In February 2017, Missing Link member Marc L. and ex-Linker Owen traveled to the mountains of central Mexico with two cyclist friends from Guadalajara. Marc relays:
Everyone warned me; “Luciano likes to make people suffer. If he hasn’t actually done the route before, don’t believe anything he says.” Yet, I set out under the premise of a 50km two day dirt ride—I figure, with so little distance, how bad can it be? What I didn’t realize until we set out was that a considerable section of our ‘route’ was unknown to any of us.
We wake before dawn and pedaled to the outskirts of Guadalajara to find the bus for Mascota, a remote town 4 hours west and high in the Sierra Madre mountains. To my surprise, the bus is comfy and air-conditioned, so I manage to sleep for much of the ride before the going gets twisty and we climb into the mountains.
Mascota is paved in cobblestones, dusty and dry. Luciano, our ‘navigator’ although he has never ridden the route before, informs us that we may not find water on this trip and that we should pack enough for two days. I buy 6 liters of water, weighing my bags down more than a little. We set off down a dusty mainly-dirt road with four strips of pavement. Luciano remarks he thought this road was completely paved; a sign of things to come. We pass through the agricultural outskirts of Mascota heading directly toward the mountains.
Soon, the semi-paved road gives way to rough cobblestones and a ridiculously steep grade! I get into my lowest gear, 28-32, and attempt to ride—only to repeatedly get hung up at low speed on the large rocks which make up the road. All too soon, all four of us are walking in the hot mid-afternoon sun. After half an hour, I begin to worry about my arms giving out from pushing my fully laden bike; I certainly had not anticipated my upper-body strength (or lack thereof) as being especially important for this trip.
We take a moment to hydrate and eat. Luciano offers me a guava, and my life changes completely; I go so far as to proclaim I’d climb all we had done so far again for another delicious fruit. He gives me another and I adopt the slogan “Give me hope or give me guavas.” This came as a play on Luciano’s tendency to manage expectations by dashing any ray of hope that a climb may end or the route may become any more ride-able.
We walk for another hour. Eventually it turns to dusty hard-pack and the descent begins: this part is an absolute blast. After several miles we come to a river crossing, after which the road splits: we choose to stay in the river valley, which becomes wider and we wind our way through several small farms.
I soon find myself watching the sky turn gently pink from the porch of a locked, unoccupied farm house. My legs burn with lactic acid from the hard climb. Just before finding this abandoned rancho, our ‘road’ crossed the river 5 or 6 times, several of them deep enough that pedaling through caused my feet to go underwater. The feeling of freezing water splashing over my dusty, sunbaked legs felt like renewal. Immediately upon leaning up our bikes, I sat on the porch, looking out at the fields in the lush mountain valley while rolling out my legs with a full soda can for what feels like a glorious eternity. After feasting on nuts, canned tuna, and fruit, we pass out at 8pm.
I did this trip on my mid-90’s steel Schwinn High Planes mountain frame, built up with bits from the used-parts-bin as a no-frills bulletproof dirt touring bike. We are incredibly lucky in the States to have a glut of bikes like this easily available; most used bike shops (Missing Link included) sell similarly equipped bikes for 200-400. I went for reliability and flexibility over weight savings and modern niceties, choosing a triple crankset, 8 speed friction shifting, V brakes, a rear rack with panniers, and Kenda Nevegal tires. The bike held up perfectly—although the panniers often snagged when the going got rocky and narrow.
Owen, an ex-Linker, and Sofia rode older mountain bikes as well, while our fancy friend Luciano rode a Surly ECR with frame bags rather than panniers. We all made it, but it was clear that the ECR was definitely the most enjoyable tool for the job. I have not generally been a huge advocate of fat-tire bikes, but this trip made me understand the appeal of some extra cushion and grip for weird routes on surfaces unfriendly to bicycles. The plus-size high volume 3.0” 29r tires set up tubeless at 9psi eat cobblestones for breakfast and having weight distributed properly eased the hours of hike-a-bike that punctuated the trip.
After sleeping for 12 hours, waking occasionally to the somewhat alarming screams of a horse and some barking dogs, we set off in the morning on a very promising, easy dirt road. I immediately attempt a too-deep river crossing and soak both my socks, but otherwise the going is easy... for about 10 minutes.
The road ends between a couple houses. Only a rocky, steep footpath continues in our direction. “No, no…” Luciano shakes his head and turns back. We ask a woman at a nearby rancho for directions to San Sebastian de Oeste. She explains that the faint path over yonder is the pilgrim route and the only way forward. We have at least two hours of scrambling in store for us, plus two steep valleys with river crossings, and she promises it will be very, very difficult with bikes.
Almost immediately the footpath becomes unride-able. We descend a treacherous, narrow path to a river bridged by a couple sticks on some rocks. Climbing up the other side of the valley is an exercise in shoving my bike a few feet up the path by the bars—a motion not unlike a bench press—then scrambling up between the rocks to get next to it, and repeating.
At the next stream crossing we stop for lunch. “I think we should have gone left at that tractor yesterday.” I look at Luciano with dismay. “But the woman we asked said this was the way?” He shakes his head. “Yes, but it wasn’t supposed to be like this. We are kind of lost.”
“Lost? But we’ll get there, yeah?”
“Sure. This just isn’t the route.”
I distinctly remember him saying he didn’t know how we’d traverse this segment. “Was there actually a route?”
We set off and I promptly get a pinch flat on the front from smashing my bike against rocks repeatedly in my attempt to roll it up the ridiculous path. Moving on, we finally get to a few short segments where I can get on my bike and bounce over the scree for a few moments, only to snag my panniers on a branch or hit a rock too large to roll over.
After what feels like an eternity of ride, push, ride, the trail becomes far more manageable. We descend a glorious, mildly technical single-track for quite some distance, which eventually connects us to a dirt road. We stop again for food and I look at the hillside: our road is visible ascending as far as the eye can see up the mountain. Excellent.
We catch a break in that this climb is almost all dirt with a few short, steep cobblestone sections. Unfortunately all of us are pretty tired from the morning’s exertions and it is now the hottest part of the day. We switchback up and up, finally regrouping two hours later at the top. Ahead of us is several miles of steep descent on a cobblestone and dirt road, which for the first time on our ride is moderately trafficked. We agree to meet at the plaza in San Sebastian. I try to follow Luciano, but this is where his setup with weight balance and low-pressure fat tires gives a decisive advantage and I quickly lose sight of him.
As my hands begin to blister and my feet go numb, I finally roll into the town and find the plaza. Soon we are at a hotel, celebrating with showers and beer.
This trip was one of the most physically demanding things I’ve ever done and I would not recommend our specific route. Despite all my complaining, Luciano proved to have an excellent sense of direction and I thank him for projecting enough confidence to inspire all of us to try this untested route. Above all, the scenery was stunning and I feel incredibly lucky to have had the chance to get so far off the beaten path.
Thanks for reading and check back soon for local East Bay cycling routes and adventure ideas!
As of Monday, October 24th, the Missing Link Annex at 1961 Shattuck Avenue is closed
. We will continue to operate a full-service repair shop from our main store at 1988 Shattuck.
Thank you for your years of loyalty, we will continue to serve you at the highest level in our new (old) location.
As many of you are already aware, two windows were broken at our shop on Sunday night during demonstrations in Berkeley for Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and others killed by police. We are deeply grateful to the marchers who intervened to prevent anyone from taking bikes or entering our shop, to all the people who helped us clean up all the broken glass, and to everyone who has contacted us to express their love & concern. We’re relieved that no one was injured in the process of looking out for us, and we are heartened to see the outpouring of concern & involvement for issues of justice in our society.
Some people have been asking how they can help or expressing concern about our expenses, or even offering donations. We want to reassure you & let you know that while we are touched by these gestures, we are not in need of donations at this time. But as a small worker-owned enterprise, we do depend on you. So the best way for concerned people to support us & ensure that we continue to stick around, is simply through supporting us by coming to us with your cycling needs. If you don't need anything right now, write a review or tell your friends about us, or keep in touch with us through social media or by joining our email list.
You can also support us by supporting the communities we are all a part of. Grow our community of cyclists by joining or volunteering for our hard-working advocates at Bike East Bay, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Marin Bicycle Coalition, & others. Support other worker-owned businesses & spread awareness of the cooperative movement. And please take steps to contribute to the fight for social justice in ways that feel meaningful & important to you.
PS - If you see boards over our windows in the coming days, don't worry! It's just a precaution.
Are you envisioning sharing the joy of cycling with someone special this holiday season, with a shiny new bike? Here are our top 10 reasons why you should buy from a local bike shop and not a department store or online.
1. Knowledge. We focus on bikes; it's what we know and love. We can recommend the right bike for you or your child based on riding style, experience, and age and ability level, and offer advice on everything from helmet fitting to local cycling events. You won't find that at the department store.
2. Service and Support. All new bikes will need readjustment after your first few rides to keep them working properly. That's why when you buy from us, you get a year of free tune-ups and the confidence that our mechanics can help you with any issue you may experience, throughout the life of the bike. That's something a big box store can't provide.
3. Professional Assembly. All our bikes come assembled by trained mechanics and are checked over again before they are sold. When it comes to department store bikes, we've seen it all - brakes that don't work, forks installed backwards, you name it! And we've watched many customers spend hours in frustration trying to assemble their online "bike in a box" purchases. Having a shop assemble it for you can add $100 to the cost of the bike.
4. Quality and Safety. A bicycle is a vehicle, and you're depending on it not to fail! When you buy a correctly assembled bike from a respected brand, you know you're getting something that will last. Department store bikes & bikes sold online are more cheap toy than road-worthy bicycle.
5. Warranty. When you buy from a local shop like the Missing Link, if anything goes wrong, we are here to help. Our bikes come with manufacturer's frame warranties from Trek, Bianchi, Surly, Jamis, Linus, & Dahon, and components are covered by warranty for a minimum of one year.
6. The Right Fit. A bike that fits is easier to ride & won't hurt your body, so getting the right size and having it properly adjusted is important. Mass merchants do not offer this service.
7. Demo. We provide the opportunity to try before you buy. If you or your child would like to test ride a bike, it's no problem - in fact, we encourage it! We also have a 30-day exchange policy on all new bikes, so you can be confident in your purchase.
8. Trade-in Policy. We accept bicycle trade-ins, which is a big help to parents if your child has outgrown their existing bike. And when they outgrow this one, we'll be here to help you with the next size up!
9. Support the Local Economy. When you shop local, more of your money will stay in your community to benefit your friends and neighbors. And local shops like Missing Link give back to the community in many direct ways as well. You may even have seen us helping out at events in the cycling community or at your child's school.
10. Human Connection. Wouldn't you rather buy from someone who cares? Department store clerks usually aren't Bike People, and their relationship with you ends as soon as you leave the store. Let us share our passion for bikes with you!
How to keep your beloved bike from being stolen in the bike-thief-infested Bay Area:
1) GET A LOCK THAT WORKS!
This means a high-security bike lock – either a U-lock, chain, or folding lock. There are big differences in quality and security among available locks, so make sure you are choosing a high-security model from a well-respected company. Cables are ok for locking your components (see below), but absolutely not good enough for your frame.
U-locks: The most popular choice. U-locks work well in combination with cables, are easy to use & easy to carry. They work with most bike parking racks, parking meters, & signposts.
Chains: Heavy-duty bike chains from Kryptonite have the advantage of being flexible, have a tough nylon cover to protect your bike’s finish, & come in several lengths & security levels. They are heavier than U-locks & folding locks.
Folding Locks: The Abus Bordo series of folding locks offer flexibility in locking. They are easier to get around fat tires or large diameter bike frames (like on some folding bikes) than a U-lock. They are also easy to carry with the included bracket, & weigh less than a comparable U-lock or chain.
2) USE YOUR LOCKS CORRECTLY
Use your main lock – whether a U-lock, chain, or folding lock - to lock (at a minimum) your frame & rear wheel to a solid, immovable object.
Use your main lock on the rear wheel rather than the front because the rear wheel is much more expensive to replace & no more difficult to steal. These diagrams show the correct placement of a U-lock to secure the frame & the rear wheel, or the frame & both wheels. We used to recommend putting the U-lock around the rim & tire, & INSIDE the rear triangle of the frame as shown in fig. 2. If space is tight, this is still an acceptable option, but to avoid the possibility of a thief sawing through the tire, inner tube, & rim in order to get the bike, it's preferable to place the U-lock around the back part of the frame (the seat stays), through the rear wheel if you can (fig. 3).
Take accessories like lights with you, and don’t forget to also lock your wheels, saddle, & seatpost!
Stolen wheels, saddles, & seatposts are extremely common, & these items are expensive to replace. It takes about 6 seconds to remove a quick-release front or rear wheel. Bolt-on wheels take only slightly longer with a tool that fits in your pocket. We recommend that you use one of the following methods to lock your wheels, saddle, & seatpost.
WHEEL LOCKING METHODS
U-lock + cable: Probably the most popular method. Put one U-lock around the bike parking rack & the rear wheel (inside the rear triangle of the frame), & run a cable from the U-lock around the front wheel. Although cables are easily cut, we find that thieves in our area typically won’t bother just to get a front wheel. Pros: less costly than some other options, relatively easy to use. Cons: less secure than a U-lock or locking wheel skewers, some people find it inconvenient.
Two U-locks: Put one U-lock around the bike parking rack & the rear wheel (through the frame), & a second U-lock around the frame & front wheel. Pros: very secure. Cons: heavy to carry, you have to buy 2 locks, requires 2 keys.
Pinhead or Pitlock wheel locks: Replace your wheels’ quick-release skewers with a skewer which requires a key to open, so they are locked on to your frame. Pinhead also makes a lock for bolt-on wheels. Pros: very secure, very convenient when locking up your bike, lightweight & nothing additional to carry around (except the key). Cons: higher cost than some other options, you must have the key with you if you want to remove your wheel or bring your bike to a shop for maintenance.
SADDLE/SEATPOST LOCKING OPTIONS
Seat leash cable: This is a thin cable which goes around your frame & under the saddle clamp, tethering the saddle & seatpost to the frame. Extra cable length is taken up by coiling it around the seatpost. A determined thief could disassemble the saddle clamp & remove the cable, but we very rarely see that happen.
Seat leash chain: This is a short chain with a built-in combination lock which goes around the rails of the saddle & your frame.
DIY seat leash: Some people use a length of old bicycle chain inside a section of an old inner tube (to protect your frame), & fasten it around the saddle rails & the frame with the help of a chain tool.
Pinhead or Pitlock locking seatpost binder bolt: These replace your existing quick-release or allen key binder bolt (which holds the seatpost to the frame) with one that requires a key to open, & come in kits that include wheel locks using the same key. Not compatible with all types of seatpost collars – sometimes you can replace the seatpost collar with a compatible style.
Anti-theft binder bolts/seatpost bolts: These bolts use a customized hex head with a pin in the center & include the specialized tool to fit it. They are available in various lengths & sizes to attach your seatpost to the frame & the saddle to the seatpost.
HEADSET LOCKING OPTIONS
In rare cases, a thief may steal the stem & handlebar from the bike, along with everything that is attached to the handlebar such as the shifters & brake levers. This is mostly a concern when bikes are left parked outdoors overnight, or when you have very valuable components. Here are some methods for securing those components.
Pinhead headset lock: Pinhead’s 4-pack of locking skewers includes locks for the front & rear wheels, seatpost, & headset. The headset lock replaces the top cap & adjusting bolt on a threadless headset, thereby locking the stem onto the bike. A determined thief could still remove the handlebar from the stem.
Anti-theft bolts: The customized hex head with pin bolts we have for locking the seatpost, may also work for the headset in some cases. As above, a thief could still remove the handlebar from the stem.
DIY candle wax method: Some riders will drip candle wax into the heads of the bolts for the components they want to secure. The wax will have to be carefully picked out before a tool can be used on the bolt, & this is too time-consuming for most thieves. Don’t use this method for anything you need to adjust regularly.
3) BE SMART & MINIMIZE RISK!
Always lock your bike. Lock it when you run into the store “just for a second.” Lock it when it is inside your house, office, garage, workplace, dorm room, or car.
Lock it if it’s in your yard – even if there’s a fence. Lock it inside of bike parking rooms, corrals, & cages. Basically, lock your bike any time you take your eyes off it.
Never leave it in a car, it's just not safe. It's terrible enough to get your bike stolen. It's even worse to have to replace a car window on top of it. Thieves breaking a car window to grab a bike is more common than you may think.
If you have access to (more) secure parking, use it. Locking your bike inside a bike room at your workplace, gym, or apartment building, or in an attended parking garage, is better than locking it on the street or in your backyard. Consider taking advantage of Bikestations and/or bike lockers at BART.
Don’t leave your bike locked outside overnight, or lock it for hours every day at the same time in the same location. Don’t lock your bike to an object that is not solidly attached to the ground – a “sucker pole” is a pole that a thief can lift up to slide your lock off & take your bike. Don’t lock your bike to an object that will allow the lock to be lifted off the top, either – for example, a pole without a sign bolted to the top of it. It doesn’t matter how tall it is. Thieves will stand on a buddy’s shoulders or on top of a vehicle & take your bike. Don’t lock your bike to an object that is easily cut – such as a chain link fence, wooden fence posts or signs, trees, thin metal railings,etc. Think a thief wouldn’t cut down a tree to take your bike? Think again.
AND of course, be prepared just in case your bike does get stolen after all: take photos, record the serial number, & register your bike.
More resources & info we like on bike theft prevention & stolen bike recovery:
At the Missing Link, we always have many more people inquiring about used bikes than we have used bikes available. A used bike can be a great choice for those looking to save money or who want to reduce their environmental footprint - emphasis on the "can be." Here's what you need to know if you are considering buying a used bike.
1) Buy something that fits.
Don't be tempted into buying a bike that isn't your size just because you need something now or it seems like a good deal. It isn't a bargain if you end up paying with discomfort or injury. Bikes for adults are measured by frame size, usually in inches for city and mountain bikes and centimeters for road bikes. But a frame size that fits you well from one brand may not be the right size in another.
A very general rule of thumb for choosing a frame size is standover clearance. To check the standover on a bike, throw a leg over the frame so that you are standing over the top tube of the bike. Place your feet about shoulder-width apart, and reach behind you to grasp the saddle with one hand. With your other hand in the middle of the handlebar, lift both wheels of the bike off the ground as high as you comfortably can. The distance from the wheels to the ground should be a minimum of 1" for a road bike, 1-2" for a city/hybrid bike, and 2-4" for a mountain bike. Depending on the way the frame is designed, you might have more standover clearance, but you should not have less. Wear your cycling shoes if you use them, or a shoe that is flat and not particularly thick-soled, when you do this test.
2) It pays to be patient.
Since there is a high demand in our area for used bikes, it may take some time checking for-sale listings and inventory at local shops to find just what you are looking for, in your size.
3) Consider the overall value.
A used bike may be cheaper to buy than a new bike, but it might not be such a good deal if you have to spend $100-$200 right away getting it tuned up and replacing worn out parts. We recommend that you take the bike to a shop to see whether it needs any maintenance before you commit to buying it. The shop can also inspect it for any signs of frame damage or worn components. A good shop should be willing to do this estimate for no charge.
You'll also want to keep in mind that a used bike will not include the manufacturers' warranties, or the one free year of service that is included with a new bike from Missing Link. We offer other benefits with our new bikes as well, such as the 30-day exchange period, a 10% discount on accessories, and our buyback program.
4) Don't buy a stolen bike.
One bike is stolen every 3 hours in San Francisco. They are stolen because there is a market for them. A few minutes of effort on your part can help make sure you aren't contributing to the problem.
Reputable shops such as Missing Link, The Spoke, Changing Gears, or Street Level Cycles take steps to ensure that their used bikes are not stolen. We generally recommend avoiding flea markets entirely, as they have been trouble spots for the stolen bike trade.
If you are buying from an individual, ask if they have any documentation showing they legitimately own the bike, such as the receipt or proof of bike registration. If the seller does not have proof of ownership, check online registries to see whether the bike has been registered or is reported stolen. First, find the bike's serial number. It is usually stamped into the underside of the bottom bracket (the part of the frame where the pedals & cranks are attached), but it may also be stamped somewhere else like the rear dropouts or the headtube, or printed on a sticker instead. Check this link for more info on finding the serial number.
You can search the databases at BikeIndex.org and BikeShepherd.org using this serial number or by description. Local advocate Jenny Oh Hatfield (@plattyjo) & Stolen Bike Registry (@StolenBikesBrk & @StolenBikesSFO) also tweet stolen bike alerts, and you can tweet the serial number to the Bike Index TwitterBot @isitstolen and you will get a reply telling you whether there are any bikes reported stolen matching that serial number.
Serial numbers do have a few drawbacks, however. They can sometimes be difficult to read or entered incorrectly. For example, is that a number zero, or the letter O? Thick paint can make it hard to tell the difference between 6 or 8 or 9. And some bike companies include a manufacturer's number in addition to the serial number. For these reasons, I do recommend searching by description instead of or in addition to serial number. This way you can find any bikes that match the description, and then check whether the reported serial number looks like a match to the numbers on the bike you are considering buying.
Lastly, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. I hope I don't need to tell you this, but don't buy a bike from a random person on a street corner (unless you are a good samaritan who buys it with the intention of trying to return it to the legitimate owner). If anything seems fishy about the seller, trust your gut and don't buy the bike.
Just the other day, one of our members helped facilitate the return of a stolen bike by finding it listed on one of the online registries. And we've heard of many other happy reunions. These tools can work! Read Jenny Oh's great article and take steps to protect your ride.
Image credit: Erik Benson (local artist)
It's never too late to plan a bike tour.