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BIKE PARTS & ACCESSORIESHere's a list of the equipment and bike parts we took along on our 10-week bicycle Odyssey through the United States (excerpt from "Biker's Barbecue", pages 219-224 - German edition).
Gary Fisher Utopia
Tip: Testing and adjusting your bike well in advance before engaging on a monster-tour like this will spare you a lot of unnecessary troubles!
BIKE PARTS* Aerobar - From Boston to San Francisco without Aerobar? Sure! Just as you would drive your car without a windshield.
* Lighting - Well, some time or other you have to get some sleep anyway, and the day is usually long enough that you don't want to be sitting on your bike after dusk. Nevertheless we recommend taking along a small, powerful flashlight, which you can use to ride your bike in the dark if necessary. Reflectors are important in any case, and it's also advisable to carry along a red tail light for very obscure light conditions.
* Spare spokes - Spokes are very similar to your meniscus: you don't think about it until it breaks, and then you just wonder how it could last so long in the first place.
* Altimeter - We didn't have one. Would anybody need one? - Somehow it would have been nice, of course: after all we could have boasted about the dozens of thousands of mountain meters we covered on the way. On the other hand, it's just another one of those bike parts you can stare on instead of enjoying the beautiful landscape. And it costs quite a bit.
* Compass - A compass may come in handy if the main destination of the trip lies in a particular direction. After all, you don't want to stop and stare at the map all the time. - Still, in the beginning we were a little puzzled when we noticed that our compass always pointed South. (64-dollar question: Where can you mount a magnetic needle on a bicycle without the needle getting deflected? - The solution will be presented in the next volume...)
* Pump - Any pump will do, but preferrably one that's working. Even though America is studded with gas stations, it's rather tiresome if you have to push your bike for the next 10 miles after engaging a porcupine.
* Cycling Computer - Standard equipment, of course. However, a 17 inch screen and laser printer are not entirely necessary. Slyboots take a waterproof one from the start.
* Saddle - Sure! (Everybody should have one.) Your behind will definitely be aching if you have to soften up your bicycle saddle at 60 miles a day. Whether a hard or soft one (saddle!) is better is an arguable point. One of us had a hard one during the entire trip, the other a soft one (who, will not be revealed here). Anyway, both of us made it to San Francisco without permanent injuries. Furthermore, you can also achieve the comfort of an expensive gel saddle with a pair of good bike pants.
* Panniers - Whether rear panniers are enough or front panniers are necessary as well has been subject to discussions with many (true and self-appointed) experts. - Rear panniers only: you have to be very disciplined as to your amount of luggage (which is not a bad thing to do in the first place, provided you want to get your bike from the spot at all). At the beginning, the bike shows an extremely unusual road behavior. - Additional front panniers: it's depressing to always have those heavy bags in sight which keep you from going much faster. Though front panniers are supposed to bring advantages in road behavior, we are a little doubtful here (gravel, mud, sand?). - We were pretty much satisfied with our pair of rear panniers, though we have to admit that there might be possible correlations to various broken spokes and torn rims, which are still to be revealed.
* Rack - By all means alloy. And you should tighten the screws once in a while: such a set of baggage dragging behind at 40 miles an hour can bring about unpleasant side effects.
* Tools - Which screwdrivers and wrenches you need depends entirely on the specific bicycle and the bike parts used and therefore has to be researched individually. More or less indispensable: spoke wrench (to loosen and tighten the spokes), chain pliers (to replace or remove broken chain-links), tire levers (to effortlessly dismantle the tires), Teflon oil (from our experience the lubricant that attracts the least dirt and lasts longest).
BETWEEN AIR AND EARTH* Conti Top Touring - The perfect tire for such a tour (although there are probably others, too). The right choice of tires has spared us lots of punctured tubes: a fairly thick rubber coat without too much profile is important at any rate (to keep the friction at a minimum). Only the expensive gel-filled tires (contact your surgeon general or your bike dealer for more information) provide better protection.
* Fenders are a matter of style. Naturally, real men (and women) don't need them. And if it's really pouring, you will be soaked down to your socks even with fenders. However, on a muddy dirt road they are highly recommended - especially if you wear contact lenses.
WATER* Camelbak - The mandatory water backpack we have already mentioned. Not only that you can really take a sip whenever you want to, but the water inside stays cool for an astonishingly long time. However, to prolong the lifetime of the inner you should really fill the Camelbak with water only. For carrying juices over short distances, bike bottles are a better choice, and you can also employ them fairly well as cocktail mixers, should you feel the desire for any isotonic powders. - Finally, the Camelbak is also an outstanding substitute for a shower unit and a water dispenser to wash your hands in the wilderness.
* Bicycle bottles - Yuck. Unfortunately, in all of our's the heat made the water taste like plastic after a short time. Should anybody invent an alternative, please pay a visit to the patent office for bike parts and get yourself rich. We would like to sign up for the first two reviewers copies.
CLOTHES* In general - If you are as lucky as we were to be able to wash your laundry nearly every day and can also make use of the US laundry dryer craze, you can get along with very little clothing without trouble. If not, you simply have to: no one can afford to stuff his panniers with dirty clothes. In this case the hand basins of restrooms, campgrounds or supermarkets present themselves for cleaning; the air stream will take care of the drying process. The slightly costlier alternative: simply throw away your old socks. You can buy cheap new ones in nearly every supermarket.
* Trousers - In summer, a pair of cycling shorts will suffice (see also: protection from water). However, you need a new pair after exactly 4000 miles. - That our trip lasted 4150 miles isn't the manufacturer's fault, is it? At any rate, during the last days of our trip we were lucky not to be locked up for endangering public morality.
* Jerseys - If possible you should have two of them. Firstly you can accommodate twice as many sponsors that way (if you happen to have any at all). Secondly it can entirely happen that, for weather-inflicted circumstances, you urgently need a dry, fresh jersey. And of course, such a change of jerseys can add quite a bit to your stylish ego.
* Gloves - In order to protect your beautiful handlebars from ugly fingerprints, we recommend using gloves. Gloves should best be closed, as the popular fingerless models don't provide enough protection on a cold and rainy day. Since most gloves are naturally breathing, you'll also be fine with them well on warmer days, and if the backs of your hands enjoy a little bit of sun, you can sometimes go without them anyway...
* Eyewear - If you believe the verbose assurances of various bike dealers, then cycling glasses protect you from harmful ultraviolet rays, keep the eyes from drying up in the head wind and hold off cunning insects from theatrically committing suicide on your pupil in the midst of the steepest downhill. Unfortunately, the most important reason for wearing glasses sometimes gets overlooked: sunglasses for bikers are simply cool! - Especially with the coolest models, you should keep an eye on the nosepiece - it likes to go astray with an amazing number of brands, and a replacement isn't always available, especially when you are just crossing a desert or you're stuck on a mountain in a herd of bighorn sheep.
* Helmet - Admitted, there's something uncool about helmets. However, skull fractures and other head injuries aren't terribly en vogue either, so you'll have to make up your mind. A short look around reveals that nearly anything coming towards you on a public road is harder than your own head, so the decision shouldn't take all too long. After all that'll also provide you with a nice little basket to put gloves and glasses inside, and the racy hairstyle formed by the helmet is said to have melted a good many women's hearts.
* Shoes - In addition to our cycling shoes we also took along a pair of cross-country sneakers. However, if the cycling shoes are fairly comfortable, you might consider getting along without a backup.
* Socks - "After 4000 miles of cycling I sniffed: nothing! But my feet..." - Special air-permeable cycling socks are quite recommendable - after all, feet have to breathe as well. On the other hand, no one has ever died of regular socks - at least not to our knowledge.
WATER PROTECTION* Rain jacket - Definitely necessary. Most of all it should be leakproof: nothing is more annoying than being soaked to the bones after a ten-minute downpour in spite of a tightly closed collar button. Beyond that, a rain jacket should of course be as thin as possible, and if it turns out to be made of Gore Tex or another air-permeable material, the cyclist surely won't regret it.
* Waterproof pants - As inevitable as the rain jacket. Rain pants can also keep off coldness and wind and can help maintain the body temperature: therefore, you don't have to take a pair of long cycling pants along just for the chance of a few cold days.
* Winter/Rain socks - After thorough consideration, we decided for thin rain socks made of a special waterproof material which are also recommended for snow-loving mountain bikers. Unlike other models, they are not pulled over the entire cycling shoe, but directly over the foot. The theory: trying to keep your cycling shoes dry doesn't make sense anyway because the sole has to stay clear for the pedal. But at least the foot remains protected as good as possible. - The practice: water still seeps into the sock from above, so the foot doesn't stay dry, but at least warm. - Summary: in the end we didn't regret our decision.
BEDROOM* Mattress - A thin, isolating pad to protect you from the worst incommodities of a rocky underground is almost indispensable. If need be, a plastic tarp might suffice (against humidity from underneath), but a good night's sleep is invaluable and the most important requirement for such a journey's success - apart from eating enough. Slightly expensive but nonetheless highly recommendable: a super-light hybrid between air mattress and isolating pad, which miraculously inflates of itself every night before bedtime.
* Sleeping bag - Don't make false economies: the sleeping bag has to be as light as possible, should only take up a reasonable amount of space and keep you warm nonetheless. Irrespective of the model you should always pack your sleeping bag in an additional water-proof plastic bag for transport. After all, the sleeping bag is one of the most precious items in your luggage, and a wet specimen spells a medium-sized disaster for its owner.
* Tent - We did without one. However, for tours through sparsely populated areas you should really give it a second thought. After all, that's what we did...