Friday, 19 June 2015

fwe bar bag

Front view.

The FWE bar bag is a fully featured piece of bike luggage.

It mounts on the handle bars using a Rixen Kaul type bracket making it simple to remove when needed. The bag size is small compared to others, only 4 litres in capacity, but manages to hold all the bits and pieces that I want without wasted space. Importantly the smaller size means I’m less likely to overload the bag and have issues with weighed steering. The bag has a front zippered pocket with internal mesh pockets, reflective trim and a tab to mount an LED light. The bag sports two side mesh pockets, a transparent lid pocket for a mobile phone/map*, and an internal zipped pocket in the main compartment.

There is also a lower rear zippered pocket for a bright yellow rain cover that is also included, along with the obligatory shoulder strap, and the strap clipping points. I use the rain cover pocket for the strap and carry the cover in a seat stem bag instead. The one thing missing from the bag is a clip for keys, so in the front pocket I’ve added a loop of 1.5mm dyneema and a small karabiner. Clipped to this and tucked into one of the mesh pockets the keys are safe and secure.

Inside, rear view.

In use the main compartment held my camera, phone, first aid kit, jelly babies, map and my medics. The transparent lid pocket held my Garmin Geko 201, a basic GPS that’s handy for keeping track of mileage, speed and location but little else. I cannot say for certain as I don’t own a more up to date model with mapping data but the pocket might not be big enough for some devices. My mobile phone doesn’t fit (Nokia 635) so if you happen to use one of the phone based navigation apps then you might want to look at other options. I’m still a paper map navigator, predominately, so the issue of what device fits is not an issue as such other than if my phone won’t fit neither will a map (despite the manufacturer's claims)!

This aside the bag is spot on for my needs, and as with the key clip I’ll have a tinker and see if I can rig something to hold a map.

* from the manufacturer's website description.

gsi cascadian cup

Most of my canteen set ups are based around the principle that you eat and drink out of the same receptacle – a pot like the Snow Peak 600 or the Alpkit Mytimug. Whilst this is a great way of saving weight and the double usage that all lightweight backpackers like to incorporate into their kit lists it does have it’s limitations. After all you have to eat your food first and then have your drink or vice versa, unless of course that drink comes in a hip flask or wine bottle in which case it’s just a quick neck in between mouthfuls.

On occasions I like the idea of having something handy for having a brew with the food, and swinging out of wine bottle, whilst effective, is a bit uncouth. And on other occasions, like when I use a cook system that doesn’t lend itself to the pot being used as a mug, such as with my Bush Buddy set up, a dedicated mug or cup is needed. 

The classic was the plastic one pint plastic mug which is what the Snow Peak/Alpkit set ups base themselves around but that volume isn’t always needed as I’m not cooking with it just having a drink. And the GSI Cascadian cup at 450ml is ideal – big enough for a brew but small enough to be packable. The mug has graduations on the inside and the handle has a hole punched into it presumably for those that want to hang it off their backpack. I may take a saw to the handle as I’m not convinced I need it, and that would save some grams despite the weigh saving hole already drilled in it!  The cup is tapered but isn’t that tall so I’ve not noticed any stability issues with it. They come in a range of colours, and for the gram counters out there my one weighs in at 53g.

Friday, 29 May 2015

bikepacking - laleham try out

Overnight spot.

The plan was a simple peddle along the National Cycle Network Route 4 – The Thames Valley Cycle Way – west. I knew that there was a campsite the other side of Shepperton and trains stations along the way should I need to bail. The distance to the campsite was about 15 miles so not a lengthy or arduous run as there are only a few bumps and lumps on the way where the route leaves the river.

The try out was a success and I’m planning the next leg of the route that I’ll do in the next few weeks.

The biggest lesson learnt and one of the reasons for a trial run was to get an idea of timing and distance that could be achieved. I set my cadence to that of my usual walking pace and using my old Garmin Geko 201 GPS I was able to gather data on my average speed. This happened to be 7.5 mph, which is three times my average walking speed. This meant that whilst on foot I’d cover 15 miles in a day, by bike that would equate to 45 miles. I now have a benchmark to work with when planning future trips.

Bikepacking rig - front view.

I’ll review the panniers, bar bag and another bit of new kit that I used on the trip in other posts. I didn’t get around to pitching my shelter using the bike as planned as you can see from the pictures that there was a convenient Birch tree for that job. I wasn’t entirely happy with the fact that the bike was out of view but it was secure.

Bikepacking rig - rear view.

I modified my kit list slightly to give me weights of the kit units – shelter, sleeping, cooking, spare clothes, food, and so on – so that I could evenly distribute the weight between the panniers. And as it happened the units balanced themselves out  reasonably well but didn't go as far as checking the weight on the bathroom scales! The panniers coped with the volume of kit, as expected, with room for more if required. If I wanted or needed to take more or create space in the bags each bag has a pair of D rings on the top so stuff could be lashed on top. The seat post bag held the tools, spare inner, etc. with the bar bag holding wallet, keys, phone, camera, jelly babies and insulin kit. I can't see me needing anything else to carry kit in other than another bottle cage for carrying a bigger fuel bottle for longer trips. Apart from that it was just the same as any other hike.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015


Packed and ready to roll.

Bikepacking – it's the same as backpacking but my bike carries the bags not my back. And it’s something I've always wanted to have a go at. I’m comfortable with the camping side of the activity – obviously. But I haven’t had any experience of doing so with a bike.

There are some aspects of the activity that I’d like to have dry run at before peddling off like mad down one the of the many cycle routes this country or further afield has to offer.

The first is mileage. I know that I can comfortably break sections of a Long Distance Foot Path into daily chunks of fifteen or so miles and make my way to the end point. However on a bike I can go further and at a faster rate subject to the weight of the bike and kit that I’m carrying. And how lumpy the terrain I’m crossing is going to be, along with stops and the potential for detours, imposed or self-inflicted.  I should also mention that I haven’t spent a lot of time in the saddle either these past few years. With this in mind I’m working on the assumption that fifteen miles will take three hours – for now, as my assumptions are usually conservative.

The second is security. I can’t say I've ever noticed Sheffield Staples at any of the campsites I've visited but then that said I wasn't really looking for them! Some friends I know use folding bikes that take shelter in the porch of their tents presumably with a lock on, which keeps them out of sight of potential pilfering. And there's the added bonus of the ease of taking folding bikes on trains. Arriving at the campsite my concern will no longer about finding the best pitch but also somewhere to secure the bike within view of the same.

The third is shelter. For a number of years my shelters of choice have become ones that pitch with trekking poles. Not something that I’d need on a bike! Luckily I did buy a pair of Hampton Poles to use with one of my shelters, which will be the one I’m planning on using due to its small pack size and its overall internal volume. It’s with this that a bit of an experiment comes into to play… Namely with the front wheel off will my bike fit under the shelter? Another experiment is to see if I can pitch the rear end of the shelter using the bike itself rather than using a pole. This later point is an interesting one as the bike will be part of the shelter, it will have a lock on it all the same. My thinking is that a potential thief will think again about trying to steal my bike if the shelter collapses and wakes me up. It may appear that I’m being a bit over cautious but I grew up and lived in a part of London that, “If it wasn't nailed down it would go for a walk.” 

I have worked out a route and draw up my kit list. And will hope to be heading out in the next few days.