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Kit Review

Kit Review 20/08/12

Kit Review 20/08/2012

Kyrgyz Fried Chicken, thanks to the very dodgy electricity supply in Central Asia. Photo courtesy of Arian Van Helden.

PowerTraveller Mini-Gorilla with Busch and Muller E-WERK power supply

For whatever reason, when we first tried to use the Mini-Gorilla to charge our iPhone it wouldn’t work. The iPhone would just bleep and give us the warning message “Charging is not supported with this device”. We noticed that the iPhone had a little red dot inside the charging slot which signifies water damage. Having researched Apple’s policy towards water damage we were disappointed to find out it would cost about £125 to fix. We had been living in Istanbul at the time, and although there are one or two Authorised Apple Resellers none would agree to even look at our iPhone. The nearest approved iPhone service centre was in Greece. Anyway, long story short, one of our very charismatic friends took the iPhone back to London and convinced an Apple Genius to give us a free replacement… lucky us! The friendly customer support at PowerTraveller (the makers of the Mini-Gorilla) also sent us a replacement battery. The end result is a Mini-Gorilla that, when fully charged, gives the iPhone about five complete charge cycles.

Schmidt SON 28 Dynamo Front Hub and Bush and Muller E-Werk

I’ve only recently started using the Shmidt SON Dynamo hub in conjunction with the Bush and Muller E-Werk to charge the mini-gorilla but so far it seems to work pretty well. I can’t really give specific information on the charging times as this all depends on riding speed, but unless you’re really in the middle of nowhere there’s usually a cafe or somewhere you can plug it in every few days… a little warning to be careful though, as, in our current group of six, the dodgy Central Asian electrics have destroyed one MacBook power supply, one Nikon battery charger and two universal battery chargers! Although you’ll definitely be able to find someone willing to fix your blown fuses with a soldering-iron and any old bit of wire, it’s bloody hard to find British style plug fuses in Central Asia. Although quite a few computer shops sell laptops equipped with both the two pin and three pin plugs, it would be useful to bring a selection of spare fuses with you. I managed to convince a shopkeeper to sell me the British three pin plug from one of her computers (she wouldn’t sell the individual fuse) for the non-bargain price of $5. I was delighted at the thought of MacBook charger working again, only to have my delight explode in a blue spark when I plugged it into the Blue Peter style plug fitting back at the hotel.

With regards to the durability of the E-Werk, it’s been strapped to the stem of my bike for over a year now and has successfully endured the torrential rain of the European summer, freezing snowy Turkish mountain passes and the 40+ °C heat of the deserts of Turkmenistan.
IranCell and O! SIM cards cut down to microSIM to fit the iPhone 4.

iPhone 4

Although an extremely expensive bit of kit (I think we paid about £700 in 2011) providing you make the effort to learn how to use it to it’s full extent and not just a glorified MP3 player it can be pretty useful. You might want to get away from the interfering convenience of modern communication, if so, then skip this bit. We swopped our expensive international SIM card for local options in both Iran an Kyrgyzstan. In Iran we used IranCell which you’ll need to fill out an application form accompanied with copies of your passport and an address. Ask one of the very friendly Iranian locals you’ll meet to help you with this. Also, get someone to ask about an offer code you can send an SMS to, for even cheaper cellular data/Internet (€10 for one month of being able to check emails several times a day). We’re using O! in Kyrgyzstan, which seems to only provide coverage of a radius of about 100 kms around Osh and Bishkek. However, the iPhone could pickup both Megacom and Beeline nearly everywhere, probably better go for one of these networks instead. Our iPhone uses microSIM… a smaller version of the normal SIM card. You probably won’t find microSIMs on your travels… not a problem! Just use a sharp knife to cut the normal one down to size.

Useful iPhone apps include:

Cyclemeter – comprehensive cycle computer with Google Earth/ Maps export compatibility.

Tom Tom make a range of decent GPS apps. The Europe app is pretty comprehensive and useful for both cycling and walking around cities.

Sygic makes a good GPS app for Iran.

Motion-X GPS comprehensive (and slightly confusing) GPS app with free downloadable maps.

Wiki Offline Amazingly useful app that reads/ displays the Wikipedia database without an Internet connection (about 3.5 gig downloaded to your iPhone). Very useful to learn about the places we visit, as well as to research stuff like medication bought in foreign countries, events that might impact your travels like recent political events, civil wars etc… Remember to take Wikipedia with a careful pinch of salt.

Photosynth Photography app for taking spherical images that can be embedded into your travel blog. You need to create a Microsoft (Hotmail will do) account and first upload the synths before you can embed them on your site.

Frameograph Simple and effective stop-motion animation app.

XE Currency converter Some countries like Iran and Uzbekistan have both official and black market conversion rates… So check with other travellers before you change your dosh.

WordPress Pretty comprehensive app for managing your WordPress blog. Good for creating posts (like this one) offline and uploading when you can find a WIFI hotspot.

CouchSurfing Use this app to access the biggest of the Internet based free hospitality networks. Get a SIM card and use cellular data to search for and arrange CS hosts on the move.

Warm Showers Similar to the CouchSurfing only this is specific to cycle tourists.

Also jailbreaking your iPhone will allow you to install a world of useful Apple-unapproved apps and extensions such as:

VLC Media Player Plays a range of video file types the aren’t supported by the native iPhone software such as AVI.

AnyAttach It’s all in the name. A Cydia extension that allows you to attach a range of files and folders to your emails. Useful when sending PDFs or other documents like passport copies and visa application forms.

MapsEnhancer Another Cydia extension that lets the default iPhone map app cache/save maps, allowing you to view maps offline.

According to Apple jail-breaking your iPhone can cause problems and voids the warranty. I say it’s not caused any problems with our iPhone and opens it up to its full potential. Jailbreak away!
As the iPhone operating system is updated all the time do a Google search for instructions. At the time of writing redsn0w was a popular jail-break utility.

Rohloff gear shifter cable. Wear on the Rear sprocket. Gaffer tape fix on the Thorn MkV Cro Mo Steel Low Loaders.

Rohloff Hub

After about 7000 kms from Guernsey to Istanbul the first chain on Pete’s bike needed replacing along with both the front chainring and rear sprocket. Mary’s bike only needed a new chain. Another 6000 kms later (and two chains later) the chains on both bikes are making pretty loud crunching/grinding noises. We regularly clean and oil the chains and cogs, but it seems like this does get rid of the noises. Having recently noticed that one side of all the teeth on Pete’s rear sprocket have worn, so we’ve order a few more replacement components from SJS Cycles including a rear sprocket.

When we did a recent oil-change on Pete’s hub it seemed to leak a lot for about three weeks after. Having read about this on various websites, and spoken to other cyclists, apparently this isn’t too much of a problem.. as long as enough of the oil has stuck to the cogs/ internal mechanism.

Not being a particularly great bike mechanic, when Pete recently replaced a snapped Rohloff gear-shifter cable, after only 2000, he had to replace it again. Obviously the replacement wasn’t done 100% accurately, but having thought he followed the instructions to the letter, we’re not sure what went wrong… To be on the safe side we ordered four more replacement cables. A useful tip we were given by our pal Aaron, is that although the correct gauge of replacement cable is meant to be difficult to find, the sixth string on a guitar is apparently the perfect fit. We’ve yet to try this.

Bar the above comments, we’re still pretty happy with the Rohloff hubs.

Thorn MkV Cro Mo Steel Low Loaders front bike racks

We feel a bit disappointed with these racks. I realise that after 13,000 kms equipment is going to begin to show a bit of wear and tear, never the less we were still surprised when the same top bolts sheared off both of our front left racks within the space of 24 hours (cycling on smooth asphalt in Turkey) and since then two more bolts have snapped on both bikes. It wouldn’t be too annoying if the bolts had come loose and fallen out, but the end of the bolts have actually snapped leaving the length of the bolt stuck inside the hole on the bike. The solution usually involves spending ages walking around the next big town looking for someone to weld a larger but if metal onto the snapped one and then unscrewing it. A designer at SJS Cycles told us that he didn’t see how the failure of the bolts was connected to the design of the racks, a comment that didn’t really help resolve the situation. This isn’t meant to be a slating of SJS as they are usually able to offer good advice and have comprehensive online bike store. Most of the other cycle tourists we’ve met have either the Surly or Tubus racks, and both seem to be good, reliable options. Our pal Ramon, a Kiwi who we’re cycling with in Kyrgyzstan, is getting a free, no quibble replacement sent from Tubus in Germany to Kyrgyzstan, including delivery. Sounds like pretty good customer service! So anyway, back to our front racks, the current solution is gaffer tape, wire and cable-ties… which seems to have done a pretty good job over the last month.

MSR Whisperlite International with replacement pump. Espresso maker. Emergency door closing on our Terra Nova Solar 2.2

MSR Whisperlite International

Our cooker spluttered to a halt last December on the ride to Istanbul. I remember the huge energy-draining disappointment as we reached into our food bag, full of newly purchased pasta and vege, only to be let down by our little red friend. I’m sure I heard it whisper “no hot food for you two… how about some stale bread? Ha ha!” A problem that we could probably have helped to prevent. Turns out the screw thread on the fuel release mechanism became stripped, more than likely due to us over turning it more than the 1.5 turns specified in the manual. Not really a gripe with the cooker as it usually performs well. We’ve heard of this happening to three other people. Might be better for MSR to make the pump or at least the fuel release mechanism out of metal?

Terra Nova Solar 2.2

We’ve loved using this tent for the last few years and would recommend it as a good, lightweight option. In contrast with many other well established companies, Terra Nova have a friendly, efficient and professional customer service team. We used it when we did the Lands End to John O’Groats ride as well as literally hundreds of nights of camping on this tour. Unfortunately six of the eight zips (both the inside and the fly sheet) have worn out and now won’t open or close properly. The combination of sand and dust from camping in the desert and not cleaning the zips on a regular basis was too much for the not particularly durable zips that come on the tent. This is not meant as a direct criticism of Terra Nova, as the same thing happened on our friends’ Vaude and Hilleberg tents. We will shorty be the proud owners of a new tent, the Hilleberg Nallo 3 GT. Here are some pros and cons of the Terra Nova Solar 2.2.

- very light weight
- very stable in strong wind
- small enough to be good for sneaky wild camping and pitching in small spaces
- easy to pitch just the inner-tent, which is good for hot dry weather or indoor camping
- easy to pitch without using pegs, on tarmac or very hard ground using cords, chairs, rocks, trees etc…
- the two doors are good for getting in and out of the tent to go to the toilet without waking each other up. Makes the tent feel light and airy, as well as providing ventilation big enough to store all our bike bag within the two porches

- zips could be more robust
- sloped doors make it difficult to prevent rain/ weather entering tent
- the standard pegs are a too thin for sand, snow or softer ground
- although designed for two people it’s pretty cramped inside… the tent could be 20cm wider. The design of the tent means that one side is more sloped than the other. This means the person sleeping on the low sloping side has a bit less space. It doesn’t seem like it would affect the streamlining of the tent too much to have both sides a little steeper
- this may well be due to our inability, but, it’s actually quite difficult to keep the fly-sheet perfectly taught enough in heavy rain, to prevent pooling

Single cup espresso maker

Buy one. Just know this; the handle will
melt and it’s pretty tough to find real coffee in between Istanbul and Dushanbe. Good coffee is hard to find, but so worth it.


4 Responses to “Kit Review 20/08/12”

  1. thank you very much for your useful information.stay safe


    Posted by hamed | August 22, 2012, 8:41 am
  2. Can you email me pls and tell me when you want me to send your stuff???
    Hope you are all ok
    Mum xxx


    Posted by Mum/Marian | August 23, 2012, 6:33 am
  3. An eye-opener into the complexities and the inner world of the bike! xxx Mum


    Posted by Mum - Jen | August 27, 2012, 12:40 pm
  4. That bird photo is way cool.

    Bean Xx


    Posted by Bean | August 29, 2012, 5:14 pm

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