When planning our journey in the spring, we were faced with the question of which material would enable us and our cameras to arrive in Athens in one piece. Now we want to tell you what we used and why in order to make it easier for anyone planning a similar tour.
First, the 29-inch wheels provided extra size and weight. This helped us to keep up the momentum, which is very helpful when riding longer distances. Additionally, the larger contact patch of rubber to the ground in combination with the larger diameter established more traction and allowed for an overall smoother ride over wood, gravel, and those countless potholes.
Second, what really came in handy for us was the 11-speed trigger shifter from SRAM. It allowed us to shift down three gears at once which helped with the countless ascents that we encountered on the Balkans. Many roads that we took were dirt or gravel. Once we cycled over 40km through the mountains of FYROM without seeing a single patch of pavement (or person, for that matter). In that case, you really want to be able to shift easily and quickly.
Third, the Team Issue being a Hardtail was a major advantage. Having only one suspension fork in the front saved us a lot of weight and maintenance issues which in turn saved us time and money.
Prijssnijder, a local bike shop in Den Haag, took the factory version of our bikes and customized them to our needs. Instead of a patch kit we took four spare tubes from Schwalbe with us. Yes, they added a little weight to our luggage but they saved us a lot of trouble with the four flat tires that we dealt with along the journey. The Big Nine is standardly equipped with a 12-142 Thru-Axle in the middle of the wheel. Thus, we did not need any tools to take the whole tire out, simple unscrewing the axle was enough. With this technology, changing our tires became even enjoyable.
The mechanic also replaced the factory saddle with a wider gel version. That saved us a lot of friction – and thus from a lot of pain – through the hundreds of hours which we spent on our bikes. Highly recommended for longer touring!
Another little helper ensured that we always reached our daily destination – the Teasi One³. Produced as a GPS especially for cycling it knew even the smallest roads and shortcuts. The only issue with it was that its radius of position is too wide when in densely populated areas. It cannot distinguish on which side of the road you are currently on, which caused occasional confusion for us.
Three extra tips for long bike journeys:
- Take a plastic rain cover for your saddle bags – we appropriated the backpack rain covers that come with classic Deuter backpacks. They have the ideal shape to save all the luggage on your rear carrier from getting soaked.
- Tensioning belts are perfect to securely strap anything on top of your saddle bags. We used them to tighten our tent and our sleeping mats to the rear carriers.
- Tennis balls – straight out of a retail store and cut to shape to fit on your handlebar, this add-on saves your hand muscles from a lot of pain. When riding for a long time you want to change the position of your hands as often as possible to avoid stiffness. We had to be able to hold the bike for up to eight hours per day for multiple days in a row. Thus we were very thankful for the extra grabbing space which the tennis balls provided.
A few special features from MERIDA were beneficial in addition. Their suspension lock-out was extremely useful when riding over obstacles. We were even able to drive up sidewalks without any issues. The triple butted aluminum frame ensured the low weight – only 11.3 kg in the factory version. This was very much an important point because we added a good 20kg of luggage and another 5kg of bike equipment. Including ourselves, our legs had to move over 110kg for a good 2000km – every kilo that we had less on the bike was helpful there.
All in all, we were highly satisfied with our bikes and the way they were equipped. Thanks again to our awesome sponsors. Without them, we would most likely have never completed this journey!
To be continued…