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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Biking Pittsburgh DC: Preparation for the GAP and C&O

Jan 6, 2016
So you've decided to ride your bike from Pittsburgh to DC with some friends. There's a timeframe between setting the plan and the first day of the ride that you'll want to use well.

Participants really need to ride their bikes, both to condition themselves and to ensure the dependability of their bike. You can't take your bike out of the basement, shake off the cobwebs and go to MilePost Zero. It's not fair to the group. Your itinerary isn't based on you having a bad tube, discovering a bubble in your tire, and diagnosing a rusty chain the first morning. Don't be that guy.

bike trip preparation, Pittsburgh to DC
Similarly, you can't haul yourself out of inactivity and expect to ride six 55-mile days. It's not reasonable. You need to be riding in the months before your trip. You've got to get your bike-butt going, you need to find out if your hands go numb, etc. If you do have hand-numbness, or butt-pain, try a bike-fitting. It's like taking an off-the-rack suit to a tailors, sometimes they can work wonders.

There are ways to stack the deck in your favor. The three points of contact between yourself and the bike are your seat, your hands, and your feet.

This is a funny-awkward topic, but: use chamois cream and padded bike shorts, with nothing between you and them. You don't need to use chamois cream if you're riding single-day short distances, but when you exceed 30 miles or go multi-day the cream is a tremendous advantage.

No undies between your chamois and your parts. Turn the shorts inside out to apply the creme. Apply it liberally, and work it into the stitching around the edges. Cover the entire chamois surface with a thin layer of the creme. Don't be stingy with it.


People use different brands of chamois creme. Some folks use A&D Ointment or Queen Helene's Cocoa Butter; whatever floats your boat. I use Paceline Products' HER creme.


A word of caution: if it's marked as a EURO cream, it has menthol and similar substances which cause a mild sensation when you pull the shorts on. Personally, I tend to avoid the Euro-style chamois creme.

As to your feet: bike-specific shoes have much more rigid soles, which are of major benefit. You don't want to ride all day in flip-flops or tennis sneakers, because you'll develop hot-spots on your feet. You don't have to use clip-in shoes (which we call clipless, somehow) but you will benefit from biking-specific shoes.

Hands: Gloves are very important, to protect your skin during falls and to protect your hands/nerves during long days. If you've experimented with gloves and still need relief, often a bike fitting can change the distribution of your weight between your handlebars and seat.

I can't overemphasize the importance to the group dynamic of every individual preparing themselves and their bikes. Of course, having a support vehicle makes the expedition more flexible.

You should have all your bike-futzing complete two weeks before the ride, and then you should freeze the bike - which means, no more changes to it. Have the seat, handlebars, tires all dialed in with two weeks to go.

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