Archive for the ‘Gear’ Category

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Equipment malfunctions

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

We never expected perfection from our equipment, but Scott is getting a bit grumpy with some of the failures we’ve seen. Back in June, our shifter lockups were the beginning, but since then Scott’s shock failed in New Brunswick too. DT-Swiss were very good about sending a replacement ahead to meet us in Florida – unfortunately it was the wrong length, but once Scott discovered the problem, they were also willing to overnight a correct-sized replacement.

Today, he finally took the failed shock apart, and it isn’t clear what caused the problem. Two washers in the main air chamber are definitely not in good shape. There was still significant pressure when he disassembled the main barrel (even after removing all the air from the shock per the documentation), and a loud “pop” when the barrel finally came free. We suspect that the plastic washer got damaged somehow and caused the mechanism to block. In any case, we don’t feel comfortable using it (even as a backup) without factory reconditioning. Scott has stripped it for parts which we can use on our good shocks if needed.

On the camera front, Scott is on his second Canon G9. The first died in Louisberg, N.S. – it just wouldn’t turn on any more, first with one battery, then with the second (all within two hours or so, so we don’t think it was the batteries). This was as we were visiting the Fortress of Louisberg, so very annoying. Fortunately, after a bit of convincing, Henry’s Camera was willing to replace the camera fairly quickly. We had purchased their extended warranty, which gave us a replacement for failure in the first 90 days. Unfortunately, the second G9 also misbehaved. At random, the backlight for the LCD display would turn off, but the screen would still be faintly visible. This started back in Fredericton, but we were unable to do anything about it until we reached Florida. There, Henry’s kindly hooked us up with a local repair shop (Southern Photo, in North Miami Beach), which was able to expedite repairs and get the camera fixed before we left on the freighter. We paid up front for the repair, but will get reimbursed under the terms of the Henry’s extended warranty. The repaired camera has worked very well for the last two weeks, so we’re crossing our fingers.

Becky’s camera behaved better until we took it snorkeling in Florida. It’s an Olympus 850SW, which is theoretically waterproof to 3m. We never took it below the surface, but water still got through the seals and caused the battery door switch to fail. Talking to the fine folks at Henry’s repair, this isn’t that uncommon, and Olympus is pretty good about fixing it. Unfortunately, it needs to go back to the factory for this, and we discovered that we didn’t purchase her camera through Henry’s, so there wasn’t much they could do to help. In the end, we decided to ship the Olympus home, and just buy an inexpensive new camera. Becky decided on the Canon SD1100IS, which is both smaller than the Olympus and takes much better pictures. It isn’t waterproof or shockproof, so no more pictures in the rain while riding, but it looks good so far.

And then there was Becky’s GPS. Becky’s GPS started randomly turning itself off in Quebec. After a while, she discovered that it was more likely to turn off on bumpy roads than on smooth ones. The initial mounting configuration caused a fair bit of vibration, which appears to be the cause of the intermittent failure. This is a common failure mode for many Garmin GPS’s if they are hard-mounted to a bicycle. Becky re-adjusted the mounting system which reduced the occurrence of the random shutdown for a few weeks. By the time we reached Nova Scotia, Becky decided that her GPS was not worth the trouble – it was shutting down too frequently. We emailed about getting it fixed, but it is no longer under warrantee, so it would cost over $100 and requires that it be sent back to Garmin.

Shortly after Becky’s GPS started acting up, her cheap backup bike computer randomly reset itself. A few weeks later, it was resetting itself at least once every other day. The challenge with the reset is that it resets the tire size to default. Our front tires are 20 inches – must smaller than the 26 inch default. In the end, Becky decided to replace both her GPS and her computer with a slightly upgraded computer (one that had ride time, distance, and a thermometer).

Hopefully this will be the last of equipment failures for a while.

Out and about in St.John’s

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

20 km around St. John’s

We had a delightful stay with Fraser and Judy. We spent several evenings enjoying wine and talking about various aspects of life. It was wonderful to have the chance to get to know them better and also nice to have “home” for the four days we were in St. John’s.

We didn’t spend as much time as we’d planned doing tourist things or visiting people.  This seems to be a bit of a trend (both here and in Goose Bay).  After many days riding, we need some downtime to recharge, clean and dry equipment and run errands.  For future stops, we’ll need to leave more time if we want to do more tourist stuff.

Sunday: We attended the Sunday service at the Avalon Fellowship. It was nice to renew some connections and visit with fellow Unitarians.

Monday: We took our bikes out to run a variety of chores included buying new cups. We had a couple of melamine cups purchased at Bushtukah (they were about $3 each). On the ferry from Goose Bay to Lewisporte one of them cracked when Becky added boiling water. A few days later the second cracked when Becky added warm water. We were quite surprised as other melamine we’ve owned has lasted forever! We’ve replaced them and our bowls with “squishy bowls” (silicone bowls and cups). 

We went up to Earle Industries (a bike shop) to check the status of our chains.  It is owned by Harold Earle, and seems to be the high-end bike shop for St. John’s.  If you’re looking for bike repairs or purchases in St. John’s, we can highly recommend Harold and his shop.  He spent more than an hour going over our bikes with us and looking at various options for some of the issues which have developed.

After 4000 km, our chains have stretched too much and worn our rear sprocket.  Scott was expecting the chains to last better than this, since there’s so much more chain on our bikes (about 2.5 standard chains).  Had we checked it in Rimouski, we probably would have discovered the chain wear before it damaged the sprocket.  Oh well – a lesson for next time.  The Rohloff sprocket is reversible, so if we could reverse it we could replace the chain, but we haven’t bought the Rohloff sprocket tool yet.  Harold and Scott looked at improvising something, but decided it wasn’t worth the risk.

Harold also pointed out that the stock chains on our bikes are SRAM 830 – the lowest grade of SRAM 8-speed chain.  Had HP-Velotechnik provided a better chain (SRAM 870, 890, Rohloff Revolver) it likely would have lasted much longer.

We have ordered the sprocket tool from Rohloff (as well as some other spare parts), and we’re planning to replace both chains (and flip the cogs) when we get to Fredericton. 

Tuesday: We went out for a hike with Tammy, a friend from the Avalon Fellowship to Black Head. From the point there is an incredible view of both Cape Spear and Signal Hill, as well as lots of blueberries.  We had a delightful hike, and it was great to get to know her a bit better.  She had just received news of a placement as a kindergarten teacher this year, so she was walking on air.
We also went up Signal Hill at night with Fraser and Judy, and got to see St. John’s at night.  It’s a beautiful view, and it was a warm night, so lots of other people were up there, some “watching the submarine races” and fogging up the windows of their cars.

Wednesday: We spent the early part of the day cleaning up and packing up. It took longer than expected to be ready to go, but that worked out OK.
Vyda, another friend from the Avalon Fellowship picked us up at Judy and Fraser’s and after a wonderful dinner at “Blue on Water” in downtown St. John’s she gave us a ride out to the Argentia ferry terminal.

We had heard from other cyclists that you can sleep in the Argentia terminal. Upon arrival, we found a nice quiet spot in the terminal out of the way of traffic (under some stairs), where we pulled out our thermarests and sleeping bags and spent a comfortable night.  Earplugs and eyeshades again came in handy though – there were two other Ottawa cyclists in the terminal with us, and they didn’t sleep nearly so well.

Wetter than necessary

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

20 km around Repentigny

Despite the fact we stayed in Repentigny today, we probably got as wet or wetter than we would have riding.

We went out shortly before noon to check out the bike shops and get some more groceries, and ended up riding through some of the heaviest rainfall all day. According to the radar, both of the big nasty cloud formations missed us, one to the north and one to the south, but we definitely got hit with a small one!

The bike shop trip was necessary because we’ve changed our 44-tooth front chain rings for 36-tooth chain rings to allow us to spin faster when climbing hills. (And hopefully not get off and walk as often on the really steep ones). This takes our granny gear down to 17.2 gear-inches from 21.3, which is nice. If you don’t know what gear-inches are, you probably don’t care, but if you’re curious there’s a good explanation by the late Sheldon Brown, as well as a calculator for both Rohloff hubs and normal gearing.

Unfortunately, changing the it required some additional spacers between the chain-ring and the pant-protector rings. This meant at least one of the bolts holding the rings to the crank was marginal (only two or three threads of contact between the bolt and the nut), and I stripped it yesterday while tightening things. I don’t have a spare, and neither of the bike shops had a replacement, so my fallback will be to remove one of the pant-protector rings.

(This would be much clearer with pictures, but it’s time for bed).

Otherwise it has been a day of cooking good meals, relaxing, bike maintenance and geotagging of photos. Now it’s just a matter of organizing and uploading the photos. (We do have a few more than just the ones posted so far).


Sunday, June 15th, 2008

Way back on June 3, my mother asked if we had mirrors. Both Scott and I ride with mirrors. I have a bike mounted mirror and Scott has a helmet mount. When I see him with helmet and mirror he reminds me of the borg!

Here is a view of Scott from my mirror:

Scott says:

I really like my helmet-mount mirror.  Early on I had trouble focussing on it, since I seem to be right-eye dominant, and I look at the mirror with my left eye, but I seem to have retrained my brain without too much trouble.  With the mirror appropriately adjusted, I can see cars coming from a distance in my peripheral vision, and check across multiple lanes of traffic with a slight turn of my head.

A few times when I’m off the bike, I have noticed myself trying to use the mirror to see something behind me.  Unfortunately, without the mirror I have to turn around instead!

Using a GPS for bicycle touring

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

This is our first trip with a mapping GPS (Becky has had a Garmin Edge 305 fitness GPS for a while, but it doesn’t have maps) and it is proving to be quite useful. For our ride to Kingston, I have been trying to follow the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour route, as best as I can remember it. Yesterday I was a bit iffy in a couple of places, but the GPS (with a big pink arrow pointing us toward Perth) was very helpful. It let us know we were going in the right direction (even when Becky didn’t believe me) and how far we had to go – as the crow flies at least.

It is possible to get detailed GPS maps with turn by turn routing, but they’re expensive, and a paper map worked just fine as a backup.

During our rest day today, I discovered that someone had uploaded an RLCT route to Bikely, and that I could download a GPX file from Bikely to Mapsource, and then to my GPS. Pretty basic stuff to some I’m sure, but I’m impressed!

I discovered that my recollection of the RLCT route was spot-on as far as Perth, but I was confused about the Perth to Kingston portion. Good to know now before tomorrow, since my planned route would have put us on more heavily travelled roads.

I do want to be careful that these new tools don’t cause us to artificially limit our routes though – sometimes the best adventures come from unplanned detours!

I’m sure there are other useful routes on Bikely, as well as other sites like Alex Carr’s article on Bicycle Touring with a GPS on CGOAB has more details and other suggestions. Perhaps if I had re-read it after getting the GPS I wouldn’t be discovering this now…

RLCT Classic to Kingston

Share your bike routes @

Photo Shoot

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

On Sunday, Scott and I went up to visit our friends Mike and Sasha and asked them to take some action shots of us on the bikes. They did a great job! Here are some of the highlights:










Friday, May 23rd, 2008

Our bikes have arrived home safely. We have not yet figured out which panniers we will bring with us on our grand adventure. For our shakedown cruise we have purchased one set of: Ortlieb Front Roller Plus, Orlieb Back Packer Plus, and Arkel RT-40. We will also choose a set from our older front and rear panniers purchased for previous bike tours. Hopefully by the end of the shakedown cruise we will have a better sense of which pannier configurations work for each of us.


We each have had a chance to take a couple of short rides (15-20 km). Unfortunately, the weather and our schedule have made it difficult for us to get out to do more training rides. We are in a constant state of preparing the house for rental, packing up, and figuring out gear and logistics for our trip. There seems to never be enough time to get everything done. I am definitely looking forward to getting onto the road and living a simplier life!

Buying a bicycle as a spiritual journey

Monday, April 14th, 2008

I pedal quickly, practicing my spinning. The road has a gentle decline and the trees are a dingy orange-brown, typical of the early spring after the snow is gone but before the green buds begin to take over the landscape. I remind myself to take a deep breath, smell the fresh air, and experience the moment. It was early in day one of our three day trip to southern New York State to test ride and hopefully purchase bicycle for our Grand Adventure.

I had been rather anxious and stressed lately. I had not been sleeping well; my dreams filled with worry over all that still needs to be done before we can depart on our trip. A few days ago, a friend inquired about when my car would be for sale. That is when it began to really sink in. We are actually going to do this trip! Adding to the need to sell my car, I was at the end of a six-month contract. Once that finished, I would be working full-time at packing up the house and preparing for the trip.

A big area of concern for me was the lack of a decision regarding bicycles. At the best of times, I do not handle uncertainty well. That may be one of my greatest challenges on this trip, the uncertainty that is necessarily part of a long bicycle journey. Regarding bicycles, we liked the idea of riding on recumbents, but were not certain it was the right approach. We decided to make a pilgrimage to the BicycleMan in Alfred Station New York to try different types of recumbents and see if they were right.


And the winner is …

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

After lots of analysis we’ve decided the HP Velotechnik Streetmachine Gte is the best bike for our needs. Peter worked hard to not influence our decision, but in the end he did tell us he agreed with us given our plans.

The HP Velotechnik Streetmachine Gte won for us because:

  • It fit Becky better (seat fit well and she could reach the handlebars easily).
  • It has low-rider racks available direct from the manufacturer (you can retrofit a lower rack on the Oracle Omega, but that is a work-around).
  • HP Velotechnik has a proven reputation doing the type of long-distance riding we intend on doing (the Oracle Omega is probably fine too, but is relatively new to the market).

Scott still feels a bit guilty about not supporting a Canadian company, since he was happy with both. The Gte fit Becky much better though, and it is far easier to carry spares for only one set of components.

So, the order is in. We ordered two mostly identical bikes, each with a bunch of upgrades:

  • Rolhoff hubs
  • Avid mechanical Disc brakes
  • Upgraded shocks (DT-SWISS XM180 rear and MEKS SASO Carbon AC front)
  • Marathon Plus 47mm tires
  • Airflow seat cushion (we tried both, and the Airflow is much nicer)
  • rear and lowrider racks, mudguards
  • Becky also got the shorter 152mm cranks

Here are some photos of our longer test ride (40 km). Scott is carrying 30lb of bricks and water bottles in the panniers to get a feeling for how the bike performed when loaded. These are Peter’s demo bikes. Scott’s bike will look similar (orange) and Becky’s will be yellow (RAL 1018).