Kit Review – iPod

iPod Clasic


When cycling in remote desert areas, ascending up some never ending climb, or on those inexplicable mornings when you just don’t feel like cycling, I find music to be a brilliant motivator that gets me into the groove. Music can also heighten many experiences to spine tingling levels, if the right song comes on at the right time. I remember one such instance, climbing into an isolated part of the Kyrgyz mountains at sunset, surrounded by the colossal rugged mountains that were cast in a lovely orange glow. I was feeling great and enjoying the moment, when my iPod switched to a beautiful melodic track by the Icelandic band Sigur Ros which was like putting the icing on an already incredibly tasty cake.

Being on the road for 18 months requires a lot of music so you don’t end up listening to the same stuff over and over, so after lots of deliberaton and research, we plumped for the iPod classic 120Gb. This has a brushed metal body with chrome back, small screen and can take weeks worth of continuous music along with lots of videos and photos. It’s brilliant being able to store an entire music collection on one device so there’s always music to fit your mood. On days off or in the tent at night, the video is really appreciated for a little escapism. I love being tucked into my cosy sleeping bag with a load of sweets or cakes, and relaxing into a good film or one of the many Fawlty Towers or Blue Planet episodes I have on my iPod.

The main drawback with the iPod over other mp3 players is that you can’t transfer music from it to someone else’s mp3 which is quite limiting. But for the sheer quantity of stuff you can get on there, ease of use, and lets face it, cool styling, the iPod can’t be beaten.

Kit Review – MSR XGK stove

MSR stove


For 35 years, MSR’s XGK-EX multi fuel stove has made a name as being THE stove choice for high altitude mountaineering and cycle tourers alike, being lightweight, compact, dependable and tough. It can burn a multitude of liquid fuels including kerosene, petrol and diesel, a necessity when going further afield where gas canisters may be hard to find. I’ve been using petrol in mine most of the time, and it’s been consistent in spite of the cruddy petrol is some countries.

The stove consists of the compact body with it’s 3 stable foldable legs and a short braided metal hose that leads to the separate fuel canister. The canister is pressurised using the small pump which forces the liquid fuel into the stove body. Once set-up, all you do is prime the stove by letting out a little petrol and lighting it causing the large orange flame as in the photo above. Once the flame’s settled down, you just start the petrol again which causes a very hot, powerful and loud blue flame. The standard canister size is 500ml which is enough fuel for about a week’s dinners, and handily fits into a standard water bottle cage, so you can keep the petrol separate from your clothes and food supplies.

The flame is exceptionally fast and powerful, and can bring a pot of water to the boil in minutes (a litre in 2.8 minutes to be precise), though this intense heat sometimes causes thicker stews to stick to the bottom of the pan (if you don’t stir sufficiently, that is). If you fancy a stove with more adjustment, and are willing to sacrifice a little power, the excellent MSR Dragonfly stove is for you. The XGK requires minimal maintainance, in 18 months, all I’ve needed to do is clean the hose and fuel nozzle which is a very easy, tool free process.

For sheer reliability and power, the XGK is the stove for you, I love to hear the loud roar of mine as it get’s going, it means dinner is on the way!! 

The Great Outdoors


Bike Porn

For those of you who, like us, REALLY like our bikes, you may find the above slideshow of the beautiful 2010 KTM bikes as erotic as any top shelf mag, and leave you foaming at the mouth with a burning fire in your loins! If you fancy buying yourself one of these beauties, or any other from the KTM range, get in touch with Damian at freewheel, or Mike at the excellent Cycle Inn bike shop.

Tech Tip – Fixing a Puncture

Week 4 - The First Puncture


Fixing a puncture is one of the most basic repairs you may need to do your bike and there are many ways to do it, though some methods are definite no, no’s. For example when fixing a puncture in front of a hotel in China, the consierge took my inner tube and started bashing it with a hammer. I just stood there perplexed and waited until he was done, and I wasn’t surprised when his dodgy repair method resulted with the air leaking out as soon as the tube was pumped up.

To fix a puncture you first need to get to the inner tube by taking off the tyre. Opposite the valve, insert a tyre lever between the rim and tyre, then lever off part of the tyre and clip the lever onto the spokes. Do the same with a second lever, an inch or so from the first, and if required, use a third lever. It should now be easy enough to pry the tyre away from the rim and dig out the inner tube.

To find the puncture, pump up the tube and listen out for hissing sounds, or run your hand or face over the tube to feel for the spurting air. If the hole seems to be hiding, submerge the inner tube in a basin of water and keep an eye out for a stream of bubbles, be sure to dry off the tyre after though or the glue won’t stick.

Fixing the actual puncture is where the methods vary, but here’s my preferred method that – like Uncle Ben’s – works every time. Smear a thin layer of glue the inner tube making sure to cover an area bigger than the patch, and also put glue on the patch itself. Leave both aside for about 3 – 5 minutes (depending on air temperature) until the glue is very nearly dry (I’ve left it for 10 minutes before and they still stuck). Now apply the patch to the tube and bobs your uncle, no need to bash it with a hammer or anything. Put the tube back in the tyre, then by using your fingers, push the tyre sidewall over the rim and if necessary, use the levers to get the last stubborn bit of the sidewall over. Pump up the tyre and remark at how much easier it is to pedal with a hard tyre.

Leaving Istanbul

Drying Laundry



Last Thursday we cycled out of a grey and shiny Istanbul. It had been raining heavily, the road was slippery, and we we had wet feet within a few minutes. Leaving Istanbul was hard. We had spent the previous week hanging out with family and girlfriends, it was difficult to drag ourselves away and get moving again, the cold dirty spray from passing trucks did little to help. By nightfall we had failed to escape Istanbul’s urban sprawl and camped on the only dry land we could find, on the fringe of a petrol station forecourt.

Munching on excellent kebabs, and drinking the endless supply of tea plied by the forecourt attendants it began to sink in- we were on the last leg of our cycle. In a few days we’d be in the EU, in three months we’d be home- the adventure would be over. Somewhere in Turkey the world had changed, and it now seemed behind us. Somewhere along the way, possibly the cold and empty desert of Iran, or the icy passes of the Caucasus we had crossed a bridge, had left a dream and were cycling towards an achievement- and now it was time to start thinking about after. But enough of after for the moment.


Technically our last few days in Turkey were also our first in Europe, but in reality they were our last in Asia. Cycling towards Bulgaria I could feel it, the tea, the dancing with arms aloft, and all the fancy trim of the orient ebbing away. Curved crescents giving way to angular crosses, warm and unquestioning hospitality to reservation. Inshallah to cold rationality. All of this had been happening gradually, but there’s nothing like a border to evoke determinate perceptions where in reality blurry lines exist. Sometimes a line in the sand really helps bring things into focus, and the line in the sand between Bulgaria and Turkey was a bold reminder that most of this is adventure is now behind us and now each kilometre brings us closer to the familiar rather than propelling us into unfamiliar worlds.

Located at the nexus of several realms, where Europe, Asia, Arabia meet Turkey begs cliches and handy metaphors. All of them apt. It is a crossroad and a bridge, it is where the Occident and the Orient merge, its kebabs and beer, ordered roads and pragmatic Islam. For us its where the hard yards, the unknown and unusual begin to give way.

Turkey was good to us. The Turks possibly the warmest people I’ve encountered. They are excellent hosts, generous and undemanding, gregarious and outgoing. I’m sorry to have left.

Tea House

Kit Review – KTM Race Action

Si's Beautiful KTM - Race Action Bike


When we were researching what kit to bring on our expedition, we were looking for equipment that was strong,  durable and lightweight. The Austrian KTM brand is synonymous with adventure, being well known as an excellent off road motorbike brand, and recently as the bikes that Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman couldn’t get for their Long Way Round trip. But now thankfully, they’ve used their years of experience in the motorbike field to make top notch bicycles, and from first glance, you can see the time and effort they’ve put into designing their bikes.

The Race Action bike is KTM’s top end aluminium hardtail (no back suspension) cross country bike, fitted with a full Shimano XT groupset, Rock Shox Reba air forks, and Richey, Azonic and Mavic finishing kit. The frame is designed and built in Austria, and constructed from beautifully contoured 6061 aluminium tubing which is hydroformed (where water is forced into a tube under pressure to force the metal outward to a mould) into the optimal shape. The elegant rear triangle is a wishbone design which ensures maximum stiffness, so that all your pedalling effort will be transferred to forward thrust. Being a race bike, the position is quite long and stretched out, but this puts the rider in an excellent position for pedalling efficiently.

The Rock Shox Reba forks are air sprung and are a good deal lighter than coil sprung forks, the weight saving being appreciated on the long uphills. Many people question the durability of air forks as if the seals go, the fork will no longer work properly. We haven’t had any problems with ours and they are still running fine, 20500km after we first rode them. The Reba forks come with lockout that can be done from a lever on the handlebar which is handy if you need to switch them back on in a hurry.


The XT groupset is one of the few Shimano groupsets that is still being made in Japan, and you can see that every millimetre of this groupset has been designed meticulously. XT is slightly heavier than the top of the line XTR, but we felt that the reliability is worth the slight weight penalty. The hydraulic disc brakes are often a cause for concern for tourers and many have been horrified, saying that we should stick to old fashioned mechanical V-brakes. Disc brakes are far more powerful than rim brakes, they work on a buckled wheel, in mud and rain, and will continue working on long downhills long after V brakes would have given up the ghost and their user tumbled off the cliff edge. There were many times in the Andes and in the many steep downhills in Armenia and Kyrgyzstan that I was glad to have consistent, reliable stopping power that disc brakes provide.

We had a few customisations done to our bikes, namely getting the excellent Shwalbe Marathon Plus tyres; curvy, multi position Euro style handlebars and heavy duty Mavic downhill rims that have stayed round and true despite many big knocks. After much deliberation we eventually plumped for the Selle SMP saddle that is designed to reduce pressure in sensetive areas which has generally been good, though since the pressure is taken away from the sensetive bits there is increased pressure on the sit bones which sometimes led to us getting saddle sores. I found that this only really happened when after extended periods in one position, like on the flat straight roads of the Chaco in Argentina, or the Northern Desert in Peru. Once in the mountains or on rolling, twisty terrain, I never had any problems with the saddle.

For 2010, there has been some refinements done to the frame and components making it even better. The Race Action is a true race pedigree from an exceptional bike company.