A journey occurs
when the rubber hits the road.
So I need rubber.
When I started thinking about this bike tour, I thought for a while about what I would be riding all the way to St. Louis. I had two bikes; a Trek FX 7.2 and Raleigh Merit 1, though neither were really optimum for touring, despite the respective benefits of both. The Trek had a rack, which was a good start. It was also comfortable and reliable. I had used it as my regular commuter for about five years, summer and winter, with hardly a single problem. The Raleigh, on the other hand, was a road bike that was easy to ride fast for long distances, which put it in the lead as bike of choice.
In fact, last summer I rode the Raleigh from Grand Rapids to Duluth, nearly a 100 mile ride. This trip was arguably the real impetus for the upcoming tour, the first time I used a bicycle to visit another city for a weekend. From this experience alone, the Raleigh seemed like a great bike with which to hit the open road. Could I really compare it to the Trek hybrid at this point?
The problem, though, was that I was dying after my return trip from Duluth. My ass was killing me. If there’s one thing and one thing only that your bike needs to have for long distance riding, it’s a comfortable saddle. So clearly the bike needed a new saddle, but it actually needed far more than that. Since it didn’t have any racks, I did the whole trip with just a backpack, something that I would never recommend for anyone biking more than 20 miles. You don’t realize how much heat you vent out of your back until you plug that hole. So I needed to figure out how to outfit this bike to carry gear if I was going to use it.
But it didn’t matter that much what the problems were. I had two bikes. One was better than the other. And that was the one I was going to take on the road to St. Louis. Raleigh takes the lead… let’s go.
A few weeks into my job at Itasca Trail Sports, when the owner, Don, mentioned that I could get a good deal on a bike, it didn’t even occur to me that this could be my opportunity to upgrade for my trip. Honestly, the first thing I thought was, “New bike? Yeah, right. Like I can afford to buy another bike this year.” The deal was, since the shop was a Jamis Bicycle dealer, that employees there were considered Jamis employees and therefor eligible to buy a bike once a year at a crazy discount. The whole thing made sense; the company wanted their employees to ride their bikes. And especially if a nice discount made it more possible for these people to buy some of their nicer bikes, they’re more likely to ride them and brag them up to the rest of the bike-riding population. But I was saving up to go on a bike trip; I couldn’t be spending my money on a bike!
It didn’t take extremely long for me to realize that this was exactly the time to be spending money on a bike… well, maybe a week or two. But once I got it in my head that this could benefit me, I found myself immediately perusing the Jamis catalogue for fat tire bikes! The Roughneck was an awesome bike, and hella fun to ride!
Wait! On second thought… this could be a better time to find a nice touring bike.
After getting over my long-standing desire for a fat tire (sigh, it will have to wait), I found myself looking at the Aurora Elite, Jamis’s high-end touring bike. A few of the perks of this bike over what I was currently riding was that it had hydraulic disc brakes, more user-friendly shifters, higher quality derailleurs, a wider gear range, a stock rear rack and eyelets for a front rack, a longer wheel-base, more versatile tires, and a steel frame (steel is widely regarded as the best material for touring due to its strength and ability to absorb shock). Truly, I couldn’t afford to not buy this bike! And I still think it’s my logic that brought me to that conclusion, and not just my wanting a new bike (fat tire or not).
After it showed up at the shop, I giddily waited for when I could take the time to pull it out of its shipping box to put it together. Sure enough, when I rode it home that evening, it was everything I expected. A smooth ride, snappy shifting, powerful brakes… too bad the saddle hurt my ass almost immediately.