Day 52 +7: Reflections on the Equipment

This blog won’t interest those of you who do not plan to take up bike touring in a serious way, but hopefully will be useful to those who do.   I don’t pretend to be definitive about my equipment choices; many bicyclists spend hours raging in debates on very small technical issues.    However, you do learn something with the rigors of a cross country trip and the benefit of observing experienced riders.

Titanium versus carbon bike frame.   Titanium is more expensive and slightly heavier.   However, Titanium has a number of advantages over carbon; I believe for a ride like this I would invest in a titanium framed bike if you can afford it:

  • Absorbs road stress better.   We spent a lot of time on the side of roads; these are often not well maintained.   In fact, many time you have to ride through these “rumble strips” designed to wake automobile drivers who have dozed off (or are messaging) but which are nightmares for bicyclists.   The bike feels more solid
  • Handle lateral stress better.   Particularly if you are “unsupported” and using panniers, you will need a metal frame.   Carbon frames absorb the stress in the direction intended, but not from unexpected directions (say falling off a bike rack)
  • Breakaway mount for the rear derailleur on carbon.   To avoid damaging the derailleur and the frame, a carbon bike has a breakaway mount that snaps if the bike is in an accident (could be as simple as falling over when pumping the tires).   One guy had two of these.   Each time he missed a day of cycling.  The three titanium bikes have their derailleur attached directly and no problems
  • Certainty after an accident.   With titanium, you will see a bend if the frame is damaged.   With carbon, it may be hidden

Bike helmet.   I just bought a new GIRO Vanquish helmet based on what one of the support team was wearing (It is a more recent version).   I’m really fired up about this thing.    Four advantages:   1)  it has this magnetic visor that can be put in the up or down position.   This means I no longer have to carry sunglasses on my early morning rides; I simply flip down the visor when the sun comes up.   2)  it keeps the water off of my glasses during rain 3) I can wear my bifocals, so I can more easily see both the bike computer and the road 4) it has the new MIPS technology, which is considered a big advance in helmet safety.   It is not proprietary to any one helmet maker — they license it from an institute in Sweden which is developing the technology.

Power meter.   My power meters are embedded in the cranks (Infocrank).   They give both left and right information.   They give you the flexibility to use whatever cleats you want.   They worked well, with only one battery change in the whole trip.   It is still unclear whether my different length pedal arms caused torque differences that disrupted the readings.

If I had to do it all over again, I’d probably get the Garmin Vector 3 pedals.   I had an earlier version (Vector 2) which I didn’t like — they were hard to set up, had this funny gizmo between the pedal and the crank that I could never get attached right; I finally gave up.   Apparently, based on reviews from DC Rainmaker (who is just about every amateur cyclists’ go to person for bicycle equipment reviews)  They fixed all of the problems.   The advantage of the Garmin Vectors are multiple — they can be a bit cheaper as you don’t have to replace your crankset  2) they can move between bikes, so you don’t need multiple power meters  3)  they “talk” in both ANT+ and Bluetooth, which means they will work with a lot of bike computers.

Cleats.   I liked the paper advantages of my Speedplay — easier to adjust, two-sided, look very clean on the bike.   But twice they got dirty (sometimes you end up stepping in mud) and I wasn’t even on mountain bike trails.   At that point, they are basically not usable.   I also find the cleats that attach to the shoe quite fragile — there are a lot of plastic parts that seem to break versus just wear down.    There were times were I really struggled to clip in and out — creating stress on my leg and a safety hazard.   So these are coming off soon.

Bike computer.   I have agonized over this more than almost every other decision.   Get a standalone Garmin unit or use my phone with Wahoo Fitness and Ride with GPS applications enabled.   If I had it to do all over again I would pick the Garmin 1030.    The Ride with GPS application is really top notch — easy to use, easy to read and navigate by, and basically free (I think I paid $9.99).   I was able to download all 48 maps for the trip in one go.   But there were three major problems:  1)  battery life was only 2-3 hours, so I had to buy a heavy battery extender and a little top bar pouch to hold it  2) it just didn’t work well in the rain.   Even though I put it in a waterproof container, it is constantly locking, and I can’t unlock it with a waterlogged fingerprint  3)  the sun burned numbers into my phone screen (its permanent, I’m sure).   The Garmin is not as easy to use — a lot of people spent time in “the wrong mode”; maps had to be downloaded every 10 segments (not enough memory I guess); the screen isn’t as large or clear; the user interface is complicated; the interface with Garmin Connect and Strava takes time to learn.   But it works in the rain, has great battery life, is more rugged and has better interfaces for bike sensors.

One new Garmin product that everyone loved was a new Garmin “radar” which is a rear LED flashing light that detects approcahing automobiles within 150 meters.   The unit alerts you of an approaching car/truck on your Garmin and the intensity of the LED flashing goes up 2-3x.   On roads where you are not expecting cars, having this alert is really useful — maybe you are riding double file and you shift to single file, or maybe you just move over closer to the side.   At a minimum you aren’t taken by surprise.   They’re expensive (almost $200) but the I loved riding behind people who had them because I could also see when a truck was coming without turning around.

Wheels.   I picked wheels that have probably 36 spokes in each; some people seemed to have half of this.   I had no regrets — when you hit a pothole or a rail track or a rumble strip or a large chunk of wood or fall off the side of the shoulder, you do not want any uncertainty that the wheel will hold — particularly screaming down a hill at 50 mph.

Tires.   Everyone had difficulty with flats — 80% seemed to be in the areas with the blown truck radial tires littering the sides of the road.   The tire of choice ended up being Continental Gatorskin — but we saw a lot of flats on these.   My sister’s friend recommended Schwalbe, but there were so many sub-brands that I didn’t know which one to buy.   I just came across this website, which seems to take a good approach:    When you combine puncture resistance (sidewall and tread) and rolling resistance, the top two products were Schwalbe Marathon Almotion and Schwalbe Marathon.   So I will try these next time I go on a long ride.

Tire-changing.   I have a Lezyne pump which I love — it held up under many circumstances.   Very cool design, with a flexible hose hidden inside.   The hose is key to make it easier to get a good angle to pump.   You also have to have a tweezers (to pull out the wires) and tire levers.

Bike components.   I’m basically shifting my drive train to Shimano Ultegra from Shimano Dura Ace.   Ultegra seems to better handle the gear range I need; in addition, mechanics are far more familiar with Ultegra then Dura Ace (and have parts in stock), which is critical when you are not biking in your home town with a familiar bike mechanic.   Two people had problems with side pull brakes that were too close to their tires — when little pebbles got stuck in their tires (which happens whenever we rode on gravel, which was every 3-5 days it seems) they basically couldn’t ride and had to walk their bikes.   Steve R had recommended these fancy center pull breaks (Paul) that worked far better.   Something I didn’t know was important until I saw the problems of others.

Bike bags:   I ended up shifting to the medium-sized Ortlieb saddle bag.   This is a German made bag that worked very well — it held the quantity I needed — two spare tire tubes, tire pump, tire irons, some food, and room for a rain jacket.   It’s easy to get on and off.   It’s secure (you do not want these falling off unexpectedly).   At first I thought the way it “rolled up” a bit awkward, but I later realized it was smart design — I could always keep it tight which means the contents don’t shift around.

Bike carrying case:   I use the Thule Roundtrip Transition.   You need to watch a couple of YouTube videos to figure out how to use it, but after going on at least 5 trips it still looks brand new.   I bought several meters of bubble wrap and just stuff it in between disassembled parts so they don’t move them around – -much easier than trying to tape bubble wrap or insulating phone to key pieces.   The only challenge is some disassembly I required — specifically the seat, the headset/handlebars and the pedals.

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