Equipment Review

Ibex wool Top- $159: looking for an alternative to Smartwool that is made in USA.  Very comparable, but comes in mustard yellow (better for visibility), thumb holes and rear pockets.  In other words, it is geared more towards highly active outdoors people.  I like it so far; waiting to see if it pills.
Update: 6 months, no signs of pilling.  This is my favorite cycling top.  I now have an Ibex in the lightest weight- bras show through, so women won't be able to strip down to that layer. (~2012)

Foxwear Leggings- powerstretch medium weight $45  Yup.  Love these.  They retain their shape, are heavier than anything I have found on bike websites.  They are not prone to pilling and have some decent wind repellency.  I asked the owner to make them 2 inches longer than my inseam, so they will bunch up just above my sneaker/boot tops to keep my ankles warm.  3 years running and still happy. My friends are always shopping around for a good pair of leggings.  Sigh. They want Pearl Izumi or something and fail to look in our own backyard. (2010)
*update- my Mom ordered me the wrong thing when I asked for another of these for xmas.  The ones I got instead are amazing.  They have a wind resistant fleece material on the fronts of the legs and on the seat and have articulated knees.  Great down to about 20 degrees.

Foxwear Top- powerdry material $35: lightweight.  Nothing beats wool.  Polardry is much, much cheaper than wool, but you get what you pay for in this instance.  It is soft, is a great weight for cooler temps, but I arrive a little wetter from sweat than I do in wool.  This shirt is butter yellow (my choice) and a dark bra will show through it and he sewed it with black thread.  I don't care so much about the black thread, since I am not a fashion queen, but some people might be bothered by that. I bet that if I had asked him, he would have made the sleeves longer with thumb holes.  The owner is a great guy: very knowledgeable and willing to work with you on what you want.  Pricing was exceptionally reasonable.  3 years ago I tried to get a Foxwear full zip shirt- this is not something the owner had mastered and I sent it back. His website features a zip jacket, so by now maybe he has mastered zippers on shirts. (~2010)

Surley Troll Bike $2,000 including a second fork (suspension), ThudBuster seat post, alternative handlebars and front OldManMountain rack: LBS (local bike shop) swapped out the fork for a suspension fork- one stipulation was that the fork would need to have attachment points for a rack. Also swapped: handlebars for Butterfly bars, seat post for a ThudBuster.
So far I have not taken it out fully loaded; the OldManMountain rack has much beefier rails and so Ortleib panniers need the larger hook inserts, which I need to find in my house. The bike rode nicely on single track and gravel, but is moderately heavy, so it is a little tough to jump obstacles with (not really what I bought it for anyways). The frame seems to absorb bumps and rough roads well, probably a combination of the suspension fork, the ThudBuster seat post, the Butterfly handlebars and the frame itself.
*update- constantly looking for improvements: the Butterfly bars were too heavy and I swapped back to the Surly bars.  People on the GDMBR swear by Jones Bars.

Bike Friday Bike- New World Tourist (NWT) about $2,500 including racks, suitcase, Thudbuster seat post, pedals, Schwalbe tires (but not trailer kit): exceptional.  Allowed me to get on a bus without room in the bike rack.  Performed at least as well as most of the rest of the bikes on the trip, with the exception of the Trek 520.  Should have predicted that one.  Folded mine up at the end and took it home in its suitcase.  I am taking a sojourn to WV in May and it will go the same way.  Suitcase turns into a trailer to get me to my final destination 55 miles away. Kicked some serious hills (better than the Trek).
UPDATE on bike: I have had perpetual problems with the headset loosening every 1,000 miles.  The solution was to swap it for a Chris King headset- since then I have not had this issue. The tires appear to wear out more quickly, but in fact the tires go around more often to cover the same distance as a larger diameter tire, so they logically should last a shorter time. I got 3,000 miles out of a Schwalbe Marathon that took a piece of glass and had to be booted (have a patch applied to the inside of the tire itself) BEFORE I even left on the Trans Am.  I love the ThudBuster seat post.  Very expensive, but well worthwhile.  I added one to my new mountain bike, which is a hardtail (no rear suspension) and it is lovely on that bike as well.  Tires are difficult to remove on the Friday, due to the small diameter of the wheels.  I love this bike.
UPDATE on trailer/suitcase: I took the bike and suitcase and used the trailer attachment to tow the trailer.  So this is a synopsis of my experiences with this setup: During a full day of torrential downpour, it leaked very little and probably the water came up through the holes for the trailer attachment points (which could be negated by using rubber washers). Water collected in the "trough", of the suitcase where the two halves come together and latch and was difficult to remove, which meant that if my fleece or something got pressed into this slot, it absorbed all said water.  In addition, there is no way for water inside to escape.  When riding, the trailer can't be left partially open, as I might do with panniers, in order to dry things out, so the damp eventually permeates even the dry clothes.  I used a "waterproof" duffel to segregate the wet from dry, but it helped little. In addition, as it stands from stock, there is no way to strap things on the outside to allow them to dry and since I decided to forgo racks, I had very little recourse but to allow wet things to dampen dry things.
It was much easier to get the bike on the trains, since I could disconnect the trailer and lift the bike and trailer separately.
Finally, it was a long vehicle and on a couple of occasions, I could not make it through some gates designed to frustrate sheep trying to escape. The effort required another person or manually lifting and moving the trailer.
Overall- the trailer is a great way to get from Point A to Point B, if you are only going for a few days or short distance.

Gore Countdown cycling jacket yellow($125 on sale): I wear this now instead of my J&G when I am commuting.  Though only water resistant, I don't get wet in a downpour on my 8 mile commute.  Would it hold up to a whole day(s) of rain?  No, but it is machine washable/dryable and comes out clean and still water resistant (Gore website suggests a drier; helps to shrink down the pores again). No pits zips, but the sleeves zip off.
UPDATE: though I don't trust it in cold constant rain, I love this jacket for winter commuting.  Warm, but it still breathes and the full zip allows me to control my temperature a little.  The zip off arms (as I predicted) are just a gimmick.  I never take them off.  What is going to get cold on a hard ride?  Your back?  No, your arms.  How about a zip off back?

Showers Pass Rain Jacket (commuter): finally gave in and bought this.  Recommended on many forums, I felt it was a racer's jacket, not suitable for touring and commuting.  Jury is still out.  Seems to keep me dry, but haven't toured in it.  It has black cuffs, which means it doesn't get dirty looking, like the J&G did.  Good venting and an expandable tail may be great features; time will tell.
* on the GDMBR, parts of the inside got stuck to each other and when I pulled them apart, the coating pulled off.  I repaired it with Gore repair tape.

J&G rain jacket- at 4 years old this jacket had never failed me, but had probably never seen rain like it did in Virginia and Western Kansas, where it leaked after a full day of torrential rain. I applied spray-on waterproofing half way across the route, but we never saw that kind of rain again. The wrist Velcro keeps the sleeves at a comfortable position, the great ventilation provided by pit zips and rear panel are wonderful, its bright yellow color shows dirt but makes you highly visible and the clever placement of an attachment point for a blinky on the back make this a very good jacket. I had to remove the Velcro near the bottom of the zipper because it was catching on my shorts/tights. Would I buy this again? Unknown- I would probably look at reviews of other jackets to figure out the longevity of other coats.
UPDATE:  I would not buy this jacket again.  Once it lost its waterproofness, I was never able to regain it again satisfactorily. The J&G Non-Gore rain pants are coated and have a similar problem.

SIGG/Optimus stove- this stove doesn't fail. With a self-cleaning wire, it doesn't clog. The only time I had trouble with this stove was when I failed to finger tighten its filler cap. Other stoves on the trip: Coleman Expedition- fared very well.  On an aside,  I wouldn't bother with a stove on this trip.  There was a store every day and I can live on crackers, peanut butter and raisins.  Just saying.  No fuel needed either.

Whisperlite International Stove: Took this on the GDMBR and did not like it.  It may be user error or because I bought it used; I could not pump it up enough to get it to last a whole cooking session.

iPhone: wow.  This $230 used phone far surpassed my expectations.  Communications, entertainment (ebooks), gps like features,  a blog app and basic access to information were so exceedingly useful.  I jailbroke it and my husband turned on texting for me (I was too cheap), which allowed me to communicate with him and some other cyclists, even when the signal was slim to none.  The texts just sat there until the phone had at least one bar of connectivity.

Ortleib panniers: you don't know how much it hurts to bang your head until you stop.  After years of plastic bag lined frame panniers, these were amazingly pleasant.  Although you are stuck with one large pocket (Roller Packer Plus- 40 liters back pair and 25 liters for the front pair ), the benefit of waterproof bags is phenomenal.  Purchased from The Touring Store (online), they still look great 5,000 miles later. Added plus: if you need to buy more food than will fit, the rollers allow you to leave them unrolled and use the web straps/buckles to carry more stuff than you ought to have bought for short stretches (actually forever, though you would look a little dumb and the top is OPEN). Another added bonus is that when I packed for the plane ride back, the contents of the panniers was stowed in a duffel and the panniers themselves lay flat in the duffel.

Ortleib handlebar bag: waterproof, good size (med)- a little awkward to close and poorly thought out shoulder strap, but WATERPROOF.  Kept my camera, iphone and sundries dry. I added a handlebar bracket from a tandem (designed to go on the seatpost of the front seat) to my steering tube to lower the bag below my front light and give me more space on the regular handlebars.
Update: I have bought two more brackets so I can use this on several of my bikes.

REI SubKilo 750 down filled sleeping bag rated 15 degrees:  nice.  I bought this "new, opened" off ebay.  How much? Can't quite remember, but maybe around $250.  I backpack, so thus justified. Warm, fabric catches in the zipper easily, very light and packs small.  I really like this bag.  On occasion, I woke up sweating and often used it just as a blanket, but at the top of Lynx pass in CO (8,900 ft), I was very cold, even with the thermarest pad and every stitch of clothing/outerwear I had, inc hat and gloves.

ThermoLite sleeping bag liner:  hmmm.  Jury is still out on this one.  In the East I used this exclusively. Rarely was it so warm I needed nothing, but probably could have gotten away with just putting on wool leggings and a long sleeved shirt.  The intent was to keep my sleeping bag clean and I did wash this often.  When it was 40 degrees I used it in conjunction with my bag, but probably would have been fine without it (woke up sweating in my UnderArmor and smartwool leggings).  Don't know about "essentialness".  $55/8.1 oz adds 15 degrees to a bag.

Smartwool and Ibex leggings and tops:  These are expensive but excellent. They keep you warm even when wet.  Keep them away from moths. I

UnderArmor top: very poor.  Although it kept me warm, if I sweated in it or got it wet in any way, it took forever to dry and kept me cold until it did.

MEC arm warmers: mailed home; they did not stay up (a buddy of mine had the same experience with leg warmers- Pearl Izumi).  The smartwool top was nicer, even though it was a pull-over (had to take off the helmet to put on/take off).  It is possible I bought these armwarmers too large. My daughter bought Smartwool ones and seems to like them.

Gerber multi-tool (similar to Leatherman):  did not use very often, but when I did, it was perfect.  Pliers, knife, screwdrivers and scissors, which all lock (essential to usefulness) were the tools I used (all of the ones included).  I could have left my first aid scissors behind.  This was the only sharp knife I brought and I used it to cut cheese, before I gave up on carrying cheese.  The cheese leaked all over my tent one time and I had to put the tent in the washer to clean up the mess. Oh, and it had a bottle opener. You could be a cherished member of your team for this one.

Crank Bros multi-tool:  hmmm.  Well, it contained a chain link removal tool, which by chance I never needed, and all the allen wrenches I needed, but it doesn't lock, so the screwdrivers were almost useless. Also, the allen wrenches are really short, so they were awkward sometimes. Maybe carrying just the needed allen wrenches and a link tool instead, is the better answer. And the spoke wrench?  It is a Bike Friday.  You don't break spokes and the wheels have never gone out of round on my BF.

3 strand bungee: This was a good idea, but one of the strands came loose after a short time.  I did use it with the remaining strands to hold down my dromedary. Maybe mine was just a lemon. I would probably take this again.

Folding Schwalbe spare: this got me to where I could buy a new tire.  Essential on a long or isolated trip

Schwalbe Marathon  tires:  very good.  I did a tread patch before I left home after a piece of glass punctured my puncture resistant tire.  That small hole finally expanded and 5 days out from Eugene needed to be replaced (3/4ths of the way to the end).  I got about 3,00 miles out of it after the initial patch.

Adj Cresent wrench: essential.  We collectively used it.  I bought it used for $3 at a flea market.  Small and quite old, it was perfect.  About 4 inches long and it is capable of removing pedals.

Compass: never used it, but it was my teddy bear.  It comforted me.  Most of the time I traveled with others and we could put our heads together to find our way.  If I was traveling alone, on trails or without adv cycling maps, I would take it, otherwise I would leave it behind.

bar soap shampoo: perfect for short hair, nothing to leak, lightweight; I kept it in a small Rubbermaid container.  I chopped all my hair off for this trip.  Soooo much easier. Did not serve well as dish soap, but was fine for hand laundry.

MSR Dromodary 4 liter: great.  Three openings in one and a grommet allow wonderful flexibility.  Opening 1- wide mouth fill, good for filling it under space challenging circumstances, like gas station sinks.  Opening two (all on the same cap)- good for pouring water into water bottles.  Opening 3- small spout for spraying your companions, pouring out small quantities of water (washing out cuts) or taking a shower when the bag is hung from its grommet.  This water bag was a life saver, especially in 105 degree heat in long stretches (60 miles) without any water source. When not in use, it rolled up and out of the way, unlike bottles.

Diva cup (men, don't read this part): once you get used to this device, it never leaks, is easy to clean, is reusable and takes up little space.  What can I say.  Don't be squeamish.  And work out the kinks before you leave. Follow the directions.

Coghlan's Can opener: ALMOST never used.  But essential.  In a pinch, you can eat stuff out of a can, but only if you have a can opener!  I brought a backpacking model, very thin, small and light, but slow.  Odd, I never pack cans when backpacking.

first aid stuff: mole skin- never used, would leave behind; ace bandage- bulky and unused.  If I needed one, I would buy one; bandaids, gauze patches and tape- never used, but would bring. I never crashed on this trip. Aspirin, decongestant and antihistamine all of which were used at some point. Nail clippers- used by me and others.  Essential.  Added during the trip; sigh- athlete's foot meds. Although in the Netherlands I wore my Kean sandals everyday and had no trouble.
****Update- bought Adventure Medical Kit .5 as a first aid starter kit. The bag is waterproof and it comes with basic supplies.  For trips where you will pass through towns with a drug store every few days. Add an ACE bandage, more antihistamines, decongestants and aspirin a pair of scissors and you probably won't need anything more.
*****Update: I crashed on the GBMBR and suffered severe road rash.  Turns out I am allergic to Bactrim topical antibiotic (as apparently are many people who don't realize it). Applying Bactrim causes my wounds to produce extra puss (you are welcome...).  I was two days from the finish and could not sleep because the wound would stick to my sleeping bag (too cold to sleep without it).  A doctor in Breckenridge told me I should concentrate on NOT letting the road rash dry out.  He said when the wounds dry out, they constantly crack open again.  Instead, he told me to apply Vasoline! At night I would need to cover the wounds with plastic wrap to keep things from sticking.  In the morning, I needed to wash the rash out and re-apply Vasoline.  Seriously. That is what finally began the healing.

EMS zip off pants:  yeah, I like these and used them both as shorts and pants. Abrasion resistant with some stretch

Tent REI half dome: Really only sleeps one person, unless you are really, really comfortable sleeping on top of each other, which then can be nice.  Great for one, with nice vestibules on both sides and technically needs no stakes.  I staked the vestibule on a stage several times by tying them out to my panniers. Poor ventilation if it is raining and hot, but if not raining, leave off the fly (no privacy) or tie back the vestibule openings.  This becomes an asset if it is cold; you stay warmer. 5 lbs, 2 doors $179 (footprint groundcloth is another $25).  This tent was purchased for touring several years ago. Con is that it is almost always wet under the fly the next morning and it is heavy for one person.

Sea to Summit lightweight drybag 1 gallon: although not essential, I used this as a sink to wash my clothes (drop in shampoo bar, slosh, rinse) and as a container for my dirty, stinky and occasionally wet clothes. Weighs almost nothing and rolls up tiny when not in use.  I still carry this on my daily commute, to protect my electronics, papers and wallet on rainy days, rather than buy a waterproof backpack.

Bear rope: only in Yellowstone/Tetons did I worry about bears and there were bear boxes there. If we were remote camping or camping in bear problem zones I would take this, but on this trip, it was a heavy waste of space.  Mailed home.  I used others' clotheslines. In the Netherlands there were no bears or any other wildlife, for that matter

Thermarest pad 3/4 length, 1/2 inch thick:  some pad is essential.  This one has always done the job for me, but since I got a down bag, I need to put something under my feet to keep them off the ground.
****update- got a Big Agnes pad.  Review coming in the summer '15

Blackburn front light: used blinking on rainy days and as a flashlight.  Essential.
Blackburn rear light: used on rainy days and on early morning starts. Essential.

MEC camp towel 2.5ft by 1.5 ft: dries quickly, can be wrung out to dry again. Small so not useful to lie on at the beach.  What are you doing lying on your towel?  Get back on your bike!

TP: essential.  For wiping your glasses of course.  Perfect for those times when you are FEMALE and are in a pinch. Several campgrounds in the Netherlands were BYO.

Sewing kit DIY: Essential.  I fixed someone's Camelback, a sleeping bag zipper and restrung someone's drawstring.  The sleeping bag was ineffective without a functioning zipper.  My kit consisted of a piece of cereal box with 4 ft each of white, black and gray thread, 3 safety pins and a needle. Scissors were part of my first aid kit. DIY kit is best.

Paperback book: essential for me.  Even with the ebooks, I want to pull out a paperback and read.  It is part of who I am. What more can I say.  I replaced the books at thrift stores and left them behind at cafés when finished. It was difficult to find a good book, but whatever.  Libraries are a tough route to go when touring!
*update- I bought a Kobo Glo.  Kick butt battery life, doesn't download books over wi-fi, requires specific software to load books and a computer.  Load it up with Project Gutenberg books (oldies) before you go.
*update- I have found Overdrive and my iPhone 4 to be an excellent reader, but only when I can charge every day.

Earplugs:  Not essential, but when you are camped next to the railroad tracks, which happens a lot, you might say they are essential.  Many public parks are situated next to undesirable building lots (ie- tracks).

Adventure Cycling maps:  Not essential, but I love these.  They take some of the exasperation out of touring, allowing you to slightly mindlessly enjoy the tour.  Not too mindlessly; missing a turn puts some of the exasperation back in.

Camera: essential.  How will you remember all those lovely people and vistas.  The iPhone is only an adequate camera.  The best shots were taken with a point and shoot.  Left my beloved digital SLR behind. The self timer took most of our group shots while the camera was balanced in on my bike seat.  Notice my bike is not usually in the photo in a group shot.
Update: will use the phone on the next trip.  Some apps allow you to adjust things like the aperture.
*update- weight weenie- I stopped carrying the camera and use the phone.

Wet wipes: not essential.  Face it, your hands are going to be dirty. Use the grass to remove most grease.  Carry a classic bandana to use as a napkin/whatever. Some of the group members carry disposable vinyl gloves for mechanical work. Cotton gloves work well, too.

Pedal wrench:  not essential, if you can get your hands on that little adjustable crescent wrench, but a pedal wrench does the job better.

Lock: essential.  We did some things where we had to leave the bikes unattended.  I would hate to come out to find the bike missing.  We got to go to a roller derby because we could lock the bikes.  Who would have wanted to miss an opportunity like that? In the Netherlands I used a cable plus a u-lock because of the high incidence of theft in Amsterdam.

Sandals: essential.  The one time without, I ended up with athlete's foot, which I battled for the rest of the trip. Good for the shower or when your shoes needed to dry. The Keen sandals are lined with neoprene, which takes a loooonnnngggg time to dry.
*update- I bought Teva paddling sneakers/shoes.  Water runs right out and my feet were warm enough, esp with wool socks.  I wore these without socks on really hot days. Bonus- they are designed to be wearable while standing on/folding down the back of the shoe, making it easy to slip them on to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Gore Rain Pants- hardly ever wore, but when it was really cold, if it had rained I might have been doomed without them. Also wore them to bed when it was really freakin' cold.
ultra-sil sea to summit packable backpack
CC BY biketrekker
Update:  When I need wind protection, I use my J&G pants, which are no longer waterproof.  When I need rain, I use the gore. 2 years and no failure, yet.

Bag Balm- this is what farmers use on the cow teats when they get irritated- great stuff, essential if you get irritated : )

Sea to Summit Ulta-Sil Packable Backpack- I bought this in 2013 in Helena (I think).  I have carried it in my panniers, packs and purse (yes, I know.  Believe it or not, I occasionally carry a purse). This has held up amazingly well, carrying 2 half gallon bottles of milk and other groceries.  The straps are not padded, there is no waist strap, but this is an exceptional item for a just in case.  It worked really well when I was carrying no pack and wanted to stop and pick up groceries on tour or around town. You can see the coating is starting to wear off on the top edge of the draw string part, but this has no bearing on its performance. The seams and hems have held up very well.

Osprey Radial 34 backpack review/reflections- commuter pack
  • Water bottle/side pockets- don’t hold tall bottle at all, secondary internal pocket in one of the side pockets interferes with the pocket’s usability, zippers require two hands to close, making it unlikely I will store my wallet or phone there. If there was a loop or something to hold onto while zipping, two handed closing would be easier.
  • Small front pocket is too small- would like it to hold my phone and wallet, key clasp is not purposeful, since it doesn’t keep keys from falling to the bottom of this tiny pocket
  • Second pocket back- too deep, items fall to bottom, which takes up space in the next pocket back- suggest it is shallower
  • not enough pen slots (which I use for other things, like a spoon, sharpie, mat knife
  • Third pocket back- document pouch is too tight: when laptop is in rear compartment, documents can’t be loaded or removed from this pouch. Also, the reinforcing tape for the mesh pockets on the other side of the divider obstruct documents from sliding easily down. I solved this by inserting a piece of cardstock, so documents now slide in easily.  This really should not be necessary.
  • The handle on the top- should be black, because my hands are often dirty and this shows clearly on the bright green-
  • The helmet clasp- the idea is great, but the shock cord is too short and rather cumbersome.
  • Make it lighter in weight

elements I really like/love:
  • the pull tabs are the best I have ever seen
  • bright green color is very visible and seems to make an impact on drivers
  • blinky clip strip is excellent and should be found on every pack everywhere
  • The double pocket in the far back (when accessing the pack) has two compartments- great since I carry both a laptop and ipad on my commute
  • Second pocket has a diagonal topped slot in which I keep my glasses- they don’t fall out, but come easily when fetched
  • rain cover attached and pocketed- invaluable

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