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The Story Behind the Bike (aka. El Chancho)

When I decided upon doing a South American bike tour while living in Bogota, Colombia I assumed finding a bike would be the easy part. Colombians are absolutely crazy for cycling and Nairo Quintana is a national hero. In a city of 8 million plus people how hard could it be to find a half decent touring bike? As it turns out – very hard.

I scoured the web for bike shops, classifieds and auction sites but couldn’t find a single place that sold bicicletas de ciclotourismo. It seems Colombians are wild for Tour de France style uber bikes but due to years of armed conflict in the countryside the cycle touring scene is still very much in its infancy. I was fresh out of luck.

On one of my web searches I stumbled across a site called PedaleandoAlma (Pedalling Soul) – the online home of a cyclist named Carlos Carvajal  who cycled the length of the continent a few years back. I sent him a hopeful Whatsapp message asking if he knew where I could find a bike and within seconds he’d replied telling me he had exactly what I needed – a European touring bike he rarely used that was just my size. I couldn’t believe my luck and asked if I could come and check it out. It was only then that I discovered Carlos lived in Medellin, a 10 hour bus ride away. from Bogota. Balls.

The alternative was buying and converting a mountain bike and that seemed like far too much effort so a couple of months later I hopped on a night bus and went to visit Carlos. A big character and easy to get along with, he warmly greeted me into his home in the leafy suburb of Envigado. Within minutes he pulled out the bike and I took it for a whirl.

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When I did my bike tour in Europe the bike fit was a bit off and I’d suffered a lot of back pain. My number one concern about buying the bike, and the entire trip, was a recurrence of this pain as, surprisingly enough, cycling with back pain isn’t much fun. Things immediately felt different on Carlos’s bike – somehow more natural and right. It was love at first ride.

Fast-forward a few months and I was back in Medellin to start the trip (I’d originally intended to take it back to Bogota with me but due to problems withdrawing money I ended up leaving it in Medellin and starting my trip from there). Carlos was a huge help and took me to a bunch of bike shops to pick up the rest of my gear and off I went.

Me and Carlos the day before I hit the road.

I christened the bike El Chancho which translates to The Pig, or as I prefer to think of it The Swine. A Russian man I met once went on a diatribe about pigs:

“Pigs do not look up at the stars. All they do it look at the ground. All they care about is food. Why would you want to eat a dirty, stupid animal like that?”

In his Russian accent this came across as both hilarious and weirdly profound (although it patently isn’t) and will stay with me forever. I named the bike El Chancho completely arbitrarily but thinking back on that Russian guys words it all makes sense. El Chancho can do the pigs work and look at the ground, eat up all the miles, leaving me free to look up at the stars.

Man, that’s deep.

Anyway, enough of this crap. Here’s my gearlist:


El Chancho 

Frame: INTEC (some German company)
Brakes: Shimano XT 8 Vel
Rims: Sputnik
Tyres: One Maxxis Ranchera 26″ + One Innova 26″ Both soon to be replaced.
Pedals: Shimano Deore XT
Saddle: The brand has faded off the side so all I can say is that it’s NOT a Brooks and is moderately comfortable when combined with padded bike shorts.
Racks: Tubus
It’s got 3×8 gears. This makes going up the really steep hills a bit of a ballache but it’s alright.
2 water bottles
Kryptonite bike lock
$30 Helmet

Rear Left Pannier (Bedroom) – Ortlieb Ultimate 5 Classic 8.5l (Red)
Thermarest: VAUDE Tour (800g)
Sleeping Bag: Pinguin Micra (Synthetic. 1kg, good to 1 degree C – I’m gonna need to upgrade this at some point in Peru)
Sleeping Bag Liner: Cocoon Mummy Liner 100% Silk
Pillow: Cocoon Inflatable Travel Pillow
Laptop: Asus Transformerbook 2GB RAM, tiny, hardly weighs anything, good battery life
Portable Hard Drive: Toshiba 1TB
Head Torch: Pretty decent, has multiple settings and sufficient lumens. Gotta have plenty of lumens

Rear Right Pannier (Wardrobe) – Ortlieb Ultimate 5 Classic 8.5l (Red)
Backpack: Herschel – I stuff all my clothes in here while on the road then use it as a day bag when I stop somewhere
One short sleeve black cotton T
One long sleeve polyester shirt
Colombia long sleeve football shirt
Ecuador short sleeve football shirt
One very light fleece
Thermal underwear (leggings + undershirt)
Black Jeans
4 pairs of sports socks
4 pairs of boxer brief
Padded cycling shorts
Tattoo zip shorts/trousers
Kindle Paperwhite
Cheap Bike Gloves
Buff Scarf
Cheap Scarf and Hat
Travel Towel (I keep hanging these up to try and forgetting about them)
Swimming Shorts
Berghaus GORETEX XL Raincoat

Front Left Pannier (Kitchen) – Ortlieb Front Roller Plus (Red)
Stove: Trangia Alcohol Stove (includes 2 pots, 1 pan, wind blocker, stand, kettle)
Flask (to fill with industrial alcohol for the stove)
Plenty of space for food

Front Left Pannier (Bathroom/Workshop) – Ortlieb Front Roller Plus (Red)
Washbag (toothbrush, toothpaste, eczema cream, bug spray, sun tan lotion, paracetamol, shampoo, soap, etc)
Puncture Kit
1/2 Spare Inner Tubes
Chain Removal Thing
Spare Chain
Spare Spokes
First Aid Kit
Loads of other little things you hardly ever need. I’ll finish this later.

The Vaude 1 Tent

Other Electronics and Stuff
Ortlieb Drybag
Vaude Taurus 1 2 person tent (2.5kg) Big enough to fit all my panniers inside while I sleep.
Ortlieb Bar Bag (White)
2 Sansa Clip Jazz Mp3 Players
Pretty shit Samsung smartphone
Canon G15 Camera

I’ve probably forgotten a bunch of stuff too.