Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Review of some camping gear

For a while now I have been thinking about giving you something of a review of camping and/or cycling equipment that I used during my travels through New Zealand. With this blogpost I try to give you my personal opinion on gear that I took with me, it is by no means a scientific judgement, just my personal opinion ;-).

Thermarest NeoAir
Thermarest NeoAir
I bought this sleeping pad a couple weeks before I left, as it was light and quite small. Thermarest says it is about 400 grams, which I think is pretty light for a comfortable pad. The most impressive things have been said, it is light, very comfortable, and packs down to the size of a coke can. There is one major nuisance though (in my opinion), you have to inflate it at the end of the day. One a very relaxing cycle day this isn't too much work, but after a rough day of cycling I sometimes felt too exhausted to inflate it (in the end I did though). Once I get to a campsite I want things to go easy, not having to inflate a sleeping pad isn't one of the things I want to do. On a next trip I will head out with a self-inflatable sleeping pad (Thermarest ProLite 3 or 4), although a bit heavier, I do like the ease of use. Yeah, I'm lazy ;-).

Hilleberg Akto
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A lightweight one-sleeps tent, which is long enough for me :). The tent can be packed pretty small, and compresses pretty good within a Radical pannier, as long as the single pole is separated. When stuffing it in its bag when packing you'll have to be aware of the four fiberglass rods that keep the ends of the tent up, these feel a little fragile (carried no spares for those things).

Nazca Pioneer with Radical panniers
Overlooking Lake Pukaki, with Mount Cook Aoraki in the background
A wonderful bike to ride, but with heavy luggage on the back the bike feels unstable in corners. It feels like the front wheel wants to slip away from under the bike with a high load on the rear rack and on the seat (in Radical Design panniers and a top bag). Can't remember ever having the same feeling on my previous Optima Condor, where the entire cargo is more in the center of the bike, but I also didn't take the same gear with me as some years ago to Denmark. This doesn't make for a objective comparison, so this is done on feeling. And yeah, I did pack too much stuff in the panniers and top bag for my trip through New Zealand.

Off road the bike handled pretty good with the Schwalbe Marathon XR's (57mm wide), as I 'glided' over the dirt/gravel roads of the Otago Central Rail Trail. On other occasions when the gravel was more loose, you could feel the front slide into a corner (understeer) at speed, which can be hair raising (tip: don't use front brake in those cases!). I am considering going back to a Condor again, but the Pioneer is perfect for light cycle touring, so I'll hold on to it for a while. Though, I would use a different type of bicycle for off road/technical MTB style cycling.

One weakness of the Pioneer is the headset, when using an under-seat-handlebar. I had to tighten the headset a couple times when I was in New Zealand, and the front fork/stem had a lot of flex when I came down from Crown pass. My guess is that because there is no counterforce on the top of the stem, the headset is stressed more than on a regular recumbent (with either a direct under-seat-bars or top-bars). Do I hear somebody saying to use a fork with 1 1/8 inch steerer tube and a Chris King headset?!
I now focus on only a slight problem, when fully loaded, which is a consequence of this design, but all in all this bike is reliable, sweet to look at, and can take quite a beating. I have abused the bike pretty hard with the amount of weight on it and by riding not so subtle off road, but everything held up perfectly and it didn't break down on me.

Future plans
A bunch of people said to me lately that I would have travelled enough to last another year or so. Truthfully, NO! Travel leads to more travel, as it is addicting being on the road. Life is a whole lot less complex being on the road, than doing a job. No, I'm not riding because I want to get away from it, it is another challenge, but I do love the life on the road.
So a couple new ideas are spooking through my head, such as the North Sea Cycle Route, or riding from the Netherlands to New York (USA), via Magadan (Siberia) (i.e. Ewan McGregor & Charley Boorman's "Long way round"), or even closer to home, following the Dutch border all round. Too bad that I don't have that many vacation days left at work, and a project such as cycling the "long way round" requires some planning and preparation (probably won't do it on my own).

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