Go West! My first cycle tour – part 2 – the gear and kit

I have told you where we cycled last week on our first ever bike tour, now here is a run down of the gear we carried with us. This is not an extensive list, that would be dull. Rather this is a list of the main things that made the riding comfortable and possible.

The Bikes

I used my trusty Trek 520 disc. As I have been using this for over a year now to commute around London, I have a pretty good understanding of it and what it can do. When I was selecting a bike I read lots of reviews and advice saying that touring bikes feel better with weight on them, but I was a little unsure of what this meant. We had a fairly light load as we were not camping, but the bike did feel more stable and somehow easier to ride with two rear panniers than without.

Trek 520

My husband got his bike specifically for touring as well, and he only got it a few weeks before we left. He didn’t fancy drop bars after trying mine out to see what it felt like. He wanted flat bars and lots of gears on a steel frame (I had gone on about the benefits of steel so much there was really no other choice!) and so went with a Tour de Fer from Genesis. We were lucky that Pavé Velo managed to get hold of one for him as most people seemed to be out, and they have changed back to drop bars for 2017.

The Trek is very much a slow and steady tourer. It is easy to ride but doesn’t accelerate quickly and it doesn’t carry much momentum off downhills. It was much easier to ride up hills than I was expecting though. The Genesis is a faster bike. It rolls faster than the Trek and carries momentum. It is fairly upright, which is good for sightseeing, has wide, stable bars and mechanical disc brakes.

Genesis Tour de Fer

The Luggage

Of course, this being a tour, we were carrying stuff with us, even if it was not a ton. We went with two slightly different strategies between me and the hubby, partly due to preference on my part and budget on his.

I went with a pair of Ortlieb Back Roller classic panniers. I got them for this trip and with future trips in mind. I also got a handlebar bag, the Ortlieb Ultimate 6. This was partly because I knew we were going to need to look at the book frequently, and partly because I have found that I really like having weight on the front of the bike. I found this luggage combination to be more than useful. The Back Rollers have an internal pocket which kept cereal bars handy and unscathed. The shoulder strap made it easy to carry the bags around once we had left our bikes. The handlebar bag kept everything I needed during the ride to hand. It meant I could get the book out to check directions while riding along the empty roads, or get my phone quickly for a photo.

Back roller classic

Loads of space in those there panniers!

My husband got some Ortlieb City Rollers and had a large saddle pack for his valuables. The City Rollers are quite a bit cheaper than the Back Rollers but not as expandable or totable off the bike. This was fine for him, particularly as he had just spent quite a bit of money on the bike. They worked well on the tour this time but obviously will be limiting if we wanted to carry more. One of them did get a small hole in at the bottom. Not sure what this was caused by but it is a little surprising.

The Clothing

I used my lovely dhb Aeron halter bid shorts most of the time, although I did also have a pair of Endura liner shorts as well. As this was a tour and not a race, I carefully concealed my lycra under some Evans women’s baggy shorts (also available in men’s), which were really great. The dhb shorts were comfortable to wear all day, whereas the Endura ones were only good for a few hours and then they started digging in. It was interesting to really realise a difference.

As my top I just wore various merino items that I have from summer commuting and hiking. My husband had some basic dhb padded shorts worn under regular cotton shorts. He said they were fine. He also wore standard t-shirts, or at one point, a linen shirt. We were lucky with the weather so shorts and t-shirt were all we needed. It rained the first day leaving London and once briefly on the way into Devizes, but it was never cold.

Pearl Izumi x-alp drift

They may be pink, but they are very good.

In terms of footwear, I had two options with me – Pearl Izumi X-Alp Drifts and DZR H2O’s – both spd shoes. As it was so warm I ended up only wearing the Pearl Izumi ones, which are very meshy and don’t require socks. I will be publishing a full shoe review in the next couple of weeks with more details, but I will say the Pearl Izumi’s were excellent. My husband wore regular shoes as he really wasn’t in a position to clip in, maybe in the future.

Other Bits

We both had cycling mitts. These were great when it did rain, helped the hands when we were riding for hours at a time, and have provided some good cyclist tan lines around our wrists. The main downside of them is that they got quite stinky by the end of the week – they didn’t dry out well over night.

As I wasn’t sure what our bike storage options would be over night, I carried a pretty weighty lock around with us. I have a Kryptonite Evolution 4 chain which allows both bikes to be locked together around a rack if available, and it did get used. I might look into getting an Abus Bordo or something that can be attached to the bike itself for future tours. We both have locking wheel nuts which means we could get a way with a smaller lock, but not Knog Strongman small.

Tyres wise, the Genesis came with Marathon tyres, while I kept the Tannus ones on mine. The Marathons were great and didn’t suffer from any punctures even though we went over a lot or rocky, thorn riddled ground. The Tannus were generally ok, but not suitable for the very bumpy sections of canal path. I kinda knew this would be the case but just didn’t get round to getting new tyres before we left. They took all the energy from my bike over the rough ground and made it very hard work. It was not terrible, and I certainly managed to ride fine, it was just harder than it should have been.

Bikes at the pub

Touring bikes hanging out in a beer garden, their second habitat

So there we have it – tour successfully completed, bikes worked amazing and I know what gear will work next time.

What are your favourite items for travelling by bike?

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4 Responses to Go West! My first cycle tour – part 2 – the gear and kit

  1. Andy ZE 23/09/2016 at 11:31 am #

    Whilst the Ortliebs are undoubtedly popular, I went for Carradice `super C panniers. Made from cotton duck they are more abrasion resistant, and when wet the fibres expand to stop the wet getting in, although in the dry they are almost breathable.

    I prefer flat bars, so have Thorn comfort bars on my bike, with a decent set of handlebar grips that take the weight off your wrists/palms I find that I can ride miles with the same grip and without bar extensions.

    A good rear-view mirror is a must in case of myopic motorists coming up from behind. Another worthy safety measure are decent lights. i prefer CatEye and have an EL135 at the front and a TL1100LD at the back, both battery lights, so that I am not left without lights and having to waiti for a charger.

  2. Dave 23/09/2016 at 1:55 pm #

    My ride is a recumbent (HPV Streetmachine GT) with Ortlieb Bike Packers rear and Front Roller Plus

    Mine came with under seat steering which give me a comfortable, uncluttered front view. I added a Shimano Hub generator with Brompton Stand Lights.

  3. Ianbooth 25/09/2016 at 4:30 pm #

    What rack did you use?

    • Emily 26/09/2016 at 4:26 pm #

      Ian, both bikes came with the racks, but mine is a Bontrager one and my husbands is a Tubus. They were both good, although I prefer mine as it has the panniers a little lower leaving the top deck more functional for strapping things to should it be needed.

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