Before take-off we had a long discussion whether we should buy a satellite phone for emergencies or not. Satphones cost over 800 euros and are really expensive, and since we didn't really plan on using it but for emergenices, we decided not to get one. Instead, we chose for the Spot tracking device.
How does it work?
- The standard package makes the device send your GPS location to the SPOT website, every 10 minutes
- Via the SPOT website, you can see your route, but locations are only stored for 30 days. To store your GPS data for a longer period, you have to create an aditional page or regularly download your gpx file
- The device has an OK, HELP and EMERGENCY function. The emergency fucntion will automatically notify GEOS which will contact the nearest emergency services to come and resque you when you are in need. This is only for emergencies.
The other functions will send a premade message to a list of e-mail adresses that you can choose and edit on the spot website. Read more at www.findmespot.eu
How do we like this device?
We are happy to have a cheap solution for emergencies and a solution to track are route with one device. It is easy compared to other emergency devices but expensive compared to simple GPS trackers. The device itself is easy to use and works on replaceable AAA batteries. But, the tracking and the use of the website are much more of a hassle. We found out the easiest way to track and edit your route is to download all your coordinate data on a regular interval, or create an adventure and make sure the SPOT website saves all your data longer than 30 days. Test this device at home before you start your trip or you might lose data...
Also, for family and friends, the tracking site only shows your route from the last seven days, and not your complete route, which is a little sad for cyclers who want to follow their progress on route.
We now download our coordinates and convert these to a GPX file, and map our route with another GPX programme. What we do use daily, is the smartphone application. This always shows the complete route and we use this to show our route to strangers we meet on the road, and our families at home have acces to this application too.
- Super easy to use device (one button tracking)
- Long battery life
- Cheap emergency solution
- You can edit the OK and HELP message and chose the recipients
- Share page only shows route from last seven days
- Quite a hassle to map your complete route if you travel for multiple months
- Data might be deleted after 30 days. Learn about the website before you take-off!
- Works with 3 geo satellites and doesn`t have 100% coverage
The bear necesseties for every bike trip. You really want waterproof bike panniers if you don`t want to find yourself freezing in your wet clothes after every downpour. After quite some reading we chose for Ortlieb, below we will explain why:
First off all, these bags are truly wateproof, as far as we tested and read from other people. That means, water will never enter through the fabric and make your stuff wet. If you don't close your bags as you should, water WILL get in. (you need to fold the topside of the bag at least 3 times to prevent water from getting in - read Ortlieb instructions)
We found out it's best to use the shoulder bands to tighten the rollers, so only in big pools some water drops might sneak in your bags, but even in heavy downpours, we found out our stuff stayed dry.
After 8 months of use (we used them in Belgium too), some of the bags were subjet to wear and tear and let water through the fabric. We had 3 backrollers and 1 frontroller replaced in Istanbul at Bisiklet Gezgini, the local distributor. One phone call to Ortlieb to explain the situation, a helpful shopkeeper and we received new backrollers, as Ortlieb guarantees. Their customer support is really outstanding and the company is very helpful. They don't have distributors in every country, but if you can reach them on the phone, they will try and help you out wherever you are.
Let's talk about our setup. All four of us are using the following:
- 2x Frontroller Classic QL 2.0
- 2x Backroller Classic QL 2.0
- Rackpack 89 L and Olı rackpack 49 L
Extra: Ortlieb Ultimate 6 Classic handlebar bag (Stef)
The handlebar bag is really useful to put valuables and your camera, as this is easy to reach while you're in the saddle and you can easily take this off to carry with you in the shop or a coffee bar. Never any problems with water getting in or anything.
The frontrollers are the second most used rollers. Here we put stuff that we have to use during the day, so naturally, they open and close more than our backrollers, which we can't reach with that rackpack on top of them... The frontrollers are most likely to get wet, because they are not covered by the rackpack. Make sure you close them well and we advice to use the shoulder bands for optimal use. We found that the screws come lose because of dents and other obstacles on the road, so check and tighten them regularly. Same goes for the Tubus mounting system by the way... Also, the points where the screws go through the fabric are most likely to let water through, so watch out for this. Only if water enters through the actual fabric, Ortlieb will allow you to use your guarantee for a new set of rollers.
The backrollers are big and can contain a lot of stuff! We leave them closed during the day because they are far away and covered by the rackpack. Almost no issues with rain finding it's way to our gear in the bags. When on rough terrain, we had issues with backrollers jumping up and the QL system coming lose from the bike frame. To solve this, we used strap bands to tighten the rollers to the Tubus mounting system, as we almost never take off the rollers.
The rackpack is the most water tight bag, since this doesn't have any screws and is really easy to close. You can put a lot of stuff here, but we found out the 89 liter bag is too big for a normal bicycle. Go for a 69 or 49 liters, this will fit better and you won't need a bungeecord to strap the rack pack to your rack. No issues with wear and tear whatsoever and never any rain in the bag. Don't put any metal or other hard items on the bottom of this bag because this will bounce up, down, left and right and damage your rackpack while riding...
We would definitely go for Ortlieb again if we were to start over, they are so easy to use, waterproof, durable and the company's customer support is outstanding!
Sleeping bag: Cumulus Panyam 600
Yuri's sleeping bag. Trapezoid down chambers, pertex fabrics, this sleeping bag has everything you need for good all season outdoor camping. With a lower limit of -12 degrees Celsius, the extreme of -32 degrees, I guess I will survive even the worst of the tricks that the Pamir highway in Tadzjikistan will play on us. I haven't felt cold any night, nor in the hammock, nor in the tent (I use the silk liner too). I highly recommend the cumulus sleeping bags to everyone who wants to go camping in winter conditions. It's very light and It compresses very well plus it survived the first 100 days easily. The down still feels like new and it's still as warm as it was in the beginning.
Sleeping bag: Marmoth Sawtooth
Stef's sleeping bag. With a 650 downfill and lower limit of -8 degrees Celcius, this is a very warm sleeping bag to go camping, even in the winter. I paid 180 euro's for my bag in a promotion from an outdoor shop, which is a very reasonable price for a down bag. In extreme conditions this should keep me alive down to -25 degrees, but I hope it won't come that far. I slept in my hammock at a lakeside at 900m altitude in humid conditions with temperatures around freezing point, and I must admit the sleeping bag had troubles keeping me warm. I found myself awake in the middle of the night, even though I used my inner liner. After strapping the cords to keep the warmth in the bag I could sleep again. Also I personnally find the bottom side for the feet a little to cold for comfort in the hammock. Of course, when sleeping in the tent, this sleeping performs perfect for temperatures way below freezing point. But I like hammocks, and to be fair, when you use and isomat in your hammock, this sleeping bag keeps me warm really really good, even below -5 degrees Celsius. It has a pocket at the feet to stuff something away or to insert heat packs, and a pocket at the top to stuff valuables. The adjustable hood is also a must have if you wanna stay warm, no matter what sleeping bag you chose. A huge downside is that it loses a lot of feather through the coating and the seams. I don't know how I can prevent this. Also, after 100 days of use, it's almost time to put it in the washer, but I have time... A bonus is that the coating is water resistant, so when I sleep in the hammock in wet conditions, it can withstand a little of the moist. But once the down get's wet, you'll shiver, so watch out! Finally, the small back to compress is wouldn't survive 100 days without the stitching I have done so far... A very good sleeping bag for the price I paid!
- Comfortable, a lot of space for the upper body
- Pocket at the feet and top
- Minimal water resistance
- Looses a lot of feathers through the coating
- A little cold at the feet
Sleeping bag: North Face Cat's Meow
Oli's sleeping bag. This one is a synthetic sleeping bag with a comfort temperature up to -7 degrees Celsius. The upside of a synthetic bag is that it still keeps you warm when your sleeping bag gets wet. The downside is that it is heavier and less compressible, so it takes quite some space inside my Ortlieb panniers. I have been sleeping in my hammock in Macedonia in temperatures close to freezing point in the mountains in wet conditions, without any isomat in my hammock, and still I slept quite good. Sleeping in the tent makes a lot of difference since you are not subject to wind or other forms of cold that can wake you up in the middle of the night. I think even in the winter this bag will keep my quite warm down to -10 degrees and even more, if I use my inner silk liner bag AND sleep in the tent. The inner pocket is also useful to stuff away valuables such as your mobile or other things... Also, since I have a synthetic bag, I don't have much trouble with the morning dew attacking my hammock and affecting my sleeping bag. But if I'm getting too cold I will go for a down sleeping bag as replacement, but that means I'll have to watch out more that it doesn't get wet.
- Handles dew and moist very well
- Comfortable and adjustable to keep the warmth inside the bag
- Inner pockets to stuff valuables
- Not very compressible
- Rather expensive
Our Koga Bicycles
First of all we have to mention we bought all 4 bikes second hand from a guy in the Netherlands. We don't know how much km's they have on the counters, but they were in decent shape and with very little wear. Every 500 km we do basic maintenance such as cleaning and oiling the chain and tuning our brakes. Every now and then we take apart the whole drive drain for a thorough cleaning and checking all screws so they don't come loose when riding on rough terrain.
Stef: Koga Miyata Randonneur Chromoly (male)
I have to say I'm very satisfied with my choice of bike. The bike is equiped with a Shamano Deore XT drive train with a 9 speed sprocket in the back. I replaced the middle and biggest front chainring before take-off and also decided to use a brand new chain before starting our trip. I have a tubus rack system in the front and back and they seem very sturdy as well. We all ride with 28" rims and there seems to be very little space between the tires and the mudguard. Hopefully this won't cause any problems when we exchange our 37mm Marathon tires for 42mm Mondials in Istanbul. Sometimes I have troubles adjusting the LX rim brakes, but this might be because of our limited expertise. Overall a very good, sturdy bike that performs very well in downhills, no wobbeling at all even above 70km/h with 35kg luggage. Oh, I also decided to get mountainbike spikepidals - highly recommended! I ended up with some wounds on my knees and shin but that's something you have to learn to appreciate...
Oli: Koga Miyata Randonneur (lady)
Like Yuri and Anton, I chose to go for the female bike version since I find this very practical to get on and off my bike when it's fully loaded. Also very usefull for emergence brakes or sudden stops while climbing up the mountain. I'm very happy with my bike, it seems very sturdy, performs well in the downhills and I think it will make it all the way to China. Although, I have to same I already had some issues. One time during a downhill I had a broken spoke on my front Mavic rim during in the midst of a sharp S-turn. Also I'm having troubles fixing my steering wheel, the upper bolt to adjust the bearings always loosens, so I tightened it a little too much and my steering is a little stiffer now, but manageable. I will have this look after by a professional in Istanbul. I have very sturdy Tubus pannier carriers front and back and no issues with that so far. I should also mention I'm having quite some pain in the back of my right shoulder since I can't get the bike fitted so well. I might get a new steering wheel and force myself into a lower position to fix this, since two months of tweaking and repositioning the saddle and steering wheel have not done me any good. Oh, the Deore XT derailler with 3x9 speed is really a must for what we are doing! I'm really glad I have this same system as Stef to get up the steep hills.
Yuri: Koga Miyata Traveller aluminium (Lady)
Since there were no male models left in my size I had to go for the female version. I have no regrets about this decision because the lowered top tube helps greatly with getting on the bike (when the rack system is fully loaded). It does feel a bit less stable than the male version but i have not had any actual problems with this. The bike is equiped with a Shamano Deore LX drive train with a 9 speed sprocket in the back. Before we left I gave all the parts a good clean and have been maintaining them well ever since. The brakes became a bit stern after a while but some Valvoline Multi Purpose grease easily took care of that. I have a front rack system (unknown brand) which should hold 10kgs each (I have not exceeded this) but the welds just don’t seem to hold up. A couple of colson straps are holding them together well for the time being but I will have to replace them asap; don’t go cheap on these! The tires it came with are Schwalbe Road Cruisers and they were in mint condition so I hope to be rockin’ these till Istanbul (One flat tire so far). Overall I am very happy with my setup, and slowly falling in love with my steel horse.
Anton: Koga Miyata Traveller steel (Lady)
My bike is a travellady. But I'm a 1m90 tall guy. I hope this bike will carry me all the way to Shanghai, but so far she does really well. I had one spoke broken randomly, without hitting a bump or something, so I don't really get how this could happen, I suspect my packing and body weight combined with the G-force in the downhill turns was too much for this lady to handle. I ride with the Shimano LX system like Yuri, and I'm the only one with an 8 speed casette in the back, but I would recommend every world cycler to get a Shimano XT derailler with 9 speeds in the back if you want to carry more than 30 kilo's up the hills. But I like the training for my legs, because I never skip leg day.