Categories
Bikes

A Pro Bike Builder Reviews The ‘Adventure Flat White’ Budget Touring Bike

New this year at the budget end of the UK touring bike market is the Adventure Flat White, an entry-level road tourer whose RRP of £430 makes it the cheapest off-the-peg touring bike in the UK (at the time of writing).

Being abroad for an extended period of time and thus unable to try the bike myself, I invited Richard of Oxford Bike Works (who recently bought himself a Flat White to see how they’d made it so cheap) to deliver his verdict on it. Take it away, Richard…

Two disclaimers from the outset:

  1. These comments are written very much from a specification point of view.
  2. As the owner of Oxford Bike Works and a designer and maker of my own touring bikes, I have a vested interest in getting people into touring in the hope that they may one day buy one of my bikes.

The Flat White has a steel frame, and it’s not that heavy. Unsurprisingly, the white paintwork looks a bit, er, flat…

adventure_flat_white_lifestyle_04

Unusually at this price point, the frame is of lugged construction, except at the bottom bracket shell (which is tig welded).

Amazingly, the frame has every single braze-on you’d expect of a good touring bike – a third set of bottle cage mounts under the downtube, lowrider braze-ons on the front forks, and rack and mudguard braze-ons at the rear.

That said, everything about the frame is executed with a crudeness that you might expect for such a cheap bike. The frame’s lugs are very thick, and there are signs of excess solder on the tubes and the lugs that have been painted over. In places, you can see where an angle grinder has been used to smooth off imperfections.

Despite all this, there’s no evidence to suggest the frame is weak – it’s just a bit agricultural in its construction.

adventure_flat_white_lifestyle_03

For me, the real compromises start with the equipment hung on the frame.

The saddle is hard and poorly padded with a fragile covering, and if there’s one thing that needs to be right on a touring bike, it’s the saddle.

The mudguards are equally flimsy and unlikely to get you out of England unscathed. The tight clearances mean it won’t allow stuff flung up by the tyres to go anywhere.

The rear rack is equally flimsy and has a spring clip on it that will probably rattle and annoy the rider to insanity before too long.

adventure_flat_white_lifestyle_02

The gearing range is limited – a compact double chainring at the front and 12–28 tooth cassette at the rear won’t help people grow to love cycle touring, because what a cycle tourist needs from a touring bike is gears that will keep him or her moving regardless of gradient and load.

Another criticism is the use of cantilever brakes, which never have much stopping power. In the Alps with a heavy load, for example, this could be quite stressful.

The bar tape is flimsy and lacks padding, and the plastic pedals won’t last very long at all.

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Apart from these shortcomings, the bike is awesome.

What amazes me about Shimano is the ability of the company to produce gearing systems at every price point that still work. Unlike other commenters, I’d have no qualms about touring on a Shimano Tourney groupset – I know that Shimano components work if properly adjusted. Okay, it might not last as long as higher-end groupsets, and the shifting won’t be as refined. But on tour you just want stuff to work, which it does, and I think Madison have got it right with this groupset at this price.

The Schwalbe Tyrago 700x35 tyres look like cyclocross tyres, but should serve admirably in the short term. The wheels are machine built from unbranded rims and hubs – again, fit for purpose in the short term.

Adventure Flat White

This is the perfect entry level touring bike for someone who’d like to try cycle touring without spending a load of money.

You could buy this bike new for £430 take it on a tour, and if you decided you hated cycle touring (unlikely) you could sell it for £300 when you got back.

If you loved it, on the other hand, you could sell the bike and use the money as a downpayment on something better suited to your new aspirations and broader horizons.

Either way, it’s an inexpensive way to get started.

In summary:

If you want to try cycle touring for the first time, this is a good bike to buy. If you already have experience of cycle touring, there are probably too many annoying compromises to make it a sensible choice.

Thanks, Richard! Check out the Adventure Flat White budget touring bike here. It’s available from a growing number of UK bike retailers.

Categories
Equipment

Unconventional Sources Of Cheap Cycle Touring Equipment

Last year I sourced a touring bike, luggage, camping & cooking gear, spares, tools and clothes for £25.17 and then rode it the length of England on a budget of 25 pence.

It was fantastic proof that money is no pre-requisite for adventure, and that you can get everything you need practically for free. However, finding the gear did require time, energy and luck in considerable amounts – not to mention the challenges of travelling without money (full story here).

This article, therefore, is for those who do have a bit of cash to spend on getting up and running, but aren’t quite flush enough to be slapping Hilleberg tents and Koga bikes on their cycle touring equipment wishlists.

In other words, it’s for people buying gear on a low budget, rather than no budget.

For those with no qualms about feeding the oft-hideous world of mass consumption, you’ll find a few familiar high-street retailers on the list, as well as tips for finding the best deals at a variety of online stores, and some thoughts on when to buy as well as where.

You’ll also learn about some slightly less obvious places that have proven very reliable when it comes to finding cheap gear for cycle touring.

(Apologies in advance to readers outside of the UK — this is going to be very Anglo-centric. If you’d like to write a guest post for another part of the world, do get in touch.)

Cheap Cycle Touring Gear On The High Street

The British high street (or out-of-town retail park) can be a surprisingly good place to pick up many items on your kit list. As well as the good old charity-shop scouring session, try some of the following:

Decathlon

Until a few years ago, Decathlon was barely known outside France. Today they have branches of their giant multi-sport megastores at various locations in the UK, and as far afield as China, Russia, Brazil, India and Turkey. (Which, incidentally, has made it quite a lot easier to replace gear when on tour long-term.)

The big difference between Decathlon and other sports ‘supermarkets’ is that they primarily stock their own product lines, which are sold under a handful of brands including Oxylane, Quechua and B’Twin.

Also, like supermarket own-brand groceries, they are able sell the basic ranges at extremely affordable prices. Examples include a Therm-a-Rest-style self-inflating mattress for £20, a fleece for £7, and cycling sunglasses for £4. They also have a good range of light outdoor footwear.

Go to Decathlon for clothing and accessories, and put the savings towards the more mission-critical stuff (bike, tent, panniers). There are 14 branches in the UK, and hundreds on the European continent and elsewhere.

Go Outdoors

Another warehouse-style outdoor gear supermarket, Go Outdoors* cover a vast range of outdoor pursuits.

As opposed to Decathlon’s own-brand gear, Go Outdoors sell discounted high-end branded gear, as well as more basic lines from lower-end manufacturers. They sell a discount card for £5, which gives you a minimum of a 10% in-store discount on all products, as well as regular short-term coupon codes. Spend £50 and this already makes sense.

I’d recommend checking Go Outdoors regularly for short-term sale items from your wish-list, rather than a place from which to buy everything in one go. There are around 50 branches across the UK.

Sports Direct

As a brand targeted towards competitive sports, much of what Sports Direct* sell is irrelevant to cycle-touring, but the bigger stores do have Field & Trek departments which specialise in outdoor gear and accessories. The quality of goods on offer is generally basic but rugged, with good, sturdy brands like Karrimor on offer.

Like Go Outdoors, the trick is to be there when what you need is on sale, as they regularly flog product lines off at up to 70% discount. (As with all such sales, it’s good practice to make sure that the original price wasn’t horribly inflated in the first place, and that you really are getting genuine value for money.)

I’d suggest Sports Direct for outdoor clothing, travel accessories such as bike locks and lights, and outdoor footwear. (Bear in mind that the company is currently evil and you may wish to avoid it on these grounds.)

TK Maxx

TK Maxx has become one of the UK’s premier expedition outfitters, mainly because they sell at knock-down prices clothing and accessories previously on sale in places where rich people shop for gear they’ll never use.

They’re a fantastic stop for anything that fits the category of travel clothing — shirts, trousers, fleeces and the like. Look for the ‘active clothing’ section. Waterproofs are a common find; unless branded, they’ll be of the get-you-to-the-next-cafe variety at best.

You’ll also sometimes find cut-price bits and bobs for the bike, such as rear lights. Be very careful of the “ooh, this might come in useful” effect while you’re waiting at the checkout. That cast-iron skillet isn’t going to seem so practical when you’re climbing your first big hill.

Aldi & Lidl

Alongside jars of unidentifiable pickles, you’ll occasionally find deals on outdoor and cycling clothing and accessories at Aldi and Lidl – at prices that sound too good to be true.

Merino wool or bamboo baselayers, cycling gloves, helmets, lights, head-torches, and even panniers and waterproofs can sometimes be had, and you’ll rarely find anyone complaining about the quality (admittedly this is perhaps because they’d rather not reveal their shopping habits).

You’ll need to keep an eye on their special offers, requiring either regular in-store visits or signing up to their email newsletters. Availability is seasonal and changes on a weekly basis, so most such lucky finds are rather short-lived.

If your tour’s a long way off, though, make a list now and see how much those handy German supermarkets can help you tick off — you’ll probably be surprised.

Poundland, etc

Don’t laugh: the pound stores are a fantastic place for the super-low-budget tourer to bag a few choice items. These stores also sell the same cheap Chinese crap you’ll end up buying at a market in a former Soviet republic when your posh, expensive version breaks, so you might as well start out with it.

Common bargains include head-torches, cable ties and Gaffa Tape substitutes, as well as puncture repair kits, bike lights, tin-foil emergency blankets, tent pegs, phone cases, alcohol for your DIY stove, and enough biscuits and noodles to get you to the other end of (or even out of) your home country.

Army Surplus Stores

There are plenty of ‘pretend’ army surplus stores in little alleys just off the nation’s high streets. If you can track down a real one – that is, one that grades, reconditions and sells previously-issued kit – you’ll find it a great source of durable and cheap (if heavy and basic) camping gear.

Bivvy bags are a common find, as are tarps, ponchos, mess tins, cordage and other assorted accessories. Military kit is built to be functional and to last forever.

Avoid getting too cammed-up, lest you be mistaken by foreign security forces for making a one-man ground invasion of their country and cause a major diplomatic incident in the process.

Cheap Cycle Touring Gear Online

eBay / Gumtree / Craigslist

eBay* is the place to go either for small, generic and relatively unimportant items made in China and sold at inflated prices next to the checkouts of big high-street retailers (travel adaptors, sporks, memory card readers), or to buy high-end gear (sleeping bags, multi-fuel stoves, Brooks saddles) second-hand from private sellers.

The post-Christmas period is a classic time to snap up unwanted items given as presents by well-meaning aunties to outdoorsy people who already possess them.

Gumtree and Craigslist are two alternative websites worth checking out for classified ads.

Specialist Forums & Messageboards

Mountain-bikers will be familiar with Singletrack Magazine. The mag’s online discussion board has a classifieds section, which has grown into one of the best places to get your hands on bicycle components and related items.

It’s great for those looking to build their own bikes or upgrade existing bikes. If you can be bothered to wade through the swathes of mountain bike equipment, there are some excellent bargains to be had here, particularly on drivetrain and finishing kit that’s often overpriced in the first place. The forum also has a useful ‘wanted’ section where you can post specific requests.

Thorn Cycles have a forum on which you’ll often find complete touring bikes for sale at a fraction of their original prices, as well as parts and accessories on a separate board.

Another good place to find second-hand high-end outdoor gear is the Outdoor Gear Exchange UK Facebook page.

Sport Pursuit

Sport Pursuit* is a ‘flash sale’ website (similar to Groupon) for premium sports clothing and equipment, and often this’ll include outdoor and cycling gear.

Discounts are impressive but short-lived; announcements are made by email to members and you’ll then have a few days to put your orders in. Membership is free*; the site is worth signing up for if you’ve got a few months ahead of you before your tour and you have a wish-list to tick off.

You won’t get everything you need from here, but consider it a nice bonus if you do score a bargain (and there are some very good ones to be had).

Online Bike Retailers

Big online retailers of premium bike gear, such as Chain Reaction Cycles* and Wiggle*, can be a goldmine of heavily discounted bicycle components. If you’re building or modifying a bike, or looking for tools, spares and accessories, these websites are worth digging through.

Use the sites’ filters to sort listings by ‘biggest discount’ to find the best bargains; don’t forget to check out the clearance sections.

Amazon Loopholes

With a bit of hacking, it’s possible to use Amazon’s advanced search tool to dig up insanely discounted products in specific categories.

A quick search for cycling products with at least a 90% discount* turns up a variety of tools, spares and accessories which could easily be combined into a single order with free delivery.

What tips do you have for finding cheap cycle touring equipment in the UK? Let us know in the comments.

Categories
#freeLEJOG 2014 Philosophy Of Travel

What Exactly Does ‘Freedom’ Mean When Travelling?

Freedom — or the sense of it, at least — is the one thing that keeps bringing me back to cycle touring. I have all practicalities whittled down to a slender routine; there is nothing more to learn from the act itself of travelling by bicycle itself. Yet back to it I come, year after year, because of the sense of boundless liberation that comes from simply being on the road.

At least, I thought it was freedom. Then someone pointed out that my adventures had all involved using money to get where I was going — just another tourist with slightly different priorities. I’d still had to earn that money beforehand. That’s not real freedom. I’d escaped, yes, but sooner or later I’d been recaptured and bound by the same old shackles.

So this year I decided to pedal the length of my home country without any money. I pronounced my plans with swagger. All that experience must’ve toughened me up by now. But I was sweating, boarding that one-way train to Penzance with not a coin, note or bank card on my person. What had I let myself in for?

On balance, I was fairly confident that I wouldn’t die (a consideration I’ve long used to weigh up new trip ideas); ergo I would find ways to survive. Still, I sweated. I sweated through Cornwall and Devon and Somerset, and each night some friend or family member would call to say they’d found someone nearby who’d shelter me for another night.

In the West Midlands, my contacts dried up. I reprised an old routine of sleeping behind hedges. I got hungry. Really hungry. Then I discovered bin diving, and that carrots alone can sustain a man for days. I’m not much of a freegan, but hunger, apparently, turns you into one.

I set to work on infiltrating communities — something cash would have allowed me to bypass, now a necessity. Down-to-earth farmers laughed at my pleas to work for food, invited me in and fed me anyway. Campsites dished out chores for leftover croissants. Rural pubs providing on-the-spot pot-washing work for meals. Cyclists bequeathed new innertubes and good wishes, with one or two raised eyebrows thrown in for good measure. And in this way the exuberant North embraced my itinerant quest, my fears a distant memory.

When I arrived in Scotland, it’d been weeks since I’d even touched a coin. And writing this now — cappuccino beside laptop — my urban lifestyle seems shallow. Every handover of coinage represents a missed opportunity to befriend a stranger, and every paid writing gig will only facilitate more such lazy, anonymous transactions.

It’s the way things are, of course. This penniless ride through the values of a nation will change nothing. My tours will continue as they always did. But I’ve seen another way, now. Counterintuitive though it may seem, perhaps true freedom in travel (and in life) really does only come when you take money out of the equation altogether.

An edited version of this piece originally appeared in the Cycle Guy column of the Sunday Times. Read the full story of the #freeLEJOG project here.
Categories
On The Road

What & Where To Eat On A Cycle Tour – Options For Every Kind Of Budget

One of the great pleasures of cycle touring is that you may eat whatever and as much as you like.

You’ll reimagine food as fuel, and the more in the tank, the further you’ll go. You may indeed gain weight, but only in your thigh muscles. Cake lovers rejoice!

By the same token, the number one rule of feeding yourself on a bicycle adventure is to listen to your body.

Your metabolism will adapt to become a highly-efficient furnace. Misjudge your intake and you will experience hunger like nothing on Earth, and finding the next bakery will be your sole reason for existence.

Many people get hung up about the prospect of feeding themselves in other parts of the world, fearing that food as we know it may be somehow unavailable.

But wherever there are people, there must be something edible nearby to keep them alive, and as long as you continue to put calories into your body you will continue to be able to turn the pedals.

Nutrition, in our five-a-day culture, is another common worry. But while man/woman cannot live on jam sandwiches and instant noodles alone, he/she can still last a good few weeks. Food on the road doesn’t have to be interesting; it just has to keep you pedalling. Vegetables are for rest days.

Where To Find Food On A Cycle Tour

There are several ways to approach feeding yourself, and they’ll mostly depend on circumstances, budget, and personal preference, in that order. Let’s have a look at them.

Foraging

Fairly uncommon but worth mentioning for the benefit of those really on a zero budget is the practice of finding free food.

Foraging for watercress in Lympstone

‘Foraging’ here is defined as broadly as possible; as well as true wild food, consider fruit from trees, vegetables gleaned from fields, and tasty surprises uncovered in dumpsters behind supermarkets and bakeries.

While difficult to rely on in an ever-changing landscape, such practices can certainly supplement, if not form the basis of, a resourceful adventurer’s diet, with the obvious warning that you should only eat something if you’re 100% sure it’s edible.

Picnicking

At the bottom end of the budget scale for those who actually have money is the picnic option.

Last of the supplies

You’ll rely on local grocers to keep your panniers stocked, preparing your meals on the kerb, in parks, or wherever the fancy takes you. You might carry a stove for variety, but it’s by no means essential. This DIY approach is also the standard fall-back for all cycle travellers when nothing else is available.

In populous areas, buying food can be done on a meal-by-meal basis, keeping a few snacks handy for the miles between. Sparser populations and fewer shopping opportunities require planning ahead for pannier space and ingredients. Even if food is abundant, shopping can still be a chore; consider a ritual of buying a day or two’s food each time. (You’ll learn what constitutes a day’s food pretty fast.)

Finally, if you’re wondering how things change in more exotic lands, the short answer is that they don’t. Bread, cheese, eggs, pasta/noodles, fruit and sugary soft drinks are pretty much global resources.

And cake.

Dead Fly Cake from The Old

A few picnicking tips for cycle tourists:

  • Always keep a knife handy.
  • Try (carefully) carrying condiments and seasonings to liven things up.
  • Many foods we refrigerate – butter, cheese, yoghurt, cooked meat – will happily last several days in a pannier.
  • Stoves aren’t just for dinner; make porridge for breakfast, soup for lunch, and tea or coffee on breaks.
  • Learn how to use that can-opener on your multitool before you actually need it.

Street Food

The snack bar is another worldwide staple food source, and a wonderful way to try real local cuisine and get some variety in your diet.

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This can still fit a relatively low budget if you choose wisely, as such places often cater for nearby workers. It doesn’t take long to figure out the ‘standard’ street food formula for a region and the going rate for meals on offer.

All the usual rules of food safety apply; if in doubt, choose the busiest joint.

Cafes & Coffee Shops

Hot beverages (and cakes) are an inexpensive luxury for many cyclists, particularly if it’s cold and wet, when it’s as much about being indoors as slurping on a tea or coffee.

Cappucino

Such establishments can also double up as morning ‘facilities’ for people who surreptitiously slept behind a hedge last night. (We’ve all done it.)

Restaurants

Those with more to spend will be in for a real treat if restaurants are in abundance on their chosen route, given the limitless appetite of the cycle tourist. If this is you, make sure to budget for extra portions of fries. (And cake.)

Breakfast at last

In some countries, restaurant visits can be affordable even for the budget traveller, so don’t write them off before checking prices. In France, for example, restaurants are obliged by law to serve a hearty workers’ lunch – the menu du jour – for just a few Euros, including wine.

Hospitality

No curious-minded cycle traveller is likely to make it more than a few days in any direction without ending up in someone’s kitchen or living room, being presented with more food (and often alcohol) than they could possibly hope to eat.

Staying with an old Hungarian couple

Needless to say, while you can predict that this will happen with a high degree of accuracy, when it will happen is a different question altogether. And so it is wise to assume that it won’t, prepare appropriately, and enjoy it when it does.

What & When To Eat

Pedalling a loaded touring bike is, for the most part, a low- to medium-exertion activity, but because it is prolonged, it’s necessary to maintain your energy levels, and this largely comes down to what and when you eat.

Road kill

What to eat boils down to calories, so in a reversal of standard-issue dieting advice it’s carbohydrates and fat that’ll provide your energy needs (which is, of course, why cyclists love cake).

Snacks in particular benefit from being dense with energy; dried fruit, nuts and chocolate all count!

When to eat is another question. A huge meal will knock you out while digesting, so some riders keep breakfasts and lunches light, supplementing them with snacks as they do their day’s riding, and saving the big hearty meal for the evening. Some enjoy pigging out at lunchtime and using it as an excuse to have a nap. Some skip lunch and snack all day long. Some eat four smaller meals a day.

So design the routine that best suits you. Or just eat when you’re hungry. But always listen to your body, and give it what it wants.

Cookery

Cooking on a bike tour can range from the simple to the elaborate.

French toast on a campfire

The camper’s standard hot dinner – a pot of pasta with a can of something – can boost morale and warm you up before crawling into your sleeping bag, and on longer trips it may be worth bringing cooking gear for this alone.

A little ingenuity, however, can yield impressive results. Pop your own popcorn. Use a frying pan to make toasties. Juggle two pans on a single burner. Bring flour, yeast, oil and sugar and deep-fry your own donuts.

If there are more of you in a group and thus more stoves and pans, there’s nothing stopping you cooking up a veritable feast each and every evening. You’re limited only by your imagination and the ingredients and equipment to hand (and, I suppose, your cookery skills).

With cooking comes washing up, of course, so don’t forget your scouring pad!

Bonus: 5 Tips for Better Cooking On A Cycle Tour

Big thanks to Tara Alan – author of Bike. Camp. Cook.* – for this contribution.

1. Carry a spice bag.

I carry an ample number of spices with me, each in its own little baggie, all stored together in a larger plastic zipper bag. My spice bag is light, compressible, and easily packable. Best of all, it enables me able to transform almost any ingredient into something tasty!

2. Be on the lookout for small packaged items.

The next time you go shopping for food, keep your eyes peeled for various packaged items that have a long shelf life. Can you find cans of tuna, salmon, or other fish products? How about tiny jars of Thai curry paste, Mediterranean olive paste, or sun-dried tomatoes? Always be ready to supplement your food supply with small, long-lasting packages of interesting edibles.

3. Use a non-stick pot & pan.

With one pot and one pan, you can make pretty much anything! Just make sure they’ve got a non-stick coating – it makes cleanup a total breeze. The time and elbow grease required to scour burnt-on messes from other types of cookware is monumental!

4. Get inspired by local cuisine.

Shop at markets in the areas you’re travelling through, and always buy local spices. Chat or mime to food vendors and street cooks, and let them know you’re interested in their dishes and techniques. You’ll find that nearly everyone, regardless of mother tongue or nationality, can bond over a mutual love of food.

5. Think versatility.

Whether you’re looking at dishware or spices or canned goods, shoot for multi-purpose items over single-use items. For example, get a plate that doubles as a cutting board, and pack individual spices as opposed to pre-mixed spice packets so you’ll be able to mix and match them.

How do you feed yourself on a cycle tour? Any tips you’d like to share with budding adventure cyclists?