9 December 2011
A pretty uneventful ride into Vientiane today (aside from seeing a sign for a bar/karaoke called Crammy Valentine), so it's time to talk about gear.
Bike I bought this ride in Kunming when I first moved there in October 2007. It's Canadian, the brand is Louis Garneau. The model is XC Casper. It's a fairly ordinary entry level aluminium frame mountain bike, not a tourer.
It originally came specced with disc brakes - I replaced these in favour of V-brakes, based on ease of jury-rigging / repair. I think it also came with a hard fork, which I replaced with an entry level Rock Shox.
Groupset is Shimano Alivio, though recent replacement Monster Wheel has a Deore LX hub.
Tyres are the renowned Schwalbe Marathon Plus. They don't come cheap, but the world has yet to put anything through them. I went for efficiency on good surface and selected 1.35 inch. I've occasionally pined for 1.5 inchers.
Pedals are entry level Shimano SPDs - pretty sure M520 is the designation. They're somewhere in the range of 20 quid a pair, and at that price, there's really no excuse for still using clips'n'straps or flat pedals. I have the same model on my road bike too. My Shimano shoes are also great, though watch out for sizing - they're a little smaller than you might expect for a given size.
Luggage No name handlebar bag, bought in Jinghong. This holds tools and chargers and whatnot - not really for accessibility, but for getting some weight on the front. It's sort of waterproof.
I have a small fake-Giant top tube bag that holds multitool, camera (Canon compact digital), phone (HTC / Android, used for maps and GPS), small money, iPod/headphones, SPF15 lip balm, a gel (GU vanilla flavour, with caffeine - thanks Dan!), and bike computer (Cateye Strada Wireless) when it's not clipped on. As this is not waterproof, it has to be panniered if rain comes.
Rear panniers are Ortlieb Bike Packer Classic. Thus far, I would swear by these. Every other bike tourist I've spoken to or passed on the road has Ortliebs. Waterproof, easily attached, capacious, reflective, thus far durable. I can see a slight design weakness at the fold of the lid - I think this is where they'll wear first. There's also roll-top Ortliebs that would be worth checking out, as they likely won't have this problem.
I do not have front panniers, and I don't see the need for touring in this region.
Clothing I'm wearing Lycra cycling shorts. In China, French chain Decathlon sells these at around 7 quid a pair. They're basic, but get the job done. So far this trip, I've worn the same pair every day, washing every evening in the shower. Yum. The pair in question is showing some wear, and will be jettisoned at a subsequent kit cull.
Shirts, I have several options. Call it an investigation rather than overpacking :) I have a fleece-lined long sleeve for cold days. I'm loathe to cull this as I suspect I'll need it in the Vietnam hills, and it'll also be useful in the UK. I also have a Scott long sleeve that I bought for this trip to keep the sun off. It has an intelligent distribution of black and white, which seems to help reflect the sun and help one emit heat effectively. It's only half-zip and I wish it were full-zip.
Bless my cotton socks! but they're useless. They take about three days to dry. I bought three pairs of synthetic knock-off Nike socks in Jinghong and won't be going back. Cotton socks for civvies only.
I'm carrying a spare pair of shoes. I appreciate that this is a bit of a luxury weight-wise, but walking in bike shoes isn't the most comfortable thing to do, plus if you get rained on while on the bike, you carry the soggy feet feeling into your civvies.
Short-fingered cycling gloves: weird tan, oh yes.
Further Observations The GU gels have been a surprise. I wasn't so convinced about caffeine as an endurance supplement, but I'm now 100% sold. If I'm not getting it from the gels, I'm hitting Coca-Cola, and on bad days, even Pepsi. Vanilla flavour GU wouldn't have been my first choice either, but I'm practically addicted now. Hopefully I can restock in Saigon or Bangkok. Only downside: a box of gels ain't light. Another note: I get the feeling that caffeine can help boost you if the energy is there somewhere, but if you're done for, you're done for.
The Cateye Strada Wireless is my first wireless bike computer, but my third Cateye. The two previous Cateyes were both the Velo 8 model, and suffered from two major issues: i) inability to keep regular clock time properly - given that timing is central to their operation, this is disconcerting. ii) while the computer unit and sensor were waterproof, the contact between unit and base would short in the wet. This particularly messed with me during a downpour in the 2006 Bintan Triathlon. I've not experienced the former problem with the wireless model, and the latter problem is made irrelevant by the wirelessness.
My long-serving and respected Oakley sunglasses are on the brink of death. I bought them in 2003; they've done well. They're still in my panniers, and will likely not survive the next cull. I bring this up because the non-prescription 720 Armour brand glasses I got as a replacement have exceeded my expectations. It's an Aussie brand I'd not heard of that happened to be carried by Xiong Brothers bike shop in Kunming. I realise it's a personal thing, but they fit my face great, allowing some airflow so I don't steam up, but still keeping Laos road dust out of my eyes.
Vientiane ride stats: 77km, 20.8km/h, 3hr42min, 1798km