Sunday, 27 January 2008

MTB Rough Road Touring 2001-7

Cannondale MTB history - Central Australia 2002 Eastern Tibet 2003 & 2005 Burma 2004

I liked the lightness of the Cannondale aluminium frame and the headshock suspension but after 2 rugged and brutal trips in Tibet it was showing lots of wear (worn rear dropouts and rack bolt holes). Partly due to the 50 kgs I loaded on the rear wheel. The BOB Yak trailer proved invaluable in Tibet- with a backpack I could get off the road and go exploring in the mountains.

Icicles and Bicycle 2005. This photo was taken just below Tro La at 4965m climbing to the pass (Kham Tibet). No BOB trailer- Judy took it with her on the back of a truck over the pass.

..and down the other side. Descending roads like this really put the strain on the bike (climbing was harder on the body). Descents from 5000-3000 meteres asl were common. Lots of ice and mud - wearing on brake pads and rims.

Velosmith 'Jota' history
2006 Trans-Himalayan (Yunnan-Kathmandu) 2007 Central Australia . A sturdy beast. Chromoly frame - tougher and more reliable than the Cannondale. Rohloff hub - less gear maintenance. A revolution for MTB touring. Everyone wants to have a go!

2006 This is the infamous Gama La en route to Lhasa. 77 switchbacks, only 7 shown. A descent of 2000m down to the dusty Salween canyon - punishing for the bike with BOB & 50 kgs.

At around 4000m camping in a snowstorm on the triple passes between Zhongdian & Deqen, Yunnan. Woke up to an icy white world - and poor old Jota buried under snow and encrusted with ice.

Early morning cycle shadows on the Tibetan plateau at 4200m. Between Shegar-Tingri heading towards Pang La and Everest base camp. A typical dirt road on the high plateau.

2007 Painted Desert, South Australia, between Coober Pedy & Oodnadatta. Magical landscape. Great cycling with old friends from Alice Springs to Port Augusta.

2007 Old Andado Road Simpson Desert NT. Riding between the sand dunes was difficult going. Corrugations and deep sand. BOB had a hard time of it..and so did we. Pushed the bike and trailer for over 10kms. Carrying 15 litres of water and 8 days of food. Wild and beautiful scenery.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Bike and Gear

I cycled solo across Tibet in 2006 on this bike and this photo was taken at Everest base camp at 5250m. Both bike and body survived a gruelling ride of +3000kms, 20 mountain passes over 4500m and 65 days on the saddle. This is the bike I'll be riding down the Andes as it's proved to be a tough workhorse (in fact the Tibetans called it jota = ' iron horse').

On all my previous rides I've towed the BOB Yak trailer but for this trip I've decided to go with the traditional touring style of front and rear panniers for various reasons.
#1 The generous volume of the BOB encourages me to load up more gear than necessary.
#2 With suspension forks and no weight on the front wheel, the bike tends to shift sideways, particularly on rough descents. This happens when pushing with the BOB too.
#3 The BOB doesn't like the soft sand of desert areas (although Tibet was OK).
#4 Lastly it's a real hassle transporting the BOB, especially by air.

On my rides in Tibet and the deserts of outback Australia I've tried and tested a lot of gear. Here are the specifications and details of the bike as well as an inventory of the equipment I'll be taking with me down the Andes. This is probably only interesting for cycling enthusiasts and gear freaks.

Frame: Custom-built chromoly frame. Reynolds 631 tubing.
Built by Tim Stredwick at Mountain River, Tasmania. Tim also assembled the complete bike.

Gears: Rohloff 14-speed internal gearing

Wheels: Velocity cliffhanger rims (built in Queensland)

Tyres: Schwalbe Marathon XR folding tyres 2.0 & 2.5 (The ultimate tyre for rough road touring) + 1 spare

Front Suspension Forks: Rockshox Recon 351 spring coil

Racks:rear-Tubus 'Cargo'/ front-Old Man Mountain 'Cold Springs' Handlebar bag- Serratus (Canada)

Pedals: Shimano SPD540 Brakes: Shimano Deore

Cranks: Sugino XD600 Chainring: Specialties AT 38t

Saddle: Terry Liberator Gel (Bolivar would be proud!)

Miscellaneous: Aireal headset. Ritchey seat post & stem. Pro Bike trekker bars handlebar tape. Echowell W2 wireless bike computer. Zefal pump & water bottles. Various tools and spares.

Panniers:Ortlieb Classic Packer(rear) Classic Back Roller(front)

Tent: Macpac Minaret (military green - good camouflage).
Thanks Rob!

Clothing: Various thermal clothing, wet weather gear, cycling pants & tops, down jacket, fleece pants & hat, gloves. (Macpac, Kathmandu & Mountain Designs)

Sleeping Bag: Macpac Latitude 700LP

Backpack: Macpac Torre (collapsible, folded on front rack - for trekking)

Stove: MSR Whisperlite

GPS: Garmin GPSMap60C

Cameras Panasonic Lumix TZ3

This is a self-supporting trip without official sponsors. I haven't used any sponsors in my earlier expeditions either as I like to personally choose the gear that can handle the tough conditions. If the gear is reliable, it will speak for itself. After many years of travelling in harsh and remote areas I go for the brands and products which I've used and have stood the test of time and grime.

There is however one exception to sponsorship. Velocity Wheels in Queensland kindly provided me with a new set of rims recently. I was extremely pleased with the Cliffhangers which got me across Tibet and through the outback with over 50 kgs on the rear wheel.
NB Postscript: Unfortunately both Velocity rims cracked along the braking surfaces (In Peru 2008). There seems to be some design or material weakness in these rims and I would avoid using them on long expeditions. Judy's Velocity Aeroheat rear rim also cracked (Argentina 2009) and other friends have had the same problem. Same rims, same problem! Make up your own mind on this.

Tim Stredwick (Velosmith) has been very helpful in giving on-the road advice and good back-up service on my return home to Tasmania. See link

Two companies sold me gear at wholesale prices - Macpac (sleeping bag) & Old Man Mountain (front rack). I'm grateful for their generosity.
Postscript: Very happy with the OMM racks- sturdy and rigid!

I can recommend Wayne at The Touring Store for Ortlieb panniers and Tubus racks. Great service, cheap prices and prompt delivery. See link

A local Hobart cycling shop Cyclingo has given me generous discounts on bike parts & accessories. See link

South America Pre-visited

This is not my first trip to South America. In 1983-84 I spent 10 months backpacking, mostly on my own, from Mexico to Bolivia and I was spellbound by the magic and mayhem of this continent. It was like discovering a New World. I knew I would return and in July 1993, Judy & I landed in Santiago, Chile for an 7-month journey from the land of the Incas to the icy wilderness of Navarino Island, beyond Tierra del Fuego. I've posted some photos from those earlier explorations in Peru, Bolivia and Chile. Click on the collages to enlarge

Why do I keep returning here? I've always been fascinated by this continent. From an early age I read voraciously about the pre-Columbian civilisations, lost and forgotten Amazonian tribes, tales of insatiable, mad European explorers, and later the rich literature of Neruda, Marquez and others. I studied Latin American studies at LaTrobe University in 1983 but in impatience and haste, cut it short to see and taste the real thing. What's the attraction? It may be the strong Gondwanan link with my home, Tasmania. Or perhaps it's just the thirst for something new, another view over the next pass, or as Kapuscinski would say, a symptom of 'the contagion of travel' to unknown destinations.......

Photos from Apolobamba & Uyuni regions
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PERU 1993
Photos from Cuzco Vilcanota & Amazonian regions
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Photos from Southern Chile
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Sunday, 13 January 2008

Planned Andean Route

This is my proposed route down the Andes. I'm following the mountain chain as much as possible, either riding in the valleys in the shadow of the cordillera, pedalling across the vast, dry altiplano or traversing the spiny ridges of the high sierra.
From the warm tropical waters of the Caribbean to the icy Southern seas, I'll stick to the highlands and won't see the coast again until I reach Tierra del Fuego 12 months later.

Starting point - Punta Gallinas 'Point of the Chickens', on the Guajira Peninsula, Colombia. Amusing nomenclature, given the treacherous road ahead in Colombia - FARC guerillas, highway robbers, narco traffickers, paramilitaries...
To be embarking on a 10,000km ride from an remote headland named after some famous frightened fowls is so ironic. Is it at this point where I get scared? More importantly, Punta Gallinas is the northernmost point on the continent at a latitude of 12 degrees 28'N which is why I have chosen this lonely spot to begin my journey.

Destination - Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. It is the southernmost city in the world, at a latitude of 54 degrees 48'S, the end of the journey in the 'Land of Fire'. Ushuaia is also known as 'El Fin del Mundo', but in my case 'El Fin del Vagamundo'. I should arrive here with Judy Sandeman, my partner, late 2008 or early 2009. I'll meet up with Judy in Cuzco or La Paz in July/August, at the halfway point of the journey.

Below are 3 maps showing my proposed route. This may change once I'm on the road, but I'm choosing the more remote, interesting and scenic routes through the mountains. I'm carrying a large collapsible backpack on my bike so I can get off and trek into the high cordillera.
Proposed treks and climbs along the Andes -
Colombia Sierra Nevada del Cocuy
Ecuador Volcanes Cotopaxi y Chimbarazo
Peru Cordilleras Blanca, Huayhuash y Vilcabamba
Bolivia Cordilleras Apolobamba y Real
Chile & Argentina Lake District & Patagonian Andes.

Double click on the maps to enlarge
Track my movements and find the places mentioned on my blog.

NORTHERN ANDES - Colombia & Euador

CENTRAL ANDES - Peru & Bolivia