My touring kit had been pretty static the last few years, with often just one or two bits changed as I’d set out on tour. This year, for my cross country tour, I changed quite a few things and thus set out with a decent amount of previously untested kit. I went over in meticulous detail my experiences with the charging system that I used in the previous post and in this one I’d like to cover the rest of my equipment.
Once again I set out on my only bicycle, my trusty 2005 Rivendell Atlantis. I kept the same configuration of racks, handlebars, gearing, pedals and the like as I’ve done for the last few years. As has been the case the bicycle performed flawlessly with few problems and certainly none with the major components. So here is a rundown of the entiriety of the mechanical issues I had with the bicycle:
On the second day of the tour I awoke to find my rear tire flat. As I’d only ever had two (2) flats total with the Schawlbe Marathon Plus in over 5000 miles of riding (including two loaded tours) I was a little disappointed. However on pulling the tube I found that Free Range Cycles had replaced my old tube with a Kenda tube when they had rebuilt my rear wheel. Long time readers of this blog will recall my problem with Kenda tubes on my 2009 West Coast tour – the valves seems to not hold under a full load. After I replaced this tube with one from my stash I never had another flat. 5000+ miles on a wide variety of terrain, including the worst roads I’ve ever been on, with my rear tire becoming increasingly bald (I replaced it in Fort Wayne) not a single flat. The Marathon Pluses are the best.
My rear wheel became increasingly wobbly as I rode through Minnesota and Wisconsin. On taking it to REI to get it trued I was informed that it was severely cracked. At this point it had nearly 3000 miles on it but I’d say it’d been wobbling for the last 500 or so. Thus this new wheel that I’d gotten built up right before the tour cracked in many, many places in less then 2500 miles (and who knows when the first cracks appeared). This was the second Velocity Synergy wheel I’ve had crack prematurely – this new one replaced the same wheel that was less then two years old. No spokes broken in this time. I wonder if the double butted spokes don’t brake when maybe they should leading to more stress on the rim? This wheel was replaced in Minnesota with a x rim which lasted without issue for the rest of the tour and until this point. It was a bit wider which required adjustment of my brakes and also painted black instead of the chrome of my other wheel. This latter point doesn’t bug me too much as the inside of my wheels are usually pretty dirty anyway and lets face I’ve never been much of a bag matcher.
While I had no further issues with my rear rim I did have two broken spokes over the next few thousand miles. The first of these occurred July 19th – almost two weeks to the day of my wheel replacement. I had it fixed the next day in Defiance Ohio at the excellent “R” Bike Shop. The second spoke (presumably a different one) broke on my last day (August 1st) in New York State as I was descending out of the Adirondack Mountains. This one I had fixed the next day in Middlebury VT at The Bike Center – yet another great shop with really great staff. There I was informed that while the wheel had been expertly built, the wrench had used single butted spokes which explains their propensity to break. However as I wondered above, did this help keep the rim from cracking? Or is it just a better rim in that regard? It ended up with about as many fully loaded miles on it as when the previous rim began cracking. Anyway this was my last broken spoke of the tour (which admittedly only had another week or so at this point).
Both of my shifter cables broke in the course of the tour, but I had anticipated this and packed along a spare. I replace my shifter cables every year (around 3-4000 miles typically) and at 5000+ miles for the tour I’d figured that they wouldn’t last the whole way. They both failed the same way – they became increasingly hard to shift, frayed at the shifter and then eventually broke. I’d only bought one spare cable (assuming they both wouldn’t fail at the same time) and when I had my spoke fixed in Defiance Ohio I picked up another one. The rear cable, which lets face it gets a lot more use snapped on July 17th; the front cable almost made the entire tour snapping on August 6th – the day before I arrived in Bar Harbor. I had also carried a spare brake cable, but there wasn’t any issues there.
So that was it for mechanicals: one cracked rim, two broken spokes, to broken cables and a bad tube. Not bad for 3+ months of riding in crazy amount of road and weather conditions with a plenty loaded down bicycle.
I had no problem with my bags, but I think a few words are in order. I was running the classic six bag setup: Arkel GT-54‘s on the rear rack, Arkel GT-18‘s on the front rack, a Berthoud Micro Seat bag (which doesn’t seem to be available any more) and a Baggins Hobo bag on the front (which alas definitely isn’t available any more). Back when I first started buying touring gear the big players in touring bags were Arkel and Ortlieb. Yes there were other manufactures but they were generally either of lesser quality (say Jandd) or didn’t really seem to be their primary focus (say Berthoud and Carradice; both of which I’d say are more saddlebags than panniers). Now of course there is a seemingly endless list of boutique bag makers plus a few more larger players that take the segment a bit more seriously. I chose Arkel over Ortlieb as I I prefer the organizational aspect over the focus on waterproofness. Now of course you can get Orliebs with more pockets and Arkel’s with the same kind of waterproofing so I wonder if the holy wars have died down now. I’d probably go boutique myself if I was buying new bags now.
I’d only done one tour before this one with the six bag setup (my first) preferring a lighter setup with a saddlebag in the rear and the two GT-18s on the front. And of course the Hobo bag – that never comes off. In the main I still prefer that setup – the bicycle really handles amazing in that configuration. Also with a lot less weight on the rear wheel I think one is less prone to the rim and spoke issues I had on this tour. However for this tour I was starting early and would be spending a lot of time at high elevations in the spring requiring warmer, bulkier clothing. Plus I wanted to be able to carry more food with me which was always an issue with the more minimal setup.
The Arkel bags are pretty heavy on their own, but comparing them with the closest Ortlieb they seem pretty close (6.6 vs. 5.9 pounds but with nearly 900cc more space on the Arkels). The tube for the tent poles and my sleeping pad I think is one of the truly great innovations. I used the rain covers on these and I rode in a lot of rain and some serious thunderstorms (not to mention riding in some flooded bits of road that was well above the bottom of the panniers) without issue. These pannier use the older Arkel mounting system which while very secure is rather a pain to remove. So I never much liked taking them off. Many of my fellow tourons would take off their panniers on entering camp but I only reluctantly removed them. Arkel’s “new” (its been standard for maybe 6 years now) mounting system is much easier from what I understand.
The other bas performed as required – the Berthoud which just had tools, tubes and parts in it, I have no complaints. The front Baggins Bag, which is the best handlebar bag I’ve ever used (especially for my preferred mustache bars) continued to serve me well. It’s one downside is that while the waxed cotton is water resistant, the zipper is not. After the original plastic zipper had broken I’d had it replaced with a metal one, which let even more water in. There was a number of occasions when I would unload the damp items in it to find water sloshing in the bottom. I took to keeping a plastic bag in it to cover things. I should try some beeswax on the zipper to see if that helps, but next tour I’m going to keep a small drybag in it.
Rivendell Brand V Grabsack
I’ve found that carrying a bag that one can use off bicycle is of great value. In the past I’ve used a small light musette bag that I can stuff anywhere but for this tour I wanted something a bit more substantial. A Rivendell Brand V Grabsack seemed like just the ticket. I could easily keep my iPad, Camera, journal and book in it, with space for a bit of food or water or random items. I began buying pins first for national parks and than state parks as well on my 2009 tour. By the end of the tour it was pretty loaded down with them (I’ve also added the pins from Mount Rainier and the Redwoods that I acquired on other tours since returning).
Eureka Spitfire at my Campsite in Afton State Park, MN
I used the same tent (Eureka Spitfire), sleeping Bag (Kelty Light Year CD 25), and pad (Therm-A-Rest Backpacker ¾ Length) that I’ve used since my very first tour. No complaints with any of these, though it seemed that the zipper to the tent was beginning to wear (and my sleeping bag desperately need to be washed which I did when I got home). I did my research when I bought this gear and I have to say it’s served me well. One amusing anecdote related to the tent was when I was staying at Hughes Marina and Campground in upstate NY a lady came by and was quite friendly and talkative. She it turned out worked for Eureka and when she realized my tent was made by them, completely freaked out. She talked about how much they appreciate user testimonials and when I indicated that the tent had served me incredibly well I was certain she was going to interview me then and there for marketing.
Trangia cookset and kettle
This was my second tour utilizing a Trangia Cookset to which I added a Trangia Kettle for this tour. I really think the Trangia is a fantastic set and while I loved my previous alcohol stove (a Brasslight) it’s integration with the cook set and its windscreen is really top drawer. The kettle was new for this tour and I have to say absolutely worth it. It fit inside the cookset and thus took up no more space. But it was so much more efficient at boiling water that I definitely used a lot less fuel. I was much more ambitious on this tour with my cooking and I have to say this cookset really rose to the occasion.
I also brought a Titanium Spork, a Victorinox Knife and Backpackers cutting board. The spork as been around since tour one, but the knife and cutting board were new. Previously I just used my Leatherman for a knife and I have to say having a dedicated knife was worth it. The Victorinox is very good for cutting and not bad for spreading so a very good choice. I kept it in s sheath so as not to cut other things or damage the blade.
Tea infuser, coffee filter, measuring cup and titanium cup
Additionally I carried my usual titanium mug and coffee filter to which I added a measuring cup and tea infuser. These all nicely fit inside of each other, so again an efficient use of space. To facilitate cooking on this tour I had a small backpackers spice rack, and little bottles which I’d fill with olive oil, hot oil and soy sauce at co-ops. This all really helped for a more diverse and better cooking experience than I have done on other tours, which I felt was vital for 3+ months on the road. The extra weight and bulk was well worth it: I ate better and the food tasted better.
I carried two other bits of camping gear that I haven’t used before: a Katadyn Mini water filter and a collapsible Sea-to-Summit Kitchen Sink. The water filter was absolutely worth it – there was I think about 6 times I was in campgrounds without a potable water source but which had streams or lakes. It was definitely worth it to not be trying to boil the water (which isn’t entirely effective) or use purification tablets (likewise). The mini Katadyn works well but it is pretty slow and tedious. But most days I wasn’t pressed for time and could just embrace the activity. The collapsible kitchen sink was not as necessary. I had thought that perhaps I’d use it to do laundry in (and that certainly is possible) but I never did do that. I did use it a couple of times when filtering water, as it was easy to scoop up a large amount in. But it was just as easy to fill up my collapsable bladder and filter into my water bottles which I did almost every time. I may take it along (it’s pretty small and light) on future tours that are more in the woods and away from places to wash clothes but it is definitely not essential.
My thoughts on clothing date back to my earliest tours: I prefer to dress so that if I enter say a coffee shop I don’t look like an alien. This pretty much discounts the typical cycling jerseys and lycra shorts. Which is okay as I don’t care much for those clothes anyway. All of this doesn’t mean I don’t buy cycling specific clothes – there is a lot to be said for having shorts without seams in uncomfortable places. But isn’t always necessary. Apart from the aforementioned shorts, much of my riding clothes aren’t cycling specific though they may be made or sold by Rivendell.
Typical clothing for the ride up Wauconda Pass (Wool cap, MUSA Seersucker & shorts, Smartwool socks, Summer Gloves)
I kept to my typical clothing that I’ve settled into on this tours: MUSA Shorts and seersucker shirts for riding, convertible pants and flannel shirts when not and of course a Cycling Cap. I also had a tweed cardigan, wool undershirt, wool tights, hats and wool Leg Warmers that I used in the initial cold stages of the tour (as low as the upper 20s (F) the night I spent near Wauconda Pass). I had a very light weight pair of cotton shorts and a long sleeve cotton shirt that I’d use to sleep in/do laundry in. The two MUSA seersucker shirts disintegrated on the tour (I’d had them for years though) and I replaced them with a cowboy shirt I bought at an outfitters in Minneapolis and a Land’s End seersuck my parents got for me and brought me in Fort Wayne. I also had several pairs of wool socks. I started off with three pairs of gloves: long fingered wool gloves, fingerless wool gloves and a pair of Summer Gloves. The second of these pair of gloves came along by accident, but they proved useful. I pretty much wore these two gloves until it became hot and then it was just the summer gloves. Those gloves had completely deteriorated by Fort Wayne where I got a new pair as part of the package I bought from Rivendell that my parents delivered.
Off bicycle clothes plus my rain jacket (Wool cap, Showers Pass Touring Jacket, Convertible Pants, Smartwool socks, Ecco Sandals)
Foul Weather Gear
I had completely new rain gear for this tour: Showers Pass Touring Jacket and J&G Rain Paint. My old REI rain jacket had lost all pretense at waterproofness at this point as had my Rainlegs. I had meant to get another pair of Rainlegs but never did.I have to say that Rainlegs are the best for riding in drizzle and any point where you wouldn’t bother to put on rain pants but would like something. I will probably get them for the next tour. The Shower’s Pass jacket lived up to its reputation but was (also as per its reputation) way too big. I’d bought the large figuring that even with the rumored size discreptancy I’d want that for all the layers underneath but it still turned out to be huge with especially long arms. And yet the neck was pretty much right on. So I don’t know if I should try to swap it for a medium sometime. With velcro at the wrists I tend to just put it on and not worry much about it. The J&G rain pants also worked fine but I’m not much of a fan of wearing rainpants. I put them on in all day rain and on the cold descents from mountain passes. Otherwise I’d tend to just weather it – would rather have rain legs for these moments.
I also used two odd Rivendell products that I’ve come to be a huge fan of: the MUSA Splats and Windshield. The Spats are “rain hats for your feet” and I’d long since been converted to their use. I’d found that I could year my preferred sandals and wool socks all winter long if I added these on cold days. They block the wind and with fenders your feet will stay dry in the rain. Impressed by these I bought the windshield but found that it didn’t stay on me nice and tight (it has a plastic barrel adjustor). So I ignored it for a while. But when I moved into the U-District in Seattle I was riding a lot more and found that I with the hills in the city that my cardigan was ideal clothing. But its buttons let in the air on descents and I thought I’d try the windshield again. Foregoing the adjustable straps I just tied them and it work fine and I became completely converted. With Rainlegs, Splats and the Windshield you can ride in typical Seattle drizzle without overheating and without getting more than damp.
I took a third generation Apple iPad which I had gotten only a couple of months before the tour. I kept it safe in an Griffin Survivor Case. The iPad made it all the way across country through storms, drought, snow and damp without a scratch. The case wasn’t without it’s downsides though. First and foremost for my needs was that the slot for the power connector on the bottom of the case wasn’t wide enough to accommodate the Camera Connection Kit which I used to transfer photos from my camera. I had originally intended to take all my pics with my P&S camera, transfer them to the iPad and upload from there. But since I had to take the iPad out of the case to transfer the photos I’d only do this when I was in doors – so every few weeks. So I began taking pics with the iPad which its small lens and lack of zoom aside is pretty good. Plus on the huge screen you can really see how the pics will look. This revealed another shortcoming to the Griffin Survivor: it has rubber flaps to cover things like the ports and the camera lens. These would never stay affixed in the open position and would flap close at the most inopportune time. After months of constant use these flaps began to deteriorate. It also had a little plastic “kickstand” which allowed me to prop it up without holding it. This too didn’t last, the henge holding the leg in place breaking after a couple of months on the road. But in it’s primary purpose – keeping the iPad dry and protected it performed flawlessly.
The iPad, which has 64GBs of storage was really a useful item to have along. Being able to transfer the photos to it was a huge bonus – I didn’t have to carry a lot of SD cards or risk them getting lost or damaged. I also had bought the iPhoto app which let me edit photos and upload them easily to Flickr (my preferred photo sharing site). With it’s screen resolution of 2048-by-1536 you could really see what your photos were going to look like on the web. It was also much, much easier to blog with then my old iPhone. The on screen keyboard isn’t ideal but at that size it really isn’t that bad. I used this as my only computing device for the three+ months and had no issues. It is a bit large and that big bright screen sucks down the battery life (see the previous post for more on that). The new iPad Mini might be just the device for touring in that it should have most of these advantages but be smaller, lighter and (perhaps) less power hungary. I used Verizon for my wireless connectivity and I have to say I’d often have internet access when my phone (which was using AT&T) would have no signal.
I took pictures with the iPad for ease of my daily blog posts (plus I was only transferring photos when I was indoors due to having to take the iPad out of the case to do so) Canon PowerShot A580 with two 2GB memory cards. I’d gotten this used as is my wont – I find my on bicycle point & shoot cameras have about a two year lifespan. No complaint with this camera – the photos are nice and sharp, it has reasonable optical zoom and it is powered by AA batteries so I could easily charge and replace them.
In Libby Montana I bought a windup radio: an EtÃ³n American Red Cross ARCFR160R Microlink Self-Powered AM/FM/NOAA Weather Radio with Flashlight, Solar Power and Cell Phone Charger to be precise. I really liked having this, so I could listen to NPR (when I could) and get weather reports. It also worked as flashlight (which I never needed but it did work) and it claimed you could charge your cell phone with it (at something like 3 minutes of talk time for 45 minutes of cranking). This really worked well until my last few days in Bar Harbor when the crank broke off at the base. It had a plastic connector to the base which is clearly a planned obsolescence move – if it was metal I’d be using it today. I’ll definitely take another one of these with me, though I’d like to find a tougher one. I probably could just get a small battery operated one and keep it charged with my charging system, but I like the independence of the hand crank.
Any other tech I had beyond lights and such is well covered in the charging systems article.
That was my basic experience with my gear and I have to say that in the main I didn’t really have any issues. As I said at the outset I was primarily using gear that I was familiar with and had used for tour after tour. Researching the new gear especially in the contexts of others tours meant that I had little problems with the new gear. I didn’t mail home much of anything due to lack of use – just sent back warm clothes after it warmed up and books I’d finished reading. I’ve pretty much almost never had gear issues on tour; my initial research paid off well for me in the long run. There was of course plenty of other things I’m not noting here so for completeness sake I’ll include the packing list that I developed prior to the tour. It’s not complete either but it’s pretty close. I also put a few notes inside square brackets like so: [note].
Also worth noting is I’ve added a Tour Gear set on Flickr for which I’ll continue to add relevant pictures as I find/take them.