I am hard on gear. I buy the best and expect it to last. From deserts to jungles, rain storms to heat waves my gear has gone through it. After 3 years of cycling the globe, there is nothing that hasn’t been put to the test, and very few items have survived to tell the tale. I will start by going over all the equipment I have used and replaced and outline its durability, reliability and flaws. I do have sponsors, but have only accepted sponsorship’s from companies that make high quality products, therefore I will continue to give my honest and best review. If there are items that you feel are missing below….. you don’t need them! On with the gear……..
I think vintage mountain bike (MTB) frames are the best choice for world touring because the are well built (usually in Japan or the US many of the frames are lugged) and use stronger 26″ wheels (these are the world standard making it easy to find tires abroad).
Bottom line: If you take an old steel MTB frame and build it up with modern components, you have a bike that can go anywhere and do anything! Materials vary, but steel is the best choice for a frame that is going abroad in that it can be welded should there be a problem.
A beautiful welding repair executed by Serbian mechanics. Novi Sad, Serbia.
Brooks B-17 The saddle has gone on many tours before this one including a 2 month tour of Canada as well as a super rainy tour of Alaska. I never cover the saddle when it rains, but will shoe polish it every year or so when needed. Bottom line: The saddle shows excessive signs of wear but continues to rock after more than 20,000 km.
Handle bar tape:
Brooks Leather This stuff is OK. It is very cheaply made, and rather than having two long rolls of leather, each tape roll consists of several small lengths of leather seam-glued together. As a result of wrapping and re-wrapping after rainstorms & incidents ( water stretches leather) the bar tape will eventually rip.
Bottom line: Considering how expensive this stuff is I expect higher quality. You could probably buy two leather belts for cheaper than 2 rolls of tape and the belts will one piece of leather, rather than a few glued together. The original leather bar tape departed with lasted about 3 years before ripping in many places. There are few other options out there, I continue to use the same tape.
Old Man Mountain (OMM) Pioneer racks front & rear. The Pioneer racks are OMM strongest line of racks and are built with thick aluminum tubing, utilizing extra long quick release skewers to hold the lower portion of the rack to the bike. This makes the rack super sturdy and install-able on almost any bike! However because the rack is to the bike via the quick release removing and installing your wheels can be a hassle requiring the removal of all your gear.Therefore I recommend using thorn-proof tubes and tire liners to prevent frequent flats. Rough roads and rattling panniers will also eventually wear down the side tubing on the rack, (this is probably a problem with all racks) but I want to make sure it is noted.
Bottom line: I think the Pioneer racks are the best you can buy and are made in the USA. You might want to bring an extra rear rack skewer in that the ones used on the racks are longer than the standard size making them almost impossible to find internationally. Steel skewers would be an improvement to their product.The racks are hand built in Santa Barbara and the owner Channing answers the phone.
Newer versions of older products almost always reflect a companies desire to minimize cost. I have seen this with many products and it is most noticeable with panniers. Ortlieb Front roller classics: These panniers are supposedly the best option when it comes to having panniers that are “completely” water proof. I use these to keep my computer, hard drive, and fathers ashes dry. Ortlieb has built a good name for itself and there products can be found where ever cyclists go. The companies front panniers are a bit smaller than their rear and work well with keeping the weight down on the front rack. I purchased my first set of front roller classic panniers before my trip to Alaska in 2012, and used them for close to 3 years on my world tour. The material on the original pair was thick, waterproof and worked well in rainstorms and river crossings. So before going out on tour again in 2016 I sent my original panniers in to the company for a few repairs. Some how my original panniers were damaged in the repair process so Ortlieb sent out a newer set of the same design as a replacement. Upon first inspection the material seemed a lot thinner and the rack hardware seemed more like a toy that breaks after a few uses. I complained but was there was nothing that could be done so decided to take the new pair and try them out…… they sucked!! Within the first few weeks one of the hooks that attaches the pannier to the rack broke. Then small holes and tears began to develop in the material. Eventually the seams on the panniers (which are glued not sewn) started coming apart. Bottom Line: Ortlieb Pannier Like I said in the beginning Ortlieb’s newer product reflects the companies desire to cut corners and minimize cost. I recommend trying to find older models of their panniers, or skip them entirely.
Arkel Rear GT-54 Panniers: I am on my second set of GT-54 rear panniers, after replacing my first set due to excessive rips and tears. I don’t have too much to complain about. The main zippers on the bags are high quality, but the smaller zippers found on the fanny pack, tent bag, and medicine pouch are very finicky and prone to fail. I find having lots of compartments in panniers to be helpful in keeping gear organized and I enjoy having the breath-ability of fabric when storing vegetables and damp clothes. The panniers are not waterproof but this can easily be solved by putting your gear in plastic bags, or using their separately sold rain covers. The only difficulty I have found is that your gear tends to mold if you do not catch it as soon as it gets wet. This was a problem is the humid jungle areas of Laos, Indonesia and Malaysia, but never in the states or Scandinavia. The newer set of G-54’s was built to similar standards as the original set I replaced, although I have noticed that many of their newer pannier lines are no longer made in Canada. Bottom line: Arkel’s G-54 panniers are durable, and convenient when storing a broad range of gear. The main zippers are extremely strong and have never failed, the smaller ones however could be better. Thicker material or stronger stitching would help make the bottom and sides of the panniers last longer, as these are the areas that take excessive abuse when off road riding and wild camping.
I started the tour with an SKF stainless steel square taper bottom bracket. This is super high quality BB and was recommended to me by Sheldon Brown. The BB worked great until it broke in half while cycling the through Tokyo. I replaced it with a Phil Wood Stainless steel square taper BB so far no problems. Bottom line Stainless steel bottom brackets offer corrosion resistance at the cost of strength. A Shimano Cromoly BB will cost you a fraction of what the stainless steel costs, and will probably never snap. But of course it will eventually rust and corrode. I chose to continue using stain steel bottom brackets. I use square taper bottom brackets because they are the most common world wide. With a good square taper bottom bracket it is easy to find replacement cranksets.
Continental Travel Contact, Continental Top Contact II Foldable, Schwalbe Marathon Supreme Foldable. Replaced all these tires many times after wear. Continental Foldable tires lack durability in their bead/side walls connection and I had one fail while climbing to 12,000 feet. Bottom line The Schwalbe Marathon Supreme foldable tires were very robust and durable! They lasted a lot longer than the Continentals did, but are expensive! I recommend bringing a foldable Schwalbe as a spare and stick to Continental tires which have high value for the money!
I use heavy duty, thorn resistant Q tubes and Stopflats tire liners. I also carry 2 generic tubes for spares. Bottom line: Flats are a hassle when carrying a lot of gear, and I recommend thorn resistant tubes and tire liners over expensive Kevlar tires.
I started the tour using a Chris King 1 1/8 threaded headset this headset was super durable and never failed or had any problems after close to 3 years of use. When I started using my Schwinn frame I had to use a different headset due to headtube size and installed an Origin8 Pro Threaded 1″ Headset. The Origin8 headset broke in the head tube after 7 months of use. Bottom line: I never knew how important headset were until mine broke. Stick to a durable well made product like Chris King.
I started the tour using a Sugino XD2, 22-32-42, crankset. The left crank arm after thousands of kilometers “ovaled out” in Romania and was replaced with random Shimano crank arm found in parts bin. The Crankset overall worked well but it was impossible to find 5-bolt replacement chain rings abroad! I therefore had to have a few sent to me via mail order, which was a bit inconvenient. I eventually switched to Shimano MTB cranksets while in Asia because there was no mail order and no shops that carried the correct chain rings. Bottom line I recommend against using Sugino cranksets for international touring because they use 5 bolt chain rings which are very difficult to find. Shimano cranksets however use 4 bolt chain rings and are easy to find in any country that has a bicycle shop. Use Shimano or any other crankset that takes 4 bolt chain rings. I feel that the 22 teeth on the smaller ring is enough to climb under a heavy load, the 32 works fine on flat and small hills and the 42 will speed your decent.
Chain and Cassette :
Shimano or Sram 8 speed cassette. I usually purchase the cheaper one of the two, but stick to these brands for durability. I like cassettes that have a higher 11 tooth ring, and a lower of 30. Your crank’s granny gear can take care of the rest. For chains I always buy KMC 8 speed as they are cheaper than both Shimano and Sram and just as durable. Bottom line Depending on your riding style you may need to change your cassette and chain often. I find that after 1,000 or so miles my chain has stretched to the point where if not changed to a new one, will start to excessively wearing the front chainrings.
FRONT NOS Shimano XT. I got this derailleur because the tubing on vintage frames is smaller this the average mountain bike. It works well and shifts flawlessly. However it is not a very sophisticated piece of machinery and could easily be replaced with a different brand.
REAR Shimano Deore M591 I have used model of derailleur on many tours and have never had a problem with it. If you are friction shifting almost any Shimano derailleur will work and be reliable. However I like Shimano Deore label in that it is designed for off road, rough use. Bottom line: After over 20,000 kilometers, and signs of excessive wear, I have replaced the rear derailleur, but have never experienced any issues en-route.
I started the tour with a Shimano XT wheelset, with Wheelsmith double butted spokes and Sun Ringle Rhyno lite rims. This wheelset lasted me about 18 months before the rims started to get really thin. I replaced the set with a Velocity custom build wheelset. Velocity cartridge bearing Hubs laced with DT Swiss spokes to Velocity NoBS rims. The rear wheel lasted about 6 months before the spokes started breaking and I noticed that the rim was developing cracks, Velocity replaced it with a 40 spoke rear MTB hub, laced to an Atlas rim, with DT Swiss spokes. Bottom line: I recommend the strongest wheels you can afford on a world tour, I am not a heavy guy but my riding style requires a super robust rear wheel. Since getting the 40 spoke rear wheel I have not had any problems.
Paul Components Touring Cantilever brakes. These have very strong stopping power, and with new pads can stop you while going down hill. They also have a great design that makes them easy to adjust, and clean.The only problem with these is that they require the Paul Comp Stainless steel rack bolts in order to attach a rack. These bolts are built well but tend to break after excessive use! Bottom Line: Great brakes but be careful of the rack bolts as they tend to break leaving your cantilever stud useless!! My Gary Fisher frame was ruined when I tried to drill out the broken bolt in the Philippines.
Cane Creek SR-5 Road levers and Paul Comp Cross levers. The Cane Creek SR-5 road levers are difficult to adjust once the cable is installed, and the rubber grip tends to shift after excessive riding. Overall a durable and reliable product. The Paul Comp Cross levers are uncomfortable on the hand after excessive use. The lever is square shaped rather than round with causes more force in a smaller area of your fingers.Bottom Line: I recommend the Cane Creek SR-5 road levers but not the Paul Comp cross levers as they are uncomfortable on the hand.
Kool Stop Silver Mountain Pads. These are by far the best brake pads I have ever used! They are very rim friendly and rarely squeak. The pad however is quite thin and tends to wear out quick. Bottom line: I recommend Kool Stop brake pads to anyone who wants a pad with good stopping ability that also minimizes rim wear.
Brake Yoke Hanger:
Paul Components Moon Units. There are not that many options with yoke hangers and Paul makes are very well designed unit that continues to work well. Bottom line: A great product with intelligent design.
Jag-wire stainless steel cables. It is important to use stainless steel cables when touring, as they will last unbelievably longer than the non-stainless option. Bottom Line: Go with a stainless steel cables for both brakes and shifters as they will last many times longer than the non-stainless option.
Nitto Noodle 44 cm. I got this bar because it has a very nice shape that works well when touring because it offers many hand positions. I first tried the wider, 48 cm bar but found that I liked a narrow bar better. This bar has a very decorated sleeve in the center which however nice it is makes a creaking sound when under stress. Bottom Line I recommend against using handlebars with sleeves (two piece handlebars) even though they look great, the noise gets annoying! I do however recommend using a drop bar with when touring even on dirt roads.
1950’s Raleigh bar end shifters. I used these on multiple tours before this one, and they have worked problem free for the entire tour. Bottom Line: Great vintage product, the continues to last after years of use.
MKS lambda. These are great for riding in sandals. However the internal bearings tend to wear out quickly, and are of a size that most bike shops don’t carry. Bottom line: Good pedals but keep an eye on the bearing and overhaul when needed.
Velo Orange ATB Stainless Steel fenders. These are beautiful fenders that continue to work problem free. I have however had to remove them on several occasions when excessive mud builds up. I use a Velo Orange leather mud flap as well. Bottom line: Great product with good hardware.
Kalloy SP-267 Uno Seatpost. This is an affordable seat post that comes in many sizes. I have recently noticed that the post is developing a crack. Bottom Line: I recommend using a higher quality product.
Nitto Dirt Drop Stem. This is a fantastic stem that is long enough to bring the handle bars to a comfortable position on most bikes. It is super strong and I have not had any problems with it the entire tour. Bottom line: Great product which offers adjustability for different riding styles and handle bars.
Topeak Road Morph. This is a good pump!! It has a gauge and can easily be converted between presta and schrader. It is packable and lightweight. Bottom line: Great pump for touring, the pressure gauge works well and it is small enough to fit in your panniers.
Kelty Grand Mesa 2. This is a good, not too expensive tent. The design offers plenty of gear storage in the front and sides and the fly holds up to extreme rain. The zippers however are not of the highest quality and need to be treated with extra care. Bottom line: I like this tent and am currently on my second of the same model. The wind screen on the sides helps keep you warm and it packs up relatively small.Durable and waterproof.
MSR Whisper lite. This is my pride and joy and considered my most valuable possession. Stove can burn a wide variety of fuels, however I find standard unleaded gas to be the best option abroad as well as domestically. Some countries can hassle you when trying to fill the canister with gas at the station. I recommend bringing photo of how the stove looks set up to help with this. Make sure to buy a repair kit and remember to over haul the pump and stove assembly often. MSR does not send parts to locations other than the US.I have been stuck without replacement parts and not being able to cook sucks!! Bottom line: Probably the best stove you can buy! Great product that works with a wide variety of fuels and cooks food well!
Bag: Synthetic Marmot Trestles 15 F. I use synthetic bags because inevitably it will get wet and down does not keep you warm when wet. I have replaced my sleeping bag 3 times in the last 3 years, due to it not keeping me warm and I can say that this is not that great of a sleeping bag. It is however affordable and lightweight as far as synthetic sleeping bags go. Bottom Line:. If you can keep your sleeping bag dry, even after several days of non stop rain than I suggest bringing a down bag, otherwise this bag works well until it wears out. I camp almost every night and this bag lasts about a year before it looses its warmth.
Padding: Torso length Therma-rest Bottom line: This sleeping pad is inflatable and packs up very well with my sleeping bag inside my stuff sack. It has lasted me the entire tour and has never given me any problems. In very cold areas it can be uncomfortable in that it does not insulate well.
Dry bags: I have used 3 different bags from Sea to Summit, and all of them have leaked over time. I have found generic brands of dry bags abroad and they seem to work just as well as the Sea to Summit ones. Bottom line: Dry bags wear out over time, UV is the biggest culprit so I suggest putting your dry bag inside a plastic bag before strapping it on to your bike. Sea to Summit bags don’t seem to last longer or be more water proof than the generic brands.
2 Pairs of Swrve dura-stretch cotton knicker shorts (1 pair for cycling the other for casual use)
2 Long sleeve white dress shirts with breast pockets, (mandatory for keeping your I-pod, white reflects a lot of the sun’s heat and long sleeves protect you from sunburns. The second dress shirt is for casual use)
1 Long sleeve Smart wool merino wool shirt (Base layer to keep you warm on cold days or at night in your sleeping bag)
1 pair of thermal long underwear, moisture wicking. (usually only worn at night)
1 pair of Smartwool socks (night use)
1 Rain jacket, with hood, and zipper breast pocket (Goretex)
1 wool scarf
1 wool beanie/hat
1 pair of cycling gloves (short fingered)
1 bandanna neutral color
1 Sarong (this works for pajamas as well as a minimized blanket to keep you warm on hot evenings)
1 pair of sandals, preferably Rainbow (something durable that will not break on small hikes)
1 long sleeved wool sweater (for sleeping)
1 pair of long fingered cycling gloves
1 pair of comfortable shoes
1 pair of wool pants or sweats (for sleeping)
1 active vest (for day use)
Bottom line : Layering is the best way to stay warm in the cold. Cycling generates quite a bit of body heat so I try to avoid wearing too much clothes during the day. At night however it is easy to be cold and I tend to wear most of my clothes while sleeping.
Polarized Oakley Holbrook. These glasses are light weight, durable and have easy to find generic replacement lenses Bottom line: Expensive glasses that are comfortable, durable and offer affordable generic polarized replacement lenses.
Gopro hero 1. This is the 1st model of GoPro camera which continues to work great after years of abuse!! Other Gopro models have a bad reputation but this one rocks!! I have dropped it, tossed and had it fall out of my saddle bag while riding down a hill going super fast several times. Bottom line: This camera was made before GoPro started cutting corners and reducing production costs. Look for the original GoPro 1 model or look for another camera!
ASUS X202E This is a light weight laptop that has a built in battery and touch screen. It is very light and has a slim charger. The laptop does not function well if you are in a humid or damp environment, which makes the screen jump. The computer worked well for 18 months before it stopped charging. Bottom line: A semi durable laptop that offered 18 months of use when cycling rough roads. Its sleek design and small charger made packing easy.
Lenovo X140e When the ASUS started to fail I purchased the Lenovo as a replacement. The computer has a thin rubber bumper that protects against impacts and is equipped with a irremovable battery. This computer however is also acting up after a super rough route through Nepal. The mouse and key board does not work at start up but rather takes a few minutes to “warm up”. Bottom line Also a semi durable laptop, that didn’t seem to offer any extra durability with the rubber bumper. It has a larger charger and is quite a bit bulkier and heavier than the ASUS X202e.
Bottom line on Laptop computers: Laptops are replaceable, and it is good to have one that does not draw a crowd when used in a third world cafe. However I am considering purchasing a Macbook to see if there is any increase in durability when it comes to rough bumpy roads.
Tools, miscellaneous, etc:
Extensive patch kit with glue and sand paper, 3 tire levers (Pedros),
8 speed chain links
2 spare brake shoes (Koolstop)
Extra brake and derailleur cable (Jag wire stainless)
4 spare rack bolts
Park Tool chain breaker (with several spare pins)
Allen wrench tool to fit all bolts
Park Tool 13 /15 flat wrench
3 small open ended wrenches to fit small nuts
Shimano Cassette removal Tool
10 feet of rope
Standard Swiss army knife
Fork and spoon
Small tube of sunscreen
Tooth brush, tooth paste, dental floss,
MSR pack towel medium size
MSR stove repair kit
Roll of electrical tape, roll of Guerrilla tape
spare chain ring (if using Sugino crank 5 bolt rings)
spare chain ring bolts, spare crank arm bolt,
foldable spare tire
2 spare SD cards for camera and 1 spare battery
head lamp and spare batteries
external hard drive 1 TB
Extras: Two water bottles and cages, 1 small light weight tripod, 1 large plastic bag for keeping together tent and sleeping bag on front rack, 5 bungee cords
Please let me know if you have any other recommendations, questions or comments!
Hope this was helpful -Julian Wong