Tuesday 8 October 2013

Tandem Touring - Is It Better Solo?

The third of three posts in which the 2xtandem crew reflect on the past 18 months.

A tandem doesn't provide any more luggage space than one solo bike -
four panniers, a rack on the back which takes our tent and on top of that
a waterproof black bag with air mattresses, bedding and the tent poles.
We each have a handlebar bag containing valuables - we take the bags
 with us whenever we get off the bike.
Q: What about the tandem – was it the right decision?
Mike: “Yes, it was but I don’t think they suit everyone. There’s no escaping your partner on a tandem.
“There are some drawbacks with a tandem – just because it carries two people doesn’t mean you have twice as much luggage space. You really only have four panniers, the back rack and two handlebar bags. It’s been a constant struggle to minimise our gear and I still feel we have too much.
“Also, ask most people with a tandem and they’ll admit they are slow uphill, but they can be dangerously fast downhill. Which is another issue – how do you stop the thing? We opted not to go for a disc brake because of the added complication, but there were times we wished for one. We can add one if we want, and we may still do it. But three brakes – who’s going to operate them? Is the Stoker going to operate the disc, and can he or she do it safely and quickly given their forward visibility is limited from the back seat?”
Walking the Beast of Bridgwater down a steep hill
in northern Thailand to prevent overheating the
 brakes, rims and inner tubes which can expand and
burst. Note:Judy has a strap attached to the back
of the tandem so she can take some of the load.
Judy: “Yes. If I was on my own bike I’d still be crossing Europe! It would be a very different trip. I’d probably be a credit card cyclist checking into a B&B most nights.”
Q: What have you learned from the last 18 months?
Judy: “The biggest thing for me has been learning to live one day at a time, and having the confidence to believe that we will figure out a good way to live tomorrow.”
Mike: “Realising how little you need most of the time. A bike, a tent, a stove and a few clothes. Most of us in the West seem so driven by the need to have bigger and better.”
Bicycle maintenance, France.

Q: Anything you will do differently next time?
Mike: “Go better prepared to
 do all the bike maintenance myself.”
Judy: “Have better maps and phrase books and the perfect hat. And next time I’ll make sure I know how to use my new phone properly, before I set out. I missed good communication in Europe with family and friends.”
“Find out where on earth in each European country you can access free wifi. Asia was superb in comparison – both wifi and electric sockets to charge our gadgets in guesthouses.”
Q: What worked well on this trip?
Judy: “The thing that worked best was something we did before we set out – renting out our house to cover some of our costs.
“Also, loading money onto prepay travel cards – we had no trouble anywhere accessing the money. We took two varieties of cards each and kept them in different places in case of theft.
Plastic plates that lie flat save space when it comes to
“My smartphone and Mike’s little computer and a Kindle each with lots of free books loaded up before we left. Downloading our travel guides to the Kindles as we went – it was sometimes difficult to navigate the guides on the Kindles but far better than carrying books.
Mike: “It all seems to be about electronics, but we also had a Steripen water purifier with rechargeable batteries and that was great in Asia where we were always thirsty. Less plastic bottles to throw away as well.
We love the roominess of our Hilleberg Nallo 3 GT tent but after a year's
constant use in Europe and North America it is showing signs of wear.
Two of the zips are faulty and the fabric of the fly feels very thin as
though it is suffering from UV damage. Many touring cyclists use
Hilleberg tents and love them, but next time we might consider going
back to a Macpac from New Zealand. They are a bit heavier but
 possibly more robust.
"Our Hilleberg Nallo 3 GT tent is a three person one, and we’ve been grateful for the room it gives us. Interestingly though, two zips are on the way out and after a year’s use it’s showing signs of wear and tear. Maybe we would go back to a good old Kiwi Macpac next time.
“Using guesthouses throughout South East Asia worked well and we were able to forward on our tent and stove.
Q: What are you most looking forward to back home?
Judy: “A steak and mushroom pie from the bakery beside “Ripe” in Richmond Road, Ponsonby, with Thai sweet chilli sauce.”
Mike: “Shirley’s lamingtons.”

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