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.