2013 Gear Checkup
It seems as if another year is coming to an end, and a perfect opportunity to go through how the gear is standing up. I’ve only covered very short distances in the year and a half, changing my riding style, finding myself spending more and more time in cities making friends, learning the languages and enjoying myself, but rest assured the riding isn’t over. It would be impossible for the body to sustain constant cycling for multiple years without some major breaks and that’s what I’ve been finding myself doing, keeping my body 100%. I’ve suffered from a few bouts of malaria, and other water borne illnesses along the way, but those quickly disappear with the help of tablets and good eating. Let’s focus on the gear. Since the last time I wrote about the gear I’ve seen major failures with equipment along the way, and components are definitely starting to show their wear. What was once new and colourful is now faded and fraying, filled with holes, dents, scratches and dings. Some of the failures have been very surprising, some have not. Let’s go into Detail..
Startling of all in the past 18 months has been the failure of my drivetrain, and wheels. The Front wheel, touted as being one of the strongest wheels on the market, suited for off road riding, long distance touring, and aiming at lasting over 50,000km on the road or more developed a bend in the rim close to the tire in Mid 2012. This made braking quite the jarring experience when applying brakes causing a major thumping sound and forcing you to hold onto the handlebars tightly when in a sticky situation. When In Arusha, Tanzania I was lucky to have met a fellow with a suitable workspace and I bent the rim back into place with a vice carefully. It wasn’t exactly straight, but I figured it would be suitable to ride for thousands of more kilometres. It made it no more than 2000km before again I noticed a strange sensation while braking. The rim split eventually, and I continued to ride for 1000km while I tried to sort out a replacement rim to be sent over from the UK to my destination. Eventually the rim split more and a sharp shard protruded from the rim dashing any hopes of making it to Zambia where my rim would be delivered. I replaced it with a used rim and hub that I found in Kigali, Rwanda which exceeded my expectations as I put it through some of the most challenging conditions I’ve ever rode through. The downside to having this failure is that I lost my Pedal Powered Electronics Charging System, which also meant frequent visits to guesthouses for lodging to charge the electronics components I carried with me. Once I made it to Zambia I found a bicycle shop to replace the Schmidt SON 28 Dyno Hub to a new rim with new spokes to the cost of $10 USD. Quite disappointed that the rim only lasted 22,000km.
Another startling failure was the internal gear Rohloff Hub that sits on the rear wheel. After some heavy days of cycling steep hills I noticed that while on descents or flat ground that it would slip while pedaling. I initially thought it was because I had ground my rear cog into a sharp throwing star, neglecting to change it (and also trying to see how far I could go with the original cog), and went through trauma when trying to remove the old cog to replace ending up damaging the specialized removal tool, shearing off exterior parts of the hub in the process. I ended up changing the rear cog, flipping the front chain ring, changing the oil, and replacing the chain, only to find 10km later the problem persisted. Rohloff stands behind their products and drop shipped a new gear assembly along with a new removal tool which I had to replace on my own once I arrived in Lusaka, Zambia. 25,000km some odd kilometres shouldn’t have caused this problem to the hub as there have been other long distance cyclists who have travelled much more distance on these hubs with no problems, and I’ll be careful to watch how it functions in the future.
My Ergon GP-1 Handlebar grips are starting to show their age, with the rubber starting to flake off in pieces. These grips are wonderful for riding, removing any pains regularly associated with gripping things for long periods of time. In the hot African sun they get soft and sticky, leaving residue on hands. I went ahead and swapped the grips to the other sides in the process of flipping them upside down to use the side that has not been so worn through, and eventually moved to using an old pair of gloves over top of them to reduce the grime that appears on the hands. At 25,000km and 3 years I’m satisfied with the wear, and have a new set coming early January before I start off.
My front tire, the Schwalbe Marathon XR is picking up more thorns and road junk, but surprisingly is still rolling with a decent amount of tread. This tire believe it or not has 25,000km+ on it, and has been with me since Canada. Too bad they don’t make these anymore. My rear tire found a large gash in it after 8700km which seems to be a normal amount of distance that was replaced with a Schwalbe Marathon Extreme 26×2.00”. I found 3 Schwalbe Extreme 26×2.25” tires for a steal of a price and had them sent over to Zambia which will act as spares for the remainder of Africa. All of my tubes have at minimum 10 patches on them, and I’ve picked up 5 new tubes and 4 new patch kits as well. The Ortlieb Panniers are getting more faded as each day passes, and I’m glad I chose the colour grey, as I’ve seen what happens to the black ones (they turn grey too!). Thin, filled with holes from punctures, tears, and the odd cigarette burn I’m going to assume they’ve lost most of their waterproofness, and certainly couldn’t ride through rivers anymore. That being said, they still hang on the racks fine, the latches close properly (with the exception of the rear trunk bag where one of the fasteners snapped in two). The Handlebar bag lid is getting thinner and thinner, but I’ve decided to hold off on replacing and invest in more Gorilla Tape. I’m at a little over 42,000km of touring with all the Ortlieb Equipment.
I’ve redone my pedal bearings, changed my brake pads (at the 22,000km) mark, replaced a seized brake cable, and shoved a wad of grease overtop of my sealed headset bearing cartridge to remove a constant clicking sound, and the bike is riding as good as day one. It’s covered in scratches and dings, mostly due to it falling over, so I searched for a solution after giving up entirely on the Clickstand Folding Kickstands. Instead, I went ahead and voided my Thorn Nomad MK II’s warranty and installed a new Pletscher ESGE Dual Leg Kickstand. Wrapping the frame in an old rubber tube I made sure to not crush the chain stay as some people have done, and have been more than happy with the unit, even though it requires a bit of tightening here and there with a 15mm wrench as it sometimes gets loose.
The other star purchase of the year has been the addition of two massive water bottle cages, the BBB FuelTank XL’s. These adjustable units have the capability of holding onto 1.5 litre water bottles that can be found virtually anywhere, allowing me to get rid of two of my moldy water bottles at the same time increasing the amount that I can carry on the frame an extra 2 litres. I still find myself scrambling for water daily, but its nice to know that I no longer have to use strict metering on my water consumption with this extra volume. Am quite tempted to add a third cage if I have the possibility of finding someone coming over from the UK in the next few months. I’ve also gone and put a B&M Lumotfly LED light back on my bicycle. The front Dyno Hub powered light I used to ride with met a dusty death way back in Nevada in 2011 and the very few times I’ve been caught in the darkness I’ve been scared to bits to not know whats coming. This new light has a way stronger lumen count, a wide light spread, and is now mounted closer to my frame so that I don’t break it again.
Am hoping for no failures for the next 15-20,000km on the bicycle, the only thing I can see failing is perhaps the Brooks Saddle which has turned into a saggy banana shape, which one day I’ll need to replace and go through the excruciating pain of re-breaking it in.
Ever since coming to Africa I’ve suffered major problems with my MSR Dragonfly Stove. I’ve repeatedly touted it’s versatility and ruggedness, but with the constant maintenance required to it, and components failing, legs breaking on it I’ve decided to move on and try a new system, to see if I can get better results. This stove has been with me from the very start, and is more than suitable for someone who is able to put better fuels into it, so it’s been shipped back to Canada for sale (If you want it, I have 3 pumps, and a huge amount of spare parts, fuel filters, plungers, o rings and the like provided from MSR along with it). I don’t expect that this new stove, the Primus Omnifuel is going to be the holy grail of stoves, just something different for me to try out. The fuel bottles for the MSR and Primus threads are not compatible, so I’ll only hold onto one of my 2 bottles. MSR really went the distance to make sure I could use my stove – their customer service is top notch and I’d still recommend this stove to anyone, but if travelling through Africa be warned that repeat maintenance will be required.
I’ve ranted about tents before in the past, always trying to find the perfect tent. In 2011 I (sort of) trashed the MSR Hubba Hubba tent, frustrated with some of its shortfalls as I moved across the USA, and went back to the Swedish made Hilleberg tents, this time a self supported model named the Soulo. At twice the cost of the Hubba Hubba I figured it would be much more suited to cycle touring, but once In Africa I realized it was too much of a tent for me. I found myself sweating each night in the tent, and when I did find rain the inner tent would be moist because I hadn’t properly staked down the tent. It’s small, only allowing one person to barely fit inside, and a bit claustrophobic for repeat sleeps. Still, I used the tent for nearly 2 years until I suffered a failure of the zipper on the inner tent. Next, one of the support poles snapped into pieces quickly setting me into action looking for a replacement tent, or trying to fix the existing. Hilleberg jumped to the cry for help and sent a replacement set of poles and inner tent to my address in Canada, but I had already made up my mind and found a fellow coming to Africa on vacation who was nice enough to bring some cargo along. Not wanting to experiment with another tent, I’ve gone back to the MSR Hubba Hubba, which even with its frustrations I feel will be much better suited to the hot nights one sees in Africa again, at half the cost. I feel the Soulo would be better suited to rainy, colder climates. It’s for sale too if any of you readers in USA or Canada want a half new tent. The outer shell is in excellent condition, yet the groundsheet has a few bits of tape to cover from some holes placed by thorns in Southern Africa.
My Sleeping pad, the Exped Synmat 7 is on it’s way to being replaced for the 4th time – Throughout the years it’s come up with a wheezing problem, loss of air, and now some of the chambers have started to separate causing a ballooning of the mattress, making things quite uncomfortable to sleep. With a 5 year warranty I’ve certainly gotten my moneys worth, and wonder how long this new unit will last for. I’m unsure of what to use next as there really isn’t much other pads on the market that pack up into half the size as traditional pads. Let’s hope this one lasts for some time. It’s still quite comfortable and my review still holds true as it being a great value.
I’ve sent my MSR Miniworks EX water filter back after not using it ever in a total of 4 years of bicycle touring. Let’s hope my Dad gets some use out of it in the backcountry, where I feel it would be more suited as water is everywhere when passing through villages and towns, My silk sleeping liner that rode with me for 3 years eventually became thin and tore and I replaced it with a new EBay Special from China, and my $45 sleeping bag that I picked up in 2011 is still performing well, after a few bits of stitching in villages. It’s rarely used anyways and sits at the end of my mattress in the night and mysteriously finds itself on me as a blanket in the morning.
Not much to say here, other than I have too much clothing. During my stint living in Nairobi, and Kampala I seemed to amass far too much clothing to carry on a regular basis. 5 pairs of pants, 7 shirts, 4 pairs of cycling shorts/liners needs to be pared down. I’m no longer wearing my pants until they fall off and the only thing I seemingly need to keep buying are socks, as I lose them along the way. I’ve been wearing these socks daily, sometimes for 7 days at a time and they outperform any others I’ve tried.
Although not entirely clothing, I had to replace 2 Leatherman Wave Multi tools, and my Spyderco Manix Knife, all stolen. I also had a Spyderco Dragonfly knife stolen which was acting as a money clip while robbed in Kampala, Uganda. I also left my helmet in Kampala Uganda, and since ride without one opting for a bandana instead.
I’m also on my third LED Lenser P3BM Flashlight. One failed because I couldn’t remove the battery cap in Kenya, and one was lost in Rwanda. I love these little units and can’t imagine not moving without one strapped to my belt.
My Garmin Edge 705 GPS Unit has been swapped out for a new/refurbished model, after a momentary lapse of memory thinking that it was lost during a 2 month backpacking excursion. I ended up with 2 units, sold the used one to a fellow in Canada at a deal. Sadly I hear it lasted only 120 days on his bicycle tour never to power on again after a large downpour. I always took the GPS off anyway and put it in my handlebar bag during those moments even though it is rated to be water resistant. My IHome Capsule speakers have been replaced with newer/larger models, and still keep the music blaring on a regular basis. My music player which was an Apple IPhone 4 was sold in Zambia, replaced with an HTC One Android Phone. The device was sleek and powerful, but had poor battery life and no external memory expandability. I went back to the IPhone 4, had it stolen, bought another IPhone 4 in Kenya that had overheating issues, and eventually moved to a Samsung Galaxy S3, which is suiting my needs well, along with a mammoth 7000maH battery. I’ve picked up a few more portable flash drives after losing them, another portable Hard Disk for backup as I’m collecting way more media than ever.
I swapped out my Acer 1830T Laptop for a much more powerful and sleeker unit, an ASUS UX32VD Ultrabook. It worked well for a while, although suffering damage to the LCD Screen from the keyboard touching it, but started showing problems in mid 2013 with overheating, electrical shocks, power issues, and then dying altogether. ASUS South Africa was nice enough to extend the warranty as I found a way to get it to them (I eventually couriered it to them from Zambia, and it was lost by Fedex), and I’m waiting to see what happens to it next. I hope a speedy end to this nightmare comes sooner than later. If I was to do it again, I’d go back to a 11.6” laptop and move to something with much better battery life, newer units tout 9 hours of battery life as compared to my 3 or 4.
Seizing the opportunity to have parts brought over to Africa, I also have opted to upgrade my camera. My small compact Canon Powershot S95 camera has served me well over 2 years, taking crisp clear photos in low light conditions, but I wanted to have more control over the shots I took with focus and speed of shots. I’ve taken the leap to a small compact interchangeable lens unit known as the Olympus OMD-EM5, which produces stunning shots and can shoot at an amazing 9 frames per second. It’s about as big as a Canon G12 camera depending on the lens and gives me more than what I need with its someone what daunting and overflowing feature set. It’s weather sealed which is important to me and seems to be able to stand up to some abuse.
Since it provides the capability to use different lenses, I’ve opted for 3. One being a Panasonic 20mm f1.7, to be used as an everyday usage lens, an Olympus 45mm f1.8 for portraits, and couldn’t pass up a cheap telephoto Olympus 40-150mm lens just in the event that I wanted to get distant shots. The latter two will likely sit in my panniers for most of the time, but it’s nice to have the flexibility if needed. I found that when I was shooting I would not be using zoom functions often, so opted for a small fixed length prime lens as my daily glass. Blindingly fast auto focus with little to no need of using a flash except for the most challenging of situations I’m excited to see what sort of shots I can muster up. They’ve all got decent UV filters on them, and some cases, and extra battery I’ve picked up from Chinese super warehouse dx.com
I lost a battery for my Pedal Powered Charging system and have since replaced with a newer, inferior unit, but since I have invested in larger capacity batteries for the phone/mp3 player this is seemingly not an issue to keep the GPS, and speakers charged regularly. 2013 seemingly cost a lot of money to replace and bring over new parts, but I’m confident that 2014 will be easier on the pocketbook and find costs only related to core bicycle touring. Will that be the case? Let’s see next year.