So you might be wondering (as several people have asked us) how our “stuff” is holding up, with more than a year’s worth of time on the road. Let’s just start by saying this… no matter how awesome your gear is, there’s very little out there that is made to withstand the kind of wear and tear we (and other long-term travelers) are putting on it. That said, we wanted to give some general reviews and updates on the particular gear we have.
Let’s start with the obvious: how are the bikes? Well, with 15 months and more than 20,000 kilometers (12,000 miles) on them, we are extremely pleased with our decision to ride Surly Long-Haul Truckers. These bikes are not mega-expensive, as many touring bikes are, but they are standing up well to the test of time (and distance).
We upgraded the cantiever brakes that came stock on the bike (from Tektro 992A to Tektro CR720), to give us increased stopping power. While that has proved to be a great decision, it has probably contributed to how quickly we’ve burned through our rims. Our first rim failure was a bit obscure, but since then, all three other rims have worn down from the normal wear of the brake pads. Dave’s front rim went in Lima, my front rim in Northern Peru, and finally, my back rim split on our way down the Alps (unfortunate, as we were making good time, but not surprising since we were braking more than normal on the steep and wet downhill).
Other than the rim failures, we’ve had no major issues with the bikes. We just replaced the cassettes and chain rings, as well as installing our fourth set of chains. Altogether, we’re pleased! We also recently purchased new Schwalbe Marathon tires… we put almost 15,000 kilometers on our old ones and they held up great! As soon as we switched to these, we have had virtually no flats from tire punctures (maybe 2 or 3 in 10 months). They aren’t even completely worn out, but we wanted to purchase new ones before we left Italy, the last country where buying touring cycling gear would be easy.
On to camping gear. If you’ve been following our blog for a while, then you know that we replaced our REI Quarterdome T3 tent when we were in Lima. It was a sad farewell to this sturdy, trusty, lightweight tent. But one of the zippers had failed, and because of REI’s excellent return policy, we shipped it home and they replaced it. But for the replacement, we opted for a slight upgrade—something that would be a bit warmer (we had the Alps in mind), as well as having sturdier zippers and more vestibule space. To make a long story short, we have been using our REI Arete 3SL for about six months now… and unfortunately, we’re a little disappointed. It’s a good tent, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not quite all we’d hoped for. The orange panel is unfortunately bright, which means we have to be a lot pickier about stealth campsites (the pictures online didn’t quite do it justice). The vestibule is not nearly as spacious as the measurements suggested, and it has a consistent problem with condensation. That means a lot of times we pack up damp sleeping pads in the morning… which, by the way, tend to develop a particular odor. And, to finish us off on our disappointment with the tent, when we were camping atop the Alps, it couldn’t hold its own against the rain and wind. We woke up the next morning with literal puddles in our tent… our sleeping pads were like islands, leaving us the only dry thing inside. So we’re open to getting a new tent, though we’re not sure if that’s realistic at this point.
As far as other things: our Ortlieb panniers are still great—dirty and faded, yes, but still waterproof and going strong! Our MSR Dragonfly stove has an occasional issue with staying lit in windy conditions (this is exaggerated when using gasoline as fuel), but by and large, we’re pleased with it. The camping cookware we have has taken a bit of a beating… the pots are certainly not as round as they used to be. But considering they’ve traveled in a pannier over bumpy roads and have suffered a few falls, we think they’re doing alright.
Our rain gear that we started with is no longer with us. We declared it dead as we cycled through Sweden and Germany, after several storms left us drenched even under our jackets. While in London, we made one of the most significant gear upgrades on this trip—and probably the most satisfying. We bought Gore-Tex rain jackets and pants. And WOW!! We love it. Yes, they are expensive… but totally worth it to actually stay dry in a cold, soaking rain.
And our clothes… well, let’s just say they’ve seen better days. Cycling shorts are incredibly expensive, and unfortunately, only one pair out of our combined six are really holding up great. I have started wearing Nike shorts over mine because they are threadbare in several places, and it’s a bit embarrassing to wear them in public. It appears that the materials used in most cycling shorts cannot handle the amount of UV exposure that our shorts have seen. Our shirts are faded and we’ve had to stitch up holes in the toes of our stained and stretched out socks. Our cycling shoes have some holes as well, but not big enough to necessitate a replacement.
Even though much of our gear is worn out from the travel, we’re still loving our life on the road. Sure, it’d be great to have some upgraded stuff–but the reality is, things wear out when you use them. I think there’s a life lesson in this. Do something with what you have! If we finished the trip and everything were perfectly intact, you’d have to ask if we’d really DONE anything. The same is true in life… if you arrive at the end with everything perfectly preserved, what did you really do with your life? We don’t want to get to the end of our lives and have all our stuff “in good shape.” We want to use what we’ve been given! Sure, there’s less risk if you live your life as a preservation effort. But we want to arrive at the end and be completely spent.