bike tour 2009

(In short, we cycled 10,100km with 124 days on the bikes)


The longest (and only) tour we’ve done before involved cycling down one side of the bay in Melbourne (Australia), sleeping in a beach house overnight, and getting up and cycling home the next day. Although it did rain on us, so it wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops. The logical extension to a one night tour is of course a 5 month tour around countries we’ve never been to.

Phase One – Japan
31 May – 17 June 2009

Phase One will be undertaken with myself, Alex, and a mysterious character known only as The Boy (who may or may not be my brother). The advantage to this set-up is that Alex and myself speak no Japanese, whereas The Boy has considerable kanji skills. But on the other hand, The Boy has not left Australia since he was 9, and has not done much camping since then either. Whereas Alex and I have spent lots of time travelling round and living in foreign countries. And camping.

We’ll be cycling around Hokkaido, and then Alex and I will go back to Tokyo to jump on a plane to Europe, while The Boy continues cycling around Japan.

Phase Two – Europe
18 June – 7 November 2009

Phase Two has Alex and I arriving in Dublin, meeting up with my mother, then travelling around Ireland for the next 10 days or so, hopefully getting a few days of cycling in. Then we’ll somehow catch the ferry over to Wales. Ride through Wales to London then Dover, take the ferry to France, then who knows what will happen! There are friends to meet up with in Europe, and friends who’ve mentioned interest in riding sections with us… so we shall see.

It’s hard to fit in all the places we’d like to go, and things we’d like to do, especially with the strong Euro smiting our plans left, right and centre. Doing a side trip to Iceland would be excellent. So would going from Finland to Estonia via St Petersburg. And drifting further east into Romania. And a trip down south into Greece! And more of Italy! And Spain! And Portugal! And Scotland! But for the sake of time and money these sections will probably be left out.

M: Surly Long Haul Trucker 50cm – all stock components, though I switched the saddle to a Brooks (bandwagon? What bandwagon?), and removed the cantilever brakes of evil and replaced them with V-brakes (Shimanoe Deore M530 and Dia-compe V-287 levers). Also using SPD pedals, a random Topeak rear rack, Tubus Tara front rack.

A: Alex went and copied me and bought an LHT on ebay. Mostly stock components, but lots of nice upgrades, like the Brooks saddle, and comes with Surly Nice racks and Ortlieb Classic Roller Panniers in black. Looks much classier than mine, I may have to key it.

The LHTs rocked! We could take them anywhere, from the road to the rough rocky Norwegian alpine, and they put up with all our punishment. All of the racks held up fine (although we learnt the important lesson to check that your screws are still tight, otherwise you’ll lose them). The Brooks saddles were comfortable – although I think I could find something that would suit me better too. We found the shower cap method worked well to keep them dry in the rain. We went through several sets of brake pads, and might have been better off getting something more long-lasting to begin with – there certainly would have been less brake dust all over everything. The stock LHT tyres wore out fairly quickly and became very puncture prone, at which point we upgraded to Schwalbe Marathon Plus, which were great and led to no further punctures. Alex wore out his chain/cluster/chainrings and they were all replaced at around the 8000km mark. By the end of the trip, mine was pretty much toast as well, but I made them last to Paris before pulling them off and throwing them out rather than flying them home again.

(See below tour links for full gear list and post-trip review…)

Planning: The Grand Bike Tour of 2009
The start of the cycle tour – Day One in Hokkaido, Japan
Japan Day Two – Cuckoos and green trees
Japan Day Three – The tunnels begin
Japan Day Four – And so they cycled all night
Japan Day Five – Up then down then up then down
Japan Day Six – Hellooooo Japanese army
Japan Day Seven – Hunting for electricity and wireless
Japan Day Eight – And so it rained
Japan Day Nine – I did not wish to know that
Japan Day Ten – Coast to coast, via a great stinking (bear-free) mountain
Japan Day Eleven – Let there be icecream
Japan Day Twelve – Another day of rain. Quite a lot of it in fact.
Japan Day Thirteen – Enjoying the countryside, and drying out – until it starts to mizzle
Japan Day Fourteen – I would pay 1000 yen for a shower. Perhaps.
Japan Day Fifteen – The day of wind and finger pain
Japan Day Sixteen and Seventeen – My fingers hurt, strong pain killers, and the flight to Tokyo

Around Dublin (not cycling)
Around Ireland – Up North (not cycling)
Around Ireland – The West Coast (not cycling)
Around Ireland – Climbing Carantouhil, Co. Kerry (not cycling)
Around Ireland – The Skelligs, Co. Kerry (not cycling)
Around Ireland – Waterville (not cycling)

Cycling again: Wales (2-8 July 2009)
Cycling: Back in Old Blighty (8 – 13 July 2009)
Cycling: France and Belgium (13 – 16 July 2009)
Cycling: Netherlands (16 – 22 July 2009)
Cycling: North Germany (22 – 27 July 2009)
Cycling: Denmark (27 – 30 July 2009)
Cycling: Sweden (30 July – 6 August 2009)
Cycling: Norway Part I (6 – 15 August 2009)
Cycling: Norway Part II (16 – 21 August 2009)
Cycling: Sweden, the Return (22 – 25 August 2009)
Cycling: Finland (26 – 27 August 2009)
Cycling: Estonia, Latvia, and into Lithuania (27 August – 1 September 2009)
A week off driving around Lithuania, Poland and Germany (2 – 11 Sept 2009)
An epic attempt to escape Vilnius
Cycling: Czech Republic and Slovakia (13 – 18 Sept 2009)
Cycling: Austria and Bavaria by river (19 – 25 Sept 2009)
Into the Alps: The Großglockner (26 – 27 Sept 2009)
The Alps: Italy (28 Sept – 1 Oct 2009)
The Alps: Three 2000m+ passes in one day (2 Oct 2009)
The Alps: Switzerland to Liechtenstein (3 – 4 Oct 2009)
Cycling: From the foothills to the Black Forest (5 – 12 Oct 2009)
Cycling: Along the Rhein and the Mosel Rivers (13 – 20 Oct 2009)
Final days: Bound for Paris (21 – 27 Oct 2009)
Paris to London (28 – 29 October 2009)

BIKE TOUR SUMMARY (Including starring photos in Google Streetview – Denmark)

My panniers
*Deuter Rackpack panniers (40L)
*Ortlieb Front Roller Classic Panniers (25L)
*Ortlieb Ultimate 5 Classic Handlebar Bag (7L) (Is a little annoying to fit the lid on, but kept everything totally dry at all times – the pop studs broke after a few months, but the bag still stayed shut so I wasn’t too bothered)
*Ortlieb duffle (24L)

The Ortlieb panniers are much better at keeping things dry than the Deuter ones. The rain cover works for light rain, but not for cycling all day in the rain, or for leaving the bike out overnight in the rain. The main problem is that once enough rain runs down and gathers in the bottom of the rain cover (which always seems to happen to at least one, no matter how carefully you check the fit) the whole thing becomes a great big water catchment, effectively soaking your non-waterproof pannier. After one unpleasant day where all of my clothes ended up thoroughly saturated, I started plastic bagging everything in those panniers, but there were still persistent dampness issues.

What went where
Front left: First aid kit, all toiletries and laundry stuff, wet clothes, chacos
Front right: Tardis, laptop, books, maps, Spot tracker, cables
Back left: Mittens, thermarest, sleeping bag, down jacket, goretex, tripod, headlamp
Back right: Clothes, other camera lens and camera cleaning gear, repair kit, rear light
Back top: Tent
Handlebar bag: Camera, passport, wallet, sunglasses, paperwork, diary

Alex carried random cables, bike repair stuff, Ortlieb duffle with food, stove, fuel and cooking gear.

Bike gear
*Rear bike light (we’ll use our headlamps if we have to night ride) (Used in tunnels and a couple of rides in the dark)
*Bike repair kit (pump, spare tubes x 2, patches and glue, tyre levers, gaffer tape, chain breaker, cable ties, spare screws etc for racks, bike multi-tool, allen key set, chain lube, rags (spare spokes on LHT) (We ended up breaking a shifter cable and not having a spare, but we were on the flat by a river at that point so being restricted to two gears wasn’t so terrible – otherwise our repair-kit seemed adequate)
*Bike lock system (buy overseas) (Grabbed a cable lock in Japan – we didn’t really leave our bikes unattended much, so the cable lock was mainly an overnight deterrent while we were camping)
*Ground Effect Tardis (for carrying the bike on planes – we’re flying with British Airways, so apparently the trusty cardboard box isn’t an option) (Worked great – it’s a hassle getting the bike disassembled, and then we ended up having the extra weight along our whole trip, but it did mean no hunting for cardboard. You can pack your bike around with cardboard for super-protection, or just throw all the bits in if you’re no longer worried about scratching, either way the bike travelled fine when we used it)

Camping Gear
(We owned all of this already, except for the tent – our tents tended towards being heavy and suitable for snow, so we thought we’d try and find something more lightweight, and the Seedhouse popped up for sale on for a reasonable price)

*Big Agnes Seedhouse 2 tent (Great tent except for the fact it snapped 5 poles along the way! No condensation issues, the interior is all mesh. No water getting in where it shouldn’t, it’s fairly light and the SL2 is an even lighter version. The poles did seem to be a bit sensitive though – a few snapped while packing it up, and one snapped overnight. All pole snappage occurred in the first few months, after which we learnt to be very careful and had no further issues. One thing to note, for emergency repair of a splitting pole, a plumbing hose clamp will work, otherwise you can get splints made up for next to nothing at a metal supplier)
*Lightweight sleeping bag and liner (A good combination that works for summer heat and cold spring frosts)
*Stove (Dragonfly MSR) and fuel bottle (We ran the stove on just about everything and it was always fine – best cheap option seems to be petrol, although kerosene also worked ok, shellite/white gas was hard to obtain in most places)
*2x pots and pan (MSR cookware) (Still going strong – the pan was never used for cooking, only to keep the MSR off the grass occasionally when cooking in campgrounds though… and that teflon coating that started off a bit scratched up has completely gone now)
*Orikaso bowl and plate, titanium spork, pocket knife (The Orikaso plates were great – chopping boards then bowls for dinner afterwards)
*3 x water bottle
*Cooking kit: Folding MSR spatula, small dishtowel, scrubber, detergent, lighter
*Princeton-Tech Apex Headlamp (Great headlamp, but both of ours are going at the point where the cable enters the battery at the back. Alex did field-repairs on his after that point failed entirely)
*String for clothesline (Wasn’t really used, we were on the move so mostly did our drying by hanging things on panniers)
*First aid kit (sunscreen and insect repellent, nurofen, standard bandages and wound kit, foil blanket, tweezers, antiseptic) (Thankfully only needed for the sunscreen and nurofen)
*Puritabs? (We didn’t bother with these in the end, there was always someone to ask for water – service stations were good if you couldn’t find anywhere else)
*Kitchen sink folding water container? Other collapsible water container for long trips away from water? (obtain overseas) (Ended up not bothering with either of these – we could carry 4.5 litres of water between us, and that was enough for the weather we hit, given how easy it usually was to refill)
*Repair kit (For stove, tent, thermarest and clothes) (One of the stove o-rings failed at one point, and there were some minor clothes repairs needed)

Personal Gear
(Again, not buying anything new – if we find any gaps we’ll buy en route)

*Shimano SPD bike shoes (pretty old by now, hopefully they’ll last the tour) (Mine lasted, Alex’s newer non-Shimano ones didn’t, the entire bottom part of the shoe that holds the cleat ripped out on both of his shoes in Norway, he got some Shimano touring-oriented shoes and was very happy with them)
*Bike knicks x 2 (Only ended up taking one pair, and hardly wore them towards the end – it was so nice NOT to have the damp nappy sensation after a long day of cycling)
*T-shirt/shirt x 3 (Didn’t bother with any ‘proper’ biketops either, just some light cottony t-shirts and shirts. Dried easily, could be worn anywhere, and didn’t get smelly.)
*Goretex jacket (bulky, although hood a bonus, and better windstopper) (Was great in the rainy weather, although would have been nice if it was longer in the back)
*Fingerless bike gloves
*Full hand bike gloves
*Waterproof mitten shells (Only used them a couple of times, but my hands were very happy to have them when I did)
*5 x Socks (3 long, 2 short) and 4 x underpants (fast drying)
*2 x Crop tops
*Warm zip-off arms and legs (These were barely used, only the legs when it was getting cold and we were running out of warm leg layers)
*Icebreaker woollen top – full length and cut off (Fantastic, as always)
*Thermal legs
*Long cottony pants
*Shorts (I ended up with 2 pairs of homemade knickerbockers, cut-off from regular cotton trousers. They worked a treat.)
*Windbreaker jacket (Nice to look presentable in when going out in cities, as well as a useful warm/windproof layer)
*Two singlets
*Down jacket
*Sunglasses (dark and yellow)
*Sun hat
*Chaco sandals
*Travel towel
*Toiletries (lip balm, baby wipes, hand sanitiser, all-purpose soap (eg. Dr Bronners), toothbrush, toothpaste, TP, deodorant)

Tech Gear
(Good lord we’re geeks – obviously none of this stuff is necessary as such, but…)

*GPS (Used in conjunction with some large scale country-wide maps, it meant we weren’t buying a new map every couple of days, and we never got too lost… although we got maps for all of Europe, we were never working with topo maps, so that led to some interesting route choices occasionally)
*EeePC and spare battery (so we can continue being geeks in our tent) (Ended up buying a second Eee, as we only rarely had access to the internet, it was hard for both of us to get everything done in that time – and they don’t weigh or cost much sooo…. oh, and the spare battery was a cheap one sourced online which didn’t last the distance. We downloaded the text-only dump of Wikipedia, and that was excellent to have – no matter where we were we could check random facts and research the area we were about to cycle into.)
*Camera (Canon EOS30D and lenses), 2 x memory cards, spare battery
*Spot tracker (Contrary to some online reviews, it’s really pretty simple to use, and we found that of the nearly 150 messages we sent out, only perhaps 5 didn’t send – and 2 of those were in cities with highrises around and 2 were in heavy tree cover. So it was an easy and effective way to let people on an email list know where we were, and that we were ok, so we didn’t have to worry about finding the internet or a phone on a regular basis.)
*8gb nano iPod (Great for those boring stretches where you just have to get it done – and we discovered audiobooks along the way as well)
*AA battery charger, camera battery chargers
*Solar charger (mainly for keeping smaller items charged)(This ended up being used to keep the GPS powered – on a sunny day it would almost fully power the GPS, less useful when it was cloudy of course, but it meant the GPS batteries lasted a lot longer)

Other Gear
*Photocopies of route info and maps (inc. one giant Europe map to mark route on)
*Notebook and pens/pencils
*Book (take and swap at 2nd hand book shops along the way)
*Passport and visa, wallet stuff, photocopies of documents inc. travel insurance

7 replies on “bike tour 2009”

Hi Mimi
We were just looking at next year’s tour – and we were admiring your grit riding bikes through Norway. When you get to Bergen, you need to take the Norway in a Nutshell train/boat thingy if you can. The trip was absolutely amazing – besides we have never seen water like it in Aus.
Aunt Heather and Cait

Well, you probably shouldn’t admire my grit until I’ve actually done it. In the meantime you can marvel at my foolhardiness. We might actually train/bus for a bit after Bergen, but I’d really like to cycle round the coast to get there first – and I’ll keep the Norway in a Nutshell thingy in mind though.

Lil: I know, I know. If we have time we’ll go further into Italy, but we really wanted to try and cycle in a continuous loop as much as possible. And it’s already well over 10,000km and I’m not sure how we’ll fit it all in. But there’s already a list being compiled of places we’ll probably miss the first time round and have to get back to!

i guess – and europe is huuuuuuge with so many gems everywhere to see and to visit… i admire you planning to cycle over that 10K km! i don’t think i’ll ever be that brave…

Please let us have details of the Northern UK bit of the cycle tour when you get them.
Also, where will you be making land in Wales from Ireland ? Is it Holyhead or Swansea – I have a friend who lives on the Gower peninsular next to Swansea ….


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