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Kit Review

Kit review 05/10/11

With a few days off the saddle having just arrived at the Venetian port of Xania in Crete, I thought I’d take a look at how some of our kit is fairing up to the challenge of being lugged around the World. Not sure how interesting this is for friends and family, perhaps more intended for other people researching their own kit.

Schmidt SON 28 Dynamo Front Hub
Schmidt Edelux High Power LED Headlight
At the time, splashing out £250 for the Schmidt SON 28 Dynamo Front Hub with Schmidt Edelux High Power LED Headlight all built into a new front wheel seemed gut-wrenchingly extravagant. Before we set off on the trip we had no intentions of cycling in the dark. Camping in hunting reserves, clock-changes and longer than planned days on the saddle have meant that sometimes we’ve not had much choice but to peddle on into the night. Back to the dynamo hub and light… so far they both seem to work very well. The light is extremely bright and really lights up the road enough to see far enough ahead, revealing potholes and letting other road users know where we are, all with the added bonus of not having to ever worry about batteries. Definitely worth the investment.


Pete’s Brookes B17 leather saddle, Schmidt dynamo and light, E-Werk Device Charger and dogstick equipped Thorn Raven Tour

Busch and Muller E-WERK power supply
I bought this device, for £100, as a way to convert the power generated through the Schmidt Dynamo Hub into acceptable power to charge various batteries and devices (AA, AAA, Power Traveller minigorilla, camera batteries, iPhone, iPod etc…). Stupidly I didn’t test either the E-Werk or the minigorilla before we started the trip. This was a big mistake as I’ve experienced problems with the minigorilla, which I’ll describe a little later in this post. So far we’ve managed to get access to plugs/ power points pretty regularly on the trip in campsites, cafes, hostels etc… which is where we’ve done most of the battery charging for cameras, AAs (Mary’s front bike light, sound recorder), AAAs (head torches). I’ve only used the E-Werk to charge the Mophie Juice Pack (spare battery pack for the iPhone 4), and so far it seems to work very well. It’s slightly inconvenient in that I have to have wires trailing all the way from the hub to the battery pack in my handlebar bag, that aside, it charges the battery in about three hours of 11km p/h riding. Although the Mophie Juice Pack seems to be on it’s way out already.


Not so Juicy…

Mophie Juice Pack
A small USB powered battery pack designed to give the iPhone extra power. We got this for free when we bought the iPhone because of an Apple screw up… at the time it was selling for £35. For the first few weeks the MJP seemed to work well, when fully charged it boosted the iPhone’s battery to about 60-70%. Like many things the MJP wasn’t designed for such intensive use. Having been using it at least five times a week for about a hundred days, it now only seems to give the iPhone about 40% charge and has shown itself to be the throw-away plastic technology that it really is. The USB port is also damaged, meaning that I have to use tape to keep the USB cable in place otherwise it won’t charge. Our friend Danny, a Kiwi traveller we met in Germany, was using an rechargeable AA battery pack to charge his iPhone. The benefits being that you can buy AA batteries anywhere, very easy to charge rechargeable AAs, and you can also leave it in the shower block (where the plug sockets often are) of your campsite to charge for a few hours without being to concerned that anyone would want to pinch it. I’ll be getting one of these as an alternative to the MJP.


Power when you need it?

MiniGorilla
I really should have tested this piece of kit before we started. This battery pack claims to be able to provide extra power to a range of devices (laptop, iPhone, iPod, cameras etc…). On day one, as we set up camp in Dinan, I plugged the iPhone into the minigorilla only to see it’s little blue screen power off two minutes later without having transferred any power to the iPhone. So far the minigorilla does work with the MacBook Pro, providing it with about 20% of it’s full charge… enough for some emergency laptop use, or to watch a few episodes of Family Guy. Whenever I connect the iPhone to the minigorilla the phone does nothing except for displaying the unsupported device error message. To their credit, the Power Traveller representative I’ve been dealing with has been very helpful and has sent me a selection of extra cables to try, unfortunately all with no success. I am currently waiting for a replacement battery pack that is being sent out to me. As helpful as the rep has been, I’m not too hopeful that the replacement battery will be any more successful. If anyone reading this post has any experience with cache batteries specifically for charging the iPhone 4 I’d appreciate recommendations.

Brooks B17
I’m on my second ‘lasts for a lifetime’ Brookes saddle. The first one was wrecked when it got rained on when we were cycling through Scotland on our Lands End to John O’Groats ride a few years ago. This was my fault as I hadn’t read the care manual and as a result did’t know that it needed to be treated with proofhide (a leather wax) during and after the breaking-in period. I searched around the Internet for alternatives to the Brookes leather saddles and it seemed that the only real alternative was to buy another Brookes B17 and read the instructions first (I would have imagined they would read; Step 1 – Sit down, Step 2 – Ride your bike). So with my second B17 I’ve made sure to treat it with the necessary love and care… but still I’ve encountered problems. About a month into the trip the tension bolt dislodged from the hole it sits in at the front of the saddle. This has since happened several times. More of a annoying hassle than a major problem, requiring me to force the bolt back into place. If this continues to happen every now and then I don’t really mind… it just an extra niggle that I wouldn’t expect from a £50 saddle.


Oh that’s why they were only £25!

Shoes
We both decided differently on what and how many pairs of shoes to bring. Mary bought a pair of flip-flops, Merrell sandles and some Karrimor shoes. So far I think she’s warn the sandles for 90 out of 100 days, preferring her feet to enjoy the fresh breeze rather than be strapped up in sweaty shoes. On the few occasions that Mary’s warn the Karrimor shoes, cold and rainy weather, they’ve demonstrated why they cost just £25. As with the majority of functional outdoors gear, the cheap stuff tends to be cheap for a reason. The label on the shoes claims they are waterproof…. they’re not. Also the innersole moves around making them pretty annoying and uncomfortable to wear.
I bought flip-flops (which I also wore on and off the road for most of the summer), bog standard trainers and some summer cycle shoes. It was a compromise between carrying the weight of an extra pair of shoes and always having dry shoes to wear at the end of the day. So far the cycle shoes have been comfortable and it’s good to have normal non-cyclist stuff to where when not on the bike.

Clothes
Smartwool
Icebreaker

When researching what clothes to take on the trip, we found loads of recommendations on other cycle and travel blogs for Merino wool. The two main benefits being that it’s quick drying and relatively odor free. Much like all of the other good quality kit we’ve bought, Merino wool clothes don’t come cheap (t-shirts £50, boxers £35, socks £15). This makes us sound like filthy animals, but come riding with us for a few weeks and you’ll understand why we regularly go for weeks without washing our clothes. Once the sweat soaked Merino wool has dried it just doesn’t seem to smell too bad … it’s amazing stuff. We’ve both bought a few other non-Merino wool items of clothes and within two days they smell like the wild dogs have warn them, pissed on them, eaten them, crapped them out and given them back to us. One negative point is that I’ve had to stitch up my £35 boxer shorts a couple of times, but then again I guess they weren’t designed to be warn for a week at a time.


Mary’s wing mirror totin’, Guernsey flag flappin’ Thorn Raven Tour

Thorn Raven Tour
The bikes have so far seemed to be in their element. Yes we’ve had a combined total of 8 punctures, human error (riding over nails), but the bikes continue to wake each morning with a glint in their reflectors raring to go. The steel frames are living up to their claims of durability and flexible comfort. No problems with the Rohloff hub, as you’d expect from their reputation and cost. Every now and then it would be nice to have an extra lower gear… for the steeper mountains and hills, apart from that no issues here.


How to make a bike helmet look even cooler

At home When I’ve seen other cyclists with various accessories flapping around on their bikes; flags, mirrors etc… (not that mirrors flap) I usually can’t help but silently judge their utilitarian lack of coolness. Now, having spent months sharing roads with fast cars and train-like lorries I am a firm believer that anything that helps us to see what’s behind us and makes us more visible on the road is a good thing. The Guernsey flag on Mary’s bike is also a great conversation starter. No, not look at that twat with the flag. Questions more like: which country do you come from? that so often lead to interesting conversations and new friendships.

Terra-Nova Superlite Solar 2.2
Not much to say about the tent except that it works very well. Good and light. Just enough room for the two of us with all of our bags, instruments etc… in the two porches. From our experience, having a tent with two porches is good for a number of reasons; if one person needs to go to the toilet in the middle of the night they don’t have to clamber over the other, it also makes the tent less claustrophobic when you’re sitting in it or having a lie-in. The low profile and dark colour makes it great for stealth camping. Only things to mention are that it has to be put up exactly right, any miss alignment between the flysheet and the poles beneath can cause small areas of the flysheet to sag slightly, which sometimes allows moisture to leak into the tent. Also that the very thin pegs supplied with the tent are great for soft ground, fields etc… but when it comes to camping on the beach, the pegs are too thin to maintain good footing in the fluidity of the soft sand.


Terra-Nova Superlite Solar 2.2 tent

Mountain Equipment Titan 850
Great sleeping bags. Very warm. Nice to have a pair of bags that can be zipped together. We choose for the warmest version of this particular model. Initially I was dubious that we would need such warm bags, however, when we’ve camped in really hot weather we just use the bags as extra mattress material to lay on top of. I know we’ll be very pleased that we opted for these thicker bags over the coming winter months. When packed away into their compression sacks the bags do take up quite a bit of room in our panniers, but this is a small price to pay for such warm bags.

MSR Whisperlight stove
I really like this cooker, even though it’s really designed for more hardcore cooking scenarios than campsites and beaches. As much as I’ve tried adjusting the fuel flow there doesn’t seem to be much of a range in the flame intensity other than BLODDY HOT. This is great if you want to boil a saucepan of water in sixty seconds flat, but not so great for simmering stuff that takes a little longer to cook. Recently we’ve also had quite a few problems with the flame spluttering out. Having said all this, I’m giving the Whisperlite the benefit of the doubt as I think it just needs a thorough clean and it’ll be good as new. Could be a wise investment to buy the MSR Whisperlite maintenance kit for extended trips like ours.

Intensive daily usage really puts our equipment to the test. The kit reviews on this blog are not intended to unfairly compare or criticize products. The information is meant as information aimed at anyone who might be carrying out research before splashing out on their own kit.

Discussion

21 Responses to “Kit review 05/10/11”

  1. Hey Pete, enjoying your write-ups. Useful stuff too as Eunate and I are in the process of organizing our bike trip eastwards. We’ll be setting off from here in the Basque Country in July 2012….

    I remember the last time I saw you was about two summers ago in Fountain Street. I was running to work and didn’t have time to stop and chat. I still feel bad about it. Hope to catch up with you on the road in the next few years.
    Sammy.

    [Reply]

    pete Reply:

    Hi Sammy
    That’s cool that you’re doing a cycle trip too! Not sure where we’ll be in July 2012… perhaps we’ll have made it to India by then. That’d be cool to meet somewhere along the way!

    Try to put the whole Fountain Street Incident behind you. I’ve been trying for a couple of years.

    Cheers. Pete

    [Reply]

    Posted by Sammy | November 5, 2011, 3:37 pm
  2. Ahhh, love you two, thanks for the text, we are off to the Sitar for a ruby murry! first grown up November the 5th in 14 years! Wont be the same without your genitals or a quick dip after Pete!

    So glad that marian and Jerry are comming out to you have lots of fun with them.

    Max was a fablous King Leah the other night, Tilly has colourd her hair Maroon, Marley nearly died, but he is ok now, Paul is taking the students to Berlin in Feb, scooby still smells and loves everyone as do i (the love everyone bit not the smell bit, i hope)

    We are going to be in the Canaries in Feb if your in the mood for a few beers!

    Love you!

    xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    [Reply]

    Posted by Calaline | November 5, 2011, 6:22 pm
  3. Ah at last a gear review … I’ve been waiting… Your first saddle still gets daily use and as I’ve never tried a non-trashed Brookes it feels like normal to me – so thanks. Bear-dogs not so funny….rabies even less funny… be careful yeah.
    Those MSR stoves come with a little spanner I think, you can take out the brass nozzle and clean it with a pin or some petrol. I think they have a shaker pin in the nozzle so giving it a good shake every now and again might give you better use ?
    Guern is still the same, chilling down a little but still good. Got your text, yeah, house still not finished! One day… take it easy – Ed x

    [Reply]

    Posted by Ed | November 7, 2011, 8:21 am
  4. Hi Pete & Mary,

    Just finished reading all the blogs – I am now feeling very fat and lazy! Had supper with Mum last night – feeling fatter and lazier! I am very envious of your fantastic trip, although not your shoes or your saddle! You missed a great bonfire night last Saturday, best fireworks for ages. (You could have put just shoes on the fire instead of a whole guy….) I will continue to review your antics in the hope that someday it will rub off. Have a fab time with M & D and stay fit.
    PS This is my very first blog response – feel privileged!

    [Reply]

    mary Reply:

    Hi Lee!
    We do feel privileged so thank you and we’ll do our best to keep you hooked! Next up will be ‘tales with the Olds’!!! Yesterday we arrived back in Hania and moved into a big house in the old town – where we will all stay once the mums and Jerry arrive. Pete and I have about a week to organize lots of amazing trips with them. (today is pouring with rain so it’s nice not to be on the bike/camping!!!) The house even has an oven so we had jacket potatoes last night – this is a luxury now you must understand!! And I too plan on a lazy day today – nothing wrong with them Lee just enjoy them for what they are!!! Pete say’s hi too (he’s playing his bango right now and getting pretty good!)
    Love M & P xxxx

    [Reply]

    Posted by Lazy Lee | November 11, 2011, 10:07 pm
  5. Yo!
    How long you still in Greece?
    Gutted that I missed reading whilst you were in Athens, would have sent Fay’s sister and various friends to find you. Them’s some seriously hospitable buggers.
    Couldn’t you pee in the waterpistol? pardonable in a tight spot i think? (think G.Clooney “damn we’re in a tight spot”)
    We’ll be in Athens for christmas and NY but guess you’ll be well beyond Crete by then?
    Have a couple of friends in Crete, have asked for their local mobile numbers and will pass them on in case helpful.
    Keep it up!
    Big love!
    Stupendously jealous!
    xxxxxxxxxxx

    [Reply]

    Posted by oliver westgarth | November 16, 2011, 5:20 pm
  6. Here’s Eva’s number: 00306978103641
    Lives in Haraklion though… Think you probably know her? Used to work at Mooarc and has recently moved back home.
    Filakia! xxx

    [Reply]

    Posted by oliver westgarth | November 16, 2011, 5:45 pm
  7. Herm is on Radio 4 right now. Presenter commenting on the weirdness of a company owning an island and being an employer and landlord. Compares it to 1984. Is obsessed with trying to dig some dirt.
    Sound of the sea is making me want to swim tho.

    big love, eh.

    xx

    [Reply]

    Posted by Bean | November 17, 2011, 3:22 pm
  8. Hey Olly!
    Yep, we’ll be in Crete probably until around mid December and then we’ll start making our way over into Turkey via Rhodes. I totally forgot about your Greek connections (girlfriend?), still we’ve met so many extremely friendly and hospitable people since we’ve been in Greece. I had a quick look through couchsurfing.org before we came over to Crete and one of the first people I saw was Eva… small world! We’ve met a couple of times, thanks for the number we’ll give her a call before we start heading east.

    Hope life in Gsy is treating you well. Keep un touch closer to Christmas… our paths might come close to crossing.

    Cheerio. Pete.

    [Reply]

    Posted by pete | November 17, 2011, 7:29 pm
  9. Good to see what is happening in your exciting world. If you go to Elounda enjoy it is the most beautiful place my husband owned 2 villas there, keep safe and love to you all;is anyone sponsoring you. I am sure Paul sends love if he can raise his head from his 9,000 pounds worth of books. xxxx

    [Reply]

    pete Reply:

    Hi Gillie. Good to hear from you. I’m not sure if we can handle too much more raki! We never made it to Elounda or further east than Iraklio, thanks for the info though. Due to ferry times and having to wait several days for connecting boats we’ve decided to take a ferry back to Athens and then over to Turkey. Any recommendations for the west coast of Turkey? Say hi to Paul from both of us.

    Pete x

    [Reply]

    Posted by Gillie Cleverly | November 30, 2011, 3:18 pm
  10. if you make Elounda take a left by the church to Pano Elounda my husband built 2 villas just above the village go into village and ask for Maria,who has a cafe you will find a photo of me on her wall in the cafe and she will give you a Raki or coffee. hubbie was Terry. lolxxxx

    [Reply]

    Posted by Gillie Cleverly | November 30, 2011, 3:53 pm
  11. the “msr international” is the best stove that msr makes…(i have had my stove since the late 1980`s)
    it will burn majority of petrols
    and the maintenance kit is a must if you are burning multiple petrols…
    carrying the msr international makes cooking much easier…
    do not have to worry about finding wood or pressurized fuel canisters at the end of a long day when you are tired and very hungry…
    i have never had a problem with the flame adjustment with the “international”…

    [Reply]

    pete Reply:

    Thanks for the info Jat. We’ve just bought the expedition service kit. I’m pretty sure the problems we were having were to do with dirt, especially grains of sand, bunging up the fuel jet.

    [Reply]

    jat Reply:

    @pete,
    having food allergy (corn & soy)…
    i cannot eat pre-packaged foods…
    so in order for me to tour…
    i need to stop at a food source early in the day to pick up what i would want for supper…
    i need to cook everything from scratch…
    and the msr international stove…
    will burn kerosene,white gas, and unleaded gas….
    which any of the 3 fuels can pretty much be found any where…
    the maintenance kit is a must to carry along…
    good luck out there…
    be safe…

    [Reply]

    Posted by jat | December 25, 2011, 4:31 pm
  12. Hi!

    I found your site after watching your video over at the World Cycling group on Vimeo.

    A quick note about the Brooks saddle: you should have got a small spanner with it. This is for increasing the tension on the front bolt as the leather stretches when you run it in and also from the proofride as well.

    I was on a ride around the Lake District with a friend when the bolt became unlodged for me. Caused quite a panic as well!!

    I also have a Thorn but I have the Nomad 2. Cannot fault the bike in the slightest and love the Rohloff hub! I managed to keep cycling up the Kirkstone pass whilst my friend had to get off and push his bike up it. (my photos: http://bit.ly/vqgW5r My friends: http://bit.ly/vRCiKD )

    As for the gearing on the bikes, you could get a smaller back sprocket (Im guessing youve currently got something like 38/16) You could go to a 38/15 or even change the front ring to a 40t. That will lower the gear ratio down for you a bit. If youre planning to head into India/Nepal, then you’re going to need it!!

    Safe travels and look forward to more writings and videos!

    [Reply]

    Posted by Chris | December 31, 2011, 5:26 pm
  13. Hey Chris

    Happy new year! Thanks for the info. Yeh, I had tightened the tension bolt a couple of times and since the initial problems I experienced with the saddle a few months ago in Croatia, it’s been fine (and getting more and more comfortable).

    That’s really useful info about the sprockets for the Rohloff. Another cycle tourist we recently met suggested that we replace both front and rear sprockets as well as the chain before we head into more remote countries. I think Mary might go for a different front ring. I’ve sent an email to sjs cycles to see what they suggest too.

    Thanks for the links to your photos… I’ll be sure to check them out next time we get a good connection!

    Cheers. Pete

    [Reply]

    Posted by pete | January 1, 2012, 2:51 pm
  14. Hey Pete!

    Happy new year to both Mary and yourself!

    I had a quick look and heres the link to the sprocket page on SJS Cycles:

    http://www.sjscycles.co.uk/rohloff-speedhub-500-14-hub-gear-reversible-sprocket-steel-prod10342/

    You can get 13/15/16/17/21.

    As I said before, Im guessing you have a 16 so going down to a 15 will easy things up a bit.

    The front chainrings are here:

    http://www.sjscycles.co.uk/thorn-shopthorn_pg1/#filterkey=cat&cat=49&page=1

    Im sure when you speak with SJS, they will give you the best advice.

    Im loving your art work on each of your respective websites as well.

    [Reply]

    Posted by Chris | January 1, 2012, 3:27 pm
  15. Happy New Year Chris! and thanks again for the info on the bike bits. We’ve just placed our order and should have the stuff with us soon.
    I got replacement chainring and sprocket… Mary decided to keep hers as are. We’ve also got a few spare chains each (as well as a few other bits and pieces). Figured we’d go with ‘regularly replace the chain’ approach rather than having to replace sprockets and chain-rings every so often.

    Thanks for your complements!

    All the best. Pete

    [Reply]

    Posted by pete | January 14, 2012, 1:20 pm
  16. We just made the move and traded my Honda civic in for a Honda odyssey just this week. So far I couldn’t be happier with it. My opinion might be a little bias but I don’t think I would touch anything but a Honda. We also own a Honda pilot and have had no major issues but normal ware and tear. Honda has a customer for life with this guy. Yes toyotas are nice but they are way over priced and not worth it Hondas are not overpriced, you get what you pay for, a reliable car that you don’t need to pour a lot of money into. Chrysler products are just plain junk and not worth our hard earned money. I like the standard options you get with Hondas that you have to pay extra for with the other lesser quality built products. I have owned plenty of different makes over the years from Pontiac to Nissan and Chrysler. Nothing has held as well as our two Hondas and so far our third Honda. (knock on wood), well besides my Jeep wrangler but that’s a whole other article. If your looking for a long term family car with room to grow there is nothing wrong with going to a mini van they are totally practical and with a third one on the way it makes perfect sense to our expanding family. Sorry for being so long winded.

    [Reply]

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