Cycle Touring Kit Review

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The following kit reviews are from the equipment which I took with me on the Silk Road trip in 2015 / 2016. The full bike specification can be found here and the kit list here
 
Frame: Kona Rove Titanium (10/10)
The titanium Kona/Litespeed frame was tough enough for the trip, had very little ‘bling’ factor, did not rust or dent and looks today just as it did when new. It may have been expensive but for me it was worth every penny and will give probably a lifetime of good service.
 
Wheels: DT Swiss/SON/Pacenti (10/10) 
I had high expectations for the wheels and fortunately they lived up to them. They were given a real hammering on some really rough roads, took several flights in a cardboard box and are as true today as the day when I got them. I really appreciated the light weight and they make the unloaded touring bike to quite a quick and capable road machine. Full marks to Jon @ Just Riding Along.
 
Drive Train: Shimano XT/XTR (9/10)
I have spent many seasons thrashing these component on my mountain bike, so it was no real surprise that they stood up well on the trip, were very reliable and are going to get good marks. I changed the chain after 3 months and looking at the cassette and chainrings they certainly still have a lot of life left.  Towards the end of the trip I had some light creaking from the bottom bracket which will need investigation, but I believe this is due to a very deep river crossing in Australia (which I really should have carried my bike through!), so not normal wear and tear.
 
Shifters: Microshift (Rear) (9/10)
This was a piece of kit that was new before the trip and had a fairly short test period. Fortunately it worked out well and has been very reliable. After 6 months I noticed that the cable had frayed inside the shifter and had to be replaced so maybe there is some small design problem there. This is however a small point and the shifting was really perfect and light. The shifter seems pretty bombproof and is lightweight so really the perfect bit of kit for a touring bike. It loses a mark due to the lack of a friction mode which may be needed in the case of a bent rear mech. I used the shifter with a 9 speed M972 rear mech, 10sp XT casette and KMC chain. Setting up the 9 speed mech for a 10 speed cassette is no problem and the system worked perfectly. 10 speed components are now also well available globally.
 
Brakes: Avid BB7 Road Disc / Spped Dial 7 Levers (9/10)
I used the Avid Levers on my mountain bikes many years ago before the time of hydraulic discs and back then they were known as a solid and yet lightweight lever. They gave no problems on this trip and worked well with the BB7 calipers. I changed the blocks just once and this despite riding down some huge hills and having the additional wear and tear of water, grit and mud. The rotors remained true and braking performance was always good. On the fly adjustment is quite straightforward also. The rear brake became quite stiff after a time, but this was due to the cable rather than the brakes themselves. I would 100% recommend disc brakes for a touring bike due to the reduction of wear on the wheels, reliability and greater braking performance.
  
Bars / Stem / Seatpost: Ritchey (10/10) 
These Ritchey items are further stalwart bits of kit which have been tested over many years on the mountain bike. These are strong and lightweight and didn’t let me down. In my opinion this is a good area for weight saving on a touring bike.
 
Saddle: Speciaized (5/10)
The Specialized saddle had several months of use prior to the trip and is relatively lightweight and very comfortable, at least for me. In Australia the rail snapped. Fortunately I was in Sydney at the time, although snapped rails can be temporarily fixed fairly easily by clamping them into the seatpost clamp. Seat rails normally snap directly next to the clamp. I can therefore not really recommend this saddle for such a trip although as it is an old model it would be impossible to buy anyway. Next time I would like to try something with titanium rails.
 
Tyres: Schwalbe Marathon Almotion 38c / Extreme 35c (10/10)
Tyres were one of the components over which I had to do lots of thinking. Not knowing exactly what the roads would be like and not having long term tested either of these particular Schwalbe models, there were many open questions. Over nearly 7 months of cycling I had around 12 punctures, at least half of which were in cities and caused by nails, glass or other bits of metal. Had I taken a heavier Marathon I would have probably reduced this number to closer to zero. This would however have been a large weight penalty and these really heavy tyres make the bike feel quite dead. I wanted to keep the bike more lively and not turn it into a tank. The tyres have a couple of more months of use in them and have not suffered from any life threatening cuts, despite being pounded on some really rocky roads. For a heavier rider such narrow tyres are probably not to be recommended, but I would always choose a tyre with a low profile tread pattern rather than an off-road tyre. Only in mud would a deeper tread be more useful and is it really worth taking a tyre for conditions that may make up just 0.1% of your trip? Overall I was really impressed and would select exactly the same tyre combination again for such a trip where long life, relatively light weight and good rolling qualities are a priority.
 
Panniers: Ortlieb (7/10)
Ortlieb are in my opinion the best panniers money can buy. For this trip I tried the City version which is a lightweight version with fewer straps than the normal roller. Unfortunately these developed a rip at the point where the bag was held on the rack. I had bought the bags at VeloPlus in Switzerland, who very quickly replaced the bags for me. The replacements had no problems and I was extremely happy with the customer service at VeloPlus. What otherwise annoys me with these bags is that the fastening straps at the side are not long enough when the bag is really full…I either left one side unclipped or later added an extension clip. On the front I used the Sport Packer Plus which has the cordura fabric. One side developed a few holes which I patched up. Overall I don’t think these are as durable as the classic version, but are 70g lighter. They are also more difficult to keep clean – I like the wipe clean material of the classic version more. Due to these limitations, I will give the bags only 7/10, although I would be happy to use this combination again on a similar trip in the future.
 
USB Power: Supernova The Plug iii (Waiting....)
The Plug (iii) is a really nice bit of kit. It is fairly straightforward to fit and offers a secure way of adding a USB port to the bike. I found it gave enough power for my Garmin as soon as I reached 13km/hr. This was occasionally limiting, but overall not really an issue. The Plug worked very well until Australia where it developed a loose connection at the USB interface and part of the plastic inside broke. This meant that for the last weeks of my trip it was fairly unusable. I am going to speak to the company directly about this and hold off on a final judgment until I have a response from their customer service.
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