A school reunion in Reading inadvertently provided an ideal test ground for the Lands End to John O'Grouts (LEJOG) adventure. How about a two day cycle from my home in Devon to the bright lights of the Royal County? Similar daily distances to what I hope to cover on LEJOG and an overnight camping stay. A great test of both my legs and of the gear.
When collating kit, lightweight and ease of use were the name of the game. Working on the assumption that I never more than a couple of days away from a washing machine, and never more than an hour or so away from a shop, this is my proposed kit along with some observations on how it performed on this two day excursion.
The bags for the bike are from Apidura. Rather than conventional panniers the trend is now to go with handlebar and saddle bags. I went for Compact Handlebar Bag (9 litres) in which my sleeping bag sits rather comfortably. I can't go any bigger than this or it wouldn't fit between the drop bars on my bike. As it is a certain amount of tightening and wiggling is needed to ensure that the gear changes and brakes are not impeded. This handlebar bag is coupled with an Accessory Pocket (5 litres) which carries my toolkit, food, credit cards and cash. On the back of the bike is the MidSize Saddle Pack (15 litres) and this holds the tent, sleeping mat, washbag and electronics. I have been cycling with these bags for sometime now. They are sturdy, stable and pretty easy to use. I have yet to test how waterproof they are, but all of the contents are separately wrapped in waterproof stuff sacks so I don't think there is a worry there.
This is a bit controversial but I am then planning of having my own waterproofs and additional clothes in a rucksack. The one I have is a Osprey Talon (32 litres) which has accompanied me successfully on many walking adventures. I have cycled a lot with this as well and it (as yet) has not caused me any problems. The gear in here is quite bulky but pretty lightweight. It also means that I have room to store extra water in a bladder if the need arises.
Speaking of water, I have both bottle cages set up on the frame, with two 800ml water bottles. Again I am hoping that I am always within 10 miles or so of getting any more if necessary.
I only need a tiddler of a tent. I am only 5ft 7 and I don't want to haul anything bigger or heavier than is absolutely necessary. I chose a Terra Nova Laser Photon 1 weighing in at a measly 746 grammes. It is pretty easy to erect with only one pole and a number of guy ropes. The titanium tent pegs are far too flimsy and easy to loose so I will probably upgrade these, but there is plenty of room for me and also plenty of room for my stuff. It is cosy inside, I won't deny that, but it was more than comfortable and didn't feel in any way claustrophobic. To give it some credit, it survived the mother of all thunderstorms, keeping me and my gear bone dry. In fairly high winds it stayed pretty stable, never once feeling like it was going to take off. It packs pretty small, it weighs next to nought, and on that basis ticks every box.
SLEEPING BAG AND MAT
I am not planning on braving Arctic conditions, so I needed a good lightweight 2/3 season sleeping back that packs pretty small. I chose the Western Mountaineering Summerlite. Only 551 grammes in weight it packs tightly into the Apidura compact handlebar bag. It has a comfort rating down to 0 degrees Celcius which should be absolutely fine for the late British summertime. It has a nice long zipper which is really handy when you try and wiggle into it in the confides of a small tent. It kept me warm, packs down tight and weighs next to nothing. Another tick in the box.
I have used Therm-a-rest sleeping mats for years now. The Therm-a-rest NeoAir Xlite is their latest lightweight iteration at 211 grammes. This version is only 3/4 length but provided that my arse is comfortable I am happy for my legs to hang off the end. It inflates to quite a remarkable thickness and certainly does it's job of smoothing out the bumps. It is annoyingly slippery on the tent, and I woke up a few times having sort of fallen off of it. The solution was to put my clothes on the floor of the tent and then place the mat on the clothes which seemed to fix it in place.
WHAT AM I GOING TO WEAR ON THE BIKE?
I am a middle aged man and never ever ever should I been seen in lycra. It is just wrong. There is no discussion around that. It is properly wrong. End of. My cycling gear is a combination of tee shirts and Helly Hansen base layers. On the bottom half, Altura Tempo undershorts keep my delicate bits protected underneath Madison baggy shorts. As well as the stuff I am wearing, a complete spare set will be in the rucksack.
On the top half I have a Altura Night Vision 360. At 517 grammes it is quite heavy, but it is very effective in heavy rain and doubles as a windproof top if necessary. On the bottoms I have Endura Luminite Pants. Haven't tried these in anger yet but they seen comfy enough. Finally, to keep my tootsies dry and warm there are Madison overshoes. These have worked really well for some winter MTB riding so should be absolutely fine for Sept road riding.
WHAT OTHER CLOTHES AM I CARRYING?
Most of the stuff I am wearing on the bike should not scare members of the public in the evening. All I need are some spare normal pants and socks and some shoes. The shoes are Skechers GoWalk2. Nice and light at 356 grammes and ridiculously comfortable.
I need to be realistic about my ability to fix stuff, even if I am carry the right tools. No point carrying tools that I actually cannot use. On that basis I am going with two spare inner tubes, some glueless patches, two gas inflators and a couple of allen keys and that is it. This comes in at 343 grammes. For other disasters that might befall I can only hope that I am near enough to a bike shop.
No matter how hard I try I cannot completely escape the hooks of modern life. I will be taking my IPhone (180 grammes including charging cable), Black Diamond Iota headtorch (69 grammes including charging cable), GOPRO Hero 4 (165 grammes including charging cable) and the Garmin Explore 820 SatNav.
A quick note on route planning here. The Garmin comes with it's own Basecamp software which for routeplanning has proved to be next to bloody useless. Counter intuitive and complicated to use, it just doesn't work at all. The ever excellent Strava now has route planning available on their site and by contrast it is pretty flipping excellent. Plan your route on here, export as a GPX and download onto the Garmin. This then works spectacularly well, giving me turn by turn directions. Strava is also used on the IPhone to record each days ride and overwhelm me with quotable stats for the rest of time.
To charge all of this gubbins I am also taking a Ravpower RP-PB19 battery. For the techies, it has a capacity of 16750 mAh which should keep all of the electronics charged for a couple of nights at least when I am away from the mains. It is heavy, at 318 grammes, but a necessary evil in this day and age.
FRESH AS A DAISY
My washbag consists of a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, sunscreen and a bar of soap. Tesco do special travel versions of most toiletries so I went for these, not only because they are less to carry but they make me feel like a giant and I like that. The soap is from Sapooni and is a shampoo, shower gel and washing powder all in one. I can attest that this genuinely works. It really does. It lathers well and ensures that both me and my clothes can walk into a pub without emptying it. Result.
I have tried these fancy pants energy bars but I can't say I have ever enjoyed one. I have a couple in the front pocket but mostly I have been munching on nuts, chocolate and bananas which seems to work just fine. One of the water bottles generally has a hydration tablet in it as well just to be on the safe side.
I can't write all of this shizzle without actually mentioning the bike that will be doing all of the hard work. Said bike is my trusty Genesis Equilibrium. Looking at it you would say it is old fashioned, retro even, with its conventional steel frame and relaxed geometry. But it is an absolute beauty. Reliable, comfortable and stylish. Like all good bikes, it just works with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of effort.
So that is it. excluding the bags, the bike and the water this comes in at just over 11 pounds which is pretty good I think. Enough stuff to keep me on the road but not too much to weigh me down.