Cycling The 6 Equipment Reviews 2011
I’ve been honest, I promise. Yes, some of my gear is sponsored and yes, of course I have a vested interest in promoting the freebies, but on this trip I only approached sponsors who are at the top of their game and I refused kit that I suspected wasn’t up to the job. I haven’t included anything in the lists that follow that didn’t work extremely well in some of the tough and varied conditions I experienced en route. This is a breakdown of what worked and what didn’t, what I really needed and what I could have done without. It’s in no particular order. Hopefully it will be useful for anyone planning their own cycle tour, expedition or outdoor adventure. There´s a full kit list on my website here.
Top ten kit list
(items which cost less than £50)
1. A Buff
How do you describe a Buff? Maybe ´Multifunctional headgear´ covers it. I used it in a variety of extreme conditions and I reckon I have worn it in every possible fashion (see the video below) including the ‘Driving Miss Daisy’. It stopped me accruing ice crystals in my beard in the Alps, it turned into a sweat band in the Middle East and saved my eyes and nostrils from a sandy oblivion during a sand storm in Sudan. One word of warning though… don’t walk into an Albanian bank wearing a Buff as a full face mask as I did, you will inadvertently terrorize all the staff.
Cyclists are a vulnerable bunch when it comes to mosquito bites and the diseases they carry. It’s fair to say that as an absolute minimum, a bout of malaria would have really pissed me off. I found Incognito – a non DEET based repellent and gave it a go. Whilst riding through the malarial zones in sub-Saharan Africa it has been incredibly effective and I’ve been malaria free. Plus it makes you smell like lemons, which after cycling 150 km can only be a bonus. You can get some here
3. P20 Suncream
4. Endura Hummvee 3/4 shorts and trousers
It´s a bold statement I know, but I reckon Endura make the best cycling clothing out there. I rode in these almost every day. Loads of pockets with zips, stretch panels and side zipped ventilation. And they look cool, which of course is very important when you’re completely on your own for days at a time in the middle of a desert.
5. Craghoppers base t-shirt
I alternated between two of these t-shirts whilst cycling through Africa and both look almost brand new today. They cost less than a tenner and are made from moisture-wicking polyester which keeps you dry and not caked in sweat. Bargain.
|Craghoppers Base t-shirt and Endura 3/4 shorts|
6. The Nomad Expedition Poncho
Its all about multi-functionality when you’re gram saving to avoid chugging too slowly up those hills. Yes it’s a poncho but I also used it as a tarp and a ground sheet. It got me through the wet season and anything that copes with tropical rain in Tanzania must be worthy of a place in this top ten. Find it here
7. Seal skinz socks
The Sealskinz range of waterproof socks keep your feet warm and dry even in the worst weather conditions and definitely worth investing in if you´re planning a journey through a wet climate. Unique patented technology – find out more here
8. Moleskine journal
A symbol of contemporary nomadism. These are the ultimate, classic, smartest notebooks, used by the legendary explorers and artists of yesteryear. I’m particularly fond of trying to convince strangers that they are actually made from mole’s skin. The Moleskine is where my blog begins and where my book, if I ever write one, will be spawned from. There are several different varieties. I use the large ruled hardback which has loads of pages, little pockets for all the scrap paper I scribble disjointed ideas down on and a reward section at the front. More info here
9. Park MTB-3 Multitool
10. Sea to Summit Sleeping bag liner
Washing a sleeping bag is a hassle so these save you the trouble – you just wash the liner. They also keep you even warmer on cold nights. There are various versions including silk and cotton. You can get some here.
Top ten kit list
(items that cost more than £50)
(items that cost more than £50)
1. The Santos Travelmaster bicycle
I bought Belinda, my bicycle, knowing I needed to spend enough money to guarantee a solid, trusty steed. She hasn’t let me down. Santos allow you to do a complete custom build, so you choose each part of the bike from a range of different components. You choose the frame colour and type of metal, the accessories, the brakes, the chain, the pedals, the rims… everything. This freedom of choice and high quality of the parts doesn’t come cheap but I reckon it’s worth the price tag and would certainly favour a Santos over, for example, a Thorn – another popular touring bike in the UK. The bike came with a Rohloff hub – a device which contains 14 internal gears and holds a solid reputation – most long distance cyclists I came across have one. I wanted a bike that was durable and easy to fix. Mine has a steel frame and isn’t light – perhaps weighing around 20kg – but it’s as heavy as it needs to be and will hopefully last me the five years I plan to be cycling. It came with a Brooks saddle, a handlebar mounted compass, a very strong kickstand and a dynamo hub.
I have ridden thousands of miles in relative comfort thanks to Alasdair at MSG Bikes who does an ergonomic bike fitting which is unique to him and not available anywhere else. Their slogan “it’s not all about the bike is right.¨ Check them out here
Is this the largest music memory of all portable MP3 players? I don’t rightly know but that’s got to be the main draw. 160 GB = about 40,000 songs. That’s over 110 days and nights of listening continuously until you reach the end of the track list. I have almost 30,000 on mine so I doubt I´ll ever get bored. Yes Itunes is annoying and makes accessibility difficult but it still has to be head, shoulders, knees and toes above the other MP3 players out there.
3. Leatherman Wave
4. Ortlieb Panniers
Out of the 26 cycle tourers I met between London and Cape Town almost all of them had Ortliebs, and there must be a reason. Immensely durable, watertight and suitably voluminous for starters. They are an obvious choice for most.
5. Tubus racks
In South America I was once flung far from my saddle when a cheap aluminium rack suddenly bent and jammed into my spokes, obliterating several of them and leaving me rackless with a sore arse in a ditch. So it’s fair to say I did my research this time round, make way for the Tubus. The concensus seems to be that these are the strongest racks out there and well worth the investment, unless you have a penchant for mud in your face and the taste of blood.
6. Schwalbe tyres
I did almost 16,000 km on my front Schwalbe Extreme, that’s the distance from London to Tanzania. This is another brand the long distance cyclists stick to like glue. Overwhelmingly more popular than the competitors, some cyclists complain of forgetting how to fix a puncture after fitting them. I have the Schwalbe Dureme on now, they might sound like a brand of condom but they do the job and I suppose if either bursts you’re going to have a pretty bad day.
7. Terra Nova Superlite Solar tent
|Camping in thick snow, the Alps|
8. Exped Downmat
Down and air is the combo gives you the warmest night’s sleep. These sleeping mats are also much more comfortable than a thermorest or a simple roll mat. Check them out here.
Tough sandals you can cycle in, with cleats if you need them. I wore them almost every day I was in Africa and they lasted me all the way. You can pick up a pair from Madison here.
10. Business cards
Not just a good way to avoid constantly writing down your email address to people you meet en route on scraps of paper which inevitably get lost but also a good way to promote a blog or website. I´m tired of explaining my route around the world so I have a map on the back of the cards so I can just show people instead.
Never leave home without…
A couple of good books
Kit I wish I’d brought…
A descent multifuel stove – such as the Primus Omnifuel
Two litre water bottle holders for the bike (still can’t find any)
A decent travel pillow – the key to a good night’s sleep
Presents for people / thank you cards – maybe some photos from home
A half decent netbook
A decent dry bag for the rack to keep everything together, such as this one pictured from Overboard Africa…
Some kit I wish I had left behind…
MSR stove (I had one, it is now floating around the crocodile infested waters of the Okovango river in Botswana. Good riddance.)
Self sticking puncture repair patches – good for a race when you have to repair punctures quickly but not for touring. They all eventually fail.
Cleats – still not sure if these were behind my knee injury but I no longer take the risk
My crap bike pump without a pressure gauge, always have a gauge.
Tubes with Presta valves – You will never find replacements outside Europe, go instead with Schroeder valves which are also handy because if your pumps breaks, and it will, you can re-inflate at petrol stations
3 things I would never skimp on…
2. Sleeping bag
So a quick update – I´m currently in Argentina and about to begin the next leg of the journey – The Americas. It will be around 18 months from here to Alaska. Cant wait to get started. My knee has been a problem of late but the MRI scan in Cape Town was better than I had anticipated and the knee has improved a fair bit since, so on I go. More stories from the road very soon.
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