Juan Sebastian Elcano

I’m changing Juan Sebastian’s handlebars

When: January 15 , 2022 | Where: Santa Clarita, California
Miles Cycled: 349 | Days on the Road: 26

I named my bike Juan Sebastian, after Juan Sebastian Elcano, the Basque man who captained the first ship to circumnavigate the planet, as it returned to Spain nearly 3 years after it left with 4 sister ships, and a different captain, whose name is better remembered: Ferdinand Magellan.

Magellan had been killed in the Philippines more than a year earlier, when he got involved in a war between rival local tribes. He never saw the Indian Ocean.  And, it’s likely that he never intended to complete the circumnavigation in the first place, as the expedition was only supposed to find an alternate route to the Spice Islands.

In any case, it seems like an historical injustice that Elcano, who was convicted of mutiny earlier in the expedition and stripped of his rank by Magellan, has been forgotten by most.  He, and the other 17 men from the original 270 who returned to Spain with him, accomplished what was probably the greatest navigational feat in the history of sailing.

Like Elcano — because, if I make it to the Atlantic, my name should be equally anonymous — I’ve had to make adjustments as I’ve traveled.  He dealt with fallen masts, torn mainsails, scurvy, hostile islanders, cyclones and the rival Portuguese… I’ve got super sore wrists from a handlebar set up that wasn’t made for my body.

A few days ago, shopping for parts in Ventura, in an attempt to simply raise the drop bars that Juan Sebastian came with, I realized that there isn’t actually any height at which these bars are going to be comfortable.  They’re too narrow, the brakes and shifters are in a spot that’s not natural for my hands, and there’s really only one place I can put my hands. 

So, I made the decision to go big, and replace the drop bars with with the Jones Loop H Bar.  It’s a drastic change, and I think it will have a major impact on my ride comfort.  Super wide, with all sorts of different places to put not only my hands, but extra gear, it will allow me to ride in a more upright position, which has been impossible with the drops.

It turns out not to be easy to swap out handlebars in the middle of an expedition. In addition to changing the handlebars themselves, you have to get different shifters that accommodate the different style of bar, and also work with your derailleurs. You also need different brake levers. 

And, you need someone to do the work who’s good, because this is easy to screw up.  And, you need to get that person the parts.  And, you need that to happen far enough in the future to allow the person to schedule you, and the parts to get there… and you need to figure out where to stay while someone has your primary mode of transportation in the middle of a COVID case surge.

Ultimately, that all took an entire day (not counting the 4 bike shops I visited in Carpinteria and Ventura trying to see if it was better to raise the drops).  I’ve got parts on the way to the Best Western across the street from Joel’s Bicycle Shop in Thousand Palms. Everything, including me, should hopefully get there by the 20th.

So, another 5 days and maybe 150 miles with the drops, and if I didn’t screw anything up, J.S. will have a drastically new look and interface in about a week.

Off to an RV on the shores of the dried-up Santa Clara River tonight (AirBNB).  Just 7 miles away.  There’s been brutal wind in the wrong direction here, and it’s not supposed to let up until tomorrow. 

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