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  1. #1
    Member mtnguy's Avatar
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    Skyline Drive Bike Trip

    I have been reading through the touring forum since signing up, and there is a lot of information to absorb. Taking the easy way out, I thought I would ask some questions that have probably previously been covered.

    I want to do a spring trip across the Skyline Drive, starting at Front Royal, and stopping at 3 of the campgrounds (Mathews Arm, Big Meadows, Loft Mtn). That would put me doing about 22 miles the 1st day, 30 each day over the next 2 days, then another 30 to a campground in Crozet, and another 30 to get home. No long distance days.

    My bike is a Shogun 200. Some of the details that might be applicable:

    The frame is listed as “Tange 900 CR MO double butted tubes”. I only have about 8000 miles on this frame.

    I have 27x1 ¼ tires on Araya 27x1 ¼” 36 spoke aluminum rims. The front tire has about 1500 miles on it, but still looks good. The rear tire has about 500 miles on it. The wheels were respoked last summer….after breaking a spoke.

    6 speed cassette, 14-28

    Crank gears are 52, 42, 30

    My bike:


    IMG_5001.jpg

    Is there anything that stands out with my setup that could potentially be a problem ??

    I already have a rear rack, along with panniers. I realize I also need a front rack and panniers for proper balance, and I have been shopping for those. I found a model for Jandd that should fit my needs, but I am open to suggestions on those. The model I am looking at is the “Extreme”. http://www.jandd.com/detail.asp?PRODUCT_ID=FREXT I have a bottom eyelet on my front forks, but no mid fork braze-on, so I would also need 1 of the clamp kits.

    I am also working on getting 10-15 lbs. off of my seat post.

    Thanks in Advance.
    Last edited by mtnguy; 02-12-12 at 09:15 AM.
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  2. #2
    Because I thought I could ks1g's Avatar
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    Consider carrying more water. There has been some discussion of Skyline Drive day rides on a local cycling list. Apparently the water is off or is not considered potable at a few spots. Some of this might be seasonal. I'm sure the campgrounds and major stops are OK, and you could call or email the park ahead of time. For your 1st night, there's a small store in Elkwallow a little south of the campgrounds. You'll need/want a light (maybe taillight, too) for the tunnel south of Thornton Gap.

    Only you can decide if your gearing is low enough for several miles of steady climbing at a time with a loaded bike. I might want something a little lower, but I prefer to spin my way up anyway. Have fun!

  3. #3
    Member mtnguy's Avatar
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    I kinda forgot about the tunnel. I use a flashing red rear light, but maybe will use a small flashlight through the tunnel so I don't hit a pothole or anything.

    Even though I only have 2 water cages, I will carry extra water, and fill-up at the campground portable water hydrants. I might have room for 2 more cages, and will look into that. The water is usually off until the campgrounds open, and Mathews Arm and Loft Mtn. are not even schedule to open until May 11th.

    The gearing is a concern. With just me on the bike I am OK, but an extra 30 pounds or so might be a killer....especially the pull up to Loft Mtn. I will check with my bike shop to see if a different cassette may work.

    Thanks for the reply.
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    Fenders?

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    It's a nice bike but unless you're about 6'5" you'll have some trouble climbing long hills with your bar that high without weight in front panniers. Look at where the front of the handlebar is compared with the front axle - it's behind it - which means your front will be unweighted on climbs, but it might work pretty good with that front rack. IRD sells a newer variation of the same rack with a cutout for the brakes but perhaps that wouldn't be an issue with your calipers. http://store.somafab.com/lhalfrra.html

    I have a japanese vintage bike the same size with very similar geometry and it's not an ideal climber because of the relaxed geometry but I love the short top tube length relative to the seat tube height. My next bike will be smaller with steeper geo for better climbing.
    Last edited by Clem von Jones; 02-12-12 at 12:34 PM.

  6. #6
    Member mtnguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Clem von Jones View Post
    It's a nice bike but unless you're about 6'5" you'll have some trouble climbing long hills with your bar that high without weight in front panniers. Look at where the front of the handlebar is compared with the front axle - it's behind it - which means your front will be unweighted on climbs, but it might work pretty good with that front rack. IRD sells a newer variation of the same rack with a cutout for the brakes but perhaps that wouldn't be an issue with your calipers. http://store.somafab.com/lhalfrra.html

    I have a japanese vintage bike the same size with very similar geometry and it's not an ideal climber because of the relaxed geometry but I love the short top tube length relative to the seat tube height. My next bike will be smaller with steeper geo for better climbing.
    Hmmm......I never noticed the geometry of the bike. That is where y'all can give me good feedback of stuff I overlook. I do plan on adding weight to the front axle with panniers. I read somewhere that a 60/40 (front/rear) weight distribution was probably the best. I feel best climbing in a more upright position, so I definitively need weight up at the front.

    I am not quite 6'5".....but I am at 6'3".

    Thanks for the heads up on the IRD....that is about $30 cheaper than the Jandd.

    Quote Originally Posted by Grumpybear View Post
    Fenders?
    For this short of trip I hope to pick a week of good weather.
    Last edited by mtnguy; 02-12-12 at 01:09 PM.
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  7. #7
    train safe buelito's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ks1g View Post
    For your 1st night, there's a small store in Elkwallow a little south of the campgrounds.
    be aware that the ride to the Elkswallow store is ALL downhill from the campground, and it is one of the tougher hills coming back... (about 3 miles long).

    train safe
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  8. #8
    Member mtnguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by buelito View Post
    be aware that the ride to the Elkswallow store is ALL downhill from the campground, and it is one of the tougher hills coming back... (about 3 miles long).

    train safe
    Thanks. I am not as familiar with the northern district as I am with the central and southern districts.
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  9. #9
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    Pretty good write-up with elevation profiles, in case you haven't come across them yet.

    http://bikewashington.org/routes/skyline/index.htm
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    Check with you LBS, but an easier way to lower gearing might be a swap of chainrings on the from. For a single trip in that hilly area, you could ditch the outside ring altogether, and mount a 24 & 34 ring. If you still want a 3rd high gear then get a 44. Lower the derailleur, and just go with it as a double/triple. You're using barends, so friction shifting is easy to adjust.

    If this trip is just to try out touring and you are going in warm weather, forget all the new front racks and panniers and fenders. Just go light on gear and use what you got. You have short distance, are close to home, so you most likely can change start date/plans due to weather. Also a bailout wouldn't be too big an issue so close to home. Don't over think this, just relax and do it.
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  11. #11
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    +1 on not needing a front rack and panniers. For a reasonably short trip with possible resupply points (e.g., Big Meadows store) you can likely get away with just rear panniers, depending how compact your camping gear is.

    I also agree about getting a smaller chainring(s). You'll likely have a hard time finding a larger six-speed freewheel.

    Sounds like you are familiar with the Drive, but don't forget the 5+ mile uphill from Front Royal at the start and allow plenty of time for it. It can be a slog when loaded (it's been a long time since I did my Skyline Drive bike tour - I'm now down there mostly for backpacking - but I distinctly remember it!). Depending how early you go in the spring, don't count on much being open. Elkwallow and Loft Mountain "wayside" stores don't open until late April, for example, and Matthews Arm and Loft Mountain campgrounds not until early May (as you noted). The park's opening schedule is at http://www.nps.gov/shen/planyourvisi...g-schedule.htm

    As an experienced backcountry camper at SNP, I'll also add: don't plan on pulling off to camp in the woods in the park. The rangers are very picky about this and know a lot of the places to look, and fines can be high.

  12. #12
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    Cars on the drive can be scary

    I have ridden the drive twice and I can't emphsize enough to pack light. The first run for me nearly killed me and I learned that I could have gone without about 10 pounds of stuff. The hill out of Front Royal is an absolute killer. The hill is not as bad as the cars. The Front Royal entrance is the most heavly used and sees the most traffic. Some people are so busy watching the scenery that they just don't see you. I can remember 3 close calls from those trips. Good luck with it don't be afraid to use those rest stops.

  13. #13
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    Good point about the cars. Because of the heavily treed nature (pardon the pun) of the Drive, with patchy sunlight streaming through the trees, sometimes it can be hard to see things along the road when you are driving. I would definitely wear a high-vis green or orange vest/jacket/jersey, and also run a powerful rear blinker light like the newer Planet Bike Superflash (I think it's called).

  14. #14
    Member mtnguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dellphinus View Post
    Pretty good write-up with elevation profiles, in case you haven't come across them yet.

    http://bikewashington.org/routes/skyline/index.htm
    That is a great website for the elevation profiles….I had not run across that yet. Many thanks.


    Quote Originally Posted by VT_Speed_TR View Post
    Check with you LBS, but an easier way to lower gearing might be a swap of chainrings on the from. For a single trip in that hilly area, you could ditch the outside ring altogether, and mount a 24 & 34 ring. If you still want a 3rd high gear then get a 44. Lower the derailleur, and just go with it as a double/triple. You're using barends, so friction shifting is easy to adjust.

    If this trip is just to try out touring and you are going in warm weather, forget all the new front racks and panniers and fenders. Just go light on gear and use what you got. You have short distance, are close to home, so you most likely can change start date/plans due to weather. Also a bailout wouldn't be too big an issue so close to home. Don't over think this, just relax and do it.
    I am fortunate to live near the Drive where I can set my own schedule, but within a window. 2 of the campgrounds open May 11th, so that only gives me about a 2 week window before the busy Memorial Day traffic starts up, and then of course the summer tourists after that.

    I will check with my bike shop to see what the options are…..the mechanics are sharp there. My bike came with just a 52 & 40 crank. I had 1 shop tell me that I could not use a triple crank without a new derailleur.....that is when I switched shops. My current mechanic had my current triple in stock, and told me beforehand that I would not be able to use my smallest 3 cassette gears because they would bottom out on the derailleur, but all else would work……he called that 1. Since I use my bike for other riding also, I will have to find a happy medium.

    BTW, even though it looks to be barend shifting in the photo, it is actually stem shifting.

    Quote Originally Posted by briwasson View Post
    +1 on not needing a front rack and panniers. For a reasonably short trip with possible resupply points (e.g., Big Meadows store) you can likely get away with just rear panniers, depending how compact your camping gear is.

    I also agree about getting a smaller chainring(s). You'll likely have a hard time finding a larger six-speed freewheel.

    Sounds like you are familiar with the Drive, but don't forget the 5+ mile uphill from Front Royal at the start and allow plenty of time for it. It can be a slog when loaded (it's been a long time since I did my Skyline Drive bike tour - I'm now down there mostly for backpacking - but I distinctly remember it!). Depending how early you go in the spring, don't count on much being open. Elkwallow and Loft Mountain "wayside" stores don't open until late April, for example, and Matthews Arm and Loft Mountain campgrounds not until early May (as you noted).
    high.
    Looking at the elevation profile that Dellphinus linked to, the 1st climb looks tough. But it also looks very similar to the climb from Swift Run Gap north, and I have done that many times…..but up until now I have not done that with a load.

    I do plan on buying most of my food stuff at the Waysides…..and eat many meals there, also…….cash and credit cards are liter than food. Other than the weight distributing problems indicated by Clem von Jones, I could probably do without the front panniers because I intend to travel lite. But the fact that I need to set the panniers near the rear of the rack because of my big feet, I am going to have to do some speermenting (Ricky Ricardo word) to see what is going to work.
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    its a little thing but be aware of bugs, lots of flying. biting bugs in April/May there.

  16. #16
    Senior Member JimF22003's Avatar
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    Any of the entrances from the side roads (Swift Run, Thornton Gap) are much steeper than the north entrance at Front Royal. The first 5-6 miles are a steady uphill, but only in a couple of places (on switchbacks mainly) does it get above 6%. If you're just itching for some extra climbing the ride down into Sperryville on 211 is a blast. Never done it with a loaded touring bike though. Sounds like a fun trip!
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    Quote Originally Posted by mtnguy View Post
    Looking at the elevation profile that Dellphinus linked to, the 1st climb looks tough. But it also looks very similar to the climb from Swift Run Gap north, and I have done that many times…..but up until now I have not done that with a load.
    The climb from Front Royal is one of those long but not super hard, get into a groove, lose yourself in the rhythm of the climb things.

    Be sure to stop at Skyland restaurant and have a slice of the berry ice cream pie thing.
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    Just looking at that profile coming out of Front Royal, I'm out of breath!!!!!!!

    Now I gotta do this too!!!!! Good stuff!!!!!
    I'm just trying to be the person my dog thinks I am.

  19. #19
    Senior Member drrobwave's Avatar
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    Did the entire Skyline from Afton to Front Royal and back last May ( that was my second Skyline Ride). We stayed at Big Meadows Lodge for the in between nights. If you go earlier than May not everything is open and it is hard to find out was is open and what is not. Make sure you have good lights and extra batteries, we got pulled by a park ranger. We were legal, but got the stupid biker speech on a foggy day. There are facilities approximately every 25 miles (after May), the food is good in the lodges and grills and the waysides are well stocked with food, not so much with bike items. If you eat in the lodges save room for dessert!

    50 miles a day was all I wanted with 7500 feet elevation gain everyday. My low gearing was 30 on the front and 32 on the rear - i am 6'2" and 225 and carried 20lbs of gear. If you are just going 20-30 miles a day you might make it on the gearing you have if you are a strong rider or take lots of pics and stops.

    The roughest day is up out of Front Royal, but don't discount the rest of the trip as any easier. We thought from Big Meadows to Front Royal was going to be a breeze, but that Climb out of Elk Wallow wayside ate our lunch. The same was true from Big Meadows to Afton - tough day.

    Just to let you know there are only a few places where you will use the gears in between - we found we were either spinning uphill at 6 mph or flying downhill at 30mph.

    Weather is wet!!! And even in May you can get snow and sleet. If it's raining the deer will be in the middle of the road drinking water out of the pot holes - Look out they don't move! It can also get extremely hot, and I prefer the cold when having to spin at 6mph for 15 miles.

    Lastly and coming form mostly a backpacking background, don't take anything you don't need. Weight is important when you are doing that kind of elevation gain. Use the resources at the waysides and the lodges (even though the lodges are a mile or so off the Drive). Leave off the front panniers if you can and just a bar bag and back panniers.

    The biggest issue we had was our bikes were not true tourers and had 23c tires with 120psi. We tried to top off using CO2 everyday and found out that a good floor pump was a necessity. Lower pressure tires might have helped with the mini pump, but to contradict my last paragraph - a good pump would have been worth the weight!

    We had a great time even though it rained most of the trip. I think we are planning a trip first part of May again this year either on the C&O towpath and GAP or doing a loop that incorporates the the Blue Ridge Parkway South of Roanoke.

    Godspeed!
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  20. #20
    Member mtnguy's Avatar
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    Great report, drrobwave. Thanks !!
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  21. #21
    Member mtnguy's Avatar
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    I haven't updated this thread over the last couple of weeks......been trying to get er' done. So here is the latest:

    I have added a Jandd Extreme front rack:
    Jandd Rack (1).jpg

    Bike.jpg

    Neither of the P-clip sizes that came with the rack would fit, so I had to do an extension since the rack was not close to the bike forks:
    Extension.jpg]

    My LBS replaced my 6 speed gears with a 7 speed, including a "rescue" gear:
    Jandd Rack (2).jpg


    I found a sweet deal via Craig's List on a MSR Hubba tent and footprint. I bought a MSR stove (burner) and Primus pot and lid/frying pan at a local gear swap. I am still trying to figure out what to do on a sleeping bag and pad.......suggestions are welcome.

    Now I gotta get back on the bike.....my LBS has had my bike for the last week.
    Last edited by mtnguy; 04-12-12 at 02:17 PM.
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  22. #22
    eternalvoyage
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    Nice looking setup.

    One mistake a lot of people have made is not making sure all the rack fasteners are extra secure. Nyloc nuts and medium strength threadlockers are both good. (Combining the two has worked very well for me.)
    Last edited by Niles H.; 04-12-12 at 02:26 PM.

  23. #23
    Member mtnguy's Avatar
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    Thanks for the suggestion, Niles. I used the nylocs that came with the rack for the nuts on the bottom eyelets, as well as the outer nut on the fork extension. Again, the bolt that came with the rack was useless......it was much too short. I double nutted the bolt at the P-clip, but only used 1 nut against the inside of the rack....I might need to add a 2nd nut there.

    I am still trying to figure out the best way to secure the hook on the bottom of the panniers so the hook does not slide off. The bottom most horizontal bar on the Jandd has a support welded to the back of the bar to keep the hook in place that direction, but there is nothing to keep it from slipping forward. I am thinking a large cable tie around the bar might do the trick. It would be catastrophic if that hook came off and got into my spokes.
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  24. #24
    eternalvoyage
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    Sounds like you're on it.

    Another area to secure is the rack-to-pannier connection. When going fast down a hill, riding over a bump can toss the panniers upward, sometimes rather forcefully. This can be inconvenient, distracting, damaging, or even dangerous. Panniers can come off completely, or they can be left hanging and wobbling around on one hook (among other possibilities).

    I was much happier with my setups when I solved this one completely. There are different solutions, and with certain pannier mounting systems it isn't a problem. It's best to make sure things are extra secure, and the problem just can't happen.

    (If it can't happen, it won't happen = the positive side of Murphy's Law.)
    Last edited by Niles H.; 04-12-12 at 04:21 PM.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by mtnguy View Post
    I am still trying to figure out the best way to secure the hook on the bottom of the panniers so the hook does not slide off. The bottom most horizontal bar on the Jandd has a support welded to the back of the bar to keep the hook in place that direction, but there is nothing to keep it from slipping forward. I am thinking a large cable tie around the bar might do the trick. It would be catastrophic if that hook came off and got into my spokes.
    Wire or cable tie will work. I'd use 2 or 3 ties looped together. One would be cinched down to the rack horizontal member very tight (use pliers to pull tight). The second tie would form the receptor loop for the pannier hook - so make the diameter appropriate. BTW, the very small ties are not very strong - you may need longer ties, which usually have greater cross-sectional area / strength.

    This is how Tubus does it for lowriders:

    http://www.tubus.com/product.php?xn=71

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