Monday, May 23, 2011

Folding Does Matter

When shopping for RVs (recreational vehicles) or shopping for bicycles, two attributes are important to both:  size and comfort do matter.  Too big or too small—both are common mistakes that cause the RV to sit in a storage facility, and cause the bicycle to hang upside down in the garage.  And then there is cost—as with so many hobbies, the more you spend, the more you will love-- or hate, the purchase.
If you ask seasoned RVers about the best length of an RV rig (or number of “slides” on the rig), you’ll get a number of unique answers that closely match the number of individuals asked.  But the seasoned RVer will ask an important set of questions to the potential buyer:   Will you be camping as a family, a couple or a single sojourner? Camping on weekends, two-week trips or “full timing”? Will you visit developed campgrounds or undeveloped sites?  These answers influence the type and length you will most enjoy.
If you asked seasoned bicyclists about the best type and size of bicycle, you’ll get a number of unique answers that closely match the type of cyclist:  touring, off-road, racing, and cross-country, just to mention a few.   And you’ll be asked how much you want to spend—and it is never enough.
I do not include bicycling in my list of hobbies.  I have ridden the famous MS-150 from Houston to Austin, way back in the 1980’s, and was happy to complete it, and just as happy to not go again.  The MS-150 supports an extremely worthy cause and it is a fantastic ride for bike enthusiasts.   But my one experience carries memories of a rainy second day, in the hills between Bastrop and Austin, and watching many a racing bike and rider go down on pavement, as I slowly pedaled past on my heavy mountain bike.  

My bike was purchased for the rides that included the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, but it served me well on those wet, slick, central Texas roads.  My only vivid memory from that weekend was the night’s “sleep” on the gym floor in La Grange.  My sleeping bag was almost smack dab middle in a sea of sleeping bags that covered the wooden gym floor.  

Those of you acquainted with my large “personal space” needs can imagine my face when I returned to the gym after dinner and found my sleeping bag completely surrounded by strangers in all shapes and sizes, and their sleeping bags lined head to foot, and side to side, with mine; touching, no less.  A nameless man ended up beside me, close enough to reach out and touch, without extending my arm.  

But Nameless-man and I did not even say “hello” before “bedding down” on the wooden floor, giving each other the intent of privacy, if not the space. Sometime during the night Nameless-man began snoring, I mean really snoring. (I mention he was close enough to reach out and touch, didn’t I?)  Anyway, he began snoring like—well, you know.  I finally got up my courage, sat up on one elbow, and whispered (in close proximity to his ear) “Could you please roll over on your side?—you are snoring!”  And without a word, or opening an eye, he rolled over.  

The next morning, as the sea of sleeping bags was being rolled up by a tired but enthusiastic clan of humans in unflattering black spandex shorts, I tried to quietly and quickly get my stuff and get out of there.  But Nameless-man turned to me and with a somewhat embarrassed but sweet smile on his face said:  “Thanks for telling me to roll over—that’s exactly what my wife does.”  I couldn’t tell you what he looked like, but I remember his words and smile as if it were yesterday.
Saying I don’t ride a bike as a hobby is a fairly obvious conclusion, although it has nothing to do with Nameless or with slick roads—it is just kind of hard to be birding and biking at the same time.  But bicycles are an important traveling tool for the rick-man and me, giving us passage from point A to point B to hike and bird.  An easy example is Pedernales Falls State Park.  It is a bit of a long walk from the campground to the Falls trailhead, or to the park's wonderful bird blinds, but it is an easy bike ride to both. 
A traveling challenge became how best to transport two bicycles with the Airstream hitched to the SUV.  A bike rack cannot be mounted on the back of the Airstream (an advantage of Class A RVs, as you see bikes hanging from their rear ladders as they travel down the highway).  

A young person would put the bike rack on the roof of the SUV, and I did, back in the ‘80’s.  A roof-mount would not be the right solution at this time in my life; it hurts my back just thinking about pulling bikes down or hoisting them up.  

And so the ingenious rick-man had a hitch receiver welded to the front of the SUV, with a bike rack mounted as shown below:

This front-mount bike rack has been a wonderful solution; easy storage, easy access.  But have I mentioned that without the front bike rack our SUV and Airstream total almost 50 feet in length?  And so is 50’ long a mistake that causes our rig to sit in a storage facility?  Not at all—it still seems, after 5 years of active use, perfect for our type of “camping”—easily fitting into many state and national parks, and giving two people enough “space” to still like each other after weeks or months on the road.  

But, at 50 feet in length, I don’t just breeze into any gas station; or any grocery parking lot.  I have to think about it, and sometimes I have to skip a potential station to find a “roomier” set of pumps.  I've gotten better at sizing up gas stations, and become more knowledgeable about the Walmart hospitality to RVs, but adding 3’ of bike storage to the front of the SUV doesn’t make our supply stops any easier.
 And then there is the driving view out the front windshield with bikes before us.  Our friends that are ergonomic engineering experts would probably want to pick a bone with us.  But, I can honestly say viewing (daylight viewing) is not compromised, and it is not bad to “look past” the bikes while driving four or 5 hours.  But I’m not sure I want to “look past” two bicycles when I’m pulling 10,000 pounds of Airstream through Rocky Mountain passes.
So the ingenious rick-man found another solution.  Bicycles that fold!    Yesterday we test road them around Brazos Bend State Park.

Would I ride these bikes on a 50 or 150 mile ride?  No.  Did I find my folding bike a comfortable ride for two hours around Brazos Bend?  Yes.  Was I ready to get off the bike after two hours so that I could walk and bird the rest of the day?  Yes.  How else would I have seen that beautiful Prothonotary Warbler and Yellow-billed Cuckoo?
But I’m already convinced, folding does matter. 

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