Note to readers – this is a guest post by Stuart (Tegan’s dad), who had the job of sourcing gear for the family cycle tour through Africa in 2015
Depending on what kind of a person you are, choosing gear for a trip can either be fun and interesting, or a painful necessity. As it turns out, I really enjoyed the planning stages, despite my lack of experience and knowledge of what gear to take on a year-long cycle tour though Africa.
This is a list of the gear we used.
Hover on any underlined item to see a brief review of that item, along with a rating. The reviews reflect our experiences after more than 11,000km of touring with this setup, in all kinds of conditions.
There are no touring bike suppliers in South Africa (although this is slowly changing). If there were, I would most likely have just bought complete bikes. However to import a complete bike is expensive owing to (a) shipping costs and (b) an import duty on complete bikes. So I decided to import the frames (and some of the components), and then have the bikes built up by the excellent Bicycle Maintenance Company in Woodstock.
The bikes specifications had to take into account that we would be spending many hours per day on the bikes, that there are not many spares or maintenance skills in Africa (and I am not a great bike mechanic!), that we would be carrying quite heavy loads, that we would be doing a fair proportion on dirt (unpaved) roads, and that we would occasionally need to load the bikes onto buses, trains or ferries, where they could get manhandled and abused. So: strength before weight, comfort before speed, and as low maintenance as possible.
Groupset: Shimano SLX (disc brakes, drivetrain, crankset)
Pedals: DMR V12’s
Headset: Cane Creek 10 series
Handlebars: Jones Loop Bars with Ergon GP1 grips
Seat post: Velo Orange Long Setback Seatpost
Saddle: Brooks B17
Wheels: Sun Rhyno Lite rims (32 spokes), Hope hubs, stainless steel straight gauge spokes
Tyres: Schwalbe Marathon Mondial
If you live in South Africa, the best (only?) place to get a range of good quality touring accessories is from Grant Freeman at Cycletouring. We got a lot of our stuff from him, competitive prices, good advice, super-efficient. Be aware that good quality touring accessories are expensive, but they will usually work out cheaper in the long run, and will tend not to let you down in the middle of some remote area.
Front racks: Tubus Tara Lowrider
Rear racks: Tubus Logo Evo
Dynamo hub: Schmidt SON 28 disc hub
Dynamo light (front): Busch + Müller Lumotec Lyt N Plus Dynamo Headlight
Rear lights: RSP Tourlite LED rear light
Mudguards: SKS Chromoplastic Mudguards
Kickstand: Pletscher double leg kickstand
Rear-view mirror: Ultralight Bike Mirror
Rear and front panniers: Ortlieb backroller classic
Handlebar bag: Ortlieb Ultimate 5 classic
Rackpack: Ortlieb rackpack
Pump: Topeak Road Morph Pump (with gauge)
1.5l bottle cage: BBB Fueltank XL
Tent: MSR Mutha Hubba
Mattresses: Exped Downmat Lite 5
Sleeping bags: K-Way Extreme Lite 500 Sleeping Bag
Stove: ATG Multifuel Stove
We took a laptop, a kindle (which broke), a couple of iPads and a couple of smart phones. Depending on your needs, a smart phone and / or a mini-tablet will cater for most things.
For charging devices, we overdid things a bit – we took a battery, a solar charger and also a little device called a “Sinewave Cycles Revolution Dynamo Charger”, which could charge things from the dynamo hub. However our experience was that we could get to a power outlet every few days, so in future I would just take a battery from which I could recharge other devices (with a minimum capacity of 9,000 mAh), and leave all the rest.
We also took a charger which could recharge rechargeable AA and AAA batteries. We needed these batteries for our rear lights, our torches and the Garmin. This was a great solution.
Music-wise, we didn’t have much, just a couple of mp3 players, and a bunch of recordings on one of the iPads of the well-known Shiloh Noone folk music show Songcatcher (which we knew by heart by the time we got home 🙂
GPS: Garmin GPSMap 64S
Final thoughts about gear for cycle touring
Firstly, what works for one person won’t always work for another, and many choices have pros and cons to trade off. Even within our family, we had different views on aspects that we liked or disliked about our selection of gear.
And secondly – as Lance Armstrong once (now infamously) said: “It’s not about the bike”. We have met many cycle tourists over the last few years, enough to know that there is very little correlation between quality (and quantity) of gear, and quality of experience. We met a young Chinese couple who cycled from all the way from Shanghai to Cape Town (via the high mountains in Tibet), on a pair of cheap mountain bikes, carrying the heaviest loads we have ever seen on a cycle tourist, and who had the most amazing experiences ever. We also met an American guy with a fantastic bike, and who carried practically nothing at all (only two rear panniers’ worth), who had an equally amazing experience. And we have met a good number of cycle tourists travelling “off the grid”, with no cell phones, GPS or computers whatsoever.
So yes, while the gear is interesting and all that, it’s actually not the real point of a good cycle tour 🙂