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The notes below are excerpts from emails written for two friends who met up with us in SE Asia. I thought other people may be interested in reading what we carry and why.
Panniers/trailers - I now have four panniers (Jandd brand back panniers (showing little to no wear after 15,000 km), and Kangaroo front ones (showing quite a bit of wear and a few holes, but as they are second hand, I don't know how many k's they have so far...), and no trailer. While I took two back panniers, a trailer and a bear can in Canada, I now have the two panniers, a new front pouch, and Andy carries four panniers and a top waterproof bag. See the "NT-SA border" photo (In the Alice Springs to Adelaide section of the Australia trip) for a picture of us and our stuff. I fill the front bags with my heaviest durable things to keep my front wheel on the ground and thus a more manageable bike. We have lots of waterproof bags inside our panniers, as our panniers are not waterproof. Only Ortlieb panniers are actually waterproof (so I hear from cyclists who have them and have tried other so-called waterproof brands), though sometimes you have to open them while it is raining, and then it doesn't matter what brand you have.
Bikes - We both have Diamondbacks, though this is probably more a sign of the market than anything else. All that really matters are the components and the fit of the frame. There are very few frames that are a problem anymore. Things to watch for.... Number of teeth on the rings - make sure there is a large enough difference between the total number of teeth from the smallest to the largest, so that you can get up steep hills without hurting your knees, and yet can go somewhere on a flat tail wind, or a long slight downhill. The knee protection is the most important, but if you can get both you'll be happier. Some bikes have gear rings that allow you to add or remove a ring and then make the set you want for your bike. My bike in Canada was not this way, and I had to live with what I had. My current bike is also a cluster, but it was made for a touring cyclist with a very low gear, and a high enough gear to let me pedal at 42 kph under the right strong wind conditions, but it is still possible, whereas with my Canada bike 25 kph was my max speed for a good tail wind. Huge difference. In Australia, there were a few times we wished we had a higher gear yet. On the back deraileur.... My current one is not very good for touring because it hits the pannier, and so is continuously out of wack, limiting the number of choices of gears I have to three on the back and three on the front. A nine speed. Great. You can check for this by putting a pannier on the bike. If the back derailer (thing that moves the chain to change gears) hits the pannier, no good. Andy hasn't seen one do this before, so it probably won't be a problem, but who knows.
Seats - Try a bunch of seats. Don't just squash them with your hands, try them. We all have "sit-bones," two pointy-down bones that I never believed existed until all the fat on my butt disappeared and they made themselves obvious. This is part of why women's seats work so well. The padding is on the back, nice and big padding - don't listen to them about not sitting on your seat much because of the push on the pedals etc, that is for speed bikers only, touring cyclists SIT all day on those seats. Get a comfortable one but keep in mind that there are a few places you won't want any padding. Those places are: the middle in front - you'll get used to it over time, but the women's seat I had in Canada was a dream in comparison to the solid one I have now in terms of comfort for those sensitive parts; the middle on the back - this one is very important for your tailbone. Put too much pressure on that for a while and watch the nerves tingle through your entire body. Shoulders, hands, arms, legs, everything seems to be effected by pressure points far away from the tingling area. Let the poor tail be free and you'll be happier, but the two heavily padded spots on the back are the most important. This is why you want to try them. Once your butt disappears, they are all that will be left to make you comfortable, make sure the seat you choose, matches the distance between these two bones. The real guide to happiness - no shrink needed.
Handlebars - You want to sit upright. Forget the sale's reps' wind resistance comments. You'll want that on some days, yes, but at the end of the day you'll want your hands more. The more pressure on your hands, the less use you'll have of them later. Finger by finger those pesky pressure points will cause havoc on those with too much weight on their hands. I have met a few women now that have extender bars on the ends of their handlebars - a good idea for anyone (to change hand positions often) - but the thing about women is that they tend to point them up and back instead of out and forward as do their male counterparts. The reason? To let them sit upright, taking the stress off your hands and back. There are "necks" that move the handlebars up and back toward you - the more adjustable these are, the happier you'll be. Some (most?) are fixed and can be very frustrating.
Bar padding - Don't bother or worry about the stuff they sell for this. Why? Because you'll either need gloves - with as much gel as you can get in them (again hard to find with enough gel, or gel over the pressure points on either side of the bottom of your hand, or that fit well enough to stay on these points while cycling) or buy pipe insulation from the local hardware store (preferred by me, gloves also have the problem of needing regular cleaning, it gets pretty sweaty in there after just a few days). It costs about 35 cents in Canada, 5 US dollars in NZ, and I don't know how much here because we have found enough of it on the side of the road to not need to buy it here. Tons of padding, and disposable if/when it becomes too flat to do anything anymore. It takes a little getting used to, but it is a very good thing to be able to use your hands. Although this does lead to a discussion on gear changers...
Shifters - Indexed (click) or old-style friction (variable) are good. Turn-the-handlebar ones are not. The built in handlebar changers have two main problems - the pipe insulation solution is not possible if you want to change gears, and two, if they break, you have to wait for a part to be shipped to you to fix them. Friction is the best, as you can hand-adjust where the deraileur is to get it into gear, even as the gears get slowly out of whack, but the click ones are nice in other ways. They allow you to know exactly what gear you are in at all times, and you can start to judge where you'll want to be when you hit a particular slope before you actually get there. If there is a choice, if you can shift and still hold the bars, this is much better than having to let go of one hand. Fully loaded touring bikes are usually NOT stable creatures. Letting go of one hand, even to wave at someone, is often a risk you won't want to take. Depends on the road, your packing job that morning, the wind, and how long its been since you last ate, but still, best to not have to let go for anything until you get off your bike.
Wheel size - If you have a choice, get a standard wheel size, such as 26 inches. Tires are hard enough to find in some areas, make it an odd size, and oh boy... If you are buying a bike and have the option of switching out tires, seats, other parts, choose the Kevlar beaded, thorn/puncture resistant tires. They should have at least a smooth road center, and can be all smooth with "v" s that divert rain water away from the center so that they can't hydro-plane. Get the thickest you can. The thickness of the tire in the other direction - racing to off-road should be medium. If it is too thin, you'll wear through it regardless of what it is made of, because of the heavy load. If it is too thick, you'll be feeling your bike is slow, and worried about how many rocks it throws, thus throwing you off balance. Thinner tires split through gravel under heavy weight better than fat knobby tires that try to stay on top, usually failing and throwing rocks and you everywhere. Also, rubber sided (the smooth side wall that goes into the wheel frame) tires often give way (burst) under pressure, canvas or Kevlar on the other hand have a better chance at lasting. Our tires currently are fairly fat for on-road. They are 1.95 for three of them and 1.5 for the fourth (of our two bikes).
Tubes - the ones that are in your wheels will also want to be the very thick, thorn resistant tubes. This said, you'll also want the regular tubes as backups. Once these super tubes do puncture, they'll split completely and be useless. However, a thin normal tube can be patched ad nauseum. Also, the thorn proof ones are so heavy and large that you won't want to be carrying them outside of the tires anyway. For your patch kit, get the simple one inch by two inch or so clear plastic kit. All you need is a tube of glue and a strip of patches. Rectangle ones are often larger and fit more holes and stay on better, but use more glue (not a problem), round ones are usually smaller and have no corners to pull it back up, but they are sometimes too small to hold the pressure of the air coming through the hole. In the end though, it really just depends on how long you wait for the glue to dry before completing the patch, and less on the shape of the patch. Doesn't matter, but if they are the same price, go with the larger rounded-cornered rectangles.
Pump - I have a Zefal that fits both types of valve, but please only get the standard car valves. The other ones are useless - don't listen to the sales rep on this one! This is the one main item that is needed to be carried by the last person in our line. The more of these that we have the happier we may be. But, if either of you get one, make it a small two directional Zefal or don't bother. And you'll need a place to keep it. Don't bother with the other cheaper brands. They are cheaper for a reason.
Water-bottle holders - The frame should be taken up with water bottle holders - try to get at least two water bottle holders with room for the large-tall bottles if possible. There have been some awesome homemade ones I've seen for the large two-litre soda bottles, but I haven't made one of these myself.
Spokes - there are two lengths for each wheel size. You'll probably want three spares for each size (six spares in total). Spoke tighteners come in metric and imperial, I have an imperial one, and have to use an adjustable spanner for my metric replacement spokes. I don't know what measurement system Asia uses. Matching it might be a good idea, but also probably won't be needed. I didn't blow a single spoke across Canada. But in Australia, we've broken three each. Diving off roads for road trains, and uneven pavement have been the main culprits. Over heavy loads are the other main one.... We might have both here... This is one reason people like trailers.
Cluster remover or equivalent - If you break a spoke on the inside of the back wheel (this is always where you'll break spokes by the way) then you'll need a cluster remover to fix it. This is a special little piece of metal that looks like a strange bolt with many sides on top. It is tiny and doesn't cost more than $10. But there is a catch. Shimano has been making bike parts for so long, that there is no such thing as a standard Shimano. Try the tool for fit (and education) first, then buy it if it works. My bike has a bolt in the way for the solid ones, and so needs to have a hollow center. Other bikes have different numbers of sides. Too large or small and you'll strip the edges off and worry you'll never be able to replace the spoke. To use the tool we'll need a vice. They are easy to find here, in any car garage. I don't know what it will be like in Asia. Some places sell a little widget that is the shape of the remover, and on the bottom holds onto a fencepost, or stick, etc. We didn't buy it before, and probably won't... but I thought I'd include it here in case you run across one. It might be worth it.
Bearings - Some of the modern bikes have "races", little plastic holders to keep their bearings in line. It is best not to have plastic races as they have been known to collapse under weight. Spare bearings shouldn't be needed or difficult to find if we do need them, but it might be a good idea.
Racks - The lower the panniers sit on the bike, the more stable the bike. The lower they sit, the less clearance you have on turns. Balance the two to your liking. Low riding front panniers are easy to use, and can be used easily with front shocks. Aluminum racks are light and don't twist as much, but you are taking a large risk using them, as if they break, they need to be replaced, as they are not weldable. Steel racks have more wobble, and have to be further from the edge of the tire (so they don't wobble and rub, especially on turns or gravel) but can be welded to match any fix or desire. If you can get extra screws for your rack do - they loosen themselves overtime, and then all on one day it seems, unscrew and run away. If your rack has twisted metal pieces that attach the rack to the seat post, then try to find spares for this metal as well. They are very cheap, but hard to find when they break - Andy has broken two of them already in Australia.
Multi-tools - get one that has a tool for everything you have on your bike except the spanners and the cluster remover. I have one, so you shouldn't need one on this trip, but if you continue you will. Up to you.
Mirrors - great to have if they can withstand the trip. Try to see if all the screws are able to be reached to tighten. If not, it'll break. Don't bother with anything except ones that go in the end of the tube. If it has a clamp, it won't work. I swore by my mirror in Canada, but the one I had here self destructed and they don't sell durable ones here, so I'll see what they sell in Asia, or I won't have a mirror. Oh well.
Helmets - I don't know the laws in Asia. If we need them, try them on and push them toward your eyes from behind. If they go anywhere near your eyes, try a smaller one. I wear a kids-sized helmet when I absolutely have to, as it is the only helmet I've found that doesn't cover my eyes when the going gets rough. Note: I don't like or wear helmets when at all possible, so if you are a helmet fan, take my words with a grain of salt. If you plan on wearing a helmet, you'll have to figure out how to protect yourself from the sun. A tiny visor velcroed onto the front won't do it. I wear a full sized hat under mine, making the helmet useless but legal. Others wear a baseball cap under theirs, but only have sun protection from one side. I have seen others with elaborate pieces of cloth and bandanas to make a sun shield and still wear their helmets... of course, lack of sight and hearing might make the helmet more of a necessity, but that is the cynic in me :)
Bike shorts - If this is your first trip, bring them!!! You won't be happy without them. Women - one box of light day's pads in a zip-lock baggy (for water proofing) become disposable underwear and save a great deal of disgust with the shorts, as they don't work with cloth underwear under them........ Watch the seams, as these are the rubbing points the shorts are there to remove. Some cheaper ones don't adhere to this well.
Bike seat covers - if you can find a black smooth spandex cover that fits over your seat buy it. Perhaps buy two. They remove any seams from the seat that might rub and cause sores. They also protect your hard found seat from damage. They also tend to make pedaling easier, as there is less friction with the seat. If they are black they also hide dirt, or other stains. They are very very hard to find in Australia as they are seen as an outdated fashion, rather than a useful tool... when this is mentioned, bike stores always try to sell us a spare seat instead... Humph...
Chains - I have a chain breaker. You shouldn't need a spare chain. Andy has gone through one chain, but it was probably because it was a used bike.
Shocks - Front shocks don't matter either way on the ride for most touring, as the weight on them is so large, that they are fully compressed anyway. They also are sometimes a problem with front pannier racks. That said, my current bike has shocks, and has no problems with the pannier racks. My Canada bike did as well, so I have no comparison on this one.
Bike Brand - the only experience I have on this is the difference between having a Diamondback and a Trek... I had lots of comments about how nice Trek was, and none on my Diamondback. When my Trek fell off my car, it was gone, someone picked it up immediately. I haven't had anyone so much as eye my Diamondback. What looks nice to the Jones, becomes a danger in a poor area.
Tools - you'll need an adjustable spanner, small hardware store variety ($7.00), and a thin bike one (stupidly often more expensive) to remove the pedals for the flight, and other modes of transportation later. The multi-tool might be needed at this stage also to remove or turn the handlebars to get them in the box. Also, they might be needed if the front rack isn't easily removable and the bike won't fit in the box. Check your seat - is it quick release? If so, we'll have to watch the theft (shouldn't be a problem with four of us around), but you won't need any extra tools, and you'll be happy being able to adjust as needed. If not, make sure you have the tool for that for the airport as well.
Lights - legally required in some areas after dark. Back blinking light and front headlight. Front is not needed if you have a head lamp (recommended) - one of those things that straps to your head and follows where you look (see the camping gear section). The back should have a belt buckle type attachment so that it can hook onto anything - don't bother with one that clips onto the bike itself - no one will be able to see it through the stuff strapped on top!
Bike computer - Up to you... can become over obsessive. But can be very helpful... to know when you may start pedaling again after a hill without falling onto your poor sore bum or slipping off your pedals because you were going too fast and had no grip on the chain. Also, it is nice to know how far you have come and how far it is to the next town. Need to knows on a computer: speed in Km or M, distance - daily and total, Nice to know - time of day (lets you bike longer as you know when the sun is going to set better by clock than by sun angle), average speed (indicator of fitness, wind, and terrain), max speed (indicator of terrain and packing job), Not really needed - cadence (how fast your feet are going around, used for triathletes), and other training tools, etc.
Fenders/Mudguards - Niceties, not necessities. If you have them, you'll smile, if you don't you'll hopefully be laughing in the rain/mud and wash your gear later when the rain stops. Neither of us have them now. I had them in Canada and loved how they kept my stuff mud "free". If you are going to cycle parts of Europe, you'll need special lighting, and thus special fenders, but let me know if either of you have questions on those.