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Where Baby Sleeps When We’re Bike Touring

Posted December 13th, 2012

When we began camping and bike touring with our son he was just a few months old. One of our biggest concerns was finding a way for him to sleep safely and comfortably.

Baby Asleep In The Tent

Most advice online was targeted to people travelling by car. Hauling a large and relatively heavy travel cot around by bicycle was not an option.

Since we co-sleep at home anyway, we didn’t actually feel the need for a travel cot. If we had, we probably would have gone for something like this Samsonite Pop-Up Travel Cot. Someone gave us one of these and we were impressed by how lightweight and compact it is.

Samsonite Cot

For overnight camping you’d have to add an insulating layer (the ‘mattress’ that comes with it is pretty thin) but otherwise it seems quite handy for a very young baby that can’t roll over. Older babies will not be safe in this cot as they can easily tip it over.

We never used the Samsonite cot. Instead, we started with a Z-lite mattress, folded up to suit Luke’s proportions. We put it between our two camping mats, and it turned out to be pretty good for changing diapers as well as sleeping.

Sleeping Arrangements

At night, we covered the mattress with a soft blanket. Luke was dressed in PJs, a down sleep sack and a hat. We had another blanket that went over top of him as well. Since temperatures were close to freezing at night, we added a hot water bottle for good measure. As you can see, Luke was a pretty happy camper.

Camping With A Baby

When Luke was 5 months old, we decided to ride our bikes to France. This was a 2-week journey and we wanted a more compact sleeping mat than the Thermarest Z-lite mattress. We invested in the short version of the Thermarest NeoAir. The NeoAir is wonderfully light (just 230g) and we hope Luke can use it for camping until he’s 4-5 years old.

Thermarest Neo Air

By this point, Luke had made it clear that he didn’t like sleepsacks so instead we invested in a sleeping bag that would cover both mum and Luke at the same time: the Vaude Sioux 500 XL.

Vaude Sioux 500 XL

This set-up worked really well for us, and we’ll use it again next summer.

Now that we’re off to Cuba, we’re planning to do exactly what we do at home: co-sleep. Obviously not every family will be comfortable with this but for us it’s the most pleasant and practical arrangement.

Want to know more about bike touring with a baby? Here’s a video of our summer bike tour to France:

And one made by our friend Blanche, which tells more about our set-up.

 

Ergon PC2 Pedal Review

Posted September 21st, 2012

Ergon PedalsAbout a year ago, we put Ergon PC2 pedals on Friedel’s touring bike.

She’s never been a fan of being ‘clipped in’ with SPD pedals (or anything else that fixes your feet to the pedals) but did want some grip. The Ergon PC2s seemed like a good compromise.

Their sandpaper surface is supposed to help keep your feet in place, without the hassle of remembering to clip out at red lights and other obstacles.

After a few months of trying these pedals, our verdict is mixed.

On the upside, we do like the wide profile of the pedals. They’re comfortable, supportive and still look surprisingly new – despite several months of commuting and touring in a relatively wet Dutch climate.

We also found the grip to be decent; not outstanding, but certainly better than the average, flat platform pedal.

There are some downsides, however. The main disadvantage is the hefty $80 U.S. pricetag.

Eric, who runs a popular bike touring store in Amsterdam, noted some other disadvantages after testing the pedals with his wife Carla in South America. He wrote:

The Ergon PC2 is a platform pedal and seems ideal for people who find it frightening to be ‘clicked in’. The surface is made of a type of sandpaper (developed in cooperation with 3M) that gives the feet a good grip. Due to the large surface, there’s a good pressure distribution and a raised edge ensures that you don’t hit the crank arms. However, Carla slipped occasionally from these pedals and that never happened with her previous PD-MX30 pedals from Shimano. Also, after 3,000km there was already play in the axles. Overall, this is a pedal that we won’t continue to sell at the Vakantiefietser.

PD MX30 pedals
The PD MX30 pedals from Shimano, favoured by Carla & Eric over the Ergon PC2s.

We’ll Keep Them But…
We personally plan to keep using the Ergon PC2 pedals for now.

If nothing else, they’re a neat commuting solution that offers a bit of grip but won’t damage fancy work shoes. For touring, we don’t have any major complaints but then we have only tested them on the relatively tame bike paths of the Netherlands.

If we were to go further afield, especially on unpaved surfaces, we’d likely replace them with cleated pedals.

When An Exped Sleeping Mat Fails…

Posted September 5th, 2012

About a year ago, we reviewed our Exped sleeping mats. Our mats are still going strong, after about 75 nights of use, but we’ve also recently heard from several cyclists who complain of these mats failing.

Shane is cycling across Africa. His experience is a good example of the problems that are sometimes encountered with Exped mats on extended tours. He’s recently suffered 2 Exped failures. With the first mat, the down stuffing came loose.

Exped Failure

This is the first downmat that launched its down all over my tent in Uganda. It was still usable but a pain to deflate. Nights used: about 50. -Shane

Exped Failure

This is the second mat after 150 nights (it started failing after around 100 nights). It’s not very nice to sleep on. Now I have a Z Lite and I’m finding it no worse to sleep on than the broken Exped. I hope I get used to it! -Shane

The fact that inflatable mats fail is nothing new, and not specific to Exped mats. When we first started bike touring, we had Thermarest Prolite Plus mats. They too developed faults after about 6 months of steady touring.

Both Exped and Thermarest offer generous warranties on their mats so failure isn’t too much of a problem if you’re close to home and can easily claim on the warranty from your nearest dealer or camping shop.

On an extended tour, however, a failing sleeping mat is a hassle. You might not be able to get a replacement at all, or you might suffer heavy customs charges if a mat is sent to you. That’s why we always say that the longer your trip, the stronger the case for getting a solid foam mat such as the Z Lite.

Some people, like Shane, find the Z Lite a bit spartan to sleep on. We personally don’t mind it at all but then we like a very firm sleeping surface, even at home. As with anything, it’s a personal choice and every cyclist will have to find the right balance between durability and comfort for themselves.

Just keep in mind that if you have an inflatable mat that it’s not invincible. Keep your eyes out for any sign of failure and have a back up plan to get a new one, if you’re far from home.

Taking the phone number and email address of your local camping shop or dealer might not be a bad idea for extended trips. It’s perhaps also worth asking what service they could provide in the middle of a tour.

Would they send you a new mat, no questions asked, or would you have to send the old one back and twiddle your thumbs in a far away land waiting for the new one to arrive?

One Nifty Way To Carry Your Essential Tools

Posted September 1st, 2012

A few months ago, we received an email from Allen, who designs bicycle bags and sells them under the Tallac brand.

He offered to send us his Behold case for review. We gladly accepted and since that time it’s been carried all over the Netherlands on bike tours and for daily commuting. It also came along on our tour of Belgium and France.

The Behold

What is it? Put simply, the Behold is a compact and robust case that sits in a cage between the frame and a water bottle holder. The case is made of ballistic water-resistant nylon and the cage that comes with the Behold is made of stainless steel. Fitting it to the bike was a breeze.

Here’s a better view of the case, out of its metal cage. When riding, the case is held in place by clips at either end. It’s easy to clip and unclip.

The Behold

What can you fit inside? A basic puncture repair kit is no problem (you’ll need to also carry a pump, unless you take CO2 cartridges along). If you didn’t want to use a handlebar bag, you could also use this kit to carry some essentials like a bit of cash, a credit card and a mobile phone.

The Behold

We like many things about the Behold. It’s well constructed and could be handy if you want a nifty place to store a few essential tools. Because the bag is stored on your frame, it can stay there and you never need to worry about leaving the tools behind.

People who are primarily bike touring, however, may find it redundant. If you’re carrying panniers then you probably already have a full tool kit in one of your bags so you don’t need to carry tools on your frame as well.

We think the Behold is best suited to commuting cyclists, who perhaps also do a bit of touring on the side. For that reason, we’ll be swapping it from Friedel’s touring bike to our primary commuting bike.

 

Keep Dirt Away With Homemade Bike Mudguards

Posted August 21st, 2012

One of the things we love about hosting cyclists is the chance to learn new things.

The latest couple to come through – Bez & Dave – proudly showed us how they’d made their mudguards (or fenders) a bit longer than the standard shop variety.

Using a thin yet relatively stiff sheet of rubber (easily found in local hardware or do-it-yourself shops) and some zip ties, this is what they came up with:

Mudguard Extenders

According to Bez & Dave, the longer mudguards are just the thing to keep every last bit of mud and dirt off your legs and bags – an essential addition to any touring bike if you end up pedalling through a lot of rainy territory.

After we initially published this tip, we heard from Julie and Mark – another cycling couple who’ve also turned their hands to making mudguards.

They are made from damp-proof course, which you can buy in builders merchants. We use nuts and bolts to attach the mudflap.

Homemade Mudguards
Photo by Julie & Mark.