Bikes & camping gear

Cycle Touring Vancouver Island

People are very interested in bikes, biking gear and camping gear for cycle touring. So, I've shared a little info on what I've used, and my experiences over the years - what has worked for me, and not worked. Over a lot of tours in a lot of places, I've gone through a whole bunch of lessons learned.

 

The sharp-eyed may note from the photos that none of the bikes have clip-in pedals. I rode with clip-ins for some years, but eventually concluded I preferred platform pedals, which have gotten really grippy in recent years. I'm an outlier here. There's a bunch of reasons for this, but it's a much debated (sometimes passionately) issue that's best left to another time and place.  

I have not included my Trek Domane carbon road bike here, as I don't really use it for cycle touring (although I do occasional lightweight highway overnighters). But I do want to note it here, so I don't hurt its feelings.

Cycle touring NE Madagascar | Jeff Bock touring bike | river crossing in canoe

My first really good touring bike, a Jeff Bock (senior Rivendell builder - see more below). Crossing one of many rivers in a local canoe, making my way down the wild NE coast of Madagascar. I still use this for some trips, including my Iran tour a few years past.

I started bike touring close to 20 years past, after I came back from my years working overseas. My first serious bike was a Trek 520, which I took on rides up to the Yukon & Northwest Territories. But the 520 didn't hold onto me (particularly the geometry) as I got more serious and experienced.

 

See links below to pages on my touring bikes. I still have dreams about one or 2 further additions. My latest bike, a 29" Surly ECR Bikepacker on plus sized tires, has had some unexpected impacts on my thinking, on several levels (read more in the ECR page linked below).

Right after the bikes, there's a page on my experience with Garmin GPS devices, and some background on GPX track file sharing - which is available for tracks for all Fav backroads rides.

And check out the page on my assessment of some key camping gear - tents, stoves, water purifiers, keeping warm, etc.  I estimate I've spent well over 500 nights out camping over the past 20 years, most of it on Vancouver Island & the Sunshine Coast. I've had some pretty good gear failures and successes. The last camping page, 'Staying dry & warm', also talks a little about staying dry & warm while on the bike (dream on...).

At the bottom of this page, below the page links below, I talk about a few key bike parts and brands that have really worked for me when touring. 

Bike & camping gear - discussions

Below is a guide to the other pages in this 'My bikes & gear' section. Click on the pics to jump to the pages.  

I liked that it was steel & could take fatter tires (though not so fat as I've grown to like). I still keep this bike going for certain rides. I've put 28c tires on and use it mostly for loaded paved road rides, such as down the Island to visit parents. The components are average (Brooks saddle & Schwalbe tires aside), V brakes, rings set up for good roads (nothing too steep), and a bike stand. Tubus low rider front racks with Surly platform rear rack. I wish it had disc brakes, but not a big issue.  The LHT is reliable, a bike I would consider taking on a ride across Canada.

Jeff Bock was a frame builder for Rivendell Cycles. I've taken this custom build on great rides, including the Dempster, Karakorum & Pamir Highways. It's a drop bar tourer (usually). Custom Robert Beckman racks. High end componentry. I eventually decided to get my Thorn, as this bike only goes up to 1.75" tires. I still take this old fav out for some rides - primarily on decent roads where one must be prepared for rough stuff. 

Photo - bike on a break in Georgia (former USSR republic)

For long years, this was my go-to ride - and still is, for certain rides. I expect to use it for years to come on longer rides where I need to carry more gear, or might be flying regional airlines where the S&S coupling occasionallyreally help. I love the Rohloff hub, and this baby also has a Schmidt dynohub (with USB phone recharger). The bike is bloody tough and just sucks up abuse (though heavy).  Surly front rack, Thorn rear rack.

Photo - 5 day trek & donkey ride for bike & gear in high altitude Ladakh

I've had my new ECR (bought early 2017) out on lots of rides now. I'm enjoying it tremendously and just love the rough stuff. I have trouble fitting all my gear into a bikepacking bag setup on longer or winter rides, so set up traditional racks during winter. I even think of using this bike on good roads, but the relatively low bottom bracket might be an issue with lesser diameters tires, if I then head out on rough stuff.  Default tires are cushiony 3"+, though I do most rides on some Surly Extra Terrestrials 2.5", which manage a mix of pavement & rough very nicely. Lots of fun!

GPS devices have great value for all cycle touring. But for those going on remote rides out into BC's backroads wilderness, they are also an essential navigation and safety tool. The first part off this page shares my experience with Garmin GPS devices.

The site will share GPX track files with site visitors who are planning to tackle remote rides. The 2nd part of this page discusses different types of GPS ride file formats, and gives instructions for using GPX files I share.

I started long ago with MEC panniers, then Jannd, Arkel, & finally Ortlieb, which I've stuck with for long years now. Coming from BC, waterproof just makes sense. They're also durable & have more capacity than they are rated for.  For my ECR bikepacker, I've got a Surly Revelate frame bag, Revelate harness, salty roll, pocket, & jerry can. Nuclear Sunrise feeder bags, J-paks gas tank, Ortlieb seatbag, and Salsa Anything cages & dry bags.  

Photo - Night time along the Karakorum Hwy. Jeff Bock bike, Hubba tent & Arkel panniers

Over many long years, I've tried a lot of gear and learned a lot of lessons. This page looks at some criteria to consider when choosing a tent, and shares some info & pics of tents I've been using in recent years.

Photo - Hilleberg Rogen tent, dusk, 14,000+m at Pensi La Pass into remote Zanskar Valley, Ladakh, North India

This page continues discussing some camping approaches and gear. It's centred around 3 matters: camping stoves, water purification and how to stay dry & warm. The last section also considers staying warm & dry when on the bike.

 

See my MSR XGK camping stove at the front of the tent in this pic. This is off the Karakorum Highway from west China into north Pakistan. I remember this night well, as the wind sounded almost like a banshee as it whistled about

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Let me finish off this page with some thoughts on a few bike things I particularly like and have come to rely upon.  

  • I'm a huge fan of Brooks leather saddles, though one does have to break them in. 

  • For years, after some painful lessons, I've come to rely on Schwalbe tires, particularly their touring lines with high levels of puncture protection. There's a modest weight trade off here, as that protection comes in part from extra rubber. If you meet other cycle tourists in remote corners of the world, odds are they may be using Schwalbe tires.

    • Update here - Schwalbe does not make good 29+ ("fat") tires yet, so I need to find the best 29"+ (2.5" or 3") tires for backroads touring on my ECR. I'm trialing some Surly 2.5" Extra Terrestrials, with a good impression

  • I use both flat bars and drop bars, depending on the bike and the ride. Given my increasing focus on rougher road riding, I've been using flat bars most often in recent years. I use bar ends with flat bars, to give an extra hand position. I also use Ergon grips, which give you one extra position for resting the heel of your hands.

    • Another update: my new ECR has Jones 'H Bars' which have a real back sweep to the design - and I'm loving them. I've put Ergon grips on. See ECR page.

  • I have a Rohloff hub on my Thorn, and have become a real believer. I've taken it on some grand rides, and pounded the #%! out of it. At some point, I'll put a rohloff on my ECR, though they are expensive.

  • I've been touring years with a Schmidt dynohub. They're as tough as mountain bike hubs. Once in a blue moon, I get into a situation where I need to ride through darkness; having a dynohub means that lighting is not dependent on batteries. In recent years, the quality of the dynohub lights has improved dramatically.

    • I've now added a dynohub front wheel for my ECR.

    • For some years now, I've used a Sinewave battery recharger, with USB outlet, nestled inside my front stem on the Thorn. This means I can keep my phone, e-reader or camera at a basic charge level.

In terms of resourcefulness and originality, I can't resist sharing this picture, received from Jeff of Errington, who ran into troubles when his tube patches were not working as they should on a backroads ride north from Port Alberni to Comox Lake.

 

His leafy solution here enabled him to limp his way along to Cumberland and a fix at the local bike shop. 

Brilliant.

My new Surly ECR 29er has been a little disruptive, forcing me to consider lighter packing options and new parts such as plus sized tires. Here along the upper Oyster River

Surly ECR | bikepacking Oyster River

Caution - Safety First:

This website does not encourage anyone to undertake activities in the backwoods without considering fully issues of safety, access and readiness. There are no guarantees with any information provided in this website.  Please read  the FAQs, research further as appropriate, and use your judgement at all times