The first six months of our adventure had provided us with ample opportunity to test out the kit we've brought along. We've cycled almost 12,000km and had all weathers from freezing snow and hail to blazing hot sun and humidity, so how has all of our stuff faired?
Mike has been wearing Giro shoes (see above). They're comfortable enough for cycling in but they just don't stand up to walking. The sole has very nearly gone and where they crease from walking, the fabric has completely split. It's worth noting that we don't walk a lot, but on our days off we walk more than normal. A couple of hours walking is the limit with these. They're certainly not an all rounder touring shoe.
Helen has been wearing Bontrager shoes and they're standing up much better. Some of the stitching has come lose but there are no significant signs of wear. However, for the last 6,000km Helen has been wearing trainers when not on the bike.
Helen has been wearing FINDRA shorts for almost the entire trip. It took a month or so to lose the weight to fit into them but since eastern Europe they have been worn every day. Whilst they've faded a little from the intense sun we've experienced since Turkey, there are no other signs of heavy use and still function perfectly, zippers and buttons included. The zipped side pocket has proved invaluable for keeping nimble fingers away from our cash. Underneath the shorts, Helen either wears cotton female fit Sylvia Speidel boxer shorts she found in Germany or yoga shorts from Decathlon. They dry very quickly and cause no chaffing and are the perfect solution to not wanting to wear padded shorts.
Mike has been wearing a variety of padded shorts. The Madison mountain bike shorts which come with a detachable liner are very comfortable except that the netting that forms the panels of the undershorts is stretching and about to break soon. The overshorts are working fine with lots of zipper pockets and hard wearing fabric for the seat. He's just become too thin for them now so they're a bit baggy around the waist. He is disappointed with his Altura Progel shorts as the pad delaminated within 2,000km. He bought a pair of Condor shorts for £10 online and they've been excellent so far.
Mike solely wears the MIND branded lycra cycling tops which have survived extremely well but the lack of regular machine washing has caused the white to stay dirty.
In the heat, Helen wears H&M basic adjustable strap tops which keep her cool and dry quickly. For cultural reasons in some countries, Helen has an oversized shirt from Turkey which allows air to flow across skin but keep respectful. In cooler weather, the FINDRA merino base layers are perfect for cycling and sleeping with only a little bit of wear showing around the thumb holes - though that's more down to user failure! They pack small so to keep your bulky winter clothing pack down in size and weight, you can't find a better product.
We got our almost matching pairs of Naked Runner prescription sunglasses when we reached Helsinki and we've barely been in sunlight without them. Screw your overpriced Oakleys, these are the way forward for lightweight sports sunglasses.
Our Surly Long Haul Trucker frames have been completely flawless, even down to the paint. If we keep going at this rate then the frames will see us good for touring for 20 more years. Before we left, Surly's policy was that you can't mount a kickstand to the bikes as it will potentially crumple the chain stay. Trying to find somewhere to lean the bikes whenever we want to stop is a bit of a pain and nigh on impossible in south east Asia and it must be a pain for every other cyclist too, so Surly have designed a mount for a kickstand which we might try and pick up in Australia.
We had our wheels hand built by Harry Rowland who works from a workshop near Helen's parents in Kent. I gather he used to make wheels for the Canadian cycling team. Our rear wheels are Deore LX hubs on Ryde Sputnik CSS rims. Our front wheels have the same rims but mounted on a Schmidt SON28 dynamo hub. Both are laced with sapim spokes and not a single one has broken. Mike's back wheel, after 6 months, is ever so slightly out of true but other than that the wheels are still in perfect condition. The CSS rims are manufactured by blasting carbide compound at super sonic speeds into the aluminium rim. The carbide is extremely hard wearing and so far shows absolutely no signs of wear. We have to use special brake blocks made by Swissstop, as regular brake pads will last about 200km on CSS rims. The Swissstops have lasted a lot longer than we expected; of the four sets that we originally mounted, we've only had to replace Mike's front pads. Every other brake is still running its originals.
Something of a mixed bag. We set off with Schwalbe Marathon Supremes on both bikes. By the time we reached Tbilisi, Mike had blown out his front tyre on a fast descent which nearly caused a very serious crash. That blow out happened in Turkey but we managed to boot the tyre and made it another 600km before finally replacing it. By that time, Mike's rear tyre had worn out and needed replaced too. They were swapped out with a set of Schwalbe Marathon Pluses. The front Marathon Plus has been going strong since it was replaced and it's done about 5,000km without a puncture. The rear blew out in the mountains of Sichuan when the bead delaminated from the tyre wall. Fortunately we noticed it early enough to be able to glue it back together and get us 100km to the nearest bike shop. That tyre has since been replaced with a Chaoyang Chinese brand tyre which we bought in Xichang for £5 and it's been running flawlessly for the last 2,000km.
Helen's original Marathon Supremes are still running completely fine except some major scuffing to the side wall of the rear tyre caused by the wheel rubbing against concrete whilst being transported through a tunnel on a lorry. That means they may need to be replaced soon, otherwise they would've lasted until Australia.
Our Deore XT front and rear derailleurs haven't let us down a single time and we're still running the original Deore XT cassettes. We bought cranksets from Spa Cycles (their own brand crankset based on Sugino XD2). While the cranks are fine, the stock chain rings wore out pretty quickly and we replaced those with Spa Cycles 7075 chain rings which are lasting much better.
Our bottom brackets wore out around the 10,000km mark. They were fairly inexpensive, square taper (and we had expected them to wear out anyway). We bought spare bottom brackets in Tbilisi in anticipation of the originals wearing out but unfortunately we left them in a taxi. After a few days searching in China, we were able to find replacements in Kunming (another cheapo brand). At some point we'll need to replace them with decent Shimano ones.
We both set off with pedals we'd been using for a couple of years which have now given up the ghost and produce an irritating knocking when pedalling under pressure. We'll get those replaced whenever we know we can afford it.
Helen is riding a Brooks sprung saddle and it's worn in well, except a bit lopsided but that's probably down to user error. For a while there was squeaking which drove Helen bananas but it was fixed with a little lubricant.
Mike is riding a Rido R2 which he's still completely in love with. It's the most comfortable saddle he's ever owned and despite having at least 20,000km on it, it's showing very little wear. His Suntour suspension seat post has needed a service after about 500km, which was before we even left, but since then it's been perfect and made a lot of rough roads a damn sight more comfortable. He would definitely recommend that seat post/saddle combination for touring.
We haven't really had much cause to use these hubs. We bought them for the remoteness of central Asia but since they only work above a certain speed, if at all, we'd recommend getting a large solar panel instead. We haven't tested them with a dynamo driven light. We think that would be where they have a lot of value. We might try this for cycling at night across the Nullabor.
Since we replaced our Vaude panniers for Ortlieb roller pluses with a 31litre rackpack, we've have zero complaints. We've just lost one insert for one hook, but we bought extra because we read this can happen. There isn't a single sign of wear on these panniers, and we hope they'll last us for years to come.
The tent is a Vaude Invenio UL 3P. It's the ultralight version and it's probably a little more delicate than is appropriate for long term touring. That said, it's easy to erect and disassemble. There are two issues we've had with it: the floor has not always kept water out when it's been raining and there's often been a lot of condensation when we've woken up. If we were to buy it again, we would definitely buy the version which has a full net inner for increased ventilation as in the heat it can be stifling. If we would buy for a long term tent again, we would not buy this tent.
Our Snugpak Softie Harriers have been perfect even in warmer weathers when we just want something over the top of us. Despite the humidity there's no evidence of mould.
We're totally in love with our Exped Synmat UL7 mats. They are very delicate so we've been extra careful with them and before leaving our very talented friend, Emma, made us some covers for them for extra protection. Occasionally we thought one was leaking but it turned out that you need to make sure the valves are properly stoppered.
We're using a Microsoft Surface laptop with a basic bluetooth keyboard and for the overall weight and size it's working really well. However, the Microsoft Surface already had to be replaced twice before leaving on the trip and pretty soon after leaving it developed a well documented screen fault and generally it's pretty slow and clunky. BUT it was all we could afford and were hesitant to bring Helen's Macbook so you can't have everything. At least it's functional, for now.
The RavPower Xtremes we have hold 26,800mAh and are really brilliant. They take just over one night to charge fully but we wouldn't be without them now.
The Go Pro Session we have is perfect for travelling as it's small and discrete. Unfortunately, the case it comes in to make it waterproof and means you can attach it to things broke and is unfixable so the Go Pro is only hand held now.
The Sony A5000 camera we have is pretty fantastic. Again, many thanks to Helen's aunt and uncle for replacing the lens when it got catapulted from Mike's bar bag on rough roads in Romania. The best photos we're getting are on this camera and it holds up well in high heat and humidity. We genuinely haven't had a single problem with it.
Things we wish we had
There are a few things we wished we had bought before we came away, and if we went on another long tour we'd definitely save up for. These include:
Large solar panel: Much more effective than a dynamo hub. Something like the Anker range.
Better laptop: Don't invest in a Microsoft Surface.
Hydration pack: One which is custom made to sit in or around your top tube and work with valves against gravity but we don't think these exist. Sometimes breaking your pedalling rhythm to reach down for a bottle is a pain in the arse but having a hydration system easily to hand would be better.
Dynamo lights: As previously mentioned, here is where the dynamo really comes into use and we aren't prepared. We really don't cycle at night so our lights are only used through tunnels and while camping, but we hope to cycle at dusk and dawn in Australia so we do wish we had some.
Kickstand: As previously mentioned, these weren't available for our Surlys before we left but we'd love to have them now. There are very few places to lean your bikes in south east Asia, and when you can, you bike will often get covered in ants.