After 18 months on the road, we think our cyclo-climbing nomadic lifestyle has given us a legitimate long term view of our equipment. Our gear is under intense daily use, and detailing some of our experiences could help others in choosing and using their kit. Here we go then, the first episode in this series about our gear.
Adam has a Fahrrad Manufaktur TX400 purchased in Lyon in June 2015 which has since travelled more than 18000 kilometres. Noémie has a Surly Troll bought in Vancouver in June 2014 which has covered more than 26000 kilometres. Both bikes have similar basic characteristics: steel frame, 26 inch wheels, Tubus front and rear racks and butterfly bars. Almost all parts are interchangeable from one bike to another, which allows us to carry a minimum amount of spare parts.
Two important differences :
The transmission. The TX400 has ten speed, the troll has nine. Nine speed chains and cassettes are cheaper than ten speed ones and the advantage of an additional speed seems negligible.
The brakes.the TX400 came with Magura hydraulic rim brakes with which never worked properly for more than three months in a row. After being bled many times and new handles, the problem was never solved. These brakes always lose their power within a few months (however, most people seem to be happy with them so we might just have been very unlucky). We ended up replacing them with classic V-brakes that work perfectly for a year now. The Troll is equipped with a pair of V-brakes in the front and mechanical disc brakes in the back. Looking back, these brakes are the best of all those that we have hadf. Pads last a long time (replaced after 10000 kilometres), the braking power is always good even in wet weather and they do not wear out the rim. If Adam’s frame and wheels could have disc brakes we would certainly choose them over all the others.
The kickstands. The TX400 had a kickstand screwed on the back triangle. After a few falls due to the wind, it eventually passed away. The Troll was equipped with a central two legged kickstand that wasn’t always stable. We could have chosen to not have kick stands but it’s so nice to be able to park your bike anywhere. Four days after our departure from England, we had reached the bike capital of the world : Amsterdam. Talking about the problem with our friend Simone, she suggested to weld a metal piece onto our frames in order to have a specific reinforced support for a central kickstand. The same day, we found a professional welder able to do the job the next day. € 45 per bike. We sand-papered and painted it carefully before installing the Ergotec ‘Extrem’ kick stands. Welded spots being much more sensitive to corrosion, as soon as any rust appears now we clean, sand-paper and repaint the piece. We have done this twice in 18 months. Apart from this maintenance, we don’t regret our choice. Our kickstands no longer damage our frames and they are now much more solid than they were before.
The frame locks. A second accessory inherited from Amsterdam. In the Netherlands, almost every bike has two locks. A burly chain for overnight parking and a frame lock for quick and convenient use. The latter, which is horseshoe-shaped, is usually fixed to the frame with bolts and/or tie wraps. The principle is simple: when turning the key a metal piece is released between two spokes, blocking the rear wheel and attaching it to the frame. This makes it impossible to ride the bike. Being so easy to use, turning the key quickly becomes a reflex even when stopping for 2 minutes. Noémie still has her bike today thanks to this lock. In Kazakhstan, someone managed to carry her loaded bike two hundred meters down the street before trying desperately to unlock the wheel. By the time we’d realised the bike was missing and we’d found where it was, the thief was still fighting against this discrete but effective lock…
The handlebars. When Noémie returned from Mexico after 100 days on the saddle, a pain in her hands took over three months to completely disappear. We both then decided to change our original handlebars for butterfly bars offering many different positions. To make them more comfortable, we use our original handles near the commands and foam covered with cotton bar tape on the wings of the butterfly. We recently discovered that the cotton rim tape is perfect for replacing the bar tape. More durable and way cheaper.
The stems. We both wanted an upright position to enjoy the landscape
without breaking our necks. Noémie had initially installed a fork extension on her bike until finding out about the prolonged Ergotec stems, much lighter and easier to take apart.
The saddles. Choosing a saddle is difficult. We both tried four different ones before finding THE perfect one. So perfect than neither of us needs to use padded cycling shorts. Adam has a Brooks b17 and Noémie a BSD-13 from BBB (very comfortable but not really durable, it’s already been replaced once and it’s again at the end of its life …).
Between us, we have 4 different models from 3 different brands. Noémie has had a pair of Vaude Aqua Back since 2013 and a pair of Ortlieb Front Roller Plus since 2015. Adam has had Ortlieb Front and Back Roller since 2015 but he has just replaced his front panniers with a pair of Crosso Classic for more space. We also both have handlebar panniers from Ortlieb and a Ortlieb 32 litres Rack Pack. Knowing how much we use them, we are satisfied with our panniers although all without exception have had problems:
The Ortlieb handlebar bags do carry cameras and wallet safely but there is one problem. The 2 press-studs designed to keep the lids closed on both panniers broke after 6 months of use. We managed to replace the plastic rivet attaching the female portion to the pannier with a metal bolt. These repairs have since held the lids in place. Having a handlebar bag on a butterfly bar is not so practical since the space between the “wings” of the butterfly is rather limited. To address this problem we found that a click-fix mounting systems designed for electric bikes, was the perfect solution as it kept the pannier further from the bar.
The pair of Ortlieb Front Roller Plus, until a week ago, were the only ones with which we hadn’t had problems. The buckles to attach the straps all broke within a two day period. We are hoping to get replacements under warranty. Apart from that, the QL2 fixing system is much more efficient and easier to use than the QL1 and the Cordura fabric is more resistant that the classic PVC.
Ortlieb Roller Pannierlose their screws. If we don’t tightened them regularly, we end up losing them. If we lose any original screws we replace them with metal nuts and bolts and we always carry replacements. They are heavier but are more resistant to vibration. We also removed the unused mesh pockets inside the bags which saves weight. The hooks and their inserts are also very fragile but we did manage to get new ones under warranty.
The Vaude Aqua Backhave a long life behind them and they have both been replaced thanks to the 5-year warranty. Both times it was for the same problem, the heat dissolved the welding between the two fabrics and the bag eventually separated. (see photo)There have been no problems with the hooks, they were stronger than the Ortlieb ones. The Vaude hold more than Ortlieb but they are different shapes, which some prefer one to the other.
The 32 litre Rack Pack are much more practical than the kayaking dry bags we used for our previous trips. Adam has just replaced his with a Grivel 60l haul bag (specific for big wall climbing) and it does the job.
The Crosso DRY panniers used in the front by Adam seems to be of comparable quality to the Ortlieb and Vaude. We haven’t used them long enough yet to give a proper review but we’ll update this section in a few months.
We found the perfect fit for our toolkit by adapting an organiser originally designed for storing electronic cables. We have everything we need to completely disassemble our bikes without needing to go to a bike shop. The tools are:
a set of Allen keys
an adjustable wrench to unscrew the pedals and wheel axles
a flat wrench size 15 to disassemble the axles of the wheels (in case of bearing problems)
a chain breaker and spare quick links
a 7g cassette remover is perfect to unscrew or tighten a cassette without needing a chain whip. Removing the cassette makes cleaning easier and is essential when replacing a broken spoke on the cassette side.
two inner tubes with Presta valves. In many countries, we found it difficult to find presta valves. Noémie had her wheels drilled to accept both Presta and Shrader valves and this saved us on more than one occasion.
4 front wheel spokes, 4 rear wheel spokes. Only one has been replaced since we started and that was damage caused by the botched theft.
a brake cable and a derailleur cable. Before we left, we replaced all our cables with reinforced plastic coated ones as they are less likely to rust. We haven’t changed them yet.
two V-brake elbows, relatively fragile and very light to carry.
brake pads for every wheel.
two chains for each bike. A bike shop in Vienna recommended this and to rotate them every 1,000 km, replacing a chain after 4000km. We have followed this advice to date and this has greatly extended the life of our cassettes. However, given the extra weight of a third chain, we have now decided to carry only one spare chain and rotate every 1,000km.
nuts and bolts. Losing or breaking screws happens a lot.
We do not carry spare tyres. Noémie left the UK with old tyres that had already clocked up 11000km. She replaced both in Vienna and Adam got a new pair in Georgia. We both have Schwalbe Marathon mondial and we are really happy with them. To extend their life, we swap tyres as soon as the back shows significant wear; we also try to check the pressure as often as possible. Under or over-inflated tires wear out much quicker.
What would we change?
With hindsight, we regret not having invested in a Rohloff or Pinion internal transmission bikes. The cost was too much of a deterrent at the time but they would certainly have paid off in the longer term and it would have entailed a lot less maintenance to boot.
A second regret is that the frame of the TX400 does not allow disc brakes. With rim brakes, a wheel is very weakened after 15,000 km. If a wheel was to break in the middle of nowhere (as happened to our friend Jeff in the Uzbek desert), it would be a real headache. Replacing a wheel rim is much more complicated than changing a worn disc. You can’t continue with a broken wheel, but you can with a damaged disc, albeit carefully. If you do have rim brakes, remember to check the wear indicator regularly after 10,000 km.
Our third concern regards the pedals. We both tested SPD clipping pedals. Noémie quickly gave up after warning signals from her right knee during a previous trip, despite professional advice on how to adjust them correctly. Adam used them for about 6,000 km before giving up because of intense knee pain that stopped him from pedalling for ten days. We still suffer from knee pain regularly and are therefore looking for a solution to balance our under developed pulling with our well developed pushing muscles. Since we are having the same problem with climbing (shoulder pains due to over developed pulling muscles and underused pushing muscles), the most likely solution is exercising to strengthen the opposing muscles and thereby rebalancing the muscle sets.