Threadbare and a shoestring budget

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For me, things wear out more than they break.  Below, a record of things that have broken, worn out, or required attention in the last few months.  Above, the last laundromat we found was in Selestat, France, over a month ago.  Even in France, public laundries are uncommon.  East of Germany, they are nonexistent.  After discovering that we would not find a laundromat for the rest of the summer– except possibly at a hotel or hostel, or in a major city– we selected the old fashioned method of washing clothes by hand.  A one dollar bar of laundry soap, a 64 oz. Kleen Kanteen for ‘agitate’ cycles, and a cold stream get the job done.  Concerned for the health of the stream, we dispose of soapy water in the bushes, although the final rinse happens in the stream.  Surface water quality is Fair in Czech, Slovakia, and Poland, except in the mountains where water is still cold and clear.  The result of our hand washing?– clothes that smell like soap, look a lot less dirty, and feel crisp after drying in the sun.  Every time we go to a grocery store, Lael still wonders if she is the one that smells like ripe meat.  Usually, it is the old man next to us.  Welcome to eastern Europe.   


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We used sil-nylon dry bags to soak the clothes, a 64 oz. Kleen Kanteen to agitate heavily soiled items, and time.  Total procedure from dirty to dry: about 2 1/2 hours. 

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Alcohol stove

Since 2009, I have used a homemade alcohol stove, based upon a design called the Penny Stove.  I have a few qualms about the design– notably, the exposed lip of aluminum is susceptible to damage– although the stove performs well, and it is easy to make along the trail with a pocket knife.  The first stove was made in Tacoma, WA in 2009 with Heineken keg-shaped cans (now discontinued) and specialized tools, including a fresh razor blade and a drill.  The second stove was made exclusively with my Swiss Army knife in Steamboat Springs, CO, out of Ska Brewing Co. cans.  I made this stove last week in Korbielow, Poland from Harnas beer cans.  This time, I used Lael’s new Opinel knife, which is still as sharp as the day we bought it.  With some experience, I can make a functioning stove on the first try.  Total build time: about 15 minutes.

The old stove, shown below, which recently endured the weight of a human exiting the tent to go pee at night.  Names will not be named.

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The carnage of stove-making includes three beer cans.  In Poland, denatured alcohol (90%+ ethanol) is colored blue or purple and is called denaturat.  The purple, or aubergine, Opinel knife is extremely sharp.

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New stove, old penny.  Works great.  Negligible weight.

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Homemade pot stand for our alcohol stove needed some repair.  Baling wire, purchased in an exact length (1/3 meter, for free), holds the supports together, which are made of stainless steel bicycle spokes.

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A pair of wire-bead WTB Exiwolf tires came on my used Raleigh XXIX+G.  I put one on my rear wheel, and the other on Lael’s.  We replaced hers with a Schwalbe Nobby Nic tire in France.  I made it to Ostrave, CZ before replacing it with a 29×2.35″ Schwalbe Hans Dampf that I bought in Germany.  The Hans Dampf only comes in a 2.35″ width for 26″, 650b, and 29″ wheels; it only comes with tubeless ready technology including durable Snakeskin sidewalls (a heavier Super Gravity version is also available).  Mounted in the rear, at appropriate trail pressures, the Hans Dampf sticks like a gecko– it is amazing.  This is one of the biggest tires available without applying for a fatbike permit (have you seen the new Surly ECR!).  

No flats for either of us all summer.  No problems of any kind.  Tubeless touring is the way to go.  Even if I am carrying spare tubes, I’d rather pack them away than tote the weight in the wheels.  I’d also rather not patch tubes.

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Hans Dampf is big, and bites in any direction– uphill, downhill, and sidehill.  I would like to see more tires like this in 29×3.0″.  A 2.35″ Schwalbe Hans Dampf or a 2.4″ Maxxis Ardent on a Velocity Blunt 35 or a Sun MTX33 makes for a voluminous combination, yet will fit in many traditional frames for 29″ wheels.   

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Revelate Gas Tank top tube bag, with damaged zipper.  I frequently stuff, and overstuff, my bags.  This is what happens.  Sent home from France for future repair.  We both have more luggage capacity than we need on our bikes so this is no problem.

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Lael uses a Revelate Viscacha seatpack, and attaches her sleeping pad to the four loops on top of the bag.  Abrasion has worn through one of the loops, while the others show signs of wear.  Some repurposed shoelace makes a solid repair.  Handy to have needle and thread for such projects.  Below, worn loops in front, broken loop in back.  Newer Revelate bags uses a different attachment with more durable plastic hardware and nylon webbing.  Also, Eric has a cool new waterproof seatbag in the works, called the Terrapin, which appears to be modular.

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I sleeved the nylon shoelace over the existing material, and sewed it into place,

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Carradice bags are well made, although I have repaired the stitching on many of the leather straps over time.  Needle and thread save the day again.  A simple fix, although a bit tedious to mend leather and canvas with a standard gauge needle.  

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The same shoestring used to repair the Revelate seatbag also serves to replace the broken retention cord on the skirt of the Carradice Camper.

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Early in the summer, I was dissatisfied with the way my front load obscured my headlight.  A spare tube strapped under the stem shims the front load out of the way– an easy fix, and another good use for nylon gear straps.

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Brake pads

Brake pads wear out.  We replaced Lael’s rear pads and my front pads recently.  A wet, muddy day on the trail can lead to rapid pad wear.  I always carry spare pads on a longer tour– they are tiny, and light.

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Bottom bracket

This one is unusual.  When I purchased the bike secondhand from Tim in Santa Fe, he mentioned something like, “the bottom bracket cups are a little damaged, but they tighten into the frame just fine”.  I took his word and rode away.  Several months later, after hearing the occasional creak from the bike’s nether regions, the drive-side cup was loose, stripped entirely of threads.  I diagnosed the problem, removed the crank, wrapped the damaged threads in duct tape to reduce damage to the BB shell, and reinstalled the crank.  I rode it for another day or two,  When I found the opportunity to replace it, I discovered that the steel BB threads were undamaged, although the BB cups were stripped entirely, made of aluminum.  This is another (unexpected) reason to ride steel bikes.  

Hard to see, but the BB shows a gap between the cup and the shell.

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Aluminum threads on the BB cup are toast.

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Steel BB threads look fine, despite grinding for several days in the mountains.  Steel is harder than aluminum.

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As both cups were loose, I removed them by hand and installed the new SRAM GXP cups by hand.  I rolled the bike into the shop to borrow the driver to tighten them.  The crank is easily reinstalled with my multitool.  I imprint the shape of the tool into my hand trying to tighten it appropriately.  Loose crank bolts can be fatal to a crank.

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All better.

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All work done outside a sporting goods store with a well-stocked bike department.  Total cost, 31€.

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Lael also rides a lot.  Her bottom bracket had developed significant ‘play’, as the bearings have worn over the past year.  We replaced it in Germany for an inexpensive Shimano model.  RaceFace cranks use the Shimano BB standard.  Also riding a Raleigh XXIX, her frame is mostly like mine, although it has an eccentric bottom bracket as it was designed as a singlespeed model.

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After weeks of mud and rain on the GR5, preceded by several months of work in New Mexico, these Merrel boots are toast.  They were holding together pretty well, and had a little rubber left on the sole, but they were no good for foot hygiene.  With sunny skies in the forecast, it was a good time to invest in a new pair of shoes.  I found my favorites– Salomon XA Pro 3D Mid GTX— on sale for a good price.  Salomon originates from Annecy, France, although the company has been bought and sold a few times in recent decades, and is now part of a conglomerate including Mavic.  I don’t use clipless systems, but it seems the two companies should collaborate to make a genuine touring shoe for those that do. 

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This Salomon mid-height boot is lightweight and layered with Gore-Tex.  Built like a running shoe for comfort, the outsole is designed like a good mountain bike tire for traction in the rough.  The Velo Orange Sabot pedal features a generous platform, sealed cartridge bearings, an array of replaceable pins, and a slight concavity to hold the foot in place without the need for clips or straps.  The broad platform distributes pedaling forces evenly across the foot, eliminating the hot spots experienced on quill-style pedals.  It is an excellent touring and bikepacking pedal.

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Cork extraction

Without a way to remove a cork, properly, I utilize the hobo method all through France.  Credit to Chris Harne for describing this to me one winter in Florida a long time ago.

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I bought a gold-plated wing corkscrew for Lael in Switzerland at a junk sale.  Andi tests the acquisition.

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Lael now carries two shades of glasses.  Her primary glasses are Ray-Ban knock-offs for sunny weather.  But in the evening when the bugs come out, she frequently gets gnats and no-see-ums in her eyes.  These bright lenses cost 5€, and keep the bugs out.  They make everything look really bright.

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Brake lever

Lael broke a brake lever several months ago, shown below with pink tape.  We replaced it with a new Avid lever gifted by Ricky and Andi in Germany.  I made the swap while waiting for a train in Munich.

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Tents and zippers

We have used a Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 tent since 2008, exclusively.  At one point, we lost part of the tent in a windstorm.  Later, I tore the rainfly in a midnight zipper mishap, and eventually both zipper sliders on the mesh tent body began to fail.  As a result, I now have some refurbished tent parts in NY, replaced by some new parts from Big Agnes.  However, the current tent (composed of newer parts) has seen heavy use this summer and is also having some zipper issues.  Sliders– the parts that engage the teeth with one another– are known to wear out, and can be replaced several times in the life of the zipper, much like bicycle chains and cassettes.  I tried to repair one slider by compressing the channels together, but it broke.  The other slider now works better.   

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Tent stakes get lost, or are broken, especially when hammering them with rocks into tough soil.  On a stormy night, I tied the tent to a tree on the windward side– you ain’t goin nowhere.

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Reflective vest

For years, Lael and I have shared one reflective vest which we received for free in France, mostly reserved for tense situations on the road.  It fits me like a loose shirt, while it hangs off her frame.  We finally found a vest to fit Lael, intended for 3-6 years olds.  Now we have two brightly colored reflective vests for busy roads and riding at night.  We bought her a juice box in celebration.   

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Sometimes it is too hot to wear a shirt underneath.

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Personal hygiene

People look at me like I am homeless in Poland, which is true, although I am happy to avoid the attention.  At least in this part of the country, only bums wear beards.  Time to shave, in a stream.

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Lael’s Google Nexus 7 tablet makes a great mirror.

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Derailleur hanger

Oh shit!  A log snags my derailleur, cleanly breaking the aluminum derailleur hanger.  A spare hanger makes an easy fix.  Unfortunately, no more spare hanger.

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Threadbare and a shoestring budget

Mostly, everything works just fine, although leaving on a trip with used equipment requires more care and maintenance.  By the end of our travels this summer, additional equipment will require attention or replacement.  Even though such equipment can seem expensive when purchased all at once, with some care, it enables many months and thousands of miles on the road.  Life on the road is inexpensive.  Time on the road is irreplaceable. 

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Many thanks to Ricky and Andi for the new brake lever; Big Agnes for timely tent repairs and replacement over the years; Scott Felter of Porcelain Rocket for durable goods; Eric Parsons of Revelate Designs for similarly durable goods, and great designs;  Priscilla at Carradice, who stitched my bag (really, the tag has her handwritten signature); and my parents, for constantly shipping and recieving things for us.

General thanks and appreciation to whomever is responsible for the existence of the 29×2.4″ Maxxis Ardent tires, Brooks B17 saddles, Ergon GP1 grips, steel bicycles, reflective materials, sealed cartridge bearings, Gore-Tex, cotton duck canvas, VX-series textiles, dynamo lighting, wide comfortable handlebars, and bicycles.  Seriously.

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20 thoughts on “Threadbare and a shoestring budget

  1. I love reading about your travels how long will you guys be traveling? I am busy till sept 20th but wonder if its possible to catch up with you and ride with you. Maybe if not this year maybe your next adventures. I head to Baja mid November so I may be stretching it to try to join you. Hope all is well with you. Love, Aunt Mary

    • Mary, We’d love to ride with you! We just entered Ukraine and have already added it to the list of great places in Eastern Europe to ride, but we may be flying back to the US in the next month or two ($350 from Kyiv to NYC!). We might find some time to ride in Baja if you are interested. Lael is already scheming a way to get her dad down there on a mountain bike for some early winter sun and cheap tacos. Keep in touch.


  2. Man, This is a really great article! Its such a cool contrast to see how your bikes are holding up, in addition to all the pretty pictures of nature in most of your posts.

    I totally agree, those Hans Dampf’s are awesome.

    oh, and i think you should keep the mustache…


  3. Dude, no mustache? No mutton chops? Lol, Love the info! Cannot wait to go out touring now that you have posted all this. Im gonna be carrying crap to fix crap with when it breaks lol. Love it man, keep the pots coming!

    • Retaped one recently as it migrated near the wheel, mostly the result of a loose tape job. You were right, the cage is starting to break, but I retaped it and the bottle holds just fine.

  4. Great blog… I really enjoy keeping in touch with your adventures. I’m a bit of a sucker for knowing who made my Carradice bags and who has repaired them along the way!

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