A week with the Volagi Viaje
I’m on a bus
From Barcelona to Paris. The man next to me smells very bad and continues to dab cologne on him and now smells like a rotting flower…The reason I’m taking a bus is because I have a new bicycle with me. I learned traveling by bus is the easiest and cheapest to travel in Europe by if you have a bicycle. The TGV is great too if you can get the early fare promotion. I don’t think that far ahead though. I have, for the last 8 years bounced around to a new place every six months or so. It started off just leaving home for college, and has transformed into a constant state of motion. I’ve learned I need a bike in my life.
A bicycle is constant, it’s my best friend, it’s always there from Minneapolis to Torino. It keeps me sane, it keeps me fit, It helps me explore the world around me, my physical limits and my metal capacity. It is a vehicle of pain and suffering and joy and accomplishment. It is mediation for me and is more spiritual than any preacher on the pulpit.
I can never decide which bike to bring with me though. I grew up riding mountain bikes, but fell in love riding road bikes in Southern California. When I decided to take my mountain bike to Torino I found the experince bitter sweet. I did enjoy some of the best riding of my life in the Italian Alps, but I found myself wanting to go on road rides with the friends I made. Or a weekend tour to knock off some of the famous cols. After lots of deliberation and the sale of my car, mountain bike, numerous other belongings I decided on a Volagi Viaje.
We both started in California.
Me in Los Angeles and the as yet unnamed Viaje in Santa Clarita. I flew to Minneapolis to spend Christmas with my family and anxiously awaiting the arrival of my new best friend from Volagi. I was leaving early on the 27th and thankfully the bike arrived on the afternoon of the 26th. Bundled up in Volagi’s travel box It looked as if was wearing a straight jacket from the psychiatric ward. A flash of black and red paint teasing me what lied beneath. Resisting the temptation to unpack the bike I tossed some some gear inside and buckled everything back up.
I travel with gear all to often, the result of an adventurous, nomadic lifestyle and a massive addiction outdoor sports. Having flown into Barcelona before with my Giant Trance in a bike box I did not want to drag the Volagi through the airport and metro again. I decided to roll it this time. Buying a portable luggage cart I was able fasten it to the box with the included straps and now could roll the bike box easily! The cart packed down and fit in the overhead compartment when after I checked my baggage, I can’t recommend this system enough! unless your planning on riding out the airport…
After four airports everything arrived in Barcelona, by a buckle. The straps around Volagi’s case are an awesome idea, but I was a little unsure of the plastic buckles and TSA’s habit of opening bike boxes no matter what’s inside. I watched them open it up before leaving MSP (always insist to make sure they repack it right) and helped them strap everything up correctly. Upon arriving in BCN all but one buckle and strap was holding the box together. Looking back I should have padded them with something, socks, old rags, I think they even sell preformed neoprene buckle pads. Thankfully the baggage gods spared one buckle and everything arrived together. By the time I arrived in Bruna’s fifth floor apartment in Barcelona’s rambunctious Gracia neighborhood I had gone three days without actually unpacking the bike! It was teasing me all this time, was it as great as it looked? Did the size fit? Was it damaged in the flight? What if it wasn’t the versatile, do it all bike I imagined? I quickly assembled the bike making a mess of the already tiny apartment.
Everything came pretty well setup and adjusted with the exception of having to re-route the front brake line as it was rubbing on the tire. Bruna watched with amusement at my curses, excitement and confusion that is inherently part of assembling something new. When it was together it was time to meet some friends for drinks….another day passes without a ride.
The following day passed again without a ride. Partly because I had a beautiful Catalan girl to distract me from my new bike but also because we took the train to Bruna’s family’s home in the heart of the Catalan countryside. Okay….Maybe I could have thrown my legs over the top tube for a quick spin. But as I walked through the Barcelona on our way to the train station, I felt It couldn’t start like this. I’ve never owned a brand new bike, and with all these hopes and expectations I think it’s similar to having sex for the first time. No, here me out. Nobody wants their first there first time to be some mediocre 30 second flop and tell yourself it’s okay, next time will be better. No, I want to ease into it, get everything fitting and working properly(the bike that is) and then go for a nice long shakedown. Put the hammer down, ride it hard, test the limits, let the relationship between man and bike flourish. This was not the place. The first person to ride the bike was Neus, Bruna’s mother who adoringly pulled the bike out of my hands as we exited the train station. She didn’t get far as the look road pedals seemed to confuse her and I was ready for the ride to come the next day.
It was awesome. Mounted with Michelin Mud 2 tires and straddling my trusty Selle Italia saddle we ripped along the the countryside. No Cyclometer, no maps, no goals, not even a spare tube (didn’t have the time to pick one up in Barcelona) it was just as I imagined. It was stupid fast on anything resembling hardpack and I was able to negotiate rock gardens and bunny hop logs, tear up singletrack climbs and after all this the trail merged into I nice country road. I followed this to the town of Torello and went offroad again up a hiking trail to the castle of Torello. A runner I met at the base seemed surprised that I was riding what looked like a road bike and warned me the trail was really steep and I shouldn’t go.. .Surprising him with the few Catalan words I know I described the bike and joked that my legs are huge and I should be fine. Turns out I was wrong as I proceeded to shoulder the bike to walk up most the steep steps up to the castle. Whatever…we made it. On the way back climbing I could help but love the Apex drivetrain, I grew up riding Mid level Shimano road and Mountain comments. My Giant Trance had Sram x9 components and they were nice, but It was so incredibly satisfying to stand on the pedals on the climb back up the country road and tick on off on into higher gear. Having never ridden a double tap equipped bike I’m a now a convert after just one ride. I’m sure the higher end Sram gruppos offer faster shifting, lighter weight and more consistency but the Apex suites my needs. Returning at sunset I enjoyed a coffee and dinner.
I’m glad my first time was like this. It doesn’t stand stand out as my longest ride, or hardest, most epic, dangerous, picturesque. It was however truly enjoyable in a way I can’t quite convey. It’s a feeling of empowerment that….for me, is similar to the first big trip I took. When I bought a one way ticket to India, and never looked back. A sense that for the first time I am free, of judgment, of my known world, of any restrictions or hesitations. I can go wherever and do whatever I want in that exact moment. Perhaps it’s placebo of a new bike, but I’m not so sure. I’ll let know you after a month or so.
Not to be
I had been thinking about biking the Camino De Santiago but time was short here in Spain and I still had some things to sort out with the bike fit and fenders would be nice on a tour.
Bruna had suggested that we make a 160 km bike trip from Olot to Sant Feliu de Guixols to ring in the new year. Is this true love? I meet a girl who actually suggests we hop on a bike and ride all day and celebrate new year exhausted and sore. Unfortunately she had severely burned her legs waxing and wasn’t able to do the ride. This meant I was able to get a few more country rides in and we celebrated new years in Barcelona. The riding in Barcelona is a mixed bag. If you stick to the bike paths and separate bike lanes you can actually get around quite quickly. Drivers are very patient and courteous, it’s all the scooters you have to worry about. However the streets often dead end into blocks of stairs on hills and the one way streets are beyond annoying. I was able toss on the stock Vittoria Randonneur tires to escape the chaos of the city and put some road miles in the hills beyond Barcelona. I had to keep reminding myself I’m on a compact drivetrain on the road climbs and I should be in the middler of that dinner plate sized rear cassette. I wouldn’t trade it though I was in the granny gear multiple times on steep loose single track climbs to the gear ratios seem great for me. I never wanted more, even on my fast descents.
Every bike has a certain attitude and responds differently to different types of riding. One isn’t better than another, just tailored to different needs. The most surprising thing I found was how much I was standing on the pedals on offroad climbs. I’m coming from a 5″ full suspension mountain bike, so the change is quite drastic. The bike just begs for more, and I enjoy fulfulling it’s wishes. The second thing I noticed how incredibly confident the bike feels. I think this due to how smooth and stable the whole package and the knowledge I can always slow things down quickly with the BB7’s . I quickly felt confident dropping into techy sections with roots and small drops and had no qualms braking late into corners. While I can’t say it’s as fast as a racing bike on the road or as effortless as a modern mountain bike offroad, I haven’t found a trail or road I couldn’t ride. I really can do 90% of the riding I used to do on two bikes with just the Viaje and it is liberating to have the freedom to ride whatever I feel like on a given day. It is just an all around fun, comfortable and fast bike and I’m looking forward to putting many more miles on it.