Sunday, November 21, 2010

Bikes and Equipment

The first thing we should explain is that no single method of travel, packing or financial planning for a trip like this is equally suitable for everyone. That being said, for our trip we decided to purchase our "hard equipment" once the trip got under way from Cancun in Mexico. By hard equipment, we refer to the bikes themselves, cooking and cleaning utensils, ingredients, food, and pretty much anything else that can be used up in under a month or so.

We strongly encourage anyone planning on starting a trip like ours to decide exactly what things they are willing to compromise on and also take into account the likely conditions of their mode of travel in their region of travel choice. For example, buying and fully equipping your bikes back home will save you a lot of hassle and will undoubtedly avoid any uncertainty about what you will be able to find once you arrive at your first destination. However, this will probably cost more money first of all, and in some cases equipment you buy at home may not be repairable abroad or the parts which might need replacement might not be available where you are heading. Ofcourse one major thing to keep in mind is that anything that is more advanced and you pay more for at home, you will probably be precious about on your trip. Take some time to consider how many such items you would like to take with you and how it may impact upon your travel freedom and overall peace of mind.

The last thing to mention is that we were able to pack fairly lightly on each bike because there were two of us. For obvious reasons some things were only needed in singles e.g. tent, 4L water bottle, cooker stove, tarp, tools, water filter pump, etc. just to name a few. If you plan on traveling by your self, either find a crazy friend to join you or plan on packing much, much lighter than this.

Ok, enough about introductions - here is all the info on bicycles and our equipment list below.

The Bikes

As we mentioned above we decided to buy our bikes in Mexico once we had arrived in Cancun. We knew that buying the bikes in Canada (where we boarded our flights from) would likely cost much more money and we´re uncertain whether we would be able to find parts and the technical knowledge to repair more advanced bicycles on our trip if something were to go wrong. We also decide to find our means of actually carrying stuff on the bikes once we got there, so having bikes from Canada may limit our choices in terms of what and how we can fit on them once we got to Cancun. In summary, simple and cost effective was our approach for pretty much anything bike related.

Cancun turned out not to be the best place to purchase bikes for two reasons, the first is that pretty much everything is more expensive in Cancun than in any other nearest major town (Merida, Valladolid etc.), and the second being that Cancun is a major tourist destination and most local people work and live around this industry therefore there is generally a very small market for the kind of bikes and racks we were looking for in Cancun which meant that choices were limited.

There were a few bike shops in Cancun central which we were able to find with the help of a dear newly made friend and resident of Cancun, Jesus. We found the bikes we ended up buying at Hadad Bikes, which is located here. There was also another decent bike shop with many mountain bike choices, located here.

Our bikes were Mercurio, a Mexican brand whose home operation was located in Merida. The model was Urban Concept which was a good hybrid mix between mountain bike and road bike, these bikes are well designed for touring or transport riding which what we were looking for. The bikes alone cost us 2250 pesos each, and another few hundred pesos for all the other bits and pieces (rear rack, front basket, bottle holder, two spare tubes).

To carry all our equipment we modified the bikes a little. The first addition was a piece of decking plank which we purchased at Home Depot in Cancun (they also cut the plank to measure in store, this was very cheap even with the taxi cost included). We used a drill at Hadad Bikes to make holes in the piece of plank and zip-tied it to our rear rack - this was all to allow a plastic crate to sit more evenly on the back and to prolong its life. We bought the plastic crates from Wal Mart (there are more than a few in Cancun) for 140 pesos each and it turned out to be strong enough and the right size for all our stuff.

To tie down the crate to our adjusted rear bike rack, we used ockie straps (you might call these bungee chords - essentially they are those elastic things with hooks on both ends that your dad took on camping trips). Three pairs of straps were enough, and we decided that a well tied but temporary solution was better so that at times we could take off all our stuff from the bikes in simple chunks, leaving the bikes bare but being able to take all our stuff with us (storing it in our tent flaps, in a room, a locker etc.). Sometimes it just made life easier to take the stuff off and carry it a little across sand than to push the bikes all the way to where we were camping fully loaded.

The only other addition we made to the bikes was in Puerto Morelos, it turned out that the original rear rack was not enough on its own and over time for the ride from Cancun to Puerto Morelos (2 hours and 40 kms), the back load was almost touching the tires. We stayed two nights in Puerto Morelos where we spent a day finding someone to weld vertical steel support struts for the rear racks. Once this was done, these babies were tough and ready for the bumpy roads ahead.

All up our bikes had the following features and were able to carry around 25 kg of packing each pretty comfortably:

  • Mercurio Urban Concept (26 inch wheel hybrid bikes with medium tires) - Hadad Bikes, Cancun
  • Steel rear rack attached to seat shaft (reinforced with twisted iron vertical support struts welded on later) - Hadad Bikes, Cancun + Sirena Bikes, Puerto Morelos (we cut the vertical struts off another set of rear racks from this bike shop)
  • Front steel cage baskets attached to the handle bars - Hadad Bikes, Cancun
  • Steel bottle holder - Hadad Bikes, Cancun
  • Rear timber plank attached to rack with zip ties - Home Depot, Cancun
  • Large plastic crates (40 cm wide x 30 cm long x 30 cm deep) - Wal Mart, Cancun
  • Ockie Straps (bungee chords) used for packed crate tie down - Canadian Tire, Calgary + Wal Mart, Cancun (needed a few more)
  • Straping tape and piece of foam mattress - the handle bars were little hard for all the riding distance we had to cover so we improved the comfort by slicing a strip off our foam mattress´s and strapping it to the handles of each bike (much more comfortable and soft for all those hours of numb fingers)

That´s it for the bikes, now if you are interested read below what the bikes and all this setup gear was actually carrying.

Equipment List

The following list describes some shared items and some which each person carries for obvious reasons:

Bought in Canada or Australia - these things are intended to last the whole trip and more
  • Tent - Salewa Denali II (2.5 person dome shaped tent with extra side flaps, ours is an older model...maybe 2007)
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Sleeping foam mattress (open cell - 1/2 inch thick) - NOT WATERPROOF
  • Thermarest self inflating mattress - MORE WATERPROOF
  • Cooking Stove - MSR Dragonfly (Omni fuel, which means it burns anything; white gas, kerosene, diesel, aviation fuel, Unleaded Petrol)
  • Fuel Canisters - 2 x MSR 600mL (you can fly with these only if they have never been used or appear so)
  • Water Filter Pump - Katadyn Hiker (made in Switzerland and pumps 1L per minute at 0.3 microns with glass-fiber filter)
  • Head Lamp - LED lights and 3 AAA batteries (we bought a backup pack of batteries)
  • Torch Flashlight - LED lights and rechargeable (we bought this crazy little thing for $3 US in Vietnam from a random hole-in-a-wall electronics vendor in Nihn Binh, it plugs directly into a US socket for charging via slide out prongs which it does rapidly, it has two settings; normal torch and stand up lamp just by pressing the button again - it simply kicks ass, Chinese made!)
  • Leatherman - Wave (no need to say more, very useful and powerful)
  • Field Knife - Excalibur flip knife with leather pouch
  • Permanent Marker - Black Sharpie (multi tip, useful for marking stuff)
  • Bike Pump - Bontrager small but powerful hand pump
  • Bike Tire Puncture Repair Kit - Mountain Equipment Co-op regular brand
  • Bike Tool Set - small Mountain Equipment Co-op regular brand
  • Padlocks - Two tough and big padlocks from Canadian Tire (for locking up bikes and whatever else)
  • Bike Lock Cable - Canadian Tire, just cable and loops (we used the padlocks, more versatile this way)
  • Waterproof Tarp - Small 3 x 3m from Canadian Tire
  • Ockie straps (bungee chords) - Strong set of six 24 inch from Candian Tire (wish we got more)
  • Water bottles - 3 x 750mL aluminium water bottles
  • First Aid Kit - Small travel type, upgraded with some better band-aids and iodine solution
  • Zip ties - 50 x long ones from Wal Mart (in all honesty we should have left them for Cancun - they have Wal Marts there)
  • Pack of cards - this was really from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, but nonetheless important for passing time
  • Multi Vitamins - Pack of 250 from London Drugs generic brand
  • Clif Bars - 12 x Backup energy and nutrition bars, they are tasty and awesome and must be bought in North America
  • Gshock Watch - Tough and reliable watch for keeping time and setting alarms
  • Duct Tape - could have been bought in Cancun
  • Strapping Tape - same as above (useful for injuries and improving the comfort of handle bars it turns out)
  • Nylon Rope - same again (100 meters, waterproof and light weight but strong)
  • Freezer Bags - tougher than basic zip-lock bags and keep things dry
  • Pain Killers - Basic Ibuprofen
  • Random lady products (obvious) and contact lens goodies (spare lenses and eye solution) - Colette took enough to cover a full year in case our plans changed (Colette requires prescription lenses and wished everyday to have had laser eye surgery instead of dealing with contact lenses and glasses on this trip)

Bought in Mexico - these things are usable items and were easy to get on Cancun or otherwise
  • Cooking Pot - Found at Wal Mart in Cancun (this was just a very basic raw aluminium cooking pot, very light and cheap)
  • Cooking Cups - We bought two from Wal Mart (same as above, the added bonus is that our cooker fits snugly inside one)
  • Cutlery - Wal Mart (two spoons, forks and steak knifes, very cheap and simple)
  • Spatula - Wal Mart (very cheap plastic type, its hybrid so works as ladle and spatula)
  • Lighter - A trusty little Bic lighter from Wal Mart (always useful)
  • Matches - put in zip-lock bags for keeping dry
  • Zip-lock bags
  • Garbage Bags - for keeping things dry and dust free (we wrapped our sleeping mats once rolled inside a bag for each ride)
  • Dish-washing Liquid
  • Soap
  • Mosquito Repellent - DEET type for tropical insects (keep in mind not to use these often as they damage the environment, and their use is prohibited in all protected areas and when visiting cenotes)
  • Suncream - 50 SPF (same as above, contain metal oxides)
  • Fishing tackle - Bought in Punta Allen and comes in very handy when near the coast, should be thick line and suitable for beach fishing (fresh fish for dinner, yumm!)
  • Powdered Cordial
  • Salt Grinder
  • Oil
  • Herbal Tea - A nice alternative to just plain water sometimes and handy when you have to boil it anyway
  • Rice
  • Tiny Pasta
  • Tomato Puree
  • Garlic - may seem silly but it makes a big difference, and it´s super light
  • Canned Tuna - good source of protein as back-up
  • Other food stuff - we ate fresh produce whenever available, the above is mostly for backup or filler
  • A stick - for warding off chasing dogs and hoisting up yer pirate flag (ARGH!)

So there it is folks, hope this helps or provides some guidance should you require any. Quite a lot of the things we bought prior to departing for our trip and those which were mentally prepared for finding once we got there came to mind due to other peoples bike travel blogs which we researched beforehand.


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