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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!

Tips For Cycling Tajikistan’s Pamir Highway

Posted November 29th, 2013

Tajikistan’s Pamir Highway is the world’s second highest international highway and one of the most challenging bike touring routes out there.

Grace Johnson cycled the route in the summer of 2013 with her husband Paul Jeurissen. Along the way they picked up a few tips and updates for this route, which Grace has kindly shared in the article below.

Grace Johnson & Paul Jeurissen

Paul and Grace on the Pamir Highway. Photo by Paul Jeurissen.

Her notes build on the advice given in 10 questions: Cycling The Pamir Highway (an earlier guest post written by Christine McDonald) so please read that post before reading Grace’s observations.

Grace’s Tips For Cycling The Pamir Highway

There have been many changes since Christine travelled the Pamir Highway:

Visas - There is now a next day visa service (which includes a GBAO permit) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. A letter of invitation is no longer necessary. On the visa form we didn’t have to present a complete route itinerary. We just wrote down that we were planning on cycling the Pamir Highway. That turned out to be enough information for the embassy. The embassy operates on regular opening hours and was easy to find since we looked up the GPS coordinates beforehand via internet.

Telephone and Internet - Internet is still pretty much non-existent. The only connection we came across was a very slow one via a single laptop in Murgab’s Pamir hotel. Telephones are more accessible. The main Pamir towns such as Lake Karakoal and Murgab have telephone send masts powered by solar panels and the villagers own mobile phones. At Lake Karakoal the Swiss cyclists at our homestay decided to take a day jeep tour to a scenic outlook. The homestay owner got on her mobile phone and within a half hour a had jeep arrived.

Transport - There are no buses on the Pamir highway. You could hitchhike (as Christine noted), however it might not be very easy. We saw 5-10 vehicles per day between Sarey Tash (Kirgizistan) and Murgab but most of them were fully-loaded and didn’t have room for cyclists. Between Murgab and Dushanbe there is more traffic – Chinese trucks (with Tajik and Chinese drivers) heading to Dushanbe – so it might be possible to get a lift with them.

Water - Of course in the summer months there was less water and some of the rivers were murky. Since we only had a steripen and water sterilizing drops we often had to fill our Orlieb folding bowl with river water and wait for the sediment to sink to the bottom before sterilizing it with the steripen.

Grace Johnson
Grace Johnson cycling across the Pamir landscape. Photo by Paul Jeurissen.

Winter versus summer cycling - If you cycle in the winter as Christine did, you will miss one of the biggest attractions of cycling the Pamir highway: the colourful landscape. It will be covered in snow. We didn’t find the strong summer sun too much of a problem. We just carried a couple bottles of strong sun block. There was always a strong wind to cool us off. Make sure you carry cold weather gear, even in the summer, since storms and sharp drops in temperature can happen at any time.

Route finding via GPS  -  You don’t need a GPS for the Pamir highway and the Wakhan valley. There is only one road and even though there isn’t a sign marking the turnoff to the Wakhan valley – it’s still quite obvious. If you want to try some off-road cycling to the more remote villages, you definitely should consider using a GPS. The routes to outlaying villages are via jeep tracks and as soon as the main track becomes too rutted the locals create new ones. When we rode from Bulun Lake to Alichor, we regularly checked our GPS to find out if we were still on the “correct” jeep track.

HomestaysA sign for a homestay on the Pamir Highway. Photo by Paul Jeurissen.

Homestays - The homestays are now marked by English signs in front and for 100 Somoni you sleep on a blanket mattress on the floor plus you receive three meals of tea, bread plus eggs or soup. The toilet is an outhouse. Most of the homestays can provide a hot shower. Sometimes the hot bucket shower isn’t included in the price so ask beforehand. In most homestays, electricity is only available after dark. Don’t count on it working. Note: the homestays are often poorly ventilated so if you are sleeping in a room with a number of other cyclists you may find yourself breathing hard due to the lack of oxygen in the room.

Pamir hotel in Murgab  - In 2013 the Pamir hotel in Murgab opened. It has hot showers, clean sit toilets and serves “substantial” food such as omelettes, meat, salad, potatoes and pancakes in the hotel restaurant. It also has 24-hour electricity (via the hotel generator) so we were able to recharge all of our camera batteries plus laptop there. The Pamir Kids on the Pamir Highwayhotel manager speaks English and completed the required Tajikistan registration for us. The registration was a hassle (the forms aren’t in English and the police complained that the first photocopies of our passport weren’t “dark enough”). It took the manager 7 hours before we (and the other hotel guests) finally received our registration papers. We offered to pay the manager afterwards for the service but he refused our money. Our registration papers were checked at the police checkpoint just south of Murgab.

The People - Christine is right when she says that the Pamir people are great. We especially enjoyed the kids. They love having their picture taken and will even run up to you smiling and yelling, “photo! photo!”

Towns - The villages and surrounding area are very desolate. Everything is built using whatever material is available. Car doors are used for gates, and sea containers as market shops.


An improvised shop on the Pamir Highway. Photo by Paul Jeurissen.

During the months of July and August you will come across other cyclists every day. They are a colourful bunch (we met a Hungarian carrying mountain climbing gear on his bike, Italians on Decathlon bicycles) and are another good reason to cycle there in the summer instead of winter months.

Additional Resources:

  • Pamirs.org - contains a number of links to Pamir cycling sites
  • Carry On Cycling – a report from a cyclist who rode the Pamir Highway in May 2013

For more on Grace and Paul’s trip around the world, please see their website Bicycling Around The World.

 

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

A Eulogy For A Dear Uncle

Posted July 19th, 2013

We had so many plans for this summer. Among other things, we wanted to cycle around Nova Scotia and France, complete the 2nd edition of the Bike Touring Survival Guide and review some new gear. Unfortunately, that was all put on hold by something unplanned and rather sad.

Until now, we haven’t really felt like writing about it here but now we are ready to share. This spring Friedel’s uncle was diagnosed with cancer and last week he passed away. It all happened very quickly and during this time our focus was as far as it could be from the world of bike touring. We’ll try to get back to normal soon. In the meantime, we’d like to share the eulogy that Friedel gave at the funeral. It has nothing to do with bike touring but it does tell the story of someone who loved travel, cared for others and who we’ll really miss.

Paul was the only relative to come out and meet us on the road when we were travelling around the world, and he often said that if he had been younger he would have joined us.

***

For those who don’t know me, my name is Friedel and I am Paul’s niece. I want to thank you all for being here today, and I’d like to share a few memories about my uncle Paul.

Paul and FriedelPaul was, perhaps, the only person who I can truly say has been there throughout every step of my life. When I was born in the old Truro hospital, the pictures show that Paul was there. We went on summer vacations together. He helped me move when I started university, gave me away at my wedding and visited me nearly every year in Europe, after I moved there in 2000. For over ten years, we regularly visited family in Germany and worked together on our family tree. Paul was a fixture in my life, as I am sure he also was for many of you.

I have so many memories of Paul, it’s hard to know where to start but I thought I’d start with one place where you were always sure to find him: at Joyce’s house for Christmas dinner. Being a Jehovah’s Witness, Paul didn’t celebrate occasions like Christmas but that didn’t mean he would miss a meal at Joyce’s house. He was always sitting at the table, often wearing his trademark suspenders and checked shirt. In front of him would be a plate piled high with turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy. Joyce’s cooking was certainly worth making the trip for. Paul loved the food but more than that, Paul was a people person. He loved the conversation and warmth that went along with these kinds of occasions, surrounded by so many friends and relatives.

During the rest of the year, Paul often visited our home. Each time I saw his van coming into our driveway I’d run to the door and shout excitedly ‘Uncle Paul!’. Once inside, he’d let me sit on his knee and tell me stories in the way only Paul could. I think almost all of you here will be familiar with Paul and his stories. It didn’t matter what the topic was, Paul seemed to have a story to suit every occasion. He loved telling them and they were never short. He wanted to share every last detail. Once, he and his daughter Heather went out for lunch at the China Rose restaurant in Truro. The stories started flowing and the afternoon flew by. Finally, someone looked at the clock. It was 8 in the evening. “Well, I guess we’d better order supper,” was Paul’s response. To sit and talk to someone for hours was never a waste of time in Paul’s mind. It was one of his favourite things to do.

One of the stories I remember best was about coming to Canada from Germany by boat in 1951. Paul was seven years old at the time. On that trip, Paul grabbed what he thought was a grape and popped it in his mouth. What happened next was a dose of salty, shocking reality. Instead of a sweet grape, Paul had actually eaten an olive. He’d never tasted an olive before and he didn’t like his first taste much at all. Shortly afterwards, Paul got seasick. He blamed the seasickness on the olive, and that experience was enough to put him off olives for the next twenty years.

When Paul visited us, sometimes he would bring a present. Nothing expensive or fancy, just some little treasure he’d pick up along the way. Once it was a small pin in the shape of a pink elephant that he’d found on the ground. He polished it up and carried it in his pocket for a few days until he saw me the next time. “This matches your pink jacket,” he said to the six-year-old me. “I think you should have it.”

That was Paul – always thinking of other people. If you needed something, all you had to do was ask. Paul was happy to help, even when the task was something that most others would have found too difficult or too much to take on.

One good example of that was in 1982. I was just a little girl, living in Edmonton with my mum Inga and aunt Rose – Paul’s sisters. They needed help moving home to Nova Scotia so they called Paul and a few days later he was there, ready to help them drive back east with all our stuff packed into one little Chevette, towing a trailer. As it turned out, that year saw some of the worst spring snowstorms in Canada’s history. For 10 days, Paul drove our family through the freezing cold and snow, right across Canada. Everything on that trip went wrong. In addition to the weather, the heater on the car broke. So did the fan belt. The wheel bearings seized on the trailer and in Maine there was a flat tire to fix. As for those snowstorms, they were so bad that once Paul even had to shovel his way into a hotel room so we could all get some sleep. Through all of this, Paul was unflappable. He just kept on going with a smile on his face, and he seemed to have an answer for every situation.

Maybe the reason Paul had so many answers was because he was interested in everything. It was hard to find a subject that Paul didn’t know something about. During his life, he completed courses in scuba diving, sausage making, accounting, Spanish and German – to name but a few of the things he studied. He also learned by doing. As a young boy on his family’s farm in Hilden, Paul took care of the animals, planted the garden and helped make butter. In his retirement, Paul joined the local photography club. At home, his natural curiosity meant that Paul’s house was filled to the rafters with stacks of National Geographic and Reader’s Digest magazines. He had a photographic memory and once he’d read an article or book about something, he could recite the facts back to you without hesitation for years afterwards.

Friedel & Paul at Kinderdijk

There was no doubt that Paul loved learning new things and sharing his knowledge with others. One of his special friends was five-year-old Lilly. She called him Papa Paul. When Paul came to help remodel her family’s basement he let her try out everything: drywalling, painting, plumbing. He even let her smash a hole through the basement wall to put a window in. Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he told her that rough hole in the wall was the finished product. He just let climb in and out of that stupid hole! Instant access to the back yard! Paul could be such an instigator.

Another thing that Paul loved was food. He always appreciated a good meal and was never shy to try out something new. You could hand him a plate full of prairie oysters, pungent Limburger cheese or durian – the world’s stinkiest fruit. Most of us would turn up our noses but for Paul it was no problem. He would certainly try it and let us all know how it tasted. Once someone emailed Paul a questionnaire. One of the questions asked Paul to list four of his favourite foods. Paul’s list went like this.

Number one: pizza. Number two: Chinese food. Number three: pork chops. Number four: spaghetti. Number five: polish sausage , Polski ogorki [pickles], mashed potatoes with butter, roast beef,, or pork ,turkey,chicken, mmmmmmmm gravy , mixed veggy mmmm. Number six: soup. All kinds. And salads. Number seven: chocolate chip cookies.

That list makes me smile. It reminds me of his love of food, and also of the many happy meals we shared together, whether we were out at Joyce’s house for Christmas dinner, with German relatives devouring mountains of cakes or wandering through the Oktoberfest in Munich, in search of a pretzel and a beer. Those were good times.

When my uncle Paul passed, he left some pretty big shoes to fill. I don’t suppose anyone can ever really take his place but the memories from our many shared adventures will keep me smiling for years to come and for that I am deeply thankful.

Thank you.

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A Better Bike Mount For Your Smartphone?

Posted June 14th, 2013

A few days ago, an email dropped into our box from Daniel, who said he’d just finished designing a new product that might be useful for bike touring.

It’s called the Handleband, and it’s an adaptable smartphone mount for bicycles. It lets you use your phone as a bike-light, ride tracker, navigation tool, and front-facing camera. It’s also a bottle opener.

The idea struck a chord with us. We’ve tried a couple smartphone mounts for our bikes but none were particularly impressive. Maybe the Handleband will fill that gap.

Check out Daniel’s Kickstarter campaign to get the Handleband off the ground.

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