Monday, 2 June 2014

We are now officially cycle tourists!

We’ve recently bought ourselves brand new touring bikes and we’re absolutely delighted with ourselves!  Why did we need new bikes when we already have two each I hear you say? Well, strictly speaking, we probably didn’t but I suppose it could be traced back to the summer of 2012.  We were living in Daejeon (South Korea) and we only had one week to take for our summer holidays.  Not wanting to lose too much of that time spent in airports etc. we decided we’d stay in Korea and that we’d go to Jeju Island with our bikes.

The bikes we had at the time were far from touring bikes.  We got them free when we signed up to a smart phone contract when we first arrived in Korea,  but we weren’t put off! We didn’t have panniers or anything like that and to be honest, I’m not sure if they even crossed our minds.  We just put what we thought we’d need into our rucksacks and off we went!

Our free bikes, plus 5kg of rice and 30 toilet rolls! What else would you expect when signing a new phone contract!!

Rolling off the ferry with the cars and trucks and peddling off into the midday heat had us hooked! We’re both pretty active people but up until this point we didn’t really have a sport or activity that we both enjoyed equally.  All of a sudden we did! Bike touring was our new thing!

And that was it.  We spent most of our time off the bikes that week daydreaming about where we’d cycle next.  We arrived back home exhausted, sunburnt and dehydrated, but hooked.  We were cycle tourists!

'Round Jeju with a bike!

It took us until now though to get ourselves sorted with proper touring bikes, and all the gear to go with them!

The real research into the kind of bike we wanted began in March this year.  There was so much to consider, and so much unknown.  It was a slow process, made slower by the language barrier involved in living in South Korea.  I’d like to think we would have attempted a self-build if we were living in an English speaking country, but in hindsight I’m not sure that would’ve been a great idea.  I think we’ve both realised how little we really know about the finer workings of bikes and how much maintenance etc. is involved.  Mind you, we would’ve learnt an awful lot along the way. 

As it was, we appeared to have two options; buy a mountain bike and modify it, or buy a ready-to-go touring bike.  Surly seemed to be the only well-recoginsed and reviewed touring bike brand available in Korea.  The cost initially put us off them but when we reasoned how far we hoped the bikes would carry us over the course of our lives, we were able to justify it and it meant we’d have full confidence in the bikes from the get-go.  So, a Surly it was and not a self build/ modification.  This decision, simple as it may seem, took months to arrive at!

Buying online from overseas was virtually out of the question due to the high customs duty Korea puts on imports, so we looked up Surly dealers.  There is only one official Surly dealer in Korea.  His name is Gene and he runs Plush Cycles in Gangnam, Seoul.  There are no dealers of any other tourer brands that we could find.  Gene is onto a good thing, and he knows it.  The prices somewhat reflect his monopoly.  That said, he is very knowledgeable, very helpful and very attentive and we are absolutely delighted we went with him in the end.  We were like a pair of school kids the day we picked the bikes up.  They are perfect!
Our new Surly Long Haul Truckers, loaded and ready to go!

We took them for a few short day trips last month, one to test out our new tent and the other the test our new stove.   But, after going to the hassle of getting our fuel bottle filled and bringing food to cook, we’d forgotten to bring a lighter!  Determined to test out the stove, on the way back home we bought a lighter and stopped off in the park to make tea!  We had a long weekend a few weeks ago and decided to head off for three nights and see how everything worked out.  There were no hiccups, except maybe camping on a heritage site from which we got moved on by the police!  It was the morning time though and we just wheeled our lives around the corner, cooked breakfast and got on the road!

Budda's Birthday long-weekend cycle along the West Coast

We arrived back home exhausted but happy.  Setting out fully loaded (we probably had about 20-25kg each) it took us a while to get the feel of the new bikes.  We’d said from the get-go that this trip wasn’t about covering kilometers, it was about testing everything out, seeing what worked and what didn’t.  The first day was when we covered the most amount of ground.  We had a pretty broken nights sleep when the little town where we set up camp, that had looked so tranquil,  sprung into life once night fell.  There was some sort of factory that came alive and there were men and machinery milling about all night making an awful lot of noise.  The bad sleep combined with the long cycle and in hindsight, not enough food and water breaks the day before, made for a pretty slow, and somewhat grumpy start!  But we learned our lesson! Lots of breaks and a decent nights sleep are crucial, for us at least!!

So now we’re ready for a bigger adventure! Our flights are booked and we’re off to Hokkaido, the Northern most island of Japan.  We fly in and out of Sapporo and then we plan to pedal around as much of the island as possible in the 3 weeks that we have, while making sure to get our fill of the Japanese cuisine as well as ample soakage time in the hot springs along the way!  Here's a map of our planned route :)

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