We were just before Trabzon, one of the biggest cities along the Turkish Black Sea coast and home to the beautiful Sumela Monastry, and we were going through the usual evening paces of ‘where the hell are we going to sleep?!’
There are a few things that we keep close to hand at all times and one of these is our Titaner Pocket Knife. Whilst riding it is attached to our map cases via the strong sliding clip and whilst off the bike it is on our belts or pockets.
The design of the knife is sleek and simple; cleverly addressing the need for lightweight without compromising on safety or efficacy. The handle is made of two layers of titanium held together at 4 points. Using a hinge mechanism the ceramic blade slots between the two layers of the handle. And the blade is eased out if the handle by 2 bolts at its base. Once completely out of handle and fully released, a small catch close to the blade base clicks into the space occupying the gap between the two layers. This prevents the blade from shifting. To close the knife, one hand pulls the catch out of the gap whilst the other eases the blade back into place. With practice, maybe it will only need one hand to open and close – but we haven’t tried that yet!
We use our knives mostly for preparing food. Often for lunch we have tomatoes, cheese and bread or for dinner for vegetables with pasta. The blade is strong, steady and accurate, whilst the handle shape allows for a confident grip. They also come in handy for odd jobs such as cutting string, cable ties (a cycle touring must-have) and once we used it to shift a small stone that had become wedged inthe screws of Beth’s cleats.
Length – 155mm
Width – 20mm
Thickness – 7mm
Folded Size – 90mm
As we sat down on the small wooden stalls of the restaurant, we couldn’t quite compute our emotions. Exhausted and a little traumatised, we demolished a mixed grill platter and dissolved into our beds. The next day was when the elation at our achievement kicked in. We had cycled 3650km from London to İstanbul, Turkey! We’ve experienced 12 countries, learnt how to say ‘hello’, ‘thank you’ and ‘can we camp in your garden?’ in 9 languages, met some amazing people who have overwhelmed us with their hospitality and eaten over 100 snickers bars (and still counting…!). As we took on the role of tourists in this beautiful city we couldn’t help but tell people “we cycled here!” When asked where we were from.
In the first phase of our journey, we would often cycle at night. We enjoyed the peacefulness of the roads and riding after dinner with the sunset on our backs. We use Fenix BTR20 Bike Lights and they allow us to feel confident whilst night riding. As well as their power and settings variety with the additional button for immediate bright light, their unique fitting to the handlebars is a real benefit. They use a strong rubber band that hooks around the handlebars, which allows different positions and eliminates problems with broken or ‘flimsy’ fittings. We also both use Fenix head torches (HL50 and HL55) for on and off the bike; use whilst on the bike to see gears and ‘dashboard’ and whilst off the bike for night time activities (such as tent pitching and cooking). And, Beth’s favourite piece of Fenix equipment, the CL20 camp light! We use this light every evening, it is much softer than the head torches but still offers more than enough light. We hang it off our bikes for sitting outside in the evenings and off the roof of our tent for indoors. We have only had to change the batteries for our head torches and camp light once over a duration of 2 months with use almost every night!
There is much debate between cycle tourists about wearing helmets. After all, a lot of the time we are moving slowly and no where near big roads. We stand very much on the ‘helmets are good’ side of the argument and this has been reinforced by our fondness of ours!
Reasons to wear a helmet:
1) you will find yourself on main roads at one point, with no other option (especially if you are riding to Istanbul)
2) if you fall off it’ll hurt more
3) many insurance companies only cover you if you were wearing a helmet
Things to consider when helmet shopping:
1) vents vents vents. In hot places a hot head is unpleasant. Sweat can tangle up your hair beyond salvaging (just ask Beth) and you can become dehydrated rapidly. Despite this, we would say a well vented helmet can have a cooling effect and shelter you from the sun. If you are worried about the rain with vents all you need is a Vango helmet cover and that problem is solved!
2) Bug mesh. Flies seem to hover in clouds just at head level, waiting for you to cycle through and get a mouthful. With a bug mesh you can lower you head and let them collide with your helmet without worrying about finding that they’ve all taken up residence in your hair a couple of hours later.
3) Comfort. This comes from the design of the padding, helmet shape and the sizing mechanism for a secure fit. We all have differently shaped heads (and different amounts of hair, again ask Beth) for this it is just worth trying a selection of helmets for shape and size.
Exustar have a brilliant helmet range with lots of different colour designs, number of vents, padding designs, etc. In fact it was very difficult to choose! We felt confident in the quality of the brand and sure that all models were on par. The BHM106 model has 26 vents, a bugs mesh and a visor. We can feel the wind through the helmet, whilst we also feel sheltered from the sweltering sun. We don’t even notice we are wearing a helmet these days!
Imagine wearing the same shoe every single day for over 200 days. How can one pair of shoes be comfortable all the time? How can we cool our feet on hot days but keep them warm on cold days? With such a demand inflicted on our feet, we took care to research the subject carefully. Below I have listed some of the blog posts and articles that we gathered information from.
The first criteria we decided upon was that we needed sandals. This was so that our feet could “breathe” and reduce risk of athlete’s foot or any other smelly problems, as well as offering versatility in a wide range of temperatures. The only draw back with this decision was, however, that we needed to be able to protect our feet from bumps or crashes. The design of Exustar sandals addresses both of these demands, whereas competitor brands like Shimano have less protection. Exustar sandal style allows airflow to our feet, whilst the toe guard, leather straps and neoprene protect them and shelter from the sun. When it rains, and it has (a lot!), we either choose to wear no socks and let our shoes and feet get wet or we wear socks (Julia’s are waterproof) and Vango gaiters, which do the job nicely.
The second point was whether or not to clip in to pedals or not. Both of us also enjoy road cycling and reaping the benefits of SPDs. Clipping in optimises pedalling, engages more leg muscles and maintains a consistent foot to pedal position. We felt that we definitely wanted to use SPDs on good roads but we also required the option to not clip in on less paved roads. This drew us towards the mountain bike style shoes that allowed us to walk normally off the bike, clip in or remain unclipped without hindrance. Combined with the E-PM818 pedals we could do just that!
After researching multiple brands and models and reading blog after blog, we settled on Exustar. A hidden gem of a brand. Not bold and brash but high quality and true to its Taiwanese roots. The sole of the shoe is moulded and sturdy plastic material with a small amount of give for walking. The fastenings are 3 Velcro straps across the top of the foot and one around the heel. These allow for varying thicknesses of socks and therefore making them ‘winter worthy’. Across the top of the foot (under the Velcro straps) is a layer of neoprene material, which is fast drying and prevents friction between the straps and foot when wet. This material also attaches to a hard, leather toe cap.
So, how well do they do the job? One, they are comfortable. It took a couple of weeks for our feet to completely adjust to the shoes, as expected, with Julia getting some rubbing on her heels and Beth some rubbing in the arches of her feet. Neither issue was not solved with a pair of socks and soon there was no rubbing at all, with or without socks. Now after hours on the bike our feet rarely ache or blister and, although they crave a rest, neither of us experience discomfort. Walking in the shoes is easy and comfortable. When we are not cycling for a couple of days we remove the cleats, to protect them from wear, and replace with a plastic insert. Two, quality. The shoes have demonstrated their durability and no faults or material failures have arisen after 3 months and 4000km of wear, plus a disproportionate amount of water exposure.
We will quite happily say that our shoes are our favourite piece of clothing equipment. Many other cycle tourists we meet are envious of our sturdy sandals. These boys have pedalled with us through rivers, over mountains, walked with us through cities and scrambled up slippery slopes. They have been caked in mud, washed in springs and caked in mud again. And they have plenty more life left in them!
http://totalwomenscycling.com/road-cycling/best-womens-cycle-touring-shoes-31728/#0IuRJiSbpMBAx6q1.97 – the only cycle touring sandals recommended in this article are Keen
Model: Iona Women’s
The journey presents temperature highs of 45 degrees C down to minus numbers. We go for days, weeks, without a shower and we feel every gram that we carry. In our preparation we focussed on maintaining low weights by finding equipment with multi uses and durability. Our research took us to Armadillo Merino, where we found they ticked the very boxes we needed. With the ZQ certification for the merino wool used in Armadillo Merino products, we trusted this one hundred percent.
For us the aspects that stood out most were:
- UV protection
- Moisture Management
So are the claims all that they seem? I’ll discuss each of the 4 key points above and show the advantages of these properties.
- UV protection. Right now we are in Turkey. Most days the sun is strong and invasive and this gradually rises to full strength between 12pm and 2pm. We are both very fair skinned and struggle at the best of times in such temperatures. In these days we wear our Iona merino tops to shelter our upper body from the sun, removing the need for sun cream (a heavy weight and precious supply)
- Moisture Management. This is good for 2 reasons. Firstly, on hot or rainy days or when negotiating hills we are working hard and sweating, which makes our clothing damp. When you stop cycling with damp clothing you can feel uncomfortable and cold, luckily we have found that Armadillo Merino drys very quickly and we do not suffer from discomfort for long. Secondly, washing clothes! We often have struggled with drying our clothes, especially when it was colder in Central Europe, thankfully our merino clothing dry fast and eliminates difficulties.
- Thermo-regulation. In Central Europe the weather consisted of a considerable amount of rain and temperatures fluctuating down to 7 degrees C during the day and lower at night. We required our Iona tops for warmth whilst riding either alone as a single layer or under a waterproof coat. Now that we are into the summer temperatures of Turkey and beyond, we have found that whilst wearing our merino we are protected from the sun but the tops no longer provide warmth. As the months go on and we reach Kyrgyzstan and China, our needs from the our clothing will change again back to warmth.
- Anti-odour. Do I need to say more?
The tops fit comfortably with no hindrance to movement and feel light but strong. There is a zip from chest to neck that allows either full protection and a snug fit around your neck or for a more relaxed wear. We have had no snags, washing mishaps or quality flaws. They make us look the part!