Reviews – Bicycle touring gear part 1
On my long bike trip around the world lasting more than 4 years, I have tested my equipment in all different weather and outdoor living situations and would now like to share my experiences with you.
Important in my assessment is longevity and function, as well as my honest opinion. A few of the products mentioned here are sponsored items – but this has no influence on my rating.
This review is about the small pieces of equipment that often make life out here really worthwhile.
Avid BB7 Brake
I was convinced for a long time that V-brakes are best for long-distance cycling, since I always had concerns that I might get into trouble with disc brakes, if something broke and parts needed to be replaced or with complicated systems that might be hard to adjust.
One thing, however, is clear for me, after a year of use, I will never go back to V-brakes.
The Avid BB7 is very easy to adjust, you need only one extra Torx wrench, which is also light and small. The brake pads last forever. I have changed the rear brake pads after about 10,000 KM for the first time, the front is still my first set. Changing it is actually a bit tricky and should be practiced a few times.
Despite the tricky changing of the brake pads it is a super product!
I’ve been using my Petzl headlamp for about 10 years now. 6.5 years of it it was in daily use. To me a product with such a long-life span is a genius item.
The battery life could be a bit lengthier, but I know from others that their batteries last much longer, so I assume that is due to my old version – 10 years is a long time in this respect.
The elastic band was stretched badly after 7 years and I had to make a knot in the band, so that the lamp stays on and does not fall off, but this hasn’t been a big deal.
The red-light function is very handy allowing me to cook outside at night without a million bugs flying in my face because the red light doesn’t attract insects, incredible, but it really works. Insects do not like red light. Also, I use the red light to be seen less when I camp somewhere wild.
Anytime again Petzl.
Oakley Sunglasses + Sunglasses Restorer Replacement Lenses
From the company Sunglasses Restorer, I received replaceable lenses for testing. The company also provided me with a nice Oakley frame for the testing. Sunglasses Restorer makes replacement lenses which are compatible with Oakley frames and other brands.
I usually buy ten-dollar sunglasses and because I am not gentle with them, they rarely survive three months before the lenses are scratched or the frames are in pieces.
Not so with these replacement lenses. After 10 months of continuous use I can say that the Sunglasses Restorer lenses are great. They are easy to change and are very scratch-resistant – there is not a single scratch so far. I chose polarized lenses which are really pleasant although I was skeptical at first, I can only warmly recommend them. Really good product.
Oakley sunglasses should be good of course – they are expensive ? Admittedly it is sometimes even embarrassing for me to own them, but I must also admit that they are top notch and far better than anything else I have ever had before.
Sea to Summit small day pack
They are convenient if you want to leave the bike and walk off to explore a city on foot or a short walk in the woods.The backpack is super light, can be packed away in its own extremely small attached stuff sack, and being made of Cordura shows hardly any signs of wearing out anytime soon. However, I have managed to get the first holes – no wonder the material is extremely thin.
But a product which I would buy again any time, simply because it is so extremely light and small. Although it is not a bargain.
I love my fire sticks which are of great help lighting up fires, especially when the wood is wet. Easy to use and cheap. I bought them in the USA – the brand name is Coghlan’s.
ORWI – Merino wool cycling jersey
The German company ORWI provided the jersey for testing.
First of all, I can say it was the best jersey I ever had. I have had it for 2 years using continuously. Day and night – really, I always wore it. No matter what temperatures. In hot and humid Japan as well as in the cold winter in the USA.
Being wool, once the jersey is wet from sweat or rain it dries slowly but again because it is wool it still provides insulation better than other materials. Everyone knows when you are on the summit, and wet the desire is to change into something dry before the possibly freezing decent is strong but with this jersey I never felt the need. Which I see as a huge plus.
There were also times on the road when I couldn’t wash the shirt or for that matter myself for weeks but amazingly the shirt never smelled despite living in it 24/7, so I was saved embarrassment when I visited or encountered someone.
My skin is very sensitive, but the jersey has never been scratchy or unpleasant to wear, Super comfy in fact.
ORWI does not recommend drying the shirt in the dryer, but I did it anyway and the shirt has always kept its shape and size.
The only drawback I see with the jersey is that it is much heavier than a normal jersey. So, if you carry it in your panniers, you may not find it quite as good. Since I always wore it I did not care.
Unfortunately, but to ORWI’s credit after 2 years of continuous use it was full of holes and I had to retire it.
I started with conventional bike bottles, but I soon got tired of them. The plastic taste that arises when exposed to heat is just disgusting. Besides, I am not sure if they are not toxic when the water gets hot inside, even if they are supposedly safe.
I’ve used Nalgene bottles now for 2 years. They are virtually indestructible, BPA free; they don’t violate the taste and are environmentally friendly by their eternal reuse. Also, they are not expensive.
No more without them.
Yes, without my Buff I won’t get far ?
Small, light, cheap and absolutely versatile. I use it as a headscarf, when my hair is way too long. As a scarf around my neck when it is cold. As a face protection when the sun is burning. As an eye shade, when I sleep somewhere where the street lights shine bright in my tent.
Yes, you can say I use it every day.
From one of my fans I received a pair of Mammut pants as a present. Expensive but brilliant pants. The stretch material feels comfortable, dries super-fast, is wind resistant and therefore warm, but also not too warm as long as it’s not more than 30c.
I travel light and have only one pair of pants at a time so these pants saw continuous use for one and a half years and I am not fussy or gentle with my gear, they took a real beating and served me well.
Merrell Shoes Hyper Wrap
I have owned several pairs of Merrell shoes and was always satisfied. However, not with this model, Hyper Wrap. After the first couple of months the shoes were suddenly too tight. I thought that was an exceptional case and had bought exactly the same model again as I like the fit and feel but it happened again.
Merrell yes, but not this model.
I own a Surly Troll, Surly unfortunately warns against using a kickstand on a Surly bike and won’t warranty damage resulting from mounting and using a center mount or chain stay mounted kickstand. Pretty discouraging. In my opinion cycle touring long-distance without a kickstand sucks.
So, I asked Click-Stand if they could sponsor me with one of their stands, which they gladly did.
Unfortunately, the Click-Stand didn’t make me happy.
For me it has to be a quick and easy way to use a kickstand, if I for instance see a situation where I want to take pictures I don’t want to fiddle around with my kickstand for too long.
But unfortunately, you have to lock the brakes with a rubber band, find a quite level spot, then lean the Click-Stand on the frame, balance it and finally hope that the bike will stand still until you come back.
After the bike fell over several times and the plastic hook which supports the bike was broken after a short time, I searched for a new kickstand solution.
For someone who has more patience and wants to park his/her bike less often a day the Click-Stand might be a good idea – for me unfortunately not impractical.
But it is light and small which is a huge benefit and I know of some other cyclists who are happy with it.
Click-Stand self-made holder
I had created a holder from an old vacuum cleaner tube and attached it with a hose clamp fork. It worked great. A bit of Velcro as a buffer on the rim of the tube made for a snug fit, so the Click-Stand didn’t wobble at all and was also easy reachable.
Cane Creek Thudbuster LT – Suspension Seatpost
Thudbuster supported me and gave me the seatpost for a discounted price.
I am disc herniated and definitely need a suspension seatpost to have fun and be comfortable when cycling. The great thing about the Thudbuster is that you can adjust the amount it bounces extremely fine. Your weight is regulated by rubber elastomers and can be changed at any time. I have had no problems with the seatpost within 2 years and I really like it a lot.
Rain jacket Marmot Gore-Tex Minimalist
Okay, rain jackets are a special topic. I haven’t owned a single rain jacket that was waterproof over a long period of time. Even if I have followed all care instructions, after a year at the latest, my rain jackets were leaking.
Sadly, in many countries there is no waterproofing spray available which would extend the life of a jacket at least for a bit longer – Gore-Tex is no exception. So being on the road for a long time really takes it’s toll on rain jackets. They are often expensive and are, in my view, always frustrating. My latest disappointment was this Marmot Gore-Tex rain jacket which leaked even quicker than the many other jackets I have had in my long outdoor life.
What is the solution to the problem? I haven’t found it yet.
Rain pants REI
Same problem occurs with rain pants. The ones I had were all leaking after a while. REI is the brand name of an American outdoor store. The pants were much cheaper than other rain pants, like Gore-Tex. And since they were cheaper, they were leaking even faster – ha-ha.
MSR Dromedary 10L water bladder
In principle a good product. Last forever, small pack size – even if it could be a bit smaller to my liking.
The closure is huge, so you can draw water in all situations or fill the bag. Filtering is, however, only possible if you hang it somewhere or if someone holds it, since it does not stand by itself.
What I do not like is the disgusting plastic taste it gives off as soon as the water gets warm. Therefore, I use it only super rare and if I had a bag that wouldn’t give the plastic taste I would buy this immediately.
Good and sensible reviews Heike.
I made my own stand using the parts of a adjustable hiking pole, the ones you see hikers using.
I modified it by making the top frame cup out of aluminium so it is much stronger and won,t break. It is adjustable for the length so it can be used on camber tracks much easier than the one you have.
Best regards to you Heike,
Interesting idea Mike – but where do store it?
Cheers and thanks Heike
I have a clip connected to a flat piece of alloy bar which is held in place by the saddle bolt, I put the bottom of the bike stand between the V of the chainstays and then clip the top half into the clip, the stand sits just behind the seat tube, access is instant and easy,
Heike, I should have also mentioned that I made a small wedge that holds the brake on when I use the stand, It is stored when not in use in a stainless steel clip which is glued on the upper side of the front brake, you just slide it out of it’s holder pull the front brake and insert it into the brake, 100 times better than a silly elastic band.
Thanks very much Mike !!!!
Appreciate your detailed answer.
Happy riding, Cheers Heike
Thank you for your honest comments. You have put these items through long tests and have shown their good and bad points. This is done without being too loyal to a manufacturer. Practicality is the name of the game and durability is second to that.
I look forward to your next blog.
Very helpful. I leave Telluride in a few hours for a 7 week ride to New Jersey. As usual i leave with mixed feelings about my equipment. Some items will brake, or be lost, or wear out, some just won’t justify their inclusion. Some may surprise me with their excellence. It seems there is no such thing as the perfect outfit. Also, new gear arrives online and in stores every year. I guess we ought to always experiment and tinker, and learn, and share our experiences. Thanks for sharing.
Great reviews on all products, I’m sure all us avid cyclist appreciate your honest product opinions, I know I did 🙂
About Surly… I also own a Troll and the LHT.
They now produce kick stand plates to prevent any type of fame “crushing” for the LHT. I wonder if the frame geometry is similar on the Troll.
As far as I know they don’t fit to the Troll. There is one more idea for the Troll someone came up with – but a lot of people warned me about it and said I should stay away from it. Here is the video to it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96a9lezOejQ
Seems like a lot of people are craving for a kickstand solution for a Surly and I really wonder why Surly doesn’t understand the needs of a touring cyclist.
Enjoy your day….cheers Heike
I am currently touring on a Surly troll and would be interested to know if you have found/heard of another kickstand system for the Troll since ? Have you looked at Pletscher kickstands or do you know if they are not suitable for Trolls ?
Surly doesn’t recommend installing a kickstand of any type on their frames and they won’t warranty a frame damaged by a kickstand. I did use a center mount stand for a while (can’t remember the brand) without problems but I was very careful when using it.
Thank you very much for your reply, sorry for delay in replying. Thanks for the information. If this is of interest I have also found out that 2 Surly dealers in Seattle/Portland area have either a center stand solution for a Troll or can install a stand on the dropout for a reasonable price. I will get one of these installed soon.
Happy riding !
Hi Anne-Laure – oh that’s very interesting. Could you please tell me the name of the dealers please?
Thanks very much, Cheers Heike
So far from I have found out Ride Bicycle Bike shop in Seattle have had experience installing a center stand on a Troll pre 2015-16 but to be checked as they have not gotten back to me yet on if it would fit a later Troll. River City Bicycles in Portland has a “single-sided kickstand solution” which seems to be mounted on the dropout from the picture they have sent me. Giant stand, would be around thirty dollars. If you want to contact them their emails are on Surly website on the dealers section.
Awesome…..thanks very much Anne-Laure.
Have a great time with your Troll.
Love your work
Thanks very much 🙂
All the best to you, Heike
Great reviews, thank you. If you haven’t already (maybe I missed it) , I’d love to hear your thoughts on theTroll.
Hi Mary Ann,
My opinion on the Troll… I love it!
Trust me I have had many bikes and still have a small collection of bikes.
It’s a solid bike with ample amount of gearing for any grade you’re up against.
I’m a true believer in steel frames for comfort and durability.
The stock bars and seat are the only two items I’ve changed. Brooks B17 saddle and a straight bar with bar ends. I’d like to change my bars to a road bike style one day… but for now I’m very happy with my set-up.
One other thing I’ll point out is the fact that it has a triple chainring up front which seems like a rare find these days. Mechanically I personally feel there’s an advantage and also gives you a more fine tuning of gearing ratios.
Hope this helps…
any other questions about the troll …fire away 🙂
Hi David, thanks so much, I also have a Troll and I adore mine. It is a go -to bike for me! I am wondering, have you done any long distance touring and, if so, how has it held up and what has it’s comfort level been over the long haul? Thanks again!
Hi Mary I will get back to your question soon, Cheers Heike
Hi Mary Ann,
what I like about it is the possibility to put big tires on it.
It is a mix of a MTB and a touring bike which gives a wider range of usage.
I don’t see any problems with it – besides the kickstand issue.
I hope that helps – good luck. Heike
Heike, You always give your honest opinion regardless weather it’s about a country, people or a product. I even enjoyed shopping with you when we were together just to learn more about what you thought of things. I appreciate you telling it as you see it. Good Job !
thanks for your great compliment and I know you didn’t like to go shopping 🙂
Makes me feel better to know that you actually enjoyed it 🙂
Have a great day Rick….thanks again for everything, Heike
Thanks for honest helpful reviews.
Do you have a plan for a new tour?
Hi Cemal, thanks…..I am still on tour 🙂
bye bye Heike
thank, I like buff , I have one original and one merino wool also I have two merino jersey and two years for your jersey 24/7 is good, ☺
Avid bb7 brake, merino and buff. ???
Wise as always. Better equipment better trip.
Your input is very important to me, I have already two bikes for this summer. 700c and a 26inches. I think the 26 wheel would be easier to get repair if any because is more common in all countries. What wheel size and tyres do you recomend?
I am using 26″ and would stick to it if you are planning on going to less developed countries. Tires depends on the terrain you are planning on riding.
Schwalbe Marathon and Schwalbe Mondial was my best bet – they last forever and they are doing okay on rough roads – of course MTB tires have better traction than a Mondial, but you loose a lot of energy on a tarmac road with them. For a mixed terrain trip – go for the Mondial.
Thanks for your reviews! You have helped me decide on some and also vindicated my opinions on other stuff! Super advise!
That’s good to hear Richard !!!
Good luck – Heike
Great blog. Have you ever thought of going with a Rohloff hub for your Troll? I have one on my Troll and absolutely love it. I also have a full Hebie chain guard so chain is kept clean and maintenance is very low indeed. For me it is now the perfect bike I have been searching for and would never return to derailleur gears or rim brakes. I hardly ride, in fact, I don’t ride my other derailleur bikes any more and I have quite a few. I must sell them as every time I go out on a ride or tour it is my Troll every time. Also riding long tours with disc brakes you hopefully never have the problem of worn out split broken wheel rims caused by rim brakes.
For click stand I just use my light Manfroto monopod with adaptor on top I made to rest against top tube. But mostly there is some where to lean the bike if not then the monopod plus also good stick for dogs and of course taking steady sharp pictures.
Hi Alex, thanks for all your thoughts and glad you like my blog!
No, I actually don’t like to rely on Rohloff. I heard from several long term cyclists that they were stuck somewhere because of problems with their Rohloff.
But I won’t go back to V-brakes…..!!!
I think I found a solution for my kickstand problem….but need to test it a bit more before talking about it.
How do you like the monopod? Isn’t it unstable in windy conditions?
An alternative to the MSR Dromedary water bag is Orltieb one which is food grade and does not leave plastic taste in water. It is thinner than the MSR water bag but I place it (10 litres) inside one of their PS490 dry bags 22litre. 13 litre dry bag is just too small for a full 10 litre water bag. Also I find Kleen Kanteens good. Nalgene are good but they are still plastic.
Hi Alex, thanks very much for your ideas….will check those because I actually need a bladder without the plastic taste for my next big trip!
I share your thoughts exactly regarding traditional bike bottles vs Nalgene bottles. On my next long bike tour (to Nordkap) I’m planning on carrying my drinking water in two 1,5 litre Nalgene bottles attached to the frame. My question is: does the Nalgene bottle fit a traditional bottle cage? Or do they require special sized bottle cages?
no it doesn’t fit. I am using Blackburn cages. They work very well. Attach velcro or tape around the metal and you won’t hear any rattling.
Happy riding…..Cheers Heike
Thanks for this great article. it is very helpful for me.