Part 2 – More hardware Stuff
Dave Yates’ Touring Bike. You may get by with spending very little of your hard earned cash on the bits of rather exotic metal alloy that you put under your posterior. We have met good people who did just that. $200 on second hand rental bikes with a basket dangling from the handlebars, and a West Coast USA trip that then curved around to include a ride through Death Valley. We met people that spent nothing at all on any bit of their bike, preferring a rather feral approach to touring. Bike, bits and maintenance were scavenged by a dive in the next promising looking dumpster.
Hats off to both approaches, but I want some comfort and a life without too much worry. I may be getting old. Both our bikes are Dave Yates custom touring bikes, in a sort of English style. Drop bars rather than the ‘stupid butterfly bars’ of a mainland ( Germany! ) touring bike, they are what you would have got in 1972 if you had put ‘racer bicycle’ on your Christmas list. If you already own a drop handle bar bike, then add 1cm or half an inch to the bar hight and you have got it about right. Leave some stem height on the forks so that you can go up a bit if you get back issues.
Shimano XT. You may get away with a poor choice of frame. Make a bad choice of the things that you hang off it and you may end up walking. It used to be said that Campagnola equipment “wore in”, whilst Shimano “wore out”. Our other bikes are from head to foot Campagnola and we have equipped touring bikes with these Italian jewel’s. The problem is warranty. Best of luck getting anywhere with Campag even if it is the Record Groupset and you have the receipts. The best for ‘life on the road’ is Shimano, as it is universal. The mountain bike stuff works with the road stuff, mostly.
So you follow the rule of diminishing returns applied thus. An item gets better as you go up the group sets in the following pattern. Better, better, better and lighter, better and lighter and then too light and too expensive. The first track on the second side of any album was always the best, and here, the second from top is the one to go for. This in the language of Shimano, is XT. Esther’s XT casset has lasted 7,000 miles and our chains 5,000.
Crank Brothers Pedals. The only major thing on the bike where everyone else uses Shimano, whilst we do not, are the pedals. All our bikes have Crank Brothers pedals because we find them easy to use and very comfortable. In 2011 they actually started to make a set that did not wear out after 2,000 miles. They still do not do the “I bought these in 91 and they have been on every bike since”, trick that Shimano does, but boy are they comfortable. They are now good for 5,000 miles and more if you weigh as little as Esther.
Tubus Racks. This is an area of the bike that separates us from mere cyclists and allows us a step closer to immortality. Hanging some bags off a bike both front and back turns a humble means of transport into a way to see the world. We have made mistakes in this area in years gone by. We have bought cheap and have paid more than twice. There is only one brand of rack that is approved for the use of a child seat on a bike, and that is Tubus. We learned that about 10 years ago and have bought nothing but Tubus since. We suggest that you do the same.
Chris King Headset. Everything on your bike that rotates, will have bearings helping it do just that. Your wheels, the cranks of your pedals and up front, the handlebars. The fact that you have chosen to put quite a bit of your worldly possessions in the two bags that are hanging off your front forks, makes a big difference on the loading of this bearing. Every time you hit a bump or pull hard on the breaks, the front wheel will try to join the back wheel. It is this side loading that bearing systems hate. The price is excessive, but this is a fit and forget solution. Esther’s bike has a 1″ headset, which is not as easy to find as you may think. Fit one of these if you can and marvel at the quality of engineering. It will also show to fellow travellers that you are a descent sort of chap and possibly quite knowledgable.
Katadyn Pocket Water Filter or SteriPen system. We used the Katadyn in the USA and New Zealand and loved it’s Swiss build quality and great output. I have said before that this would only fit in a pocket if the pocket had been made specially for it. It is neither light nor small and I have eyed it with hatred. Rather like Dylan, we have now gone electic. The SteriPen is now in the bottom of the pannier. We will let you know how it goes.
Pot Cosy. This is our top bit of equipment. We no longer know how to cook without using it and it may be possible to save the planet with its widespread use. Go and find how to make one on the WWW. I have made a double skin one for the second year – it can only be better.
Lightweight Plates. The red ones here are the original and best. They use a button, poper system that is simplicity itself. They are not sold anymore. The blue ones with tabs are not even worth excepting as a gift. The orange style are available from REI and perhaps else where and are just about useable if you are not too hungry. Filling them twice would work, but who would have that much patience.
The Garmin GPS and RAM bike mount. “Where are we?”, is an area of ‘life on the road’, that can lead to couples breaking up after 20 years of marriage and a party of 10 becoming a part of 2. It is simply put, the most important topic of the day, just ahead of “what are we going to eat?”. Your map should be up there in front of you and not in your back pocket or bag, or you will 100% guaranteed, get lost. In Europe, as we rode through Holland, we decided that we had seen more road junctions in 300K than in the whole of California. The bewildering choice is what makes Europe so good for touring, but it is also an area that can make a good day turn bad. We have gone for the Garmin Etrex Vista HCX on account of the storage capacity.
We would also pick it first because of almost twice ( 25 hours in this case ), the battery life of the similar units. It has been used for perhaps 500k and worked perfectly. RAM bike mount for Garmin GPS. Like the map, it is no use having this in your bag. You want it on the bars, which is a bit of a problem. None of the reviews that I came across had anything but scorn for Garmin’s holding system. A bit of work on the WWW. and I came across RAM GPS holders, which get great reviews. I then came across a website that showed how to do a very nice bodge to get the unit to fit on the handlebar stem. It looks good.
mKettle. Boiling water without using the fuel that you have hauled up the mountain has to be a good idea. Using this and your wonderful pot cosy you get half your meal cooked without any fuel use at all. If you use boil in the bag meals, then you are A) A millionaire and B) Not going to need anything else. We found out why the USA has so many forest fires. It is quite simply that everything burns so easily, simple as that. Lighting a fire can also keep bugs away and help with moral.
BIG AGNES tents. Second to the bike and perhaps not that far behind in importance, is the choice of tent. The quality and reliability of your new home ‘on the road’ is what will keep you awake at night. Weight for weight and performance for performance, we can find nothing too much better than Big Agnes. Lots of room, even at the ends and two vestibules make this a very usable tent. We have had great service from the company, which is always important. We changed the pegs to a ‘V’ shape Ti for stability and also have a few ‘nail style’ Ti pegs in case we end up on a RV site hard standing or similar, and need to get a peg in to tough ground.
Ortlieb and Vaude Panniers. Well goodness what a decision. Not since having to face a rapidly depressurizing aircraft, and wondering “Which one of the twins shall I place the oxygen mask on first?”, has there been a more difficult choice. The WWW. is full of debate, with most favouring Ortlieb. Esther uses the BIG ‘O’ and I have used Vaude for almost 15 years and still use the same bags. If you set out to break them you will probably manage, but you would have to fit them really badly. Neither are immune from the attention of Raccoons. I would toss a coin, as there are virtues in both.