Not So Romantic Bicycle Touring

Share |

I met Matt and Siobahn at the 2011 NAHBS in Austin, TX. They were super cute, super tan, and super bubbly. Their awesome personalities and Australian accents made you want to chat with them all day. We (Bilenky Cycle Works) were, at the time, building them two custom longtails to accommodate surfboards for their upcoming epic bike adventure. Matt and Siobahn would be embarking on a bike/surf journey from Canada to Terra del Fuego, the most southern tip of South America. The plan was to ride along the coast as much as possible so as to be able to surf whenever they got the urge to ride some waves.

The tour began on a rainy day in St John, New Brunswick where they took a ferry to Nova Scotia and started their trek west. The next time we spoke, Matt had made it all the way to San Francisco and had been riding for over a year. Matt has had his share of setbacks since beginning his journey and as a result, is not so focused on the destination. He describes his inspiration for this trip as naivety, as things have not gone nearly as smoothly as he anticipated. Matt couldn’t imagine what would be better than combining his passions of cycling, surfing and traveling.

The Canadian portion of the route was much more cycling than surfing, since they weren’t anywhere near a beach. This was a struggle for the two beach bums and they were thrilled to make it to the Pacific Ocean. The journey to American soil was also pretty lonely as they were traveling the “wrong” way of the wind and there were few bicycle tourists. Those were small setbacks compared to what was to come. Matt had to continue the trip solo, as Siobahn flew back to Australia to do more surfing and less cycling. Following Siobahn’s departure, Matt’s beloved Bilenky was stolen from a San Francisco street corner at the beginning of March.

Although it makes him sad to think about, Matt describes his Bilenky that carried him almost 5,000 miles. “The original bike was built from the inspiration of Goat’s bike. It had ridiculously wide tires on it for the purpose of the sandy conditions I would be encountering. Despite how ugly I find these tires, they really do function very well. The rear rack was another odd point as it was super long to take my surfboard flat on the back. In the past I have had my board strapped to the side of my bike, which really affects the handling of a bike in the wind. The frame was built with an eccentric bottom bracket to take the Rohloff speed hub, which is a really fantastic hub when you are mixing a 4" wide tire with a longtail chain line, as you can get a nice and tight chain, (no annoying chain flop) while have a Q factor which is not as wide as a horse. I loved my bike so much. I did not even realize how much until it was stolen, it was truly an amazing bike. I could carry so much food, water, plus all the other touring stuff as well as a board and wetsuit, and it would still handle like a dream. I had complete confidence in Hillbilly.”

Since Matt’s emotional and bitter blog entry (so heart-wrenching that it made me want to write this piece) Fuck all the Na Sayers he has had a stroke of luck. With kind donations from Surly, Xtracycle, and Farfarer, Matt will soon have a new bike to continue his journey.

With all of his touring hurdles, I was curious how Matt handled the hard times and disappointment. “Screaming!!! And Crying. Hahaha. No, for the most part with each disappointment there was something good to try and focus on. Life is up and down, whether on a bike tour or living at home working the 9 to 5 grind. There is no point fighting what you can't change. Although I often forget that.”

Matt says it's important not to over romanticize bike touring and to go into it realizing that you will encounter hard times, and staying in your “comfort bubble” the entire time is impossible. “Having said that though, there is a reason why we do it, as there are moments of pure ecstatic joy! The people you meet, the smells, the sights, the meditation of just peddling are all so great. If you’re not stoked on touring by bicycle, then there is no harm in returning home to try something else.”

Matt’s parting words: “The only thing left to lose is boredom: Love your life...And remember, there are far more good people in the world then bad.”

Follow Matt on his adventure at


If The Shoe Fits: Taking Fit-School Home

Share |

Since attending the Serotta International Cycling Institute’s personalized fit class in December, I have completed 7 of the 10 required fits to complete the certification.

The setting is a kitchen in central Pennsylvania. (Later we move to a grungy framebuilding shop). The time is winter. Blah. The props include an ancient, extremely cumbersome sizing bike, goniometer, brannock device, plumb bob, and your basic mechanic tools. Yes, I think goniometer sounds dirty too, but it is just a protractor-like device that measures the angles of anatomical movement.

All of my fits so far have been on friends and family, and all have been interesting. I started with my younger sister in early January. Maria was the ideal first candidate as she didn’t care much about the fit and was just doing it out of obligation for our sisterly bond. Needlesss to say, she didn’t have any questions for me (which I was happy about since I didn’t have many answers yet…). I had her fit finished with her riding more comfortably, and all in time to watch “Grey’s Anatomy”.

Next up was my brother, Aaron, who wanted a more “race-y” position. My brother was so pumped for his anticipated new speed that it made the fit super fun. Each adjustment I made had him down in the drops making “fast” noises. Aaron loves his more aero set up and plans on being fit again for a tri bike in the near future. My husband was my 3rd fit and we knew before beginning that his shoes were too small, (they were an online impulse buy) and his saddle height was probably too high based on the complaints he was having. I adjusted his saddle height as well as the fore/aft of his seat and we finished with picking out some new shoes. The Serotta mentality of the fit starting at the foot is so true. The wrong shoes and/or cleat placement can affect your foot support, power, and knee over pedal spindle positioning. Justin finally got to try out his new position this week with the unseasonably warm weather we are having. So far so good!

Fitting Aaron and Justin made me realize that I need to bulk up my arms. It’s a little difficult to lift a man’s leg with one of my spaghetti noodle arms during the flexibility portion while maneuvering the goniometer open and closed. At one point, I used my mouth. Fail. Definitely need to come up with a better technique because even family doesn’t appreciate that.

I did one more fit in my glorious kitchen studio (this one involved calling in back-up from my husband since I couldn’t find my friend’s greater trochanter…) before schlepping my dinosaur fit bike to Philly to perform some fitting services for the lovely employees at Bilenky Cycle Works. The resident female painters had been asking to be fit, so I started with them. Naomi is a night owl so I conducted her fit late one evening. We wrapped up around midnight. I was fading from the late night fitting but we still managed to have lots of laughs and find a position to minimize her chronic knee pain.

Tom, the newest addition to the Bilenky team was 6th on my list. This was a hectic, but educational fit. Hectic because we had limited time and Tom was technically on the clock during the fitting. At one point, a customer came by to drop off a bike to be retrofitted. Tom had to move from his reclining position on the yoga mat where we were conducting his flexibility assessment to chat with the customer and take down the work order. The customer was not fazed as there are always crazy happenings at Bilenky. The fit was educational due to Tom being certified in a different fit method so we both learned new things throughout the process. And of course, there is always a lot for me to learn in the mechanical department.

I am currently looking for a new system for marking the anatomical points we reference in fitting. I’m thinking sewing chalk instead of my tape and sticker variations. The tape was a little too strong and I think I gave Tom a free waxing on his legs when I removed it. The stickers kept falling off and I was finding them all over my body for days after.

Our paint maven, Isis, was last, (but not least!) and the most enthusiastic of my “fitees”. We used this fit to determine the proper set up and position of her newly built (by her!) road frame. The measurements and adjustments we made helped establish what kind of parts to buy, such as the length of stem and width of handlebar she will need. Although we are friends and she is part of the Bilenky “family” we didn’t realize how similar we were. During the interview portion of the fit we discovered that we both like to ride at a leisurely 12mph, and make frequent stops for snacks and petting furry animals, AND we tend to load up the men in our lives with panniers etc. so as to slow them down to our pace. That last part we aren’t proud of, and that was the other reason for Isis’ fit. She wants to ride faster so she doesn’t have to resort to crafty methods.

Who will be the lucky recipients of my last 3 fits?

*As ever, email with questions fit-related or otherwise.


Bald Is Beautiful

Share |

My last column was a success! And by a success, I mean that someone wrote in with an “Ask BB25” question. Jordan from Portland, Oregon is preparing to rid his legs of hair for the 2012 spring riding season and is not sure whether to go with the traditional method of shaving or the more involved waxing option. He had several questions on the why and how of going hair free for cycling. Like most men, he is not super familiar with the waxing process. (Forgive me if you are a guy and can perform a salon quality wax). It got me thinking that there must be other guys (and girls) who aren’t versed in the various hair removal processes. Well, it’s your lucky day! I am quite familiar with waxing – I attended cosmetology school after all – and I personally love it! I would dunk my entire body (minus my head and eyebrows…) in a vat of wax if I could. I want to be fair to other methods though, so I have gotten feedback from a variety of people on this topic.

Shaving is definitely the most common method of getting the legs bare for cycling. It is the simplest and the cheapest per session. Over time, it isn’t the most economical if you count a lifetime of razors and shaving cream/gel. Legs are smooth for about a day, maybe less if you have coarse hair. If your hair is dark, stubble could be visible within a few hours. But it is the quickest, most convenient to do anywhere, and doesn’t require any prep or post care. Izzy Cohan (races for CRCA/Foundation and Warren Wilson College), Molly Cameron (races for Portland Bicycle Studio – MetaFilter), Pierre Vanden Borre (races for Rapha Continental), Jed Kornbluh (Team Honcho) and Dan Chabanov (races for the Richard Sachs cyclocross team) all shave their legs for cycling. I am honored to collect input from these rockstar cyclists.

Dan began shaving his legs mostly because everyone else was doing it. Now it is a combination of psychological and practical reasons and is an integral part of his training and racing routine. Izzy (my favorite 19 year old racer, whom I met at the Bilenky junkyard CX) shaves his legs for several reasons.

“I shave my legs because when you crash it pulls less skin out and is easier to take care of with the bandages. Also when your legs are shiny with sweat and sun and smooth the muscles in your legs look better. And freshly shaven legs feels great on bed sheets and pants.”

These seem to be the most common reasons, and Molly and Dan both commented on smooth legs making post riding cleanup quicker. It is definitely easier to wipe dirt and mud off smooth legs. Jed describes how shaved legs help manage the dreaded road rash that is sometimes unavoidable as a racer or serious cyclist.

“I once hit the deck in a crit going downhill at 40+ mph into a turn (the wheel I was following washed out and down I went) and lost a ton of skin from my right side – hip to ankle. The wound was difficult to maintain and I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to tear off fresh hair every time I refreshed the bandages.”

The sexy leg effect that Izzy mentioned also got several votes. Pierre still has what he calls his “winter coat” and plans on “shedding it soon”.

“Shaving tends to give you the impression that your legs are a bit more toned than when you’re sporting all that hair…and in the early season, when you’re all plump from the winter, any encouragement helps.”


Applying and removing embrocation is also more fun with hair free legs. And if you have the luxury of getting massages often like Molly does, then that’s another reason. “I try to get consistent massage work done and having shaved legs makes getting a professional massage less painful and a little easier for the therapist.” The ladies in their lives play a role here, too. We always get to put in our two cents with our man’s facial hair, and apparently, it’s no different with leg hair. Both Jed’s wife and Molly’s girlfriend are fans of their silky, smooth legs.

So now we know the reasons that serious cyclists want their legs to be bald like a baby’s butt. But what if you want to explore other ways of going hair free? Below are some tips, stories (good and bad!), and processes to help you decide which way to get smooth.


Waxing: It seems like all the cyclists I spoke with have horror stories about waxing. Izzy tells me about an instance with an ex-girlfriend that involved an old sheet or boxer shorts. Yikes. Not surprisingly, he decided to shave the other leg and never waxed again. Dan tells of his teammate Alex Bremer who ended up with the dreaded gross in-grown hairs, and Molly gave it up due to the clean up and it being time consuming. Waxing requires either money or skill. Money, because waxing both legs can cost up to $200. It does hurt but that hasn’t deterred me… and girls wax in sensitive areas! If you can crash on your bike and still want to ride, then you can handle a little waxing. There are always skin numbing creams and Aspirin for before you go, and yes, there is also the possibility of red bumps, minor bleeding and ingrown hairs. The risk of ingrown hairs is much lower if waxing is done properly. Buy salon wax, make sure its hot enough, spread it thin, use muslin strips, pull the skin taut, and yank in the opposite direction of hair growth! And please trim up that forest before waxing. Hair should be about ¼”. There are wax removal products for residue, but baby oil does the trick, too. If you are using microwave wax, stay within reason of the recommended heating times, or the cups will melt and get all over your microwave.

Karen Minnich Skorochod, hardcore cyclist, fellow cat lover, and wife of the awesome Cycling Captured photographer, Anthony, fills me in on epilation.

“I like to epilate. It may hurt a bit at first but it is long lasting and the hair grows back really fine. As a disclaimer, my husband says I’m nuts.” Like waxing, epilation can cause ingrown hairs, so exfoliating is a really good idea. Post bath or shower is ideal since hot water opens your pores. (That’s also true for shaving. Don’t shave in cold water!) “There are pre-epilation sprays that are supposed to help eliminate the pain initially, but I have never tried those.” Karen is tough like me! Epilation can cause redness so it is best done at night. Pulling the skin taut is recommended with this method too. A good epilator can be $100, which may be hard to swallow but you’ll never have to buy another razor again. Thanks Karen!!

I had to call in a professional for laser hair removal since this method is performed by physicians, nurse practitioners and other certified medical professionals. Sandra is a fellow Philadelphia girl turned Central Pennsylvanian (like myself!) and has a long list of credentials. See if you can figure out this title: Sandra S Cook, MSN, CRNP, BC-FNP. Sandra has also earned a certificate from the American Board of Aesthetic Medicine, in Medical Aesthetics. Pretty impressive! There is no real downside to laser hair removal other than the cost. It is approximately $3000 for the six sessions it takes to be hair free. Although $3000 seems steep, the result is permanent. There is some discomfort and heat sensation associated with laser hair removal, but Sandra says it is far less painful than waxing. “The FDA states that our laser system, CUTERA, can claim 80% permanent reduction, however clinically we note closer to 100% reduction of hair and this is permanent. Patients often need a touch up treatment after about 1 year to address any growth of new hair, but any hair that has responded to the treatment will never re-grow.” The only other issue is whether your hair is a proper candidate. Most people can get laser hair removal, but fine, white or gray hair is much more difficult to treat. Coarse, dark hair is the easiest.

A couple of inspirational quotes about going hair free:
“Shaving is part of our culture.” -Jed Kornbluh
“Shaving your legs is just another way to remind yourself that you are a cyclist and there’s a bunch of riding on the horizon.” –Pierre Vanden Borre

After reading this you may want to try another method or it may have convinced you to start/stick with shaving. If you do shave, invest in a good razor. It makes a huge difference in comfort and smoothness. And of course there are other methods like sugaring, threading, and electrolysis. But I think we’ve all had enough of hair removal for one day and are now ready to bare our legs for the cycling season. Until next time, happy (hairless) riding!

*Molly Cameron – (photo credit: Kei Tsuji) **Dan Chabanov – (photo credit: Peter DiAntoni)


« Newer Posts | Older Posts »

© Copyright 2013 - Embrocation Cycling, INC