Some people care a lot about equipment. I certainly like equipment. And I did ride a bike across America; but let’s not talk about that because a lot of road bikes and mountain bikes would work just as well. Let’s talk about things that worked and didn’t work to make the ride successful.
First, what didn’t work:
First, saddles and butt pain. I had no problems with seats for my training rides, which were mostly 30-40 miles with 3-4 50 mile rides in the final 2 weeks. I had no issue with the Bontrager Montrose and my old standby, the Specialized Ruby in 155mm width. But, after 8 days of riding on the Montrose I was in agony. (So was James, on his different saddle). I had brought 6 different saddles with me. I went back to old standby, but was still in agony. I got some slight relief switching to the Specialized Romin Evo Gel (155mm) that I brought along, but it still wasn’t fun. I got serious about treating and preventing saddle sores, taking prophylactic ibuprofen, and using Glide. But, the real issue was cumulative sit bone pressure pain, which only a hard butt, good riding position, and an effective saddle can address.
When my daughter Susie joined the trip, she brought a Fabric Line (142mm). This was an improvement but at over 50 miles on a given day I was still stopping to get off the bike after each 2-3 additional miles. I just got off to walk and stand for two or three minutes, but this still cost a lot in lost time each day. Since our backup bikes came with WTB saddles, which Emmy really liked and I could bear, I ordered two different WTB models and brought them back from a trip back east. Well, both of these were a bust.
Then I started my quest to find seats at every bike shop we encountered (see the bike shop post) that had any reasonable seats. Here are the seats I tried underway:
Specialized Henge (155mm): This is a mountain bike seat with “level 3 padding”. It is very flat lengthwise with a broad back that tapers into a considerable side-to-side curve forward. This was a big improvement and I would usually get to 60 miles without reaching discomfort.
That was my first purchase and a real improvement, but I continued the quest.
Bontrager Kovee (148mm width): This felt good for 20 miles; then a bust. It’s very flat lengthwise and side-to-side, but the edges at the side drop-off with a tight radius turn. This gouged into the tender upper thigh. No go. Back to the Henge.
Fabric Scoop Flat (142mm width): This is a pretty radical saddle. Look it up. This felt great immediately. I rode it from Middlebury, Vermont where I bought it to “home” in Maine and felt great the whole way.
Specialized Power (168mm): After the ride was all done I bought this saddle to see if I could get even more comfort. This was a revelation. It’s wider than anything. Flat downward slanting “panels” at the back end; no nose; a huge cutout. You must set it with the back canted up and the front level rather than level from back to nose like most concave saddles. And then, wow. Unfortunately, the 168 was a bit too wide because the outer edge digs in a bit–but I could find a position that was fine for 30 mile rides. I’ll try the 155mm.
What? How can a $5 item nearly end a ride? Most people don’t even know a bike has rim tape. So, this story has something to do with flats. The very first day around mile 35 or so I ran over a board and the board had a nail sticking out–instant flat tire. A real flat. Two thousand miles later, I got another flat caused by a strip of thin metal about 4mm wide and 3/4 of an inch long. Another real flat: 2 in 2000 miles ain’t bad.
A couple of days later I got a flat on the rear wheel riding with Emmy in a light rain. Fixed it with a spare tube. Two minutes later I got another flat–rear wheel. No more tubes. Tried to find the hole and couldn’t. Wouldn’t have mattered. The glue in the patch kit was all dried up. Called the backup team and switched bikes. Next day, replaced the tube and started riding. About one hour into the ride, another flat on the rear wheel. Installed another tube. Ten minutes later, another flat. Switch to back up bike again. In the evening, started to investigate. The hole in the tube was at a spoke hole. Turned out the rim tape had tiny road grit and a spoke hole had burrs of metal.
Wait–what’s rim tape? (#Nerd warning) The inside of a bike rim provides access to the spoke nipples that hold the spoke in place at the outside of the rim. Each spoke nipple is accessed in a hole in the rim. Rim tape covers the holes–28 holes per rim on my bike–so that the inner tube does not bulge into the holes and pop. The rim tape was squirming around, exposing just the edges of some of the spoke holes and the tubes were repeatedly popping.
I removed the rim tape; cleaned the inside of the rim; and filed the edges of any hole that had burrs or seemed specially sharp; installed a new tube. The next day, I was good for about an hour and flatted again. This time I brought 3 extra tubes. Went through all but one to finish the ride. I took the bike to a bike shop and explained the problem. The very nice owner, mechanic, business manager and all-round nice guy installed 2 layers of rim tape. This worked for a couple of hours but then I started getting flats again the next day.
Two days later we took the bike to another shop who installed Stan’s Notubes sealing tape that is very wide and then put conventional rim tape over. Well, this seemed to work on the rear but the front went flat overnight without even being ridden. So, I removed the junky plastic rim tape that is used today and carefully cut a long narrow strip of Gorilla packing tape and put this over the Stan’s. This stuff is pretty tough, very sticky on the business side, and very slippery on the “outside”. The slippery side might keep the tape from squirming around as the inner tube moved within the tire. Well, this worked. Interestingly, I never needed to do this on the back. Along the way, I stopped at a CVS to buy regular Gorilla tape, which is much tougher and stickier than old-fashioned cotton rim tape, and a pair of scissors which I dutifully carried the entire rest of the trip–from central Michigan all the way to Maine. But, I never had to use it because I never got another flat.
So, all told I got between 12-14 flats, only 3 of which were caused by an external object poking through the tire and deflating the tube. I got very good at fast tube changes.
That’s it. Only 2 things sort of didn’t work the whole trip.
Everything else worked perfectly. The only routine maintenance I did was: pumped up tires every 2 weeks; lubricated chain every 3 weeks (Boeshield); replaced disc brake shoes before the Green Mountains in Vermont so I would have enough brake pad for the descents–I didn’t have to, but it was prudent. I got over 3000 miles on Swisstop Sintered Metal pads, but I only had one set and replaced with Koolstop metal/resin hybrid pads. I replaced my chain after the trip was over. When I measured the old chain against the brand new chain, the old one had stretched almost imperceptibly.
I had spare spokes, spare chainwheels, spare brake cables, spare derailleur cables, spare derailleur hanger, spare disc brake rotors, and spare handlebar tape–never touched any of them.