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Discussion Starter #1
[Apologies for putting this here, but I didn't want to bury it in the Surly forum or the never-visited vacation and destination forum. Pending a forum for bikepacking, this seems the most often visited by people who are into adventure rides and long races.]


There's been a lot of excitement over Salsa's new Fargo on the 29er board, and I count myself among the early enthusiasts. It looks like a great bike and I can't wait to ride one. But I'm going to submit that Surly's 26" wheeled LHT is a better adventure and expedition bike.

(I can hear already the usual howls of forum protest. "Dude, you haven't even ridden a Fargo!" "The Trucker is nice for riding around the Great Lakes or something, but we're talking proper adventure bike here." "Kiddie wheels are so last century." "You're an idiot!")

Here's how I think about it. For me, an adventure bike needs to be the following things:

- Versatile. I want to be comfortable pedaling for ten hours on asphalt, gravel or dirt, day after day; I want to be able to mount slicks and go on a training ride with the local road club when I'm far from home; I want to be able to ride pretty demanding singletrack; I want to be able to ride with panniers; at home, I want to a bike that might be decent on grocery runs. In practice, a bike is probably going to be good at a small number these things, but I want to be able to do them all and have the bike be at least reasonably up to it.

- Easy to ride. The geometry needs to be such that it doesn't take much vigilance from me to pilot. There are going to be times when I am at 17,000 feet, bonked, cold, and in the dark. My bike can't be yet another challenge. The thing is, I also want to be able to go fast on flat paved roads, or twisty road descents. And I want the bike to have good enough manners off-road. And when I'm in really dense urban areas, I want to be able to see traffic and be maneuverable.

- Durable. Basically I don't want to even think about the fragility of the bike. I'm not totally convinced that an aluminum frame is wrong for adventure touring, but if there is even a slight chance that I'll need someone to weld the thing while on the road, I don't want the option excluded. More realistically, if the derailleur hanger or the fork or whatever get bent, I want to just bend them back (within reason).

- Not overly precious or prissy. The bike is going to get roped to the roof of buses and the back of pack mules, clipped to a steel basket for a gorge crossing, or tossed in the bucket of an empty dump truck. I want to be able to shrug off the inevitable dents or nicks. Some airlines still allow you to check the bike unboxed. When it's an option, I want to be able to do that without caring that it might get scratched.

- Not have cost me a lot. The bike could get lost or stolen, and I don't want to be devastated. This is going to be relative, of course, but, for me, certainly under US$2000, while under US$1500 would be even better.

- Repairable on the road, all over the world. Stuff is going to break, and I want to be able to substitute and improvise with what is available to me locally until I can have specialized gear shipped.


Given this wish list, I have not found anything better than the LHT. I've ridden it with panniers in Asia, Europe, Mexico, and, of course, at home in the US. I've raced it in mountain bike races (not my first or even second choice, but it happened) and on frozen lakes with Hakkapelitas. It goes along pretty good with slicks when I'm in the drops, I can mount 2.35 Nevegals on it for offroad, and on most tours running Marathon cross 1.5's is good enough for anything resembling a road or dirt path. On singletrack the bb is a little low for log hops, but riding the tops makes a lot of stuff surprisingly doable (I have top bar levers that you sometimes see on 'cross bikes, though I don't run them on my actual 'cross bike). If someone said that I could keep only one of my bikes, this one would be it.

Are there other bikes that could do these things? Yeah, probably. But some popular choices fall short for me. Thorns are a fair bit more expensive, and I have no interest in Rohloff hubs (heavy, their durability seems overstated, and junky but serviceable derailleurs are readily available to run with shifters in friction mode). I don't have any reliable info on how big a tire can be mounted on the Dawes offerings. The Rivendell Atlantis is a gorgeous bike, but that's also a downside. Some continental bikes look pretty good, but the Koga-Miyata's, for instance, are aluminum. And then anything with an integrated rack won't do for me when I want to take all the heavy stuff off and just go riding where ever I am. There are definitely steel mountain bikes that can be converted to adventure use, but they would have to have long chain stays for pannier heel clearance, couldn't be too flexy, and need a long headtube for drop bars (I've done long tours on flat bars and I don't care that much about not having the much ballyhooed multiple hand positions. But I like drops for going fast.)

So what about that Fargo? I totally want one for riding here in the US. But as far as winning the adventure bike prize, the Fargo's wheel size is basically a deal breaker for me. My main endurance race bike is a singlespeed 29er, and I'm not looking back to 26ers as far as mountain biking goes. For better or for worse, though, the wheel size that came to be the American standard for mountain bikes in the 80's is now the most widely available around the world. Sure, a well build wheel isn't likely to implode, but in the overall scheme of bicycle components, the wheels are a worrisome blend of fragile/difficult-to-improvise/showstopper-if-you-don't-have-it. Moreover, though tires can be booted and stitched together, there is some wear and damage that just can't be readily managed.

You sometimes hear people say that in this era of global access to consumer goods, you can just have a wheel or a tire shipped to you where ever you are. There's something to that, but I've seen tires in shops and stalls in towns that don't have phones, let alone internet. For a lot of places that I want to ride, there's a much higher premium placed by locals on the availability of bike tires than on having a post office.

So, I'm sticking with the trucker for now. I think it's the best that a US based adventure rider who is going to range far and wide can do. Nice job, Surly!

Other thoughts:

- If I was too tall to ride a 54 or smaller LHT, then I guess I'd convert an old mountain bike for adventure use.
- What's my real basis for comparison? I've toured on a converted 1989 Wicked Fat Chance with rear panniers (West Coast of USA), a Santa Cruz Superlight pulling an Extrawheel trailer (Pakistan, India, Nepal, Tibet), a Karate Monkey with rear panniers (East Coast of USA), an 80's Bianchi steel road racing bike with a large Carradice seat post bag (USA, UK, China), a recent vintage Felt aluminum/carbon fiber race bike with seatpost bag (East Coast of USA, France), and a Bike Friday folding bike pulling its suitcase (East Coast of USA, Ireland, France, Spain). None of those were catastrophes. Indeed, the Superlight -- in spite of being absolutely wrong by every bit of conventional wisdom -- was probably the best. Of course, I was fortunate that neither the rear shock nor the suspension fork had any problems. The LHT is better than all of these.

Here's a photo of my LHT in worst-conditions off-road mode, with 2.35 Nevegals mounted and exhibiting a little bit of faux monstercross:
 

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a.k.a. MTBMaven
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You present some great arguments. I like the idea of a cross bike as the one bike to rule them all theory but for a more adventure oriented bike to work in the places you mentioned I agree the LHT provides the necessary extra heft required. I think you have hit the nail on the head with your thesis.

That LHT is pretty much the perfect built from what I can see. Things I like: downtube shifters, Brooks saddle (thought I'm partial to Selle AnAtomica), triple crank which looks like Sugino crank with 94 BCD and square taper BB, fork with mounts for lowride rack.

I'm wondering why not V-Brakes? Can't you get non-linear pull roadie brake levers? If not I know problem solvers makes something for that.

Your touring experience is humbling. Good on ya. Sounds like you've had a fun life.
 

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Thoughts on disc brakes? Less likely to be easily serviced in third world countries, though I would think that added power and wet weather performance would be nice. I don't really regard rim brakes as suitable for off roading anymore.
 

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You Might Want To Look At The New Salsa Fargo 29er . It Looks Like A True On Or Off Road Touring Or Racing Bike .
 

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a.k.a. MTBMaven
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walkre73 said:
You Might Want To Look At The New Salsa Fargo 29er . It Looks Like A True On Or Off Road Touring Or Racing Bike .
I'm curious if you read the original post?

"There's been a lot of excitement over Salsa's new Fargo on the 29er board, and I count myself among the early enthusiasts. It looks like a great bike and I can't wait to ride one." cruzmissle
 

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THenne said:
Big Dummy? The boys "Riding the Spine" seem to be doing well with them on one heck of an adventure!
I agree that the Big Dummy looks like the way to go for super-unsupported adventure rides. If you need to carry enough food, water, and clothes to get through several days without resupply I see nothing that can touch it. You could literally carry gallons of water on a Big Dummy. On the other hand, you won't be winning any races on one.

As for the "boys riding the spine", I believe they have run out of money and are back in the States trying to raise more.
 

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Definitly a nice purpose built ride. That has very little to go wrong with it and easily repaired or replaced parts. Something people forget when assembling a bike for this purpose. I am looking forward to trying a Fargo one day but now you got me thinking Surly hmmm...
 

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Harmonius Wrench
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Interesting.

I think your choice is entirely valid, but I would submit the following to you, some of which is based upon my touring experiences on a converted 1984 Mongoose All Mountain mtb.

I rode my tours with other fellows that all rode 700c bsed rigs. In a lot of situations, they were more efficient than I was, and on every downhill they outdistanced me in coasting. My gearing certainly wasn't as tall as theirs either by the very nature of the wheel size. (I ran 48/38/24 on all of my tours with this bike) On pavement, or on smoother dirt and gravel, 700c is definitely a better choice in terms of my riding.

Of course, rider comfort is a huge issue with touring for multiple hours. My 26 inch wheels were jack hammers with anything less than 1.9 inch tires. The fact that 700c rolls over stuff with much less trauma to the rider trumps the 26"er in my mind here as well.

Wheel strength: There was a time that 26"ers had strength over 700c in spades, but with current materials technologies and the influence of the 29"er movement, that gap has been effectively erradicated. Besides, based upon my experiences, I am not all that hard on wheels. One loaded tour on the Mongoose saw me riding wheels that were built with M-900 XTR hubs laced with Wheelsmith double butted spokes, alloy nips, to Sun Mistral rims. A recipe for destruction, my friends said, but those wheels never gave me a bit of trouble in over 850 miles of touring with a bike so heavy I couldn't lift it off the ground. YMMV

Wheels availability: Well, I keep seeing the "26"ers are the world wide standard" claim all the time. What are those bikes that I keep seeing in the ads that look like old Raleighs running for wheel size that are going to Africa? And China has how many Flying Pidgeons with 28"ers? Somehow I think the claims are a bit over rated, but then again, I haven't been out of the country, so I defer to those with more experience. I'm just saying, it seems to my eyes that this claim is a bit too much "blanket statement" to be true.

Disc vs Canti: Okay, which bike keeps going when a spoke breaks? I keep seeing this, "you can't repair a disc brake in remote, third world countries" thing. I would submit to you that it won't be the brake that causes troubles, but rather the spokes, and those can be had anywhere, carried with you, or made from scratch. A mechanical disc brake has very little to go wrong that is outside the norms of typical bike maintenance. Cable actuated? Yes, so are cantis. Pads wear out? Yes, both have issues in this area, but both types are easily transported. The calipers? When was the last time you heard of a canti arm or a mechanical disc caliper failing? Not many times for either. Braking surface? Okay, it is a wash here as well. I would submit that in reality, a rim is far more susceptable to damage than a rotor. Rotors can be trued, and don't easily wear out. I just don't buy this theory that mechanical disc brakes are bad for touring. I think the problem lies in that they are not traditional, rather than that there are documented issues with them.

Then there is the argument for the Big Dummy. Sorry, but while the Big Dummy is certainly off roadable, (I've seen it done) I wouldn't want it for my off road vehicle of choice. Too long a wheel base. No stoker to help you get it around tight twisties either. And just like a big purse, or a big garage, it invites you to pack waaaay too much stuff that you could probably do without. Just my two cents on that bike. A great bike, but not for this Adventuring category.

I'm a big fan of what the Fargo has on offer. I don't think there is another bike quite like it........yet! There will be others that come after it that will be on the same order, a bike set up for Adventuring that may have canti brakes as a choice, or an EBB to run a Rohloff, or SS it. I have no doubt that different flavors of these Adventuring rigs will come about. My preference is for 700c wheels and big rubber, but that isn't the only way to go. I look forward to seeing these bikes and reading about the adventures had on them. And especially making my own stories! ;)
 

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Discussion Starter #12 (Edited)
Good conversation

Thanks for the good conversation, folks.

Every once in awhile I find myself thinking about the enduring myths of adventure bike touring, namely those things that everyone assures you are absolutely true and the rules that, if you don't follow them, you're probably going to die miserably in some remote place. But these myths turn out to be, at best, a mixture of harmless firm opinion without basis and well-meaning reasonable suggestion that you can take or leave (there is also a lot of what I think amounts to just foolish tradition).

For example, everyone says disc brakes are a disaster waiting to happen on an adventure tour. Before I left to Asia last year, I stressed about this because I wanted to take my old trusty Superlight. In addition to months of touring, I was going to do a bunch of races over there. (Why not the 29er? Because of tire availability, though more on this below. Why not a singlespeed? Because, even though I race singlespeed in the US, that would be too painful on the tour that I envisioned. Why not a hardtail/front suspension 26er, then? Because I don't have one.) My Superlight had seven year old Hope Mini's. And my imagination started in with the rhetorical "what if's?". What if the hose breaks and all the fluid leaks out? Where will I find DOT 4? What if the airline bends a rotor out of recognition? What if the seals on the reservoir cap start to leak at high altitude? Luckily, I snapped out of it. In a few seasons of racing the Superlight, I never touched or even looked at the brakes. What are the chances that one of the "what if's" would happen? I'd say low, and in the end I rode the disc brake equipped bike just fine for months.

So, mtnfiend and ionsmuse: I do think disc brakes are an advantage, and if the LHT had a disc option, I'd be a little tempted, but probably wouldn't go for it because it doesn't seem enough of improvement to justify the very slight downside. As far as v-brakes, they'd surely be better than the canti's that I'm running (the old joke about cantilevers on 'cross bikes is that, well, you don't really want to slow down anyway because you'll lose too many places). At some point I'll get around to mounting road brakes that can take up the right amount of cable. For a few years I had the problem solvers that you mentioned, but found them a little finicky and they kinked the cable in a way that made me a little worried. They worked fine, though.

Or the myths about suspension. Everyone will tell you just don't do it, that the suspension is going to fail and that you'll be stranded. That's certainly possible, but probably not that likely. If at home you worried every ride about your suspension, you probably wouldn't bother having it on your bike. True, it's another thing to go wrong that you could get by without, but that's not by itself a decisive reason not to bring your bike with suspension. There are other considerations that might well make you want it, and, in my estimation, conventional wisdom overstates the danger.

Other claims I regard as myths: That you absolutely need multiple hand positions to be comfortable. That an aluminum frame is hopeless. That if you don't have a square taper bottom bracket, you're going to be stranded. That STI shifters on a drop bar bike is a sure-fire way of going home early. That clipless pedals are a non-starter. And we haven't even started talking about non-bike equipment yet!

Now, it's true that my Trucker avoids all of these things, I built it precisely that way, and I was celebrating it for its simplicity and versatility. But that's because Surly -- and, from the looks of things, Salsa, in building their Fargo -- have made it easy to minimize the already very small risk associated with some bike choices while not making any dramatic compromise and, in some ways, securing other advantages.

* * *

So what about wheel size? Guitar Ted, thanks for jumping in. I definitely respect your view on these topics, and I think that our positions aren't as far away as it might seem from our two posts.

I, too, have been on both sides of tours where some people had 700c wheel bikes and others were on 26ers. The virtues that you are naming for bigger wheels are serious enough for me so that in most cases I go for them when other considerations don't outweigh it. In addition, if you're touring with a group, there's some advantage to all of you having the same size wheel, as you can distribute the spares among you.

And I'm with you in thinking that the claim that you must go with a 26" wheel because of world-wide availability can turn into a silly mantra. I stand by what I said earlier, however: in every bike shop in Asia that I visited, they had (usually crappy) 26" mountain bike tires available. Only once -- in Chengdu -- did I see a selection of road bike tires along with their road bike offerings at a Giant dealer. I absolutely never saw a 29er knobby tire. In my estimation, it would be easy to find a replacement wheel for my Trucker, and not so much for a Fargo. But these anecdotes are a weak kind of evidence. For me, when I try to balance the calculation of what of going to enjoy riding versus what can go wrong plus what equipment do I already have plus trying not to be too psycho about worrying about things, what I get is the bike that I now use. I say again, though, that the Fargo looks fantastic.

I completely agree with you about the Big Dummy. It's a great seeming utility bike, but I have doubts as to its off-roadableness. Add to this that it's going to be extremely heavy and will pack long in a box.

* * *

My post was meant to record some of my thoughts about why I like my LHT so much, and to get people talking. But the worst and most insidious myth of adventure biking -- the one that prevents a lot of people from doing it on small scales and large -- is that you need some special cycling equipment. Since this is a mountain biking forum, I can say with a lot of confidence that if you're reading this and you're wondering, "what would be the best bike for me to use to get started doing these kind of rides?", the answer is right now in your basement or your garage.

Mountain bikes are pretty incredible when it comes to reliability and versatility. You can mount a rack on any bike, whether or not you have special fittings for it. Or you can pull a trailer. Or you can go with what looks like a fantastic lightweight option of having a frame bag made to go along with a large seatpack and bar bag. Or some mix of these. Whatever drivetrain you are running, whatever suspension you have or don't have, whatever wheels or tires or seatpost: It doesn't really matter that much because it is probably going to work just fine.

When I started to plan longer and more serious trips and decided to invest in a dedicated bike, I did what we all do in buying gear. I tried to balance cost and my best info about durability and appropriateness for my needs, and I didn't go in thinking that I could find the absolutely perfect bike. Thanks for the kind words about the bike.


By the way, I'm shocked that the moderators haven't moved this thread to the new mtbr bikepacking forum, where it surely belongs. Oh, wait...

From Tibet last October:
 

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Are "adventure races/rides" really about single track, or are they gravel/b-roads?

I don't own a Big Dummy and really have no horse in this race, but I have a hard time agreeing with the idea that it would make a poor adventure bike specifically because of its long wheelbase. Packability would surely suffer due to the length and weight. Speed would suffer because it is a pig. But I don't think the wheelbase itself while actually riding it is an issue.

I own a road tandem and know first hand what a long wheelbase does to a bike's handling. I know that tandems, and by association the Big Dummy, steer like a bus. Tracking on a twisty trail would likely be a nightmare, and bottoming out on any small, convex hills shorter in length than your wheelbase could be a real issue... on single track. But it seems to me that most adventure rides, at least adventure rides as I have read about and understand them, appear to be looooong events on gravel or B roads. And gravel and B roads are built for vehicles much longer and with worse steering than even a tandem or the Big Dummy.

For instance, the Great Divide Race, according to its rules webpage, says "The GDR route is ~85% dirt, gravel, two-track, or fire road, with ~14% paved and virtually zero singletrack."

With this as a yardstick of what an adventure race/ride is about, I don't think a long wheelbase would be a handling problem. There would, of course, be exceptions. This year there were many downed trees near the beginning of the route. Racers had to pick up and carry their bikes over tree after tree after tree. With a big, heavy bike like the Big Dummy, along with its load, this would frankly suck. But the real issue there is with the weight, not its wheelbase.

I have to think that whether you are riding the GDR, somewhere in Tibet, or the Outback, gravel and B roads would be the norm with singletrack being pretty rare. I could be plenty wrong, as I have never done any of these, but this is my armchair quarterback view.
 

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Team Velveeta™
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Not all LHTs have 26" wheels

cruzmissle said:
...There's been a lot of excitement over Salsa's new Fargo on the 29er board, and I count myself among the early enthusiasts. It looks like a great bike and I can't wait to ride one. But I'm going to submit that Surly's 26" wheeled LHT is a better adventure and expedition bike...
I share your admiration of the LHT. I had one. Turns out I needed a 56 and not the 58 I got. Couldn't get it to fit, even with a tiny short stem and saddle jacked way forward. But I thought it was a great bike, and still do.

Has something changed regarding the way they come? On surly's site it says that the 56 and larger sizes use 700c and only the smaller frames go 26". Mine was 700c. I know that surly doesn't update their site every couple minutes, for example the wool jerseys have been available in a cool sage color at least for the ladies for at least 6 months but there is no mention of such on the site. But as far as I know, only the medium-ish and smaller truckers are for 26".

That said, I think the idea of what I call a flat-bar dirt tourer is killer. The Salsa Fargo sounds like it may be that bike. I think the trucker could be set up that way with a little creativity, but the way they come spec'd from Surly with drops now is pretty compelling. Damned nice touring spec right out of the box. I built mine up ala carte with mostly parts I already had on the shelf, but a pre-spec'd bike that is what you want is always a better deal.

I rode my LHT on singletrack with drops quite a few times, and lots of rough dirt roads, and I have no doubt it would handle fine with flat bars. It takes really big tires too. I have not looked at the Fargo.

I actually am on the list of a well-known custom builder for a bike just like this. When I ordered it, I called what I want 'a 29" flat-bar dirt tourer'. Far more expensive than a surly or salsa for sure, but what the hell. You only live once.
 

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Harmonius Wrench
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Awesome!

cruzmissle:
Since this is a mountain biking forum, I can say with a lot of confidence that if you're reading this and you're wondering, "what would be the best bike for me to use to get started doing these kind of rides?", the answer is right now in your basement or your garage
Wow! That's it right there, really. The most wise statement in the whole thread.

Thanks for that gem. :thumbsup:
 

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Harmonius Wrench
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Morlahach said:
.................

I have to think that whether you are riding the GDR, somewhere in Tibet, or the Outback, gravel and B roads would be the norm with singletrack being pretty rare. I could be plenty wrong, as I have never done any of these, but this is my armchair quarterback view.
While I'm sure it could be done, there are better bikes than a Big Dummy for this. Consider your B road example: Now add water............sound like a good idea now? ;)
 

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Guitar Ted said:
While I'm sure it could be done, there are better bikes than a Big Dummy for this. Consider your B road example: Now add water............sound like a good idea now? ;)
You are absolutely right. I can't imagine shouldering a Big Dummy. Not unless I put on another 100 lbs of muscle.
 

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Team Velveeta™
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Damn Straight

Guitar Ted said:
cruzmissle said:
Since this is a mountain biking forum, I can say with a lot of confidence that if you're reading this and you're wondering, "what would be the best bike for me to use to get started doing these kind of rides?", the answer is right now in your basement or your garage
Wow! That's it right there, really. The most wise statement in the whole thread.

Thanks for that gem. :thumbsup:
Yep. You got that right Ted.

I work at a bike shop in Salida, right on a major crossroads for bike touring. The Great Divide Route comes right into town. Lots of east/west pavement tourers roll into town on US 50, US 285 goes by about 6 miles away.

This summer was really an interesting one for tourers. I saw LOTS of first-timers. Many of them were doing stuff like hauling BOB trailers with road race bikes. Cheapo 6-year-old mountain bikes that were already more than half way down the GDR. You name it.

One guy from Jersey was on a probably 15-year-old Giant Cadex road bike (bonded lugged carbon fiber tubes) with struts duct-taped onto the top tube to hold a rear rack. He was also running a handlebar bag stuffed to the gills and a backpack. All the way from the Jersey shore, bound for LA. Then planning to tour all over the interior of California. Young guy, probably 5'1" tall, and tough as nails. He was INTO IT!

It's coming on, even among people who weren't really cyclists before they hit the road. Thank $4 gas.
 
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