More Signs the Bike Industry is Facing Headwinds

Bicycle Retailer reports that both QBP (Quality Bike Products) and TPC (The Pro’s Closet) instituted staffing cuts brought on by the glut in retail inventory.

“As the largest distributor of bicycle products in North America, we are impacted by an industry that is still searching for balance between supply and demand. Currently, there’s just too much surplus inventory,” said Rich Tauer, QBP President. Painful as the cuts were to make, Tauer says it’s necessary as the industry tries to strike a balance between supply and demand.

QBP brands include Salsa Cycles, Surly Bikes, All-City Cycles, 45NRTH, Teravail, Whisky Parts Co., and MSW. I’m a Surly rider, which is why this article caught my eye.

Paul Calandrella, GM of The Pro’s Closet, echoed similar sentiments. “The unprecedented amount of discounted, new bike inventory in the market poses a particular challenge for our business model..”

Bicycle Retailer hints there may be more industry layoffs on the way.

Typically news like this would spur demand since it’s technically a buyer’s market. But if retailers are able to manage expenses in line with demand, we may not see deep discounting. I’m keeping an eye on these developments and will share them as they unfold.

Keep pedalin’.

Things I Learned from My First Overnight Bikepacking Trip

Recently I joined the Southern California Bicycle Camping Meetup group for an overnight bikepacking trip. We followed a route that started in inland Oceanside and headed west towards the ocean, navigating south on old Highway 101 to Encinitas and the San Eligio State Beach campground.

To prepare for the trip I re-installed my pannier racks for my Axiom pannier bags. (Note: when I bought my Surly LHT used in 2021, it came with the racks and packs). I installed both front and rear pannier racks, thinking I would use both sets of bags, even though the trip was only an overnight. Here’s my bag configuration:

  • Rear pannier bag right side contained my sleeping bag and sleeping pad. These two items took up all the space in the bag. My sleeping bag is not so ultralight and doesn’t compress that small – same for my sleeping pad.
  • Rear left. Clothing and toiletries.
  • Right front. Jet boil, coffee press, coffee.
  • Left front. GoPro kit in its case, and tech organizer with all my cables and a power block battery for charging everything (most of the weight).
  • Rear rack. I strapped my tent (about six pounds) on the top of the rear rack use Voile straps.

Total weight, bike plus equipment, about 50 lbs. Heavy, yeah. But my Surly LHT handled the weight well, and I feel like I did a decent job of balancing the weight.

Ready to ride. I wore a Camelback for hydration and a backup water bottle for camp.

As the members gathered for the ride I made a point to observe what kind of bikes and equipment they had. There were a couple of Surly LHT riders plus me, one Brompton, one Co-Motion and one recumbent. Most were carrying about the same amount of gear as I, so I felt a little better about that. Once we made camp I made quite a few other observations.

I have purchased most of my gear from Amazon. Since I have a Prime membership, it’s just easy to do. But the majority of the other riders were REI customers – tents and gear. Made a note to extend my shopping to REI. Tent sizes ranged from one person to four-person. Mine is spec’d for two people, but I’m 6-2, 200 and there’s room for me and my gear that I want to keep dry. Two people would be cozy to say the least.

Bisinna 2-person tent I bought on Amazon for $70

Dining consisted of eating out at different restaurants. Saturday we stopped for lunch in Oceanside at a Mexican restaurant. Saturday night we walked from the campsite across the street and ate at a fish cafe. Sunday morning we had breakfast in Encinitas. Which was fine with me – meant not having to think about menus and carrying food.

Sunday morning everyone awoke and laid out their coffee artillery. Everyone had their own coffee makers, Jet Boils and either fresh ground or instant coffees. Quite a sight. My setup is a Stanley coffee press where you heat the water and combine the coffee in the same container.

Stanley Adventure All-in-One Boil & Brew French Press

Observations from the trip:

  • First thing I learned is about the California State Park campsite reservation system, which is notoriously challenging. For most State parks, one has to phone the reservation line at 8 am on the day six month in advance you want to camp. But some of the State park campsites also offer “hike/bike” sites that don’t need to be reserved. First come, first served. Roll up, pay your $15 and pitch your tent. San Eligio has hike/bike, and we had a nice campsite with plenty of room, a picnic table, fire pit, and potable water.
    I also learned that some of the California State Park campsites have eliminated hike/bike sites. Leo Carillo, for instance has closed hike/bike with no indication whether it will ever open the site for hikers and bikers. The experienced bikepackers I was with understood the system and how to make sure the campsite you want still has hike/bike option.
  • Could I have carried less? Maybe. Thing is, I’m always afraid of leaving something behind and then cursing myself as I discover I needed it. So I brought everything – like my full GoPro case with camera and all accessories. I’ve done rides where I minimized my GoPro kit and would up leaving stuff that I needed to mount the GoPro on my bike. Also makes me wonder what my configuration would resemble if I was riding across the U.S. Funny thing, a rider on a road bike pulled up alongside me on Sunday as we headed back to Oceanside, asking how far we’d come. When I told him we were wrapping up an overnight in Encinitas, he said the way we were all loaded made him think we were pedaling to Alaska.
  • I could have balanced my load a little better. The rear carried most of the weight. I might have moved my tent to the front rack and strapped it on sideways. Or put the sleeping bag on the front and rearranged the other bags. Overall, though, I thought the load was manageable.
  • I wore a Camelback and would not do that again. I was freeing up handlebar space by eliminating my water bottle holders. Should have stuck with what I knew.
  • I would consider a full frame bag that adds storage in the middle of the frame. I might be able to eliminate the front racks and packs. Will investigate further.
  • Notice that many overnight configurations I’ve seen on have no pannier racks and bags. A rear under seat pack that’s large enough can carry an ultralight tent and maybe an ultralight sleeping bag. A front handlebar bag could manage one or both. I do have a seat post rear bag, and I tried to fit my tent in it, but it was a tad too small.
  • Despite the nifty display of REI camping gear, I’m pretty pleased with the shopping I did putting my equipment together. My little $70 tent has been across Iowa and Death Valley and is holding up well. My sleeping bag that doesn’t roll up easily nor compress too well, is super comfortable in 40 degree weather. I’ll stick with what I have.
  • Joining a group of experienced bikepackers is a great way to ease into self-contained bike travel. There were little things I noticed that will aid me in future trips, like tent pegs that can be pounded into hard ground. It’s also enlightening and inspirational to hear experienced bike travelers talk about some of their trips. I stumbled upon this group by googling “bikepacking Southern California”. Worked like a charm. Give it a try.

Recollections on My Cycling Adventures So Far, Part VII

Death Valley Bike Tour, Feb 26 to Mar 5, 2022. I had wanted to participate in one of Adventure Cycling’s bike tours for some time and had signed up for a self-contained long weekend tour of Lake Tahoe, to be held in September 2021. Fire and smoke canceled this tour, so I applied my credits to a longer tour in 2022, in part because I would not be able to ride in RAGBRAI 49 due to a family commitment.

I chose the Death Valley tour because I had never been there, and it was close enough I could drive there and not have to ship my bike. This tour was limited to about a dozen riders, plus two tour leaders, and van-supported, meaning the van would carry everyone’s equipment from place to place. All we’d need to do is carry what we needed for the day and just ride.

The tour also looked to be challenging, including such cyclist favorites as wind, dry humidity, and elevation. Despite the fact that most of Death Valley is well below sea level, the route included a number of fairly tough climbs. Yet it was a wonderful cycling experience, comprised of riders mostly like me – casual riding outfits and steel frame bikes (including three Surly LHT and one Rivendell). A week-long ride in Death Valley, well-organized and staffed, is a great way to meet riders of a similar type and forge new friendships.

You can read my detailed post about my experiences on this tour here:

Reflections on My Cycling Adventures So Far, Part V

Bike Travel Weekend, June 4-6, 2021. I decided to make another attempt at San Luis Obispo to Paso Robles and back. I revisited the original route and modified mine so that I followed the exit off Old Creek Road onto Santa Rita Creek Road, avoiding the big climbs and switchbacks on Old Creek Road.

March 2021 I found a 2010 Surly Long-Haul Trucker for sale about an hour away from me. I hurriedly contacted the owner and made arrangements to see the bike. I had done hours of research on touring bikes, and the brand Surly kept popping up. I wanted to buy a new LHT, but due to the pandemic lockdown and depleted supply chains, I couldn’t find one in my size, in stock. So I pivoted to looking for a used Trucker, and luckily spotted the one I eventually bought on Craigs List.

This LHT came outfitted with racks and packs – rear and front racks, along with front and rear panniers and a handlebar bag. I took the LHT to Shift Bicycle, where Jason Morin added a new stem and handlebars, new handlebar tape, new cables, new chain, new flat pedals (came with clips – not my style) and new Maxxis Refuse tires. This LHT came with its original Brooks B17 saddle, color black, that had obviously been broken in thoroughly. Ready to ride!

I loaded my LHT onto my bike rack and drove to San Luis Obispo. This time I had decided to add camping to the event. I found a campsite near the SLO Regional Airport. Not truly bikepacking, because I drove to the campsite, unloaded my gear and set up my tent. Then in the morning I loaded everything back into my car and drove to long term parking near the airport. I loaded up my bike with front and rear panniers and set off for Paso Robles.

The revised route put me on Turri Road off of Los Osos Valley Road for a much quieter, more scenic ride towards Morro Bay. I stopped to shoot some video of the scenery when I heard someone call out behind me: “All good?” Another rider had seen me stop and following cycling protocol, asked to make sure I was okay. We introduced ourselves to each other. His name was Paul. He was riding a steel bike like my LHT, and he had bright yellow Ortlieb panners on his rear racks. Paul new this route very well, riding it frequently, so we decided to ride together to Morro Bay, where he would turnaround and head back home to Los Osos.

Turns out Paul is a Warmshowers host and made a point that I should book with him if I ever ride his way in the future. I promised him I would. It is simply wonderful to run into someone who loves bike travel as much as you.

Turri Road connected with South Bay Boulevard into Morro Bay and then connected with Highway 1. After a short distance on Highway 1 I exited as I had before onto Old Creek Road. This time, though, I took Santa Rita Creek Road just past the Whale Rock Reservoir.

Santa Rita Creek Road is a gem! It follows Santa Rita Creek, is tree-shaded and virtually car-free, but it is also mostly unpaved. I had planned for this so no surprises this time. My Maxxis Refuse tires, while not totally appropriate for unpaved roads, handled this section well and had no issues with the hard-packed dirt, road ruts and loose gravel. A deer ran across the road in front of me. Truly felt like an off-road adventure. Summitting Santa Rita Creek Road was also much easier than Old Creek Road, to my obvious relief.

The downhill side of Santa Rita Creek Road was more challenging than the uphill because I had to regulate my speed and brake often to avoid potholes and large rocks. I made my way back onto the paved section, where Santa Rita Creek Road merged with Cayucos Templeton Road and eventually became Bethel Road, which connected with Highway 46 into Paso Robles. As I came down from the higher elevation, I ran into heat in the high 80’s with virtually no humidity. So I was struggling a bit as I headed to my friends’ house for cold beer, good food and good times.

Saturday, I retraced my steps and once again climbed up Santa Rita Creek Road to the Summit and pedaling to the top this day was easier than the day before. There were more cyclists out and about as well. I struck up casual conversations with some of the riders, who seeing my panniers asked me where I’d been.

Once back on Old Creek Road I headed down into Cayucos and stopped at Brown Butter Cookie Company for a bag of originals. I retraced my route back to SLO following Highway 1 for a few miles, then South Bay Road, Turri Road and Los Osos Valley Road back to the airport. I loaded up my bike and drove to my hotel, spent the night and then drove back to LA on Sunday.

This is a ride I would do again. I think there are additional variations to the route that would allow me to really do some bikepacking and discover new areas. For example, I could head east from Paso on Union Road, then South on Geneseo and take in some wineries. Continuing southwesterly, Geneseo connects to Creston Road, on into Creston CA which has numerous wineries to sample. From Creston I could hop on the 41 Highway and back to Morro Bay. I’m sure there are additional possibilities and I look forward to exploring them.

Meet Homer

I definitely observe what bikes cyclists are riding. And wearing. But when it comes to bikes, I’m always on the lookout for a ride like mine, made of quality, durable steel. There are bike manufacturers that build exclusively in steel, companies like Surly, the brand I ride. Another steel frame brand is Rivendell Bicycle Works in Walnut Creek, CA, founded by Grant Peterson (more about him later).

So, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw a Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen bike at a rest stop during the Lighthouse Century a few weeks ago. Rivendell bikes are known for their beautifully lugged steel frames. Take a look:

Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen
Example of the art that goes into a Rivendell nameplate

As I’m admiring the A. Homer Hilsen the owner comes and takes it out of the bike rack, so I immediately struck up a conversation with him and learned we had something in common: the love of a high-quality, durable and inexpensive (comparatively) but beautifully crafted steel bike that’s meant to last a lifetime.

I first learned of Rivendell bikes during an Adventure Cycling Tour in Death Valley, earlier this year. Of the dozen or so riders, three of us were riding Surly’s, with one Rivendell. Not long after that I watched Russ Roca of Path Less Pedaled interview Grant Peterson, Rivendell’s founder. The title of the YouTube video is “The Future of Rivendell Bikes?” Notice the question mark. You can view it here.

In the interview, Grant Peterson comes across as a guy who cares about his product and the people he employs. A small niche bike manufacturer, Rivendell doesn’t make a lot of money, so its future is dependent upon a steady but growing customer base. For more insight, read the history of Rivendell here. Just the mere fact that Rivendell named one of its bikes A. Homer Hilsen tells you a lot about the company and the people.

Grant Peterson is also the author of “Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding a Bike”. I downloaded the Kindle version, read it and it has become one of the most influential books in my library. Just Ride is a love letter to the joy of riding a bike, before cyclists became obsessed with racing, weight, speed, distance and spandex outfits.