Monday, August 27, 2007

Five Wheels

For our tour last year, we chose to ride two very different machines.

Dgym's trike

Dgym bought his Ice QNT recumbent trike especially for the occasion. He wanted something more comfortable than an upright bike and, already owning a recumbent bike and not being quite happy with it, decided to add a wheel for stability (i.e. the ability to stop and have a rest when going up long hills). The largest chainring has been replaced with a larger one to compensate for the small wheels, giving us both a similar gear range, and all three of the tyres have been replaced as the original ones were a bit flimsy.

Hel's bike

Dawes Galaxy, which I've had for a few years, and has received various improvements, for example a homebuilt front wheel around the legendary SON hub dynamo which powers a Lumotec Oval front light (non-LED version), an extra-strong hand-built back wheel, and various other bits such as PD-M324 pedals and Body Geometry bar tape for extra comfort.


A nice seat
We both had moments when the other's mode of transport seemed like a better option. Dgym was very happy on his trike and recieved a lot of admiring gazes, cheering and requests to photograph his beautiful machine. He was very much at an advantage when we came to a stop - my heavily loaded bike would swing around all over the place when handled, and had to be propped up against a wall, whereas obviously a trike has no such problem. Dgym always had a seat with him, which was handy for roadside lunches, and he even dozed off on it a couple of times (whilst stationary of course).

Windy flat bits (e.g. the plains of Northern Europe) were a big advantage for dgym too, being lower to the ground and offering less air resistance, he breezed along whilst I struggled behind through thick treacle. I also got quite saddle sore in the flat areas, thanks to lack of variety in riding position, again not a problem for a recumbent rider.

Practical problems
It's not all good news for the trike though. It's harder to lock up, you have to get the central cross-bar right up against a tree, lamp post, etc. and then there's no 'loop' in the frame so it's not as effective as locking a diamond-framed bike. On the occasions we were allowed to bring the bikes up to our hotel room, the trike was much, much harder to get up through stairwells (although we both suffered that one!). It's harder to take a trike on a train, we did manage, but it had to be disassembled in Denmark and attracted a lot of grumbles in the UK . There were no problems with any of the ferries we used.

Then there were the various obstacles making it harder to use the trike. The frame of the trike is quite low, and it's easy to scrape it on humps on the road, e.g. for traffic calming. After being caught out by this once, dgym now gets off and gently lifts his trike over these bumps. In the Netherlands we also encountered many wooden fences / gates on the bike paths, obviously designed with regular bikes in mind but not having paid too much consideration to dgym and his beast. It was occasionally necessary to remove panniers from the trike and lift it over.

Views & hills
I was at a higher vantage point in my saddle, so got to see more, whereas dgym often felt that he was looking up at the hedgerows and missing out on scenery. And I still feel that the bike's a better climber, although I may not be able to stop and sit down for a rest so easily.

I already mentioned this, but this is wind of a different kind. Let's just say that if you eat too much cabbage and ride a recumbent trike the next day, you will be suffering from your own bad smells. If you ride a bike, you gain extra propulsion and woe betide he who rides behind you...

Dgym attracts a lot of comments about the height of his trike and how vulnerable he looks down there. It is fairly low, however you'll see that he has a tall fluorescent flag adorned with shiny ribbons. That helps. It also helps that recumbents are highly unusual and get noticed more - motorists will often get very cautious and give the trike a very wide berth. He also has the advantage that's virtually impossible to fall off.

Next time...

For now, we'll probably stick with what we've got. Dgym's still very pleased with his trike (although he doesn't spend enough time with her) and in a couple of weeks time we will be taking her to visit her homeland of Cornwall. Although I'm recumbent-curious and will probably get one when I have loads of money, I'm still comfortable on my Galaxy, it offers enough practical advantages, does everything a bike should do and will probably last a very long time.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Eight Great Sites for Touring Cyclists

  • Warm Showers

    This site's made my day - the Warm Showers concept has been around since the early nineties but has only recently become a fully mappified website.

    If only we'd known about it sooner. When you sign up, you are joining a network of people who offer accommodation facilities to touring cyclists. You can choose what you offer, from a camping spot on the lawn to full B&B service, and dictate your own terms. In return, you get access to everybody else on the network for accommodation when you're touring, and the hopeful excitement that maybe somebody will take you up on your offer.

    The idea of letting a stranger into your home might make some people a bit uneasy - I think people are quite wary about doing so, and there are some good reasons out there, but those good reasons are few and far between and being afraid of them is really not very constructive. While travelling last year we were often helped by kind strangers who helped us find somewhere to stay or somewhere to eat, or just pointed us in the right direction. The most amazing of those was being given the key to the home of a Portuguese family within fifteen minutes of meeting them, along with an invitation to live there rent-free, and apparently without a moment of worry on their part about what kind of nutters we were.

    There's not really enough people signed up to the Warm Showers network - we've done our bit. You don't even have to be a cyclist, just willing to help somebody who needs a place to stay. We're looking forward to hearing from our first cyclist!

  • Friends of the Bicycle (Vrienden op de fiets)

    We really, really wish we'd known about this one when touring the Netherlands, as the hotels were so expensive there.

    Friends of the Bicycle will send you a list of thousands of addresses in Belgium and the Netherlands where homeowners will give you B&B for a maximum of 17euro per person per night (You'd be lucky to find a double room in a hotel for under 60) and optionally a packed lunch next day for up to 4euro. There's a membership fee of 9euro but that'll pay for itself several times over in just one night. This one's for bikers and hikers.

  • Bikely

    Cycling route planner based on Google Maps. Click points on your tour one at a time, and Bikely will connect them up and display the distance. You can make notes about each point on the route, and save your route off for everybody else to see.

    There is a down side - it can make your machine rather sluggish after several hundred points but I suspect that's Google Maps' fault. It'd be much better if the route could snap to roads but, again, that's a Google Maps limitation. (Along the same lines is GMaps pedometer which has been around longer, but is more geared for walking and I don't think offers any advantage over Bikely these days).

  • The Fully Loaded Touring Bike Gallery

    This one's eye candy. It's exactly as the title says, pictures of fully loaded touring bikes against scenic backdrops. I wish I'd known about this one sooner or I would have taken some suitable pictures last year. Digging through the photographs we did take, I only found one picture of both our bikes up against a wall in France. I submitted it, but it hasn't appeared yet. Apparently it's quite hard to get a picture into this gallery.

  • Trento Bike Pages

    Hours of entertainment here - various people's accounts of their bike tours all over the world. If you're wishing that hel and dgym would hurry up and post more cycling stories, go here instead and read about other people's adventures, which are probably much more exciting anyway.

  • Cycle Tourer

    Assorted information about cycle touring in several different European countries. Tells you all sorts of useful things such as what maps to use, how to camp, road conditions, shop opening hours, how easy it is to take your bike on the train, and plenty of useful links. There is also lots of general cycle touring advice.

  • Bike Access

    If you're planning a tour some distance from your home and need to take your bike on the plane or train to get there or back, it's worth checking Bike Access for somebody else's experience taking a bike on that airline or train route. There is also a lot of general information about boxing and bagging bikes for transport and the practical issues involved. It's not the best-organised site, but is a goldmine of information. You could combine this with the information on Seat61 to transport your bike hundreds of miles. Not that we're advocating the lazy option or anything.

    Within the UK, you can also consult the UK Bike/Rail Page.

  • How to make a housse

    If you live in the UK and want to tour central Europe or beyond, you can either fly there, cycle there or take the train. Flying's no fun, especially with a bike, and you may not have time to cycle there. If you take the train, it's quite likely you'll need to go through France. If you read enough of Bike Access, you'll find out that this is a right pain and the only real way to get your bike on the French trains without too much hassle, is to take the wheels off and bag it up into an housse (pronounced "oose", it's a bike bag. The commercially sold ones are bulky and heavy, so this site gives you instructions to make your own.

Monday, August 20, 2007

A cup of Trangia Tea

The Trangia 27-1 UL stove arrived last Wednesday in a little brown parcel and it was all very exciting. Unfortunately in all the excitement I had neglected to get excited enough to actually buy any fuel for it, so wasn't able to test it straight away and had to content myself with merely unpacking it, working out what was what, and gazing admiringly at how neatly all the bits and pieces nested together.

On Thursday I picked up a good supply of pretty purple juice from the hardware shop and on Friday, a rather bleak and drizzly looking day (hey, this is the summer of grey miserable days, don't you know?), I put on my raincoat, armed myself with one Trangia stove + accessories, one plastic camping mug, one Spork (for stirring), one teabag, a small bottle of meths, a bottle of water, a cigarette lighter and set off into the deepest darkest depths of The Garden to boil up a cup of Trangia Tea.

Bits & Pieces

The Trangia comes in several parts:

  1. Burner unit
    The burner (centre) is the core of the system, and that's where the fuel goes.

    The simmer ring (right) can be placed over the burner and opened to varying degrees for more efficient burning. When completely closed, it can be used to extinguish the burner.

    The screw-cap (left) allows you to store left-over fuel for next time.

  2. Upper windshield
    This bit keeps the wind off the flame and supports the pans. The pot supports are lowered when using the saucepans, or raised (as shown) to support the frying pan.

  3. Lower windshield
    This bit holds up the burner.

    It all fits together to make a stable and windproof stove.

Lighting up

I poured a small amount of meths into the burner and added a little water. You're supposed to add 10-15% water to the fuel to prevent sooting - it probably would have been a good idea to have something to measure out the proportions.

Lighting the stove was a bit tricky. At the risk of sounding a bit stupid, I spent a considerable amount of time attempting to light the little holes, like you'd do on a gas stove. Ten minutes later I had a sore thumb and an unlit stove. I tried using a bit of paper to transfer the flame but that didn't have much effect either. The instructions on the packaging didn't make it clear exactly how to light the stove, and after much frustration I gave up, headed indoors and searched the internet for more information.

That was when I came across a delightful little page on How to use a Trangia Camping Stove which informed me that, contrary to my instincts, I should just be chucking a lighted match into the little purple puddle of fuel. My cup of tea was saved! I didn't have any matches so had to use the lighted bits of paper, and a couple of minutes later my little stove was roaring away. I measured out a cupful of water into one of the saucepans, put it on to boil and covered it up with the frying pan / lid.

It took about 3-4 minutes to boil - not the fastest stove in the world but its stability does allow multi-tasking, so I could have made a start on putting up the tent while the water was boiling. At this point, most of the system was quite hot. The upper windshield, pan and lid were all too hot to touch and I needed to use the handle with them (the handle stays off until you need it). The lower windshield was cooler, but with longer cooking it too might have been too hot to touch.

I removed the lid, took the pan off the flame and dropped the closed simmer ring onto the burner - a tricky task as everything was so hot - and left the burner to cool. The cap shouldn't be screwed back onto the burner until it has cooled, otherwise the rubber seal on the cap will be damaged and you'll end up leaking meths everywhere.


I poured the water into the plastic camping mug and left my cuppa to brew for a few minutes.

Examining the bottom of the pan revealed no sooting whatsoever (sooting is frequently reported by Trangia users who don't read the instructions and burn neat meths), just a little discolouration from the heat. Jolly good.


Disaster struck when I noticed an odd phenomenon - the cup was virtually empty but I hadn't drunk anything from it. The cheapo plastic mug I'd picked up from a nearby camping shop, while nice and light, was also split down the handle and the lawn had drunk most of my lovely cuppa. Noooo....


Useful things to consider when using a Trangia.

  • Bring matches, not a lighter
  • Dilute the fuel with 10-15% water and you'll get a soot-free burn. It might help to have a measuring device. You probably want to do this on the spot rather than pre-diluting the fuel as there's very little point in lugging extra water around when it's widely available and rather heavy stuff.
  • Most of the stove will get hot. Don't touch it, and don't leave the handle on or it'll get hot too.
  • Get a decent mug.
  • Make sure you've got enough fuel in the stove before lighting it. It's dangerous to add more when the stove's lit or still hot, and you'll have to wait half an hour for it to cool down so you can top it up.

So the stove works great but if anybody feels like donating one of those nice titanium camping mugs, do get in touch.

Trangia camping stove full photo set

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Equipment: Camping

There will be more cycling in a couple of weeks time. Dgym and I are going for a couple of weeks in Cornwall (the home of his trike) and I'm then off for a couple more weeks Somewhere Else (Which at the moment could be anywhere from Scandinavia to Central Europe - as usual I have too many ideas and can't just pick one of them!). I'm looking forward to getting Dgym back on the road, he seems a bit under-enthusiastic and hasn't been paying his trike enough attention lately, but hopefully he'll get over that.

In the meantime, we've been thinking a bit about the equipment we took along with us last year, how that worked out for us and what we learned for next time, and thought it'd be useful to write a bit about that. We'll start with camping.


The small free-standing tent was borrowed, and we regarded it as an item of "emergency equipment", to be used in case we couldn't find anywhere to stay. I was up for camping but Dgym, who was several inches too tall to fit in comfortably, felt that it served him better as a headrest. We came close to camping when we were unable to find a room in Dieppe, but didn't end up using it (albeit not quite for its intended purpose) until we were desperate for a mosquito net in Poland.

We camped twice in Denmark for financial reasons, and although the campsites were lovely (particularly Roskilde) I don't think Dgym was particularly comfortable, so once back in the UK we decided to splash out on a new tent and ended up ordering a Terra Nova Laserlarge.

Tent We chose the Laserlarge on the grounds that it was both larger and lighter than the old tent, easy to put up and not too expensive. We set out for Spain and Portugal intending to get a lot of use out of it, but the campsites weren't having any of it and in our four weeks of travelling we only found two that were open. So we haven't had much opportunity to use it as we'd have liked, but so far it seems like a good choice, it's fairly easy to put up, quite light, there's plenty of room for both of us and anything precious that we want to keep close at hand (e.g. Grey Mouse) and space in the vestibule for a couple of panniers - although the hard ground at the Portuguese campsite did have us wishing we'd gone for a freestanding model.

Sleeping bags

Our matching left/right zipping Rab S12 sleeping bags were chosen for their thermal properties. When choosing a sleeping bag, the first thing you decide is whether you want down (lightweight, compact, a bit more expensive, you're in a right mess if you get it wet) or synthetic (heavier, bulkier and not so much of a pain to dry out). We were a bit worried about the whole getting-it-wet thing so opted for synthetic. Getting a pair of matching bags with one left and one right zipper means two single bags can be zipped together so you can snuggle up for extra warmth, if you're into that sort of thing. Warmth was a priority as we were headed for Poland and thought we'd be getting there in late April / early May when there could still be snow there - furthermore, we could end up in the mountains. As it turned out, we got there in early June, it was baking hot, barely a hill in sight and we didn't use them anyway.

Looking back, we both feel differently about this choice. I think we should have got lighter sleeping bags. They're big and bulky and we really didn't need bags that went down to -12C! They're useful to have in case we do want to tour colder places but if I had loads of money right now I'd buy a nice little down bag to use on future trips.

Dgym still thinks we made the right choice as it was good to have them there in case of emergency, and he also points out that they are relatively light bulk, something that is good to have in panniers as it prevents you from filling the space with other, heavier, items.

Camping mats

Thermarest self-inflating mattresses - We quite like these, they're fairly comfortable and the inflation works well, although it can be a bit of a pain squeezing that last bit of air out so you can roll them up properly. They came in handy during our recent house move, as our mattress moved several days after we did!


This is something we didn't really do on our travels last year. With the exception of the fruit sandwiches incident we always ate out. This saved on carrying around loads of extra equipment, but also cost a lot of extra money and a stove really would have helped us that evening in Soncillo.

My bank account tells me that self-catering on future trips would be a really good idea, so with that in mind I started researching camping stoves. Pretty much universal opinion among touring cyclists on the internet seemed to be that the Swedish meths-burning Trangia is the way to go - it's stable, it's windproof, it'll last you for years, if you don't like meths you can get a gas-burner addon and then it really is the king of all camping stoves. There are smaller and lighter stoves around but this one looked pretty nifty and I'm easily sold on the recommendation of dozens of fellow cyclists, so I went ahead and ordered the 27-1 ultralight, which arrived the other day (along with a Spork). I tried it out yesterday and will be reporting back on that soon.