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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…

 

PowerFilm AA + USB Solar Charger Review

Posted February 25th, 2012

powerfilm AA+USB chargerNote: A few months after writing this review, we received reports of reliability issues with this solar panel. We currently can’t recommend any solar panels for bicycle touring. They seem too unreliable.

More 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? Our top choice is a hub dynamo but that’s an expensive option.

For power on a budget you could also consider a solar panel. 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. Her extended family 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…


PowerFilm USB + AA Charger Test

What Does It Promise?
The PowerFilm website says that this solar panel will fully charge 2 AA batteries in about 4 hours, in full sunlight. The batteries are included, and sit in a box at one end of the panel. You can either:

  • Use the panel to charge the included AA batteries and then use the stored power to recharge your gadgets later, via a USB port on the charging unit (when you’re in the tent at night, for example).
  • Charge your gadgets ‘on the go’ by plugging them into the panel as you’re cycling

Using one of these two methods, PowerFilm says you should be able to charge most micro USB devices, such as mobile phones (including the iPhone) and mp3 players. Even charging the iPad is possible, although PowerFilm recommend their stronger 10 watt foldable charger, the F15-600, if powering an iPad is a priority.

We decided to test it on a bright, sunny weekend.

This is the Alblasserwaard area of the Netherlands

How did it perform?
With the panel strapped on the back, we hit the road around lunchtime. We didn’t cycle much on Saturday, so it was on Sunday – after just under 6 hours of cycling in total – that the indicator light changed colour and told us that the AA batteries were full.

This was a bit more time than the 4 hours promised by PowerFilm but – to be fair – we weren’t in the sun during our entire riding time. Inevitably, you cycle in the shade or stop for a break occasionally.

When we returned home, we plugged our Kindle into the solar panel. The Kindle battery was nearly dead when we plugged it in, and after draining the AA batteries, it was about 1/3 full.

After returning home, we repeated this test by simply setting the solar panel on a sunny windowsill a few times and then transferring the charge to the Kindle, and each time the results were similar: a few hours to charge the AA batteries, and a charge of about 1/3 to the Kindle.

Charging the Kindle with solar power

Normally, at this point, we would have taken the PowerFilm panel out a few times, before writing this review, but on this occasion we have to apologize. A bout of terrible weather and the arrival of baby Luke put a stop to that idea.

Was our test extensive? No. But it did give us the impression that this could be a useful gadget for touring – as long as you don’t expect too much. Don’t plan to fully power a laptop with this solar panel. You could, however, happily keep a camera battery or mobile phone charged with it (weather permitting).

Day 3 - Going solar
Going solar – the Two Wheeled Wanderers used Powerfilm chargers on their trip

Other Experiences With PowerFilm Panels
Since we couldn’t test the PowerFilm charger as much as we’d have liked, we asked a couple other cyclists using PowerFilm solar panels for their opinions.

Tom Allen took a PowerFilm charger along on his bike travels:

I found the PowerFilm 4xAA charger the lightest and quickest charging solution I’ve tried, not to mention being one of the few units that actually works in practice! I found very useful the indicator LEDs to let you know when each pair of batteries is being charged and when it meets capacity. The grommets which allow the unit to be tied down to rack-top bags and the like make it particularly suitable for the cyclist. -Tom Allen

Karen, of the Two Wheeled Wanderers, also has experience with the Powerfilm AA + USB charger. In this case, the review is less positive. At first, she found it worked very well. After a few months of solid touring, however, her panel stopped working. Karen has written to Powerfilm about this experience but hasn’t received a reply.

Have you ever tried a solar panel for touring? Leave a comment and share your experience.

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