Thursday, 24 October 2013

5 Day tour gear review - Rear saddle bag

At first this year I was using a Ortleib dry bag mounted to a Free load rack, it worked but hit the back of my legs whilst cycling so when I was able to test a Revelate Designs Viscacha saddle bag and found it easily contained my two man tent and cook set with room to spare, I ordered one straight away and now I am very glad I did. it holds between 6ltr and 14ltr and attaches firmly to your saddle rails and seat post. One thing you must do before buying one is to check that you have enough  exposed seat post to fit it correctly.

Below is a photo of the saddle bag and the items that I carried in it whilst on my 5 day tour

The above items that I used were 

No.1 Basic first aid kit , this should also contain insect repellent 

No.2 Pot scrub ( to keep your mess tin and KFS clean ) 

No.3 Pocket Knife - swiss army 

No.4  Cheap plastic lighter for the stove

No.5 Plastic chop sticks , very useful in Japan

No.6 KFS  - knife , fork & spoon set 

No.7 Alloy army style mess tin

No.8 Trangia Alcohol mini stove

No.9 Trangia stove base 

No.10 Fairydown 2 man all season tent rolled tightly in a plastic bag

All these items easily fitted in the saddle bag plus my rain Jacket, I chose the Trangia stove because is small very reliable and simple to use and maintain. I do not like gas canister type stoves  because they often take up too much space with the combined gas canister which you have to dispose of after use. If you are looking for a cheap reliable stove ,Trangia is the business !. All the small items and stove etc fit within the mess which is then contained in a plastic bag. In the future I will upgrade my 20 year old 2 man tent to something lighter like a 1 man tent . All the above items weighed 5kg once packed

5 Day tour gear review - Handle bar bag

Well as my bicycle store is a dealer for both Revelate Designs and Porcelain Rocket, I currently use a mix of both brands. When I was looking for a handle bar bag I liked the design of the Porcelain Rocket mission control handle bar set up and particularly liked the extra pocket that attaches to the front, however since I bought my bag Revelate designs have made some new handle bar bags which also look very good.

Pictured below are all the items that were carried in the handle bar bag and attached pocket.

Starting at the bottom of the photo and working up to the top are the items I used. 

No.1 Small hand made note book used as a diary / log book , from Micheal O Brien Book binder NZ 

No.2  A set of 12 alloy light weight tent pegs in a nylon bag

No.3 black Diamond mini head lamp with fade function  

No.4 Mont Bell under helmet thermal cap 

No.5 Water proof map case 

No.6  Alloy folding wind shield for cooking

No.7  Mont Bell stuff sack ( this bag was used for clean clothes )

No.8 Mont Bell stuff sack ( this bag was used for dirty clothes ) 

No.9  Mont Bell burrow bag ( super light weight but very warm - not made of down )

No.10 Mont Bell U L Comfort system pillow  8cm height

No.11 Mont Bell U L comfort system mattress 8cm height

No.12 OR 10ltr dry bag 

The above items worked well and in the small stuff sacks I had spare clothes, socks, pack towel etc both those bags were placed either side of the OR research dry bag which contained the sleeping set up. The Mont Bell U L Comfort system packs down really small as you can see from the photo above and the pillow attaches to the main mattress. I have tried compressed foam and small 3cm high air mattress but they are hopeless compared to the luxury of the U L Comfort system. The handle bar bag was designed around a 10ltr OR dry bag and once filled you still have extra room either side for other items , in my case spare clothes etc. 
Pictured below is the Mont Bell U L Comfort system set up.

5 Day tour gear review

Hi Everybody

I hope you all enjoyed reading about my 5 day tour into Fukushima and back and it seems like that week may have been the last hot week for 2013 as since then the days have become a lot colder. Recently quite a few people have asked me about the type of gear that I carried while on tour so today I took a couple of photos of the main gear that I carried and I will explain my reasons for using those items as well.

First up pictured below is a good side view picture of my 2013 Kona Unit single speed fully loaded for a 5 day bike packing tour

As you can see I do not use racks at all and have this year decided to try the bike packing style of bags attached directly to the frame rather than bags attached to racks, I have tried both methods and can say that I find the bike packing style better - why ?. When you have large pannier bags you tend to carry a lot more than needed and have the option to fill every bag with even more stuff. The bike packing method means you have to think a lot more about the items you need to take and make do with a basic travel kit. 

In the picture above I have a 

1. Handle bar bag with front pocket - total packed weight  4.8kg
2.  Frame bag which contains a mini pump and spare tube and 2ltr hydration bladder 
3. Folding alloy tent poles contained in a bag strapped to the top tube
4.  Bottle cage zip tied to the down tube with a Alloy bottle full of white alcohol for the Trangia stove
5. Rear saddle bag which can hold from 6ltr - 14ltr , total packed weight 5kg 

At a guess I think the total weight of everything that I took was about 12.5kg , in the next couple of posts I will detail the items that were carried in the two main bags

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Oct 5 day tour - Day 5 - Aizu to Niigata City

I woke up early and rode towards the famous ramen town of Kitakata were I stopped at the station to use the toilet , while at the station I saw on telly that bad weather and rain was forecast to hit later that day so started the ride out of town towards the mountain R 459 , right at the turn off I stopped at 7/11 for breakfast and somehow forgot to turn left but headed straight instead. After a few kms I realized my mistake turned around and soon found the correct road. The weather was cool which made cycling easy but if I was to make it to Tsugawa early in the afternoon I would not be able to take many breaks. I stopped at every fresh water spring I came to and even though I had ridden this road several years ago things had changed quite a lot at least on the Fukushima side were they were busy widening the narrow mountain roads.

There are only a few small towns along R459 , most of them are very small one of them called Miyako is famous for its Soba noodles and there are fields of buckwheat going all around the village. Once getting onto the Niigata side it was clearly to see that it had rained early that day making some of the steeper down hill sections on switch back roads a little scary but thank god I still had some stopping power from my disk brakes. 

I keep pushing on and soon had re entered Niigata prefecture and the weather by this time had become much hotter , soon I was alongside the mightly Agano river and around this time I thought I had a chance to make it back into Niigata that day. Even though I took 6 days off the thought of a free day before returning back to work sounded pretty nice and the idea of spending a night in the rain did not seem very appealing. I rolled into Tsugawa station at 2pm having covered 90km already and asked the station master how far it  was roughly was into Niigata city he said is was another 57km !. I did a quick calculation and accessed my current condition - could I ride another 57kms along the river and into the city. 

I decided I could so I pressed on and about 10 kms out of Tsugawa I was stopped by some guard men at a road works site, I had experienced a lot of this throughout this tour so I thought if I wait a few minutes I will be allowed to pass. To my horror this was not to be the case , the head guard man told me the road had been washed into the river and when  I asked if I could pass through on my bicycle he said it was not even possible to walk past the landslip so he said I had to return the way I had come back up the road into Tsugawa and take the busy R49 down into Niigata. Why they hell had they not put another guard man 10km back up the road at the turn off warning road users that it was impossible to pass !. I had to decide quickly what to do and the options were 

Option 1 . Stay the night free camping in the river side park and most likely face a night of heavy rain

Option 2 . Find the nearest 7/11 quickly stock up on food, water and snacks and hit R 49 for a 3 hour ride back to Niigata City

I decided as it was already 2.30pm to get to the nearest 7/11 , soon I had found one and bought the following supplies to get me back into the city. 2 ltrs water , hamburger, pack of fried chicken cutlet sandwiches , 2 x snickers bars , I consumed everything but one snickers bar and refilled the 2 ltr drink bladder plus I still had more Soy Joy bars left over as well and fast the busy R49 back to Niigata City.  One great thing about R49 is that is mostly downhill but apart from that I was faced with a tunnel that was 2666 mtrs long, not my ideal road to take home but as soon as I could I got off R49 onto some more quiet back roads and crossing the Agano river back towards the city dusk was already upon me and with my lights on I entered Niigata city to finish my tour. The last day was one of the toughest days I have ever had on any bicycle , but I pleased to cover 153 km in 11 hours on a loaded single speed and had a fantastic adventure over the past 5 days. 

For those of you that would like to check out all the photos I took while on tour they can be viewed here 

Friday, 11 October 2013

Oct 5 day tour - Day 4 - sightseeing in Aizu

After a nice sleep in I thought it looked like rain so quickly packed and had breakfast before riding a nice river side cycle road towards the center of Aizu Wakamatsu . Aizu being an old castle town has a lot of history and some fantastic historical buildings that have been preserved, some are now being used for cafes, shops etc but at least they did not tear them down like a lot of other cities throughout Japan. I really just pottered about the city all day , eating lunch , taking photos etc before visiting Tsuruga  castle which was packed with tourists and kids on school trips. I bought an Aka Beko which is the towns mascot , It is a red cow painted with white and black spots and the one I bought was meant as a mobile phone accessory so I tied it to my handle bar bag for good luck.

It was about 30 deg in Aizu that day so I waited until the weather had cooled down a bit before cycling to a nearby small town were I free camped in a park by the river that night. It was an easy day so I slept well and considered cycling all the way back to Niigata city the following day if I could make it to Tsugawa in Niigata prefecture in reasonable time

Oct 5 day tour - Day 3 , Tadami - Aizu Wakamatsu

After waking up at 5am and packing everything I was ready to go at 7am and as it was only 18 deg it made for easy riding until mid morning when it was already 26 deg . I stopped along the was a a small local shop like a 7/11 and bought a few snacks for the long ride ahead . The new route led up a valley that rejoined the R 400 that I had intended to take at first. The road I was now on was called R 401 and very remote with almost no traffic at all, nearer the top it became too steep to cycle so I was forced to dismount and walk about 10 km to the summit. Upon reaching the top I stopped for a rest and took a photo of my bike next to the sign the area was full of light tan moss and grass and looked like nobody ever ventured this way very often. About 50 mtrs down the other side of the mountain I noticed my left foot was really slippery which made cornering dangerous, so I stopped to clean off what I thought at first was some kind of moss - it was not moss at all it was some of animal shit, maybe bear or tanuki but hell it stunk and it was now all over my  left shoe & pedal !. All I could do was to spit water at it and use a few tissues to clean most of it off but later on I found some running water and did a better job of it.

Not long later after passing  through the village of Showa  and short section of steep down hill , I rejoined R 400 and with a bit more walking and a nice down hill I came to the turnoff for R 346 which was 98 % down hill and safe to ride. It is amazing to me that people live in here , at this time of the year it is very beautiful but I could easily imagine it with 4 mtrs of snow or more in winter making getting out for supplies very difficult or impossible.

Finally I came to another turn off which according to my map was a short cut across to the historic village of Ochijiku , a local standing on the corner told me this was the correct road to take but warned me it was very tough, long and winding but I thought how bad can 16 km really be and proceeded up hill . By this time it must have been nearly 30 deg and I was forced to dismount once more and the switch back climb became too steep to ride. Half way up I came to a fantastic fresh water spring , so sat down in the shade to rest , filled both my 2 ltr drink bladder and tin cup and was suitably revived for the remainder of the ride towards the village of Ochijiku . 

I rolled into the main street past tourists out for a day trip covered in sweat and dust and looked for a place to eat some cold soba noodles which is a village specialty . These days the village caters for tourists in a big way with every house converted into some kind of shop. This area is a  part of the famous Nikko highway, back in the old days when people traveled by foot or horse to get to the Samurai castle town of Aizu they most likely passed by here, maybe they had soba noodles for lunch as well. 

The place I chose let me park my bicycle outside, the main street is made of dirt and cars, motorcycles are banned from entering it but luckily they did not mind a cyclist walking up to their front door. The soba noodles were pretty good and the old lady who is the owner gave me a free glass of local wine. I had already ridden 70km by the time I had lunch and left at 2.30pm for the last climb up to the dam and decent into Minami Aizu where I was going to stay at a riverside campground. A bit more walking was needed to get to the top but as the locals said it was only 30km into Aizu I thought it could not be too bad. The view of the dam was nice but the decent was far worse than I experienced the day before, not only was it about 10% downhill , the switchbacks continued on forever . I was lucky it was dry as I could not have made it in the rain, I was really working hard to stay in control on such a long steep winding decent but somehow made it to the bottom with mishap.

After getting into Minami Aizu I soon found the camp ground and after checking in I asked were their showers were located only to be told they did not have any, but they said there is a nice onsen nearby which sounded perfect, then they said unfortunately  its closed today . So after a 100km ride which was pretty tough I was unable to take a shower and settled to try and wash myself in the tiny camp bathroom instead before cycling a few blocks away to the coin laundry as I was running out of clean clothes, it did feel nice drinking a beer and eating chips while waiting though and on my return to the campsite I cooked up another instant pasta in a typhoon, maybe I should have brought the wind shield after all . The next day was to be a rest day exploring Aizu Wakamatsu so at least I could sleep later than normal.