Overall, I was really happy with the bike and my set up. I didn't have any major regrets. For me, the Husqvarna 701 is the perfect bike - light enough to pick up, powerful enough to cope with highway sections, and with suspension good enough to cope with the terrain. For a more road-biased rider, it is compromised though. The seat is uncomfortable if you actually have to sit on it for any distance - so get standing!
If I don't mention a piece of equipment below, that's almost certainly because I was very happy with it. There's a list here of what I brought.
In terms of positives, I'd probably give an award to the Helinox Cot. I'd never really used one before, always using thermarests, but it is so much more comfortable. There's a bulk penalty (but not weight, I don't think), but it's not as critical on the bike as if I was hiking. One aspect I hadn't truly appreciated is how forgiving it is of rougher ground. When I had to pitch on less than perfect sites, even on slight slopes, the bed meant I didn't have an uncomfortable night.
The other bit of kit worth a particular mention is the camera on my iPhone 6s. Several people have asked how I took these photos - they were all with the standard camera, no accessories, and minimal editing and colour balancing (e.g. cropping). The best camera is the one you have to hand. I would never have taken some of these photos with a camera that I couldn't carry immediately to hand, and the iPhone is really quite good.
However, what you really want to know is what went wrong, and what I might change. In no particular order:
- Levers. I broke or bent three out of four levers on the bike. I would definitely bring all four spare in the future, brake, clutch, rear-brake and gear lever. Even with brush guards.
- Laptop. I had an Asus Chromebook. First it died in a software style, then hardware. Ultimately it was down to flex. I should have carried it in the ortlieb rather than the side pannier. I'd probably still bring one of these, or something slightly tougher (but still small). I managed to beg and borrow laptops off friends and in internet cafes when I needed them (e.g. to download new GPX to my Garmin)
|Fortunately, it wasn't that expensive...|
- Fairing. I was really pleased with the fairing. The screen is a KTM official part, for the 450RFR rally bikes. The trick is mounting it to the bike itself, and there are several options for doing this. I used Nomad ADV. Besides some wind protection, the big benefit was putting my GPS and clocks/lights somewhere I could actually see them when standing up. I was perfectly happy with the Nomad ADV mounting - I don't think there is another version which does precisely what I want at an equivalent price (e.g. KIT701 is much more expensive). But it did get slightly bent. To be honest, I can't tell, except that the way it is constructed means I can tell the sides are no longer straight and inline with the top piece. If it was welded together it would be much stronger, but it would make assembly difficult, and very hard to access the wiring loom. It's been bashed around a lot, and I'm surprised actually how resilient the plastic screen has been, so I'm happy with this performance.
- Panniers. I've written twice now about the Kriega Overlander 30 Panniers, here and on Facebook. I was really impressed by the bags themselves, but the mounting system didn't survive. The first time, it turned out mine (and lots others) had been threaded incorrectly at the factory. This isn't a straight-forward user fix. It requires cutting and restitching the straps, if you want it back to good as new condition after repair. Kriega, to their immense credit, shipped out a brand new set of panniers and various accessories to me, for free, to Sarajevo. That won't have been cheap. It was more than a courtesy. Unfortunately, with the binding issue fixed, that transfers stress elsewhere and I've managed to damage the new ones too. This was some rough use - the bike fell and was dragging the panniers against the ground. I don't necessarily know that any other product would have survived this either, and I don't particularly consider it "fair use". But it is a possible scenario for others users - or simply me! - in the future.
|Round one with the panniers: the buckle slipped, and popped a fastener off (lost)|
|The loose strap, and the fix I made with cable ties.|
|Kriega then replaced the panniers with correctly threaded straps, but that transfers the stress elsehwere. Here a buckle has itself snapped. Using cable ties again to get me back on the road. And the metal hook stretched.|
- Gloves. Buying Klim Dakar Pro gloves, with a full leather, was a last minute decision. They aren't cheap. Normally, green laning, I used regular textile Dakar gloves. I was really grateful for the leather. It's more comfortable and more durable over longer distances, and protected my hands several times on gravel spills. But the stitching has come undone. OK, it's a long trip, but you could reasonably ride 35 days and cover 8000km in an easy year, and I wouldn't expect my gloves to fall apart in that time. I'll try to put in a warranty claim for these.
- Number Plate. Meh, this happens. It's a flexi-plate for a reason. This is a consumable item.
- Boots. I'm not going to take my Sidi Crossfires home with me. They're dead. But I bought them second hand, well worn, and they've put in a good innings. I consider this fair usage. I'll buy them again (unless someone recommends anything better!)
What would I improve, or do differently?
- GPS - hardware buttons. Overall, the Montana 610 was fine. I used it in map mode, top down, with the GPX displayed as a track. I didn't try to "route" along it, not least because of the confusion that would have caused when the track didn't follow a known trail on the mapping data underneath. But I wish for two things: hardware buttons for zooming in and out. Countless times, I'd try to zoom in or out for a better overview of the trail, and end up putting down a random "pin" and shifting the focus on the screen. It would also be nice if there was an easy way to calculate how much of a track was left - how far along it I was. I ended up guesstimating, but often under-counted how many kilometres there were likely to go.
- Mapping Data. Linked to the GPS is the fact I used OpenStreetMap data. It's free, so I can't complain much. I was never caught short by it - the track itself was always there, and followable even by dead reckoning if the data was insufficient to show certain tracks and trails. But after performing brilliantly in Western Europe, stuff started disappearing in Slovenia and Bosnia, and then got pretty silly in Serbia and Romania. I'd research what other data sources there are for these countries if I was going again.
- Tyres. I had to change tyres four times. I wore through two front tires, and one rear (the other rear was lost to a double-puncture which I then rode on the rim-lock, knowing it would trash the tire). I used relatively aggressive enduro tyres which already had some miles in. Overall, though, I would do this again. I didn't have enough experience to know which tyres I preferred or lasted what time, but now I'm happy with the Mitas C02 on the back. I would pre-deploy some on my route. Any tyre fitter can help put them on, or fit them yourself if you didn't mind sweating and swearing and skinning your knuckles. I'd use an online, European tyre distributor and ship them ahead of me, to friends, hotels or bike shops on the way. I'm also always going to carry two spare, normal duty tubes! In fact, I've had three since Sarajevo...
- Sleeping bag. Most of the trip, I was hot. But at altitude, on clear nights, it was cold. My sleeping bag is a Snugpak Black on Black 2 which is more than fifteen years old. It needs an update. I'd probably go for a three season bag, or carry a silk liner.
- Rope for recovery gear. I had to use my recovery gear a few times, for different reasons. The 4mm dyneema cord was more than strong enough. But I'd get something thicker (like prussick cord), just to cut down even more on the "cheese-wire" effect.
Finally, the route itself.
- I loved riding TET. I'd certainly ride more, to complete the Balkan loop, see more of Romania, and do the leg north to the Baltics, or south to Spain. I'll do the UK too one day. Maybe Scandinavia too, although I still suspect there's a lot of gravel motorway there! I didn't ride the whole thing in the countries I passed through.
- With my time again, I'd make broadly the same choices. I'd still skip the Italian Western Alps in favour of a shortcut through Turin. Controversially, I might even skip the Dolomites. There was only one legal, worthwhile trail there. The mountains and scenery are fantastic, but it's road riding, not trail. If I had been there before (which I hadn't), I'd think twice about this section. You could make quick pace to Slovenia by sticking closer to Milan.
- The other big shortcut I made was to turn left in Montenegro and head for Serbia instead of Albania. I didn't have time to do anything else. But I wish I'd gone one border-crossing further so I could see Sjenica Airport and the countryside around there.
- I'd still do the Sarajevo diversion (this was one of my favourite days!).
- And besides about 15km of trail near Srednji Povlen, I didn't miss anything from cutting up to Belgrade and rejoining at Kovin.