One of the challenges that faces the long distance self-supported bike tourer is the question of equipment. There are several dozen websites we have found that document others' experiences. With this valuable information and advice from local bike stores, we gradually formed a list of requirements.
There are several candidates in the marketplace for a suitable bike, but only one of the readily available choices has been designed and built by an experienced long distance rider. The Vivente World Randonneur has been built from the ground up specifically to be a long distance touring bike. Some of the features that swayed our decision to go for this bike are:
Amongst the modifications that we have made to the bikes, the most important from a safety point of view is the addition of a suitable mirror. It is absolutely critical to know what is coming up behind, particularly on narrow highways, and also out west where a road train at speed has the potential to suck an unsuspecting cyclist off line and possibly into its wheels.
We tried several different types of mirrors, but none were eminently suitable in their original form. The Blackburn mirror was a good concept but suffered from too much vibration making the view useless at anything over about 15km/hr. The Mirrcycle was the best from an image stability angle, but its location down on the open end of the drop bars was vulnerable and the viewing angle not particularly good. After much testing I decided to modify the Mirrcycle by bolting it directly to the mid point of the handlebars as shown, one on each side\, and extending the length of the stem with rigid plastic pipe. This modification has emulated the viewing angle of the Blackburn while retaining the image stability of the Mirrcycle. Another advantage of the modified setup is that the mirrors will fold back easily if required or if they come into contact with something, rather than potentially breaking as a fixed mirror could. Update: Pete has developed a stem for the Blackburn mirrors that are similar to the pictured Mirrcycle arrangement but allow the use of the wider angle Blackburn mirror. Pete has now got two gloriously panoramic mirrors fitted to his Randonneur, and I have replaced my right mirror with the Blackburn version, while keeping the Mirrcycle on the left.
Another modification that Pete has been working on is tapping into the hub generator to provide charging for batteries as we ride along. This modification is a relatively simple affair, as the LED light on the front of the bike has thoughtfully provided some lugs for a power take off arrangement. The current from the generator (alternator) in its raw form isn't suitable for charging but with the addition of a bridge rectifier, the current is turned into DC, and at 6V is ideal for charging 4 x AA or AAA batteries as we ride along. The battery holders (pictured) can be mounted somewhere in the handlebar region, or simply slipped inside the handlebar bag, charging batteries for torches or cameras or anything really as we pedal along. One slight drawback is that the headlight has to be on as well, adding to the load on the pedals, but the effect is minimal and in general will probably account for no more than a 1% penalty on our flat ground speed.
As well as the hub generator driven charging setup, I have also purchased a folding solar panel that delivers 12W at 12V in bright sunlight. It may or may not have a role to play in charging things like mobile phones, portable hard drive storage for photos, and possibly a PDA and the like. It depends partly on whether we're prepared to be tied to camping grounds and the like every few days to access mains power, or whether we want to be independent as much as possible.
One of the constantly recurring themes that cropped up regularly in others' writings was the constant problem of punctures and failed wheel bearings suffered by bikes trying to haul the weight of the rider plus over 20kg of equipment in panniers. With most of the weight over the rear wheel, the strain on the tyres, rims and bearing was often too much when taken over dirt roads and rough shoulders. The answer seemed to be to distribute the load across another axle. The BOB trailer is the only real choice available at a reasonable price and at 6kg including the supplied waterproof bag, doesn't add too much to the total weight.
We borrowed a bike and trailer from the local bike store and it was pretty obvious that the trailer on its own was hardly noticeable on the back of the bike, with the extra weight not having any effect on the flat ground and very little on the hills.
After extensive testing over varying terrain and distances, I am committed to taking my trailer on the trip from day one. Pete however is considering using panniers alone for the trip up the east coast and having his trailer sent up to Cairns where it will be required for the extra weight of the water we will need to carry across the top end.
For most of the trip I hope to camp rather than rely on youth hostels and camping ground cabins etc, despite the obvious attraction of a real bed and mattress. Plus, once we leave the east coast and the restrictions of built-up areas, the norm will be to find a patch of bare dirt, put up the tents and light a fire, just as the rest of the outback does.
There are many good tents that would have been suitable, but after some research, we have each settled on an MSR Hubba Hubba. The principal consideration was weight, but the outstanding single pole design of the Hubba Hubba and its flexibility also won the day. The Hubba Hubba weighs a mere 1.9kg, and has the advantage of a roomy carry bag, so packing it up in the morning won't need a degree in folding and space management. The tent can be used as just the inner tent which is essentially an enclosing flyscreen structure, suitable for the top end where we expect to get very little rain, or as a fly and groundsheet only, where mossies don't swarm around, or wherever we encounter rain and mozzies (most of the non dry season no doubt) the inner tent and fly should provide a fully waterproof environment. Another advantage of the single pole design is it'll be easier to erect in the wind and the rain, and there's less chance of losing a vital component. Finally, when it's really wet and blowy, the fly gives a vestibule area where the wet bags can be left outside the inner tent, but still fairly well protected from rain.