Search This Blog

Thursday, April 21, 2011

My Gear and How It's Holding Up So Far

My bicycle

I ride a Surly Long Haul Trucker in a frame size of 52 with 26" tires.  This is a pretty common configuration among people who bicycle camp... or so I've been told because I don't personally know anybody who bicycle camps on a regular basis.  For that matter I don't know any bicycle tourers.  But based on my web research the Surly LHT comes highly recommended and is a generally well-thought of bicycle.
Surly Long Haul Trucker with Ortlieb panniers and handlebar bag
I purchased my Surly in November 2010.  I've already put some 3500 miles on it between commuting, bicycle camping, and just toodling around.  I've already had to replace the chain.  I replaced the brake pads because the originals were just okay.  I've added an extender to the threadless stem but I don't use the full length of the extender... thus, I have spacers above the stem which looks a little weird but works okay.

I've set the shifters to full friction mode... meaning when I shift gears they don't click into place, you have to subtly adjust the shifter until you feel the chain engage the next gear.  I use the friction shifting mode because I don't want to have to continually adjust index gearing.  Friction shifters don't require any actual adjusting; just make sure there is sufficient tension on the cable that the shifter will travel the full complement of gears.

Friction shifting, though, does present its complications when riding under load and stressing the chain. Bicycle gearing doesn't like shifting when there is too much chain tension.  In that instance you often won't shift completely and then you'll grind the gear as the chain tries to set in an adjacent position.  That is to say, a stressed chain (such as pedaling hard when shifting) doesn't shift completely... and then there's hell to pay as you continue to pedal.

It's an art.  There has to be some tension on the chain; it has to be moving so that it'll shift.  But there can't be too much tension.  I love the feel of getting the stress level just right and the chain literally snaps into the next gear.  But I hate hill climbing while rapidly trying to reduce my gearing resulting in grinding the shift.  It takes practice.

I've added racks front and back.  I've added fenders.  There are loads of braze-ons to this bike; I haven't had to jury-rig a thing.  This bicycle is intended for touring.  This, boys and girls, is a serious bike and I'm happy with it.

My tent

Overall I'm happy with the Eureka Backcountry Solo tent.  I wish there was more of a vestibule area (there's virtually none) but that extra fabric would also presents more wind resistance and make the tent less stable in a hard wind.  Since this tent doesn't provide a decent vestibule for storing shoes or other gear, I cover my shoes with plastic bags and leave them outside the tent.  That actually works pretty well... unless of course some raccoon comes along and steals the shoes.  Ewww, metal pedals.  That would hurt.

That tent stays pretty warm provided I employ a tarp and a sleeping pad.  This way I'm pretty insulated from the elements.  I like the subdued green color of the Eureka Backcountry.  I like that fact that it's a light tent that packs well in its stuff sack.  It fits conveniently in my rear pannier making it easy to transport.
I've slept in a hard rain and stayed dry, so I'm satisfied with its water protection. In warmer weather I can forego the rain fly; much of the tent is mesh - even the door flap has a mesh section with a zipped cover that can be conveniently secured out of the way.  I haven't tried sleeping in warm weather in essentially a mesh tent but I'm looking forward to trying that this summer.

The tent cleans easily, looks good, travels well, and thus far has kept me warm and comfortable.  I am quite happy with it. 

My panniers and handlebar bag

I've got several different types of bicycle bags in my garage.  I like them all but for bicycle camping I decided to go with Ortlieb.  I use their "classic" bags: larger rear panniers and smaller front panniers.  I got the yellow on black set because of the visibility.  Hard for a car driver not to notice them.

Initially I didn't like them.  I'm used to zippers and there are no zippers on these bags.  Rather, they use a "dry sack" method of rolling the top of the bag and then securing it with a strap.  The colored fabric is plasticized and impervious to moisture.  I've ridden in the rain with these bags and they keep everything nice and dry. 

So I'm now a confirmed Ortlieb bag lover.

I also got an Ortlieb handlebar bag.  This thing is pretty well designed.  The top overlaps the bottom section for water protection and in addition to a fabric hinge there are 2 snaps to hold it securely.  The handlebar bag holds a fair amount of stuff (what I call the "accessibles": cell phone, wallet, sunblock, hand sanitizer, etc.) and easily detaches from the bicycle for when you go into a store.  There's also a strap so you can carry it like a messenger bag.  Handy.

You can purchase a patch kit for repairing tears or dings in the fabric of the panniers.  These bags are intended to last a long time and to get a lot of use.

Now that I'm more familiar with these bags I can see they're inherently a better idea than zippered bags.  Zippers will allow moisture to get through; thus, better quality zippered bags come with a rain cover.  But it seems so much more hassle to set a rain cover over the bag than simply to use a dry sack that's waterproof.  

As far as mounting the bags to the rack, it's a simple process but it may require some adjusting of the hardware until you get it just right.  It's a 3-point mounting system and all points can be repositioned for optimum attachment.  The top 2 mounts are really swiveled clamps manipulated by a pull handle.  You pull it, the clamps open, you set the mounts on the cross bar to the rack, and allow the clamps to close.  Viola! the top mounts are secure.  The bottom mount is simply a piece of plastic that can be angled such that it slides onto another rack bar. It adds stability to the top clamps.  A very simple system that hasn't failed me yet.
Incidentally, when I lock the bicycle at the campsite I arrange all the panniers beside the bike and thread my lock-cable through the pull-handles.  Now the bags are securely attached to the bicycle.  Anyone trying to steal the bike will have to contend with the whole shebang - bicycle and bags! - which, although not a 100% deterrent, should present complications that most thieves don't want to deal with.

My bicycle computer

I was using a nice Catseye wireless bicycle computer but a battery began dying and I was going through a period of zero readings.  Not sure if it was the battery to the display or the battery to the fork-mounted sensor.

That's what's wrong with wireless computers: 2 batteries of the annoying digital watch variety that you have to shop for at Radio Shack... damned inconvenient.

So I currently use a wired computer that I got from Wal-Mart for 10 bucks (a wire runs from the sensor up to the handlebar mounted fitting for the display).  Made by Schwinn, it actually performs a few more functions than the wireless one.  Which is a matter of indifference to me because I only require 4 functions:

- I want to know what time it is

- I want to know how fast I'm going

- I want to know how far I've gone

- I like keeping an overall odometer on the bicycle... why, I don't know.

The problem with bicycle computers, though, is if you don't bring paper instructions you forget how to adjust it.  In particular that Schwinn computer can be maddening!  How many times have I tried to adjust the time, or reset the distance meter to zero... only to produce blinking numbers?!!  Now I've screwed the pooch, so to speak, because I can't remember which button to push (there are only 2) to adjust something rather than reset the whole damn computer.

When functioning properly, though, I'm quite happy with that Schwinn computer.  For that matter, I'm quite happy with the Catseye when it works right.  I use the bicycle computer in place of wearing a watch resulting in one less thing to worry about losing.  Plus, the distance meter gives a clue when to stop for a rest, or something to eat, or to drink some water.

My tires

I'm using Schwalbe Marathons that I got off an internet site.  They are supposed to be 26" by 1.5" but they are, I suspect, the European version because (a) the max pressure markings are unfamiliar and (b) they're so much fatter than the American Schwalbe 26 x 1.5 counterparts that you get in the local bicycle shops.

One friend remarked, "They have tread like a car tire."  They do indeed have deep tread and lots of it.
Schwalbe 26 x 1.5 Marathon.  Lots of tread, reflective sidewall, a very utilitarian tire. (c) Google

These are not a fast tire, far too much rolling resistance.  But - as I like to say - they ride like a fire truck.  I've ridden on roads and I've ridden in the dirt and mud and they handle equally well on either.  They're supposed to be a road tire - actually a commuting tire - so I wouldn't recommend them for your next dirt bike meet, but they are a quality tire that are designed to last a long time and handle a variety of terrain.

The tires that came with the bike are Continental Contact City tires.  I took those off and put them on my mountain bike/grocery getter.  I removed the Schwalbes from that bike (I had wanted a good utility tire for shopping) and put them on the Surly.  It wasn't how I originally intended to use those Schwalbes but it has been a pretty good match thus far.

The Continentals are also supposed to be 26 x 1.5 tires but they are so skinny in comparison to these Schwalbes.  They would be a faster tire; maybe someday when I'll put the Continentals back on the Surly.  I dunno.  Right now, though, I'm pretty impressed by the Schwalbes.

My sleeping bag, pad, and tarp

If you've been following this blog then you know one morning I woke up to snow on my tent.  Thanks to that tent, my sleeping bag (the dubious Coleman "Taos Extreme Weather" bag... well, dubious no longer), my pad (a Thermarest RidgeRunner), and the tarp under the tent, I slept warm and comfortably that night.

That's a pretty ringing endorsement for those items.  I'm quite happy with them.

No comments:

Post a Comment