Kit

Touring by tandem presents some significant problems in luggage capacity compared to using two solo bikes as you effectively have the same number of panniers and bags as one bike but need to carry enough for two people.

Some people try to overcome this by using a trailer but this then makes an already long vehicle even longer and increases the number of moving and rolling parts that could go wrong. We prefer the simplicity of keeping everything on the bike which means that we need to pack light. Very light.

“Don’t pack what you could do with, pack only what you can’t do without.”

Here we list some of the major bits of kit that we will take out on the trip, but we’ll also include reviews of some bits and pieces in the blog as we go.

The Bike

We bought our Thorn Discovery tandem second hand after it had already been used by its previous owners for several trips around Europe. It was chosen mainly as it had S&S couplings which have already proved invaluable for getting the bike onto trains in Italy, the States and Wales as well as into various hotel lifts and into cars. We also wanted a sturdy steel frame and the Thorn is constructed using oversize Reynolds 531 tandem specific tubing. It is very unlikely to break but if it does then it can be welded. The other deciding factor was that the Thorn comes with 26” wheels. Although these don’t look as good as a 700c machine, nor do they roll as well, it is a much more universal size around the world so spares should be easier to find. Both front and back use 48h ceramic rims which make for super strong wheels and show absolutely no sign of wear despite several 1000km use already (they do munch through brake pads more quickly though).

If a Rohloff hub gear equipped bike had been for sale at the same time then we may well have gone for that but so far running a standard derailleur gear system has proved reasonably reliable, apart from breaking chains. We seem to break a chain at least once on every trip we’ve been on so far! The search continues to find a 9-speed chain that can handle the abuse of a fully laden tandem but in the meantime we’ll always carry a spare along with some quicklinks.

Aberdeen Station
Bike in 2 Bits at Aberdeen Station

We’d like to thank Roll for the Soul in Bristol and Paligap for their help in sourcing a lot of the spares and replacement parts for the bike.

Saddles

DSC01854

 

Brooks B17, of course. The saddle of choice for the vast majority of cycle tourists and for good reason. Keep them dry, use the proofide sparingly, don’t over tighten the tensioning screw and be patient during the breaking in period and these saddles will become the most comfortable perch you’ll ever sit on.

Panniers

Ortlieb roll tops are by far and away the most common panniers we have seen on our travels so far. They are simple, durable, full waterproof, very well made and can accommodate various sized loads by rolling the top down as far as you need to.

We choose to use Vaude Aquabacks instead. They are very similar in design to the Ortliebs and with the same benefits but with the addition of a stiff backplate that makes them more secure on the bike and more robust when being chucked around a campsite, internal pockets for keeping small things separated and, to our minds, a better strap and buckle system. However it’s as much personal preference as anything else between Ortlieb and Vaude and I suspect most people wouldn’t go far wrong with either.

UPDATE: In Thessaoniki we added a Medium Ortlieb Rack Bag. This gives us more capacity for food and water when we need to carry a few days of supplies. It integrates really well with the Vaude panniers along with a couple of bungies for security and gives easy access to our biscuits.

The posh new bıscuit carrier

Tent

After the bike, this is our most important piece of kit and one that has been deliberated over for quite some time. As we intend to camp as much as possible our accommodation needs to be built to withstand repeated abuse and all four seasons of weather. Like just about everything else we carry it also needs to be small and light.

We have used a Quechua T3 Ultralight Pro for all of our previous trips and it has proved remarkably robust despite it’s bargain pricetag. It has enough room for 2 people and kit, it’s very quick to pitch yet only weighs 3kg.  However it is starting to show signs of wear so may not survive a longer trip. It’s also a little vulnerable in high winds and heavy rain so we need something more sturdy.

eb-logoWe eventually decided on the Hilleberg Kaitum 3 supplied with help from the outdoors specialists Ellis Brigham. Hilleberg are renowned for building some of the finest expedition tents available and their attention to detail and the quality of the materials and workmanship are second to none.  We really like the design of the Kaitum as it has a good sized porch and entrance at each end of the tent which allows gear to be stored at one end leaving access and shelter for cooking at the other. In hot weather both ends can be opened up to allow a nice breeze through the living quarters but in foul weather the whole thing can be battened down and made cosy.

Our last campiste in Poland
Our last campsite in Poland

At 3.3kg it’s not the lightest tent we considered and it’s nowhere near the cheapest but these compromises appear to be worthwhile to get a very well made and very versatile home from home.

Sleeping Bags and Liners

Warm sleeping bags are very bulky and heavy so at the moment we haven’t got any. We do need to keep warm though so we have a layered sleeping system. The main component is a Thermorest Vela double quilt. This is a down filled quilt that clips onto our mats covering both of us. It weights the same as one sleeping bag, packs very small and is rated to keep you warm down to 7 degrees centigrade. A down filling was the obvious choice so that it could be packed down small and our Exped Telecompression bags help to squeeze as much air out as possible. We are also taking Sea to Summit Thermolite sleeping bag liners that are claimed to add 8 -10°C to the comfort rating of a bag so these get used under the quilt for cold nights or as sheets over the mats on warmer nights. These are also handy used on their own during the much warmer months. If it gets really cold we put on all our clothes and down jackets too! The whole sleep system (quilt, liners and pillows) fits into a single 10l compression bag so its a very compact solution.

UPDATE: After far too many nights wearing everything we own within the Thermolite liners and under the Vela quilt and still being cold we decided to upgrade the quilt. In Istanbul we took delivery of an Enlightened Equipment Acomplice double quilt. Longer, wider and thicker than the Vela it’s rated to -12 degrees C and is amazingly warm. Still only 1.1kg and packs to the size of a single sleeping bag so is ideal for space restricted travelling couples like us.

Sleeping Mats

We have Exped Synmat UL mats to sleep on which are an air filled mattress that includes a synthetic fibre insulation. At 7cm thick they are incredibly comfortable, the pack size of both together is less than one of our old, foam filled mattresses and of course they are very light. In conjunction with the ingenious Schnozzle and one of our sleeping bag compression bags they can be inflated very quickly with no need to use exhausted lungs at the end of a long day. They come with their own puncture repair kit and time will tell how durable they end up being.

We use them with Thermarest chair kits but due to their thickness it takes some manhandling to get them to fit. Exped do make specific chair kits but these are heavier and several times more expensive than the Thermarest version that we already had.

Stove

Another vital bit of kit, we use the ubiquitous MSR Whisperlite International on very long term loan from Marcus’s brother who used it for his own round the world adventure in 1992. Fill it with whatever fuel you can get your hands on (usually petrol) and you’ll have a cup of tea in hand within minutes. Almost indestructible and easily serviced on the road, there’s a good reason these are taken up Everest.

DSC01012 (Medium)

Electrics

Although we want to keep things simple, inevitably there are a few gadgets that we’ll be taking with us and they’ll all need power.

P1020075
The Plug USB charging port running off the dynamo hub

We have two ‘free’ power sources that we can use. At the front of the bike we have a Schmidt SON 28 Klassic dynamo hub coupled to a Tout Terrain Plug 2+ USB charger. The German built SON hub is widely recognised as one of best for touring due to its inherent reliability but regardless of this it’s also the only dynamo hub available that is both rated for tandems and available for 48 spoke rims so we had no other choices. The Plug is a neat device that replaces the stem cap and provides a USB socket for tapping into the power generated by the hub. We liked the integrated design which means it’s very difficult to steal and it includes a module that maximises power output over typical touring speeds (slow). Although we don’t expect to do much night riding we have an Exposure Revo front light that also runs off the hub.

Sitting on the back of the bike is a Powertraveller Powermonkey Extreme solar panel. This happily collects sunlight over the course of the day and tops up a large battery back that can then be drained into whichever gadget is thirsty overnight. The battery pack also gets charged from the mains whenever we’re staying with people, in a café, on a ferry or spot an unattended power socket.

Cameras

We both enjoy capturing our travels on camera and we are very keen to document the trip in pictures. The tandem offers a great opportunity to take in-flight snaps and Kirsty has become adept at using the camera while pedalling so we hope to get some great photos from this unique perspective.

We have a Panasonic Lumix DMC FT5 tough, waterproof yet compact camera that lives in Marcus’ back pocket for Kirsty to use while riding and for simple point and shoot photography then a larger, Sony Alpha 3000 with more manual adjustment features for off the bike shots.

Clothes

With just one pannier each for all our clothes, anything we take needs to be able to justify its place in the bag in several ways: It needs to be light, dry easily, be multipurpose (e.g. useful on and an off the bike) and able to pack down small. Merino fabrics are ideal for bike touring as they tick all these boxes but with the overriding benefit of being (mostly) odour free! For the comfort of each other and everyone we meet this is very important as we may have to go several weeks before seeing a launderette.

Vulpine make some lovely merino cycle tops that don’t look too sporty but have enough useful cycle specific features so have made their way into our panniers.

Icebreaker logoIcebreaker make some the finest merino baselayers available and have kindly supplied a few items for us to use. We use Exped Shrinkbag compression sacks that include a valve to allow you to squeeze everything down very small.

Water Filter

We have 5 water bottle cages on the bike but one of these is used for the fuel bottle. This gives 4 litres of water which doesn’t last long if we are away from a tap when we set up camp. In some countries this won’t be a problem as public toilets and cafes will be in abundance for topping up but in more remote areas we’ll have to collect water where we can from streams, rivers, waterfalls and lakes. To treat the water we’ll be using a Katadyn Mini which is compact and robust but not fast (0.5 litres/minute) so hopefully we won’t need to use it that often. We’ll chuck in some chlorine tablets just in case too.

We’ve also got a 10 litre Ortlieb water bag that again we hope not to have to use all that often if only because it’s an extra 10 kg strapped to the bike when it’s  full!

9 thoughts on “Kit

  1. Go VEGAS!!- you have so much of the kit we used on our 4 year trip. All I can say is – ” do not race “. It took us months to stop doing that on the climbs. Take the photo and ditch it after if it is crap – but do stop and take it. Keep your chain clean and your teeth – floss every day . You are good to go…

    1. Thanks Warren, all great advice as always. I have a good routine of lubing my teeth once a week and scrubbing the chain morning and evening.

  2. Hey Marcus & Kirsty

    We’re both just wondering how you are doing with your sleeping mats, compared to Thermarest? Probably a bit early in the trip, and perhaps another look after the ‘Stans’ might be more appropriate. We have Thermarests but there’s always that ‘falling off’ thing that happens and my knees complain a lot when that happens, not sure the design of your superduper mats would solve that problem but then again perhaps the locking together thing does? Anyways, your thoughts would be good.

    Hope you’re still having reasonable weather; I’m sure we’ll have some more ‘kit’ questions before we head off next year.

    Lynne and Dave

    xx

    1. Hi L&D,
      So the Pros of the Exped Synmat Ultralight are:
      Light – Less than 460g
      Small – Pack to the size of a water bottle which is half the size of our old self inflating mats and of primary importance with our limited luggage space.
      Warm – The r-rating is 2 or 3 times better than a 2.5cm self inflating mat which makes a huge difference, probably more so than a warmer sleeping bag.
      Comfortable – 7cm of squishy softness and you can adjust how hard it is to your own taste.
      Quick to inflate – provided you have a Schnozzle and a compatible Exped compression bag (by lung power it would take ages). About 1 minute per mat with a 40L compression bag.

      Cons:
      Duarbility – as with any ultralight kit it’s going to be less durable so needs more care. One of our mats has begun to delaminate along one of the internal seems which we think has been caused by moisture inside eroding the glue. It can be replaced under warranty but we need the mats every day so can’t send it back! But it’s not a critical failure just yet. The other mat is OK and appears to be from a different batch so we may just be unlucky and have one from an older design. No punctures or problems otherwise so far…

      Slippy – If you are camped on a slight slope then you may end up in a heap at the bottom of the mat or both on one side of the tent.

      The linking kit is great at keeping two mats held together so we recommend getting that. It’s essential for us with our Thermarest Vela double quilt too which is also a fantastic bit of kit for saving space and weight.

      Hope that helps and happy shopping/planning. Keep firing the questions over.

      Weather has been massively variable with wind being our biggest problem for the last week, inevitably in our faces whichever direction we ride but that’s the law of the sod.

  3. Oh Thanks for your wonderful review, we will definitely consider the options you have chosen, although you know what it’s like, when you have ‘kit’ that works reluctant to ditch it until it breaks. Talking of breaking, de-laminating in particular, our friends at http://www.tour.tk had the same problem with their Thermarests and had a number of replacements, no quibbles, but like you say you’re using them all the time so what do you do when the replacement is on the way? The only suggestion is that when you get somewhere nice and you can hold up with family, or friends, and don’t need it for a while – that would be the time. In two years we only stayed one place for 2 weeks (Sucre, Bolivia) because we loved it and we were doing Spanish courses, otherwise it’s fairly continuous isn’t it? In a nice way though. Unless you could use your ‘high profile’ to convince them to post restante you a new one and then send the de-laminated one back once you have the new one? Worth a try, especially if they know it will go on your blog 🙂

    Wind, what can I say, hate, hate, hate it, I recall several times when I was so hacked off at the end of a ride I could have beaten a small child just for smiling at me. Back in the 80’s we were purists, no buses or trains, now we say ‘sod it’ let’s take the bus, it’s a personal thang!

    Dave has started ordering bike parts; now I know we are going next year 🙂

    Back to my Chinese braised pork, with rice and stir fried vegetables. Are you fantasising about food yet?

    Lynne & Dave
    xxx

  4. What is the breakdown of clothing, shoes, rain gear that you carry? I’m headed out for a tandem tour soon and am trying to figure out packing.

    1. Hi Amanda, it depends what climates you’ll encounter as to what you’ll need. We’re traveling through everything from sub zero to over 40 degrees, rain, snow and sun so need to be prepared. On the bike: 2 sets cycling shorts and shirts, arm warmers and tights, 2 long sleeve base layer, waterproof jacket and trousers, light windproof jacket, SPD shoes, buffs. Off the bike: Micro fleece, zip off trousers, t shirt, down jacket, Keen sandles, buffs. We tried to find kit that was merino, packed small and was adaptable for different situations. You don’t need much and you don’t have space for much! Good luck and enjoy.

  5. Hi, thank you for a wonderful site it’s been a real help and fun to read. My question is how do you find using the double sleeping bag in Asia (we’re off to Cambodia / Thailand initially) . Due to flight weight restrictions, I was intending to buy sleeping gear in Bangkok but your bag looks perfect but I wondered if it was too warm for their climate. And finally was Camping in Thailand/Cambodia ever a problem.

    1. Hi Michael, we find out quilts are a great solution if space is an issue as a double quilt is half the size of 2 sleeping bags. In SE Asia we used our summer weight Thwrmarest Vela quilt which was fine. When it was very hot we just slept without anything over us other than a mossie net. Enlightened equipment can make quilts to suit any temperature though so you could order a thin one from them and get something super light.
      We stayed in lots of temples in Thailand and Cambodia but when we did camp we didn’t have any problems, it just took some time to find a suitable patch of land. Cambodia had lots of unused huts by the road so we used them a few times too.
      Glad you’re enjoying the blog and good luck with your own trip!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *