Equipment reviews

Sleeping bags - Yellowstone Ultralite 100

As a seasoned traveler I have tried out a considerable number of sleeping bags. At the moment I have six of them, and a few more were stolen, lost or given away to homeless persons. Recently I was asked to do a review of a particular 2-season sleeping bag from sleepingbags|outlet. The bag in question is Yellowstone Ultralite 100.

The bag can be squeezed to small volume.
Let's start with few hard data about the bag first. Yellowstone Ultralite 100 is classified as a (ultra)light 2-season sleeping bag, that means it should be suitable for the use in summer, late spring and early autumn. The rated minimum ambient temperature for comfortable sleeping is 7 degrees C. It weighs 756 g on my scale and that includes the compression bag it is packed in. The compression bag alone weighs 70 g. The bag is 220 cm long and width at the shoulder is 65 cm. The insulating material is synthetic fiber, stated as “Duralite Downlike 3D Micro Fiber”. The bag costs 23 £ (or 28 euros or 39 $).
The first impression when I got this bag was very good. I was particularly impressed with the compression bag it is packed in. It has two nylon straps to cinch the bag down to rather small volume (20 cm x 15 cm or 3.5 L). My first thought was that I could use this compression bag as a main pack behind the seat on my ultralight bicycle tours (like the two ones in France in 2011 and 2012). The compression bag is very suitable for this as it can be expanded to hold all the clothes on a hot day or squeezed to almost nothing on a cold or rainy days when you wear all your stuff. If you use the compression bag for this purpose, the sleeping bag might be squeezed into another storage bag – about 3.5 L and 20 g - so the packed sleeping bag would not weigh much more then 700 g.

The sleeping bag itself looks nice. Black and red design is appealing, the material is soft,  feels nice to the skin and has a tough-looking structure. When testing the bag I slept in what I would call “cycling underwear” - ultralight short sleeved jersey, cycling shorts and short socks. That is the way I usually sleep when I camp on a ultralight cycling tour. The minimal temperature during the test was 9 degrees C and I was rather comfortable in the bag. With a bit of additional clothing I think the temperature range of this bag could be extended to include most of spring and autumn. The bag has a mummy shape, but is reasonably big enough to move around in it, to turn around and to find the best sleeping position. I am 183 cm tall and slim (70 kg) and I had enough room to stretch almost any way I liked. The shape could be improved though, to be a bit narrower at the shoulder and wider at the hips to give more room for the arms there. The bag has a hood that fits very well around the face when it is cinched and stays in place even when you turn around. The bag has a long two-way zipper (with zipper baffle to retain heat) that can be unzipped so the bag can be used as a blanket when the temperature gets too high. Contrary to what is stated on its web-site, the bag doesn't have the shoulder baffle, although I didn't feel the need for one. The small inner pocket is strategically positioned right below your chin, which I found to be ingenious position, but it can be only partially closed with a small Velcro patch, so smaller or narrower items (like glasses for example) would fall out of it. It is suitable for bigger items, e.g. a passport.

As a conclusion I'd say that I was nicely surprised with this bag. For its price it has a lot of value: light weight and small volume, great looking desing, is nice to the touch and reasonably comfortable to sleep and turn in it and can be quickly packed and unpacked from a fantastic multi-purpose compression bag. I would recommend it for 2-season use (extended well into spring and autumn with additional clothing) to anyone who wants a small sleeping bag without the high-tech hype and price. However, it probably won't be suitable to hardcore weight weenies who are eager to spend 5 times as much money to save 200 grams.

Review of the equipment from the 2013 tour

 
In October 2013 I cycled in Vietnam and China. This was a camping tour and - as appropriate for an ultralight touring fanatic - a weight record breaking one. I had just under 4 kg of stuff and under 14 kg including the bike. The list of things is published in the blog. Here is the review of my stuff.

I had my usual "far-away tour" bike, the #8 one. I did some modifications to reduce weight, most notably with a new, light set of road tires (240 g each, which reduced weight by -330 g), then two lighter tubes (-50 g), omission of second bottle cage (-25 g), Allen key squewers instead of QR (-100 g) and new seat-post and seat (-80 g). I also cut off the rear struts (legs) off the rear rack (-90 g). However, I was not very pleased with the bike. It did feel comfortable, maybe too comfortable. It seems that my two last tours in France - using road racing bikes - have shifted my preference to more performance-driven riding. The tires were a big mistake. They were Continental Grand Prix 4-season in dimension 28-622 (in reality more like 26-622). I thought that wider tires would be more appropriate for rougher surface, but I was wrong. The sidewalls were very soft and - lacking a high-pressure pump - I had a record number of snake bites. I lost confidence in tires and it resulted in over-prudent and worrisome riding.

Another thing that I was not pleased with was my outfit - I just didn't feel good in what I was wearing. The shorts were a bit too big (especially after I lost weight) and were hanging on me like diapers. The jersey was too tight, the socks weren't the right color, front cuts that I made in the crocs felt ridiculous and the long trousers for off-the-bike were too baggy. What I learned from all this is to go with the things that you feel good in - and to try that outfit at home first and get used to it.

Was there a thing that worked? Yes. My cue-sheets, as usual, were a fantastic navigation tool. More so after I added some upgrades like town names in Chinese and general riding directions between major points (e.g. N(orth), NE, ...). A small compass was invaluable in bigger towns, for example I found my way out of Chengdu to Dujiangyan easily, using only the compass. I replaced tent storage bag with a slightly bigger - but not heavier - dry bag (the orange one in the picture). This gave me the opportunity to distribute some of my stuff between two dry bags, with a bit easier access to some things.

Review of the equipment from the 2012 tour


In august 2012 I cycled again in FranceIinspired by my own writing about the 100 cols tour, I decided to enjoy the same route again in 2012. There were some important changes though: different bike, the reverse direction of travel and different camping equipment. It was also the tour with the new weight record, but this time it is important to notice that this was not a "credit card" tour - I camped almost 50 % of the nights, which is more then on my average tour with camping equipment. I had 2.6 kg of stuff and 9.9 kg including the bike. The list of things is published there. Here is the review of my stuff.

I had the lightest bike so far: 7.3 kg. It had a compact double crankset (50/34) with lowest gearing ratio 34/28=1.21. The bike was performing just fine - I have no real complaints. I had two punctures and I replaced the pedals when the left pedal fell off, but those things were easy to sort out.

Containers. Everything was the same as the last year (see the review below), with just one little (but maybe notable) distinction: to reduce the contact of my thighs with the bag behind the seat, I used a plastic bracket (weighing 12 g) as a spacer. It was tied to the back of the seatpost with duct tape. I used the second bottle cage and bivy's storage bag as a carrier of the rain jacket, arm warmers and gloves.

Clothes. This time I had a very light (136 g) synthetic cycling top (jersey). It performed perfectly both in rain and in 12 days of heat wave. The best thing about it is that it could be fully unzipped, which I had a chance of appreciating during hard climbs at 40 degrees C. Cycling shorts with a bit thicker padding were great too. I had no problems with sore bottom. Those were "bib" shorts, i.e. with shoulder straps, which I don't particularly like, because my back stayed wet longer than usual after rain or after hard climbs. Next time I would use shorts without shoulder straps, with waist elastics only. The windproof and rain resistant jacket, that I liked the last time, somehow didn't perform well this time,  maybe because its water-proofing had  worn down. Fortunately I had arm warmers that kept my arms a bit warmer. I liked off-bike shorts as much as the last time, as well as the crocs.

Other items. Sleeping bag was a really positive surprise. Despite the fact that it's a very light summer down sleeping bag (472 g), it kept me warm and - when there were no mosquitoes - camping in it was a real pleasure. Beneath the sleeping bag I had just a thin nylon sheet (34 g) to protect the bag from dirt and humidity. I never rode during the night, so, the front light and reflective belts were not necessary. I navigated by the same cue cards as the last time. As I was riding in the opposite direction from the one on the cards, it was sometimes harder to find the route, but the worst that happened were 30 additional kilometers because of  lost ways.

Review of the equipment from the 2011 tour

In july/august 2011 I cycled in France. It was a mix of two tasks: climbing over 100 French cols and completing Paris-Brest-Paris randonnée. It was also the weight record breaking tour, which is not surprising since I didn't take full camping gear. I had 3 kg of stuff and 11.9 kg including the bike. The list of things is published there. Here is the review of my stuff.

When reading this review bear in mind that this was a summer tour without the usual camping kit. I would take something different in other circumstances.

First, the bike. It had a compact double crankset (50/34) with lowest gearing ratio 34/27=1.26. It weighed 8.9 kg. On some climbs, when my lower back hurt, I wished I had lower gearing, maybe my usual touring bike with a triple (lowest gearing ratio 30/26=1.15), even if it is almost a kilo heavier. But then again, I remember that I sometimes have the same pains with any kind of bike. Stopping on a climb to rest is an option, but in France I was too stubborn to complete the climbs in one go, and besides, once you start stopping, you'll stop at every possible excuse. So the conclusion is: have a lighter bike and do exercises to strengthen (and maintain) your core muscles.
I had flat pedals with pins (4th picture in the pedal review below). They are great: good grip, wide, comfortable platform, no need to think what to do with your feet and at 260 g even lighter then most of the clipless pedals (even if you don't count in the clips). I found a 40 g multitool with 8 mm allen key to screw them on and off.

Containers. The little camera bag in front was excellent. I had camera, tools and skin cream in it. As a 40 g container carrying 340 g of content, it was the realization of the first axiom of ultralight cycling par excellence. It was simple to tie it to the handlebar with a nylon strip and once I tied it on, I never took it off. During the rain I'd just slip any plastic bag over it.
The compression bag behind the seat was good as well. It could be expanded to include food bought at the end of the day or shrunk when I wore all my clothes on. On my way home from the airport I even managed to ride with a big bottle of Sheridan's strapped to it. The bag could be strapped on and off relatively quickly, even though the items inside were not quickly accessible.
I used the second bottle cage and bivy's storage bag as a carrier of the rain jacket, arm warmers and coins - very handy and light.

Clothes. I had a cycling top (jersey) made of 50% merino wool. While it is stylishly designed, without obtrusive logos and can be worn on any occasion, it was just plain too hot. On every longer climb and no matter what temperature, I was soaked from the sweat. I ended up emptying everything from jersey's back pockets, and carried the things elsewhere. Conclusion: have a light, synthetic jersey which wicks away the sweat. The official 2011 PBP jersey, for example, is much better in this regard. Additional option for better ventilation: cut off the middle pocket, or replace it with a mesh.
I had a windproof and rain resistant jacket, which was just right to keep the chill out and wasn't too hot. A "+" to arm warmers too, they were good to keep me relatively warm in the rain. Leg warmers weren't exactly necessary. I wore them only on the three emergency nights when I slept in the bivy bag. They could have been easily replaced with winter nylon stockings. The second, thicker pair of merino socks weren't necessary either. A much better solution for the rain was to wrap my feet in cling foil.
For the time off-bike I replaced trousers with light shorts without pockets. I really liked them, even if sometimes I didn't know what to do with my hands.

The Crocs performed very well - see the separate review on crocs, with an update.

Bivy bag. I don't think that was a good choice. The bivy bag didn't keep me warm and I stayed relatively dry only because I wiped off the condensation from inside of it several times during the night. A "space foil" would probably perform just as well, if not better. Instead of emergency camping, I'd say it would had been better just to continue cycling throughout the night. That is why I'd recommend good lights. Instead of reflective vest, I'd take only reflective belts.

Navigation. Cue sheets that I made from the "100-cols" road book were excellent navigation tool, not least because they encouraged me to contact the residents and ask them about directions. People were very helpful without exception. I'm positive that I couldn't navigate better with any kind of paper or electronic map.
 
Sealskinz waterproof socks 

If, after reading previous reviews on this page, you got the impression that everything's rosy in the UL-cycling world, then I'm afraid I've got some bad news: the day when I have to write a somewhat negative review has come. Not that I am particularly fond of it - my heart is bleeding in fact - but, other than lying, I can't do differently.

The item in question are "Sealskinz" waterproof socks. I ordered them few years ago, based mostly on great web reviews. I used them for the first time on the last African tour, when riding down the misty Sani Pass in cold and windy but relatively dry conditions. At that time the socks felt great, they were comfortable and my feet stayed dry and warm, even though I was wearing only crocs. In fact I was certain that I'd finally found the ideal wet-weather footwear combination: Crocs & Sealskinz.

However, after my second experience with Sealskinz, I am really sad to announce that they are not perfect. The occasion to test Sealskinz for the second time came on a PBP classification 400 km brevet. The weather forecast - mostly cloudy with occasional showers and storms - seemed ideal for the Sealskinz to show themselves in full glory. I'd chosen to ride in trainers, because they performed great on previous 200 km and 300 km brevets. Most of the time it was not raining, except a bit of drizzle in the morning, but in the afternoon there were a couple of storms which got me thoroughly soaked, although most of the water seeped into my shoes from the road spray - especially from the front wheel. I expected that Sealskinz could easily deal with it - after all I saw adds of a person standing in water for a couple of minutes with socks on, being happily dry. Well, maybe the socks work if you stand still in water, but they certainly don't work if you cycle in wet shoes. In about 15 km of riding in wet shoes, everything was soaked: the shoes, the socks and my feet. I can't say if the wet feet were a consequence of perspiration or leaking - but it doesn't matter because the result was the same: the socks didn't keep my feet warm. I still had about 180 km to go, most of it during the night, and the best solution was a flint-stone one: a plastic bag between the socks and the shoes assured that at least my feet didn't freeze. It would had been just the same if I had ordinary socks on.

Moreover, two additional questions arise. First, it is often said that no one is rich enough to buy cheap stuff. In this case, I'd rather say that it's a double misery if you buy expensive stuff that doesn't do what it's supposed to do. Secondly, I become highly suspicious of favorable web reviews.

Racks

After rims and spokes racks are the third most common piece of equipment of a cycle tourer which has a bad reputation of breaking down. Consequently many producers have done considerable amount of research in making a bomb-proof racks. Tubus racks are a notable example. They are supposedly very robust and strong, and being made of steel tubes instead of solid rods, they are claimed to be relatively light. Another advantage is that, being steel, they can be repaired (i.e. welded) easily. Incidentally, I find this a bit of a contradiction: if they are as robust as they claim to be, then reparability is not an issue, because they shouldn't fail in the first place.

Evolution of the rack (right to left)
Of course, all this matters only if you tour in a traditional, fully loaded style. A light weight cyclist doesn't have to worry too much about a rack - any old piece of junk will probably be suitable. Since almost any kind of rack will be strong enough to hold your 4 of 5 kg of luggage, you can concentrate on finding the lightest one. As there will be no rack failures, reparability is not an issue, and you can safely look for a rack made of lightweight material - aluminum. I myself had toured on many kind of racks, including steel ones (which I had to get repaired once), but had ended up using aluminum solid rod racks. My last three racks were from Bor Yueh, cheap and solid. (If you wonder why I needed three "solid" racks in a short period of time, let me calm you - it's not because they were weak, I was only searching for the lightest rack). The first one was a rear rack, similar to BY-3B6. It weighs 460 g alone and 520 g with mounting hardware, if you have eyelets for the rack already on the bike frame. It served me well for a couple of tours, until I found out that the front rack BY-206 can be used as a rear rack. This front rack is 414 g alone and 454 g with mounting hardware. Both of these two racks are for 26" wheels, but can be fitted with 700c wheels, although you will not be able to put on wider rear tires (28 mm to 30 mm is the maximum). The racks also have an aluminum platform which is nice for putting your luggage on and also protects your stuff from road spray. There is another, even lighter version of this front rack, BY-201, it is 322 g (700c wheels version), and without the platform - this is my ultimate lightweight rack. I suspect that these racks can be made even lighter by cutting off the rear struts, leaving only the two vertical legs. The function of those struts are mainly to protect your panniers from getting into the spokes. Since we, the ultralight cyclists, have gotten rid of panniers long time ago, they are not needed. Saving you about 70 g.
Update: as a preparation for an upcoming trip, I finally did what I've been announcing for a while: to saw off the rear struts (legs) of a 414 g Bor Yueh. It saved me 90 g, so the rack is now 364 g, counting in also the mounting hardware. See the pics.

A rack on a diet. It's unlikely that a sub-365 g frame bag could carry as much luggage as this rack.

Tools - light multitools

You can find a more general discussion about the tools in the main blog, in the Other material tips post. Here I will only briefly review two light multitools that I got recently. For a start, however, let me repeat what I consider as a collection of necessary tools for an ultralight cycling tourist. The tools can be divided in three sets:


(1) pump, 2 tyre levers, hypercracker, 2 razor blades
(2) 2, 4, 5 and 6 mm allen keys, spoke key, small flat screwdriver, chain tool
(3) 15 mm pedal spanner (cut in half) or a 8 mm allen key or a 6 mm allen key, depending on what kind of pedals you have.

You won't usually find the set (1) as a part of a multitool, so you'll have to get them separately. This set weighs - in my case - 62 g. The second set can be a part of a multitool or a set of separate tools. So far I'd considered that the second option is better - not only because it is functionally better (e.g., allen keys in a multitool are sometimes too short to reach a nut), but also because it is lighter. My second set, as separate tools, weighs 104 g.

However, I recently got two small and very light mulitools, pictured here, that might make me change my mind. The one at the left (Lifu J-Tool) has a chain tool, 2,3,4,5 and 6 mm allen keys, Philips screwdriver, spoke keys (for two dimensions of the spokes) 8 and 10 mm hex key and a bottle opener. It weighs 44 g. The other multitool (CPR-9) has 2,3,4,5 and 6 mm allen keys, spoke key, flat screwdriver, T25 torx for disc brake rotors (I don't know what that is) and bottle opener - all for 26 g. Both tools combined are 70 g and, even more importantly, take up very little space. With a bit of a fishing line they can even be worn as a pendant on a necklace.

These multitools are not perfect. The 5 mm allen keys in Lifu tool is too short to be used practically and some allen keys are positioned so that you have very limited range of movement, making their use quite awkward. But, with a bit of patience, you will get your bolts screwed.

Therefore, I find these multitools suitable as a set (2). I would prefer the Lifu tool, as it has a chain cutter, but because its 5 mm key is questionable, I'd take both of the tools on a tour.

The set (3) weighs anything between 0 g and 58 g. And all three sets, in the worst case scenario, are 190 g. If you have pedals with 6 mm keyhole, then you don't need set (3) and the total weight is only 132 g. And if you are sure your chain won't break (as an example, it never happened to me in 100 000 km ***), then you can take the CPR-9 tool only and have a total tool weight of 88 g.

Update, 9 April 2013: My chain broke recently, so I had a chance of trying out the chain breaker of the Lifu J-Tool. I'm pleased to announce that it works perfectly. Better than any chain breaker I've used so far.¸

*** A great example of the Murphy Law is that I had an incident with a chain, just a couple of weeks after I wrote this. It happened while I was riding a 600 km PBP qualification brevet. I bent one chain link after the chain was thrown over the big chain ring and I would need a chain cutter to repair the chain properly. I managed to un-bend the link with a pair of borrowed pliers, and that was sufficient to complete the brevet, but from now on I think I will take the chain cutter on any serious tour.

Pedals

In the Olden days of cycling I didn't care much about pedals. They were one of those natural things that you don't think of - you put your feet on them and turn and the bike moves and when you stop turning and moving your feet are on the ground again. Few years later I learned something new: that there are left pedals and right pedals. I was very proud at that time, since not many knew even that. I wish my evolution had stopped at that stage. But, the progress never stops, so I had a short episode with clipless type of pedals, which convinced me that they were no good and that I should stick to the classical type.

So, here are some types of ordinary plain pedals for those of you who prefer the simple old style of unrestrained feet.

The basic type are the plastic "MTB" pedals that you can buy in any bigger supermarket for 5 €. They are quite OK, both weight-vise, 280 g (all pedal weights written here are for a pair), as well as performance-vise. The rugged plastic surface provides relatively good grip. They will last 5000 km without complaining, and 10000 km with some clicking when the bearings start to wear - it depends how often you ride in the rain. They are ideal as a quick replacement if your pedal breaks on a long tour. One disadvantage is the elevated surface at the pedal's end (arrow). This will cut into your sole if it is too soft. But it can be filed or cut down.

A better version are these MKS MT FT pedals for 10 € (recommended by one reader of this blog). They are lighter (250 g without the front reflectors), seem to have better sealed bearings and have a hole for 6 mm allen key, which means that you don't have to carry a 15 mm pedal spanner (50 g saved even if you cut the spanner in half). The plastic protrusions on the surface are pointed and thus provide a better grip to the shoes' sole then the basic "MTB" model. These pedals can be used with strap-less toe clips - for an addition of 75 g for two Zéfal toe clips, size M. If you ask me, though, I'd use the pedals without toe clips. Not so much because of the weight but simply because it's extremely awkward to get your feet into the toe clips - and that denies the essence of choosing ordinary pedals. If your objective is to have your feet free of any restrictions, than there should be no compromises - not clipless pedals, not cages and straps, not "power grips", not toe clips, nothing!

There are some up-market versions of flat pedals, e.g. Wellgo pedals with steel or Al body. They are designed to be used with cages and straps and are rather slippery when used without them. They are also much heavier, 394 g, but seem to have better bearings and longer lasting.

Superstar used to make (i.e. sell) another small and light pedal for about 25 €. These beautiful simplistic pedals weigh 234 g, but are too narrow for serious use. I have them on my commuter bike where high efficiency or performance demands don't exist and they can be tollerated, mostly because of their good looks.



Another option is to use flat pedals with pins. Majority of these are too heavy for an ultralight bicyclist, but there are some notable exceptions. The ones I have are supposedly made of "magnesium alloy" and the version with titanium axle (which I have) weighs 260 g - less then SPD pedals and many road pedals. The changeable aluminum pins give excellent grip. It would be my preferred pedal if they didn't have an unexplainable fault - to screw them on or off, you have to have a 8 mm (!) allen key, which is 12 cm long and weighs 80 grams. I use them on my road bike, but for a touring bike I'd choose the above mentioned MKS pedals.

A peculiar version of pinned pedals are these sexy looking X-pedals
from Xpeedo. The sole grip is exceptional, as well as their weight, 210 g, but, again, they are too narrow for long distance cycling. Currently I have them on my second road bike and use them for shorter rides. They could also be used for commuting, and are best if used with a bit stiffer sole. Xpedo has some more, very innovative models of pedals.



Crocs 
Pance is a small village at the top of one hill near Ljubljana. I don't know how the proper village looks like - having never been there. However there is a pub just before the village with a terrace in front, where anybody worth mentioning in Ljubljana's cycling scene comes to display his latest rig (pretending that they just came to bask in the sun). You come there to see or show the latest Dogmas, Madones, Cannondales, Colnagos, Looks. I am a bit of disgrace there as I regularly come wearing a cap instead of helmet, prescription glasses instead of Rudy Project shades and flat pedals with trainers instead of clipless pedals and Sidi shoes. After I came once wearing crocs, nobody there talks to me any more.

But, other than the danger of becoming a social outcast, crocs probably won't have any adverse effect on your cycling life - or life in general. On the contrary - despite everything that you've been tought about proper cycling footwear (i.e. special shoes with stiff soles and clipless pedals) you may find crocs to be perfectly suitable for cycle touring.

There are several good aspects of the crocs. First of all it's their weight: 284 g, FOR A PAIR, European size 44. It's 300 g less even if you compare them with most road-racing shoes. And remember that when you cycle, they represent "rotational weight" - just as if you had a lighter wheel. Next, being plastic shoes, they dry quickly, making them ideal for rainy weather or fording streams. In cold weather you'll have to complement them with some kind of waterproof socks - but in serious conditions you'll have to do that with most other kind of shoes anyway. Sealskin socks (80 g) work well with crocs. Next, the crocs provide good ventilation to your feet, thus reducing the need of frequent socks washings. They also have rather good pedal grip - of course we are talking flat pedals here, no clip-on pedals, no cages&straps, no Power Grips. Finaly, they cost 10 Eur (a Chinese copy, that is).
The disadvantages might be that you'll most likely have blisters if you wear them barefoot and that they are usually too loose for hiking.

Riding Botswana in crocs.
I tried them out myself on a 1-month tour through Africa (link). Generally speaking they worked well. I haven't had much problems making quick and long days (up to 230 km), or cycling the gravel roads in Namibia and Lesotho, including climbs at times steep up to 20%. My biggest problem was that my crocs were too big (although they were my usual size), so my feet were floating in them. I stuffed them with plastic bags in front when I wore them barefoot, but usually wore them with short socks, or with slipper-like inserts, and then they were quite comfortable. Worn with waterproof socks they stayed rock solid. The crocs should be one size smaller than your usual shoes, so they fit tightly. Some have expressed doubts about the softness of their sole. My experience is that if your feet sit snuggly in them and you have fairly wide pedals, then the softer sole is not a problem.

So, as a conclusion, I think crocs deserve a more serious consideration as the only footware for cycle touring.

At the start of  PBP 2011 in crocs.
Update September 2011. I more or less realize that I'm writing this only for myself, as the idea of riding with crocs somehow didn't gain much popularity. Partly it is a consequence of the dogma of  "the proper cycling shoes", which I found ridiculous for non-competitive cycling. Nevertheless, here's an update after my 2011 journey in France. In 36 days I rode with crocs 5500 km including climbing and descending around 140 cols and côtes and the 1238 km Paris-Brest-Paris in 72:00 hours. I'm happy with crocs. I always wore them with socks. I was practicaly living in them, as they were my only footware. I didn't have a single cramp, which was frequently the case when cycling in other type of footware.  I would definitely choose them as the only footware for a Round-The-Word tour.

I wrote above about some of their disadvantages, and I will repeat here: the bigest one is that they are too wide (at the front) so your toes might hurt when they press against the front part. I solved this by choosing one size smaller crocs, by cutting holes in the front and by stuffing the plastic bags in the front. It's a pitty that they have such a shape, because, if theye were a bit narrower, they would be unbeatable footware for cycle touring. However, I know that they make "trail crocs", a sort of crocs for hiking, and these probably solve all the problems present with the ordinary type of crocs.

Tents - Minilite Single Wall

Let's start with bad news first: this tent costs 21 €. To those of you who believe that you get as much as you pay for, this fact alone will be enough to stop reading right here. The few remaining will probably go away after reading one particular review from Amazon.com: it's said that even an earthquake survivor would refuse to sleep in it. Well, I must be much more desperate than that, since I've spent 81 nights in this tent without much complaint of its function. Not only that: after I broke the tent's front pole, I didn't bother repairing it - I just bought another tent of the same brand.

IMO Minilite is probably the best tent based on price/weight/function ratio - especially the first two. Its packaged weight is 980 g, but can be brought down to almost 900 g, after replacing the original steel pegs with Al ones and discarding off a few unnecessary bits like carrying straps, information sheet, net pocket, two plastic baseplates for the poles (it's better pitched without them) and a few zipper handles. If you don't use its stuff bag, you may save another 50 g. It packs small - 35x15x8 cm, including the poles and pegs. It is listed as a two-person tent, but that is an overly optimistic statement. It is however quite suitable for a single person - but not a very big one. I am 183 cm tall and slim and while I sleep comfortably stretched in it, now after turning 50, I do feel my knees when I crawl in and out of it. The entrance is a bit tight and constraint with the central front pole. On the other hand,  I once managed to squeeze a large size Australian swag into it - it was one of my memorable nights.

As a single skin tent it probably won't get you through the whole night of rain without some leaking. But all you'd have to do is take a chamois cloth and wipe a spoonful of water that will gather in the corners. After a colder night you'd use the same cloth for wiping the condensation in the morning - and refresh your face with it. The tent has been improved over the last version, it now has two mesh openings for ventilation and a bigger front entrance with two way zippers. It's not freestanding, it is pitched with front and rear vertical pole, four corner pegs and two guy lines on the front and back. It's been stable enough in the wind so far. It's primary function is as an over night shelter, although you can reasonably well sit, write, eat, change clothes or repair a tube. I'd hate to be in there the whole day - as in any other tent for that matter.

Probably the worst thing about this tent are the steel pegs that come with it. I replaced them with superb V-section Al pegs that came with another, 200 € tent - the Big Agnes Seedhouse SL - the tent that I never used! (Big Agnes might be infinitely more comfortable, but it's also 400 g heavier, and for an ultralighter there shouldn't be any questions which one to choose). The Al pegs might cost you more then the tent itself, though - unless you make your own from Al profiles found in any bigger junkyard.

In short, I reccommend this tent. It's very light, suitable for cyclists of hikers with light luggage, who are not too picky about the comfort, and it will pay off in a night or two. I'd advice against it only if you are very big person, as the entrance is a bit tight.

Update December 2013.
For a trip to Vietnam and China I reduced the weigh of this tent
 to 796 g by using lighter Alu tent poles instead of  fiberglass ones.

52 comments:

  1. Thanks for taking the time to include this. As I am 188cm I may need to think again.
    regards. Jim

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  2. I bought one of these but haven't tried it yet (winter here in UK just now). Was tempted by a "tarptent Moment" ( http://www.tarptent.com/moment.html ) which is claimed weight of 810g, a bit more spacious and airy, but costs 215 US$ plus postage and customs tax. I like the idea of keeping the total value of bike plus gear low enough to be replaceable if lost/stolen, so it's the Minilite for me!

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  3. Great review, I'm looking forward to others. I've used a single wall tarp-tent (a Granite Gear) and the condinsation was pertty bad in hot humid weather. The Minilite looks like it may be better vented.

    I'm using the Big Agnes Seedhouse 2 when touring with my wife. It can be pitched with only using the rain fly and foot print (and leaving the tent itself at home).

    Thanks, Jack

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  4. Amazon appeared to have withdrawn this item.

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  5. Oops. It's now back on sale at £17.99.

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  6. Price now £27. Grrr.

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  7. Just bought a £13 tent from Lidl that fits the bill for me. It is a realy good size, has withstood 24 hours of wind and rain without any leakage or damp problems and weighs 1.5G before I start cutting out the labels, straps,instructions etc. Green as well so a good stealth tent. Looks like it will be going on a few rides.
    Jim

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  8. Great rack write-up! You may be interested in the new Bor Yeuh 232, 70g less than the 201 (on their scales it's 330g vs 400g; includes fittings maybe). It has the lightweight design pinnacle - the single strut - but I think, just looking at the pictures, that it has thicker tubing. I suppose that strengthens the weld point.
    http://www.boryueh.com/en/carries/358-by-232

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  9. Re pedals. I recently completed a two week Danube tour. I foolishly took a soft pair of shoes and steel ratrap pedals. the pedals soon made mincemeat of the soles of my shoes and nearly my feet. Once I reached Vienna I invested 6euros in new rubber pedals and also purchased a pair of crocs from the Euro shop. I just could not get on with the Crocs. I found them far too wide/slippery for comfort and resorted to repairing my old shoes with thick insoles and bits of plastic. The Crocs were dumped in a bin somewhere in Germany.
    Regards. Jim

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  10. crocs should definitely not be considered for cycle touring. what a ridiculous idea. in fact crocs are not really useful for anything, they are just uncomfortable and more importantly, look absolutely ridiculous. what happened to looking elegant on the saddle igor?

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  11. Ts, ts, ts, amrgardner, you're being a bit naughty.

    Don't dismiss anything until you try it.

    Anyway, I'll announce the final verdict on crocs in about a month time after I ride French Pyrenees, Alps, Massif Central and Paris-Brest-Paris wearing them:
    http://iikinfrance.blogspot.com

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  12. Great article! Your discussion about pedal weight is right on target. I agree that riders need to consider the weight of every part on their bike. What starts as a few unnecessary ounces on the pedals soon adds up across the total bike.

    Have you heard much about Power Cordz? We make cycle cables that are about 75% lighter than traditional steel, saving riders about 2 ounces on the bike. Something to consider before your next tour.

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  13. I was not able to find a dealer for Bor Yueh racks in the USA. I am considering the Tubus Fly. I need a rack that uses the brake bridge since I don't have stay bosses. Are the any other racks available in the US that I should buy?

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  14. Maybe someone from the US can answer the rack question? I'd only add that Tubus Fly seems to be very narrow at the top, so it should be more suitable for panniers then the dry bag atop of it.

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  15. Just back from a loaded tour in France. I took advantage of technology on this tour and used my son's blackberry phone. I was thus able to dispense with my MP3 player and my digital camera as the blackberry has all these. I only had to carry one charger for the blackberry. It has a 3mb camera which is more than enough for pictures that will only be viewed on computer or printed to no more than 7"x5". iik, ever thought of losing the solo camera?
    I also attached plastic toeclips to my flat pedals but cut them down so they do not drag on the ground but there is enough to push against when you need to,easy to engage and avoid slippage in the wet. I found this much better than just the platform pedal with hardly any weight increase.

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  16. I though about losing the camera. But I will wait until they make a phone, 6MPix camera with viewer and P,A,S,M controls, computer, GPS navigation, bike counter and battery charger in one body.

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  17. Fake Crocs:

    I hated those Crocs when i have seen them several years ago until i tried. Have not ridden with mine very long but i know i could run 6km easily. In fact, i think i prefer them for running over my New Balance MT101 (already fairly light). Don't dismiss thing before trying!

    Thanks for your helpful light touring hint.

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  18. Hi
    You say you have pains on any bike. I notice you have had older steel road bikes in the past. Have you ever considered riding a quality steel bike that may give you a more comfortable ride as you seem to do a lot of mileage and spend long days in the saddle? My steel road bikes compete favourably with my aluminium framed bikes on weight, but give a much smoother and less jarring ride.
    Regards. Jim

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  19. Jim,

    thanks for the suggestion. However, I don't think it's the matter of frame material in my case, as I get back pains mostly when climbing (long climbs), when the speed is low and vibrations are not an issue. As I say, It's mostly a question of bike fit and core strength (and, unfortunately, age).
    However, I do have a CF bike now which does seem to give more smooth ride. It's too early to tell.

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  20. Hi I really liked the site. I am interested in the compression bags you sometimes you and attach directly to the bike seatpost and underside of the saddle. Have you got any you could recommend? and how do you attach?
    cheers
    James

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  21. My compression bag is just a bag for storing the sleeping bag. Take a look at the picture above taken on the French tour in 2011. It has "copression" nylon straps to change its volume. I attach it at two points: to the lower part of the seatpost with wide velcro band (made out of old Cannon camera strap) and to the seat rails with the usual nylon strap with a buckle (the same system as the copression straps).

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  22. Great blog, I'm a man of your own heart when it comes to touring, I'd rather pack light and this blog has taught me a lot.

    With regards to flying abroad, how do you pack your bike and luggage? Apologies if you've mentioned it already on your blog, I couldn't find it.

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  23. I did answer that question in some comment on this blog. But I've written a separate post about packing for flying, here:

    http://iikmisc.blogspot.com/2010/11/packing-bicycle-for-flight.html

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  24. For my Minilite I use custom tent poles from Aluminium (Scandium) tubing, saving 120g. Austrian retailer Fliegfix sells the bits and pieces - about €25 with shipping, including 3m dyneema guyline, saving a handfull grams for kicks.
    For stakes I chose the Easton Nano 6" at 8g each.

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  25. Which sleeping bag do you use when touring ? Would you recommend it ?

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  26. Thank you for such an excellent presentation of your ideas!
    But I must register my dismay with the crocs...
    On the other hand, it's not like the primary objective of bicycle touring is "getting some", anyways. It's all about wholesome fresh air and travel ;)

    P.S. As a 150cm 46kg shortie - I am the biggest ultralighter of them all - bwah hah hah!

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  27. About the sleeping bags.

    I have now 5 sleeping bags! (maybe enough to write a review on this subject?).
    My favorite is light summer down bag (480 g) from Cumulus. If I didn't have so many sleeping bags, I would buy a warmer bag from the same company.

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  28. Go ultralight yes, BUT always use TWO elastic straps because if one breaks, the other keeps your precious bags attached. Two friends had a nasty accident when a luggage strap broke and the guy behind took a header when he hit the bag. I also suggest you keep your pump hidden in a bag because it is far too important to get stolen and if it ever does I hope you are using omnipresent Schrader valves...

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  29. Hi Freddy.

    Thanks for the comments. However I can't fully agree. Taking two of something because one could break is not in line with lightweight philosophy. Besides, elastic straps are heavy. If you need an emergency spare, then take a nylon belt or deneema cord.
    You don't need Schrader valves - they're heavier then Presta and come only with heavy tubes. Take a presta-schreader adapter, if you really want to be on a safe side.

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    Replies
    1. Hi there,

      I wholeheartedly agree with you about the adapter, but will continue using two luggage straps, LOL. When I was young (I'm an OF over 50 now) I used to carry around so much junk because all cyclotourists did and we used to have "heated" arguments about which sort of stove was best. So I think your site is great to spread the word and go light. I have made so many friends in remote places just by asking where I can get a coffee/meal; which is another great reason why not to carry around cooking gear.
      By the way, I'm going to buy myself a pair of crocs!!!! (I used to hobble around in cycling shoes with cleats and nobody thought that was funny...).
      When my blog (similar theme)is ready I'll send you the link. In the meantime I would be interested in what tyres you think are best for unpaved roads in developing countries.

      Delete
    2. Just back from a tour in France carrying this tent for emergency camping.That's what it is. Am emergency tent. It does this job very well. I got caught out with no accommadation and headed for a campsite. I used the tent and the bubblewrap method.
      The tent did it's job. It was a cold night with a heavy overnight dew. The walls of the tent were soaked in condensation! Not a problem until you tried to move out. Then you were soaked as you brushed against the sides. It has not put me off the tent just made me aware that a sponge would be worth carrying to wipe over the sides now and again.
      I felt the hard ground through the bubblewrap but it did not interfere with my sleep and I had no aches or pains in the morning.
      I'm 189cm and 95kg by the way.
      Jim.

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    3. JIm, thanks for the comment. It came just at the right time. I'm off to Asia with this tent and you reminded me to take a piece of wiping cloth (dish washing stuff) for the condensation.
      Igor

      Delete
  30. If you want to be on a safe side with tyres then heavier ones like Schwalbe Marathon 28-622 will do. I rode also with lighter ones for road bikes 25-622(Kenda, Bontrager) but the thread had delaminated on them. Kenda Kontender 26-622 was durable, but you have to run it on high pressure (>100 psi), otherwise you'll get "snake-bite" type of punctures. I think the trick is to use wider tyres, at least 28 mm.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your reply, that helps a lot especially as I was wondering whether Kenda was a good brand or not. I weigh 109 kilos and found 28 mm puntured all the time riding on the very rough roads in Paraguay with the "snake-bite" like you said (but maybe I did not have them pumped up hard enough-I need to buy a tyre pressure guage as well as some crocs). I'm going to try 35 mm because the 40 mm (Ritchey) which worked fine are slightly too big for the clearances on my new road bike. By the way if any readers are thinking of South America, Paraguay is a great place to visit (very friendly people, great scenery and little traffic) and much safer than Brazil in all aspects.

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  31. I am a lady (honestly) and I have a pair of the ballet style crocs for cycle camping. They are quite good at keeping feet dry and are quite elegant if worn with cropped leggings and a pretty tunic (which I do carry for evenings out/restaurants etc. I'm sorry I know I should be on fully loaded).

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  32. Hi there, lm planning a cycle tour and would love your input on the best size tires to use. I want something that is fast and light but can take a bit of off road. What size wold you say has been your ideal one?

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  33. If it's mostly on tarmac, with occasional off-road (~ 5%), then I'd take the size 25-622. With more off-road, It'd take 28-622.
    Folding tires, from the racing range, like Continental Grand Prix 4000S, 4-season or Ultra Sport (a bit more durable, heavier and cheaper). Of course, we are talking lightweight touring setup here, less then 10 kg.

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  34. Nice read, I also tour with Crocs - but pretty ladies ones (Jayna crocs) as they don't look out of place in any cafe, restaurant etc when teamed with a light cotton sundress and/or leggings.

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  35. Hello iik,
    Fantastic content and trip reports on your blogs!
    I'm planning a trip and I like the setup you used on your 200 cols trip. You used a plastic spacer to avoid your legs rubbing the bag behind the seat. Did it work well? How wxactly did you make the spacer?

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  36. Hi rve,

    the spacer worked well. But I naven't had too much problems without it in 2011 either.
    Take a look at few comments at the end of the post "Carriers/ Containers" on this blog - there's more info about the spacer.

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  37. I wear Crocs a lot. As I write, matter of fact. Did a week long tour in them. They were great. I'm either cycling in Crocs or minimalist "barefoot" running shoes.
    A strong foot trumps a strong shoe any
    day.

    Greg

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  38. Hello!!! I've read your article on Bicycle Travaler Magazine after two months travelling with Crocs!! Exactly the same opinion! They are feeling really great!

    Just a few more issues:
    -After some months of use the crocs sole becomes too slick and a bit dangerous, but just beware and will be ok.
    -I feel less safe whith crocs when dogs appear but no big deal too....

    Thanks for the great tips, we are redducing some kg a little bit.


    Andre
    www.pedarilhos.com.br

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  39. Lots of info here. Nice posts. Check out my randonneuring seat bag "mini bracket" system at eogear.com.

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  40. Hi Iik, inspirational reading! I am from the UK but now living in Gerlos (Austrian Alps) and will be taking on cycle touring. Only previous experience was 4 dayer in the UK NE to Wales - across the Dales etc. I believe I am in the centre of a European touring idyll. Like most I started thinking about investing in (heavy!!!) touring bikes and the associated kit. Reading your experiences made me realise I actually have pretty much everything I need to hand without major investment- why go heavy when you can go light!! Particularly if its no longer than a week or so. As I have 2 bikes, A Gunnar steel racing machine 20lbs and a converted with drop bars and bar end shifters (fitted a rigid fork) old KLEIN MTB - est 24lbs, but critically a triple chain set for comfortable climbing - I have decided to use the alu KLEIN as I may go off road for periods - 26inch wheels but smooth 1.5cm tyres. I was wondering if you have any experience of the Thule bike rack - neither of my machines has eyelets for racks or guards. Seems perfect for the kind of touring that you enjoy. Appreciate any feedback and I shall continue to read through your posts. I hope to get through Italy and Slovenia initially next year. Best Regards, Martin

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  41. HI Martin,

    When using rack, I always used bicycles with eyelets, so I don't have first hand experience with racks that attach to the axle. But I have seen one road bike with a rack, so it's quite possible. Tubus also sells adapters to fit a rack to the axle.
    Regards, Igor

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  42. Thanks for the reply Igor. The Thule rack secures directly to the frame tubes, which I like. I will be getting one to try, I shall let you know how it works out. Looking forward to your next updates. Best regards Martin

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  43. I love how you use Crocs and even do races with them. That's a huge contrast to all the other well-dressed cyclists. I wonder how they looked at you.

    About the tent: I use a Tarptent Moment (http://tarptent.com/momentdw.html) and I find it very spacious and convenient. It's worth having a look at it. It weighs about 950g.

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  44. I read your blogs regularly. Your humoristic way is amusing, continue the good work!
    motor bike jacket

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  45. What an excellent collection of ultralight wisdom! I'm setting up my first ultralight kit and hope to tour this summer. Thanks for the great posts!

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  46. Great stuff on here. I certainly took too much stuff on my one (small) tour so far.

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  47. I've done some work on my minilite tent to overcome some of the small problems with it. There are details with pictures on my blog.
    http://adenough1.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/shall-we-talk-camping.html

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