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Decathlon Quickhiker Ultralight 4: Our New, Cheap Tent

Posted October 27th, 2014

For years now, our trusty tent for bike touring and camping has been Hilleberg’s Nallo 3GT but this summer we retired our Nallo 3GT in favour of something bigger: the Decathlon Quickhiker Ultralight 4 tent.

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Why the switch? The Nallo 3GT was simply too small for our growing family. We needed more space for the extra trailer and gear we’re carrying around. We also wanted a roomier porch, where mum and dad could hang out on rainy or cold evenings while Luke snoozed in the sleeping compartment.

Deciding that we wanted a new tent was easy. Figuring out which tent to buy proved a bit trickier.

We generally believe that investing in high-quality gear pays off, so at the start of our hunt we looked at reasonably expensive tents (eg. the Nallo 4GT, the Safir tipi tent and the MSR Papa Hubba). Ultimately, however, we decided that these tents were too expensive for what we needed.

Unlike in the past, we are not currently planning any long-distance, extreme bike trips. We don’t plan to take this tent through rain, snow, hail and sleet.

Instead, we’re aiming mainly at spring and summer touring through Europe, with perhaps a trip to South Korea or Japan next year. If the weather gets really bad, we’ll take a hotel and that means our tent doesn’t have to live up to expedition-quality standards.

The Quickhiker Ultralight 4 met all of our needs:

  • Affordable. It costs €269.95 in Europe.
  • Lightweight. The tent weighs 3.9kg (not including the groundsheet). That’s just 300g more than Hilleberg’s Nallo 4GT (which would have been a logical upgrade for us from the 3GT).
  • Roomy. It’s 15cm higher than the Nallo 3GT and nearly a meter wider.
  • Guaranteed. It comes with a 2-year guarantee.

So far, we’ve used it about 20 times. Are we pleased? Absolutely.

The space inside is as valuable as gold for our growing family. We can sit up easily anywhere in the tent (in our Hilleberg, we could only sit straight up in the middle of the tent) and we can fit our 3 sleeping mats side by side without being squeezed up against the walls of the tent.

There’s even room left over for toys, clothes and random treasures like sticks which Luke regularly picks up, and plenty of gear pockets to keep things organised inside the tent.

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The large back, mesh window of the tent is another favourite of ours. Since we’re doing more summer camping now, the nights can be warm and with this tent you can open up the back of the tent entirely for excellent airflow.

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Of course, as you’d expect with a relatively cheap tent, this one isn’t perfect. In fact, it’s missing a few thoughtful details that made our Hilleberg such a delight to camp in. The two main problems we have with the tent are:

  • No tensioners on the pole sleeves. This makes setting up the tent a bit of a struggle. It’s a tight fit to get the poles into the sleeves and seated in the grommets. We find it easiest to lay the tent on the ground, put the poles in while the tent is flat and then stake it out and erect it. Over the winter, we may try to add our own tensioners.
  • Door to the sleeping compartment can’t be totally closed off. Once inside the porch, there’s a second door that leads to the sleeping compartment. The top half of this door is made of mesh, so on cooler nights it’s impossible to entirely seal yourself in (in order to keep the temperature higher). That’s one reason why this is not a good 3-season tent.

Overall, however, we’re very pleased. When you consider the price, this tent is good value and perfectly suitable for summer bike tours. If you want a family tent without blowing the budget, we’d recommend this one.

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Radical Design Cyclone IV Trekking Trailer

Posted August 26th, 2014

In our first six years of bike touring, we took a fairly traditional approach to packing and setting up our touring bikes.

Our basic set-up consisted of 2-4 panniers on each bike, a handlebar bag up front and a dry bag over the back rack.

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A baby changes everything, however, so when Luke came along in 2012 we had to re-think our packing strategy. As a baby, Luke could simply travel in his Chariot trailer (and we could still carry our panniers as we’d always done) but by the summer of 2014 we no longer had a baby. We had a toddler who was taking up increasingly more space.

Luke in Switzerland

Luke was now mostly sitting on the back of mum’s bike in a Yepp seat. This took up the space that Friedel would otherwise use for back panniers. Andrew, meanwhile, was loaded down with back bags and we still hadn’t gotten rid of the trailer (essential as Luke’s hideaway spot for naps and bad weather).

Andrew's bike touring setup

How could we pack everything we needed and still have enough room for a pint-sized passenger? We needed:

  • A way to carry more gear, including bulky items such as tents (which wouldn’t fit easily in front panniers).
  • A flexible solution that would be useful for biking around town as well as for touring.
  • Something that we could also carry on public transport.
  • The ability to easily use whatever we bought on a variety of bikes (we own 7 bikes in total).

It wasn’t long before the Dutch-made Cyclone IV Trailer from Radical Design caught our attention.

We’d heard good things about this trailer from friends (see Stijn’s review) so in April 2014 we took the plunge and bought one. We hooked it up behind Friedel’s bike, filled it with camping gear and took it to Switzerland for a 3-week test drive.

Friedel on bike with trailer

In a word, it was GREAT!

We’re not really the gushing type but let us gush, just for a moment: we have fallen head-over-heels in love with this trailer. It’s solidly built, easy to use and versatile. Best of all, it tows so easily behind the bike that you hardly know it’s there.

Our friend Stijn described his Cyclone trailer like this:

Unloaded, it’s hard to even tell I’m pulling a trailer at all. It functions perfectly and it’s built to last. Even better, it’s as much a duffle bag as it is a trailer and it converts from one into the other in under a minute.

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The trailer has now become a standard part of our touring setup, with over 1,000km of use so far.

We use it to carry everything we need for camping. The bag has a capacity of 100 litres and inside we are able to fit a tent (currently the Hilleberg Nallo 3GT), a tarp, three sleeping bags, three Thermarest NeoAir mats and two Helinox chairs. All of this packs in easily, while still leaving room for impressive quantities of food.

Big Storage Space
Most of the food that we purchase while cycling goes into the trailer. It’s so easy to just open the top flap and stick food on top of the other gear already inside. This is a bonus, but also one of the potential dangers of this trailer: it’s so big and so easy to tow, that you can be constantly tempted to carry more weight than you really need to.

A bottle of wine? Sure! An interesting rock that you found by the side of the road? Why not! We’re constantly reminding ourselves that just because we can carry something doesn’t mean we necessarily should.

Easy To Attach
Hooking up the trailer to the bike was a breeze. You simply pull back on a spring on the tow bar and clip it on to the hitch. This can be done with one hand and almost no effort.

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The well-thought-out wheels are another plus. They’re 16″ wheels (the same size as many folding bikes) and can be removed from the trailer by simply pushing the button at the centre of the hub.

Cyclone wheels

Once released, you can pack the wheels (and the trailer hitch) inside the main bag. This transforms your trailer into a duffle bag: perfect for plane, train or bus trips.

Alternatively, you can move the wheels to a second mounting point at the back of the trailer. This makes it a nifty trolley, which you can easily tow behind yourself while walking. We use it this way for our weekly grocery shopping.

In most reviews, we try to find some disadvantages to mention. It’s rare to find a ‘perfect’ product but in this case we’re really struggling to find anything we don’t like about the Cyclone trailer. It’s well built, well thought out and highly recommended.

One thing to be aware of is the price. The Cyclone sells for nearly €500. If you want a top-notch trailer for touring, then this one is worth every penny. If you want to save a little cash, you might consider the Burley Nomad trailer instead.

Mavic XM719 Rims: Probably Not Suitable For Loaded Touring

Posted December 8th, 2013

When choosing a rim for the next wheel on your touring bike, you may want to avoid Mavic’s XM719 model.

We’ve recommended this rim in the past (based on our own experience and the recommendations of others) but it seems something has changed. In the past month, several bike tourists have contacted us to report broken XM719 rims.

Bert and Gillian were the first to get in touch. They’ve broken five of these rims in just 9,000km of cycling around North America. In an email, they wrote:

It started happening after only 1,000km on the back wheel of the bike with the heaviest load. By the time we completed 3,000km a further two back-wheel rims broke on the same bike. At that stage we replaced the back rim on the heavier bike with a SunRingle Rhyno Lite rim, which solved the problem. During the last week, the same issue developed on the front wheel on the bike with the heaviest load (after 9,000km) as well as the back wheel of the bike with the lesser load (after 6,000km).

Bert & Gillian’s touring bikes.

Francesco Alaimo also told us that a crack developed in his XM719 rim after just 1,000km. He was able to ride the bike a further 3,000km before the rim gave out entirely.

In Bishkek I met a guy who had to substitute his XM719 for exactly the same problem after less than 5,000km and a couple on a tandem had exactly the same problem previously.

Cracked XM719 rimFrancesco’s cracked XM719 rim.

When we asked for opinions about rims on Facebook, Charles Coderre also reported failures of the XM719 rim (although his rims did last quite a bit longer than for the other cyclists we heard from).

We are riding fully loaded (bike and gear = 80 to 100 pounds). The Mavic XM719 we had on our rear wheels did not last. After 8,000 kilometers, my rim cracked on the entire circumference and was starting to open. I changed for Sun Rhyno Lite. After 13,000 kilometers my wife’s rear MavicXM719 rim was also starting to crack and open.

To double-check these reports, we asked two bike experts for their opinion. Both Marten Gerritsen and the wheel builders at Bike4Travel recommend Ryde Sputnik rims as a durable choice, and both had concerns about the suitability of Mavic rims for loaded touring.

We put these concerns to Mavic and they said the XM719 was a reliable rim with a return rate of less than 0.5%.

We’ve been selling those kind of rims to globe trotters for decades now (so thousands of them) and with very few issues. That said, this type of use (heavy load on the bike and rider) makes the rim more prone to this kind of fatigue. We have no influence on the wheel assembly and very often those kinds of cracks happen if the spoke tension is too high.

Mavic will replace a rim under warranty (if it’s found to be defective) but that’s of little use to most bike tourists. When your rim breaks during a tour, you just need to get it repaired and keep moving. The last thing you want is to be stuck in one place for days (or possibly weeks) negotiating a replacement with a company — especially when that company makes contact so difficult!

On the Mavic website, there are no obvious contact details (only lists of shops selling their products). It took us several days to get any reply via their social media channels. Compare that to our experience, when a Bontrager rim failed on us after just 3,000km of loaded touring. We were able to contact them easily and had a no-questions-asked refund within days (our previous rims from Alex and Alessa lasted for nearly 30,000km before we opted to replace them).

Given all of this, we can’t recommend the XM719 rim for touring anymore. It’s true that any one of these failures could have been caused by something other than the rim (eg. over-inflation of the tire or a poorly-built wheel) but when we hear so many reports about a single rim, it naturally makes us cautious. To be on the safe side, go for an option such as the Ryde Sputnik. Hopefully that will save you the trouble caused by a rim failure on the road!

First Test of MacPac’s Prophet XPD Rain Jacket

Posted September 14th, 2013

MacPac Prophet XPDOver the summer, we were fortunate to pick up a couple rain jackets at an outlet sale. One of those was the MacPac Prophet XPD.

It’s made of eVent fabric and is actually aimed at mountain climbers. That said, we love it for cycling.

It’s waterproof of course, and has a ton of zipped pockets. The fabric is reassuringly thick and with a fleece or wool layer underneath, we’re confident that this jacket will be great in cold winter temperatures.

Perhaps our favourite feature is the hood. It’s made of a stiffened fabric that doesn’t budge an inch — even when biking straight into a head wind.

The eye-watering price tag is less pleasing. We shelled out just €100 at the outlet sale but the list price is closer to €500. Keep your eye out for clearance deals!

You might also have trouble getting ahold of it. We couldn’t find any shops that carry it online, aside from a few in New Zealand and Australia. We’ve asked MacPac for more details, and hopefully they’ll let us know if it’s available elsewhere, under another name perhaps?

Posted in Trip Equipment

Hilleberg Nallo 3GT Tent: A Brief Video Overview

Posted September 8th, 2013

We’ve been in Canada for the past 3 weeks, visiting family and doing a bit of camping along the way.

While there, we managed to shoot a short video of our beloved Hilleberg Nallo 3GT tent. As you can see, it’s pretty quick to set up (even when you have a ‘little helper’ to contend with) and it’s the perfect size for the three of us.

Read the full review of our tent.