Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Thorn Raven Tour (with Rohloff) arrives!

Planning the trip continues steadily but the highlight of recent weeks has been the arrival of the expedition bike from St.John’s St. Cycles in Bridgewater, Somerset. I’m very pleased with it despite the fact I’ve not had time to try it out properly yet – too much else going on.

It’s on the heavy side as expected *(about 16 kg with Thorn front and rear pannier racks). I’ll add a picture here when I can. For those unfamiliar with the Rohloff hub I’ll explain. Instead of derailleur gears (usually either Shimano or Campagnolo) where for touring bikes there are usually 3 chain rings at the front and 7, 8 or 9 cogs at the back, the Rohloff rear hub contains a range of 14 gears which have virtually the same gear ranges as derailleur. One advantage of the Rohloff arrangement is the absence of moving parts on the outside of the bike, such as the rear derailleur hanger, which is somewhat prone to damage and wear in dusty conditions. As I’m intending to get off the tarmac into the outback from time to time this should be helpful, added to which the German-made system is reputed to be bomb-proof – there are very few example of failure – hence the £600 or so cost of the units. I opted for Thorn ‘Comfort’ bars after much discussion on the Cycling plus forum, which seem to offer plenty of options for position adjustment by addition of small tri-bars or inner bar ends.
The only slight issue initially I have, and it’s nothing against the bike, is the slight difficulty I had changing gear. I suffer a little from pain and stiffness in the thumb joint and as the gearshift is placed to the left of the right bar grip one has to use the thumb and forefinger to change gear. During my very short test-drive it did seem a little awkward, but I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve had a proper ride on the bike. I have to say though that build quality and finish are exemplary.

The Caithness Cycling Club’s John Smith organised a ride last Sunday 25/3/07 – the annual CCC ‘Hell of the North’ which is a minimum of 100 miles and up to 138 if you go ‘all the way’. The route is Thurso – south down Strath Halladale to Helmsdale, and back up the A9. Unfortunately only John and myself turned up, which was a shame as it was quite a nice day, dry, and sunny in the afternoon – perfect cycling weather later on. There was quite a stiff SE wind blowing which made it hard down to Helmsdale and encouraged us to draft, but the return was much easier apart from the steep Berriedale Braes where I really laboured. We took around 8 hours at approx 12 mph, which is par for the course, and the kind of speed I expect to make in Oz, perhaps a little slower loaded with camping gear.

I’m continuing research into various bits and bobs to take with me to Oz – at the moment it’s whether to take my little Dell X51V PDA (a tiny PC for the uninitiated) with a portable keyboard, or whether to go for a laptop. There are advantages on both sides which I might go into later. I’ve also been trying to choose a tent, one which is freestanding (since some campsites will have rock-hard ground where pegs will be useless) and also has to be a natural colour, hard-wearing, light etc. I can expect to pay at least £150 for this. The good news is that I’ve sold 2 bikes now for a total of £1000 which has gone a long way to paying for the new Thorn Raven.

Another issue continues to haunt me – whether or not to tow a trailer. I thought I had made my mind up that I would - I already have a decent 2-wheeler – but lately as I can see ways of saving weight elsewhere I am wondering if I can get by without. The main issue seems to me to be having to carry up to 25 litres of water when I’m heading off-road for perhaps 3 days at a time; with no source of water to be had and hot dusty conditions, I can’t risk managing on much less. I may look at my present pannier volumes and compare to what’s available. Could be that with more pannier capacity I can manage without a trailer, that would certainly be easier to manage, especially when parking, and for security reasons etc. The good thing is, The Raven is build like a brick s******* and will stand plenty of weight. Another advantage of not hauling a trailer is that there’ll be less weight to take on the flight to Perth, and thereby less risk of exorbitant excess baggage charges.

What else? Well, a biggie coming up soon is the sale of my house. I don’t want to have to pay Council Tax and insurance and God knows what else during my year away as I won’t have any money coming in, so sale it is. That’s a bit scary, and somewhat stressful. The upside, as I keep telling myself, is that I will buy an old house to do up or some land on which to build a new house, and that will be something to look forward to (and maybe stop me thinking about going on tour again straight away LOL). I’ve also joined Couchsurfing and Warmshowers – 2 websites where people offer free accommodation / camping for cycle-tourists. I in turn have offered my home (while I have one) to anyone who similarly wants to stay here when touring the N of Scotland. I’ve already had one request from a guy in the US in May, so fingers crossed that might be interesting.

That’s all for now folks, but just to say I’m going to officially ‘launch’ this blog in a blaze of publicity a month or two before I leave for Oz, and will thereon be seeking sponsorship for WaterAid from as many folk as I can.