I recently cycled part of the route from England to Australia, crossing Europe, China and parts of South-East Asia. During my journey I learnt a lot about my kit and what I did and didn't need. Firstly, given my Boardman Team Carbon wasn't really suited to such a journey, I sold it and switched to a more dynamic cyclo-cross bike... a Genesis Croix De Fer. I've since set about modifying the Croix De Fer with various parts to make it more tourer friendly, but at the same time keeping an eye on the weight of the bike. Still not quite happy with the bike, I built another from the frame up, my Soma Double Cross. Being a big believer in keeping the weight down (within reason, as I enjoy cycling more with less weight) I've listed all my kit below.
- Front wheel 36 spoke; Rigida Snyper rims; Schmidt SON28 Dynamo Disc Hub (£205)
- Rear wheel 36 spoke; Rigida Snyper rims; Deore Disc Hub (£85)
- Schwalbe Marathon Supreme 28c tyre x2 (£54)
- Brooks B17 Saddle (£60)
- Madison Ridge Disc Rack (£20)
- SKS Chromoplastic Mudguards 45mm width (£25)
- IQ Cyo 60 Lux version (£66)
- Dahon Reecharge Battery (£75)
- Alloy Bottle Cage x2 (£10)
Total Weight = 13.1kg. I had ideally wanted about a kilo less than that, but it's still not too bad.
Retrospective - The Croix De Fer has worked well as a tourer in Europe but less so in Asia. The STI shifters, 28" wheels and disc brakes make it difficult to maintain when things go wrong (as many shops in Asia cater to 26" wheeled bikes). The Brooks saddle has been great, but given the cost and care required I'm left wondering if I could have survived with a cheaper, lighter saddle. Until I try I won't know. The Schwalbe Marathon Supreme's were great tires, the front one is still going after more than 10,000km. The rear started to go after 7,000km. I would buy them again, although have since noticed they are now nearer £40 each (!) so have switched to Continental Gatorskins (which weigh around 330g each).
What I could have definitely done without was my Dynamo, Dynamo light and USB charger. It was a handy piece of kit, although not totally necessary, and not needed once outside of Europe. Given I never camped more than 4 or 5 nights in a row (before finding a charge point) a high capacity USB mains-charged battery (like the Trent iCruiser) would have been adequate and in my bag (not strapped to the bike) so wouldn't get stolen. Plus it would have saved me around £200 and made my bicycle a lot simpler (less to break/go wrong).
- Ortlieb Back Roller Plus (£90) - 1700g
- Ortlieb Ultimate 5 Plus Medium (£60) - 650g
- AlpKit Airlok Xtra 35L (£8) - 230g
Total Weight = 3.1kg. A fairly heavy weight for empty bags, but the make-up of the panniers account for most of it. One pannier for clothes and laptop/electronics. The other pannier for tools, spares, toiletries etc... The AlpKit dry-bag is for storing my camping gear, and sits on top of the rack.
Retrospective - The Ortlieb Back Roller Plus panniers are great. Solid, long lasting and completely weather proof. They survived being checked in on several flights. The Ortlieb Ultimate 5 Plus bar-bag I'm still not sure about. While it gives a little balance to the bike (weight at the front), I didn't really need it. The mount for it also scratched up my handlebars (stripped paint) quite badly, and was a real pain to remove when dismantling the bike (for flights). I now use a waist bag just for carrying a few bits and pieces (and saves me 650g). The AlpKit dry-bag was great, durable and very affordable for carrying camping stuff.
- Tarptent Moment Tent (£165) - 950g (in its bag, with additional sealing + 2 extra guys + 4 titanium pegs)
- Cumulus Quantum 200 Down Sleeping Bag (£215) - 500g
- Silk Sleeping Bag Liner (£25) - 170g
- Therm-a-Rest Prolite Regular (£80) - 460g
- Solo-sized Ground Mat (£10) - 250g
Total Weight = 2.1kg. A very light set-up.
Retrospective - My tent is a fantastic tent, especially for a solo-er. A two-man Tarptent might have given me a little more room with my gear. I would like a 2/3-man tent but by myself they're all too heavy or too costly. The sleeping bag with liner kept me more than warm enough throughout Summer. I do wish for an additional £20 and 150 grams that I went for the Quantum 350. Camping during April in Wales I did get a little cold on one or two nights. The Therm-a-Rest Prolite is perfect although part of me wishes I had gone for the NeoAir which costs £40 more, but is 4cm thick (instead of 2.5cm) for added comfort and 150 grams lighter.
Given how handy I've found them to be when backpacking around there are some electronics I cannot do without. My netbook for skype, blogging, uploading photos, programming, tour research, news etc... My Kindle for reading and free 3G access when in remote areas. And finally my camera as I'm quite into my photography. I don't carry my SLR (as much as it pains me). Its weight and value make it a risk and an awkward item to carry. The constant vibrations and shocks through the bike probably aren't too good for it too, so I take a compact camera (saving me 1200g).
- Orange San Francisco Unlocked (ZTE Blade) Phone (£80) - 130g
- Samsung YP-P2 MP3 Player + Sennheiser CX300 headphones + cable - 105g
- Garmin Edge 705 GPS Unit - 105g
- Asus EEE Netbook + charger + case - 1680g
- Kindle 3G + case (£150) - 300g
- Panasonic TZ10 Camera + case + charger + spare battery (£190) - 270g
- Petzl Tikka Headtorch - 14g
- USB extension cable 0.5m
- Mini-usb cable 10cm
- Micro-usb cable 10cm
- Travel adapter (£5) - 65g
Total Weight = 2.7kg.
Retrospective - My netbook is great, but over time I'll probably change to a tablet. At around 800g including charger and case it would save me 800g (equivalent of two spare tyres, or a pair of trainers). The Kindle is very handy, but a luxury and not essential as any spare time I had was either spent socialising or writing my journal/blog, so I could have saved myself 300g.
I had thought of getting an iPod Shuffle (80g lighter) but didn't want the extra expense, and my Samsung MP3 player has a much better (35 hour) battery life plus videos are "watchable" on it. Ideal for those nights in the tent when I would like a dose of Family Guy before going to sleep (although if I had a tablet I'd probably use that instead). Once the Samsung dies, I'll get a Shuffle (or Nano), or just use my phone.
Tools + Survival Kit
To keep everything together I've placed most of my kits into a plastic microwave containers. In retrospect I still like this way of organising things, but the containers end up cracking and breaking apart.
- Tool Kit - Finish Line Ceramic Wax 150ml, Grease 50ml, Brake Cable, Shifter Cable, Puncture Kit, 3x Velcro Straps, 12x cable ties, 3x Paper clips, 2x Milk carton cuttings, 3x AAA batteries, Spoke Key, Chain Tool, Brooks Spanner (for tightening saddle), Hypercracker, Rag, Proofide (40g tin), spare nuts and bolts - 530g
- Puncture Kit - 3x Iinner Tubes, Multi-tool, Tyres Levers, Leeches - 650g
- Survival Kit - Medikit, Leatherman, Button compass, Water purification tablets, Lighter, 3x Rubber bands, 5x wire cable ties, 3m Para-cord, Pencil with duck-tape wrapped around it - 500g
- Medication Kit - Doxy (ant-malaria) tablets, Imodium, allergy tablets, day/night nurse tablets etc... - 150g
- Bike Frame - Topeak Turbo Morph Pump (285g), Abus Centuro Cable Lock (785g), 6x spare spokes.
- Spare Tyre - foldable Schwalbe Marathon Supreme 32C - 350g
Total Weight = 3.7kg. Most stuff is pretty standard. There are a few odd handy bits like paper clips for poking/cleaning the bike, and the milk carton cuttings to place inside a damaged tyre to stop the inner tube bulging out.
Retrospective - I don't think I would change much to the above. I could have got away with not taking the Brooks spanner (it's fairly heavy). The spare nuts and bolts are essentials and have always had their uses, so a range of common Allen bolts is recommended. I would have liked some better cable cutters as the ones on my Leatherman caused the newly replaced shifter cable to fray as the cut wasn't clean. Possibly some de-greaser to help clean the chain. The Proofide did melt a few times in the heat creating a bit of a mess as it would ooze out of its tin. Another reason to question the Brooks saddle.
Excluding my typical bike wear of a short sleeve cycle top, Endura Singletrack shorts, underwear, and a pair of socks... This is what I carry in my luggage:
- Jacket : Endura Venturi 1 - 440g
- Shorts : Endura Singletrack - 430g
- Trousers : North Face Lightweight Trekking Trousers - 320g
- Long Sleeve Top : Howies Merino - 250g
- Long Sleeve Top : North Face Lightweight SPF30 - 130g
- Shirt : Kathmandu 50/50 Cotton/Polyester - 140g
- T-Shirts : 1 Cycle, 1 Cotton Polo Shirt Cotton - 300g
- Cover : Buff SPF version (£12) - 10g
- Underwear : 3x Kathmandu Merino (£45), 1x Cotton - 210g
- Socks : Endura Coolmax 5x - 170g
- Flip Flops : Havaianas - 340g
- Shoes : Vibram Five Fingers Komodo - 285g
Total Weight = 3.0kg.
Retrospective - The above kept me warm, even in the evenings (not cycling) when temperatures dropped below 10C. The Howies Merino is amazing value, and still looks new after years of use. I'll be buying it again. Everything else worked perfectly. The Merino boxers were brilliant, well worth the cost as they didn't rub (the cotton ones I took did). The shorts were tough and lasted without falling apart. The North Face SPF30 top was nice and light and good for covering up on really sunny days. White was possibly a bad choice though as it's not very presentable any more (gone a browny-yellow colour!).
The Vibrams while not the most practical shoes, pack flat, and are super lightweight (will save me 300-500g over normal trainers) and are useful around coastal areas. I did wish I had something with more cushioning though. There are options out there that weigh only a little more (400g). Also Chinese Kung Fu slippers are a great thing to take. They pack flat, are light and smart enough to get you into most bars and restaurants. I bought some in China (£3) but should have taken them from the start.
I added two lightweight quick-dry t-shirts to my clothes list. I sent home one of my cotton t-shirts (useless in really hot countries), and replaced it with the two quick-dry t-shirts. They can also be worn for cycling. I have found that in warmer countries, two casual shirts is not enough due to the amount I sweat so I'm constantly having to change and wash them. I have also added a pair of swimming trunks to my list, although I always knew I would. In retrospect I would have been better off getting a decent pair in the UK that can double as cycling shorts.
Washing & Misc
- Washkit (with anti-septic soap, shower puff, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush, nail clippers, razor blade, shaving oil, deodorant stick)
- Medium Travel Towel + Face Cloth
- SPF50 + SPF30 Sun Block
- After-sun Cream
Total Weight = 2.0kg
Retrospective - I like to carry soap and a dry, rub-on deodorant stick as they don't count as part of the carry-on fluid allowance. Not essential on most tours as I usually check a bag in, but a good habit as it allows me to carry more sun block and after-sun lotion. The shower puff I couldn't be without, it keeps my body scrubbed clean and makes soaps last a lot longer. The shaving oil, while not the most pleasant form of shaving lubricant, did work and only weighed 30g! Sun block is another essential. I just go with factor 30 or even 50 if I can find it. The cream stuff (not the non-greasy spray) is the better form of sun block as it can act as a moisturiser post-ride. After sun is good for keeping your skin in top condition as 6+ hours being exposed in the sun can cause damage. The face cloth is handy to remove excess water before using the towel. If I didn't, my towel was so small it would be soaked. The face cloth also worked well as a cloth for wiping condensation from the inside of my single-skin tent during the night.
I've divided the weight up as follows (included the weight of the containers):
- On The Bike (Lock, Water Bottles) - 0.9kg
- Bar Bag - 2.0kg
- Panniers - 6.0kg (each)
- Rack Bag - 2.2kg
This puts 14.2kg on the rear of the bike and 2.9kg on the front, making my bike weigh a total of (13.1 + 14.2 + 2.9) 30.2kg.
I could cut that weight by around 2.5kg by dropping my Ortleib bar bag, Kindle, spare tire, Brooks saddle and swapping my netbook for a tablet. Also using my newer, lighter Soma to tour on would save another 1.5kg. Anything under 30kg is a respectable long distance touring weight for me. Especially when flying as luggage allowance is something to be careful of. Worst case you have 20kg check-in allowance and kg carry-on allowance (which my 30.2kg is obviously over) but you can often get round that by wearing lots of stuff! For a typical flight of 23kg check-in allowance and 7kg carry-on, it's right on the borderline. What will throw you a good 5-7kg over though is if they force you to box the bike. It's also a royal pain to carry along with all your luggage.
I have now dropped my Bar Bag and instead use a small waist bag for carrying my wallet, passport and camera. Everything else that was in the bar-bag goes in the panniers. This does affect the balance of the bike slightly as the front is very light now. To compensate, I'm looking at options for attaching my lock to the handlebars (as I already did before, wrapping it around the bar-bag mount). On my new Soma, I have fork mounts so am also considering either storing water bottles on the forks (adding around 1.5kg weight to the front) or using Salsa Anything mounts and storing camping equipment. This does however mean my kit is spread out again. Having several bags to carry and get on/off the bike is something I don't like.