Archive for January 20th, 2010

Patagonia – Bike Challenges for Challenge Bikes

Along the shores of Lago Fagnano in Tierra Del Fuego, Tolhuin, Argentina

Patagonia has many challenges for the bicycle and the touring cyclist: Wind, Rain, Cold, Gravel roads, to name just a few.

When I left Ushuaia on Jan-14 I knew there would be some challenges ahead. My Challengebikes (manufacturer) Seiran (model) recumbent bike has of course already seen all of them, both because it has already done the Panamerican Highway once two years ago (www.panamerica.ch) and because it has now seen more than 14,000 km in North- and Central-America. For the bike, gravel is tough on the tires and the frame, as well as the trailer axle. So far I had 120 km of gravel North from San Sebastian through the Chilean part of Tierra Del Fuego. Almost at the end of that stretch my front wheel got caught in a spot of soft sand and I couldn’t prevent the bike from tipping to the side – a disadvantage of the recumbent design (that you can’t quickly put your foot down to avoid a fall). My panniers and my handle bars don’t like that kind of abuse…

Bike fallen down in soft sand on gravel road near Cerro Sombrero, Chile

For the biker, the wind is by far the toughest challenge. If you have ever crawled into a relentless headwind, possibly on a sheer endless straight road, then you know what I’m talking about: The hours go by without you making nearly as much progress as you had hoped, you expend twice the energy and for only one third of the progress you’d otherwise get. This is where mental strength is as important as physical endurance… I had one day on the gravel road where my average speed started around 13 km/h, but then steadily dropped down to 11 km/h and even lower. I had worked 5 hrs and only got to 55 km when I finally gave up for that day. I got up the next day at 5am to ride the few calmer hours in the morning… There comes a point where it’s just no longer efficient or even viable to go into the wind. Above some windspeed it becomes also dangerous, especially with side-wind, as the gusts can easily lead you off the pavement into the dirt – or into the traffic lane.

But I also had a good sampling of cold and rain already; throughout North- and South-America I remember only one day in Oregon where I pretty much rode all day with the GoreTex jacket. Here there are several days where I wear the GoreTex jacket all day… On the day from Rio Grande to San Sebastian it rained for 3 hrs straight with temps around 50F (10C), not exactly my idea of fun. However, with the rain the wind stopped, which actually saved me at least 1 hr of riding that day. Some cyclist told me that in Patagonia you either have sunny and windy or rainy and calm – pick your poison!

A 3 hr ride in the cold rain between Rio Grande and San Sebastian, Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina

Sometimes when you are challenged this way you ask yourself: Why am I doing this? But for all the hardship and frustrating episodes, there are also those priceless moments when the sun comes out, the road turns such that you have a tailwind, you can see endless horizons and life is good:

Yes, riding in Patagonia is hard work. Yes, it is often uncomfortably cold or wet or strenuous, or all of the above. But if you come prepared to accept these challenges – physically as well as mentally – and with the right gear (bike and clothing), you will find ample rewards along the road. The journey is the destination…

Endless roads across and limitless sky above Patagonia

2 comments January 20th, 2010


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