June 4th: Wear and Tear, Pakistan
18 months on the road. Heat, dust, rain, sand, salt, snow and mud: as rigorous a range of conditions as anyone can expect. Below are my initial thoughts on what has, and hasn't, lived up to its name.
In many ways, Ortlieb watertight panniers are worth their weight in gold. Investing in the lightweight 'canoe bag' version - pocketless, simple in design and easy to use - they've withstood sheet rain, sand storms and icy rivers.
But lighter has also meant thinner, and months of daily wear and tear has gradually worn holes in both the bases and sides. Repaired effectively with the Ortlieb patch kit (extra, of course), I would consider the sturdier 'heavyweight' version, were I to reinvest. Bolts have started to snap, easily replaceable. The plastic mounts themselves remain strong, are well designed, and keep the bags stable on rock-strewn descents.
Problems, problems. 18,000 km into the trip and I'm running my third rear rim - a 32 spoked Mavic 521D. 6,000 km old and its side walls are already considerably worn; at first I blamed the over eager zeal of V brakes, yet other tourers have also complained about this problem. Hairline cracks are appearing around the spokes, another cycle tourer gripe. My next rim, currently winging its way to Pakistan, remains the same model albeit with ceramic coating and 36 spokes. I hope this will solve both these problems.
For such expensive rims, I have been disappointed with their short life. The front, I must say in their defence, has behaved impeccably.
With their removable brake 'cartridges,' XT V brakes have proved maintenance free and amply powerful to control a fully laden mountain bike. Too powerful, perhaps, possibly contributing to the premature rim-wear on long and muddy descents in China's wet season. On a future journey, I would consider using easily replaceable cantilever brakes, or choosing a softer compound rubber on the brake pad. The ones I currently use are made by Aztec.
Blackburn Expedition Racks
These lightweight racks have coped admirably enough, and I have just one complaint. After months of cycling, the continued rubbing against plastic pannier clips has worn divots into the aluminium. If the rack were to snap, it will be at these weakened points. Tourer-talk suggests wrapping a strip of coke can under electrical tape at the contact points. In the meantime, both front and rear racks remain solid and sturdy, though other cyclists speak unkindly of wobbly low-riders.
With their semi slick tread, Continental Town and Countries have proved a good choice for touring on bitumen roads. Maintaining a high air pressure greatly improves 'Conty' life and keeps them running fast. Experience shows side walls are first to go, while the tread remains strong. I interchange the front and back every once in a while to extend their life, and have Panaracer 'puncture proof' lining. So far, so good. For rougher conditions, I carry a spare folding Michelin 'Wildgripper'. Good for hard-pack surfaces and even rugged roads. It wears quickly, unless kept well away from bitumen.
Psion Series 5 palmtop
Not only does the trusty '5' live in an airtight pannier, subjected to severe heat and endless vibrations, but it's opened for note taking in hot and humid conditions, salty air, dusty plains and worse. In a year and a half of constant use, there has been only one setback. A cable dislodged, wiping out the internal RAM. Devastated to lose my unedited material, I learnt my lesson: always backup to disk. Aside from this, the only other tell tale signs of its long journey are a few scratches and the stickers which adorn it from around the world.
As one of my main sponsors, the Psion series 5 has been 'serviced' in SE Asia, a chance to vacuum any accumulated sand from the coastlines of Australia and Indonesia. I understand there exists a dust proof box, made by an independent company, that would also useful for long term rugged travel. I can recommend carrying an adapter and an array of converters, saving on batteries when using the backlight and alarm. Indeed, Indian hotel rooms often sport an Enterprise-style console with a confusion of plugs and light switches, perfect for updating travelling websites.
As it is, the Series 5 is light, sturdy and very economical. Just 2 AA batteries fuel a good twenty hours of typing. It's been the perfect tool: compiling material, word-processing articles and, when local servers and cellphone signals allow, sending emails. Never having owned a computer, I would now be lost without it. It is, well and truly, 'My Other Brain.'