Categories
#freeLEJOG 2014

#freeLEJOG: Your Thoughts Wanted on a Selection of Mildly Interesting Quandaries

The journey I began last week was always going to be an experimental one. One variable of the experiment that could not change is that I would have no money whatsoever. Having left my wallet at home, I would have no direct access to cash, cards or any other aspect of the monetary system.

I’ve been living like this for a week now and not yet starved to death. But in the meantime it appears I have opened up rather a large can of worms…

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Here goes nothing… #freeLEJOG

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This blog post — written during a desperately-needed rest day after pedalling 260 or so miles across Cornwall, Devon and Somerset on a really crap bike with no training — will attempt to explain why, and then mostly fail to find resolutions to, the various quandaries that have come up since I set off to cycle from Land’s End to John O’Groats without any money.

The Time-Limit Quandary

I recently found myself with 21 consecutive days to spare in the latter half of May and early June.

Naturally I began looking for something fun to do, rather than sitting around at home in my pants checking Gmail, Facebook and Twitter with obsessive-compulsive regularity like most self-employed adventurers do.

To follow on from the No-Budget Touring Bike experiment, I started looking at possible tours I could do on an ultra-low budget within that three week window, and it didn’t take long for Land’s End to John O’Groats to come up. Most riders complete it in between 10 and 14 lightly-loaded days on nice racing bikes, usually as a sporting challenge. I’d do it in a more leisurely fashion and on a free bike, and so 21 days would be perfect.

To seal the deal, I booked cheap trains from Bristol to Penzance (£26) and from Inverness back to Bristol (£39) so that I couldn’t opt out in favour of sitting around in my pants. The leaving date was just two days away.

Now, because there’s some defect in my brain that causes me to want to make everything in life needlessly overcomplicated, I then decided that it would be fun to try and do it with no money whatsoever.

Yes! It would be a journey to prove that money really need not be an obstacle to travel; that it was possible to live on the road indefinitely having opted out of the financial economy altogether.

(I’m fully aware that loads of people do this already, in case it sounds like I thought I’d stumbled upon a new idea.)

What I failed to consider at the time was that a 21-day time limit might be insufficient. I’d need to ride at least 50–60 miles a day, given just one rest day. And that’s before taking into account time spent navigating without GPS or detailed maps or a guidebook, fixing the crap bike, socialising, Instagram-ing (a necessary evil if I was to communicate the journey), and of course finding ways to actually feed myself without being able to pop into convenience stores or buy anything of any kind along the way!

Would it matter if I didn’t make it to John O’Groats?

Was the point of this trip to complete an iconic cycling challenge, or to experiment with cash-free travel in all its forms?

The Method Quandary

After booking the train tickets, the next thing I did was to get busy sending messages to all of my friends and family in the UK asking if they fancied a visit from a passing cyclist.

I hasten to add that I did this only within my private circles. I did not make my mission public. I wanted the experiment to be one that could be replicated by anyone, as with the bike itself. We all have scattered friends, family and acquaintances who are long overdue a meet-up and a catch-up. And if our travels took us nearby, we would obviously drop in for a night or two, whether on a cash-free journey or otherwise.

So visiting friends and family across the country would not just be an obvious way of eliminating great chunks of accommodation costs; it would also be a valuable exercise in renewing ties with people I’d been saying “we really should catch up soon” to for way too long. In fact, eliminating the ability to spend money from decision-making would have the effect of putting human contact right back at the heart of the journey.

I put the message out, and within a single day had received overnight invitations for more than half of my 21 nights on the road; from everywhere from the hotel at Land’s End itself (no joke) to right up near Inverness, and a string of locations in between.

That’s what happens when communication technology combines with our natural propensity to be sociable, helpful critters. And I was fairly mind-blown.

Then something else happened.

On the day I left, I penned a fairly short blog post and sent it out to my mailing list and Twitter and all the rest of it. The hashtag #freeLEJOG was invented at the last minute, #hackLEJOG and #workLEJOG not quite seeming to encapsulate the mission, which was to make a 100% money-free journey.

Within this article, I mentioned that the point of the trip would not be to ask for handouts from strangers to get me to John O’Groats. (That’s been done, too, by folk more bolshy than me.)

Instead, when I found myself in need of food, I’d offer to help out with whatever needed doing in exchange. This idea came off-the-cuff and I didn’t get much more specific than that. Nor did I ask anyone for offers of ‘work for food’.

I left my flat, locked the door and boarded the train for Penzance with not a penny to my name, simultaneously the most terrifying and liberating feeling I’ve had since leaving on my first big bike trip in 2007.

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Roadside snack

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In the meantime, all hell proceeded to break loose on the interwebs.

At Land’s End I got my first free meal from the father of a friend of a friend who it turned out manages the hotel. After wolfing down a chicken burger and chips, I obsessively-compulsively checked Gmail, Facebook and Twitter on the borrowed smartphone I’d brought along to share the journey.

Already, dozens of messages had come in from people — not just friends and regular readers but total strangers too — who’d seen the original article, picked up on the ‘work-for-food’ idea and were now offering me meals and beds all over the country in return for helping them out!

“Bloomin’ ‘eck,” I thought in a variety of comedy accents. “What could be more fun than travelling the length of the country, visiting like-minded people, getting involved in their projects, making myself useful and having all of my financial worries eliminated into the bargain?”

Clearly not much!

But to begin accepting these offers would be a significant departure from the experiment I’d had in mind.

It would no longer be a replicable experiment in cash-free travel, because I already had a modest online following who’d put the word out on my behalf (not that anyone else couldn’t borrow a phone, set up a Twitter account and invent a hashtag, but I had a headstart).

It would also not need to involve the spontaneous exchanges I’d imagined I’d have to rely on when the pre-arranged overnight with friends ran out.

Would any of this matter?

What was more important — the pure repeatability of the free-travel experiment, or the unearthing of the huge variety of stories and projects in progress across the length of the nation?

Would it be more interesting to turn this experiment into one that bridged the gap between the virtual world of online social media and the real world in which its participants lived?

Or would it be possible to combine all of these things?

These were the questions I used to distract myself from the cruel gradients of Cornwall as I pedalled first to Redruth, where I stayed with a friend’s sister and her husband who I’d met various gatherings, then onwards to the Bere peninsular where I stayed with another friend’s aunt and uncle who were renovating an enormous old tin-smelting works.

Western Devon was no easier; the third evening was spent in Lympstone with some old friends who I’d last stayed with when cycling across Switzerland many years ago. I helped them discover that the loft ladder they’d bought was the wrong type, foraged a large bag of watercress, and set off for Topsham, all of three miles away, where a fellow cyclist I’d met at a festival last year had offered me lunch in exchange for painting his fence.

Continuing north past Exeter, I arrived embarrassingly late in a village near Cullompton but still managed a bit of gardening for a couple planning a LEJOG of their own who’d messaged me on Instagram the previous day.

They sent me off early the next morning with a packed lunch which lasted all of the 80 or so miles to Bristol, one of the longest days I’ve ridden, and one of the best Sundays ever on account of the stupendous weather.

The Personality Quandary

I discovered in the process of cycling across Devon and Somerset that I am definitely not the right person to be doing this journey.

I veer naturally towards introversion (typical writer), and while I love spending time with old friends and new people as much as anyone, my energy is soon drained by socialising and eventually I need to go to a quiet place and recharge the batteries.

This is probably one of the reasons bicycle travel appeals to me; plenty of time spent whiling away the hours in the saddle in my own company, interspersed with regular but brief encounters with people on the road. That’s when you’ve got money to buy stuff, of course.

There’s something else at work on this journey, though. Especially in eastern Devon and Somerset on the lanes and byways of the National Cycle Network, I spotted numerous farms, smallholdings, renovation projects, rustic campsites and generally-rather-hippyish thingamajigs that would (in my inexperienced eyes) be prime for rocking up unannounced with an offer of another pair of hands for an afternoon. Yet on each occasion I cycled right past, mentally kicking myself even as I did so.

Partly this is because I haven’t yet needed to stop and work for a spontaneous meal, so comprehensively have people sent me off with packed lunches. There’s also the fact that the punishing schedule imposed by a 21-day time limit has left little time for spontaneous… well, spontaneous anything, really.

But partly it’s because there’s something lurking that’s so far stopped me crossing the threshold and asking straight up, on the roadside, if someone could use a hand in exchange for a bite to eat. And the more I think about it, the more it seems to stem (as these things always do) from childhood. I took my fair share of verbal bullying at primary school, which led to me being cast happily within a circle of ‘outsiders’ at secondary school — and ever since, for that matter. The result, I suspect, is that I’ve developed an aversion to putting myself in situations in which there’s a possibility I’ll be… not rejected, rather laughed at; particularly by people in the mainstream of the society in which I grew up.

It doesn’t seem to matter what people think when I’m away from the UK, perhaps because I already live on the outside under these circumstances. But there is a personal challenge here; an obstacle to overcome. And I like my journeys to involve a personal challenge.

Would rearranging things around a series of premeditated rendezvouses take this challenge away?

On an experimental three-week trip, would this even matter?

The Storytelling Quandary

The way I see it, there are at least three different stories vying for dominance here. (I can’t help but think about everything in terms of stories — as a writer, I’d be unemployed without them.)

The first is the story of a money-free journey from Land’s End definitely to John O’Groats, in which I’d rely on a no-budget bike, friends, family, acquaintances, wild-camping and probably a bit of bin-diving to get me there, thus cycling across a country for free without relying on the kindness of strangers.

The second is the story of a money-free journey from Land’s End probably to John O’Groats, in which I’d help out with and thus expose a vast array of incredible and inspiring things that people in this country are working on, simultaneously realising the potential of online social media to make stuff happen in the real world.

The third is the story of a money-free journey from Land’s End possibly to John O’Groats, in which I’d take a cross-section of a nation and what its inhabitants really value by removing the presence of money from all interactions and engaging people on the street, spontaneously offering to work for life’s essentials of food and shelter along the way and seeing what happens.

The first story is by far the one that best fits my schedule (though nothing particularly new).

The second story is by far the one that would be easiest to tell (though by no means easily replicable).

The third story is by far the most interesting, engaging and topical, to me and it seems to pretty much everyone else (though would only work given weeks or months, not days, to make the trip).

What to do?

The Final Quandary

There is one final thing I’m considering while I should just be enjoying a nice three-week cycle tour and visiting friends in a proper British heatwave.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, what I’m doing within these 21 days is hugely experimental and subject to change in any way at any time (excluding the no-money thing, which after just 5 days has strangely become the least daunting aspect of all).

What happens next, as a result of what I find out now, is something else altogether. I’ve been wondering about future projects since the ebook launch a few weeks back, and this trip wasn’t really supposed to be much more than a fun stop-gap.

But the idea of ‘spontaneous work for food’ seems to have struck a chord with a lot of people. As well as more invites to help out than I could possibly accept, I’ve had radio interview requests out of nowhere and a TV producer call me up out of the blue to see if I’m planning on filming the experience.

Last year I was at a lecture by Darren Rowse, who I doubt many here will know but who runs two of the most successful blogs on the web. He simply told his story of how he got where he was, and one of the things I remember most clearly was the idea of ‘looking for sparks’, the ideas-in-passing that smoulder with potential to become something much bigger and more powerful — if you’re actively looking out for them.

There’s obviously something in this work-for-food idea that I hadn’t previously realised was there. That’s the fun part of experimental adventures and questioning the status quo in general.

I’ve got 15 days on the clock to do whatever it is I’m going to do. But beyond that…?

(That Tom Allen, eh? Always overthinking everything!)

I suspect it’ll all look very different when I wake up tomorrow and it’s pouring with rain. Until then, however, I’ve got a stand-up paddleboarding session to help out with…

Categories
#freeLEJOG 2014

#freeLEJOG: Ordinary Person Attempts Extraordinary Thing (Again)

Last year I conducted an experiment to see how cheap I could get a full complement of cycle touring gear together for — bike, camping gear, cooking gear, tools, and all the rest. The result? £25.17. (There’s a full write up here.)

Today, Part Two of that experiment begins.

Originally I was simply going to see how cheaply I could cycle across a country (using only the aforementioned no-budget touring bike to do so, of course) and write about it.

Then I had a better idea: to opt out of the financial economy altogether, and write about that instead.

With the exception of cheap train tickets to Penzance (this morning) and back from Scotland (in three weeks’ time), then, I will be spending the next 20 days cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats without any money whatsoever.

To make sure this actually happens, I’ll be leaving my wallet and all my bank cards on the kitchen table when I lock the door behind me.

Gulp.

This will not be a ‘kindness of strangers’ experiment. We already know strangers are kind. Instead, it’ll be a give-and-take experiment; a look at how we can help each other out, and do so spontaneously, rather than an exercise in begging for handouts in support of a ’cause’. In short, I’ll attempt to work for food for the full length of Britain. God knows how exactly this will work. But I won’t have much choice but to find a way, now, will I?

Truth be told, I’ve found money a highly stressful part of living since relocating to the UK with Tenny three years ago. I’m sure I’m not alone. And I’m hoping that by abandoning it for a while I’ll rediscover the point of money in the first place, which was surely nothing more than a physical object designed to insert a delay between giving someone something and receiving something else in return.

Is it still possible to directly trade time and skills for life’s essentials?

Let’s find out.

(I am, by the way, scared absolutely shitless.)

Categories
Bikes Equipment Gear Reviews

Ridgeback Expedition Touring Bike Review & Detailed Photos

Disclosure: I was eager to test-ride the Ridgeback Expedition, as it looked on paper like a brave and welcome entry at the lower end of the 26-inch wheel expedition bike market in the UK. It was returned to Ridgeback after the testing period was over. I’m not affiliated with Ridgeback in any way.

Overview

Released in 2014, the Ridgeback Expedition is a 26-inch wheel equipped touring bike at the low-middle of the pricing scale. It’s one of their World series of bikes, which also includes the well-regarded Panorama (reviewed here last week).

Ridgeback Expedition: overview 2

The bike’s build and specification orients it strongly towards long-haul expedition-style touring in the developing world with a big lean towards journeys incorporating plenty of unpaved roads.

These qualities, of course, make it an attractive proposition for those looking for a round-the-world tourer; a bike that can be depended upon in the long term, easily maintained and repaired the world over, and taken comfortably across a variety of terrain with a full complement of luggage.

While most new bikes built for the demands of world touring cost upwards of £1,200 (and regularly approach and sometimes exceed £2,000), the Expedition’s RRP of just £850 is an attention grabber. Though still a pretty decent wedge of cash, it’s notably less than the sticker price of most competing 26-inch wheel equipped expedition bikes.

Ridgeback Expedition: head tube branding

Given that you generally get what you pay for with bikes in this price bracket, I was interested to find out where Ridgeback had compromised to bring the price down, and whether those compromises were likely to make sense in the long run.

Categories
Equipment Gear Reviews

Crosso Dry, Twist & Expert Pannier Review & Detailed Photos

Disclosure: The Dry and Expert panniers reviewed here were originally supplied by Extrawheel during my testing of their prototype Voyager trailer. I then bought a pair of Twists on the strength of their performance, and use them to this day.

Crosso are a Polish manufacturer of waterproof drybags and bicycle panniers. I’ve used their panniers and drybags for 7 years, riding thousands of miles with them in a huge range of climates and conditions. While my recommendation comes with some caveats, I’ve become a big fan of their simplicity and functionality — not to mention their very affordable price-tags.

Their panniers come in four models; I’ll be reviewing the rear (large) versions of the ‘Dry’, ‘Twist’ and ‘Expert’ lines in this article.

Lake Crescent

Overview

The three models of Crosso rear pannier reviewed here have a lot in common, all being fully waterproof and sharing the same basic shape, attachment system, roll-top closure and reflective patches.

They’re some of the biggest-capacity waterproof panniers on the market, outdoing the more ubiquitous brands by a large margin at around 60 litres per pair, and costing less into the bargain. Though shipping costs push up the price for those outside Poland and especially outside the EU, they’re attractive to tourers who are looking for flexibility with available packing volume.

The main compartment of all the panniers is a simplistic drybag with hooks on it; there are no internal pockets or features, so it’s up to you to organise your gear within them. Some like this method, others prefer lots of inner pockets. I prefer simplicity, using smaller drybags inside the pannier for organisation and just-in-case additional waterproofing.

The lack of thorough English-language reviews puts many potential buyers off the idea of importing them — hence, in part, the existence of the detailed review you’re reading now that I’ve penned in the name of good and proper buying advice.

What’s the difference between Crosso Dry, Crosso Twist and Crosso Expert?

The most basic and cheapest of the range are the Dry panniers, constructed from wipe-clean PVC-coated fabric. They’re fully waterproof when the closure is rolled down properly, and as good as any other high-quality waterproof roll-top pannier in this respect.

Crosso Dry panniers on a trailer 3

However, cheaper construction materials inevitably lead to durability issues in the long run, and I’ve found that the Dry panniers are significantly more susceptible to abrasion-related damage than the Twist or Expert panniers. I’ve also encountered issues with the welded seams beginning to come slightly apart at the corners, although not until after many months of fully-loaded use, and this has never actually affected their usefulness.

The Twist panniers are identical to the Dry panniers except for the reverse-laminated Cordura fabric used in their construction, which makes them far more abrasion-resistant than the Dry panniers and makes them the better choice for the long haul if you can afford the extra cost.

Crosso Twist panniers packed in use

It makes no difference whatsoever to their waterproofness. Some might speculate that when submerged the weave would eventually wick moisture through the rolled top faster than the PVC of the Dry panniers, but your bag would have to have been floating down a river for some time before this really became an issue.

Unlike the Dry panniers, the Twist panniers also feature a pair of horizontal cinch-straps with buckles on the rear-facing portion of the bags, which in theory allow the user to (carefully) strap suitable items to the outside of the bag. (I’ve never found a use for them myself.)

The Expert panniers are identical to the Twist panniers in almost every way, with the addition of a lid with a zipped mesh pocket on the underside, plus relevant webbing to allow it to be secured to the bag; and a removable roll-top pocket on the reverse of the bag (also available separately), secured by the same straps present on the Twist.

Crosso Expert rear pockets in use

Together, these additions increase the overall capacity of a pair of panniers considerably above the already-generous capacity of the Dry and Twist models.

Crosso Expert panniers on an Extrawheel in Mongolia

The lid allows for the panniers to be over-filled and fewer rolls of fabric to be used to close the bag while remaining rainproof. The reverse pockets allow for separation of items you may not want to keep in the main compartment, such as greasy rags and tools, or stoves and fuel.

Crosso Expert rear pocket detail

The straps that attach the rear pockets are somewhat fiddly, however, particularly if the pockets themselves are not completely full, which leads to the contents being shaken about.

Waterproofing

Having carried my worldly possessions along the Black Sea Coast of Turkey for two months in winter, during which rarely a day passed without rain, I can safely say that the Crosso Dry panniers are 100% waterproof — IF you close them correctly. (The same statement could be made, of course, for every decent quality roll-top drybag in existence.)

Crosso Dry panniers on a trailer 2

Three or ideally four rolls of fabric are necessary to achieve full waterproofing in prolonged rain, followed by folding the two buckles towards each other and clipping them together. Though a separate handle is fitted, the buckles themselves make for a good carry handle too.

Crosso Dry panniers on an Extrawheel in Mongolia 3

Where the Crosso Dry panniers fall down in the waterproofing department is not in the closure but in the durability of the fabric over time. After a few months of being mounted, dismounted, dragged, dropped, leant up against things, and generally abused in the way that all gear is abused over the course of a long-term tour, they were in need of several repairs, particularly to the edge and corners of the bottom of the back face, where the fabric had been damaged by being caught between the rigid internal back-board and the external object in question.

(It’s for this reason that the more expensive Ortliebs, for example, have solid external reinforcement on these particular corners and edges.)

Puncture holes were also present in the fabric of the main part of the bag, and in several places the PVC coating had been scraped and grazed. This is all typical of a PVC waterproof pannier of this type and price, and no such pannier will stay waterproof forever. You’ll need to bring something to make repairs with, whether that’s a self-adhesive puncture patch*, something more specialised like McNett Tenacious Tape*, or good old Gaffa Tape.

Crosso panniers: bottom corner damage

The Crosso Twist and Crosso Expert panniers suffer far less from abrasion-related punctures to the fabric because of the Cordura material used in their construction, but are still susceptible to the bottom-rear-corner damage due to the vulnerability mentioned above. It’s worth being aware of this and avoiding dropping or dumping the bags on these corners, which is how the damage is done, though, again, this is something that’s easy enough to repair given a little handiwork and the supplies to do so.

Crosso panniers: external bottom corner fabric damage

While the lid of the Crosso Expert panniers adds a layer of rain protection to a very full pannier, I’ve never managed to cram enough stuff into mine for this to really come into play. In fact, I came to view the lid as a hindrance and eventually removed it, because of the time taken to open and close it and because of the various straps involved (which is why I’ve ended up keeping the Twists for long-term use).

Crosso Twist and Expert panniers in deep winter 2

In short; these panniers are waterproof until punctured — at which point, you can fix them. In this way they are the same as all waterproof panniers, regardless of price. The Drys are cheap but will need attention sooner, and the Twists and Experts are pricier but significantly more hard-wearing in the long run.

Rack Attachment & Compatibility

The attachment system used by all of the Crosso panniers is the same: two chunky metal hooks along the top edge of the rear of the pannier, and a single elasticated hook on the bottom.

Crosso panniers: rear face and attachment

While it might sound insecure, it isn’t: the tensioning strap is super-strong and the position of the bottom hook is suitably adjustable. Mine have come loose on only one or two occasions over the last 7 years, and only when riding on extremely challenging off-road terrain in Mongolia.

Crosso panniers: lower attachment hook

There’s no adjustment possible for the position of the top hooks. While this means that the fixtures can be made extremely strong by using metal rivets for attachment, you’ll need to be sure that they’re compatible with your racks or lowriders. I’ve used mine successfully with a Tubus Logo, a Blackburn TRX‑1, and a variety of cheap, anonymous rear racks.

Crosso panniers: Carry handle wear & tear

(For reference, the distance between the two hooks is 182mm with a couple of millimetres’ flexibility. Each hook is 16mm in width and will fit a rack with tubing of up to 14mm diameter.)

Crosso pannier rack attachment hooks

Because the hooks are metal and therefore fairly unforgiving, it’s worth protecting any rack tubing’s coating or paintwork from being damaged over time by movement and abrasion between the hooks and the tubing. Crosso apparently now supply protective patches for just this purpose.

Crosso pannier rack attachment hooks 2

Restriction of fore-aft movement of the panniers, accomplished on other panniers via a catch on the rear side of the pannier that fits over one of the vertical tubes of the rack, is not catered for by Crosso; instead you have to rely upon the position of the top hooks between the rack tubing and the limited range of movement allowed by the bottom hook. I’ve never found this an issue, though I have had to modify my Tubus Logo with the addition of some cable-ties between parts of the rear tubing to prevent the pannier from being pushed back too far back and falling off.

Crosso Twist rear panniers

Not every rack has an appropriate point onto which to clip the bottom hook, so Crosso now supply a pair of adapters with their rear panniers which are designed to be mounted to the same bolt used to mount the rack itself to the bike’s rear dropouts. (Thanks to Panu in Finland for the photo.)

crosso-hook-adapter

(This wasn’t available when I bought mine, so I angle-grinded the lower hooks into a taper in order to attach them to the rack that came with one of my touring bikes.)

Crosso panniers: lower attachment hook detail

In short, there are more adjustable mounting systems on the market, but Crosso’s mount is strong, durable and effective — as long as your racks are compatible. Check before buying.

Build Quality

The quality of these bags is generally very good — particularly the Cordura models, which give you a heck of a lot of fully-waterproofed capacity for a very reasonable sum of money. I’ve already mentioned the limited longevity of the PVC material used for the Crosso Dry panniers, so I’ll not repeat it here.

Crosso Twist pannier close-up

The Crosso panniers are a lower-budget option than the top-end German waterproof pannier brands, however, and this does show in some minor areas. Specifically, I’ve noticed that on every Crosso pannier I’ve owned (of every model), the plastic caps on the rear surface of the inside of the pannier have a habit of coming off.

Crosso panniers: Missing rivet cap

These glued caps cover the heads of the rivets fastening the back-board to the attachment hooks, and while it’s not an issue from a structural point of view, it does leave nasty little metal rivet-heads exposed and waiting to do damage to the contents of the panniers. Like so many things on a bike tour, I solved the issue with a little Gaffa Tape. (Is there nothing it won’t fix?)

Crosso panniers: Field repairs

My only other quality-related gripe has to do with the removable rear pocket of the Expert model. Its plastic attachment hooks over a webbing strap sewn to the pannier, before being fastened with two additional straps round the pocket itself. On my panniers, this plastic attachment hook had a rather sharp edge to it, and via bumping and vibrations when in motion, this slowly cut into the webbing strap until after two months of (admittedly pretty hardcore) use in Outer Mongolia. The front straps would have retained the pocket, but there’s still room for improvement here — simply smoothing off the edges of the plastic hook would do it.

In short, the quality is as good as most waterproof panniers, and the few minor potential issues won’t unduly affect you when you’re actually on the road.

Summary

Crosso Dry panniers in use

The Crosso Dry 60-litre rear panniers are for those on a budget: roll-top panniers with a big capacity and which will last well on a short trip if looked-after. They’ll need an increasing amount of attention as time goes on due to the damage-prone fabric.

Crosso Twist panniers in use

The Crosso Twist 52-litre rear panniers are a happy medium: large-capacity fully-waterproof drybags for bikes, constructed of tough, abrasion-resistant fabric, and at a very good price, even with shipping on top.

Crosso Expert panniers on an Extrawheel in Mongolia

The Crosso Expert 60-litre rear panniers are similar to the Twists but with bells and whistles, introducing a lid (of limited utility) and a handy rear pocket (also available separately to be used with the Twists).

Crosso Twist and Expert panniers in deep winter plus drybag

All of these lines have matching front (small) pannier sets available, at 35 litres per pair for the Dry and Twist and 40 litres for the Expert. Crosso also manufacture drybags from the same lines, should you be looking for a rack-top bag to match.

Conclusions

The biggest selling point of the whole range is their capacity. I’ve toured for months using just a pair of Crosso Twist panniers and a handlebar bag, and found that this was all the capacity I needed for my long-term touring gear; infinitely preferable in my view to the ubiquitous but heavy and difficult-to-manoeuvre four-pannier setup.

Crosso Twist panniers on a Kona Sutra

In my view, the Twist panniers represent the best compromise of functionality, durability, capacity and value for money from the range of Crosso panniers I’ve used.

When I’m not touring, I can happily fit my weekly groceries into a pair of large Crosso Twists, leaving the tops unrolled if I need the additional space.

Crosso Twist panniers on a road bike

On the downside, the attachment system is more limited than some in terms of rack compatibility, and there’s a question mark over the build quality in some minor areas — though thankfully nothing mission-critical.

You’ll have to prepare for repairs in the long run, as with all waterproof panniers — but assuming you’re happy with this and with the other compromises detailed above, Crosso’s range is very good value for money and very much a pannier range to consider for an adventurous bicycle journey of any length.

Crosso’s panniers are available to order worldwide via their webstore, www.crosso.net. In the UK, they’re available to order direct from EMK Cycles in Weston-Super-Mare via their Amazon Storefront* and their eBay store*.

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Ridgeback Panorama Touring Bike Review & Detailed Photos

This guest review has been written by Tim & Laura Moss, who at the time of writing are cycling to Australia, having departed the UK in the summer of 2013. They’re both riding Ridgeback Panoramas and, after 6,000+ miles, have got to know their bikes rather well. Take it away…

ridgeback-panorama-2013-touring-bike

The Panorama is British bicycle manufacturer Ridgeback’s top-of-the-range tourer from their World line of touring bikes. Ideally designed for short tours in developed countries, ours have performed well over a longer period (eight months and counting), carrying heavier loads (up to 45kg in winter) and over rough terrain (from dirt tracks in Albania to pot holed messes in India).

This review is based on our experiences from cycling 6,000 miles from England to India as well as shorter training tours in the UK. We are using the 2013 model but, besides the colour, it’s no different from the current model.