Went for a very hilly 40 mile ride across County Down with my club today. It was my first real ride with the bike since I switched out the chainset/crankset for a lower-geared one. I went from a 48-38-28 Biopace to a (used) Deore LX 44-34-24 (£10). In addition, I swapped out the 12-28 cassette for a 7-speed Megarange cassette, 11-34 (£17). Had to get a new bottom bracket to fit the new crank (£18).
WOW! What a difference it made. I got off to walk on only two hills, hills my companions also chose to walk.
I am very pleased with the conversion. Didn't break the bank, and is going to pay huge dividends I can see.
I also used today to try out my panniers with a bit of a load, in anticipation of a loaded tour next weekend. I loaded up the two front panniers and put my pack on the rear rack. I didn't realise it till I lugged it all back upstairs at the end of the day, but it weighed a ton! I am guessing about 30 lbs. I was definitely slower than normal, but I believe the new lower gears made a huge improvement going up the hills loaded.
I also tried out my new shimano sandals. They were awesome. I wore wool socks, and covered them with neoprene racing booties that slid on like a sock. They have holes on the bottom for clip and heel, but were nearly perfect for this application.
It was snowing and sleeting toward the end of my ride, and my feet started to get cold, so I switched my sandals for shoes and waterproof socks, and then added waterproof overshoes. Took a while for my feet to warm back up, but the trip home was high speed (long downhill) so I was glad to not have so much evaporative cooling going on.
The ortlieb sport packers were awesome in the relentless rain and snow. The water beaded up on them and rolled off. All my back-up gear (spare: gloves, hats, shoes, socks and primaloft "belay" jacket) were nice and dry when I needed them. The surly nice front rack is a thing of beauty. I also tested an inexpensive high-visibility cycling cape <edited to add, actually more "poncho" than cape: Jeantex cycling poncho> for the really rainy part of the trip home and it worked quite well. It was a bit off-putting not to be able to see the handlebars and front wheel however I didn't let it bother me.
The high-vis-ness of the poncho made a distinct impression on the drivers, I noticed. Normally on this piece of road they tend to cut quite close. In my day-glo green, they gave me a much wider berth than they usually do. I typically wear a high-vis vest, but the cape proves that more square-footage is better, particularly on a rainy, grey day.