Category Archives: Gear review

My last day before I enter my mid-30s

Today is my final day as a 33yo. Tomorrow I will have to accept that I am going to be in my mid-30s. What? 33 is still early 30s. Haha.

I’m actually not one of those people who are phased by age. But I do like birthdays. Mostly because I am so glad to be alive. And also because I still like getting presents πŸ˜‰

This year, my partner bought me some bikepacking gear for my birthday (if you are in Australia and haven’t already done so, check out Bike Bag Dude). I got it early so have been using it already. I totally love it. Having my bike carry my gear makes commuting a breeze. I hate arriving at work with sweaty back and underarms from carrying a backpack, so having the seat post bag totally changes everything. I also hate my lunch getting squashed, so having a chaff bag allows me to separate my food from heavy gear or clothes.

Tomorrow is my birthday. I would love to spend it outdoors doing something totally crazy. But instead I am going to indulge in my second love: the movies. My partner and I are going to see a movie in the morning (We’re the Millers), then going to lunch before returning to the cinema to watch a second movie (Paranoia). I once went to the movies 5 times in 7 days and it was one of the best weeks of my life, so this will come close to being one of the best days.

I am sure that a whole day of popcorn and cinematic joy is an important part of my training regime πŸ˜‰

Total: 30km cycle commute (once I get home)

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Fog riders

Fog rider by Andrew Gills
Fog rider, a photo by Andrew Gills on Flickr.

With the sudden transition from winter to summer that we experience here, mornings are often punctuated by low-lying fog. This morning, after riding my MTB through the bush to Mum’s house, she and I went on a road ride through said fog. It was a beautiful way to start the day.

Scene from my commute

Scene from my commute

After leaving Mum at the start of her street, I continued on to work. The new bikepacking gear worked really well on the road bike and will save me carrying a backpack when I cycle commute. Importantly for my colleagues, the bun loaf I bought for our morning tea fit in the seat post bag without getting squashed.

Total: 7.5km MTB + 51km road ride (including my commute home tonight)

New bikepacking gear

New bikepacking gear by Andrew Gills
New bikepacking gear, a photo by Andrew Gills on Flickr.

Stop the presses! My new bikepacking gear has arrived from Bike Bag Dude. I am totally thrilled with it and can’t wait to test it out. I have a pile of gear here in my office that needs to be taken home (I’ve been too lazy to carry it in my backpack). I think tonight it will all fit on my bike.

This almost completes my gear preparations for my Tasmanian Trail trip. I just need to work out which 1:25,000 maps I will need (I have the guide book but the maps in it are fairly average).

I don’t leave until Christmas Day so that gives me plenty of time to train and test out the gear.

Special thanks to Bike Bag Dude for making me a chaff bag as a birthday present. That was very kind πŸ™‚

New wheels … first ride

New wheel ... first ride by Andrew Gills
New wheel … first ride, a photo by Andrew Gills on Flickr.

I picked up my new mountain bike today so, after a few well-earned days rest, I hit the trails and found out just how awesome the Merida Big Nine TFS100 29er is.

Firstly, riding with suspension is a revolution. I used to have a mountain bike with suspension (an early 2000s Giant Yukon) but I never really rode it off-road (I used it to commute). So having travel in the front forks was such a confidence boost. No longer did my bike come to a screeching stop if I didn’t pop the front wheel up far enough over obstacles, but the suspension allowed the front wheel to roll over instead. Instead of slowing to prepare to dismount at every log and rocky creek bed, I found myself attacking obstacles instead.

Secondly, the 29″ wheels are magical. I found myself riding up hills I previously walked and rolling much more quickly along the flats. On my way home, I even managed to get most of the way up the twisting and turning Grass Trees trail, which is a huge confidence boost. The bigger wheels also mean I have more clearance under the bottom bracket, making it easier to ride over logs without getting caught on them. The only down side of the 29er is that it is a bit more difficult to get it through some of the tighter turns on the single tracks. But I’m sure that this is also just a matter of me getting used to the bike.

Thirdly, the hydraulic disc brakes are the bomb. After struggling all this time with dodgy V-brakes that got filled with mud, suffered cable stretch or plain failed on me, the reliable braking system is something to be celebrated. I found myself cruising down hills with speed, rather than holding the brakes out of concern that they’d not work if I needed them. I took a hill at 46kph that I’ve always walked down in the past.

As you have probably gathered, the new bike has increased my riding speed. I used to ride the trails in Bayview Conservation Reserve at between 9kph – 11kph (5.5mph – 7mph). Today, my average speed for a 25km ride was 14kph (8.7mph). It’s still not fast, but it does represent a 40% improvement in just my first ride, including 7km (4.4miles) that I rode after the sun set.

I have to give a shout out to the boys at 99 Bikes, Underwood. They were friendly, knowledgeable and patient. I spent about an hour test riding bikes on Sunday and they made sure each was properly set up for me. I never felt rushed to make a decision or purchase. In fact, I told them when I went into the shop that I didn’t have my credit card with me. I also liked that they didn’t try to sell me a bike outside my stated budget. I told them I was looking in the $600 – $800 price category and they only gave me $600 – $800 bikes to test ride; they didn’t try to force me to stretch my budget to the $1,000 – $1,200 price category. If anyone’s looking for a new bike, I would definitely recommend 99 Bikes (if you go to the Underwood store, tell them I sent you).

Total: 25.9km MTB

Morning walk and pack review

I went out for a 6km pack walk this morning with my partner. It’s been over a week since we last went walking together, so this morning’s wander was just lovely. My pack weight is now 11.8kg and I’m finding that the slow increments are working well to help me adjust to the weight. By the time I tackle the 250km Great North Walk, I’ll be fit enough to carry everything I’ll need for the 13 day experience.

This morning I thought I’d review my hiking pack. It’s a Blackwolf Glacier Bay 75. I bought the pack in either 2005 or 2006 (I am leaning towards 2005). Blackwolf no longer make this model but no doubt the review will give those looking for an entry-level pack some idea of the general quality of Blackwolf’s packs.

To help visualise my pack in all its glory, I made a short video. Please forgive the ‘Amateur Hour’ presentation: I’m not really a video guy.

As you can see, after 7-8 years in service, my pack is still in good condition. This is through no special care or attention on my part. The bag has been dragged through mud, dropped in the ocean, smashed against rocks, covered in sand and left neglected in a cupboard when not in use. I’ve never washed or cleaned the pack, other than a quick hose off when it’s been too muddy to store in the cupboard at home. The pack’s been strapped to the back of a motorbike that traveled down highways at 100kph and along gravel roads at speeds up to 80kph. It’s been thrown in airplane luggage compartments, and has survived the hustled and bustle of being worn on busy commuter trains.

The pack sits in the budget / entry level market. At the time I bought it, the price of a reasonable quality hiking pack at outdoors stores was about $AU300-500. This pack only set me back $AU120 from an Army disposal store.

The pros of this pack:

  • it’s obviously robust
  • it’s narrow so great for bushwalking along single track
  • it’s easy to adjust and has plenty of adjustments for different body shapes and sizes
  • the optional separator in the lower section of the pack means you can keep wet clothes or shoes separate from your other gear but you can also just use the pack as a single compartment unit.

The cons of this pack:

  • it’s not as lightweight as some of the more expensive options on the market
  • it doesn’t have a fancy higher-end brand blazoned on it (no offense intended to Blackwolf) so you might not get taken as seriously on face value as others who spent more on their packs.

At the end of the day, I have looked at newer more expensive packs over the past few years with the thought of upgrading. But I’ve never found anything that I can justify spending money on when this old faithful is still functional, comfortable and in good condition despite the abuse I’ve hurled at it.

Total: 6km walk with 11.8kg pack.

MYO handlebar bag

'Free' homemade handlebar bag

‘Free’ homemade handlebar bag

While I bought a saddle-mounted Carradice bag off the internet, I still wanted a way to carry my waterproof, wind vest and high visibility vest on tomorrow’s Fleche Opperman 24 hour challenge. But I didn’t want to spend any more money. So I made myself a handlebar bag. And it cost me about fifty cents in cotton thread. It’s so simple that anyone can do it.

 

1. Cut the lid off an old backpack and remove the lid's webbing and buckles

1. Cut the lid off an old backpack and remove the lid’s webbing and buckles

Take any old backpack that has a decent sized pocket in the lid. Don’t use your favourite hiking pack; just grab something that you never use anymore or go to your local thrift or opportunity shop to buy something super cheap (<$5). Here’s a hint: you’re going to be destroying the bag.

Cut the lid off the bag, retaining the buckle clips. Then remove the webbing and buckles that clip into the lid from the backpack (i.e. remove from backpack, not from lid).

2. Carefully remove the shoulder webbing

2. Carefully remove the shoulder webbing

Remove the webbing from the shoulder straps of the backpack. Not the foam but the webbing.

3. Sew the webbing onto the lid

3. Sew the webbing onto the lid

Sew the two webbing straps with buckles together. Then sew the straps with buckles horizontally across the outside of the lid. These will connect the bag to the handlebars by clipping into the buckle clips on the lid, which will be the lower part of the handlebar bag. My backpack lid has some D-rings on it so I used them to force the straps to stay in place. You could also sew them onto the edges of the lid instead.

If you had to cut the shoulder straps, sew each of them together. Then sew them onto the bag lid vertically. You will use these to cinch in the handlebar bag to hold it’s weight and keep it off the brake and gear cables. I sewed mine so that the webbing runs between the D-rings and sewn sections of the webbing with buckles. This will stop the webbing from slipping off the side of the handlebar bag.

This is how it looks after sewing

This is how it looks after sewing

This is how the lid of my old backpack looks after I have sewn the webbing on. I am holding the webbing with buckles. The other pieces of webbing are the shoulder straps.

The lid zip is the bag opening

The lid zip is the bag opening

The zip on the lid of the old backpack will become the zip on the handlebar bag opening. My old backpack lid was so old I had to do some sewing to reinforce the lid and zip.

4. Attach the lid to the handlebars using the lid buckles and webbing

4. Attach the lid to the handlebars using the lid buckles and webbing

The sewing is now complete and you are ready to mount your new handlebar bag. Place the lid buckle clips on the lower front section of the handlebar bag then wrap the buckle clips around behind the handlebars and clip them into the buckles that you have just sewn on. Cinch in the straps so it sits firmly.

5. Cinch the lid into place with the shoulder straps - cross them so that they don't move

5. Cinch the lid into place with the shoulder straps – cross them so that they don’t move

Wrap the old shoulder straps around the handlebars and cinch them in to take up the weight of the bag. This will prevent the handlebar bag from placing weight on the brake cables. I crossed my webbing straps so that the one sewn on the left went on the right of the stem and v.v. This way the straps will provide more support through the middle of the bag.

This bag doesn't take up much handlebar real estate

This bag doesn’t take up much handlebar real estate

The final bag doesn’t take up much real estate because the webbing is flexible. You can also still use your handlebar mounted headlights (this is where this simple design differs fromΒ  a commercial handlebar bag).

My road bike ready for tomorrow's Audax

My road bike ready for tomorrow’s Audax

The handlebar bag will sit narrow and low on the front handlebars. It’s large enough to hold a waterproof, wind vest, high visibility vest and space blanket. You have to stop to access it, so it’s not as convenient as a commercial bag. But it’s still easy to access everything because you just uncinch the tightening straps and unclip the buckles to gain access; you don’t have to totally remove the bag. To close, you just zip it back up and recinch the four straps.

My bike is ready for tomorrow’s 369km ride. I have my ankle straps wrapped around the frame, frame pump attached to my left side front fork (that’s the verge-side here in Australia), food and cell phone in the top-tube bag, and food and spares in my seat post bag.

A short night trail run

Team Whoops Witch Way hit the trails tonight for our regularly weekly trail run. I have a big ride on Saturday and we’ve both been tired this week so we just did a short, slow and relatively flat run tonight to stretch our legs.

I took the opportunity to try out the new Kathmandu Axion backpack that the good people at Kathmandu gave me after reading my blog post about the Kathmandu Adventure Race.

While I will write a proper review about the pack after I test it out more fully, I want to share my excitement about finally having a proper running pack after running with the ill-fitting Camelbak since July 2011. Kathmandu didn’t ask me to write a review, but I rely on blogs for product reviews because I know they are written by real people so I want to provide information for others who do the same thing.

Firstly, the pack itself feels as light as a feather. I love that the design is focused on function,not asthetics. Sure, it looks great but every seam and bit of fabric has a purpose; it isn’t wasted weight.

I’ll write more about the harness and hydration systems tomorrow but, suffice to say, the bag fits like its made for running. I tested it out by carrying a first aid kit, wind vest, waterproof and 2L water. The bag didn’t move at all as I ran; it was like a second skin. The pockets were great because they let me access my phone, which I use as a GPS and camera.

I want to test the bag out more and then write a proper review because hydro bags are such an important running tool.

Total: 5.35km trail run