Kit and Bike

 

For long distance self-supported cycling, making sure that your clothes, your kit and your bike are all perfect is critical.  

Clothes

As always, Rapha cycling clothes are the best. On the Cambridge to Warsaw trip, I took one pair of classic bib shorts and two tops. A lightweight one and a normal classic one.  To be honest, I could have only taken the classic top.  You don't have space for two shorts so you're washing every night and when I got hot I just undid the top entirely and flapped along in the breeze.  I'm sure there were people who didn't appreciate a topless middle aged man cycling past their farm but...hey ho.

I rarely wore gloves because they seemed to make my hands more numb and as a result I have two huge calluses on the heels of my hands.

I wore a helmet naturally and I did take a casquette (one of those silly cycling hats).  This was useful because (a) it helped in the rain and (b) it unambiguously marked me out as a total twat when I wore it walking round Potsdam and Posnań on the rest days.

My wet weather and cold weather gear was...more Rapha!  I had the Rapha Explore Down Jacket which I only used once while waiting for the ferry but there could have been other times it was required so I would definitely take it again. It weighs practically nothing and packs down small. My wet weather top was the Rapha Pro Team Lightweight Jacket and, like the down jacket, it weighs practically nothing.  It's not "breathable" but keeps you dry and quite warm in rain showers.

There's only one true colour for cycling clothes and that's black and, therefore, all the kit above was black.

I detailed this in the blog but clothes to wear in the evening are a real issue on trips like this.  I had a t-shirt and some thin craghopper trousers which were made out of chemicals. The "Jack Reacher" approach of just binning your t-shirt and underpants every few days and buying new ones worked well. Although the off bike shoes were incredibly ugly and horrible, they were light and squished down well in the bag.

Carrying the stuff

The blog documented my loathing of the bean-of-doom but, to be honest, it's probably the best way to carry stuff.  Panniers make you look like a tourist and the saddle mounted bean doesn't add the extra aero drag of panniers.  I just wouldn't buy a Topeak bag again.  It turned out to be a hopeless design and it fell apart. I have some smaller bags from Restrap and they're well made I have bought one for future trips.

I also had a bar bag also made by Rapha. I wasn't sure about the bar bag but it turned out to be really useful to keep things like glasses or some food or the tools for the bike. It also had the ziplock bag with my passport, money and credit cards in it.  Ziplock bags are fabulous for this type of trip and I used them a lot.  The bar bag also had an Apple AirTag hidden in the bag.  AirTags are a really smart idea and broadcast their position if you lose them.  I thought if somebody nicked the bike, it might help to find it.

What I put in my jersey pockets involved a very strict routine.  One thing that you get obsessive about is leaving something behind either in a hotel or at a stop in a cafe or petrol station.  Routine helps to dampen down the terror of leaving your phone or passport somewhere.  Left hand pocket: headphones.  Central pocket: phone in a case with some money.  Right hand pocket: food or tissues.  As I cycled away from a stop, I would pat the three pockets to make sure I had it all.

Ancillary stuff

I took an iPad with a Smart Keyboard so I could write the blog and do emails.  This probably was a mistake. Although the iPad only weighed 450g, the keyboard weighed over 500g. That's an extra kilo just to make it a little more convenient to write 1,500 words every night, and maybe to allow me to read some books in the evening.  In retrospect, just doing it all on the phone and maybe taking a Kindle would have been a much better approach.  However, writing the blog in the evening was a big part of the trip both for me and my family and friends so maybe it is worth it.

Headphones are absolutely essential on a trip like this and I took a pair of Airpods.  They have a "transparent" mode which helps — a bit — to hear traffic behind you and they last about three hours on a charge.  Over the trip, I generally stopped for a coffee or to buy some water at least every three hours so I would take the pods off, stick them in the case for 20 minutes and they'd be fully charged again.  Very highly recommended indeed.

I took a multitool with a chain breaker and didn't use it at all on the trip but it it essential.  I also took 2 CO2 canisters, a pump, two inner tubes and some tyre levers.  I dumped one of the tubes half-way through and probably could have done with just one CO2 canister.  I took a cheap and very light bike lock with me which I never used which was possibly foolish.

I took both a front and rear light but never used the front light.  The back light is a flashing one and I used that every day...all day.  The back light was also pretty important in supporting the bean-of-desolation when it started to fall apart.

I have a multi-region charger which can charge 5 things at once and therefore, as soon as I got to a hotel, I took it out and charged the phone, the watch, the headphones, the Garmin and the back light.  I once had to use the iPad as a power charger when my phone ran out of juice but a cheap and light powerbank would have been a better choice.  Making sure everything is charged is absolutely critical and one does obsess about it a lot.  

I took a little bottle of SPF30 suncream for my face and neck but just let my arms and legs deal with the sun naturally and now I have the strangest tan lines.  There's a brand of clothes washing liquid called Soak which worked really well so I had a little bottle of that.  A toothbrush and a small travel toothpaste which I replenished from pharmacies along the way and...SudoCrem.  It's not an easy thing to talk about but you really need to do something..."down there" to avoid any infection which would lead to saddle sores.  Savlon is a popular choice as is cycle specific preparations.  You have to slather the stuff "down there" every morning and I supplemented this by buying some nappy rash creme in Potsdam which I used every night before I went to bed.  It's not pretty and it's not sophisticated but it has to be done.  This is one thing I will not miss.

All in all when I left I was carrying about 6kgs.  With a bit of foresight, I could have got that down to 4.5kgs by dumping the spare top, the iPad and an inner tube.

The Bike

I documented the bike in this post but, post the ride, I definitely have some thoughts about it.

Everything on the bike performed faultlessly -- see the comment about not using the multi-tool once.  Sand in the gears was a bad moment but I can't really blame the bike for that.  The frame and wheels stood up to some serious battering on gravel and bumping up and down pavements (and occasionally into potholes).

The 1x group-set was also fabulous.  A wide range of gearing, almost silent when you're riding along -- ignoring the sand issue and through the trip the gears didn't need any adjustment at all.  I didn't miss having a big gear to cycle downhill since it always seemed somewhat hairy descending at speed with a fully laden bike.

Chain lubrication was something I (rightly) worried about.  In my normal riding around Cambridge or Mallorca, I would use "dry" lube and I would oil the chain every 100 to 150km.  On a trip like this, that's just one day and so you're oiling the chain every day -- and on the days with rain, you're oiling it after the rain stops.  Not a massive problem one would think but I obviously had no chance to wash the bike during the trip so the chain and gears picked up huge amounts of grit, dirt, dust and the residue of the chain oil made everything filthy.  I'm sad to say that when I was trying to get the bike into the bike bag in Warsaw, I did leave some pretty unpleasant stains on the beautiful Hotel Bristol carpet.  Sorry Hotel Bristol.

I don't think there's much you can do about this.  Maybe wiping the drive chain down with a rag every night might have helped but I'm not sure.

The tubeless tyres were a revelation.  Nearly 2,000km and I didn't have to fix a single puncture.  I did get two punctures but they sealed themselves without me even noticing.  I'm not sure that I would be confident enough to do a big ride like this without a spare inner tube in case of catastrophic failure but, compared to sitting by the side of the road fixing a puncture, these tubeless tyres are definitely the future of cycling.

The disc brakes also worked faultlessly.  Disc brakes are basically impossible to adjust or to fix on the road so they're an all-or-nothing thing.  With old fashioned rim brakes, you can probably do something if a brake stops working or a cable snaps.  With hydraulic disks, there's no roadside option.  However, to weigh against that, they work brilliantly for stopping the bike both in the dry and, more importantly, in the wet.

Finally, on the bike, the one thing that made me pretty confident of the bike was the fact that I'd built it myself.  I knew where every single nut and bolt was, I knew where every cable went and how to fix just about anything.  If you're thinking of doing a trip like this, you should probably strip your bike down to the component parts and rebuild it in order to really understand what's going on.

When I got home, I spent the best part of an afternoon cleaning the bike up and putting it back together.  Unsurprisingly, I love that bike now. 

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