I don’t really like talking about products, but now that I’ve finished my two months cycle tour, I’d like to evaluate all the gear I was carrying with me in order to help other future cycle tourists to decide what they may need or not. If you are not into touring and you are not planning to do any, you will probable find the following text rather long and boring.
Bike, Ridgback Flight T2 (2008 model)
I really like this bike and it did its jobs well. But unfortunately it’s not a bike designed for touring. Its thin tires (700×25) didn’t let me go to some off road cycle tracks and when fully loaded, the bike was feeling a little bit unstable, especially when I was cycling standing. In the beginning, I couldn’t stand at all, but after a couple of weeks I got used to the extra weight and I would ride standing for as long as I wanted. In facts it’s a little strange that I now find it hard to cycle standing when the bike is not loaded and I will have to get used it again. I should have listened Tim’s advice right from the beginning to swap the tires with (700×28) Schwalbe, which apparently are the most durable and appropriate for long cycling in different terrains. It would have probable saved all the trouble I went through, when I changed the worn out Armadilos with a random piece of shit, that exploded 20 kilometers down the road, ruined my rim and caused a chain of other problems. The bike has racing breaks with no much clearance, so a slight thicker tire means that they have to be deflated in order for the wheel to come out, which I think is not much of a problem.
It comes with carbon fork and seat post, which are great for a performance bike, but a little useless for touring. With so much extra weight, a few hundred grams don’t really make any difference. It’s also less flexible than aluminum, which means more vibrations on my arms. At some point before I started, I was reading about carbon components breaking and I was really worried about the fork and me kissing the tarmac. I don’t think that’s really an issue, as long as you ride the bike reasonable. There were many times that I hit bumps and pit holes, went down pavements and slight off roads paths and it is still in one piece. Also the fork can’t take front rack to attach panniers, which for me was a good thing as I limited to just rear ones.
My last little complain is its geometry, with the sheet higher than the bars. That’s good for high speeds, but not very comfortable as you put too much weight on your arms. The bar extensions, even if they take some time to get used to, helped a lot as you get a variety of positions to hold and prevent the wrists from getting too tired.
As a conclusion, I did the trip on this bike because that’s what I had at the time and if I had to do another one, I would probable use the same again. But if you need to buy a bike just for touring, maybe consider one that is designed for that purpose.
SPD pedals, Shimano M324
After cycling 6 years in England, I was seeing so many people riding with SPD pedals and cycling shoes that clip on to them. I was always thinking that wearing a special pair of shoes was too much of an effort to just get to work. Everybody advised me to get them for the tour and that’s what I am now advising now as well. Having your foot attached to the pedal, helps a lot in cycling. Rather than just pushing down the pedal, with SPDs you can also pull the pedal, applying force to the full circle, which makes a big difference going uphills. Someone once told me it increases your efficiency by 30%. They also ensure your foot is always on the correct position, preventing any injuries after a long ride.
SPD shoes, Specialised MTB
I chose these simply because they look a little more like ordinary shoes, rather than just dedicated cycling ones. The proper road shoes have a complete stiff sole, which makes cycling a lot easier, but walking impossible, where MTB ones will be a little flexible at the front. While touring, you will get off the bike many times and you don’t want to be changing shoes to go for a short walk.
The important thing for me was to have the plate on top that will double as a mud guard. Made out of alumium makes them lighter, but I am not sure for how long can they last. After two months using them, they are still ok, but have dents on all the points that the panniers touch. Someone also mentioned that if they snap, it will be impossible to weld on any ordinary metal workshop in case there is no bike shop around for a replacement. Also I wish they could be positioned a little closer to the wheel, to move the center of gravity lower.
Yes, they are 110% ideal for touring. Initially I was a little skeptic about their roll type closure system and how practical that would be. But as everybody was telling about these, that’s what I got they are perfect. They are easy to put on and off, they can double their capacity if not closed, they are 100% waterproof and very durable as they are made from the same material they make the truck canvas. I met German cyclists that are using them for two decades and they are still in very good and working condition.
As they are wider than the rest of the bike, its easy to hit them on obstacles and I did several times. Only during the last day, I hit the sharp corner of a concrete bench going very fast and I made a small rip to one of them. I had a hard object right inside the pannier that helped the canvas to rip. I believe that small rip will be easy to repair.
The best is to put all the heavy objects as low and close to the wheel as possible and the softer and lighter on the top and outside so they act as pillows in case the bike is dropped or hit and obstacle.
Handlebar bag, Altura Dryline
I find the handle bar bag very handy for storing all the small things that you need to access very often. It also doubles as a shoulder bag, which means when you lock the bike you can easily detach it and take all the valuables with you.
The one I got is alright, but not perfect. It’s big enough, but doesn’t have any compartments or pockets inside. It’s like a big box where you through stuff in and after an hour of bumpy ride they are all mixed up. Before I started, I got a thick foamy material, like they one they use for sound insulation, and cut it in the right size to fit at the bottom. I was keeping my papers and things I wasn’t using regularly under it and then I would stuck other things like maps, sketchbook and camera, in between the foam and the bag walls.
The bag also claims to be waterproof, but the material it is made of soaks the water. I am sure it has an additional layer inside to prevent the water going through and it never did, but I didn’t really experience heavy rain for a long period of time to see how true that is.
It also comes with a very handy detachable clear pocket that goes on the top to put the map in it. It’s extremely handy to have a map always in front of you, that you can read without stopping. It’s design problem though is that it only attached at the front, so while cycling fast or string wind, the map keeps flapping. I solved this problem by using two of these strong black clips and they worked fine.
Overall a good bag, I just wish the designer used it him self a couple of times to find out these minor problems and correct them.
Speedometer, Specialised speedzone comp
What I was looking was a wireless one that has a temperature reading, which was a little hard to find. I am still trying to decide whether it is better to have a wireless or not. My old stolen one was not wireless, but the wire snapped just after a year. You also have one less wire hanging off the bars.
But then you have an extra battery to worry about. I also don’t know if that’s the case with all wireless computers or just mine, but my biggest problem was interferences. It took me a while to understand why by the end of the day it was showing extreme top speed. Basically if I put it near my laptop it shows that I am cycling at around 30km/h, if I put it next to my mobile it goes up to 60km/h and automatic sliding doors will boost it to above 100km/h adding an extra kilometer every few second.
It has a nice and big readout, with all the basic functionalities, but its operation is a little hard to get used to it and its manual a little hard to understand. The good thing is that I download its manual as a pdf and put on my laptop, which saved me carrying the booklet with me.
Tools, Topeak Survival Tool Bag
Tools are essential in a bike tour. It has a good selection of the tools, as well as a compartment for a spare inner tube, a lube and some other extras. Very ofter I put it inside the dry sack, to make things fit better on the bike.
Cycling top clothing, Rapha Classic Jersey, Sleeveless base layer
Probable my most valuable bit of clothing. I received it as a leaving present from my colleagues and I am very thankful for that, as I don’t think I would have spend so much money for cloths at the time. Now that I’ve used them solidly for every single of my cycling days, I think they are really worth the money.
The sleeveless base layer is made out of 100% merino wool, which is by far the best material for cycling and I only found out on this trip. You can wear it for 3-4 continues days cycling and sweating and it never stinks like cotton. If it gets wets it doesn’t hang and it is fast to dry.
The Jersey is 40% merino 60% polyester. It has the typical cycling pockets on the back. Very important, it has a nice minimal design and not all these vivid colors, or big brand names that most of the cycling tops have.
It also cames with arm warmers, very useful for the cold mornings or to protect the skin from the burning sun. There was never an issue of being too hot on these, as there is a constant flow of air while cycling.
Unfortunately after so many days wearing the top under the burning sun, its black color on the back side has faded a little bit, but other than that it is still in a perfect functional condition.
Cycling shorts, 1 Endura MTB with lycra liner, 1 Gore lycra
The shorts are also extremely important item for cycling. Everybody would say just use lycra and nothing else, as it is really the most comfortable thing you can wear while cycling. They look ok on the bike, but the problem is they look a little bit ridiculous when off the bike. So I got some mountain bike shorts, that I was always wearing while stopping within towns, villages or when it was a little too cold. They have plenty of handy pockets and they are made of rip stop material, but if they claim to be very breathable, I found too hot to cycle with if the temperature was above 30. They came with their own detachable lycra liner, so I bought another pair of lycra to be able to swap them around everyday. I bought this combination to save money, but I later found out that in a way you get what you pay for. The Gore lycra costs almost as much as the Endura shorts with the liner as well. The Endura lycra proved to be less comfortable, with a thiner padding that was not big enough to cover the entire seat. There were many times that I did my best to dry the Gore one as fast as possible so I can wear it the next day as well.
Socks, 1 Rapha, 3 Pearl Izumi
I wanted to be changing a pair of socks every day, so I had a few with me. The Rapha ones were made of 100% merino wool, which means I could wear them a second or sometimes a third day without a problem if I was lazy to wash.
Leg warmers, Altura
They are necessary for the very cold days. They also double as thermals under normal trousers or while sleeping in the tent during cold nights.
Gloves, Mitts Pearl Izumi, Full cycling gloves
I never had these before, as I thought they are a little too much for just cycling to work. But after cycling for 5-6 hours a day, wearing mitts really make a difference and I highly recommend a relatively good pair.
I happend to find the full gloves and they worked ok for the colder days. They wear thin enough to put them under the mitts and stopped some of the cold. But cycling in colder weather, I would probable need a lot better ones.
Waterproof jacket, Kathmandu GoreTex type material (but not GoreTex)
Everybody was suggesting me to get a good pair of GoreTex rainproof jacket. Apparently they are the best for cycling in the rain. The problem is GoreTex are very expensive and I didn’t want to spend that much money. Luckily other brands now make the similar material, which are probable equally as good but cheaper. I got mine from Kathmandu as it had 50% discount and it served me really well during the trip.
I got the cheapest pair I found in my local outdoors shop. They pack extremely small, they are waterproof but also breathable. The thing is you don’t use them as often as the jacket, because lycras and skin dryes fast enough and legs don’t get as cold as your upper body.
I knew I needed some, I left it for the last minute and didn’t find what I was looking for in London. In France I kept visiting cycling shops, but most of what they had wouldn’t fit on my MTB shoes. I ended up buying some that are not made from the typical wet suit material, that perfectly fits the shoe. Instead they are made from a thicker material that are completely water and windproof, but they don’t look as great. I didn’t have to use them as much, but they worked fine when I did.
Helmet, the cheapest Specialized one
I just used the one I had all these years in London. I think the price on the helmets don’t really affect security, as all of them have to pass the same regulation tests. It’s just a matter of weight and look, but the important thing is how it fits on your head. To be honest I don’t think mine fits very good, as it leaves the sides and the back of my head uncovered and on top I look a little ridiculous on it. But that’s what I had at the time and didn’t change it. Maybe next time I’ll get something better.
Non cycling clothes
Trousers, North Face zipoff trousers.
As I wanted to save space and weight on my bags, these proved to be ideal. They are very light and pack within one one of the pockets, they dry very fast especially when I am wearing them. The end of the legs can be rolled to make them 3/4 shorts, or completely removed with the zips for the very warm days.
Jacket, Berghaus jacket
Many suggested me to get a fleece, which is very warm. But I already had this, so that’s what I took with me. I would wear it with non cycling cloths, during cold evenings and it doubled as a pillow when stuffed with other clothes.
2 normal cotton underwear for sleeping and wearing along with the normal trousers. 1 cotton tShirt and 1 long sleeve for the evening and the days of. 1 pair of light summer shoes. 1 pair of flip flops.
That’s one of the things it took me the longest to research and decide what to get. It’s always a compromise between cost, weight, space and quality. This one is a two layers, two person tent, which means it fits just two men, or one with his stuff. So that’s ideal, as a one man tent is just like a coffin, with no much head room to let you change within your tent. It weights a little less than 2 kilos and comes with a very forgiving compression bag. However your fold the tent, it will always fit in its bag and then you compress it and becomes a small pack. I experienced some very strong rains and winds that kept me awake all night and thankfully the tent proved it self to be rainproof and steady. It takes about 10 minutes to pitch and another 10 to pack.
It’s only minor problem, which I am not sure if other tents have solved, is that after a humid night the flysheet get a little wet and many times I had to let the tent dry in the sun before I could pack it and go.
Sleeping Bag, Snugpak Softie
I had this sleeping bag for some time before the trip and since it packs small, there was no need to get a new one. It states comfort temperature down to 2c and the extreme low to -3. In reality these should be a little higher, as there were a few nights that I was a little cold. It probable has to do with the humidity as well. In general I was very happy with it and I don’t think I’ll replace it in a future trip, unless if I go during cold winter.
Sleeping bag Liner, Quechua silk liner
I bought this half way through the trip and it’s one of the things I which I had right from the beggining. It really adds a few extra degrees of warmth in the bag as I never felt cold while sleeping with it, even if the temperature within the tent droped below 10 degrees. On the other hand, you can use just that on warm nights.
That’s a 3/4 mat and as it is a self inflating one, it packs a lot smaller than the normal mets. Initially I was a little worried choosing a 3/4 or the full one, but it proved to be ok and my legs didn’t complain. The mat creates a good insulation between the ground and the body, which is the most important thing to stay warm over the night.
I bought this during the trip, as initially I was worried about the space and weight of my bags. So three weeks into the trip, I found out that it was essential to have one, to be able to cook for my self, save money, but also save some money.
Cooking equipment, Quechua 1-person alu cookset
1 pan, 1 plate. 1 fork, 1 spoon, 1 clamp and 1 cup
Towels, 1 small and 1 medium Kathmandu fast drying ones
I didn’t really use the small one at all, but just the medium one. It was not really fast to dry out and I always had to attatch it to the bike to dry during the day. I also used to be white.
Mobile phone. I bought a French ‘pay as you go’ SIM card for that month and a half that I was there.
Compass, the smallest/cheapest one I could find on ebay. Small enough to fit within the map holder, but good enough to show me the correct way.
Headtorch which I had to buy one during the trip, as holding my bike light with my mouth while cooking was not convenient at all.
Swiss army knife, which was used for many different things.
Small cloth sack that would pack small, but big enough to carry a day’s shopping or a few things when walking around the city.
A netbook! I only thought about taking one a couple of weeks before I departed and initially I was very sceptic whether it was worth the effort and rick. But now I am glad I had one during the trip. First without the netbook, I wouldn’t be able to write and maintain the blog. Internet cafes were very rare, very expensive and not in my tent. It was easier to find WIFI access. I was using it to store and view all my photos. I had many documents with me in digital format to save in weight, like manuals, tickets, insurance contracts and even scanned pages from guide books. I had all my music there which would go in my mp3 player selectively. I was charging my mobile using a USB cable. And most of all I had about 20 movies with me, which helped a lot during missarble nights.