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.

2.    Incognito insect repellent

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

This is more of an essential item in my book. Once a day application is all you need – you can sweat buckets, shower or swim and it stays on. No grease, no shine and its fast gaining popularity. After only one application you can cycle 150 km through the Sahara under the scornful, merciless sun and no beetroot hue afterwards. Could this be the end of red and white striped Brits abroad?

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
I’ve had many bad experiences with multitools. They often fall apart on me or I end up hurling them at something hard in frustration, and then they fall apart on me. But this robust little gizmo has everything you’d need and expect from a multitool, it’s really durable and comes completely apart which is important because you need the Allen keys to operate the chain tool, most other multitool makers forget about this. When you dismantle it you have two tyre levers too. It includes various hex wrenches, spoke wrenches and screwdrivers, a bottle opener, a pedal wrench and a serrated knife.  

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)

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 

2.   160 GB IPOD

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

Fix your bike with it, open tins with it, cut up mangos with it, open beer bottles with it, trim your beard with it, scratch your arse with it… not all of the leatherman’s functions are in the instruction booklet but that’s only because the list is endless. The Wave is the most popular Leatherman and includes a tough pair of pliers, sharp blades and hacksaws, scissors, can opener and more. It’s one solid sexy beast and well worth investing in.

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
Some would argue that equipment is overrated, that people take off into the wilderness all the time with cheap bits and do fine, but if there’s one piece of kit you definitely don’t want to skimp on it’s your tent. It’s your home afterall. I have camped for over 200 nights in my tent so far. In the desert, in the wet season, in gale force winds and in thick snow (see right) and my Terra Nova is still going strong, still water tight and the poles are still fracture free. The design is great too, there’s loads of room inside, 2 doors and porches and if its hot you can just pitch the freestanding inner. It weighs a miniscule 2.4 kg and for me it was the best choice I could have made. Terra Nova have actually stopped producing the Solar but the Superlite Voyager is a similar price and just as good with a similar design. Be careful with the zips though… treat them well and they’ll do the same for you.

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.
9.   Shimano SD66 SPD sandals  

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.

Absolute essentials

Never leave home without…
Padded Lycra
A couple of good books

Kit I wish I’d brought…

A side mirror
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…

1. Tent
2. Sleeping bag
3. Tyres

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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Comments (12)

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    nice one, thanks for this and good luck with americas 🙂


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    max Goldzweig


    I can't believe you like Incognito. I found it to be completely useless. When using it as a night time safeguard in dodgy hotel rooms, I'd have to wake up every few hours to re-apply. I also hate Seal Skins – maybe I'm just particularly sweaty but they don't breath properly and end up stinking.


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    Contact Dominic Gill when you get to Los Angeles, CA. www dot takeaseat dot com


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    I'm a complete gearhead, luv, so this was a great read, esp because we've been looking for years for a non-DEET repellent and something less sucky than Thermarests. Great tips, all in all.

    Hope your knee is hanging in there; let us know as you reach the U.S. if we can be any help. My sister has Central American contacts, too, particularly in Guatemala City. Just say the word!


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    This will definitely be useful next year, even if I don't have a bike (though you make me want to do a tour of my own one day)


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    Amanzi Awethu!


    Stephen, you don't by any chance have the ability to enter people's minds while they sleep do you? Because you literally answered my dreams (ok, that's a little cheesy)

    I am one of 2 South African youngsters setting out in January on a 8-months water awareness cycle tour across Africa. This kit list has answered a while lot of those niggly little "maybe we should take…" questions I've been having as we get 1 month from kick-off. Particularly interesting is your take on the MSR stove?!

    I am obviously going to save your email under my contacts as "The Oracle" now, so I apologise in advance for Q&A harassment 😉 if you'd like to follow our projects progress, we're at http://www.amanziawethu.org and twitter.com/amanzi_awethu

    Enjoy the Americas my friend! Any chance of meeting up with the lads from @CycleforWater? They came down from Alaska and are in Argi now (I think), maybe they can tell you where the dogs are.


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    Thanks! Do you have some specs on your Santos? I am a gear head, and would love to read more detail about your choices.


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    Matthew Ongley


    Sorry have to disagree with you a fair bit here, sounds like you're just supporting your sponsors!?!

    The frame on my Santos broke after 3 months of gentle UK riding and I then spent months arguing with Santos to get a refund, will never consider buying again. And Santos only have 4 frame sizes unlike Thorn who have 8 options meaning your much more likely to get a bike that fits you properly.

    We also took exped mats on our cycling trip and they failed after about 4 months use, exped did refund but will never buy again they are simply not tough enough.

    I also would never buy a pressurised stove, too many delicate moving parts, I much prefer the trangia alcohol stove as it's got no moving parts and will never break.

    I also hate seal skins, instead just use plastic bag inside your shoes, much less sweaty!

    For touring I also never wear padded lycra, simply not needed if you're on a brooks.



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      Stephen Fabes


      You are absolutely right that I am supporting my sponsors, but almost without exception I've been very satisfied with the kit and this was an honest review of the stuff I really benefitted from.

      Santos do a full ergonomic bike fitting unlike Thorn – have a look at this – http://www.msgbikes.com/Ergonomic-Bike-Fitting. You dont need 8 frame size options. Nyomi who I cycled with through Africa used a Thorn, by Cape Town my Santos was in much better condition. I think the chance of breaking a frame is pretty remote, I've done 34,000 km on my Santos now and could do three times that without a broekn frame I'm sure.

      My Exped mat lasted from the UK to about Zambia, about one year and a half, I rough camped most nights. My current one is going strong after eight months of use. So they dont last years and years but they are much warmer and more comfy than thermarests.

      I actually agree with you now about Seal Skinz socks and no longer use them.

      I have switched and now use a gas stove and although I often have to carry a few cylinders, I would never go back to a multifuel.



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    Thank you for this, interesting and helpful. About to embark on a route 66 charity ride and might well check out your suggestions. Good luck on the next leg of your journey.


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    That's great information. Thanks for sharing this blog. I did a search and found your blog and glowing review. It's been a big help! Thanx!


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