45,000 kilometer further. Am I still happy with my gear?
Great vs. Ills
Things you won’t often read about expensive, much used and highly advertised materials:
Rohloff gear hub send in for repair, leaks oil
Hilleberg Soulo tent seam loose, holes, zipper derails (after 6 months)
Primus Multi Fuel stove exploded (after 2 years)
Optimus Svea stove inner parts destroyed (after 6 months)
Cumulus Sleeping Bag
Therm-A-Rest Mattress many punctures and eventually blown up
Magura Brakes snapping of cables, general wear out and after 4 years, taken off
Ortlieb panniers many holes but still going strong
Lowe GTX shoes
It must be my inexperience in cycling, and after about 27,000 kilometers on the road, things start to break down. Or more precise, they did much earlier.
The breaking down of the bottom bracket in Africa is something I saw as an unlucky accident. Of course I knew salty ocean water would not be beneficial for turning parts. But what to do when the tide has come up and the only road to get from one country to another is by the shore?
So although having a super expensive bicycle, things break down naturally, the Rohloff has its defects too.
The indestructible Rohloff Hub
After 2.5 years continuous cycling, that is about 24,000 kilometer, the -third- chain starts slipping. First I think it is due to a finished chain. So I change the chain for a new shiny one. It still slips. I change the sprocket, and it still slips.
In my naivety I believe that material highly advertised and mentioned as unbreakable or lasting a life-time are not. What do those advertise people mean? Or what do the sales people exactly mean when they sell? I have been a sales woman myself, albeit an honest one, a rarity. Cycling with a Rohloff hub never fails you, they are supposed not to break down, not to wear before 100.000 kilometer?
All where is heavy use of material there is wear. Most certainly I can cycle on many kilometers with a slipping hub, as I am told. But did I bought an expensive Rohloff hub to be disappointed by its constant slipping? Was a Rohloff not meant to be faultless? Slipping half of the gears is not exactly great cycling.
Going back to where I bought it yields nothing. In Amsterdam I’m left with two choices: I either cycle on until it breaks down completely or I leave the wheel behind to send it in. The latter takes two weeks and not having a replacement wheel sucks as I simply can not be without a bicycle for two weeks. I decide to send in the wheel myself -although this is absolutely against the rule of Rohloff, I come away with it- when I am preparing for a flight, thus not cycling…
Would you choose a derailleur you might not be able to change gears smooth as I can, your derailleur will be smeared in mud while my hub stay spotless, but would your derailleur break down, you can replace it almost where ever you are. I can’t. I am depended on mail options and long waiting times to get the hub repaired and send back. This is not exactly great if you happen to be in a country where you might run out of days on your visa, where you can not depend fully on mail to be trusted, where you won’t have an address perhaps.
So I send in the wheel myself, and I am surprised by how incredible helpful Rohloff is. They are very efficient, extremely patient and most of all: FAST. Turned out I have damaged the driver myself -by unscrewing it wrong-, I have even let the oil in the hub turn polluted myself -must be Indian heat-. Not unpleasant either, Rohloff keeps the costs down and send the wheel free of costs back to me within a day! What a service!
What I am saying is that Rohloff is a robust piece of expertise of German innovative technology, which can have it’s discomforts too. Perhaps the more technical and sophisticated the parts, the more prone to difficulties when something goes wrong. Or… the less experienced I am as a cyclist -I ain’t really an accomplished bicycle repair woman- the more prone the hub is to assaults of my side! Fact is that when you are on the road for years, you yourself need to change the oil, change the sprocket or change the cables, and those things listen very close, as I have now learned!
More words of praise: the Rohloff guy who helped me determine the problem, who advised me to send it in personally and who handled the repair and dispatching the wheel could not have been more helpful. Besides that, the costs were low (several repairs done free of costs, including returning the wheel) and the service was ‘Germanly’ punctual and quick.
S. a BIG thank you to you!
Later on, March 2017, the seal of the hub has been damaged and it leaks oil pretty much. Slowly I start to wonder whether oil driven segments of a bicycle are that handy for such long term trips? They break down and in many countries they can not be repaired.
The Hilleberg Soulo is a great one person’s tent. It withstand fierce winds, it ads about 4 degrees to the outside temperature and it has enough space not to feel imprisoned.
I feel cozy and warm in the Soulo. And I am not going to praise all the goodness but the minors, as the Soulo has those too. It’s an expensive tent so one may expect the very best.
In the first 14 days of using the Soulo one of the stiches came loose
After about 3 months of intensive use it gathered 4 holes, which probably are due to packing and shaking of the content.
The fabric keeps flabby.
After 6 months the zipper derailed/split. BIG DISAPPOINTMENT! I hoped with buying a Hilleberg I would be well off for at least a few years….
The zipper of the front inner door keeps biting into the green outer door fabric if you not tie the green outer flap securely with it’s elastic.
The zippers have none, but one, fortified holding to grip onto when closing the doors. This means you need to hold the tent fabric in order to close the zipper. You can just zip is by the zipper only but this is not beneficial for the tent fabric nor the zipper.
The tent has rather much cords and differently designed straps which makes it stable but also a mess sometimes.
The zippers are strong and of good quality but need to be brushed regular in desert alike environments. The design of the door is shaped like an upside down T; Ʇ. The flaw with this is that there is a tiny opening at where the tree zippers come together.
Picky Primus Multi Fuel
Most certainly a hell of a burner, although it miraculously didn’t want to burn other fuels than petrol and high quality white gas. When cycling through the Himalaya petrol was not available anymore, unless I’d asked a saddhu who would ask an Enfield motorbiker to hand over some petrol. Diesel might have clogged the system? Perhaps my never unceasing cleaning habit has failed here and there? Possibly to lend my stove for some weeks to someone else caused an effect that led to complete failure? However the case, when I wanted to cook a meal in the woods while wild camping in Europe, a huge flame erupted from the Primus bottle! A flame half my size is not exactly safe… not for trying to be unseen, not for my eyebrows nor for my hairdo trying to restore from amoebas.
Undoubtedly, Primus Multi Fuel stoves are, besides bulky and noisy, strong, durable and trustworthy, although it’s a lot of hassle to get started or to disconnect the whole assemble. I would only get a Multi Fuel when you are sure cartridge gas is difficult to come by. Cooking on cartridge gas is much quicker, and so is using a self-made Altoids box alcohol stove, although the good old wood-fire is most romantic at all times.
The rubber ring of the opening of the fuel tank has fully dried out and broken within 4 months of regular use.
When the stove is burning a long time the flame tend to spring from the fuel tank opening too. I need to extinguish the extra flame and let the stove cool down in order to ignite it again. This is due to the broken ring.
It took me much effort to find new O-rings, available in specialized shops for car-parts.
After 6 months, some of the inner parts are destroyed. It doesn’t work anymore. Do I need to mention this is another big disappointment?! Expensive items breaking down so quickly makes me wonder…
Cumulus Cloudy Sleeping Bag
We, people, tend to fail to worship the good things. Not me though, I am often aware of the good things in life: may I therefore praise the Cumulus sleeping bag! This sleeping bag has never failed on me, it keeps me warm through every night, even when it’s a sticky 35 degrees African jungle warmth. Yet, Iranian mild freezing altitudes and cold Himalayan heights are all taken care for. After 2.5 years of often using this dreamy cloud of a bag, I washed it. The greasy, greyish edge of where my face used to touch was an unmistakable sign of faithfulness usage of anti-aging products. Cumulus website has a detailed instruction on how to wash the sleeping bag, as I was a bit worried to destroy this dreamy cloud of happiness. Wash yours as well, it will be fluffy again and, no wonder after 2.5 years, smell fresh!
In the meantime I had a refill of the down, and continue to be happy. Read here about the refill.
A brick of a mattress. If it comes to durability and dependency, and comfort as well, choose a self inflatable mat and you’ll be well rested each night. It won’t be punctured easily and the seams in the middle can’t be cracked, because it doesn’t have seams in the middle. Even more so, you might dream cumulus dreamy nights on this mattress, just like I do each night.
November 2016: it has gathered many punctures but with the patches it stays well.
Magura Brake Breaks
I guess when you have bad luck with these brakes, you despise them. I haven’t had bad luck with them. No Senegalese taxi driver had it snapped while he shoved it on his rooftop. No Mauritanian train-compartment had it sliced in pieces. No North Indian jeep driver had it erected to unserviceable bends and no airport staff had it cut by accident. Sure, parts wear out, I was without brakes on downhills in the Indian Himalaya above 4000 meters. As I tend to see things from the bright sight, I see nothing wrong with walking, just to give the legs some change in exercise.
Eventually, the brake cable snapped. On a cold day, the cable was hard and stiff when the bicycle fell from a levy. The cable twisted around the stem and snapped. Although I had spare parts and Magura oil with me, and I had had a course in repairing the brakes, I couldn’t fix it.
I have had the cable fixed and made sure the cable is longer than before so the handlebar can move all the way around without snapping the cables.
November 2016: each time I need to change brake pads I need to change the screw in the handle grip too?! This annoys me, and I am not sure whether this is always the case? Besides, the (plastic!?) holding which the entire brake is attached with around the handle bar is broken and moves freely around now.
April 2017: the rear cable has snapped and luckily it could be made in Mendoza, Argentina, but to be honest; even with carrying a spare kit (which I don’t) it is not easy to repair a broken cable. Think before getting Magura brakes because when they break down they are not easily repaired outside Europe or USA.
May 2017: the repaired brake somehow stopped working and is taken off. I will replace it with Shimano.
Another approval of the least feminine shoes thinkable. Who cares? I did. When I start cycling I did lack confidence in maiden-like sandals, not that they wouldn’t perform well, but that I would never get used to the appearance of the bulky front where my toes would snug in ever so happy. Of course, the odor-free print in the sandal is not doing what it says, but the sandal itself… I got used to the spacy toe-front and will only order the same pair when they decide to fall apart, something they haven’t done after 2.5 year of lot’s of using. Hail to Keen!
The best! Get yourself a repair kit as rodents bite impressive holes in the bags. Cycling with a low rack will make obstacles an easy target for the panniers, you either be catapulted or drawn in a ditch, so be careful with carrying them low.
November 2016: more holes and rips have gathered, the top has rips too, but I taped them and they keep watertight. Except for holes I can’t fix. I still cross deep puddles and wrap the inside of what is in the panniers in waterproof bags.
GTX Lowe shoes
The laces broke within 2 months of use. In 3 months 4 breakages gathered. It’s just a lace but still part of the shoe. Otherwise the shoes are giving me very good support in high altitude and on rough terrain. They are a bit heavy tough.
I have suffered a lot on my Brooks B17s (Ladies Standard Saddle). I have tried about 4 different saddles after the Brooks but they turned out even worse. I tried all combinations: synthetic padded short – synthetic unpadded short – cotton seamless short. Then a friend told me to move the saddle slightly more backwards, and after 2.5 years, that solved the problem! I was sitting on the metal bolts, while that’s not where the bum should be. Only now I am satisfied with the Brooks. I use olive oil now and then to smoothen it.
More updates about gear are to be found here: general and here: how gear endured the first 15,000 kilometer
Using a bicycle this strong and made of steel doesn’t mean its indestructible. The parts not Santos do break down! In my naivety I believed my precious bicycle would be never with a failure, ‘illness’ nor breakdown. How stupid to think that much used products don’t stop functioning, failing or breaking down. Of course they do! Get used to it!
6 replies on “Big Brands Blemishes”
Just found your blog, and happy I did. Enjoyed reading about your real life experiences, as I am just beginning “the touring life”. Based in New England, my first year will be no further than a 1 daybus ride. So, in event of a major failure or injury I’m not completely stranded.
I plan on enjoying more of your experiences. Oh, I like your style of writing; conversational.
Be aware ‘smiling mind’, that once you start cycling (over land from one to another country) and once you can let go of ‘securities’, it might be very hard to live a normal life again ; ) If you have a good bicycle there will be very few problems and no major failure, I think ; ) Uh… well… having said that, read on: https://cyclingcindy.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/cameroon/
Are you planning on going on an extended cycling journey?
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Hi, nice posts, but regarding the Rohloff hub You should really emphasize, that it was You, who made the mistakes and caused it to fail …. The Speedhub really needs some special care and to read the manual carefully, then it won´t let You down …. thanks, Sepp
It very probably was me, I did change the sprocket and things did not go smooth. I might have damaged it myself. Yet, it seems to me that someone cycling for years without passing a Rohloff mechanic should be able to do it her/himself and this is not all that easy. You must be really quite handy with the right tools! I had several times issues, the most previous time it was leaking, probably because an elastic cord got stuck. Such things are quick to happen! But all in all, I am very happy with the Rohloff, and with the Rohloff technicians! Great service they offer.