Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Review: Travel Boxes

The first time I traveled with my bike was way back in 1993 when I went home for Christmas. Not knowing what to do (totally clueless), I showed up at the airport, bike in hand and upon entering the terminal, an American Airlines agent spotted me and as soon as I got to the counter, she already had this cardboard box waiting for me. $25 and some tape and I was on my way, oblivious to the fact that my wheels were not going to be round, ever again.

Learning from that mistake, I asked a friend on my second trip for his bike box. This thing was cumbersome at best to handle around the airport, and combine with my bag and carry on, it made for some fun times around ATL's ariport. Another drawback on the box was the fact that because its size, the airlines were like sharks waiting for you to enter the water and bite you with a hefty "bike fee" for flying your precious ride. Sure, you could check in at the curb and attempt to "brive" the agent there but if a supervisor was around, you were paying.

Two trips with the aforementioned box was all I could take and went back to the cardboard box from the local shop, adding some pipe insolation and foam to the frame for some extra cushion. The wheels went on as carry on, but even then, the flight attendants didn't want to share the precious space in the small coat closet with the sharp looking Campy bags and wheels.

That became my M.O. while traveling with the bike until two years ago when my good friend Chance, Sales, Product and Market Manager for Blue Bicycles visited DC. Knowing a little bit about bikes and travels, the crew over at the Norcross, GA based company came up with this handy bag and after watching Chance unpack and put his bike together and later on do the opposite, I was sold. A few days later one them puppies showed up at my front door and I was quick to put it to the test. It has enough padding to protect your bike from a nuclear explosion. Two large side "pockets" for your wheels, saddle, a handy small bag for maybe pedals, tools, a blue cover that according to the picture on the website is for the top tube, but I use to secure the rear deraillieur to the chainstay and a shoulder strap that lets you carry the thing as a doped gym bag. Packing the bike takes about 15 minutes once you figure out the procedure.

Chance advised me to just pack the bike, seat, pedals and the allen wrenches (#4 and #5), but I have never listened to his advise and on my first trip with the bag, I added a second set of wheels inside, which it handled with no problems. I have also thrown in my helmet, shoes, clothing and whatever last minute item was left behind and didn't fit in my carry on. Although airlines allow a bike bag/box with a total of 62in. (W+H+L), this bag is way over that and it's an easy target for the $100 each way charge airlines like to impose for bikes on flights within the US. But I think the charge is just a matter of luck. I have noticed that depending on the airline and agent at the moment you check in, you have a 50/50 chance that the bike may get onboard for free.

I just got back from Panama and again the bag proved to be the right tool for the job. And while there, I had a few adjustments made to it, by visiting a local upholestry shop, the bag was reduced by about 7 inches, still leaving plenty of space for everything but the extra set of wheels, but it looks smaller and the people at the airport didn't even bother to ask what was in it. Again, here Chance advises to gently explain to the airline personnel that you are carrying "aerospace-testing material" and he says it works. Give this "explanation" technique a try at your own risk.

If you are looking for a bag that will protect your bike, be easy to transport and better yet, store afterwards (three of my closest friends ordered theirs), give the guys at Blue a call and if you are traveling soon, get yourself one of them ASAP.

Monday, August 17, 2009


And not the kind where you get your equipment. This guy figured it out!!!


Saturday, August 15, 2009


So we flew back from Panama last night after a month of bikes, sun, and very, very good local food. Two weeks without the bike were also had and it was well spent by sitting on the hamac, eating coconut duros (look it up) and pretty much, following Sigberto's advise of not taking things too seriously when it comes to the bike and enjoy all things life.

Seems like I'm sort of a "ghost" back in the homeland because it's the second time while attempting to leave the country, legally, that the good folks at customs can't seem to find me in their records, even though I'm well documented. A call to a supervisor followed by another call to the supervisor's supervisor seemed to take care of things, but I'm starting to wonder what's going on down there.

While catching up with local blogs, there's a transition period going on, with people starting to think off season, cyclocross, mtb, track, etc. After the crash at the Dawgs Days of summer, I also started to think that it would be better to transition into less racing, and by that I mean, maybe two races next year. Don't get me wrong, I will continue to ride, show up at Hains Point and get totally killed, go with the groups on the weekend and pretend to hang on, but the racing will take a back seat. If the seventh edition of the Vuelta Masters a Chiriqui happens as I'm told it will, you can bet your paycheck I'll be making the trip south once again. But on the local circuit, I'm going to become a little bit of a ghostman.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Too much to handle

I took part on my last race while here in Panama, the Clasica Santiago Apostol Masters, where I got to race for the B-Loces team after having a good showing two weeks ago in the Vuelta a Chiriqui Masters. Seems the guys needed an extra pair of legs and made the call to see if I wanted to join their efforts. Their leader and winner of the Vuelta is leading the season long points competition and they added me to their squad for the event.

Problem is that the training in between the Vuelta and the Clasica didn't go according to plan. The beer drinking was kept to a bare minimum, but the distance and terrain used to train were not adequate, plus I wasn't really all into it mentally, but gave it the good old college try.

We arrived in Santiago on Friday and it was hot, as usual. Saturday morning my dad and I joined the locals for a 30 mile spin, just chatting and breaking a sweat. Afterwards we had coffee and fried tortillas (not the mexican type, but thick, fried tortillas, yummy). Since the entire town was celebrating the patron saint, the streets were jam packed with people from all over the country, so driving or just walking around was a task. My fiancee arrived from the US in the afternoon and the entire crew was now complete.

Sunday morning and in true panamanian style, the race started two hours late. I mean, why bother to keep a schedule, especially when waiting another two hours just means the temperature climbs about 50 degrees, or at least it seemed that way. The B,C and D categories started ahead of the A (30-39 yrs. old) and when we set off, the attacks came thick and fast from the gun. Forget warmup or settling into a race rhythm, the gloves were off before we clipped in and guys were going right, left and center trying to establish a break. About 5kms into the race and people were dropped already. I discovered a nasty saddle sore had creeped in the night before and trying to find the sweet spot on the saddle was becoming a hard thing to do. Add to that the attacks and pace and I wasn't enjoying my time too much. But I did keep working for the team, chasing breaks and pulling at the front to keep the pace high for a while. Finally, 4 guys went of the front and our team leader decided that would be the break of the day. 4 teams had riders in the group and we rode tempo for a little bit, letting a few of the stragglers catch back up.

Two guys sneaked off the front trying to bridge up to the leaders and I found myself with them, with the pack letting us go in no time. As we hit one of the few hills on the course, me pulling, both of my companions explained to me that they were tired and couldn't pull for much longer. We were about half way through the distance and I thought we would just ride and wait for the main pack to catch us. As I was thinking that, the two hooligans decided to attack me. The nerve!!!

They were gone in no time and now I was in no man's land, not knowing if I should continue or just wait. The saddle sore kept getting worse and the pack was no where to be found. As I made the turn around point, the 4 leaders had 3 minutes on me and the two chasers were about 1 minute infront. I gave it a try to catch back up but it was no good as the saddle sore had just gone on the attack too and now sitting down was just pretty much out of the question. The team car, driven by mom, comes up and she suggested that I would jump in the car, but I thought I could go all the way, so she drove ahead. Next thing I know, the main pack or the remains of it, who was 7 minutes behind me, comes from behind and I hop onboard. The guys keep a steady pace and I'm telling myself there's not much more to go, soon the pain will go away.

"mind over body", "mind over body" I kept saying, but my body was tired of hearing that crap and it finally shut down. My legs felt good, my lungs felt good, but I wasn't comfortable at all on the bike. Mom was waiting about 8kms from the finish and asked again what I was going to do. I think she hadn't finished the sentence when I was already off the bike, unclipped my helmet and called it a day. Once we got back in town, the mayor and congressman, both sponsors of the race, had hired a restaurant to feed all the racers and we had a good laugh after the day's event. The boys from B-Loces were happy with the work I did at the beginning of the race and invited me to join them again during next year's Vuelta. I can't wait.