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Monday, July 18, 2011

Equipment Failures

It's probably a given on any long bike tour that something's going to go wrong with the stuff you bring. Even if you get a whole bunch of new and quality equipment before departure, there's bound to be some equipment failure along the line.

Usually something will go wrong with the bike, as thousands of miles of wear and tear are wont to do. Thankfully, not much has gone wrong with either April's or my bike. Yeah, there was the whole stem issue with April on Day 1 and I broke a spoke on the Portland-Vancouver segment. And there's been flats: April about a half-dozen and me 1 1/2. One-and-a-half I say because one was a "true" flat (embedded glass in tire), and one was a slow leak due to a leaky valve. I managed to ride on that tube for a couple weeks even with the leaky valve, I just had to be judicious in checking tire pressure. So we've really had nothing bad happen to bikes. April's stem issues pale in comparison to my friend Paul's catastrophic fork failure on Day One of his and Caroline's cross-country bike tour.

But we've had some issues with camping equipment. Namely, the tent. It's an REI Quarter-Dome that I picked up used right before the tour. When we got it, we warned that one of the zippers was a bit "tricky". Oh well. As the month progressed, it moved from "one zipper tricky" to "all zippers fucked". Closing either of our two flaps was an ordeal, sometimes taking as much as twenty minutes to close one side. Malfunctioning zippers wouldn't be such a big deal except for all the mosquitoes. Because the flaps were hard to close, we would only use one side, and we'd leave that side open until we were ready to retire for the night. Which of course allowed dozens of mosquitoes to enter the tent. Not fun.

In Waterton Park we stopped by the local outdoor store to ask if there was anything to do with the zipper. They suggested soaping it up a little, but we'd probably just need to replace the zippers. And zipper repair is not cheap; it would most likely cost more than what I paid for the tent. So then we resigned ourselves to buying a new tent when we got into Calgary.

So when we got to town we asked Dan, our host, where MEC was so we could replace the tent. When he found out that our zippers were fucked, he used a trick that he learned from his bike touring days: crimping the back of the zipper. And VOILA! Success--for now. The zippers close, though a bit clunky. Hopefully this will last us awhile. We still might have to replace the tent at some point, but we'll see how long this lasts.

My other camping failure is my camping pad. Last year I upgraded and got a Big Agnes inflatable camping pad. It was the most comfortable camping pad I had owned--while it worked. It lasted most of the summer, but towards the end it had a slow leak. I tried to find the leak by the using the "submerge it in the tub and see where it bubbles" technique, but as the pad acts like a pool flotation device when in water, meaning hard to submerge. And I still couldn't find the leak. So I returned it and got a new one. I didn't have to use it until this spring, and it was good until we started to cross the Cascades in Western Washington. Leaking again. I put up with the leak until I got to Spokane and exchanged it at REI. That lasted until after Missoula. Fuck.

As much as I like how comfortable the Big Agnes pad is, I can't deal with a pad that I use for one week and starts to leak. I know that inflatable air mattresses will ALL start to leak at one point, but less than ten uses is ridiculous. So when we went to MEC in Calgary I bought one of their Kelvin pads, which is similar to a Therma-Rest. It's not as comfortable as the Big Agnes, but I had one for two years (2006-8) which I used extensively (a month on the Coast) and took two years to finally develop a leak. Hopefully I won't have problems with this one any time soon.

Hopefully we won't have issues for a while, but you never know. If you feel compelled to help us when the inevitable future issue arises, please consider contributing to our IndieAGoGo campaign. We'd much appreciate it!


  1. I really empathize on the camping pad. One of mine also had a slow leak, and similarly, I could never find it - couldn't submerge it, and the soapy water trick just made a mess. I've had a dead tent, 2 flats (or 1-1/2 going by your criteria) and a busted spoke, plus the rack mount failure coming off Cape Lookout. I might have been able to fix the tent, but it was too problematic and I ended up getting a new one instead. Paul & Caroline seem to have had the worst luck of us all, though it sounds like folks came through for them and they're certainly making good time since.

  2. I have to credit Alan Kesselheim for teaching me the zipper crimping trick. I read about it in his book "The Wilderness Paddler's Handbook" and have used the trick several times now with success.

    Hopefully I didn't crimp the zipper to much on your REI tent, in hindsight I should have used less crimping force.

  3. Good equipment news:

    I would suggest all bike campers carry the Allstays tent camping / RV app. It was a big help on my recent Oregon coast trip. It worked on wifi and offline with my IPod once loaded. The app maker was very responsive to map corrections. Adam was very helpful.

    There is also an app for finding ice cream shops and Trader Joes - both nice to find when bike touring. Now only if they had a bike shop and natural foods coop app.

  4. Matt-Yeah, I guess all of our equipment failures combined pale in comparison to Caroline and Paul's catastrophic front fork failures!

    PV-Oh, don't sell yourself short! You came through for us and saved us some dough.

    Todd-If the Trader Joes app can find me one in Canada, I'd spend like twenty bucks on it!


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