Cycling from Syston to Iona in 8 days has broken many personal records. Longest day rides fully loaded, longest number of days solo touring by bike, longest number of nights solo camping in a row. So I wanted to reflect on what worked and what didn’t.
Shand Stoater Plus
When I rode Lands End to John O’Groats on my Trek Pilot I would while away the miles dreaming of a better bike for the future. Those dreams became my search for “A Bike for Life” which became a reality in my Shand Stoater. As parts of my route over these 8 days coincided with some of my LEJOG route comparisons are inevitable and quite easy.
It was noticeable that I never found myself dreaming about a different bike or changes that I wanted to make to my bike for life. Yes there are a number of reasons for this (better weather, lower daily mileages, a different focus that travelling loaded and more slowly gives) but the key reason was the way the bike worked. More comfortable, no creaks, no need to stop and check for damage after a bad pothole, no servicing or maintenance needed.
The Stoater frame is just right for this kind of ride. The bigger tyres (37mm front and 40mm rear – I think) worked well both with the load and with the mixed surfaces. So I could eat up the miles when it was a good surface while coping with the sometimes appalling surfaces of the so called “National Cycle Network”. At the same time the frame copes with 4 panniers, bag on the rear rack and loaded handlebars really well. The handling was great at all speeds and on all surfaces.
Rohloff and Gates Centertrack Belt Drive
I’ve put these together because the combination is so much greater than the parts. The combination was a key reason for the choice of a Shand as nearly 3 years ago very few frame manufacturers supported both these. Both worked flawlessly and without any maintenance or servicing.
The Rohloff is perfect for loaded touring. The gear range is enormous and the gears evenly spread. Being able to change multiple gears at a time is really helpful (when you hit a sudden steep slope being able to change down really quickly and using only one rotary gear change is really helpful when you have a heavy load). Also being able to change gear while stationary is great, one less thing to worry about when diving into a passing place to avoid a charging HGV. The fact that it is just as efficient at the end without having been cleaned or oiled or anything is also so different to my Trek after LEJOG where the whole drivetrain needed disassembling to clean it and replace a lot of it.
The Gates Centertrack belt drive is something that does attract attention when people look at the bike. No chain seems incredible to many. Again it has worked flawlessly, completely silent and maintenance free. I can now see tooth marks on the belt, the first signs of wear that I have seen. I guess I’ll have a look around to see if it would be a good idea, at some point, to take the belt off and put it on reversed to even the wear. I’d say that this belt has been given relatively extreme loading with me climbing over 20,000 feet with the bike so heavily loaded. It hasn’t missed a beat. I totally recommend it, while recognising that I know people who are much more powerful riders than me who have had problems in thick mud.
So far as I am concerned the combination of Rohloff and Belt Drive is unsurpassed for loaded touring.
Wildcat Gear luggage
For this trip I used 3 products from Wildcat Gear on my handlebar (which are a Jones Loop h-bar).
The Tomcat sits on top filling the loop of the Jones bar. It carried my tools, spare tube, sun cream, sanitising hand wash.
The Mountain Lion harness held my Vango Banshee 300 tent (inside an Alpkit Dual Extra 20 litre drybag) with the poles in their bag slid into the harness as well. It is so quick to get the tent out and ready to pitch when you arrive at site yet totally secure, silent and unobtrusive the rest of the time. It worked perfectly, it didn’t slip once, the bag didn’t move or rub or have any issues at all.
The Lioness is a small handlebar bag that works with the Mountain Lion. It is very quick to release and so I keep my wallet, phone, tablet, sun glasses, USB battery for recharging any of my devices, paperwork, keys and chocolate in it. Again it does not move around or slip and is superbly convenient when you stop.
All three Wildcat Gear products are totally recommended.
I have the Stainless Steel Tubus front and rear racks. They have been on the bike since new, they have never caused any problems and have been totally reliable and simple to use. Fully recommended.
Alpkit Gourdon 20 Rucksack
This time I used a simple luggage strap to hold this rucksack on the top of my rear rack. In it I had my sleeping bag, nighttime clothing and anything I found lying around after all the other bags were packed. The rucksack is really useful when nipping to the shops after pitching the tent and will be useful while here Iona. It worked well in this role.
Garmin Edge 1000
I am very pleased with this. I like the larger screen, it is very easy to follow a course anywhere whether off road, through cities or on a maze of rural roads. The screen and map detail is good enough that you can use it as a map and take detours if a different road takes your fancy and then find your way back to the route). The only issue for touring is the battery life, I have turned backlighting to the minimum and on the longer days use a USB battery to recharge it during my lunch stop (or on one day while going along). I particularly wanted the bluetooth support so I can upload my rides using my phone at the end of the day. I can also (via a convoluted method) put new routes onto the Garmin that I can create using my tablet on Strava. While I didn’t use it this tour the on device routing is also very useful.
Miscellaneous Bike bits
- Ergon bio-cork grips. Still fantastic after 2.5 years!
- Jones Loop H-Bar: I wouldn’t choose anything else for loaded touring
- USE Sumo suspension seatpost: Just works with no issues at all. Recommended.
- Charge Spoon Saddle: Has worked well and 90% happy with the comfort.
- Hope Hydraulic Disk Brakes: Superb. Haven’t touched them. They are powerful, well modulated, silent and reliable.
- Hope Bottom bracket with ceramic bearings: Still going strong and smooth after nearly 8,000 miles
- Middleburn cranks: Highly recommended
- Schmidt Dynamo, eDelux Front Light and B&M Racktop rear light. Very highly recommended. No issues at all.
- Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres. I’ve been using these for ages now, so they are nothing like new. No punctures, no need to pump them up. Sure footed on gravel tracks, smooth running on the road. No worries about glass, thorns or potholes. They look like they have a lot of life left in them yet.
- Shimano Touring Pedals A530: Had them for years. Work well both with shoes with cleats and in trainers or crocs.
Carradice Carradry Panniers
These have survived but I don’t really recommend them.
- Most the rivets holding the rail for the rack clips onto the bag have failed and I’ve replaced them with 5mm bolts.
- The clips used to attach the bags to the rack are fiddly and can be difficult to open
- The bags squeak when the road surface is not perfect (most of the time in the UK)
- The zips on the rear pannier pockets leak and the pockets fill with water. The zip pulls break and now one of the zips has come away from the fabric.
On the positive side they carry a lot of stuff, the main compartments are waterproof and the straps on top are really convenient for holding jackets or strapping odd items too (bottles of drink, crocs etc).
Vango Banshee 300 tent
Yes it was overkill to carry a three man tent. However, the only “two” man tents we have are the popup style which are awkward to carry on a bike due to their shape. The Banshee is really quick to pitch and the inner tent is pitched second and taken down first. I much prefer that when it is raining as you can get the flysheet up and then put the inner up without it getting wet (and the same in reverse when packing up in the rain).
The tent has been very stable in the strongest winds I have had.
I did like the sitting headroom but my only reservation is the side opening and the size of the porch that leaves. If it is wet it is hard to avoid drips into the tent when getting in and out. It does not create a large enough area for sheltered cooking.
Shimano MT91 Boots
I wore these a little for the day before starting. They have been great. Comfortable to wear and ride in despite the warm temperatures. Now I have arrived in Iona I have taken the cleats off and put the fill-in pads back so I have a pair of walking boots for the week here.
Tout Terrain Plug III
This is the USB charger that fits into a special stem cap. Mine stopped working just before this ride and in the future I don’t think I’d bother with it, getting the cable into a device without it being damaged while bouncing around is tricky. I find it is easy to carry a USB battery and have found enough places to recharge it.