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Book Review: Twenty Miles Per Cookie

Posted September 13th, 2012

Twenty Miles Per Cookie Anyone who’s interested in bike touring with kids has likely heard of the Vogel family.

Nancy and John – the parents of twin sons Davy and Daryl – have taken their family on all kinds of two-wheeled adventures.

In 2011 they finished a 3-year ride from Alaska to Argentina and before that epic trip they biked 9,000 miles around the U.S. and Mexico.

It is that initial big bike adventure – through 19 U.S. states and five Mexican states – that Nancy describes in the book Twenty Miles per Cookie: 9000 Miles of Kid-Powered Adventures.

We dove into Twenty Miles per Cookie during a recent bike tour across Europe (our first family bike tour with our son Luke) and found it to be an inspiring and refreshingly honest account of bike touring as a family.

Nancy doesn’t just describe the rosy parts of the journey, like meeting ‘road angels’ along the way, but also the many challenges from bad weather to physical exhaustion.

One quote that really stood out for us was this one:

In my many years of traveling I’ve found adventure is, many times, only one step away from disaster. It springs from the unknown – from having no idea how we will meet our basic needs. It is stressful, but the kind of stress I can look upon and say, “What an unexpected turn of events!” It’s those days that make for the most memorable experiences, and are, therefore, the most rewarding days of a journey.

That – in a nutshell – is what we took away from this book: the message that adventures might not always be easy but they are worth having. Adventures are something that we personally will continue to prioritise as a family, even though sometimes they push us to our limits.

The only thing that disappointed us a bit was the book’s length. Some of the stories left us hanging. We really wanted to know more about the details of the trip but before we knew it we were turning the last page.

Overall, however, it’s a good little read and definitely worth a look if you are thinking about bike touring with kids. If you want to know more, check out the Vogel’s website Family On Bikes or watch the video below.

 

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.

 

Chain-L Bike Lube Review

Posted June 1st, 2012

With over 60,000km under our wheels, we’ve gone through a few bottles of chain lube.

Our favourite up until a few months ago was Finish Line lube (available from REI and Wiggle).

Finish Line is decent enough when freshly applied but disappears after a few hours of rain. Even in dry weather, our chains need regular cleaning and re-lubing to keep everything running smoothly.

Then we heard about Chain-L. It gets raving reviews online and makes some big promises, like 1,000 miles between applications. We ordered a few bottles and distributed them among our friends.

Applying Chain-L Oil

Several months later and the results are in. Everyone who tried it was impressed by how Chain-L performed – once they got past its potent smell. This stuff doesn’t just lube your chain; it can clear your sinuses as well!

Applying Chain-L Oil

Chris (one of our testers and the creator of the TrackMyTour app) had this to say:

Chain-L changed my perception of chain lubrication. I recall the first pedal strokes after applying it and thinking: This is different. This is good. It was a smoothness and silence I hadn’t noticed in years. Since then I’ve been on a number of long rides and have become used to it. The best part is that I don’t think about my chain anymore. It’s silent, smooth, and just works. With the old stuff I would have reapplied three times by now. It’s one less thing to worry about.

Friends Trevor & Simone were also impressed. Trevor said:

It’s really good stuff; very viscous and sticks to the chain really well. It smells like old fashioned mineral oils used to. Simone’s chain was very dry and is now quiet and the gear changes are better too.

What do we think? First, we have to put our hands up and say that we haven’t tested this oil as much as we’d like. We’re only just getting back into cycling after baby Luke’s arrival. For what it’s worth, however, after about 300km (including a rainy day or two) our chains are definitely still running silently and we haven’t needed to reapply Chain-L.

Of course, there are downsides to everything and one of the disadvantages of Chain-L is that it takes more patience than other lubes to apply.

Applying Chain-L Oil

We went slowly, trying to put only a drop on each link. We then waited the recommended 10 minutes for the Chain-L to soak in. Even so, some lube flew off the chain when we spun the pedals. If you can, it might be best to let it soak in overnight. If you’re applying it inside, make sure you cover the floor under the bike with newspaper to catch any drips.

Another one of our testers, Stijn, said he was very impressed with the lube’s performance but noted that the packaging – a bottle with a flip-top cover – could be improved for touring:

The lube itself did an excellent job but I’m not very keen on flip-top bottles for anything that you need to store in a pannier while touring. If the spout catches on something you’ll end up with a big mess. Normally I transfer things packaged in these kinds of bottles into one with a screw top.

These quibbles are small, however. On the whole, we’re really glad we ordered Chain-L and will continue using it on our bikes.

Ironically, that’s bad news for Francis, the maker of Chain-L. If we actually get 1,000 miles between applications, he may be waiting a while for our next order! Unless, that is, we start out on another world tour…

Want to try Chain-L for yourself? Find your local dealer on the Chain-L website.

Review: The PowerFilm Solar Charger

Posted April 10th, 2012

powerfilm AA+USB chargerMore and more cyclists are loading down their panniers with electronic gadgets, and all of these high-tech tools require one thing: power.

How to keep all those batteries full? A solar panel is one option to consider, and recently we had a chance to test out the PowerFilm AA + USB folding panel (cost: about $80 U.S.).

In the interest of full transparency, we received it from a good friend and her extended family actually manufactures these panels. Like always, however, we promised her – and all of you – an honest review!

With that out of the way, we can honestly say that first impressions were good. In a nutshell, this panel:

  • Seems robust
  • Weighs a modest 180 grams
  • Folds up to a fairly small size; just a bit larger than your wallet, at 14cm x 8cm (5.5″ x 3″).
  • Is water resistant, so a small drizzle won’t hurt but you will have to put it away if the rain persists for long
  • Has grommets (small holes) on each end, which make it easy to fasten the solar panel to the back of your bicycle, bags, etc…