Mountain Climbing with a Travel Bike
The week of October 8-12, 2018, James and Nozomi visited Colorado Springs. Nozomi attended a training for her ministry, and James fulfilled a long-held dream to ride a bike in the Rockies, particularly up Pike’s Peak! Because we had 3 days for riding, James took his travel bike as a more economical alternative to shipping a full-size bike or renting a bike in Colorado Springs.
A Raleigh Twenty travel bike and travel case, as shown, are available for rent or sale from Upcycles Bikes:
The BIKE: As shown at right, the bike is a 1978 Raleigh Twenty folding bike with 20 inch (406 mm-bmx size) wheels. Despite not being produced since 1980, Raleigh Twenty has a sizable fan base, and there are lots of web pages about it. It remains the best riding folding bike at the lowest price. While it is heavier and does not fold as compactly as others, it is very rugged and stiff, so it rides very well. Think baby seats and grocery-getting, which are what this bike was designed for. Like most Raleigh Twenty enthusiasts, I customized this one with lighter aluminum alloy parts in place of the original, heavy steel components. For touring and mountain climbing, I replaced the stock Sturmey-Archer 3-speed rear hub (178% gear ratio range), with a Sturmey-Archer S5.2 five-speed with its 225% range. The folding bike's small wheels especially benefit from internal gear hubs, and while there are such hubs with wider gear ratios, they weigh from 35-330% more than the old Sturmey-Archer.
The SUITCASE: The ultimate challenge for a travel bike is to fit into a case small enough to be checked as regular baggage on an airline. In the modern economy airfare market, a regular checked bag from Cleveland to Colorado Springs runs $30-$40, a full-size bike would cost $75 and up, shipping by bike flights is $45, and the cheapest rental in Colorado Springs was $40 a day. The transport cost is lowest for the travel bike and at our rental rates, for three days or more of riding, the travel bike is more economical than bike rental at your travel destination.
The limits for a checked bag on any airline are 62 inches length + height + width, and 50 pounds. As a travel bike, the Raleigh Twenty offers the option of separating the frame into two parts to pack more compactly. The suitcase, as shown stuffed with dissembled Raleigh Twenty and warm bike clothes measures 59.5 inches and 47.5 pounds. Off we go!
The TRAINING: Many thanks to the Lake Erie Wheelers, especially the Wednesday Night “A” ride and the Friday 6:30 am ride, who extended my notion of what is possible, and empowered me with their example.
They whipped me into shape, so I was at my peak fitness for the season when I left. But fit muscles need oxygen to work and there was a major challenge. The altitude at Upcycles Bike Shop in Cleveland is 653 feet, Colorado Springs is 6,000 feet higher and the top of Pikes Peak is at 14,114 feet; best estimate is that there is 40% less oxygen available in the thin air at the top of the mountain than at sea level. To allow maximum time to acclimate before tackling the climb, Nozomi and I flew in Sunday, October 7. We hiked in the Garden of the Gods park on Monday. Tuesday and Wednesday, I rode in the Cheyenne Mountain area southwest of Colorado Springs I climbing to around 9,000 feet three times. I finally took on Pikes Peak Thursday. The trip would have been entirely worthwhile for the Monday-to-Wednesday adventures: we don’t any have mountains in Cleveland!
The WEATHER: The week had the worst weather of the year so far in Colorado: rain & snow, with highs in the low 40’s F. When I dropped into a local bike shop the mechanics were complaining about the weather and hunkered down waiting for it to pass. As a year-round Cleveland cyclist, how much fun I have had biking on Cleveland's many cold days when most people stayed indoors. I did all the riding I had planned, and I was always comfortable because I could easily regulate warmth be adding or removing clothing layers. Nonetheless, my original ambitions to climb both Pike’s Peak and Mt. Evans were hampered by the unseasonable weather. The Mt. Evans road was closed for the season three weeks early and on the warmest day (Thursday) the Pike’s Peak road was open only to 13.5 miles out of 19 and 11,650 feet out of 14,114. As I state on the guide to climbing page, climbing is all about the process and not the summit, so I was grateful for every mile and foot of elevation I rode.
PIKES PEAK: I started at noon, to allow for the warmest temperature possible, hoping that the road might be open past 13.5 miles when I arrived there. The bottom two miles were in snow and fog, with snow-covered trees being the only scenery. Between miles 3 and 4, I broke through the tops of the clouds into brilliant sunshine, and had to peel off my outer clothing layer to keep from overheating.
One of the wonderful things about climbing mountains in the western US is the change in climate and vegetation as you ascent to colder, windier environments. Going up Pikes Peak takes you through life zones equivalent to going 1000 miles north into Canada. I climbed through four life zones. Soon after leaving the gateway to the Pike's Peak Road I from the Ponderosa pine, pinyon, juniper woodlands of the Foothills zone into the junipers, sage brush, Lodgepole Pines, Engleman Spruce and Douglas Firs of the Montane zone. Around Mile Marker 8 I entered the Subalpine Zone, where here the altitude and lack of water really start to affect the vegetation. The nearly vertical Englemann Spruce trees are quite abundant in this zone. Just at mile marker 13 (11,500 feet), I left the trees behind as I entered the Alpine zone. The short growing season, deep winter snows and the constant winds, upright vegetation has little chance to survive limits plants to those that grow very low to the ground, primarily of tundra grasses, mosses, sedges and lichens. While the clouds obscured the vistas, the snow-covered trees offered a visual feast; the harsh conditions kept the car traffic to a minimum; the resulting silence let me hear the snowflakes hitting the leaves on the trees (which had not dropped yet), the calls of a dozen kinds of birds and squirrels, and the soft trickle of myriad streams.
While climbing the steep lower slopes, I met a group of about a dozen sightseers riding down the mountain on bikes with disc brakes set to allow them to coast at some safe, low speed. They had been driven up the mountain in a van by a sightseeing tour company, and put on rented bikes to coast down. As we surveyed each other, the puzzled looks on their faces no doubt resembled mine, as we both had the same thoughts in our heads: "Why would you ever want to do THAT?"
As I ascended above 9,000 feet, I started feeling weaker and my breathing became more labored. I blamed it on the gradient, which had steepened from 6-7% on the middle slopes to about 11.5% for the last 3 miles. My legs and lower back were soon screaming in pain. Undeterred, I got off the bike and pushed it while continuing to walk uphill. After a 5 minute break from pedaling, I hopped back on and INCREDIBLE! Pedaling was easy again! The low gear was a cinch!--for about another 10-15 minutes until I sunk slowly into agony once again. So the lack of oxygen in the thin air translated into a lack of oxygen in my blood, and walking for short intervals allowed my blood to recharge with oxygen faster than I was using it up!
At 13.5 miles I met a sympathetic but stern Park Ranger, who told me nobody was allowed any higher because there was snow and black ice on the road (I could see it little black patches even before I reached the road cones). He congratulated me and snapped a few pictures. I stayed grateful by focusing on what I did in the moment, not on what I could have, would have, should have been able to do. The coast down was fun but not nearly so much as the ride up-the descending cars kept getting in my way (they can not lean into turns), all I could hear was the wind and it was just plain wind-chilled cold regardless of the Life Zone.
I cycle because it is a plenty profound experience, not because it makes me a better human being than people who don't cycle. Nonetheless, maintaining a positive attitude in the face of adversity is one of the challenges that bicycling shares with the much of life. First of all, this biking vacation was enjoyable because I was prepared-physically and logistically, for reality not meeting my expectations: quality nourishment, fitness sufficient for the task, adequate rest, and proper clothing for the weather. Secondly, as disappointment of my expectations became reality, I had to question and adjust my attitude. I had to (a) admit what I was thinking and feeling, (b) accept the difficulty, which was real and would not change, (c) consider options for other attitudes, (d) chose one and focus on what would encourage that chosen attitude. Grim determination may be better than giving up in some peoples' book, but a present-focused attitude about the process would produce a different kind of enjoyment, and it was not blown apart by circumstances (like an icy road) frustrating my original goal.