In this day and age where immediate gratification seems to be most commonplace in our western society, but not necessarily the best thing for us. I try to think how long does it really take to prepare ourselves to embark on a long distance cycle ride, and what sort on things do I need to take? Just before arriving home from our last trip, Mayu and I both felt we were ready to hit the road almost straight away. Admittedly we were a bit short on cash but between us we might have been able to scrape through and arrive in Japan broke. Never the ideal situation, as somehow it always feels more secure having a little bit of savings to open up some options when arriving home. And yes we’re very privileged to be able to think like this.
Having a maximum of six months in the UK was a great way for me to earn some money, see my family and friends and re evaluate our gear for the next leg of the journey. I often try to encourage everyone I meet to head off on a bicycle and get a taste of cycle touring. Admittedly I might gloss over a few things in the hope that this encouragement pushes someone to get on a bike quickly and discover how brilliant it is. I don’t want my message to say “you need six months to plan a trip”. I think it can be done in a much shorter period. My main fear, is that if someone takes too long to plan. They might get that immediate gratification from their dream and not follow through with the plan. Thus carrying on with life the same as before. Where as if the dream quickly becomes reality, and the realisation hits that life is long and if we want to, we can do this more than once. The seed is planted. We come home, our ideas of our world are altered and next time we can plan to go again. And do differently whatever we feel could be done differently.
When we are on the road, we certainly have our rose tinted glasses on when it comes to evaluating the condition of our gear. Our bodies are tip top, but everything else was showing a good sign of wear. Thats something that I hadn’t really thought of before, the only thing two things that improve over time is your Brooks saddle and yourself! Everything else gets a serve beating. As soon as we got home, we fulfilled our agreements with various companies that supported us on the trip. Sending them a detailed write up of their gear, what we liked, and honest room for improvements. We both felt that this was really important, and consequently most of these brands want to continue working with us.
Now that we had a professional looking website, and some kilometres under our belt, we thought to reach out again and see if any other companies would be interested in supporting us. At the moment we are living in a quiet part of the Devon country side. We had a lot of time on our hands and with not a lot to do in the evenings we started to contact various suppliers. Taking our time to write a good cover letter to explain who we are, what we’re doing and what we can offer in exchange for gear.
The response has been quite amazing and we are extremely grateful for it. Even when the answer has been no, Mayu and I both appreciate when someone takes the time to reply to you. Something I have learnt. If I take the time and effort to get in contact, usually people recognise this effort and take the time to reply. Another even more pleasant surprise is the relationship we have formed with various people within the companies. Big or small there are real people within these companies, that we had chatted at length with. It adds another dynamic to a brand when you know who is behind it. In this article I want to mention what we have chosen to take, the companies that are supporting us and why we have accepted their products.
If you read my previous post (https://2islandtravellers.com/diy-bicycletouring-part2) it might be confusing as to why I now have a different bike. Well many months ago, before I started re building our bikes, I sent out a few emails to different bike manufacturers. I was very honest and said that I was trying my luck really and didn’t expect too much from it. But as the old saying goes, if you don’t ask, (you know the rest).
Simon the owner of Stanforth bike was very honest in his reply and said he could offer me a discount but being a grassroots company and the frames being handmade in the UK he couldn’t give me a bike, that was the reply I was expecting. So I carried on with the build, making the wheels and sourcing all the parts and only re using the frames we had. I built up Mayu’s bike and was about to tackle mine, when I got a message from Simon. Asking if I would be interested in taking one of his bikes on a very long test ride? This was a very exciting offer. Giving me the chance to have a direct comparison between Mayus bicycle, a bike I have put together myself and Simon’s bike, that has been designed specifically for journeys we are about to under take. In terms of the drivetrain and wheels the bikes are very similar. However they differ a lot in regards to the frame, geometry and the way bike have been is finished. I won’t go into these details too much at the moment as I would like write an article about the differences once we are well under way, and have really done some road testing.
When it comes to panniers for cycle touring it seems to be dominated by a couple of manufactures. I guess this can be for good reason, as well as the reason that when you grow, you grow bigger. Thats the phenomenon of exponential growth I suppose. We found MSX through another cycle touring blog naming various different manufactures of pannier bags. Not hearing of them before but very impressed with what we saw, we send them a message. Joachim replied very quickly and was very positive about our up coming trip and enthusiastic to support us on our journey. At the moment I can only comment on the construction which seems very good. We will update the website at the end of the trip to see how they stood up to the challenges ahead.
We gave our previous helmets a good looking over and discovered that mine had a crack in it. After a bit of reading, the advise was throw it away. Maybe I miss treated my helmet, dropping it on a few occasions. This time we have been given helmets from Catlike, these will be looked after well. A fair exchange for the potential of saving our lives. They have also offered us a pair of sunglasses with photochromic lenses. I have been interested to try this type of lens, as many occasions we have been trying to find a spot to camp just before it gets dark. Taking off my sunglasses, going downhill I often get little flys in my eyes. So usually I just wear the sunglasses bombing down a hill in semi darkness, its as dangerous as it sounds. Hopefully this is going to help us out in those situations.
Helmet – Olula
Sunglasses – Maverick
The head office of Cateye is not far away from Mayu’s house in Japan, so we might end up popping in on the way back home. Cateye gave us these lights for our previous trip and as you would hope, they are still working perfectly. The front light is ridiculously bright, I remember riding one night on a dark desert road in Namibia, you could see so far in front of you. The light has 3 settings, at the highest we get flashed by cars telling us to dim the light. We try not to cycle in the dark, but when we do, its great to be well lit up.
Front light – Volt 700
Montbell is not very well known outside of Japan, but I would say its the most established outdoor brand in Japan. They are the reason why we started contacting companies for gear in exchange for photos and reviews. They have a form on their website encouraging anyone on a long adventure to get in contact with them. We bought two sleeping bags from them four years ago.(https://2islandtravellers.com/sleeping) They are still in use, we look after them really well. They were an expensive item but the reason why we choose them over other brands was the way they are constructed. The stitching is at a 45 degree angle. Letting you stretch around inside the bag. Not sure why more companies don’t take this approach, as its such a simple but effective design change to the standard mommy down bag. We have been given a warmer bag for our next trip as we start in winter and plan to spend a lot of our time at altitude.
Montbell have also supplied us with a tent, which we had with us through Africa and Europe
(https://2islandtravellers.com/our-home-sweet-tent). The first tent had quite a major design floor on the stitching around the zipper. Having great customer service and recognising the fault in the tent, they sent us a new model that we managed to pick up in Turkey. This design change corrected the previous fault and we have confidence that it will serve us well in the upcoming ride. They have also sent us a green fly sheet, which previously wasn’t available. As the tent is designed for mountain weather, bright yellow helps you to be seen if a rescue is required. However we don’t plan on being rescued and green should help us blend in this time.
Sleeping bag – Down hugger 800 (2) long / Down hugger 800 (2) womens
Tent – Stellaridge 3 with green fly sheet and ground sheet (ground sheet is a must in my opinion)
We used this stove until it broke in Uganda. (https://2islandtravellers.com/camping-stove) To be honest I don’t think it was a huge fault of the stove, but more the huge amounts of dirty kerosene we were using. MSR have replaced the broken part, and we are going to give it another try, this time using the cleanest petrol or white benzene we can find and trying to be more careful with the stove. I will make another review at the end of the trip.
To cook with we carry 1 x 1.3L pot, 1 x frying pan, 2 x spoons, 2 x fork, plastic chopping board and very sharp knife.
I got really excited when Travis, co founder of Grayl replied to me. I’ve been interested in water and sanitation for years now, and probably get more excited about water filters than I should. There is so much information about how to treat water in a low cost, low tech way. However nearly all of those solutions require time to set up and need to be stationary. Neither is possible for cycle touring. Grayl is an exciting new company that offers a really simple solution to filtering water. Travis has been really quick to answer any questions and made it very easy to form a relationship. Without the knowledge or facilities to test a product, you really have to trust a water filter in doing what it says it does.
Mayu and I debated a while whether we needed a thermal flask. The short answer is we don’t need it. But the thought of having a warm cup of tea on a winters day got us quite excited. We choose 40 oz which is just over a litre. I know that sounds like a lot of tea, but it also keeps stuff cold and it fits in a large bottle holder so we can keep it on the bike. This is completely, a luxury item, but sometimes a luxury makes a big difference to our morale.
We had a solar panel previously of 3.5 watts. This was enough to charge our phone on a sunny day and top up a power bank. But no good for our camera or laptop. For the next leg of the journey we wanted something a bit more powerful and also more reserve power in battery banks. After contacting a few different companies, Tim from mobile solar chargers got in touch. We got on really well together, he spoke of many adventures he had been on and I really connected with him. He has a lot of knowledge about the products he sells and something that really struck a tune with me was the idea of giving power as a gift. Whilst he was in the Sahara he would offer to charge mobile phones, its a small gesture, costs nothing but saves someone the time and money to go to a local market to charge their phone. I thought this was a really nice idea and would like to practice this when we get the opportunity. With the power Tim has given us we can keep all of our devices charged without needing a plug. We have replaced our laptop with a tablet, that has much better battery life, is lighter and can do everything we need. Before we started cycle touring I wasn’t so sure that having a solar panel was necessary, but if like us you like to camp a lot I think its really handy to have, for things like navigation. Quite often we sit in the tent in the evening and work out the route we want to take the next day.
We did a pathetic amount of filming on our last trip, and when we look back at the filming we did do, its amazing how it takes you back to that moment. We want to make a bigger effort this time to film. With a small hd camera, its quick to point and shoot and hopefully we can catch some spontaneous moments. This is definitely another luxury item, but hopefully it will create some good memories for us.
Karrimor has a fairly long history, making outdoor equipment since the 40’s. Unfortunately the representation in the UK has gone a bit sideways after being bought out by some corporate giant that owns sports direct. The guys in Japan running it over there, have very little to do with what is happening here and continue the original ethos of this old british outdoor brand. Occasionally I do see some cross over of products, if you look on the website in the UK you’ll see some items that are ten times the price of everything else. However I guess this does not sell well here as it is diluted by all the cheap throw away items you find in sports direct. The clothing we have received from Satoki at Karrimor Japan have been of excellent quality, unfortunately almost none of those products are available outside of Japan. He has been very kind to us and we look forward to finally meeting him in Tokyo at the end of the trip.
This is another company that doesn’t distribute outside of Japan. The reason why I mention them is the light weight base layers they make. If you are looking for a quick drying base layer. I recommend trying to find anything that is thin, synthetic and light weight. In the late afternoon early evening I can wash these tops in a cold river. Squeeze them almost dry and then wear it over my jumper. Ok I look stupid, but no one can see me, and by the time I go to bed, I have a clean, dry top, ready for the following day. I don’t think cleanish clothes are a luxury on the road.
I have had a pair of leather hiking boots for years, the soles are a bit worn, but they have out lasted so many other shoes. Leather takes a bit longer to wear in but I think if it lasts longer it makes sense to go through the motions. My boots are far too big for cycling. So when Maren from keen got back to us, Mayu and I were thrilled. We had a long conversation on skype, Maren seemed genuinely interested in us and what we were up to. She seemed very active in the outdoor community, and we feel very positive to have her support. Not exactly ‘cycling shoes’, but we’re not exactly ‘cyclists’ we wanted something comfortable, not too chunky, able to hike in and made of leather. Keen have a good range of these type of shoes. Of course time and use will be the real test, so I will reserve my judgements on quality until later in the trip. Maren also gave us some sandals, something that we both would have bought regardless. Before I had a very cheap pair of flip flops, definitely a throw away piece of S*%T. I have particularly bad memories after stepping on a sharp piece of goat bone that went straight through the flip flop and into my foot. I was just strolling through a local market in Namibia. Luckily it didn’t get infected, but lesson learnt, and a note to self. Protect your feet.
Mayu and I certainly don’t want to promote mass consumerism. I don’t believe anything is truly sustainable, everything has an embedded an energy and I know by being alive I am part of the problem. Buying things can be an addiction, and in the past I have been addicted to that. Now we try to think more carefully what it is we want, and if products push you to be outside and travel, I think that is a really positive thing . We travel because we enjoy it, but understand that all this stuff we accumulate, will be a waste product at some point. With all of our gear we try to look after it, sew it up, glue it back together. At the end of our last trip we cleaned up and sold or gave any items away that we weren’t using any more. Most were sold at a low price, and admittedly it was a lot of work, packing and sending to various places. However hopefully because it has gone to someone else, they will in turn look after it and get the most out of that embedded energy.
In world where there is a lot of harm being done, I think in comparison, cycling the planet is a pretty harmless thing to be doing. If anything it promotes positivity for self and others around you. A friend of ours Wouter is currently cycling in South America, said something really positive the other day. I hope he doesn’t mind me repeating his words but they are really honest and pure:
“I felt alive. I felt privileged to be offered so much hospitality. I felt grateful to experience from a first row seat that the world is a good place. From Iran, Tajikistan and Tibet to Mali, Gabon and Zambia, to Brazil, Argentina and onwards. There seems to be something connecting us all. One might call it humanity. Again, the world is a good place peeps! Just turn off your television and get out there. See with your own eyes that those lunatics making the headlines on the news, don’t represent us, as humans. Don’t be scared, there is no need. By traveling, I gained more and more confidence. No need to worry where I’ll sleep. Every night, some one will reach out and help me. I’ve cycled across 48 countries clocking up 58.000 km along the way. Nothing has ever happened to me. If that is not a proof, then I don’t know what is. So go on, smile along, say hi to strangers (it’s ok, really!!!), help each other out, take care of each other as if we’re all one big family. And remember: we are all in this together.
Peace and love from Argentina!”
Like Wouter, Mayu and I want to promote this message to as many people as we can. If it means pushing our website to companies that promote outdoor pursuits or posting on facebook and instagram to gain a wider audience, then we are happy to do that. When we arrived home in England I felt like a vessel of all the positive energy and good deeds that have been done to us. Just bursting to tell anyone that wanted to listen. Desperately trying not too loose that buzz, as it certainly get oppressed in my everyday life. Being in my family home I get exposed to more main stream news and media than what I am usually used to. So seeing messages like Wouter’s reminds me, and excites me so much to keep going out and meeting all those people in the world.
See you all there :-)
I am amazed at the amount of equipment you have managed to acquire. I liked your blog and the honest way it is set out, You have a nice easy style of writing. Also, you seem to have done a great deal of preparatory work and I am impressed by that. (Some people never learn that if they don’t prepare, they have prepared to fail)
Because an increasing number of people are likely to read your most interesting blogs, especially those who have supplied you with equipment, can I suggest that you get someone to proof read them before they go on-line. It is a shame to spoil a well written piece with typos, misspellings and lost capitals. I would be happy to do that for you if you wish..
Thanks for your message, I’m glad you enjoyed reading. I guess I spend more time writing and reading through to get the gist of a piece and overlook the typos. I’ve never been much good with spelling or grammar, what would I have done before the days of a computer and the internet? Although Mayu and I have prepared quite a bit, it is because we have had the time to do so and the knowledge that this is want in our life. However some of us out there might not know that they will enjoy travelling this way, in this case I urge them to go without much preparation, and just get a taste of life on the road. Thanks for the offer on the proof reading, I might take you up on that :-)