Kit review #1
22 August, 2011 16 Comments
After 11 months and 10,000 miles of cycling it’s time for the first in a short series of blogs reviewing some of our top bits of equipment. If you don’t care what we’re carting around with us, then I’m afraid it’s probably best to skip this blog! Here are 5 bits of kit that we wouldn’t leave home without if we were planning another big bike trip:
There are loads of options when deciding what to ride, ranging from converting an old steel framed mountain bike on the cheap right up to top-of-the-range expedition bikes costing thousands of pounds. The choice depends on the type of tour, and fatness of wallet.
As ours is a long ride across multiple continents we decided strength and reliability were more important than speed, and so we prioritised steel frames, steel racks and well-built 26 inch wheels. (Compared with alternative sizes, 26 inch wheels are stronger and more common outside of Europe & America, making repairs and finding spare tyres etc much easier. When we’ve met other cyclists on the road, broken 28 inch wheels have been the most common tale of woe by far).
Our bikes (VSF Fahrrad Manufaktur T400) have been great so far. I weigh 90kg and have carried up to 40kg of kit, food & water in remote areas, but my frame has stayed strong and the wheels still spin perfectly true. Fingers crossed this remains the case all the way to New Zealand!
We both use Ortlieb waterproof panniers (two front rollers, two back rollers, a bar bag and a rack pack) and they are ace – simply designed, quick to use and 100% waterproof. After a long day of cycling in the rain, the knowledge that your possessions are safe and dry is priceless. Well worth the money.
We both started off with the full set of six bags listed above when we had to carry winter clothes, camping gear and occasionally lots of food and water. Now that we’re in SE Asia we barely need any clothes and have hammocks instead of camping kit, so we only need two back panniers and a bar bag. It feels much nicer travelling lighter – both from a cycling and simplicity perspective.
We started the trip with a small point-and-shoot camera (Panasonic Lumix) which takes reasonable photos and video, but best of all is very small and light. When we emerged from the Central Asian winter we swapped thick sleeping bags and down jackets for a second-hand DSLR camera (Canon 350D). It’s bigger and heavier, but takes better photos.
If I could wind back time I would carry a DSLR from the start, and probably take a photography course before leaving. A few lessons and a decent camera could make a real difference to the photo album we’re looking forward to making when we get home.
As back-up, we upload our photos to Flickr, and also keep a copy on SD memory cards that are stashed in my money belt (which never leaves my sight). For this reason I think a few 16GB SD cards are better than a bulkier portable hard drive, as theft is less likely.
4. Down jacket
Whilst cycling through winter, we always looked forward to zipping ourselves into our down jackets (Montane North Star) at the end of every day – it feels like wearing a nice warm down duvet! It has to be seriously cold to warrant wearing them whilst actually cycling, but whenever off the bike these were invaluable. They also make great pillows if you don’t need to wear them inside your sleeping bag. Hoods are essential for maximum warmth.
We carry a stove to cook with when we’re camping, or when we’re in an expensive country. The MSR Whisperlite International runs on pretty much any fuel, but we use petrol as it’s very cheap and available everywhere. Ours has worked perfectly and boils a large pan of water nice and quickly. The downsides are:
- the fuel bottle needs to be pressurised and stove primed every use (a two minute job, but a faff compared to gas canistor stoves that need no preparation)
- using petrol makes the stove dirty and smelly
- there’s only one choice of cooking temperature, officially known as “hotter than the sun”. Good for boiling pasta in sub zero temperatures, but a bit annoying when you have to hold the pan above the flame to simmer the pan. I’m no Ainsley Harriott so I’m not too bothered, although there is another similar model by MSR that has a simmer function.
In our view, the downsides are outweighed by the brilliant ease of refilling our fuel bottle. Finding any other kind of fuel would require a lot more effort than simply stopping at the next petrol station and as I’m pretty lazy, this makes our stove a winner.
Next time: 5 pieces of summer kit!