This piece is for anyone interested in the equipment we are carrying and the bikes we are carrying it all on.
Now that we have been on the road for 7.5 months we have a better idea of what we have brought. We have used nearly everything that we have with us and luckily most of the things we haven’t used, are bicycle spares and our first aid kits! The following details some of the things we like and wouldn’t want to be without and some of the things we would find an alternative if we had the choice.
Frame: the basic Shand Stoater steel frame has, so far, served us well and I can’t see that changing. We have been very happy with the bikes in general. We have tightened all the bolts, screws and other fastenings on at least a 2-weekly basis – I think preventative measures are better than trying to find a replacement! I have a pocket Park Tools torque wrench to do this. One of the clips on my front mudguard broke and I ‘mended’ it with a couple of small zip ties. which seems to have worked well and has so far lasted over 2,500km.
Gears: the Rohloff gears, although a pricey option over a derailleur equivalent, have worked faultlessly and from our point of view have a suitable gear range for touring. There has been quite a few occasions where things have got a bit emotional on the gradient front, but we have only been ‘beaten’ a couple of times and on these occasions we have found alternative routes, so it hasn’t been an issue. I think what is nice about the Rohloffs is that they need very little maintenance – just change the oil and that’s it, no mucking about with cleaning gears and derailleurs etc. My Rohloff has ‘weeped’ a small quantity of oil recently, but according to the U.K. Rohloff distributor this is usual and it is likely to happen again, most likely after the bikes have been in an aeroplane hold. But there is nothing to worry about – the hub only needs 7mg of oil to work properly and even if all the oil leaks out (25mg is put in during a change) at least 7mg would remain by clinging to the working parts inside, so it would still work fine.
Belt drive: chains are of course the tried-and-tested bike power delivery option of choice. However, they generally only last 8-10k km per chain. Replacement chains are heavy and at times the rear gears will also need replacing when a chain breaks, so not ideal. We had reports that belts can last up to 30,000 km so went for the belt option and so far we have been pretty pleased with them. They have now passed 12,000 km and show some, but to be honest not a lot, of wear and tear. The drive and rear sprockets also show some signs of wear, but nothing like I would expect from a standard derailleur set up. Belts are generally quiet, but can squeak when sand or grit gets trapped on them. In this case clean water and a tooth brush sorts it out – we’ve cleaned our belts twice, since starting out, which takes about 5 minutes.
Wheels: quite remarkably we have had no punctures on our journey and I put this down to the Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres we have and the Schwalbe inner tubes. Our rear tyres are nearly bald (mine in particular looks a lot like my head!) and one part of the wall of Martina’s is breaking up a bit now so we have decided to put new rear tyres on for Asia but may keep the old ones as spares. I haven’t quite decided yet, as we already have a folding spare with us.
The front tyres have plenty of tread left, so we’ll be keeping them as they are. The rims (Hope) and spokes (Sapim), if I bother to wash the grime off, basically look new! I had almost expected a few broken spokes by now, but they have also performed well.
Brakes: we have Avid BB7 road brakes, which are common on touring bikes. I personally am not a fan as they are a nightmare to set up and they have needed continual adjustment throughout our trip so far. Given the chance I would definitely change them for a different design/manufacturer. The discs (Hope) appear to be fine with little wear.
Saddle: always of concern for the long distance cyclist and we’ve both had a few issues with saddle sores, me in particular as I have a boney arse! We have Brooks Cambium saddles, which are made of a man-made fibre and are supposed to be super comfy. I go back to my previous statement, we’ve both had a few issues with sores! Not too sure what we can do about it as other cyclists complain of similar problems.
Panniers/bags: we have Ortlieb panniers which have served us well and even in the most torrential downpours they have kept our kit dry. I have replaced one small hanger clip (free from Ortlieb) on one of my rear bags as it came off and went missing. We have both ‘lost’ our bar bags at some point when they have ‘bounced’ off the bike when hitting a bump. It’s likely that this is because we didn’t attach them properly and not an issue with the bag itself. We wouldn’t be without our bar bags as they are very useful! We also have two Ortlieb dry bags each, for our food and tent, which sit on top of the rear panniers and are kept in place with bungee cords. Quite early in we noticed that the bungees were wearing the dry bags, so we bought some plastic sheeting to wrap the dry bags in to stop chafing – and this seems to have worked!
The Plug: The Plug is a USB recharging point on the bike, the power for which comes from the dynamo in the front hub. My Plug had a few hiccups early on, but since then it’s worked fine; Martina’s has worked well throughout. I think the issue with mine was that it got wet inside but luckily dried out, and has been okay since. So the key to success appears to be keeping them dry. There is a rubber cover for this purpose, but it’s pretty rubbish and I have thought of putting a plastic bag over it when it rains just to make sure it stays dry. I use my Plug nearly all the time where as Martina’s is used sporadically, so this may also be a reason mine has played up a bit.
Lights: we have Exposure lights on the front of our bikes, which are also powered from the front hub. Martina’s has worked well and mine has had a couple of blips when it didn’t work, but seems okay now. Again, I think this might have been due to rain ingress, and am not too sure what I can do about it as it’s supposed to be a sealed unit!
Dynamo: of course the dynamo can only supply a certain amount of power and that’s dependent on our speed. I have to do quite a bit of power management when I want to power the GPS as well as the front light going slowly up hill. Basically, I/it can’t do it all!
Tent: our Terra Nova Quasar was well-used prior to us setting out, but looked pretty new. It now, definitely shows more signs of wear and tear as it has been in and out of its bag lots! However, when it has rained it hasn’t let us down and it is really easy to put up, so no issues to report yet! As we go on I do think that the wear may take its toll. We have taken as much care of it as we possibly can and dried it out after each use etc, which we hope will serve us well in the future.
Sleeping arrangements: our ThermaRest sleeping mats have worked well. I have just had to replace mine as it was delaminating on the inside and a football-shaped bubble appeared instead of it being nice and flat when it was blown up. But to be fair it was 19 years-old and very well-used! For comfort and size when packed I think they are great. One of our favourite bits of kit is our sleeping bags – Mountain Equipment Helium 400 three-season down – toasty warm even when it’s below freezing. We also have a liner which makes for easy washing and also gives a few more degrees warmth. Both have been absolutely brilliant and definitely recommended.
Cooking arrangements: we have been using an MSR Whisperlite International stove which we had issues with at the start, but these seem to have sorted themselves out. The key to having it in good working order is keeping it really clean, which means cleaning it externally every time it’s used and internally as much as possible. I can’t say that this isn’t a bit of a faff because it is – and it’s dirty. We have used the recommended white fuel as well as unleaded petrol and both work well, though petrol does smell bad and makes everything else it comes close to smell as well. The aluminium foil windbreaker that comes with the stove is rubbish and has torn in two recently and I’m not too sure what we’ll do about this yet.
I think that given another chance I’d look at other camping stove options as the Whisperlite isn’t the easiest to use. The best point about it is that it will work on unleaded petrol and diesel fuel, but there are others that do this too. The GSI pots and pans have worked well though I did burn some of the non-stick off the frying pan, on about day 5 in the Netherlands, but that’s because I’m stupid and it wasn’t the fault of the pan!
Navigation: I’m using a Garmin GPSMAP 64s and to be honest I should have used it a bit more prior to setting out! It’s taken a bit of time to get the hang of it but that little black and orange box and I have become firm friends! The maps are from openstreetmap.nl and are free and easy to use. The maps are stored on a micro SD card in the back of the GPS and it’s easy to swap map sections over as long as you have access to a computer with a USB port. I managed to get three sets of maps, one for Northern Europe, one for Eastern and Southern Europe and one for the rest of the world, which covers the whole of our journey. Every couple of weeks it goes through what I can only describe as a freeze – nothing works. Initially I would shout at it, take the battery out and restart it and it would work again – not the best rectification plan! In time I’ve come to the conclusion that it is actually doing something important inside when it does this. Not too sure what, perhaps it’s a calibration or something to do with where maps join together, I don’t know, but if it’s left alone for a few minutes it sorts itself out on its own. There has also been about 4 occasions when it ‘couldn’t find satellites’ which is a bit unlikely as it uses the American GPS and Russian COSPAS systems together. With both of these there are a load of satellites up there which, in Europe, it should be able to pick up. So, I’m not too sure what was happening at these points, perhaps I was being jammed! The longest it lasted was about 4 hours and I would say was inconvenient rather than a proper pain in the arse. Finally, I have just had to replace the GPS holder which bolts onto the handlebars as the first one slowly disintegrated bit by bit over the months!
Other invaluable stuff: baby wipes, a folding trowel and toilet roll, hand sanitiser, a pen knife, plastic bowls, knife, fork and spoon, salt and pepper and other spices, sharp knife, plastic chopping board, lighters.