it when necessary.

On the back, a JOOS solar charger. Originally, this was to power my phone on the road, so I could have the screen on continually to use it as a cycle computer. Unfortunately, my phone has been gradually going crazy; it's now convinced it's charging all the time, exhausts its battery quickly, and refuses to charge from the JOOS, making the setup effectively useless.

Also on the back is a Camelbak Unbottle, which may as well be custom-made for the trike. Unlike most Camelbak products, there's no shoulder straps, just a single strap with a clip, which sits perfectly around the headrest.

Wrapped around the flagpole post is one of my experiments with lighting, a length of EL wire and inverter. Unfortunately, it's dimmer than I expected, and is useless in all but pitch black conditions (which I've thus-far avoided riding in). When needed, I have a Fiber Flare light I attach across the panniers instead.

Finally, the panniers, two Deuter Rack Pack 2 saddlebags. With 48 litres between them, my reduced 'credit card touring' load fits in them comfortably. Being bright red, they're pretty visible from a distance, and the rain covers are bright yellow, and even easier to see.


I gave some thought to the Tyres I wanted before I bought them. Obviously the Schwalbe Marathon Racers the bike came with weren't going to be workable - they're fast, but have absolutely no puncture protection. The Marathon Plus was tempting - it's got a full centimeter of latex rubber on the inside, and they're supposed to be all but puncture proof, but they're very heavy, have a lot of rolling resistance, they're not available in folding bead (for obvious reasons), and they're supposed to be very difficult to fit.

Instead, I settled on the Marathon Supreme. These were more expensive than the Plus, but they're lighter than the Racers, almost as fast, and are rated almost as puncture resistant as the Plus. Since they're available in folding bead, I was able to order four, and keep one in the bottom of my panniers in case something goes drastically wrong with one on the road.

I'm pleased to say that they've worked out exceptionally well. After riding over 1500 kilometers on them, I've had zero punctures, which I think is a good showing by anyone's standards. If they're slower than the racers, it's insignificant enough that I can't tell the difference, and they grip very well both in wet and dry.

Wear-wise, they're doing pretty well. The front tyres show little sign of wear at all. The rear tyre shows significant wear - the edges of the pattern have been brought almost level with the grooves in the middle of the tyre - but I think they've got a lot of mileage in them yet.

Rear tyre wear

Front tyre wear

Maintenance and Repairs

As mechanical issues go, for the most part I've been very fortunate:

  • In the first 10 minutes or so of the first day, my rear tyre tube had some sort of valve issue that caused it to deflate quickly whenever inflated to high pressure. I changed out the tube after establishing it wasn't a puncture, and haven't had any trouble since - I put it down to a defective tube.
  • I've had significant problems with my phone, and powering it, as I outlined above.
  • Towards the end of the North Island part of the trip, the shifter for my rear deraileur started to fall apart. The plastic ring that protected the innards came apart, and the disc that provided the indexing facility broke in half and came out. The end result was that I could still shift gears, but they were friction-shift rather than indexed. I got the lever replaced - at some expense, since they don't sell parts, only pairs of levers - in Nelson, and all has been well since.
  • Coming into Seddon, my pedals mysteriously siezed up momentarily, after which the bike made ominous grinding noises whenever I put significant pressure on the pedals. This turned out to be due to the chain slipping off the idler wheel, and was fixed with 5 minutes' work and an allen key.
Clothing and equipment

For the most part, my research into what to take has paid off. In particular, all the merino wool clothing has worked out exceptionally well. It's lightweight, packs down well, dries fast, and keeps me cool and warm as needed, even when wet.

The rain gear has been less useful than I thought. I've used the raincoat on a couple of occasions, and I'm glad I have it, but often simply putting on warmer clothing and putting up with getting wet is the best option. Even though the rain gear is gore-tex, it still retains a substantial amount of moisture, so wearing it when exerting myself a lot, such as climbing a hill, can result in me ending up wetter than I would have without it. The rain pants have turned out to be totally useless - I haven't taken them out of the bag even once.

Also on the useless front are the arm warmers. I've used them once, but that was a particularly cold but clear morning that was going to warm up later. For the most part it makes more sense to wear a long-sleeved top.

I haven't used any of my spare parts, but I consider that more a matter of good luck than of poor planning.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Day 24: Ward(ish) to Kaikoura

Distance: 77.3k
Distance so far: 1,510.0
Speed: 18.3k/h
Runkeeper log: 1

So much for summer. Last night was incredibly cold, and I woke up this morning to find it even colder. I set out at about quarter past seven wearing long thermal underwear, gloves, and a balaclava. It felt like the middle of winter.

Fortunately, it warmed up fairly quickly, and by the time I stopped at the famous Kekerengu Store for a second breakfast, I was able to ditch the balaclava, and shortly thereafter, the gloves, as the day warmed up. There was practically no wind, and only scattered high cloud, so it quickly became a fairly pleasant day for riding.

Not long after leaving Kekerengu, I hit the first of two significant milestones for today: 1452km. That may not sound particularly significant, but it's the great-circle distance between Cape Reinga and bluff - so as of today, I've biked the length of NZ, at least in one sense of the term.

This far.
The day was mostly flat, which made the riding easy, but I found myself more worn out than I expected given the last few days' rides, and it didn't take long for some serious muscle ache to set in. I'm at a bit of a loss as to why.

The Kaikoura coast is beautiful, easily one of the nicest landscapes I've ridden through so far. It's probably best described as 'rumpled', as if someone threw down a huge blanket and didn't bother to smooth it out.

The whole day's ride was on State Highway 1, which was often lacking a shoulder, but the road was mostly straight and sight-lines were long, so the occasions I had to worry about traffic were rare. On the other hand, a rumble strip along the shoulder made riding a lot less pleasant than it could have been, as the varying width of the shoulder meant I had to constantly weave in and out of it to stay as far left as I could.

Unfortunately, the weather forecast for the next few days is still just as grim as it was yesterday, with strong southerly (head)winds forecast for the next few days, with rain to top it off. Rain I can handle, but much of the ride to Christchurch will be straight and flat, and the second day is a particularly long one, and riding into a stiff headwind would make the ride singularly unpleasant - not the idea of my trip at all.

With that in mind, I've decided to take a while off for the weather to pass. I booked a train ticket to Christchurch, and hopped on it with my bike, and I'll be staying here with family for a few days until the worst of the southerlies pass. Once they do, I'll get a lift back up to Kaikoura and pick up where I left off.

See you then!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Day 23: Blenheim to Ward(ish)

Distance: 55.9k
Distance so far: 1,432.7
Speed: 15.7k/h
Runkeeper log: 1

So, after my minor 300k side-trip to Nelson, today I finally started on the route south in earnest. Today's route was entirely along State Highway 1, taking me from Blenheim to Pedaller's Rest, just south of the tiny town of Ward.

I slept in a bit and got up at 7AM, and was packed and ready at about 20 past, taking a leisurely ride into central Blenheim to seek out a cafe for breakfast. I found one easily, and had a delicious meal of Pancakes and Bacon, and a good coffee, before getting on the road just before 8AM. The sun was peering through a gap in the clouds and casting highlights and shadows across the hills to the south in a most picturesque fashion - a lovely view to start the day with.

The weather today was overcast, but not nearly as cold as it was yesterday. There was more of a southerly wind, though, which continued to plague me throughout the day, providing me with a headwind much of the day. Unfortunately, this seems likely to be the start of a pattern for the next week or so...

The ride was initially fairly flat, but soon turned to hills, a sequence that repeated throughout the day - flat and hilly sections interleaved fairly consistently. This wasn't entirely unpleasant, as all the climbs were fairly steady and manageable, and the downhills added some speed and enjoyment to a day that otherwise contained a lot of slogging along against headwinds - though at times the wind died down enough on the flat for me to ride along at a reasonable speed.

I stopped for a rather disappointing coffee at Seddon. There were two choices for coffee, facing each other across the road, and I think I chose the wrong one, a teahouse that's been (marginally) updated to serve coffee. I attempted to enjoy their rather... novel... rendition of a latte, with limited success.

Just before I arrived in Seddon, I had my first significant mechanical mishap since I had all those problems with the front chainring, somewhere north of Auckland. The pedals momentarily jammed hard, then started working again, but seemingly with a lot more friction than normal. Pedalling still worked, but the chain ground quite perceptibly, and it only got worse if I put more pressure on it. I took the panniers off and examined the rear derailleur with a sinking feeling - since any mishap with it would almost certainly be beyond my ability to fix it on the road - but couldn't see anything wrong with it. I shelved it until after the coffee.

The problem was still there after the coffee, so I took the bags off again for another look. This time, I realised that the chain had come off the idler wheel, which sits just under the seat and provides a clear path for the chain from the front chainrings to the rear cluster. This was something of a relief, actually, since it's easily fixed. A metal bar normally prevents the chain from slipping off the idler, and this must have been what the chain momentarily jammed against. A minute's work with an allen key had the wheel loose enough to replace the chain, and I was back on the road.

The alternating hills and flats continued after Seddon, though with less climbing than before. Not long afterwards, I arrived in Ward, where I stopped for another break and another coffee - significantly better than the last one - before I set out on the last 9k to Pedaller's Rest.

One hill later, I arrived at Pedaller's Rest. This is a bunkhouse with all the usual facilities situated almost exactly halfway between Blenheim and Kaikoura, a stretch that's a bit too long for most people - myself included - to comfortably complete in a day. Once you factor in the hillier terrain on the first half of this ride, it's in pretty much the perfect position to stop for the night. The accommodations are a bit on the basic side, but the beds are soft and the hosts, Jim and Denise, are friendly and welcoming.

I'm the only person staying currently. It's not impossible someone else will turn up later this afternoon, but I suspect I will have the bunkhouse to myself tonight. Tomorrow, I'll ride the rest of the way to Kaikoura. The good news is that the forecast for tomorrow is northerlies - a tailwind! The bad news is that the forecast for the rest of the week is southerlies, and that includes my mammoth 120k day from Cheviot to Christchurch. I'm really, really hoping the forecast is wrong, because it's going to be a real slog if it's not.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Day 22: Havelock to Blenheim

Distance: 45.5k
Distance so far: 1,376.8
Speed: 15.8k/h
Runkeeper logs: 1 2

A pretty relaxed day today, as I cycled from Havelock to Blenheim. The weather this morning was miserable and cold, but not raining, and I had a headwind a lot of the way - so progress was more of a grind than I would have liked. There were no major hills and not much distance to cover, though, so it wasn't too bad.

I got on the road about quarter past seven. As the tour goes on, sunrise is getting noticeably later, and it's getting harder to make an early start - too early and it's still dark, not to mention cold. I guess I should be glad that I have an excuse to sleep in more.

I got to Renwick just after 9AM. Once in Renwick, I was planning to tour a few of the wineries. I started off with Spy Valley wines, which isn't far from downtown Renwick (such as it is). The wines were so good, though, I couldn't resist ordering a few to be shipped back to Sydney, and I curtailed my winery tour to prevent myself from buying even more wine.

The road to Blenheim didn't take long at all. Once there, I found the hostels more booked up than anticipated, but I eventually found one with a spare room. The rest of the day I have to myself for I-don't-know-what - I'm sure I'll find a way to entertain myself.

One concern is that I neglected to put on sunscreen today. Most of my riding was before 10AM, when it becomes a real concern, and it was heavily overcast today, so hopefully I'll be okay. Only time will tell.