Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Best & Worst of My Gear

The gear I take on a cycling trip depends on a number of factors, such as the type of tour (paved vs. off-road), the route's proximity to water sources and grocery stores, and the weather. The more miles I tour, the better able I am to dial-in on my gear.

My recent four-month tour to Patagonia proved to be a true gear test. The remoteness of the route, the weather, and the bumpy roads made it quite clear which gear were my favorites and which were my least favorites.

This post describes the best and the worst gear from my trip. For my cycling and outdoorsy friends who enjoy geeking out about gear, read on. For the rest of you, you're more than welcome to bow out, if you'd like.

Best Gear


If you are interested in more information about any of the "Best Gear,", simply click on the photos, and you will be whisked away to the product's webpage. Note that I was not sponsored by any of these products. As such, I am at liberty to share my unedited opinions.

Crazy Creek Hex 2.0 Chair


As is true for most all forms of travel, the general rule is to carry the minimum of what you might need. Excess weight is carried at the cost of energy, comfort, and speed. Minimizing volume has its benefits, too.

Some travelers will go to extreme measures (and extreme costs) to travel as lightly as they can. While I'd just assume pedal with as little weight as possible, I'm also of the frame-of-mind that if I'm going to be living on my bike for a few months, I want to be comfortable. Plus, once you add food and water to your touring load, meticulous savings in gear ounces here-and-there are easily overshadowed. And so on our Patagonia trip, where I knew that seats (even those offered by a picnic table) would be far-and-few-between, carrying the extra weight and volume of a Crazy Creek chair was acceptable.

Measuring 16.5" X 4" inches when folded and adding 1 lb 5 ounces to my gear weight, carrying the Crazy Creek is definitely a crazy luxury. But it is well worth it! How nice to be able to sit down and lean back in a comfortable chair in the middle of nowhere. Both my traveling partners brought Crazy Creek Chairs on this trip (at my urging) and both used them all the time. We used them at lunch...at our mid-afternoon coffee breaks...in camp at night -- basically anytime we weren't on the bikes or standing up.

Sure, there are lighter chairs, as well as ones with legs that will get you off the ground. But the Crazy Creek's versatility just makes more sense. For one, you can set up the Crazy Creek on any surface -- the ground, a log, a rock. Secondly, by disconnecting the side straps and flattening out the Crazy Creek, you can use the chair as a mat under your sleeping bag. Although it wouldn't be a full-length mat, it still provides a bit of padding and a minimal thermal barrier.

Should you decide to take a Crazy Creek with you on a bike tour or a backpacking trip, I suggest attaching the chair to the exterior of your pack so that it is easy to get to. The easier the access, the more it will be utilized.

Icebreaker Rush Bra


I first learned of the joys of merino wool a few summers ago. As soon as I wore my first wool shirt, I said goodbye to the polyester bike jerseys in my closet. Because merino wool is so expensive, though, I hesitated on upgrading my entire wardrobe to wool.

When you ride for five or more hours a day, particularly in mountainous terrain or in hot weather, you sweat a lot. Given the tight nature of bras, they hold moisture right up snug against your skin. With traditional sports bras, this moisture would irritate the skin at my bra line. I had always just accepted the red, itchy, sensitive skin as a part of being a tourist.

Eventually I gave in and bought two merino wool bras. At $70 a pop, they ain't exactly cheap. But, my oh my, they make all the difference in the world. The skin irritation is nonexistent! There were even a couple of times on the trip when I wore the same bra for days and nights on end, not even bothering to take off the bra when I feel asleep at night.

I now practically live in this bra. I will proudly say that I am a merino wool bra convert!

Sony WX350 Compact Camera


I purchased a new camera for this trip. After a little bit of research, I decided on the Sony WX350. This is a great all-around, compact, entry-level point-and-shoot camera.

But what I really love about this camera is that it has wifi. What does this mean? In any place, even a place without electricity, I can turn on my camera, enable its internal wifi, connect my iPad to the wifi, and transfer photos from my camera to my iPad. This makes for much easier blog writing and photo sharing.

Sea to Summit Reactor Thermolite Sleeping Bag Liner


Although a sleeping bag liner adds some weight and bulk to my panniers, this is a piece of gear that is a must when I camp.

The liner serves many purposes. In cold weather, it adds up to ten degrees of warmth to a sleeping bag. In warmer weather, it enables me to cover myself with a lightweight material (versus my hot down sleeping bag). But more importantly, the liner helps to preserve the cleanliness of my sleeping bag -- which, of course, also extends the life of my sleeping bag.

The longest I went on this trip without a shower was 17 days. Fortunately, the sleeping bag liner did a great job of capturing those 17 days of stink. When laundry facilities finally became available, all I had to do was wash my liner and my sleeping system was as good as new again.

Schwalbe Marathon Mondial Tires


I've been a diehard fan of Schwalbe tires for a number of years. When I tour on the roads, I use the Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tires. I've been very pleased with their durability. Their kevlar-like lining practically dispels any sharp objects in the roadway.

I purchased a set of Mondial Tires for the Patagonia trip. At 2.0" in width, these tires are better suited for off-road ventures than the Marathon Plus tires. The Mondials are beefy and bombproof. When I swapped out these new tires on Shirley, it looked as though she had put on her big girl panties!

Unlike the Marathon Plus tires, with their wire beads, I purchased the Mondial tires with folding beads instead. The folding beads make it much easier for my weak finders to stretch the tires over the rim.

With the Mondial tires, I had absolutely no flats in Patagonia! Plus, these tires held their air for our entire four-month trip. There was no need to top off the air as I typically need to do every few days with other tires.

Ortlieb Handlebar Bag


I love Ortlieb bags. They are well-engineered and well-manufactured. Of all their bags, the handlebar bag is my favorite. It's so nice to have a truly reliable waterproof container right within reach. The handlebar bag was the permanent home for my trip essentials: my iPad, my camera, my wallet, my sunglasses, my chapstick, my binder clips, my buff, and my snacks for the day.

Grease Monkey Long Cuff Neoprene Cleaning Gloves


For the Patagonia trip, I wanted a pair of gloves that would stand up to the cold, windy, and wet conditions. I considered all sorts of biking (and non-biking) gloves targeted for these conditions. But the reviews were disappointingly consistent -- eventually they all seemed to fail. Sure, the gloves would hold up to a 30-mile morning commute, but when you're out riding all day in those conditions, they are eventually going to fail. Plus, technical gloves are so damn expensive!

So, instead, I went to the hardware store and bought a pair of thick cleaning gloves for a whopping $4.99. I wear these over a thin layer of wool liner gloves. They work far better than any expensive pair of gloves I've ever used. Plus, the long wrists enable me to tuck the gloves up under my rain jacket so that I don't have any moisture sneaking in at my wrists.

Wet Wipes


I refer to wet wipes as my "shower-in-a-bag." They are perfect for wiping down the face, armpits, and lady bits at the end of each day's ride. Plus, wet wipes work really work for cleaning up post-maintenance greasy bike hands while out in the field.

Skin Shield Liquid Bandage


During the course of the trip, we had a few minor cuts and scrapes. The wounds tended to exist on our "dynamic" body parts -- hands, feet, and other areas that experience a lot of movement -- where traditional band-aids have a hard time staying in place.

For these open wounds, we applied liquid bandage instead. This stuff rocks! You just paint it on with a little brush -- very much like painting on nail polish, give it a minute or two to dry, and then you're good-to-go! We found that a single application of the liquid bandage keeps the wounds well-protected for a few days, certainly long enough for the healing process to do its thing.

If you are at all hesitant about the brush touching other people's blood, I would recommend that each person have their own bottle of liquid bandage.

Collapsible Dog Bowl


Portable kitchen sinks, as they are called in outdoor gear parlance, are great for collecting and carrying water. Instead of paying jacked-up outdoor gear prices for a kitchen sink, Brian had the great idea of buying an inexpensive collapsible dog bowl instead.

We used the dog bowl regularly on the trip. Mostly we used the bowl for washing clothes. Although we used biodegradable soap, the dog bowl enabled us to set up a little wash basin away from the water source.

We also used the bowl to collect cloudy water before filtering. We let the water sit for a minute or two in the bowl to let the particles settle to the base of the bowl before pumping.



Worst Gear


Katadyn Hiker Pro Water Filter


I had originally purchased a Katadyn Hiker Pro water filter because of its great reviews. Not only did it pump a greater volume of water faster than the competitive MSR models, but it also had a lower price point.

In this case, "you get what you paid for" applies. About half way through our Patagonia trip, the handle started getting really difficult to pump. We took the filter apart, and cleaned everything; it looked fine.

As we were pumping water at a stream near Caleta Tortel, the handle snapped and separated from the shaft. This rendered the pump practically useless. Fortunately, we had backup purification pills with us.

A broken pump handle!

While it's possible that the filter had reached its max and was responsible for the finicky handle, if this was the case, then the filter withstood far fewer gallons than expected before requiring replacement.

When we reached Coyhaique, I contacted Katadyn about the issue. Katadyn promptly mailed us a new filter handle. Look at the price Katadyn paid to ship the handle to Chile. How ridiculous!

Holy mother almighty!
The cost of the shipping is nearly 64 times
as expensive as the cost of the part.

Despite Katadyn's generosity in mailing the part, I do not wish to own an unreliable piece of gear. As soon as I returned from the trip, I disposed of the filter.

I am considering a Steripen for future purification needs.

MKS Sylvan Pedals


I really like having my feet attached to pedals; doing so gives me more power on the upstroke. I'm not a fan of clipless pedals for touring, however, because clipless require that you carry a second set of off-bike shoes. Though redundant with the Power Grip toe straps that I use, I have used grippy pedals for a number of years.

On this trip, my grippy pedals seemed to have done more harm than good. One morning, when we were cycling through the Lakes & Volcanoes region, I didn't quite get my foot all the way into the pedal as we were rolling away, and the heel of my foot jammed into the spiky pedal. Ouch!

Pedal damage. Ouch!

Thank goodness for the aforementioned liquid bandage!

The grippy pedals were also responsible for prematurely eating away at the soles of my Teva sandals. My first pair of Teva Sandals, which were worn primarily in my pre-touring days, lasted me eleven years! This second pair lasted not even three years.

My sharp pedals nibbled away at my poor sandals.

I will definitely be replacing these pedals with less spiky pedals. And, I've also ordered a new pair of Tevas.

Pletscher Double-Leg Kickstand


When I first laid eyes on a double-leg kickstand, it seemed like such a great idea. Not only would I be able to prop up my bike, but the kickstand would also serve as a quasi-bikestand for maintenance purposes.

When the bike is parked on a solid surface, this double-legged kickstand is great. But in all other circumstances, this kickstand is nothing but annoying. On uneven surfaces, I had to find a rock or a stick to put underneath one side of the kickstand so the bike wouldn't topple over to one sie. What was even more annoying was that no matter how tight I attached the kickstand, it always managed to work itself loose.

This kickstand is no longer on my bike and no longer in my possession.

Padded Bike Shorts


I'm done with padded bike shorts. They are bulky (both on my body and in my panniers), they build up and hold excess heat (which can lead to saddle sores), and they take forever to dry. Plus, they aren't multifunctional; I wouldn't wear my padded bike shorts on days when I'm not riding my bike.

At the beginning of every touring season, it takes a day or two for my butt to get accustomed to spending the day in a saddle. But once it does, I'm fine riding a saddle without a chamois.

I am getting rid of my padded bike shorts.

e-Werk Device


Remember the e-Werk device that I was so excited to use in On the Bike & Off the Grid? The e-Werk is a little powerhouse that enables me to divert energy created by my dynamo hub to charge my electronic devices, such as my iPad and my phone.

As described in the blog post, the voltage provided by the e-Werk depends on the speed at which the wheel is moving. While the e-Werk is capable of charging many devices directly, the current isn't constant enough to charge my iPad. As such, I purchased a Limefuel Blast battery (15600 mAh) to gather the power generated by the hub. This battery, in turn, would deliver a constant charge to my iPad and other devices.

I first used the e-Werk and Limefuel battery combo on my Sierra-Cascades bike ride from Mexico to Canada two summers ago. While it was super cool to be able to charge my devices with my own body power, the truth of the matter was that the Limefuel battery contained enough energy to charge my iPad and phone batteries multiple times. And, since we passed through enough towns where I could top off the Limefuel battery, there really wasn't a need to be able to generate my own power.

On the Patagonia trip, I did not use the e-Werk...at all. Sure, there were long stretches between towns, but I also found that I used my devices less often. (It helped that I didn't buy a cell phone plan while I was in South America.) The energy stored on my Limefuel was absolutely sufficient for providing the power I needed.

From here on out, I will just be bringing my Limeful battery with me on trips where I need electricity. If anyone thinks they might benefit from the EWerks, mine is now listed on Craigslist.

Serated-Edge Blade Knife


We didn't have a cutting board on our trip, and so I cut most of the vegetables and fruit using my thumb as the blade stop. My knife has a seration near where the blade connects to the handle. This serration is right where I would place my thumb, making the knife unusable for this kind of cutting. As Brian's knife doesn't have this seration, I used his knife instead.

I will be replacing my knife with one that has a smooth edge to its blade.


I hope this post helps some of you to make better decisions about your gear. Happy touring!

10 comments:

  1. If I say "great post" does that make me a gear geek? OK I am..... ;-) I've had great luck with the Steripen (i upgraded to the deluxe model). The only issue I have had is that it likes to turn itself on while packed (quickly killing the batteries). I learned to store it with the batteries reversed. They may have solved this issue is subsequent versions.

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    1. Thanks, Norton. Yes, you are a gear geek. But I still like you anyway. :)

      I'm glad to hear that you like your Steripen. I have the same issues with my headlight turning itself on when it's in my panniers or backpack. I remove the batteries whenever it's packed away, though I like your idea of reversing the batteries better. Thanks for that! :)

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  2. WOW! I want the camera! I love mine, but the built in wifi rocks, as does Crazy Creek chairs! I will be purchasing one again (Lost mine years ago) before the oregon coast. Not sure I need the merino sports bra but Michelle is intrigued.

    I am bummed about the kick stand, I am still looking for one for my bike and I loves my bike shorts!

    Final, I am TOTALLY going to the hardware store before cold commuteing starts!

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    1. For you, dear Tony, I'm fairly confident that you don't need the merino wool sports bra...as long as you keep riding. :P

      I'm bummed about the kickstand, too. A touring acquaintance of mine, Faisal, (who just finished his first tour -- a solo ride down the Pacific Coast!!!) is also looking for a good kickstand. So, if you find one, definitely pass it along. I've heard that a few people really like their Click-Stands (http://www.click-stand.com). While I like the idea of a Click-Stand, I'm not wanting to have to carry *one more thing* along on my bike.

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  3. +1 on the CrazyCreek chair. When you sleep in the dirt every day for months the chair is much comfort. Thanks Sarah.

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    1. Agree. It would have been a very different trip without the Crazy Creeks. :)

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  4. Hi Sarah, Loved your review on the bra and I am going to get one. What is your thoughts on sizing? Per the reviews, looks like the bra runs smaller than small? Did you order a size up?

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    1. When I'm my "normal size," I'm a 36C. However, when I've been biking a lot and lose a lot of weight, I drop a cup size. I ordered a medium, and I'm happy with the size -- regardless of whether I'm sporting the bigger boobs or the smaller boobs. :)

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I would love to hear your comments on this post!