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ADVENTURE BY BIKE®

Eurobike By Bike

Spurred on partly by Tim Krueger and few co workers, I decided to do Eurobike by bike with minimal gear. My goal was to fly into Europe and use pedal power as my main mode of daily transportation. My luggage would be a Revelate Designs seatbag and bar harness as well as an Osprey Escapist 30 backpack.

I did this because I often travel to beautiful places and end up in taxis, busses, and trains and don’t get to experience the beauty of the land. So, I flew into Zurich, Switzerland, built my bike in the airport, checked my bike box into long term bag storage, hopped a train to Konstanz, Germany, caught a ferry to Friedrichshafen and then rode to the rental apartment in Langenargen, Germany. This journey to get there would span a fairly intense 24-hour-plus period of transit. Was it worth it? Absolutely! What did I learn? Read on.


In preparation for this trip, I had a custom S & S El Mariachi produced. Taking a stock frame and having S & S couplers installed is no small task. I know folks that have used Bilenky to do this as they are super experienced and also provide paint service. Other coworkers of mine have used local Twin City’s frame builders and independent frame painters. In the end, this service costs several hundred dollars. Truth be told though, with three trips this fall using this bike, I have already paid for it in zero baggage fees. I decided to build this bike up as a flat bar singlespeed using a 2:1 ratio. Why singlespeed and flat bars? Because with a travel bike, simplicity is key and a singlespeed means fewer parts to damage in transit. Fewer parts and flat bars mean easier fit in the travel case and lighter weight, reducing the likelihood of exceeding the 50lbs airline weight limit before excessive airline baggage fees. I also thought it would be nice to simply ride whatever pace I was geared for and focus on experiencing the countryside.


I arrived in Langenargen in the early afternoon. Almost immediately, I knew my choice to experience Eurobike by bike was a good one. I picked up a bag of hand-picked plums for next to nothing and while waiting for my coworkers to return to the apartment, I sat by beautiful Lake Konstanz eating fresh plums. I would not have had this experience had I hopped the train, bus or taxi. Right there in that exact moment, my efforts were worth it.


Riding through the German countryside made it easy to forget why I was there. I was in Germany for Eurobike where Salsa had a tradeshow booth. We were there to exhibit some new product, support our German distributor Cosmic Sports as well as meet with media and other international distribution partners. It is easy to get caught up in this and feel burdened and stressed. For me, the 45 minutes of pedaling before and after the tradeshow each day made every minute of the Eurobike tradeshow better and more meaningful. I had reduced stress because I wasn’t worrying about bus, train or ferry schedules. I knew that each and every day would end with a wonderful ride through the German countryside. The historic towns, beautiful churches, apple and pear orchards and fields of hops made our 45 minute bike commute feel like minutes. In the end, I rode five straight days in Europe and as a result, it was my most memorable Eurobike tradeshow I’ve experienced. I came home not feeling completely lethargic. In fact, thanks to the bike I came home energized and I’m already thinking about next year.


I’ll leave you with some parting thoughts and things I learned for next time.

 

  • Without a doubt, I will take a singlespeed again next year. I think I’d spend a bit more time setting it up with a cassette rear hub. This would allow two different gear ratios that if planned correctly, could easily be accommodated by our Alternator dropouts. I thought about using an Enabler fork with two rear wheels, but this combination does not fit in a hard shell bike case.
  • Go to the airport early and find a scale. I ended up carefully adding stuff to get my box to 49 pounds. Once there, take inventory of what is in there. I now have a detailed list of what to include in the box resulting in carrying less on the plane.
  • I carried my clothing, seatbag, and harness in a duffle bag. I did not want to use a bulky suitcase because once the bag was empty, I was able to put all packaging material and the duffle bag into the hard shell case. This allowed me to only check one bag into longterm bag storage. Note – Longterm bag storage was not cheap. It cost me $90 US for the week.
  • I studied Google maps prior to leaving. I also found a few links to bike maps around Lake Konstanz. I was fairly prepared going in but if I had more time, I would have found a map with bike routes. One of my coworkers did purchase a map from the tourist info center in Langenargen. I’m sure they are available from other sources as well.
  • Trains: Plan a bit of extra time here. The trains are set up for bikes, but I was informed that you need to reserve bike spots on the trains on day of departure and if the trains are full, I wouldn’t be able to get on. I gave myself enough time to catch two different trains so that I would not miss my flight out of Zurich. I had no problems, but be prepared.
  • Fees: I already noted that the longterm baggage storage set me back about $90. In addition to that, both the train and the ferry required specific bike tickets. This cost me $18 Euro each way for the train and $4 Euro each way for the ferry.
  • Flat pedals: I rarely ride in flats, but for this trip I decided I did not want to carry another pair of shoes. I was concerned about this, but had zero issues and would do it again next time. 
  • Lock: I carried a fairly sturdy and big U-Lock. While I did not need to carry a lock that secure for what I was doing, it is what I had. Take what you are comfortable with. My only note here is that on my flight home, my U-Lock was considered a security risk and I was flagged in Amsterdam. I ended up having to check my baggage and spend a little extra time in the security line.
  • Rain gear: Always plan on having rain gear. I’ve been to Eurobike and Europe several times and I’ve always encountered rain on at least one day.

Lastly, for entertainment, here is a short 1 minute time lapse film of me packing my bike up in a dark hallway in the Zurich airport. In reality, it took me something like 16 minutes.


I encourage any of you reading this to consider travelling to Europe and using a bike as your primary mode of transportation. With some planning and a little extra effort, it all pays off and I bet you’ll have your most memorable European experience ever. I know I did.
 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Boucher

Growing up as a Minnesota farm boy, I developed an appreciation and love for land and open space. This appreciation has fostered two passions, cycling and photography. Both of these passions provide freedom, encourage me to explore and foster creativity. More importantly though, my journey with a bike and a camera reminds me that the world is big and I am small.

COMMENTS (15)

JS | October 3rd, 2011

Would a Hammerschmidt 2x1 be a workable option with the suitcase? I realize this would require welding to get the mount for it onto the El Mariachi, but you already need welding work for the couplers.

Tom Moore | October 3rd, 2011

It would be nice if Salsa could offer either Vaya or Fargo with S&S’s.

tom

aaron w | October 3rd, 2011

Gnat, you post brought back some memories having lived in Konstanz for a couple years when I was a kid.  Man, I want one of those big salty pretzels so bad right now.  Like many families, we didn’t own a car while living there so we rode bikes everywhere.  You should have seen the bike racks at my school…full of hundreds upon hundreds of bikes.  Soon, even though I was quite young, my parents were letting me travel to other towns on my bike.  I had never experienced this kind of freedom before…to go where ever I wanted, and under my own power.  Well, as you know this spirit of adventure by bike has carried on into my adulthood and I’m so grateful for my experiences living in a bike-centric culture.  Cheers, Aaron in Salida

Noah | October 3rd, 2011

Great post about travel with the S&S couplers!  I have a pair on one of my bikes, and they really are the bees knees.

How did you handle the disc brakes?  Did you pull the rotors and disconnect the calipers from the levers?

Great pictures too - now I’m thinking I may take a trip to Germany this coming year…

Thanks again!

-Noah

Gnat | October 4th, 2011

JS - I guess you could probably use a Hammerschmidt as they are a self extracting system. You do need to remove the cranks. I used two bolt Shimano SLX cranks on this bike. They come apart with only a 5mm allen key.

Tom - Maybe someday. Quite a few projects in the hopper right now.

Aaron - Glad we could give you those memories. I want one of those pretzels too.

Noah - I did remove the rotors. On this bike I had 6 bolt rotors. I removed them. I’ve also traveled with wheels with centerlock rotors. The centerlock rotors are quicker, but this forces me to carry the special tool and an adjustable wrench. I decided to go light with standard 6 bolt rotors, a small torx tool and a torx bolts.

Chad | October 4th, 2011

A dingle speed with a 2 or even only 1 tooth differance could be perfect. No shifters still, and just throw on a White Ind Dingle Freewheel on the same wheel, and a 2nd ring up front, no extra wheel needed. Bingo!

Franz | October 6th, 2011

Can you let us have more details on the built and final weight?

Pat Irwin | October 7th, 2011

Gnat,

That was nice read and it’s good to see you guys practice what you preach. I can surely appreciate the cassette wheel SS thing. Sure makes gear changes easier.

Welcome back!

Pat

Edward | October 9th, 2011

Just reiterating Pat Irwin’s comment and thanking you guys for being true advocates for cycling-the products you design/sell, the joy you experience and share from riding, the choices you make as to how you get around (mobility), and the way you advocate how bicycles can be part of so much of our lives, beyond just recreation. I’m both an urban planner by profession and a cyclist by choice. You guys make my life easier and fun. Thanks. Now I’m off to ride my El Mariachi Ti.

Glenn Charles | October 12th, 2011

Gnat, great post.  I am headed over with the Fargo and am contemplating going back to a SS setup just to simplify things for the trip.  Any thoughts on on putting on flats v. woodchippers?  Also, how did the WTB tires handle the mixed road surfaces that you road on?  I have been running the 2.0 Marathon Supremes and they have done very well on the road and hard pack dirt/roads.

Great Stuff!!

Glenn

Gnat | October 13th, 2011

Hey folks, thanks for the comments and questions. Really sorry for my slow response.

Regarding the weight of my bike - I have not weighed it. I rarely weigh my bikes. They just weigh what they weigh.

Regarding the disc brakes, I used Avid mechanical brakes. To pack the bike, I removed the rotors and I disconnected the cable from the lever and rolled the housing back (after cutting the zip ties).

Glenn - I love my Woodchippers but to pack them in a 26 x 26 x 10 rolling suitcase that has a bike inside is really difficult. That said, two of my friends had S & S bikes with our new Cowbell bar and they didn’t have much difficulty in packing. For me, I chose flat bars simply because I owned them and the bike I wanted and built was designed for flat bars. Regarding tires, I’d recommend the 2.0 Marathon Supremes. I have been running them on my Vaya Ti and they are awesome tires. I just chose the Nanoraptors as once again I owned them.

R | October 31st, 2011

Would it be sacrilegious to cut my El Mariachi Ti?  Its my main trail bike that I ride all the time, but I have to travel by air enough (at least twice a year) to visit my wife’s family and it would be worth alot to bring him with me.  Should I just look for a used steel El Mar instead?

Hans | November 2nd, 2011

Hi Gnat

Was fun chatting with you at Eurobike (Sigma camera guy here) and I would have loved to have seen your set-up when there.  Re: luggage fees: My Ritchey Breakaway case has rigid sides that are held together with aluminum pegs- you can break the case down when it’s empty and stuff it in a storage locker- a big plus.

Paul | January 5th, 2012

Gnat -

Great post!  My wife and I may be moving to Germany for three years this summer (just on the border of Bavaria and Baden Wurttemberg), and I wanted to get your input on bike selection.  I have a Podio, a Vaya, and my wife just bought me a Mukluk 3 for Christmas.  I’m a little concerned about the Mukluk due to 1) parts availability if something goes wrong, and 2) threat of theft given the uniqueness of the bike. 

Thinking about swapping the Mukluk for a Mariachi for simplicity.

Thoughts?

Gnat | January 5th, 2012

Paul, that’s a big move and an awesome opportunity to experience Germany and Europe.  Sweet too that your wife bought you a cool bike for Christmas. Tell her thanks for making it a Salsa.

Honestly, I think your question depends on your desired riding. I see you have road covered with the Podio and Vaya. The El Mariachi would be great if you intend to ride mtb quite a bit. However, the Mukluk is an awesome off road bike too.

Theft - In many ways, I think all the bikes are the same. You’ll be locking any of them regardless.

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