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  1. #1
    Senior Member BigBlueToe's Avatar
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    Mini-Tour: LHT, Ortlieb, Tent reviews

    When I came home from last summer's tour I started assembling a new rig. Over the ensuing months I bought a Surly LHT frame and built it up, including lacing my own wheels. I bought a new set of Ortlieb Classic Rollers panniers and a handlebar bag to match. I also bought a couple of new tents. Finally, this weekend, I was able to go on a "mini-tour" and test out my new purchases. What follows is intended to help those who may be contemplating similar purchases. I know when I was considering what to buy, this forum was very valuable.

    First, the tour: For the past few months I've been lucky to get in one ride per week - nowhere near "tour shape." I felt able to ride one day with a full load, maybe 30 miles, but two days in a row might cause suffering. From my home on the central coast of California, by Morro Bay, the logical choice for a short weekend tour is San Simeon State Park, about 30 miles north. But I've done that many times, and the hiker/bike site isn't very nice. Morro Bay State Park has a really nice hiker/bike site, but it's only about 3 miles from my house! I finally decided to go to Morro Bay via San Luis Obispo, which would bring the total miles, one-way, to about 29 miles. The second day, when I may be too pooped to ride far, I'd just ride home. It worked out great. I had a nice ride, a nice night of camping, tested out my gear, and was home Sunday morning in time to go out to breakfast (my second breakfast!) with my family.

    Okay the reviews - first the LHT. I bought a 62cm frame and built it up with an XT rear derailleur, a 105 triple front derailleur, Avid cantilever brakes, 36h XT hubs, Mavic 719 rims, double butted spokes, Schwalbe Marathon tires, and a Brooks Champion Flyer saddle. I put cyclocross brake levers on the Nitto bars, which caused crowding with the Ortlieb handlebar bag, so I took out all the spacers and mounted a second stem.

    I've liked the way the LHT rides since I dialed in the fit with a high angle stem. The Brooks saddle started pretty comfortable and has gotten gradually better. I won't have a final opinion on how well I like it until I take it on a longer tour, but right now I like it very much. On my old touring bike, shimmy was a big problem. When I was going down a steep hill and my speed got above 20 mph, it started to shake. Above 30 mph it shimmied so bad it felt like something was going to shake loose! The fastest I got going on my mini-tour was about 32 mph, but the LHT was rock solid! Another issue with my previous bike was heel strike. I had to slide my panniers back as far as they would go, and then I had to be careful not to let my shoes slide back or they would hit. On my current rig, heel strike was never a problem - not even close! I probably had 2" of room.

    I mentioned my panniers are Ortlieb Classic Rollers. My rear rack is a Tubus Cargo. It was rock solid, and easy to mount the Ortliebs. It wasn't quite as easy to find a place to hook my bungee cords for the sleeping bag and tent as it was on my old Blackburn Expedition, but it wasn't a big deal. I found a suitable place.

    I bought a Tubus Tara for the front rack, but then thought I might like a rack with a platform - partly for carrying some of the load, and partly to make it possible to carry extra water in dry locales, or even a loaf of bread for PB&J sandwiches in areas with limited services. I bought a Jandd Expedition. It was also rock steady. I bungeed my Big Agnes insulated air mattress on the platform, which was nice.

    I don't know if it was the platform on the front rack or the size of the Ortlieb front panniers compared to my old REI ones, but I felt like I had more of my weight on the front than with my old setup. It was probably 55% on the front and 45% on the back. I consider that a good thing, since I had a problem with broken rear spokes in the past. I've read that since your body weight is mostly on the rear wheel, the front wheels take much less of the strain, and building them as strong as the rears is kind of a waste. Well, I built the fronts with the same number of spokes, same rims, same hubs, and same spokes as the rear. So I figure I've got plenty of load-carrying capacity in front, and if I load up the front, maybe I won't break spokes in back as readily! (I'm sure hoping!)

    The Ortliebs performed as expected. I was very happy with how easily they go on and off the racks. It's nice not to have to worry about putting on rain covers, both while riding and when sitting out at night. On the negative side, it's not as easy to get in them quickly (like when you want some random thing and can't remember which pannier its in) as it would be if it were simply a matter of unzipping a zipper.

    This wasn't a complete test as I didn't carry nearly as many clothes as I will on a long tour. My final reviews will wait until after this summer's expected tour.

    On a different note, I'd like to add a review of my latest attempt at buying the perfect tent - an LL Bean Microlight 2. I'm 6'4", so some tents that suit "normal sized" people just aren't long enough. My previous touring tent was a Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight. It was very lightweight. It was awfully small, but I could put up with that for the lightness. However, on last summer's tour it started leaking. I started looking around for something to replace it with.

    The Clip Flashlight is about 7'4" long. That's a little short. Lots of other tents I looked at were only 7' long. I bought a Eureka Backcountry 1. It's 8' long and weighs about the same as the Clip Flashlight. Unfortunately, it's also extremely narrow. I was unable to read on my side in bed, which is what I do every night on tour before falling asleep.

    Then, this spring, LL Bean came out with a new tent - the Microlite 2 (and a Microlight 1, but it looked too small.) The Microlight 2 is basically the same design as the Clip Flashlight, except that it's a little longer (8') and taller, the tent body is all screen, and the materials are a little lighter. It weighs about the same as the Clip Flashlight.

    There have been lots of times when I've had to hide out from mosquitoes in my tent. The ventilation in the Clip Flashlight wasn't very good and the tent would become a sauna. I'm hopeful the all-mesh body of the Microlight 2 will make that a bit cooler. The fly also completely covers the tent on all sides, down to the ground, so I'm hopeful that it won't leak like the Clip Flashlight did, especially since the fly didn't cover the feet area.

    The size of the Microlight 2 was just right! It's just about perfect for someone my size. Since size, weight, and ventilation were my top priorities, I'm giving it a provisional thumbs up! I'm reserving final judgement. After I've used it 20 or 30 times, including a few rainstorms, I'll have a final opinion.

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by BigBlueToe View Post
    (...) so I took out all the spacers and mounted a second stem.
    Interesting post!

    Would you mind posting a picture of your stem setup, especially the part where front cantilever cable hangs on to.

    Thanks.

  3. #3
    Senior Member BigBlueToe's Avatar
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    I had a bunch of pictures, but I had some trouble uploading them last night. I'll try again.

    This picture shows the double stem setup from the side. I was initially stymied by how to hang the front cantilever cable. Then I remembered a trick used on my old Stumpjumper from the 80s. That bike has the brake cable go right through the stem, and uses the stem as the cable hanger.

    I figured, what the heck? Stems are cheap, and if I weakened the stem by drilling holes, no big deal since it only had to hold the handlebar bag, not me.

    I drilled the top of the stem with a hole big enough for the cable housing to fit through, and drilled a hole on the bottom just bigger than the cable itself. It worked like a charm! The only difficulty was threading the cable through the bottom hole, which wasn't really difficult at all. (The bar is a piece of an old handlebar from a garage sale bike, cut off with a hack saw.)

    (The orca on my bars is the horn. I like to greet people with a couple of squeaks. I'm a kook.)
    Attached Images Attached Images

  4. #4
    Senior Member BigBlueToe's Avatar
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    Here's a picture of the bike loaded up.
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  5. #5
    Senior Member BigBlueToe's Avatar
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    Here's the tent.
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  6. #6
    This user is a pipebomb brotherdan's Avatar
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    Looks like a pretty good setup. You have a lot of room to spare in your panniers. I think I'd just try to get the mattress into one of the front panniers, rather than bungeeing it to the deck of the front rack. Then I'd move the tent up to the top of the front rack in place of the air mattress to try to bias your load a bit more to the front wheel.

    I had a big agnes insulated air core mattress for about nine months. A few weeks ago it completely stopped holding air. I think they are awesome designs, being that they are at least as light as a thermarest, but a whole lot more comfortable, even if you do have to inflate them by blowing into them for several minutes. But I fear that they may be slightly weak, and susceptible to leaks, at least in my experience. Thus I would not want to use a bungee to hold one in place, as I have destroyed several camelback bladders by bungeeing them to my racks in the past. If you can destroy a camelbak with a bungee, you might very well destroy an air mattress with one as well.

    Looks like a nice tent. It's a fairly similar design to the old Mountain Hardware solitude tents from five or six years ago. I'm always skeptical about LL Bean equipment. Some of their stuff is good, but they stopped producing cutting edge camping equipment in the sixties and seventies, instead targeting middle of the road customers for the last few decades. If that tent is any indication, though, they may very well be producing some really nice gear again. The price is really nice, and the weight isn't that bad, so it appears to be a pretty good option. I'm interested to see how well it repels water, though.
    Bikes belong in the motor city

  7. #7
    Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by BigBlueToe View Post
    I had a bunch of pictures, but I had some trouble uploading them last night. I'll try again.

    This picture shows the double stem setup from the side. I was initially stymied by how to hang the front cantilever cable. Then I remembered a trick used on my old Stumpjumper from the 80s. That bike has the brake cable go right through the stem, and uses the stem as the cable hanger.

    I figured, what the heck? Stems are cheap, and if I weakened the stem by drilling holes, no big deal since it only had to hold the handlebar bag, not me.

    I drilled the top of the stem with a hole big enough for the cable housing to fit through, and drilled a hole on the bottom just bigger than the cable itself. It worked like a charm! The only difficulty was threading the cable through the bottom hole, which wasn't really difficult at all. (The bar is a piece of an old handlebar from a garage sale bike, cut off with a hack saw.)

    (The orca on my bars is the horn. I like to greet people with a couple of squeaks. I'm a kook.)
    Thanks, that picture explains it all! Funny thing I have the same stem you're refering to on my old 80s RockHopper. I should have thought about that myself

  8. #8
    Slow Rider bwgride's Avatar
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    I too considered drilling through the second stem, which I think is a good solution, and almost did that until I found the cable hanger pictured below. Another option is to use v-brakes.
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  9. #9
    Prairie Path Commuter
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    Quote Originally Posted by BigBlueToe View Post
    I put cyclocross brake levers on the Nitto bars, which caused crowding with the Ortlieb handlebar bag, so I took out all the spacers and mounted a second stem.

    I was trying to use the second stem trick today myself to mount an Ortleib handle bar bag on a Safari with aerobars/trekking bars. Unlike the LHT, Novara likes to saw off the stem short so that you have use a stem extender, which I thought would have room for two stems. Wrong. Not enough room to mount the second stem. I have one more trick before it is back to the drawing board.

  10. #10
    Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by bwgride View Post
    I too considered drilling through the second stem, which I think is a good solution, and almost did that until I found the cable hanger pictured below. Another option is to use v-brakes.
    Thanks, great pictures!

  11. #11
    Senior Member robow's Avatar
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    Nice review, thanks.

  12. #12
    Senior Member BigBlueToe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bwgride View Post
    I too considered drilling through the second stem, which I think is a good solution, and almost did that until I found the cable hanger pictured below. Another option is to use v-brakes.
    I have the same hanger and that's what I was using when I only had one stem. Unfortunately, when I mounted the second stem there was no room left for spacers or even this hanger. I'm guessing that all the LHT forks have the same length steerer. Since mine is the biggest frame they sell, I think there's less steerer sticking up than if it were a smaller frame.

  13. #13
    Slow Rider bwgride's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BigBlueToe View Post
    I have the same hanger and that's what I was using when I only had one stem. Unfortunately, when I mounted the second stem there was no room left for spacers or even this hanger. I'm guessing that all the LHT forks have the same length steerer. Since mine is the biggest frame they sell, I think there's less steerer sticking up than if it were a smaller frame.
    You are probably correct; my frame is 52--your frame does look larger. As you may be able to see from the pictures, I still have some room left (about 1" of spacers remain despite two stems and the cable hanger).

    One nice thing about that cable hanger is that it locks in place so I can adjust the stems without altering the fork position with the headset.

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