Archive for October, 2009

Gear Review: Panniers

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

One of the toughest gear challenges we made at the beginning of this trip was finding the best panniers for us. Panniers are an intensely personal choice, and the subject of much debate on touring forums. The usual tradeoffs are multiple pockets vs. waterproof fabric, weight vs. durability, and ease and solidity of attachment.

We began our shakedown cruise with four different types of pannier, of which only one stayed with us until the end of our journey. In addition to panniers, we each strapped a dry bag between the panniers on our bottom rack, another dry bag between our rear panniers on the back rack, and a waterproof duffel (rack-pack) across the back rack.

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For our shakedown cruise we had:

  • Ortlieb Bike Packer Plus (40 L)  (Scott’s rear panniers)
  • Arkel RT-40 recumbent touring under seat panniers (40 L) (Scott’s front panniers)
  • Vaude World Tramp II Plus rear panniers (44 L ) (Becky’s rear pannier)
  • Ortlieb front roller plus under seat panniers (25 L) (Becky’s front pannier)

After our shakedown cruise, we made some adjustments. We replaced Becky’s Vaude panniers with Orlieb Bike Packer Plus panniers. We also replaced Becky’s front panniers with Ortlieb Sport Packer Plus panniers. We also purchase two Ortlieb medium sized rack packs. When we finished touring in Eastern Canada, Scott replaced the Arkel RT-40s with Ortlieb Sport Packer Plus panniers.

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Arkel RT-40

The Arkel RT-40 have lots of pockets and lots of space, but suffer from two key flaws. They are not waterproof, and they do not have a rigid bottom. Without the rigid bottom, they hang too low, leaving only a few inches of clearance. We tried adding a strap around them, which helps a little, but they still scrape the ground/curbs on occassion.  The waterproof rain covers were an inconvenience, needing to be put on when the rain starts, but taken off in order to access the pockets.

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The folks at Arkel are planning a redesign of these panniers, to include a rigid bottom. They offered to retrofit our existing panniers, but we decided our preference was for waterproof fabric rather than pockets.

Vaude World Tramp II

Note: Vaude does not appear to makes this pannier any longer. It has been replaced with Aqua Back Plus.

These come with a roll top rather than drawstrings and a lid. Roll tops are submersable, where the lid tops aren’t. Both are waterproof, even in torrential downpours. Personally, Becky dislikes the roll tops, as she finds them a pain to close properly, and inevitably overfills her bags. Given that submersability wasn’t a requirement for us, this became one strike against the Vaude’s. In addition, Becky found the outter pouch on these panners to be useless, as you could not place anything in them if the pannier was full. Also, the cover left a gap, such that the pouch fills with water when it rains.

Ortlieb Bike Packer Plus

Note: Ortlieb has changed the pouch design. It is no longer a mesh outer pouch.

We love these as back panniers. They stand up well when it rains excessively. The outer pouches are small, so they can only be used for small things like tools or snacks. Becky added external rear pouches to her Bike Packer Plus panniers giving her more outer pouch access. The only issue with the outter pouches is that they are black and often directly in the sun, causing skin creams and chocolate to melt!

Ortlieb Front Roller Plus

These are OK panniers for running around town, but we found them too small for our purposes. The Orlieb Sport Packer has the same ground clearance, but sits about 2 inches taller. Between the two panniers, you get 5 L more space with the Sport Packer.

Ortlieb Sport Packer Plus

With the extra space over the Front Roller panniers, these won out for our preferred front pannier (in our case they are under-seat panniers). The outer pouch is small, so we find it only useful for carrying one or two granola bars, which Scott can reach while riding (Becky’s arms are not long enough).

Ortlieb Rack Pack

We each have a medium sized rack pack. We find them very handy as overnight bags when travelling on trains and ferries. They are very water proof and have more room than we need. We also use them for overflow food storage. Because they have a roll-top enclosure, they provide us with scent proof food storage.

Ortlieb accessories

We purchased a set of attachable pouches for Becky’s rear panniers. These work rather well for us, and we recommend them for anyone looking for a little more space – just don’t put chocolate bars in them on hot sunny days!

We purchased the security kit for the Ortlieb Plus series panniers but never got around to installing it. Instead, we use a carabener on the handle and clipped to the rack. The carabiner is easy for us to clip on and remove but it prevents anyone from simply grabbing and running with our panniers. It is also handy when hanging and carrying panniers.

We purchased the backpack attachment for the Orlieb Plus panniers. We used it a couple of times but found that it made an awful backpack and was bulky to carry. On our next trip, we will bring decent day/overnight pack instead.

We purchased the Plus series for the security system and the backpack attachment, both of which we did not like. The material on the plus is lighter and durable enough for us, but the regular material might have been a better choice. We do not recommend spending the extra on the Plus series unless weight is of primary concern.

Recommendations

If we were to start over and buy bags again, we would use the following panniers and bags.

Scott’s bike:

  • Ortlieb Bike Packer or Ortlieb Bike Packer Plus (Rear Pannier)
  • Ortlieb Sport Packer or Ortieb Sport Packer Plus (Front Pannier)
  • Tent 12L drybag (between rear panniers)
  • Ortlieb Medium Rack Pack (ontop of rear panniers)
  • Tool pouch 5L drybag (between front racks)

Becky’s bike:

  • Ortlieb Bike Packer or Ortlieb Bike Packer Plus (Rear Pannier)
  • Ortlieb Sport Packer or Ortieb Sport Packer Plus (Front Pannier)
  • Tent 10L drybag (between rear pannier)
  • Good collapsable day-backpack

Note: We purchased our Ortlieb panniers from Wayne at the Touring Store. He provided us with great service and had the best prices we could find in North America.

Statistical Journey

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Every journey needs a statical summary to help form a conclusion. Below are some fun statistics from our trip.

Between June 2, 2008 and September 16, 2009 we:

  • Visited 12 countries (including Canada) and travelled a total of 72,607 kilometers
  • Rode our bikes 15,310 kilometers
  • Crossed three oceans on container ships (Altantic, Indian, and Pacific)
  • Had two flat tires (one on the truck we hitchhiked in and one on Becky’s bike)
  • Hitchhiked with our bikes five times, but only twice with complete strangers using our thumbs (to Mary’s Bay and Cartwright)
  • Took 12 trains in 4 countries (USA, Italy, Thailand, and China)
  • Took 21 buses in 7 countries (Greece, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Thailand, China, South Korea)
  • Took 0 airplane flights!
  • Took 23 boats and ferries (not including the container ships)
  • Took 1 cooking class (Chiang Mai, Thailand)
  • Camped 84 nights
  • Accepted four invites to stay with random people we met along the way (Deadman’s Cove NL, St. John’s NL, Kerrobert SK, and Rainy Lake ON)
  • Spent 10 nights sleeping on ferries and one night sleeping in a ferry terminal
  • Spent 4 nights sleeping on trains
  • Spent 4 nights sleeping on buses
  • Spent 35 nights visiting Warmshowers hosts in 5 countries
  • Spent 13 nights visiting Couchsurfing hosts in 4 countries
  • Spent 2 nights visiting a  Servas host
  • Spent 77 nights visiting family, friends, and friends of friends
  • Spent 177 nights in B&Bs, hotels, and hostels
  • Wrote 335 blog posts
  • Took well over 15,000 pictures and kept 13,482 of them (so far – we’re still weeding)

Adjusting to home

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

After living as a nomad for over a year, there are certain luxuries that cause us problems now that we are home. These are generally things we have not had access to for the last 16 months, and so we forgot how they work. I thought I would share a few of these interesting re-adjusting foibles with you.

Our first adjustment is to having a real stove. This means we can use multiple elements to cook, and that we can cook meals that require simmering. Our campstove was loud – it sounded like a jet engine when it was on – making it impossible to forget about. Our home stove is electric, providing silent and invisible heat. Both of us have been caught forgetting to turn the stove off or forgetting that something was simmering only to be reminded when the house smells of burnt food. We have had to institute a rule: any time you are cooking and leave the kitchen with the stove on, you must set the stove alarm – even if it is only for a minute or two!

Our second adjustment is to having regular access to laundry facilities. We find ourselves unsure how many times we should be wearing the same clothing article before it should be laundered. We wonder if we are washing our pants and shirts way to frequently, as we seem to be doing laundry every day. Of course, our lack of clothing also contributes to the frequency in which we need to do laundry – but we still wonder if we are washing things too soon or too late. If you think we smell, please let us know!

Finally, we (especially Becky) have found it really disconcerting to be a passenger in a car. The whole idea of moving at such high speeds without any control is downright scary. Interestingly, driving doesn’t pose such a problem – although driving requires more mental energy than it used to.  I’m sure with a little more time in vehicles we will re-adjust.

Thanksgiving Celebrations

Monday, October 12th, 2009

Thanksgiving is a holiday that celebrates the bringing in of the harvest and traditionally involves a turkey dinner and feast. Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October – although the actual Thanksgiving feast may be celebrated on any day of that weekend. In our area, this is usually the peak time for viewing the fall colours – that is, when the leaves of all the deciduous trees turn pretty colours making all the hills bright yellow and red.

For some, Thanksgiving is a family time. For us, Thanksgiving is a time we share with friends, catching up on all the events of the last year. Our particular Thanksgiving tradition involves renting a cottage or two somewhere between Chicoutimi, Quebec and Ottawa, Ontario. Several families decend upon the cottage for the long weekend. All the families that participate in this weekend have a Kitimat connection – that is, they have all lived in Kitimat, British Columbia at one time or another. This is one of the few yearly rituals which we have developed ourselves, rather than inheriting from our families or our society, so it is special to us.

Our tradition involves a hike to enjoy the spectacular views and a Thanksgiving feast where everyone contributes something different to the table. Dinner always involves a delicious turkey or two.

We enjoyed our hike this year on a nice bright Sunday morning, which was followed by snow flurries on Sunday afternoon! Fortunately, the snow cleared before our drive home on Monday.

This year, all the families but ours came from Chicoutimi-Jonquiere, and work at the Rio-Tinto/Alcan plants there. This is the same Alcan which Becky’s parents worked for in Kitimat, so all of them knew her parents, even those we hadn’t met before. Everyone but us has children, so it is fun for both of us to visit and play with them, but the level of kid activity is often a challenge by the end of the weekend, especially for us. This year the kids are growing up, so it is possible to send them off in the care of the oldest ones for a time. A welcome reprieve for all!

Being able to celebrate Thanksgiving in our usual way was another reminder that we are home, but seeing how the children have grown definitely showed us that time had passed in our absence.

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Sunday morning walk in the woods.

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Beautiful waterfall at the end of the pathway.

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Yes, Scott still has some pretty amazing tan lines!

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A Sunday afternoon snowfall, just to make things interesting.

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Preparing a Thanksgiving feast.

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Ron going a little crazy with the knife.

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Sunday night we had a vistor – who enjoyed the scraps of our turkey dinner!