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The Good, the Bad, and the downright Ugly

Thursday March 21, 2013   

5,000 miles

I’ve been on the road for 4 months and in that time covered just short of 5,000 miles, so think it’s time to do a full review of some of the kit I’ve been using. I’ll also link (where appropriate) to the original reviews, where I have put the updated information at the top of the page(s).
My plan is to be on my way next week after sorting out my passport, so with luck I’ll have also sorted out some of the issues I highlight below.

Surly Long Haul Disc Trucker bike.  My first review still stands (< click the link to read it); this is an exceptional touring bike and after all this time I can only find one minor annoyance which is not specific to this model – I’d probably have the same problem with any bike. It is when you are stood over the bike and it is loaded with panniers, you have to keep one hand on the handlebars, else they will swing towards the top tube. This usually results in the bike falling over, as it unbalances the weight of the panniers. I’m not sure what the answer is, except maybe a metal stop either side to prevent the handlebars completely swinging round. I’m pretty sure this could be done without affecting the handling.

Cycling Shoes: Shimano MT91 boots.  I only have these boots, as so far I’ve neglected to get shoes to wear when off the bike and I wear them for everything. From a cycling point of view they are faultless, having just the right amount of stiffness to be comfortable even when spending very long days in the saddle. However they are also a great walking boot and I learned this when I trekked across the Saharan Hamada, where they gave sure footing and good grip. Would recommend.

Pannier Racks: Tubus Duo Front & Tubus Logo Rear.  Other than the (black) paint being removed by the pannier clips, I can’t really fault them. If I were to buy again, I’d ensure I got the silver non coated ones.

The black paint is quickly worn away.

However the Ortlieb panniers come with 11 mm clip inserts and these are 10 mm, so there is some play. I suspect when I finish modifying the 8 mm clips (resizing them to 10 mm) they will be perfect. I’ll report back on this later.

Panniers: Ortlieb Front Roller Plus & Back Roller Plus.  OK so Tubus are the pannier rack of choice for any serious traveller and as above are 10 mm. So why has Ortlieb moved away from 10 mm and now ships it’s bags with 11 mm & 8 mm inserts. It sucks. The loose fitting hooks slide about on the pannier rails, so I resorted to putting (unsightly) tape on them. But even worse, within a week two of the inserts had fallen out and after 4 months I’m left with only 3 of the original 8, a terrible design flaw. The bags themselves are excellent, but the fixing mechanism is seriously poor and needs a rethink.

Supernova Infinity 8 front dynamo.  The dynamo sends power to the front and rear LED lights and also a Tout Terrain Plug II USB charging device. I’m going to review the USB device separately, as it would be unfair to judge them both together. And that’s because the dynamo hub does an excellent job of providing power to the lights, when turned on via the rotating switch which circles the oversize hub.

I really like this oversize On-Off switch.

One small gripe here though, you can turn off the front light independently, but not so with the rear as it has no separate switch – so if used with a working USB charger, would remain permanently on. Good bit of kit.

USB Charging Device:  Tout Terrain The Plug II. OK I’ll state from the start I’m not sure if I’ve got a faulty one, or it is just a piece of crap. It never worked right from day one, but having not used one before I just assumed their were limitations in it’s use. The range of speeds within which it would power the phone became less and less until it sent no power at all and I ended up having to use my solar panel for the iPhone. This happened very quickly after it was fitted, so I have nothing good to say about this device. The suppliers (SJS Cycles) gave me the old line about it having to go back to the manufacturers, difficult to do when you’re on the road, so I’ve decided I’ll drop in on them myself as they are in Germany along my route. I’ll post another update then.

Solar Charger: Voltaic Fuse 10w Solar Laptop Charger.  This device has literally saved my trip, when I ended up having to use it to charge the iPhone (which I am using for navigation), as well as my laptop. It’s a great piece of kit which looks so unusual it stimulates discussion, very useful on my travels so far. The battery has a series of LED’s on the top which indicate the state of it’s charge, but I’ve yet to see it run down. Perhaps that’s because I’ve been in very sunny climes, let’s see how it performs on my next leg. I don’t however expect any problems at all.

Superb performance from this Solar panel.

Tent: Vaude Hogan Ultralight Argon.  It wasn’t until I spent a night (all night) listening to the Saharan Sirocco winds howling and buffeting my tent that I appreciated just how good this model is. I did worry about how something so light would cope, but cope it did and I never felt like I would lose the tent. If I have to be picky, I’d say the tent pegs are not up to the same high quality and I’m changing them this weekend for Hi Gear Groundhog Pegs 9″.

Sleeping Mat: Exped Downmat Ultralite 7 (medium).  Until it failed, I couldn’t have been happier. How has it failed? well the glue between the air channels has come undone in the center of the mat, which means it has now a raised section in the middle making sleeping on it very uncomfortable. Apparently it’s a common problem (< click on link) with this mat, something I was not aware of before my decision to purchase it. After contacting All Outdoor Ltd from which it was purchased, they’re insisting it has to go back to the manufacturers to “see what the problem is”, despite ‘the problem’ being pretty blinking obvious when the mat is inflated. Apparently common sense does not prevail, as Oliver the sales assistant informed me “we’re not allowed to do that”. They’ll get no more business from me.

Sleeping Bag: Alpkit Skyehigh 800 4 season.  The bag has now been washed twice and the down once dry returned to it’s fluffy warm state. Fantastic sleeping bag, even if I still have problems with the zips (the baffles which cover the zips are very substantial and I keep catching them when zipping up). On my travels through the Sahara I simply unzipped and lay on top, but it’s during cold nights when this bag really comes into it’s own as it has separate draw string closures for the hood and the main body, meaning you can really snuggle inside and close out any cold pockets of air. Excellent bit of kit.

Stove: Primus Omnifuel.  I’ve now used the stove with gas canisters and super unleaded petrol. It works superb with both, albeit the petrol requires a little more care but is not difficult to keep clean. The flame is more fierce with the petrol, but not as controllable as when using the gas canisters, so it’s your choice which you prefer. Of course it’s much cheaper to use super, but a large gas canister was lasting me 2-3 weeks of daily use and I think I prefer them. As I’m back in the UK I’ll stock up and shouldn’t have any problem getting them as I travel through Europe. The only maintenance the stove has required is the changing of the felt washer (I made my own replacement), and I’ve replaced the flimsy clip that held the top cross section flame diffuser in place. Top bit of kit.

Pan Set: Texsport Black Ice. OK so It’s just a pan set. The non-stick lining is showing no signs of coming away or being damaged, despite sometimes my careless use of metal utensils. It’s fairly lightweight and cleans easily, so I’m pretty happy with it. The only minus being the handles are covered with a black hardened plastic which is breaking off, meaning I will have to fashion a repair with gaffer tape soon.

The plastic handles crack & chip easily.

And that’s it for now. Next up I’ll post the map of my journey so far…