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How Many Miles Should You Expect from Your Bike Chain?
Peter Buck & Robot Assistant // 11 May 2023
Whether you're a seasoned cyclist or just getting started, one of the most important components of your bike is undoubtedly the chain. It's responsible for transferring power from your pedals to your wheels, allowing you to ride smoothly and efficiently. But how long can you expect it to last before needing replacement? How many miles can you put on a single chain? In this blog post, we'll dive into all the factors that go into determining the lifespan of your bike chain so that you can get the most out of every ride.
Introduction to Bike Chains
Bike chains are an essential part of your bike, and if you don't take care of them, they won't last as long as they could. Here's a quick introduction to bike chains: how they work, how to clean them, and how often you should replace them.
How Bike Chains Work
Bike chains work by transferring the power from your pedals to the wheels. The chain is made up of small metal links that fit together. When you pedal, the links in the chain move and turn the gears in the wheels, which makes your bike go. Each of the metal links, and the pins that hold them together, fatigues over time and causes each link to stretch. It's only a fraction of a percent, but a stretched chain will then wear out your gears prematurely if it isn't replaced soon enough.
How Often Should You Replace Your Bike Chain?
Bicycle chains are wear items, just like tires and brake pads. You'll eventually need to replace your bike chain because it will stretch out over time and eventually break. As chains stretch they will wear out the teeth on chainrings and cassette cogs. If you replace your chain regularly you can make the rest of your drivetrain last longer, but every 2-3 chains you should plan to replace your cassette. Chainrings usually last a bit longer, so every 4-5 chains you'll probably need to replace one or all of your chainrings.
We find that most bicycle chains last about 1,000 - 1,500 miles or so in this area.
Higher quality (read: higher priced) chains do tend to last longer. Of course, this all depends on how often you ride and how well you take care of your chain. If you ride frequently and don't clean it, you can expect it to wear out sooner. Lifespan decreases if you are bad about cross-chaining, if you like to "mash" in a hard gear instead of spin in an easier gear, and if you're not good about frequent cleaning and proper lubrication.
When and How to Clean Your Chain
A chain is like the veins of your bike, it's what transfers the power from the pedals to the wheels. A clean chain will help your bike run more smoothly, while a dirty chain can cause skipping, premature wear, and decreased efficiency. Here are a few tips on when and how to keep your chain clean:
- Clean your chain regularly. A good rule of thumb is to clean it after every 50-100 miles, or at least once a month.
- Use a degreaser specifically designed for bike chains. Apply the degreaser to a rag and then wipe down the chain. Let it sit for a minute or two before wiping it off with a clean rag.
- There are SO MANY bicycle chain cleaning products on the market these days that there is literally no excuse to not use one. Using WD-40 branded products is fine (they've actually got some decent stuff now), but using original WD-40 is NOT ok.
- Once you've cleaned your chain, lubricate it with bicycle chain lubricant. Again, there are so many options available that there is no reason in the world why you wouldn't be able to do so. This will help protect it from rust and dirt build-up.
What Causes Chain Stretch?
Chain stretch is caused by the pins and plates wearing down and becoming elongated. As the chain wears, it will begin to skip over the teeth on the sprockets, causing a loss of power and efficiency. If your chain is starting to stretch, it's time to replace it.
When Should You Replace Your Chain?
Your bike chain is one of the most important components of your bicycle, and it’s also one of the most vulnerable to wear and tear. A new chain will typically last between 1,000 before needing to be replaced, but this can vary depending on how you ride, what type of chain you have, and how well you maintain it.
If you ride frequently in wet or dirty conditions, your chain will wear out more quickly. If you rarely clean or lubricate your chain, it will also wear out more quickly. And if you shift gears frequently or ride up and down a lot of hills, your chain will also wear out more quickly. On the other hand if you don't shift gears much at all, you'll wear out those specific gears much sooner...
To extend the life of your chain, clean and lubricate it regularly. You should also inspect it often for signs of wear, such as stretched links or cracked rivets. If you see any of these signs, it’s time to replace your chain.
How Long Will My Bike Chain Last?
One thousand miles is a good estimate, but there is a specific tool that can be used to check chain stretch so you don't need to guess. They cost about $12 and they're an easy "go / no go" tool. They are a must-have for any rider - this is not something that you don't have to worry about if you're "just riding around town, nothing very serious, not racing or anything like that". That describes about 90% of our customers - you're in good company! Chain stretch impacts everyone though, at any level of riding.
If you ride frequently in wet or dirty conditions, your chain will wear out more quickly. This is because grit and grime can work their way into the links and cause premature wear. Likewise, if you don't clean and lubricate your chain regularly, it will also wear out more quickly.
On the other hand, if you do take good care of your chain and don't ride in excessively wet or dirty conditions, you can expect it to last for several thousand miles. In fact, we've seen riders get over 5,000 miles out of a single chain!
Tips for Extending the Life of Your Bike Chain
If you take care of your bike chain, it can last a long time. Here are some tips to help you extend the life of your bike chain:
- Keep your chain clean and well-lubricated. A dirty or dry chain will wear out much faster than a clean, lubricated one.
- Avoid using your bike in muddy or wet conditions if possible. Mud and water can cause your chain to rust and corrode.
- Be mindful of cross-chaining (using the big/big or small/small combination of gears), as the lateral shearing force on the chain will accelerate stretch exponentially.
- Work on maintaining a higher cadence (pedaling RPM) in a slightly easier gear rather than a lower cadence in a harder gear.
In conclusion, the mileage you can get out of your bike chain depends on a lot of factors such as how often and far you ride, the weather conditions in which you ride, and the materials used to make it. However, with proper maintenance and care, a well-made bike chain should last anywhere from 1,000 to 2,500 miles. This means that if you take good care of your bike chain and replace it when necessary, then you shouldn't have any problems getting thousands of miles out of it.
Top Reasons to Customize or Upgrade Your Bike Instead of Buying a New One
6 February 2023 / Peter Buck
Shocking, I know: a bike shop that doesn't necessarily want to sell you a new bike.
There are several reasons you may want to upgrade or customize your current bicycle instead of purchasing a new one. Perhaps you're attached to your current bike and don't want to part with it. Or maybe you're on a budget and can't afford a new bike at the moment. Whatever the reason, there are plenty of ways to upgrade or customize your bike to give it a new lease on life.
One reason to upgrade or customize your current bike is to improve its performance. If you're an avid cyclist, you may want to make some changes to your bike in order to increase its speed, agility, or power. Or if you're more of a leisurely rider, you might just want to add some accessories for comfort or convenience. Either way, making some modifications to your bike can help you get more enjoyment out of riding it.
Another reason to upgrade or customize your bicycle is to change its appearance. If you're tired of the way your bike looks, making some cosmetic changes can be a great way to give it a fresh new look. You could paint it, add decals or stickers, change the seat cover or grips, etc. There are endless possibilities when it comes to customizing the appearance of your bicycle.
Whatever your reason for wanting to upgrade or customize your bike, there are plenty of options available to suit your needs and preferences. With a little bit of effort, you can breathe new life into your old faithful companion and enjoy many more miles. We routinely see bikes that are 10-20 years old, and as long as they're well maintained, your bike can last just as long.
How Much Does It Cost
24 January 2023 / Peter Buck
There are a lot of different variables that can affect the cost of fixing your bike. Some of the biggest factors include the type of bike you have, the frequency of use, how long it has been since your last tuneup (in terms of mileage, not time), and whether your bike has features like suspension, disc brakes, electronic shifting, etc. If you have a high-end road bike, for example, you can expect to pay more for repairs than you would for a basic mountain bike. And if your bike has been ridden a lot, stored outside, or never received a tuneup at all, it may need to be completely rebuilt, which would obviously cost more than just fixing a few minor problems.
Answer: It Depends
We don't give specific quotes over the phone, because as mechanics we need to use all our senses to properly evaluate your bicycle. It's not "just a bike" to us, and every one that comes through our doors gets the same level of attention. We service everything from $150 department store bikes to $12,000 bespoke machines... and yes, bikes really can cost that much!!
The reason that our answer to "how much will it cost to get my bike fixed" is usually "it depends" is because we nearly always find problems you didn't even know you had. If you call us and ask how much it costs for a tuneup ($135), we'll also remind you that parts are extra - tires, chain, brake pads, cables, etc sometimes seem fine until they're closely inspected. We often find it is less expensive to do the work you need during a full tuneup, rather than by individual line item, and that factors in to it as well. Your total repair bill is going to depend on more variables than we can identify over the phone.
You've come to us to help identify, diagnose, and repair your bike because you know we're the best at finding and fixing issues before they become problems. No one knows you do though. so we'll always go through the bike with you in detail when you bring it to our shop. Together, we'll identify all issues - even the ones you didn't know you had - and present you with options to get the job done right. You trust us with your bike, and we'll always give you a fair, transparent, and detailed quote before you decide to proceed with any service.
Sometimes when companies refuse to provide detailed pricing online it makes me feel like that's because there are different prices for different people, and I hate that feeling more than anything. That is not the case for us at Handy Bikes: the price doesn't depend on who you are, or how much you paid for your bike - the price depends on the work that needs to be done to get it in the best shape it's ever been.
Road, Allroad, and Gravel Tires
15 January 2023 / Peter Buck
Somehow the topic of tire selection seems to be even more divisive than the debates surrounding chain lubricant (see next oldest post). We've had about half a dozen people picking our brains about tires this past week, so I thought it would be a great time to post an article to share my thoughts. First, let me say the most important part up front:
Narrow tires aren't faster.
We (the cycling industry) used to think that a narrow tire at super high pressure was the fastest thing available. It's not true. We also used to think that the moon was made of cheese and Pluto was a planet. Things change.
There are hundreds of excellent resources online for this information already, and dozens of major studies have been performed by top industry outlets like GCN, Cycling Magazine, and others -- so you don't just have to take my word for it, and I highly recommend doing more research in the process of finding the best tire for you. One of my favorite tire companies, Rene Herse, has a great writeup about it along with a tire pressure calculator which you can find here: https://www.renehersecycles.com/tire-pressure-calculator/
One of the most important decisions you can make for your ride is choosing the right tire. They're also one of the easiest things you can change for the least amount of money that can dramatically impact the bike's overall performance. But with so many different models to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start. Road tires? Allroad tires? Gravel tires? Smooth tires that are wide? Knobby tires that are skinny? Sort of smooth tires that are sort of medium width? In this blog post, we will explore the differences between road, allroad, and gravel tires. From tread designs to sidewall construction and more, read on to learn what makes these three types of tires different, and which one might be best for you.
First though, there's one important thing:
Narrow tires aren't faster. Wider tires aren't slower.
Overview of Different Bicycle Tire Types
Road tires are designed for paved surfaces and are typically narrower than other types of tires. Allroad tires are designed for both paved and unpaved surfaces, and are wider than road tires. Gravel tires are designed for off-road riding and are the widest of the three types of tires.
Road tires are typically made from harder rubber compounds, which makes them more durable but also less comfortable to ride on. Allroad tires use a softer compound, which gives them better grip on both paved and unpaved surfaces. Gravel tires use an even softer compound, which gives them the best grip on loose or uneven surfaces.
The tread pattern of a tire also affects its performance. Road tires have a smooth tread pattern that offers low rolling resistance and good traction on dry pavement. Allroad and gravel tires have a more aggressive tread pattern with larger knobs or lugs that provide better grip on soft or slippery surfaces.
HOWEVER, a large amount of the grip can happen simply because of a tire's width. A tire that is 45mm wide is going to have better gravel traction than a "gravel" tire that is 28mm wide, even if the wider tire doesn't have as aggressive a tread pattern.
Generally speaking, road tires range in width from 25mm to 30mm, with 25-28mm being the most common width. Allroad tires range in width from 30mm to 38mm. Gravel tires range in width from 40mm to 50mm or wider. If you're reading closely you'll note that 23mm tires aren't on that list - that's because 23mm tires are a thing of the past. Some companies do still manufacture them, but only as replacements for bikes which can't physically fit larger tires because of frame clearance. As a general rule, I do not stock 23mm tires, and do not recommend them.
A lot of the width distinction stuff is just marketing BS though; if you ride a 32mm tire on gravel, does that make it an allroad tire or a gravel tire? If a tree falls in the woods and a mechanic isn't there to tell you about it, did it make a noise? Tire width doesn't dictate anything except grip, really, and it definitely doesn't dictate speed.
With that said, the tread pattern of a tire does affect its performance. Road tires have a smooth tread pattern that offers low rolling resistance and good traction on dry pavement. Allroad and gravel tires have a more aggressive tread pattern with larger knobs or lugs that provide better grip on soft or slippery surfaces. Note that a tire's smoothness is not the same as its width. Those two features are not directly related. Smooth tires can be wide, and knobby tires can be narrow.
Factors to Consider When Choosing the Best Bicycle Tire for Your Needs
When choosing the best bicycle tire for your needs, there are a few factors you should take into account. The first is the bike you have and the type of riding you want to do with it. If you have an older road bike (read: anything from the 90's or early 2000's), and you want to ride on rough gravel, you'd want to pick a wide tire with a fair amount of tread.
You won't be able to, though, because your old road bike won't fit anything wider than a 28mm tire. The good news is that there are narrow tires that have tread on them (see above), but the bad news is that your old road bike is never going to fit anything wider than that.
If you have a frame that can fit wide knobby tires, but you're planning to mostly ride on pavement and packed gravel, we have plenty of options for you! You can choose pretty much anything you want. It is absolutely fine to put a narrower smoother tire on a bike that wasn't originally designed for it. They're the bikes. We're the people. We're in charge.
The second factor to consider is the width of the tire. Wider tires provide more stability and grip, while narrower tires are generally lighter (we didn't even cover weight yet) which is going to help you accelerate faster and feel quicker. Choose the width that is right for your riding style and the type of terrain you'll be riding on. Rim width is a factor, but we're going to assume that it's not for the sake of this article. You can read about rim width at WTB's site here: https://www.wtb.com/pages/tire-rim-fit-chart#
An exception to the weight factor is commuter-oriented tires, which will have extra protection like Kevlar, Mylar, or something similar built in to the rubber to help keep you from getting flats. The width and tread pattern rules still apply to commuter tires: a narrow one isn't always faster.
The third factor to consider is the tread pattern. Tires with deeper tread patterns will provide more traction on loose or slippery surfaces, while tires with shallower tread patterns will roll faster on paved surfaces. Choose the tread pattern that is right for the conditions you'll be riding in most often.
Finally, consider the price when choosing a tire. Like most things in the world, you get what you pay for. Higher-priced tires nearly always offer better quality and performance, period. There are plenty of good options available at lower prices if budget is a concern. We generally find that $45-90 per tire is a good range to be in to make sure you have a good tire that will last. We have options above and below that price range, but most will be within it.
My Top 5 Best Bicycle Tires for Allroad and Gravel Bikes
If you were hoping for a detailed list that's going to tell you EXACTLY what to do... you'll have to look elsewhere. These are some of my favorites though.
1. Anything from Rene Herse's knobby lineup. Choose the width that fits your bike frame and rim width, and the casing that fits your riding style and needed level of flat protection. They make expedition-grade stuff, and if you want to spend money on a tire that you're not going to have to worry about, this is the type for you. They designed the tread to roll just as fast on smooth pavement, but they're best on dirt, gravel, and rough roads.
2. I'm really liking Teravail's Rampart line. They come in a bunch of different widths from 28-42 and a couple of different casing options ("durable" or "light & supple"). Great choice for anything from road to packed gravel.
3. Panaracer's GravelKing line. They have a bunch of different options, and I nearly always pick the "plus" versions because they have extra layers in the casing that add flat protection. The original GravelKing has its trademark tread pattern that you're probably familiar with, but they now have several other tread patterns if you're looking for a slicker or knobbier tire as well. They're all great for their respective applications.
4. WTB makes some really great options across the board. Their Horizon and Byway tires are favorites for rough pavement, C&O Canal rides, and even smooth pavement. Wider is better. I'm not a huge fan of their Exposure tire; have had a lot of flats on these.
5. Anything from Rene Herse's smooth lineup. There are options in casing as well as a range of sizes; I'm currently running a set of their 700x38 Barlow Pass tires (38's!) on my Evil Chamois Hagar in its road riding configuration.
I'm always experimenting with tires, pressures, and other variables. Tires are such a personal choice, and if you ask any of our staff you're likely to get tons of other great options that aren't on my list. We have all had personal experiences with different tires over time and have developed our own preferences from there. None of them are wrong, and none of us have all the right answers.
One last thing I didn't touch on - tubeless vs tubed. Tubeless is better. It's a bit messy, but it's not difficult. All you have to do is remember to refresh the fluid every 4-5 months or so. Go tubeless.
Wet Chain Lube vs Dry Chain Lube
Important info about chain lubricant that can save you money every year!!
20 October 2022 / Peter Buck
Cooler weather is upon us, and for some reason that means we start seeing a lot of people using wet chain lube. Please -- and I say this sincerely with all the love in the world -- please don't. It makes a mess, and that mess attracts filth. Filth accumulates on/in your chain (see pic below) as well as your derailleur pulleys, cogs, hubs, bottom brackets, and whatever else you're not cleaning. Lots of people underlubricate their chains, some people OVERlubricate their chains, but the least common is a chain that is lubricated JUST enough. Especially with wet lube, it's easy to over-do it. This is one situation where more lube isn't a good thing - see also: filth.
Wet chain lube should only be used when riding in wet conditions. Wet lube stays wet, and will cause dirt, dust, sand, and everything else to stick to your chain and drivetrain. The resulting accumulation of grime is like liquid sandpaper, and will wear away at your components - especially the inside of your chain.
Dry lube, on the other hand, comes out wet and then dries to a wax-like covering. Because it does not stay wet, it does not invite things to stick to it, and it will help your chain shed dirt and grime. We strongly recommend dry lube in 95% of riding scenarios, with the only exception being the 5% of people who actively ride or race in the rain.
How can you tell what kind of lubricant you have? It’ll likely be labelled on the bottle or container. If not, go and look at your chain: if it appears to be wet, shiny, and glistening with fresh lubricant the day after you applied it, you’re using WET LUBE and you should switch to something else.
Regardless of what lubricant you use, don’t forget to wipe off the excess after applying a fresh coat. Don’t worry, the important part of the chain (the inside, between the links) will still have lubricant. Use a rag to wipe excess lube off of gears and outside of the chain after re-lubricating, and your bike’s components will run smoother, cleaner, and longer.
I never thought we'd get this far
If you've been with us since the beginning, you'll remember cold winter days in a tiny cargo trailer in a gravel parking lot in southeast Washington, DC. You may even remember times before that, when I met customers on the street corner with a repair stand, a clipboard, and a few allen wrenches – hoping to somehow earn their trust and confidence despite having zero reputation, let alone a business card to hand out. Somehow, seven years later, we opened for business in a real, live, honest-to-goodness bike shop in Alexandria, VA. In the middle of a pandemic.
At the time I was still on active duty in the Navy, and somehow found a way to fix bikes after work and on weekends as an outlet from my real job. It was a lot to juggle, so I hired a good customer, Ken, as my first employee to help me keep up. As time went on and we added to the team – Paul, Matt, Pedro, and others – we upgraded from the cargo trailer to the region's first bike truck, with the help of a kickstarter campaign that nearly failed. Thanks to Rachael and other friends from Team Red, White, and Blue (RWB), as well as many of you reading this (thank you!!!!) we met our funding goal, and bought the green step van that now lends itself to our logo.
Through mental health crises, a permanent change of station (PCS) move to Virginia, and even the completion of an MBA, the crew kept the shop alive. I am proud that during that time we've earned the credibility and reputation that I first envisioned - a shop that is open, honest, and has the integrity to do the right things for the right reasons. Really though, it's that we're just excited about getting you out for your next bike ride because we love seeing the smile on someone's face when they ride their freshly-tuned bike for the first time.
I'm writing this as we near the one year anniversary of our shop's opening day. This past year has seen more struggles than we could have imagined, even as we worked out of our storage unit the year before watching COVID-19 unravel society and supply chains with equal ferocity. We have air conditioning and a bathroom now -- huge upgrades from what we had been used to -- and we've continued working hard to keep bikes rolling for as long as we could with whatever parts we could find in stock.
And now, finally, we have complete bikes for sale. Especially given pandemic-related difficulties, there was quite a while when it didn't seem like we ever would. We were able to get our hands on a few bikes over the past year since opening in October 2020, but as lead times skyrocketed we kept hitting dead ends. No inventory meant nothing to put on the display racks, and that meant lots of disappointed customers and frustrated staff. True to our beginnings, though, our service department continued to do its very best to help everyone who came through the door with the same respect, approachability, and transparency that we'd show our own closest friends and family.
Last week we finally filled our display racks with bikes and frames from State Bicycle Company, Soma, and Bombtrack - a company long underrepresented in the US but widely known overseas for their high quality adventure, gravel, and bikepacking bikes. Next week we have more bikes coming from State, a few mountain bikes are due in from Evil (yes that's their name - and they are wickedly amazing), and we've just submitted an order for 180 bikes from a renowned east-coast, woman-owned company called Jamis for 2022. We're excited to see bikes from Niner, Vaast, Batch, and Transition returning to stock in the next 6-9 months, although some of these will be special-order only so do let us know if you want to get on their wait lists. Did you know we're also Moots dealers? Yup. Moots. I remember dreaming about riding a Moots when I was a teenager, and now we're dealers.
I never thought we'd get this far. And we're excited to have you along for the ride.
This might not be the time to buy a bike.
By Peter Buck, 30 October 2020
Yep... I said what I said. If you're in a hurry or on a tight budget, this is probably not the best time to buy a new bike. Market conditions resulting from COVID-19 have led to production shortages with skyrocketing demand for the past 6+ months. As a result, bike manufacturers have run out of the components they need in order to build their frames into complete bicycles - and in some cases, they're out of the frames as well.
What this means for consumers is that bikes in many price ranges are completely sold out. If the bike you've been eyeing is out of stock, you do have a few options:
- You can settle for whatever new bike you can find, wherever you can find it. This means you might find a great deal on a leftover model or demo bike, but it also means you might talk yourself into settling for something off-brand or even something from Amazon. Do not give in to an Amazon bike. Do. Not.
- You can roll the dice on a used bike. This means trolling the used market for likely-overpriced bikes from people who know the market is on their side. This isn't to say that all used bikes are a bad idea, but you should use all available resources including checking eBay sold items (not just "completed" but actually SOLD).
- You can work with your local dealer to figure out whether a frame or frameset may be available for the bike you'd been looking at. Even if manufacturer's websites say a bike is unavailable in your size, there may be a frame (likely lots of frames) sitting there ready to go. Remember, it's components that are an issue right now, not necessarily frames... and it's not all components that are out of stock, either. More on that in a moment.
- You can wait. The market will recover at some point, after all. Maybe your old bike needs a little work but isn't really in very bad shape - bring it to your local bike shop for some help if you need it!
Lately, I've been finding that the best option is #3. Work with you local dealer to find a frame, and then have them build it up (or help you build it up) using the components that are available. Shimano and SRAM are having a lot of issues keeping up with demand right now, with dealers being told that some Shimano parts may not come til May 2021 and some SRAM components may not show up til December 2020 or January 2021.
So what is available? Look to smaller companies to do what they've always done - excel during difficult times by adapting to market conditions and overcoming barriers. Companies from Garbaruk in Europe (Poland) to Velo Orange in the USA (Maryland) are still getting it done. Leonardi, S-Ride, and BOX all have options available. And if you haven't taken a look at Sunrace in the last few years, you're missing out - they've really stepped up their game and are putting out some top-level products at good prices.
Bottom line is that if you're willing to think outside the confines of the "big two" brands that everyone knows, you can still find some great options, get some great deals, and most importantly spend some time on the trails this fall!
Bikepacking the C&O Towpath.
By Lidia G., 10 September 2020
With summer coming to an end and the heat starting to fade, bike camping is a great social distance activity you can do with a couple of your fellow biker friends. The 184 mile long C&O canal towpath trail, which starts in Georgetown Waterfront and ends in Cumberland, Maryland, offers beautiful scenery and numerous camping spots along the trail.
My friends and I have bike camped many times along the trail. Here are some tips and pointers on where to stop, what to pack, and what to expect along my favorite section of the trail between Georgetown and Harpers Ferry.
Where to stop
The first camping site is located 15 miles out from the trail starting point, near Great Falls at Marsden Tract Group Campground. If you are willing to travel an additional 15 miles for a more secluded area you will be able to camp at Horsepen Branch. From there, bike camping options are available every 4 miles. The last campsite is located 10 miles from Harpers Ferry. By then you will have traveled around 50 miles. Well done! To celebrate, you can hit up the Smoketown Brewing Station in Brunswick and camp at Brunswick Family Campground.
"Bike Washington" is a phenomenal web resource that covers every possible aspect of the C&O system as well as other trails in the area. Visit them at http://bikewashington.org/canal/plan-camping.php
At the campsite
- Table with benches.
- Fire pit.
- Some sites have water, but this can be unreliable especially as a result of COVID. We recommend filling up all your water containers at every opportunity, which may be at a location that does not offer camping (visitors center, e.g.). Keep your eyes peeled!
- No trash receptacle. Pack in, pack out!
The trail consists of numerous terrains, including concrete, gravel, and dirt. I recommend equipping your bike with gravel tires. You will have a better grip on the road and lower probability of flats. Check out our other blog posts for more detailed information on prepping your bike for an adventure ride.
There are many ways to outfit your bike for bike camping. I am 5’3 and have a small Kona Sutra touring bike (pictured left), which is fitted with a rack. For small trips, I only use 25-liter panniers. It is enough space to fit camping gear (minus the tent and sleeping bag), clothes, and food. The tent and the sleeping bag are strapped on top of the back rack. Tall people with bigger bike frame can use a seat post bag (pictured left). My friend has a 16-litter bag, it fits his tent and clothes.
In case of a flat, bring extra tubes, a pump, and tire levers. An excellent video that helped me when I first learned how to change a flat can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2HMwOHyfsc
What to pack
- Tent. I have a backpacking tent that weighs 4 pounds, made by Big Agnes. Mine is big enough for two but is compact enough to easily secure on the bike.
- Sleeping bag.
- Sleeping pad.
- Pillow (optional).
- Hammock (optional).
- Water filter. There is often drinkable water at the site. You can avoid bringing extra by purifying the water from Potomac.
- Fire starter.
- Jet boil or other stove depending on what you plan to cook.
- Bug spray.
- Toiletry bag. Wipes.
- Toilet paper.
- First Aid Kit.
- Rope with carabiner for the bear bag set up. While there are few on bears on C&O, there are rodents who are happy to have your food.
This all depends on the weather and how comfortable you are with being stinky and dirty. I try to bring clothes that are pack small and sandals that don’t take a lot of space.
- “Day one” bike outfit.
- Non-bike shoes for camp relaxing.
- Non-bike outfit for camp relaxing.
- “Day two” bike outfit. I usually use the same top from day 1. At the end of the first day, I hang the jersey on the tent to air out.
- Depending on the weather, pack long sleeves, pants, and wool socks.
Food and liquids
Since there are no stores near, plan your meal in advance.
- The easiest meal is hot dogs, which can be cooked over the fire. That is my go-to meal. If I am feeling fancy, I will bring mac and cheese or beans to cook in the jet boil.
- Snacks, snacks, snacks. It is recommended to eat something every 90 min on the ride. I usually fill my bike with granola bars that can be easily eaten without stopping. Constant consumption of snacks will help your body to maintain energy and not fade throughout the ride.
- Water. I carry a platypus backpack, which holds 4 liters and has a lot of room for snacks.
- Electrolytes. They help replenish minerals that the water can’t. I dissolve a tablet in my water bottle and store it in the bottle cage where it can be reached easily.
Biking after the rain
If you decided to hit the trail after rain, here is what to expect:
- Giant muddy puddles.
- Fallen trees.
- The freshest air.
I hope this information gets you started on your adventure. If you need any help prepping your bike for C&O adventures, Handy Bikes is happy to help!
Lidia is a mechanic and team member at Handy Bikes since early 2020. She has bikepacked the C&O extensively, and completed a trip across the country by bicycle in 2019 along the Adventure Cycling Association’s Western Express route from San Francisco to Pueblo, and then the TransAmerica from Pueblo to Washington, DC.
Must-Have Gear for Multi-Day Adventures.
By Peter Buck, 26 August 2020
We're going to ignore the obvious things here like personal hygiene, food, and clothing, because those are highly personalized choices. And also because at Handy Bikes we're focused on mechanics and technicalities of the gear itself. Here's a quick list, with details on each:
- Cargo carrying capability. Don't let someone tell you it HAS to be a particular type. If all you've got for now is rear panniers and a backpack, that's ok! You don't need to run out and get the latest most expensive seat or handlebar bag to get rolling. As you go, you will learn that seat bags impact bike handling, rear panniers affect your center of gravity, handlebar bags make your steering feel different -- and you will decide what setup you like best. Don't let others make that decision for you based on their preferences or budget.
- Toolkit. Including spare quick link, chain tool, and tube (even if you're tubeless), plus inflation (CO2 is great but have manual pump capability as well) and the usual hex/torx keys.
- Water filtration capability. Carry fluids as well, obviously, but don't underestimate how much water you're going to need! A quality filter can literally be a lifesaver.
- Shelter. Your choice on tent, hammock, bivvy sack, sleeping pad, tarp - no matter how good the weather forecast is though, don't bring nothing.
- Electrolytes. I said I wasn't going to talk about food, but this is the exception - too much water by itself is almost as bad as too little water. Some form of powdered mix is my go-to, rather than carrying separate bottles of
- Toilet paper/baby wipes. Yup...I've forgotten them too. Just saying.
There will always be that one thing you forget or the one (heavy) thing you bring that you didn't need. The best way to do this is to DO THIS. Get out there, experiment, keep track of your own preferences, and let us know your favorites!
By Peter Buck, 23 August 2020
If you're going to want to go bikepacking or adventuring, you're going to have some very specific needs when it comes to your wheels -- and building a custom set of wheels to meet those needs is the best way to meet them. Dynamo hubs, 650b (27.5" - henceforth simply '650b') diameter, disc brakes versus rim brakes, thru axles of various diameters and offsets and boost spacing -- there are a slew of options.
We at Handy Bikes are all big fans of big tires - that is, using the widest tire that fits on a given bike's current wheelset - and building a custom set of wheels can make that happen through use of wider rims. Custom wheels also allow for uncommon configurations, such as older frames that don't have thru-axle capability in the rear, but may have a new fork that is thru-axle -- one isn't always going to be able to find a set of wheels off the shelf that matches the specs needed for the situation at hand. This is especially true if a dynamo hub is being used, particularly in conjunction with 650b wheels. For whatever reason, there aren't a lot of off-the-shelf options, and that's where we can help.
I'm currently building up a set of 650b HED Belgium Eroica tubeless-ready rims with a Shimano Metrea DH-UR700-3D Dynamo front hub (450 grams!) for one of my own bikes. I haven't decided on the rear hub yet, but both wheels are 32h, meaning 32 spokes. The greater the number of spokes, the stronger and more resilient the wheel. When it comes to bikepacking in particular, one wants to have a wheel that will support a fully loaded bicycle plus rider, and still be able to take the bumps and bruises of off-road riding. I therefore recommend no fewer than 32 spokes for front or rear, and sometimes 36 spokes for the rear wheel if we know the conditions will be particularly harsh.
When selecting the rims to use for my wheel build, I opted for 650b even though the frame and fork I'm using were originally intended for 700c, which is a larger diameter wheel most commonly found on road and hybrid bikes. The tradeoff of using smaller diameter wheels is that I'll be able to use the wider tires - planning to use 27.5 x 2.1" width which is roughly equivalent to 700x50c.
Once I get the set built up I'll post info about the dynamo hub including the Sinewave Cycles USB power converter I'll be using with it - we stock all Sinewave Cycles products so give us a shout if you want to check them out. Free installation if you purchase through us directly!
By Peter Buck, 17 August 2020
When it comes to drivetrain options, trying to decide what you need can be overwhelming. This writeup will give you some thoughts on a good way ahead if your goal is a simple, capable, and durable wide-range drivetrain for bikepacking, adventure racing, mountain biking, or touring.
We're big fans of 1x (pronounced "one-by") drivetrains. Advancements in technology and components in the last few years have been huge, and riders can now achieve the entire spectrum of gear ratios they used to have on a 3x9 setup - and then some - by using a single chainring in the front and a wide range cassette in the back. Coupled with an appropriate derailleur and shifter, 1x systems yield drivetrains that are less complex, with fewer moving parts, and with less weight than older systems.
Question: Is it worth going to a 12 speed system? Answer: Probably not for most normal people. If you're like us, you'd rather spend your extra money on experiences or travel than sinking it all into your drivetrain. We think 1x12 systems are too costly without much extra benefit right now. Mechanically speaking, 12 speed systems are also more fragile and finicky due to the larger number of gears crammed in there - and a finicky fragile system is not what you want to be dealing with out on the trail.
Our go-to recommendation is a 1x10 drivetrain using a wide-range cassette. Depending on your needs, you can go all the way up to a 46t cassette (!!!!) for steep climbs with fully loaded bikes. And yes, I know SRAM's new Eagle 12 speed setups can give you a 50t cassette, but if you need to go THAT low you can swap to a smaller front chainring and still be under budget compared to a 12 speed conversion.
What brands should you go to, or avoid? Shimano used to be the best of the best, and they did a great job of branding and advertising in the 90s and 00s. As a result, even my parents can tell you that Shimano is the BEST. Are they really though? Even as a shop owner, I go back and forth - there'll be a post soon about Shimano vs others in general. I've become a really big fan of SRAM though, and often recommend them when building up a new system.
SRAM's GX rear derailleurs are our go-to workhorse for 1x10 systems. They have great cost to value and get the job done well, over all kinds of terrain. Their max cassette size is 36t, but with an extender from Wheels Manufacturing that can be increased to 40, 42, or 46t. We couple them with SRAM's simple flat-bar mountain bike shifters, and have been very pleased with the results. You can also go with "thumbies" (thumb shifters, for the uninitiated) by MicroShift that are SRAM compatible and are surprisingly good quality.
Shimano does of course make great products, I just think they're overrated sometimes at the expense of brands. They also make it difficult for independent shops like us to work with them by limiting our access to parts at competitive prices, while selling online at lower prices than what they sell to us as "wholesale". We do like some of Shimano's products though, particularly the Shimano Deore XT RD-M780/M770 series rear derailleurs for 10 speed systems. Shimano compatible thumbies from several companies are available, as well as extenders from Wolf Tooth that bring regular cassette maximums of 36t up to 42t and 46t.
Regardless of what brand you want to go with, we've got you covered on sourcing and installing parts. You'll want to make sure you have a narrow-wide chain-retaining chainring for any 1x system, and a derailleur that has a clutch system like the two mentioned above. We're happy to talk drivetrains any time - drop us a line!