It feels like our three days away in north Wales was a long time coming and a large number of factors coming to fruition. We ended up in Llandudno for a dear friend’s wedding and continued with our bikes down to Snowdonia and back round to Bangor and across the north of Wales and up to Southport, to visit my uncle and aunt.
So the bikes were built (as you’ve seen if you’ve been following), all touring equipment bought and the dynamo finished off. This was the first real test of all of our equipment as it will be next April.
The first thing we noticed was how you had to put in twice the effort to go half the speed on the touring bikes when they’re fully laden. Saying this, they are extremely comfortable and stable; so much so that when going 30mph down a hill it felt like 20mph because you lost all the wobble and nervousness you get from being buffeted around at that speed on a lightweight road bike. It feels fantastic. It feels like you're flying. Both of us had expected to have to put more effort in, obviously, because we’re going from using 10KG bikes to 35+ KG bikes. I think it just came as a surprise to both of us how difficult it was to maintain a decent speed we were used to, if we could reach that speed at all. The only lesson we can take from this is to massively increase our leg strength. None of this is a complaint; it’s just a calibration of our expectations vs reality. Thankfully we aren’t finding this out in April next year at the start of the journey. It would be a huge moral breaker.
The actual equipment we’d chosen worked extremely well. The tent was perfect and when we were trying to find it in the dark woods we camped in on the final night, it wasn’t reflective at all. Luckily that’s what we wanted. We need to be able to camp unnoticed. We ate very well with dinners of rice and beans and cheese cooked wonderfully by Mike on with our new MSR pots and pans. Few things give me more pleasure than eating a good rice dinner with a glass of affordable white wine watching a warm sunset sitting by our tent with Mike.
The novelty of the dynamo has not worn off yet. Charging your phone whilst cycling along (so long as you’re above about 10mph which quite often we weren’t) is brilliant and gives a real sense of self-sufficiency. The Sinewave Reactor we bought to replace the top cap on the stem provided a minimalist and extremely functional USB port so the cable did not have to be long for the device to sit in the front bar bag while charging.
We go on about how exercise is crucial to our own mental wellbeing and how we’re raising funds for Mind, the mental health charity. This trip to north Wales was a real test of our own negative thoughts (which I have discussed before) and made us both sit up and take note on how this round the world trip is so much harder than we had initially thought. We had gone off of our experiences of LEJOG or Vancouver to San Francisco but now we have heavier bikes and more equipment, and of course we aren’t as fit just now as we were back then. Things will get easier and so once we do set off, it won’t be as hard as it was in Wales but we really do have to be careful of our own mental health whilst raising money for Mind. Thankfully, we both have each other and we understand each other very well. It is OK to take the lows with the highs and we must be prepared for them.
In the meantime, please enjoy a few clips from our three days away:
So, it’s about time I wrote something a little more about the building of our bikes. To begin with we should probably explain that we’ve built the bikes on the three Rs: reliability, repairability, replacability. They are built so that if they fail (which they shouldn’t) we can fix them, and if we can’t fix them we should be able to buy the parts we need literally anywhere on earth. In short, they are very simple bikes and very high quality. So the parts in particular are:
We bought Surly Long Haul Trucker frames, fairly cheap online. They cost £318.74 a piece which is about as cheap as you can get them. There’s no glamour, they’re just strong, simple and comfortable.
Unlike the frame, the wheels are something a bit special. We enlisted the services of famed wheel builder Harry Rowland from lovely Kent, where Helen comes from. The rims are from the Netherlands, from a company called Ryde. They are Ryde’s Sputnik rim supersonically coated with tungsten carbide. This means that, although they need special brake blocks, the rims should make it 26,000 miles around the world. Spokes on both are a selection of decent spam, recommend by Harry Rowland. The rear hub is a bog standard cup-and-cone Deore LX that we can service as we go. The front hub is a Son Schmidt 28 dyno-hub that should be good for 50,000 km. These are wrapped in 2 inch Schwalbe Marathon Supremes that roll quickly but are still comfortable.
The drivetrain is based around the Deore XT range from Shimano with Deore XT front and rear derailleurs. On the rear is a 11-34 cassette (a fairly standard Shimano HG80) and the crankset is Spa Cycles own XD2, based on the classic Sugino crankset, but an awful lot cheaper. I expect that before we go we will have to replace the chain rings with something a little more fancy so that they can last the course. Connecting front and rear is a KMC X9 chain, the strongest we could get.
I decided to go for the Nitto Noodle handlebars, because nobody recommended anything else. These are wrapped in lovely squishy Specialized Bar Phat. At the ends are basic Diacompe bar end friction shifters that should work with any drivetrain that we later need to install. For the hoods, we chose a basic Tiagra aero brake lever.
Because the rims are carbide coated, they are extremely aggressive towards brake pads. We chose Avid’s Shorty 4 cantilever brakes because they can take V-brake pads, with which we are running Swisstop Blue pads. Initially, we had Koolstop black pads which were supposed to match with the carbide rims, however they more or less dissolved after 60 miles. Apparently Koolstop are in production of an updated pad that will be able to cope with Ryde’s new carbide formula.
We bought Tubus racks. It’s because they’re the best. We are taking with us Vaude panniers, the choice was really only between Vaude and Ortlieb but we could get the Vaude Aqua range for about half the price of the Ortliebs, and when we looked into it they seemed to be more adaptable and a better fit for the bikes. We still need to buy our handlebar bags, but they’re not particularly urgent for now (and we know we’ll be buying Vaude ones anyway).
I went for my trusty old Rido Sport R2 (that took me down the West Coast of America), Helen plumped for a Selle-Italia diva. These are mounted on Suntour SP12-NCX suspension seat posts to soak up all of the rough stuff.
Bits and bobs
Apart from all of the above, the rest of pretty basic and standard, which is the point. Nice and simple Shimano mountain bike cables, a fairly basic alloy stem, a square taper bottom bracket and some alloy spacers. None of those things should really break, but if they do it’s an easy fix or replacement. And mud guards (SKS Bluemels). Because it’s nice to be dry.
The front hub, the Schmidt Son 28, is powering our Sinewave Reactor USB ports which are a super simple top cap replacement with a little gold plated USB socket, to endure all weathers. Together, the hub and reactor convert the forward motion of the bike to a steady electrical output that we can use to charge all of our gizmos and gadgets as we go so we can keep updated all the way.
These are the bits I didn’t account for despite all of my hours of research. In truth, there were only really two:
And our thanks to the top gentleman Dan Jones, and the splendid Helen Blake, for driving all the way from London to help us build our bikes and then driving all the way back again all in 48 hours.
Total cost and component break down
Both bikes cost the same (except Helen’s new saddle), so here’s a breakdown of everything we spent:
Surly Long Haul Trucker
Nitto Noodle handlebars
Specialized Bar Phat tape
Zenith classic road stem
General alloy spacers
£7.12 pack of 6
Diacomp bar end shifters
£40 for pair
Shimano R400 levers (with brake cables)
£19.95 a pair
Shimano gear cables
Gear cable guides
Hamilton cycles, Glasgow
Brake cable guides
Craig MacMartin shop, Pollokshaws Road
Cane Creek 40 headset
High on Bikes
Suntour SP12-NCX suspension seat post
Wheels built by Harry Rowland
£205.50 a pair
Front hub Schmidt Son 28
Schwalbe Marathon Supreme tyres
£44 a pair
Craig MacMartin shop, Pollokshaws Road
Avid Shorty 4s
Dales Cycles, Glasgow
Brake pads Swisstop Blue
£24.99 for 4
AG Aggressive V brake pad cartridges
£8 a pair
Spa Cycles XD-2 crankset
Shimano HG80 9 speed cassette
Deore XT front derailleur
Deore XT rear derailleur
KMC X9 chain
Stronglight self extracting crank bolts
Shimano UN55 square taper bottom bracket
Panniers – Vaude Aqua
£131.86 per bike
£100 a bike
Mudguards SKS Bluemels
£23.99 a pair
Pedals – free from old bikes
Selle-Italia Diva Gel Flow
Total £1522.73 per bike (not including Helen’s saddle and delivery costs). We got a quote for almost exactly this spec £1950.52 so we managed to save some money and learnt copious amounts by building them ourselves.