Some of you, mostly the motorcycle geeks reading this, will be curious about the kit I used on the trip, what worked, and what didn’t.
I laid out the initial batch of it with detailed notes on flickr (click the image to go to flickr and see the notes) There were a number of items added afterwards.
- The iPhone was wicked useful but I had no service, or no data service for so much of the time that the built in map app was useless and I ended up buying the TomTom app since it keeps all its maps locally. The battery life was fairly sucky though, and the video capture is totally useless when mounted to a bike. The vibrations make the picture look like it was shot from within a running front-load washing machine. Listening to audio-books on it rocked, especially when driving through mile after mile of corn and in those hours when the sun has set, so you can’t see anything, but you’re not tired yet.
- The L.L. Bean Microlight Solo tent was superb. So well designed that I was able to put it together in the dark the first time out in the wild. I didn’t end up using it in the rain, but i think setting up, or tearing down, any tent in the rain must suck. At least tearing this one down can be done pretty quickly, and I did do that in strong winds hoping to beat an approaching storm.
- The $2 net from bikebandit.com held everything down but would have been mediocre at best if not for the Carabiners.
- The 5 Carabiners were an excellent addition to the kit. 1 at each of the front corners of the net, plus one one each side to give it a redundant attachment to the saddlebags and to go through the loops at the end of the tent bag and the dry bag, so that even if the net came loose somehow (it didn’t) the things it held down wouldn’t go flying. For a while I put one through the handle of the gas can to attach it to the net but I came up with a different solution later. They also acted as a simple thing to hang my helmet from when I went into some place to eat. I used the locking one for that to make it a bit more difficult for a would-be thief.
- The wind-up flashlight was awesome and surprisingly bright.
- Sea To Summit Evac Dry Sac ( http://www.seatosummit.com/products/display/64 ) I got the 35 liter one and kept my sleeping bag in it. As the trip went on more things started living there too. The clipped loop at the top went through a carabiner to be sure it couldn’t fly off even if I lost my net.
- Spork! I got it because it was neat. It turned out to be totally useful. It’s not obvious from the pics but one of the fork end’s tines has a serrated edge to use as a knife. http://lightmyfireusa.com/spork.html
- Swiss Army Knife. One of those nice fat ones.
- Reusable ear plugs were great. Far better than the foam ones since you don’t have to stand around waiting for them to expand in your ears and then re-attempt if there’s still a gap. I knew this before but using them that frequently really convinces you of the advantage.
- Odwala Bars were great. I wish I could have found more when I finally ran out. Cheap, not overly sweet, and I liked most of the flavors.
- Medium bicycle hand-pump was excellent. About 20 pumps per pound of air pressure. I rarely had to put in more than a few pounds per tire. Don’t forget that air expands as you go up in altitude. Was letting air out as I approached Colorado, then putting it back in as I made my way from it.
- Fieldsheer Highland II suit. I thought I’d boil in it. Most of the time though, even in 80+ degree weather, I had it zipped up all the way with just the air vents open. In Wyoming i even put in the winter liner. It was about 53 degrees and I was riding through the bowels of a cloud at 70+Mph. Only real complaint was that the left knee pad on mine is positioned too far to the right so it wouldn’t really help me in a crash. http://weblog.masukomi.org/2008/05/03/fieldsheer-highland-ii-review
- The CamelBak Mule NV was excellent. The built in rain-cover worked perfectly and having the water on my back available whenever I felt like it made an amazing difference. It was also really nice to be able to reach over and grab the tube to get a drink of water from it in the middle of the night. I did have some complaints related to it on the trip but they weren’t really failings of the Camelback. The discomfort was more due to bike ergonomics, personal muscle weirdness, and the weight of the water but there’s nothing you can do about water weighing what it weighs. A camelback tank-bag would be awesome. I’ve only seen one (knock-off brand) and it didn’t look good.
- Zip-lock disposable tupperware thing (sandwich sized). I’d stick my leftovers in this, and throw them in my CamelBak. Don’t think I bought dinner once the entire trip thanks to this.
- Scala Rider Q2. It took a lot of fiddling over many days before I finally got the speakers exactly against my ears but once I finally did it was excellent. You’d have that problem with any set though. I played mp3s through it with the bluetooth paired to my phone and in standby for 3 full days (8-10 hours each) of riding on one charge and it still had juice. People seem to be able to understand me just fine on it when they call, although they seem oddly reluctant to call me if they know I’m on the bike, which is sad. I would have liked to hear from them.
- Pamprin. Nothing kills headaches better. Although staying hydrated meant headaches really weren’t a problem. Pretty much only needed it when suffering from altitude sickness as I came in to Colorado.
- REI sleeping bag. it was rated for 35 degrees Fahrenheit but, sleeping naked in it, I got chilly, but not cold, in the mid forties and low fifties. I wish there was some standard way sleeping-bag temperatures were rated. I wouldn’t have been chilly if i was wearing anything though. On warm nights it was a bit too much and I ended up oscillating between too hot and too cool, trying to figure out just how much of your body to leave exposed to balance out the heat from the covered bits, which was complicated by not having a pad under it which limited the number of comfortable positions.
- The Tour Master boot covers worked great, but I lost one, bought a replacement pair, and then found the one I thought I’d lost.
Things I never used but was glad to have:
- Tire repair kit.
- Small roll of Duct Tape
- First Aid kit. I’ll be replacing it with a soft bag next time though. The hard plastic was obnoxiously inflexible when I needed to shove it in or pull it out of my bags to get to other things.
- Jumper cables
Things I’m unsure about the value of:
- Tie Downs. http://www.bikebandit.com/bikebandit-com-premium-tie-downs-with-soft-tie-loop-pair Theoretically these would have been useful if I’d needed to throw it into someone’s truck bed, or maybe if it fell down a big ditch or got stuck somehow I could have attached them to the bike and a tree and used the little ratchet to help pull it up. Theoretically…
- The moleskines got soaked. New rule: all paper products must live in a dry bag. Even so, I tended to not stop riding until sunset so I didn’t really have any time to use them before it was dark.
- More than 2 changes of clothes. The extra socks were great, but I think I enjoy fresh socks more than most. Really though I only wore 2 shirts the whole time because I was smelly anyway and it’s not like anyone saw i’d been wearing the same shirt for a week. If I got a chance to shower at night I’d just wear the one i had on and soap it up and rinse it out before taking it off and cleaning me. Leave it to dry for morning. The drying by morning didn’t always pan out.
- iPhone RAM mount. I got it thinking i’d take video while driving. As mentioned the vibrations made that unworkable (not the mount’s fault). It’s decent if you’re going to use your iphone as a GPS but if you do that you better have somewhere to plug in the phone. Plus you can’t work an iPhone with gloves on, and you don’t want to leave it there if it’s raining. Mostly, I didn’t use the mount and just kept the phone in my pocket so there wasn’t a cord going out between me and the bike. The mount was well made but ultimately kind-of useless for an iPhone. Maybe I’ll get a camera base for it instead.
- Winter Gloves. I thought I might need them in the rockies. I never used them. I guess it depends where you’re going and when.
Things I wish I’d had:
- One of those helmets with a clear visor but a slide-up tinted layer. A couple times I ended up riding past sunset and it just wasn’t worth digging out the clear visor and swapping it so I just rode with the tinted visor opened up. Or, maybe a dual-sport helmet with one of those over-hanging sun-visors that dirt-bike helmets all have.
- Somewhere on the bike to plug in the phone.
- A real GPS system. TomTom Rider or, better yet, Garmin Zumo.
- Somewhere on the bike to plug in a gps.
- V.O.I. POV Helmet Camera. http://www.vio-pov.com/ I am definitely getting one for my next adventure. I think it’s the only good camera like it with an audio-in so you can have a real mic instead of just recording wind-noise like most of them do.
- One of those rolls of foam padding for under your sleeping bag. Or, better yet, one of those ones that folds into a 3D rectangle and has an egg-carton like texture. Definitely getting one of those for next time too. Sometimes the ground is freaking uncomfortable. I don’t trust air mattress and you’d waste time filling and emptying them every day
- zip-ties. I didn’t end up needing them but I think they’d be a really good thing to have.
- A companion.
Things that didn’t work:
- Fieldsheer Expander Saddlebags. There weren’t many options that would work on my bike. These sagged a little farther every day and let everything in them get damp. The rain covers are a joke. They will try and fly off at the first opportunity. The stitching along the main zipper started to come undone on one of them after a few days, and that was the side with less stuff in it. The way the zipper opens is really annoying because it well… doesn’t really. I mean, the zipper works, and there’s an opening, but it’s like trying to pack a suitcase through the end of a manilla envelope. Also, it’s not at all obvious what they expect you to do with some of the pieces it comes with, they don’t provide a manual, and when I e-mailed them the pdf manual they sent me was only semi-helpful. Also, it was missing one rain-cover when it came from the factory, which turned out to be not much of a loss since they don’t want to stay on anyway. Fieldsheer did end up sending me a replacement for the missing one though. So, yay customer service. Also, while it was easy to lock them to my bike via a bicycle cable-lock, and I rarely needed to take them off, I never felt my belongings were really safe from prying hands (not that there were any). Next time I’m going with aluminum panniers. It just wasn’t an option on this bike though. To be honest, the saddlebags didn’t suck. They were mediocre. If I had to use them again I’d put down a piece of hard plastic across the bottom to keep them from sagging in the middle.
- Trailer Life Directory RV Road Atlas. The map indicates what towns have campgrounds / rv parks near them, but then you have to go to the index in the back to see what’s there, and there’s no phone number, address or anything else for any of them. So, you know they’re around there somewhere but that’s about it. Without the iPhone to look them up i’d have been screwed. Also, pages started falling out the second time I opened it, in the end I decided that was a good thing because I just started ripping out the page(s) for the current day’s state(s) in the morning. And it is unexpectedly huge. God what a piece of crap.
- Energizer Energi to go iPod charger. Totally useless piece of crap. Maybe it works better on iPods, but it’s crap with an iPhone 3Gs. It would charge for a minute, then the voltage seemed to fluctuate and the phone would claim it was incompatible, then it would charge, then it wouldn’t. Each time it switched to wouldn’t it would wake the phone and waste it’s battery. It drained more power than it gave. Only worked well once.
- The Aerostar GP Plus gloves stayed at home, and I’m about to put them on Craigslist. I thought they’d become more comfortable once I broke them in, and while they did slightly, they were never comfortable enough for a long ride. Instead I went with my no-name “Backup Gloves” which are just leather, some foam padding across the knuckles and kevlar across the palm. They’re no good at dampening vibration, and after riding through the pouring rain I was able to clench my fists and watch a stream of water squeeze forth from each one.
- Unable to find some overgloves I got a pair of Joe Rocket Ballistic 6.0 waterproof gloves which I ended up hating. They had an inner glove that was essentially free floating and would bunch up at the finger tips, and make it hard to get your fingers to slide into the right holes when putting it on, and a nightmare if your hands were already damp. To make matters worse, they only kept me mostly dry. My hands still ended up feeling slightly damp.
- Aerostar GP Plus gloves. Too uncomfortable. Left them at home
- Knox Gilete Air back protector. Too bulky. Would have been a pain in the butt, hot, and unpackable. Went with the CE back armor built into my suit instead.
Things I’ll do differently next time:
- Two Piece suit instead of a one piece. I’m thinking about the Aerostitch Darien.
- Metal Panniers instead of textile.
- More waterproofing (dry sacks inside the panniers probably).
- Take the time to wire in some sort of power outlet if the bike doesn’t have one.
- Get a Garmin GPS.
- Get a different bike.
- Get a better map.
- Get better gloves (and some waterproof overgloves).
- Find a bigger challenge. Africa’s looking better by the day.
- Find a companion… I hope.
Curious about what worked and what didn’t in my trip from Boston to the southern tip of South America? We put together a huge gear review after that trip too.