Gear and Gadgets

Me, rolling through Thailand with more tech than your average Space Shuttle

I won’t hide it, and I won’t apologise for it either, I am a certified techno-tourist who just loves his gadgets.  I love technology.  Technology and the pursuit of efficient elegance has been my professional career; every aspect of my private life is also riddled with technology, I just love making it work.  Admittedly, there are some aspects of technology that I have bought that were ill-advised, but they don’t seem to last long.  And there are some that I just have because of the beauty of the engineering involved (e.g. Naim hi-fi).

But this part of the blog is about the technology that works and the little add-ons that weren’t really part of the core custom bike build (that’s covered here)

Mainly gear & gadgets about travel, and often gadgets about cycling, but also other stuff like photography.  I won’t be posting sub-posts about individual product review; instead I shall post a menu here that will just grow as I add kit or gadgets.

Good luck and please feel free to ask questions.

 

 


Index

Coming Soon

  • Cadence & Heart Rate Sensors
  • Headbands (yes really)
  • Bib Shorts and all things Lycra
  • Camping washing line
  • Topeak Turbo Morph G
  • Topeak Alien II
  • Lights
  • Click-Stands
  • Security! Hexlox, Locks & Cables
  • 2-way radios

 


For us it starts with planning the route on a desktop computer using either Strava Route or MapMyRide. MMR is very good but it doesn’t always have cycle options in some countries and you have to manually click on the map every 100-200m to register a GPS point. We planned 1250km+ through Thailand like this and it was ok, but a bit of a ballache.

We typically map out 4 day (~300km) legs like this rather than trying to do a whole tour in one route.

Click for link to App

The next step for us is to export the GPX file and import it into Cyclemeter on our smartphone as a route, Cyclemeter is our preferred option because it seems rock solid and rarely crashes. The downside is that you need a data connection for this. We are UK based so anywhere in Europe is fine and replacement SIM cards in Thailand with unlimited data cost us about 330THB (£7.50) a month.

We mount the phones on the stems using Quadlocks and then set up the Cyclemeter screens to show us a map in the half screen and 4 bits of data (Distance, Avg Speed, Cadence, Heart Rate). Heart Rate comes from the Wahoo TICKR monitors that we both wear.

I was given a tip that controlling your core temperature in the tropics will greatly enhance your enjoyment of your tour and, rather than cooling it when you get hot, a better way is to not to let yourself work too hard in the first place. Your heart rate is a good indicator of your work rate and we generally try to keep our heart rates at about 120. This worked well for us on our recent trip in 30C heat and 85% humidity. After a while you get to feel when you’re working too hard and when you’re not but we find it easy to forget ourselves and push on “in the moment” only to find that 10km later we’re gasping and nauseously hot. The HR works for us as a good reminder.

Cyclemeter is then uploaded at the end of each ride to Strava, which is our central repository for our data. We have both had Strava Premium but we found it very oriented towards the needs of the road cyclist (And why not? It’s the largest market) where is focusses on performance, pace and fitness. There’s not much in the Premium for us that justifies the cost.

The downside of our set-up is that you need power and that probably means carrying a power block. We have been experimenting with a lightweight solar panel pinned over the back of the panniers (see below) and this has worked very well. It’s not quite enough juice to run an iPhone 6+ at full brightness for the day but it does very well to keep a power pack topped up, which then powers the iPhone and a front rack mounted GoPro all day. Based on our experiences in Thailand, I thing we could go 4-5 days without needing a power socket.

Of course you don’t need any of this, but it works for us and, for us, is worth the weight penalty


GoPro Hero Session

Over the years, I have tried many video cameras with mixed results. No wait, what I mean is that I’ve tried many video camera with universal and soul-sapping disappointment.  Sometimes it has been the quality, sometimes the weight and sometimes just the way that you had to operate it, but the net result was always that it was unusable.  So, when I ordered the GoPro Hero Session 4 it was with a mixture of optimism and expectation of disappointment.

But 2 years down the road, I love it.  I love its video quality, I love its ease of use and I really love its small size and low weight that makes it so usable on the bikes.  On our recent 1000km ride of Thailand we recorded every minute of it and it’s a fantastic repository of wonderful memories.

I won’t post here how to use it, you can get that from the user manual; instead, I shall post a list of tips from things we have learned from using it:

  • Battery – the onboard battery lasts about 2.5h, not enough for a day’s cycling, and you will need to power the camera via the micro-usb port during the day.  We keep a USB power-block each in our handlebar bags that has 2 x USB ports and one of mine is used to power the camera.  At the end of the day the camera battery can be quite low, but it will last the 6-8h that we’re usually in the saddle.
  • Mounting – It’s light enough to mount pretty much anywhere but I have found that mounting it to the bike frame is best because it seems to bounce about too much on the helmet
  • Storage – I haven’t worked out exactly the relationship between resolution and file size but most useable settings have the same result that the resultant files are 2.26Gb for 12 mins of video.  That’s 11.3Gb per hour.  That gives you just a little over 5 hours for a 64Gb card (not all the space is usable).  However, I regularly forgot to switch the camera off when we stopped for a rest or lunch and meant that I lost the end of a few days when the card filled up.  I now run a 128Gb card and that works perfectly.
  • Daily Workflow – That means that you need to clear the card every day.  For us, that isn’t too much of a ballache because we carry a laptop and a 2Gb USB drive†.  At the end of every day, it’s one of my jobs to copy the video files to the 2Tb drive and then format the card in the camera
  • Routine – One of the biggest frustrations we had was me forgetting to turn it on and/or off and thereby losing chunks of the ride.  Maybe it’s just the way that my mind works, but I now deliberately mount the camera next to a light and always ride with a light on so that the light and camera are associated and are part of my starting off routine.  Not foolproof but nowadays it’s rare that I forget.

† On our recent trip, I dropped the 2Tb drive onto a marble floor and it soon started to fail.  That was a pain to have to find something else to back the daily video files up to and it was also a worry when we got home as the drive was also difficult to read the files off.  I don’t yet have a solution for this risk, but I’m tempted that we would now carry 2 x 2Tb drives and add a back-up from one to the other as part of the daily ritual.


RAV Power 24W Solar Charger

When you’re running power to your camera and using your iPhone for navigation and to record your efforts then you’re going to need some juice.  I have been travelling with a mighty 30000MAh power pack in my handlebar bag but that is really heavy and you can feel the difference it makes in the handling.  Now we use the much lighter RAV Power 10000MAh pack in the front packs that are topped up by these brilliant solar panels.

You can see from the pic on the left here that I just sling it over the rear panniers and then clip it to the Ortliebs.  The panel comes with 4 x carabiners and the holes on the panel line up well with the Ortlieb straps.  It’s no weight at all for the benefit.  I think we can now run 3-4 days without needing a main power source.

The only pain is having to run a USB extension lead down the top bar to the handlebar bag, but we forget about it fairly quickly.

The power that it generates is obviously subject to the amount of sunshine but using a USB meter in the UK, you can see that we were getting half an amp at the necessary 5V and this was charging an iPad.

Using it direct to the iPhone, we found it to be irritating because the iPhone needs a minimum amount of power delivered to charge so that’s why we first introduced the power pack into the chain as a sort of capacitor/buffer.

If you want to know which 210g 10,000MAh power pack we use, then it’s this one. Again, it’s a RAV and it works well with the Solar Panel.


Tubus Racks and Ortlieb Panniers

Tubus and Ortleib is a marriage made in heaven – I could leave it there but I feel I should say more.

We bought the rear panniers first and put them on cheap racks on our hybrids as we cycled the Thames Path in July.  George II said about Britain that summer was “three fine days and a thunderstorm” and that’s about right.  So, our July trip was likely to have two thunderstorms and, right on cue, we got drenched.  But our kit didn’t!  Our previous panniers would have left everything permanently damp but the Ortliebs gave us huge confidence.

The model doesn’t really matter that much, they’re all excellent.  For the record, we bought the Back Roller Classics, but our friends bought something different and they are just as excellent. We’ve since bought the front panniers to match.

The Tubus racks is pretty much the same story.  They are just so simple and so solid.  The cheap racks that we had on the hybrids were fine for a few days away but they flex under any real weight.  The Tubus steel racks give the same confidence as the Ortliebs do and we’ve had no problems.

Neither Ortlieb nor Tubus are cheap products and the costs may make you wince at first; £80 for a very simple Tubus Lowrider Front Rack certainly made me wince; but if you’re going to be doing any real cycle touring then it’s a fair bet that you’re going to end up here and the old adage of “Buy Cheap, Buy Twice”  is worth remembering.

The only minor irritation is that Tubus sometimes uses Torx T25 bolts and while I understand that there are some benefits to this over the more common 4mm M5 Allen Key bolt, but simplicity is key for a touring bike and there’s a bigger benefit to having all your fixings of a common type, so I have now swapped all the T25 bolts on the Tubus racks for the 4mm Allen Key types.

 


Flags on Bikes

This was so successful that it has its own post – here.

 


Mirrors

Time and again we were incredibly grateful for the situational awareness that these mirrors gave us, especially cycling in Thailand when your survival is closely liinked to your ability to maintain 360° situational awareness!

At £3.99 from Decathlon these mirrors were possibly the best value add-on part of the bikes. We have tried several types of cycling mirror, but these are both large enough to be effective and stable enough to be clear.  The only downside is that they fix into the ends of the handlebars and limit the efficacy of the bar end on that side, if you like wrapping your hand over the bar end then one side is going to be limited.


 

 

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