388 Mile Ride: Laguna Woods, CA, to Mammoth Lakes


Local time
9:36 PM
May 5, 2009
Laguna Woods, California

Right now, I'm so excited I can hardly stand it, and that's nice, because at age 67 it is difficult to get excited about much anymore.

The reason is because I'm about to begin my first power-assisted bike trip. The way I feel right now one would think it is Christmas Eve and that I was waiting for Santa Clause to make his way down my southern California chimney, which in itself is sort of a joke, because there must be at last a thousand kids all over the world who think I am Santa. I happen to bear a striking resemblance to the old boy, particularly when I carry a little extra weight, which I do most of the time, and which is why I try to ride bicycles a lot.

The riding, however, has started to decline because of age and the usual physical problems that accompany advancing years. I find that now, after 15 years of self-supported long-distance bicycle touring all over the world, that the hobby is seriously threatened by my declining physical abilities. My wife, Kristina, who is the same age as I, is doing quite nicely thank you. Although she has an engine on a bike too, she doesn't really need one. That's because she's a genetic freak. There are a lot of those types too. You know who I'm talking about . . . the 70-year-old who looks like Joe Studley and zips by on a go-fast bike in hot pursuit of some sweet young thing. Personally, I can't stand them.

On the other hand, I don't mind the women freaks at all.

It took me quite a while to gather the necessary courage to buy my first, and so far only, bike motor. Frankly, it was an embarrassing predicament. What would all my biking friends say? They would never talk to me again. They would snicker at me, perhaps even laugh out loud. That's what Kristina did when I told her of my plan.

"I would never be caught with one of those on my bike," she declared.

Then she saw me on mine, saw how I smoothly rode up the hills with the engine, with the load and all the while pedaling, if I wanted to, and how fresh I seemed after doing it in the blistering summer heat. That's when she demanded one of her own and that worried me. She has fallen so many times that the scars on her knees and elbows look like road maps. Still, she has been able to handle the motored bike just fine. Personally, I don't think she will fall.

My rig consists of a 15-year-old 21-speed Specialized mountain bike that I purchased in near new condition off craigslist. It is powered with a Staton friction drive kit and a Robins Subaru EHO35 four stroke engine and I have the smallest friction drive accessory so that I might have the most power possible going up hills. The top speed is only about 22 mph, however, 15 to 18 mph will be just fine for my needs.

I have owned the engine assisted bike for about 18 months, but family obligations have prevented me from making a major ride until now. Still, I have very successfully put it through several tests. The most demanding was in the High Sierras one day when I climbed 6,000 feet with a 50-pound load in about 30 minutes. Without the motor, the eight-mile climb would have taken me about three hours to complete. I did pedal, with the engine, which helped considerably but without exhausting me. Without the engine, I would have had to stop every few hundred yards to let my heart catch up to my body.

One of the really nice features about my present setup is the fact that I can shift gears while pedaling under power. Hence, I can select just the right amount of effort so as to not upset my cardiovascular applecart, yet give me the exercise I need.

My plan is to ride from my home at Laguna Woods, CA, to Mammoth Lakes in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, which is about 388 miles due north and at an altitude of about 8,000 feet. The ride will start near sea level, then will almost immediately gently climb to 2,500 feet before descending into the desert regions where the temperatures most likely will exceed 100 degrees. The temperature reached 107 today at Riverside, which is why I didn't start as originally planned. The route then will be up and down with a great deal of steep climbing on the last day.

It is my intention to push the engine hard, but not treat it badly. I expect to run it about four hours a day and possibly more. My engineer brother-in-law says the little Robins Subaru engine, and other similar makes like it, are used heavily by the gardening trade and are designed and built just for such demanding day-long use. He assures me I should do well and from what I have read on this site, he most likely is right.

The point of the ride is two-fold:
  1. To see if the motor can withstand the rigors of loaded touring; and
  2. To determine if I can withstand the rigors of loaded touring with aid of a small engine.
I already have proven to myself that a pedal assisted bike is completely feasible; release the friction drive device and the bike behaves like any other bicycle, save for the fact that it is about 15 pounds heavier. The extra weight is no problem on the flats and gentle climbs. On the hills and long steeper climbs, the engine is invaluable to me and I am confident it will add many years to my long-distance bicycle touring hobby.

I will be making this ride with a safety net of sorts -- Kristina -- who will be within a few hours driving time with a bike rack just in case I have overstated my case and have some kind of mechanical failure. I seriously doubt she will be needed.

I have planned for the ride to take four days, but have budgeted six days . . . just in case I have been a little too ambitious. Again, it is my intention to push the engine and rig. I should be able to pedal 35 to 50 miles engine-free without a problem; the engine will make up the difference, I hope!

For those who may want to see the map the plan is:

Day 1 - Laguna Woods to Hesperia, CA -- 109 miles;
Day 2 - Hesperia to Ridgecrest -- 93 miles
Day 3 - Ridgecrest to Independence -- 98 miles
Day 4 - Independence to Mammoth Laks -- 88 miles

There are many spots at which to stay between those points, so I should have no problem if I don't make my particular goals.

The route the first day is a convoluted one, because most of it is through heavy population congestion. The balance of the trip is straight up US 395. I will meet up with Kristina and friends at Mammoth where we will spend six days camping and hiking . . . or perhaps they will and I will spend the days riding through the cool mountains on my bike, with motor of course.

I will make every attempt to post a synopsis of each day's ride on a daily basis . . . if an internet connection is available.

I am open to any suggestions!


PS -- Does anyone know how to embed photos in the text?
thank you for asking about "clickable thumbnails"...the FAQ will be of some help.

just keep practising and use "preview post" a lot while you're learning.

100mi/day is quite the feat...been there done that...my suggestion: riding posture/comfort should take precedent over looks.

the EHO35 is certainly up to the task (but consider bringing fresh oil and change it out after a couple of such looong days & low gears), and you seemed pretty psyched...i'm psyched FOR you...good luck and keep us posted :cool:
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Dunno What Went Wrong . . .

Hi Augie Dog --

I guess it takes a while to master this site. I sent you a reply a few hours ago, then just signed in again and didn't see it. Can't remember all I said 'cause I'm too tired right now. I do appreciate the link for the photos and will try it right now.

Best wishes,

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Day 1 - Laguna Woods, CA to Corona, CA

Friday, August 27, 2010 - 54 Miles - Total so far: 54 Miles

The Bird Said It All . . .

At best, this adventure ride from Laguna Woods to Mammoth Lakes, California, was ill conceived and ill planned. But then if everything was perfect, the story would be boring.

Really, not that much went wrong, if you overlook the fact that I rode merrily off without my maps. I left them on my desk, but I did have a very detailed route printed out from Google Maps on how to get where I was going. Unfortunately, Google sent me to a paper road that was occupied by several large multi-story buildings. I was saved by one Doug Peterson, an older rider who also is a member of the same social bike riding club that Kristina and I belong to. He very kindly pointed me in the right direction, which helped a lot. I tried to buy a map of Orange County, CA a four different gas stations, but none had one. I found that a little surprising.

As noted in the introduction, this ride is a test, to see if I can continue my long-distance riding hobby with wife Kristina, with the help of a small motor. If today's results are any indication, I have it made. I made one serious mistake this morning; I pedaled unassisted with a very heavy load for 26 miles. There were three hours of riding time, but a total of five hours elapsed because of my various navigation errors. Kristina kindly drove the 26 miles to bring me the missing maps, but they were small scale, so I still made navigation errors. Orange County is huge and complex. My secret to my traveling succes has been Kristina, who meticulously navigates for me. This is the first time we have ever been separated on an adventure such as this and we both are not taking it well.

I was exhausted from the pedaling after 26 miles. I had not trained and, in fact, only ridden a hand full of times over the last four months. The next 28 miles were done under power and climbing conditions. The motor performed beautifully. I pedal assisted whenever I could, but had to stop at times when my legs began to cramp from overwork.

It had been my plan to go as far as Hesperia . . . about 109 miles . . . but that obviously didn't happen. Then I decided I would go as far as San Bernardino, some 25 or 30 miles more, but a fellow called out to me as I pulled into a drug store parking lot and said, "You have a flat." It was on the trailer. The engine was so efficient I didn't even notice. So I fixed the flat -- actually put in a spare tube -- and decided to just stay put for the rest of the day. The time was about 4 p.m. and I was beat. I found a cheap motel -- so cheap they don't serve coffee and have the gall to charge 50 cents for ice -- and settled in.

No bike problems; no motor problems. I had had a problem with one of the panniers (saddle bags) on the front falling off -- the one with the computer in it -- but the computer seems to be working fine. I will have the thing tied on securely before I leave in the morning.

Oh yes, a bird crapped on my map holder. That should have been warning enough. One really nice thing though was that I had a stiff following wind.

I will post again tomorrow, if I have an internet connection, so stay tuned.

Safe riding to all,


PS -- still struggling trying to figure out how to upload pics! FAQs doesn't tell me much.
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It is indeed a beautiful country, Esteban.

Fulltimer, I wanted to buy a GPS, but the time ran out and it was either leave or shop, so I chose to leave. I think the nav problems are over now, I hope. Once on US 395, it is straight highway all the way.
Well, good luck and know that we will all be following you! Good luck and have fun!!

Bike Fails, But Engine Purrs Right Along

Note: Sorry for the delay with this posting, but this is the first internet connection I've had in two days:mad:

Day 2 - Corona to Hesperia -- A Very Tough Day-Long Test

Saturday, August 28, 2010 - 77 Miles - Total so far: 131 Miles

I gave the little engine a very tough test today. It would not have been as hard on it had I not gone up the wrong mountain road, some seven miles to an altitude of around 3,200 feet, but I did, so while I logged 77 miles, the miles made good were only 63. Still, a test is a test, navigation errors notwithstanding. I will, however, give up the ride tomorrow if I make another navigation error. All I have to do is find US 395 and go straight. No unmarked streets, no phantom paper roads, no map challenges with which to deal. Just ride straight ahead and Mammoth will appear in approximately 300 miles, plus or minus.

I have to admit, I was so tired this morning when I got out of bed that I wasn't sure I even wanted to continue. I pedaled too much yesterday 26 miles or so, before turning on the engine. I reminded myself I am not that young anymore and that today, it would be pure motor all the way with perhaps a little pedal assisting whenever necessary. I lashed the right front pannier to the rack so it would not fall off again, checked all the packing, topped up the fuel tank and was on the road by a little before 8 a.m. The skies were cool and overcast, so there was a slight chill in the air.

I should have got a picture of my bike and trailer parked next to a dozen big Harleys when I stopped at Coco's for breakfast, but I didn't. I'll regret not shooting that humorous scene for a long time, I think.

Getting of of town was straight forward, but frustrating. I seemed to have got stopped by every light in the city and then in San Bernardino too. Finally I got a bit of open road and was racing along -- figuratively speaking, of course -- at about 18 mph when the left front saddlebag decided to jump off. This time the accident was very nearly more serious. The left trailer wheel hit the canvas bag and flipped over onto its side. It all happened very quickly and it took about 30 feet for me to come to a stop dragging the thing on its side. Fortunately, no damage was done other than to my nerves.

An uplifting incident happened then. A fellow in a newer pickup truck passed and saw me at the side of the road, then saw me still there several minutes later on he return, so he did a u-turn and came back to check on me, to see if all was well. "I'm a biker too," he said. "I just wanted to make sure all was well."

I got a lot of halloos and whistles and waves and thumbs up from all manner of drivers including a Harley contingent. It made me feel good.

I did not ride without the engine at all today. All 77 miles were done under power and most of those miles were climbing either gently or climbing steeply. One nice treat: I got to ride Historic Route 66 for about five miles before it terminated at Interstate 15 high in the San Bernardino mountains. That was when I took to the freeway. It is legal to ride the Interstate if there is no other road available and there was not. I confirmed this with a California Highway Patrolmen who was sitting in his car at the side of the road atop the 4,190-foot summit. I have seen police all day today and at least five yesterday with no problem, so I decided to just motor up to him and ask about the legality. No problem. He didn't even mention the motor, which was idling away while I spoke with him.

I don't want to get off on a tangent here, but I cannot, for the life of me, figure out these cops. This was a slender, good looking young man who probably could have been my grandson. When I approached, he rolled down his window, stared intently at me through his cop-issued sunglasses and was totally uninterested in answering any of my simple questions. I responded with my best authoritative father persona, the one that unmistakably lets him know I'll give him a time out if he doesn't act a little more courteously.

I'm at Hesperia now. It is cold out at 10:30 p.m., but that may be expected. The altitude is 3200 feet.

I have a very poor connection here, so will not try to post photos, which I don't know how to do yet anyway. I will eventually.

Safe Riding,


Day 3 - Hesperia to Ridgecrest -- Bike Fails, But Engine Purrs Right Along

Sunday, August 29, 2010 - 126 Miles - Total so far: 257 Miles

If I claim to have given the little engine a tough test yesterday, then I gave it a much more rigorous test today. In fact, it should have simply blown apart. It did not. The bike failed; the engine did not. To you who have been riding for a long time, what I am about to tell you may not be anything new. But to me, it all is absolutely amazing.

First, the day's mileage: 126

That does not include the miles I tooled around Ridgecrest this afternoon in search of tooth paste and supper to go. I have checked and re-checked the cycle computer and maps . . . the figure appears to be correct. I motored the entire day. I pedal-assisted the motor quite a bit, but not strenuously, but rather at a level I would exert if riding without a motor. The effort gained me a mile or two on the speedometer and also provided the exercise I claim to want. There were a few times when my efforts genuinely seemed to help the engine, but most of the time, I could have save my work. In reality, I would be a couch potato if I had a choice, but I love adventure more than I despise physical activity. Going long distance on a self-contained on a ****-pot little engine is, to me, high adventure, and today was quite filled with that stuff.

The day started out well enough. As with the previous day, I went to bed swearing I would never do such a thing again and promptly disregarded my promises upon waking this morning. Today would be the big test. US 395 lay dead ahead and was perfectly straight and even a map challenged person such as I could not fail. Put simply, all I had to do was go up Street "A" and turn right at Street "B", which was US 395. Unfortunately, rather than paying attention to detail, I have the habit of assumption. I assume this and that and a whole bunch of other stuff. In short, I assumed US 395 would be a grandiose boulevard with four lanes and perhaps a median with lush foliage in the median. There also would be huge green signs with white lettering stating, "Here's your right turn Wayne. Get ready to turn right. OK do it now!"

I did not. I zoomed by, entranced by the vistas around me and the mountains jutting up out of nowhere. It was cold. I had a t-shirt on with a fleece jacket and a windbreaker over that. The little two-lane neighborhood road I zipped past -- my turn -- didn't interest me in the slightest. I was in lala land.

It was about ten minutes later that I began to get a little suspicious. I should have come to 395 by now, I thought. Eventually, I came upon a sign poster who was posting quite illegally, and asked him where 395 was. He told me it was five miles in the other direction. "Go to the second stop light and turn left," he ordered. So I did. When I got to the stop light I looked everywhere for some indication this was 395, then saw and little sign, waving in the breeze, hanging high up from an electric cable to my right, which would have been to my left coming from the other direction. The sign was there, but in some fairness to me, it was tiny and obscure.

Well, I did finally get on the right highway and true to its word it was and still is mostly straight. I will have a difficult time getting lost for the rest of the ride. And the ride went wonderfully for about 45 minutes. That was when I heard a strange rattling. I stopped, looked straight down over the motor mount and saw that one of the rear struts broken off the braze-on to which it was attached. That left the rear of the engine mount supported by only one strut, which also holds the friction drive wheel firmly to the tire.

My heart sank. I thought that for sure my ride was over, that I would have to call Kristina to come and get me. After a bit of looking, thought, it appeared that the strut added very little structural integrity to the friction roller. The large mounting collar was strong enough that the friction roller continued to work in a near true fashion. OK, I thought, I'll continue until I hear otherwise. That was at about mile 150. I finished the ride this afternoon at mile 242. I will start out tomorrow morning optimistically.

The day was glorious, the temperatures mild. I eventually got rid of the jackets, but the winds were ferocious. And they were dangerous at times, partly due to the engine itself. It worked hard to propel me against them at 16 to 20 miles per hour, however when that wind speed was added to nature's wind, I often got hit with 40 and 50 mph gusts of apparent wind. One such gust nearly blew me into the guard rail. I am an inexperienced moped rider, not an inexperienced bike rider. The additional power of the engine, low as it is, adds a whole new dimension to the riding equation. It was both frightening at times and thrilling. I learned quickly to pay attention.

I could not believe how quickly the miles clicked by. I helped by pedaling going up really steep hills and turned the engine off and disengaged it when going down long steep descents. It was amazing. I would go up the hills at 16 to 18, but down the other side, with the engine disengaged (I would turn it off to save fuel), I would race at anywhere from 16 to 28 mph while freewheeling. I could easily have hit 35 coasting down some of those two and three-mile descents were it not for the headwinds.

The rest of the day was not without problems. I had two flat tires. Both on the rear. I was not happy. Through some sheer bit of luck, I bought a center kick stand so the bike would stand somewhat stable, even with the three or four-pound engine hanging off one side. I don't think I ever will go cycle touring without such a stand again, with or without an engine. I also will never travel again by bicycle without my little green aluminum camping stool. It has made difficult situations manageable. I guess it weighs about 3/4 of a pound. I would take it if it weighed 5 pounds. All these years I have grunted and groaned while kneeling in the dirt when changing tires and oiling chains when those two simple items, even with their minor weight penalties, would have solved those discomforts.

Even with the stability of the center stand, which gave me the ability to take the rear wheel off without while the bike stood on its own, changing the rear tube was nearly impossible in the wind. Finding a hole in the tube seemed equally so. Fortunately I had a spare tube that I slipped in and was off in fairly short order. Things were blown everywhere, though and I spent a lot of time trying to keep tools and rags in one spot. Even the plastic tire irons flew away.

The fix would not last for long. A couple of hours later, and just a few miles out of town, the rear tire flatted again. By now the afternoon wind had become even stronger and this time it blew the bike off its stand and the bike crashed to the ground. Contents of the bar bag spilled and stuff flew everywhere. The bike was blown down twice. I would have left it lie on the ground, but I feared gas or oil would leak if the engine were on its side.

I inspected the tire carefully and it was failing, so I put the spare on that I carried, somehow to find the hole in the tube, put on a quick patch and re-inflated the tire. It held. I had only three or four miles to go to Ridgecrest and I made it quite nicely. I was able to stop at a Wal-Mart and pick up three new spare tubes -- two for the bike, one for the trailer -- and a new spare tire to replace the one I had just used.

It had been quite a day, but though I was tired from the ride in general, I was not exhausted as I was the first day and certainly not as tired as I was yesterday. Had it not been for the two flats, I would have been in town a good hour sooner, which would have been about 3 p.m.

My notes tell me I have a 98-mile ride tomorrow to Independence.

Safe Riding,


Day 4 - Ridgecrest to Independence -- It Was A Leisurely 98-Mile Ride Punctured By A Couple of Hiccups

Monday, August 30, 2010 - 98 Miles - Total so far: 355 Miles

I woke up this morning still talking to myself in disbelief that I had ridden 126 miles yesterday, but my figures seemed correct. To make certain I planned to do a mileage check on my odometer. In all, I did three checks of several miles each, and used roadside mile markers as my guide. All three checks came out substantially the same and showed that my odometer was overstating the mileage by 15/100s. In other words, it read 1.89 miles too much at the end of the day, so the mileage yesterday should have read 124, which is still quite impressive.

Got off to a gentle start. I pedaled the first three miles out of town to get warmed up. Sun was out bright and it was a lot warmer than the previous day. Once out of town, though, I fired up the little gem and took off on a gentle climb that would last for many miles, followed by an equally long descent, then do it all over again. A few miles of the road had about a 24-inch shoulder and that was fully occupied by rumble strips. Fortunately, they were smooth, so the bike and trailer fairly glided over them. Soon enough we were on the proper 395, the four lane divided highway I was looking for a couple of days ago. Big big comfortable shoulder surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery California has to offer.

I kept the engine wide open for the entire ride for a total of five minutes shy of five hours. I was on the road for a total of seven hours including breaks, both voluntary and involuntary. Those of the involuntary nature came in the form of a second engine mount failure, and yet another flat . . . rear tire, of course.

Once again I thought the entire ride was finished when the engine abruptly started to scream out of control. The second strut had broken. A closer, however, revealed the braze-on eyelet had not broken off as the other one did, but rather that the bolt screwed into the eyelet had failed. Apparently doing the job of two such bolts holding the engine firmly against the tire was too much and it simply sheared off. The fix was simple to make merely putting in a new bolt, one that happened to be conveniently still in place in the other broken eyelet.

Steel belted tire debris on the roadside was the cause of the flat. Three tiny little wires had worked their way into the rubber and flatted the tire. I'm getting quite good at removing the wheel with the bike upright on its stand. A quick tube change, pump up and then about a two mile ride got me into the little town of Independence.

I did a gas mileage test . . . a very crude one. I would fill the tank and note the mileage. The miles per tank varied hugely due to the long climbs and the fact that I had the throttle wide open most of the time. The tank holds 24 ounces, but I am certain I get a bit more in. Anyway, I got a total of 75.5 miles out of the 150 ounces, which is slightly less than a third of a gallon. That would come out to 225.5 miles per gallon.

No, that can't be possible. I've made a mistake somewhere and I'm just too tired to find it right now. The miles actually would be more since I think 150 ounces are abut 29% of a gallon.

I won't be able to post that last day of the ride, which is tomorrow, for quite a while, but I will. I will be in the high in the Sierras where no internet exists and we will be there for a week with Kristina's brother, Jeff, and friends. The 88-mile ride up to 8,000 feet is expected to be the most difficult of the trip. I have a backup plan, though, which is to wait by the side of the road for Kristina and Jeff to catch up should I break down. If all goes well, I will be in camp several hours before the rest arrive. Talk about the tortoise and the hare!

From there, Kris and I then plan to ride together to Jeff's house at Bakersfield. With luck I will be able to make the important repairs at Mammoth. I haven't planned the route yet, but Google says it should be about 275 miles, most of which retraces my ride up to Ridgecrest before bearing off southwest toward Bakersfield.

I'll let you know.

Safe Riding,

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Fluid ounces are a volume measure, as is a gallon. One gallon is 128 fluid ounces. If you used 150 fluid ounces of fuel for 75.5 miles your actual mileage is approximately 2 ounces consumed per mile, or 64 mpg.