Notes on bike and gear - Over the hills and far away - CycleBlaze

Notes on bike and gear

1)         My bike is a Thorn Raven with a Rohloff hub.  I bought it in 2014.  I named it “Osibisa”, my homage to the U.K.-Ghanaian band of the same name, and its anthemic Woyaya song.  The short form is “Osi”, or if I’m feeling in need of some Brazilian flair, “Osinho”.

The report on Osi’s behaviour on tour is brief and comforting:  no problems with the bike. 

I did find a problem with my rear wheel after I reached home, a series of micro-cracks between several spoke holes on the non-drive side of my rear rim.  The rim was a Mavic XM719, part of my original spec for the bike. It and its front-wheel mate are mid-weight rims, 475 gms each.  I thought the lighter weight might have been the reason for the damage, and ordered as a replacement a Velo Orange Escapade, with a more conventional touring weight of 550 gms.  Nikki, a mechanic at my LBS, built the Escapade, however, and she reckons the problem with the Mavic may have been an incorrect lacing pattern.  In any case, the Escapade has given me no problems since being installed in September 2016. (Note: This journal is being edited in December 2018.)

Chainring/sprocket ratio:  In 2015, I changed from the original spec of a 38T chainring x 17T sprocket, to a 36 x 17.   That lowered the gearing by about 5%, with a first-gear ratio of 15.4 gear-inches.  That let me climb all the high passes I encountered, using 1st gear on just 4 of them.  With the larger 38T ring, those climbs would have been noticeably more difficult.

Brakes:  There was no adjustment needed on tour, nor any significant wear on the Koolstop salmon brake pads.

Tires:  I run 26 x 1.6 Schwalbe Marathon Supremes on Osi.  As a precaution, I fitted two new tires for the tour, carrying as backup a used one with about 3,000 kms on it.  The Supremes gave no problems at all, and I pumped up the pressures (60-62 PSI rear, 55-58 front) just a couple of times.  The sidewall cuts that I had encountered on a tour of Scandinavia and northern Germany in 2014 appear to have been just bad luck.

Electronics: My setup of a SON28 dynahub + Sinewave charger + Anker 5200 mAh cache battery worked flawlessly.  On the Icefields Parkway, the Anker recharged Andrew's Samsung tablet from 15% to 80% in 20 minutes.  My regular practice of recharging my camera, lights, and phone at night as needed worked without any problem.

Osi as conversation piece:  Other cyclists showed quite a bit of interest in the bike, and especially the Rohloff.  Some of that appears in the journal.  A few other examples:

  • At the Glacier Cyclery in Whitefish, the resident elder of a group of six West-to-East cross-country riders was keen to hear of my experience with the Rohloff.  He was knowledgeable about the hubs, and was particularly interested to know if I had considered a Gates carbon belt.  I said I hadn’t, party because Thorn was not offering that option when I was researching my bike, partly because I wasn’t sure about a built-in break in the seat stay (to allow the belt to be changed); but basically, because I wasn’t convinced that chain maintenance was enough of a problem to warrant a new technology.  The main reason for that is my experience with the Hebie Chainglider—I rarely think about my chain during a riding season, except to check the adjustment halfway through, in mid-summer.
  • At the Smallwood Farms café-winery-and-fruit-stand extraordinaire, at the foot of Loup Loup Pass, I met John, from a small town some miles further west. He and his wife are touring cyclists, having done both a W-to-E crossing of the US and a N-to-S tour to Central America. On this day, though, he was riding his BMW F-series 800cc twin, and we chatted about motorcycle touring as well. I mentioned my transcontinental ride a few summers before on my old-but-still-sound 800cc airhead, and nodding, he said they really were wonderful machines. We share an appreciation of the quality of German engineering—not surprisingly, he knew about and was intrigued by the Rohloff.  He asked about my experience with it, because he was considering installing the hub on one of his bikes.
  • Kurt, my host at Winthrop in the Methow Valley, is a keen road cyclist, and he and Susan run a tandem as well.  Kurt was especially interested in my camping gear, and its weight.  I had the opportunity to weigh what I was carrying before my ascent of Washington Pass, and it totalled 56 lbs, with food and water. (!!)  (On the other hand, I weighed myself, and I was just over 176 lbs, without my cycling shoes—nearly 10 lbs less than my usual summer weight.  Amazing what high passes will do.)

2)         My gear weighed around 45 lbs in total, with bags, spares and tools included, but not food and water.  A few notes on the main elements:

Camping equipment

In 2015 I invested in a few major pieces of lightweight equipment:  a TarpTent Moment DW one-person tent; a Western Mountaineering zero degrees lightweight down sleeping bag, and a Thermarest Neo-Air Extralite mattress.  Taken together, these have saved me about 4-5 lbs of weight by comparison with the items they replaced.  Just as important, however, they are much less bulky. They fit nicely into smaller (32-ltr) and lighter Arkel Dolphin waterproof rear panniers, which in turn weigh almost a kilo less than the 42-ltr panniers they replace.

The new kit worked very well on this tour.  The TarpTent is the most spacious one-person tent I’ve ever used.  It’s light, well ventilated, and kept me dry on the few occasions it rained at night. In a 20-ltr Outdoor Research bag, it fits neatly on my rear rack, held in place by a couple of Rok-straps.

I purchased an additional nose-to-tail crossing pole for the tent, and found this very useful.  The pole makes the tent effectively self-standing, and this helped to counteract the packed and/or gravelly soil in several campsites, which was very resistant to pegs.  The extra weight (6 oz) is nominal, given that the standard tent is only a kilo (34 oz.)

The bag and mattress did everything they were supposed to, with no problems at all.

No hesitation in recommending all of these items.

The light weight of tent-bag-mattress-panniers allowed me to take along a 6’ x 8’ siltarp, an item I usually carry in the tent's stuff sack.  As it happened, it was less valuable than it usually is:  I had only a couple of rainstorms at night, and on both occasions I had decided not to rig the tarp, because the evening was fine when I went to sleep.  (OTOH, on the occasions I did rig the tarp, it did its job, and no rain fell.)


I used two cycling jerseys made by Ground Effect in New Zealand.  One is a two-layer “Berglar” shirt with merino on the inside and polyester on the outside.  It breathes and wicks moisture very well, and is more durable than pure merino.  It works best (for me) in temps up to 25 degrees or so (77F). The second jersey is a lighter-weight “Rock Lobster” shirt, made of treated polyester, GE’s own fabric design.  I used this for temps above 25.  I can highly recommend both.

My rainwear did the necessary when I had to ride in the rain.  I use a MEC Derecho jacket, along with MEC Adanac tights on which I have sealed the seams; Sugoi booties; a pair of old North Face mountaineering gore-tex overgloves; and a MEC helmet rain cover.  All this, plus a couple of stretchy muffs/scarves, also kept me warm on the long downhill from the summit of Sherman Pass. 

The only conditions I faced where my rain gear didn’t work so well, were the Scottish weather (cool-to-cold, windy, with spitting rain) I met on the climb up Sunwapta Pass to the Icefields Centre from the northern (Jasper) side.  The weather was damp on the outside, and working hard, I was also sweaty on the inside.  The Derecho jacket is well vented, but not for the first time in the years I've had it, I couldn’t find the right balance of protection against wind-cold-wet, while getting enough ventilation. Maybe it’s not possible, and I just have to get used to doing what I did: get soaked on the way up, and then stop and change into a dry jersey (two, actually—a merino base layer and the heavier-weight GE shirt.)  A 2018 PS: Ground Effect offers a high-end breathable rain jacket which is substantially lighter and more compact than my MEC Derecho gear.  I may get one of those before my next long tour in rainy-and-cool conditions.

My old NF gloves did the necessary, but I’d prefer something less bulky and a bit lighter.  I’ve never found just the right gloves for wet-and-cold weather, but Andrew, my Kiwi riding buddy on the Icefields Parkway, said that the discounted Sealskinz gloves he bought in Jasper worked very well (as did his Sealskinz socks.)  I have had indifferent experience with Sealskinz socks in the past, but on my return to Ottawa, I also bought a pair of Sealskinz gloves at a discount.  Initial use suggests they may become a regular part of my kit. (2018 footnote:  These gloves work well enough for cool weather and/or brief showers, but don’t protect against rain.  For more serious weather, I'll stick with the NF overgloves.)

My raingear lives in my Revelate Tangle frame bag (Lg size), along with my Click-stand. The Revelate bag is very well made, waterproof, and swallows the gear I put into it.

Cookware:    The only noteworthy item here is very noteworthy indeed:  John and Shirley, my campsite mates in St Mary, MT, recommended I buy some Heet to fix my problem of sooty residue from the alcohol I had been burning.  I did and it did.  Brilliant stuff, it burns hot and clean, so I bought some more and brought it back home.  I’ll experiment in the summer with standard gas-line antifreeze bought from Canadian Tire, but in the meantime, I have a year’s supply of Heet.  Highly recommended, and thanks again, John and Shirley.

3)        Electronics:  The sorry tale of the Tracfone

As described in the journal, in early July I bought a simple LG clamshell Tracfone in Whitefish, MT, so that I could phone home regularly to my nearest and dearest, not so nearby in Ottawa, Canada.  Tracfone proclaims that the users of this phone can phone and text anywhere in the U.S., and anywhere in the world.

I was never able to phone home with the phone I bought.  Tracfone’s system required me to wait two days after activation for the system to settle, or bed in, or whatever the digital equivalent may be.  I was able to ring and text numbers in the US immediately, so in Whitefish I called my brother-in-law in Colorado, to tell him that I was OK, and to ask him to kindly relay that message to Marcia on the other side of the continent, which he did.  (That was helpful indeed, as she had just heard a CBC report  that a cyclist had been killed by a grizzly bear in Glacier NP.  That was a sad story: an off-duty State Trooper was mountain biking with a buddy, came around a corner on an upland trail, and ran into a grizzly.  The impact threw him off the bike, and the grizzly took exception to being crashed into, with predictably dire results.)  

That was as good as it got for me with Tracfone.  Maybe the phone could call to Canada and around the world, but Tracfone's network, such as it is, cannot.  Tracfone sent a barrage of unwanted text messages into my phone reminding me that at my fingertips I now had Tracfone's global reach to any country in the world ('cept for a few rogue entities, the list of which thankfully excluded Canada).  Lucky me!--all I had to do was to ring this 800 number and follow the prompts, and it would all be so wonderful. Except that I did and it wasn't.  Ever.

All I ever got instead was a bunch of indecipherable error codes.  I gave up, cursed myself for letting myself be fooled as I had been once before in the summer of 2013, and resorted to regular phone calls and texts to Bob in Colorado.  That, and keeping a sharp eye for payphones -- of which I learned there are still a few here and there, expensive though they are.

There was one last PS to the whole sorry business.  Near the end of my tour in Everett, WA, I had some time on my hands, so decided to ring Tracfone’s help desk to explain my problem and maybe, just maybe, I could ring home to Ottawa as advertised.

I spoke with a tech guy on the help desk, and said that I had bought the phone because it would let me ring or send text messages to my family in Canada.  He said, yes, that phone could do that.  I explained that I had tried many times, and received only error codes, whose numbers I gave to him.  Ah, he said, you need the international calling card.  I said that nowhere in Tracfone’s advertising, nor its text messages to my phone, is there any mention of an international calling card, either required or available.  He said I had to have one if I wanted to call home.  OK, sez I, still sceptical, how much is it?  Ten dollars, he said.  OK, I said, reluctantly, I’ll buy one.

Nope, that didn’t work either.  Maybe the calling card would have worked, but I don’t know—because Tracfone was unable to accept my Mastercard credit card for the $10 calling card.  We tried three times, and each time the system wouldn’t accept my card.  Two weeks earlier, I had been able to buy the phone and extra time with my Mastercard, but that was then, and this was now.  Exasperated, I said to just forget the whole thing.  And by the way—this problem, caused by Tracfone being unwilling or unable to do what it promised it would, had now used up almost all of the extra minutes which I had purchased when I bought the phone, so would Tracfone kindly restore those minutes so that I could at least call people in the U.S.?   No, Tracfone wouldn’t: the help desk—the soi-disant help desk, from the point of view of this now-boiling-over customer—did not have the authority to do that.  I hung up, having lost my cool, and worse, 30 minutes or so of my life. Forever.

Never. Again. Will. I. Buy. Anything. From. Tracfone.  I know, I know –- fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.  I described my experience to a guy I met at my campsite in Langley.  He shrugged and said, “Yeah, in my experience that’s pretty much standard behaviour for telecoms.”

(Derek, BTW, the merchant in Whitefish, was honest and straightforward. He listened carefully to what I said I wanted to do with a simple cellphone, and showed me what Tracfone said it offered.)

'Nuff said.  You have been warned.

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