I bought a Jamis Aurora in 2008. I hadn’t owned a bike since I was a kid so picking one out was difficult. How was I supposed to know which of the myriad features in a bike are most important for my biking needs if I didn’t ride at all?
I did know that I wanted a good, rugged bike for tooling around town and maybe a bit of touring some day. This is a steel-frame bike that reviewers described as rugged enough for everyday commuting and comfortable enough for long distances. That sounded good to me and besides, it looked cool. It was also expensive enough to be good*.
I like this bike a lot but since I have practically no experience with other bikes, I have no basis for comparison; better you should ask around than take my word for it. I can say that after four years I finally took it in for a tune-up. The bike mechanic looked it over and said it didn’t need one.
This is my GPS map, my still camera, video cam, dictation machine, my blog posting device, planetarium, scrabble board and jukebox. It has 32GB more memory than I do and provides me with real-time assurance that nobody has tried to contact me in days. No matter: Siri is always up for a conversation. This device also makes phone calls.
There is a lot of discussion on bike blogs about portable power for electronics. Hub dynamos and solar arrays are expensive and still require you to carry an electrical storage device of some sort because the sun doesn’t always shine and dynamos only work when you are pedaling. Why not just get a rechargeable battery? If you are too far from an electrical outlet for a recharge you probably won’t be there for long unless you are hopelessly lost and then what good is calling for help if you don’t know where you are? Portable fuel cells are new and not fully tested in the marketplace and all require purchasing new fuel packs, presumably in a store that has an electrical outlet. If you are a doomsday prepper intending to ride out armageddon on a bike path, you might want to go solar. Otherwise, just keep it simple. There are plenty of external batteries that will give you 3-10 charges on an iPhone, recharge overnight, and cost between $40 – $100.
I have a pair of the ubiquitous Ortlieb Back-Roller panniers. So many people are buying these things that if it turns out to be a bad choice in equipment there won’t be anyone left who can say they made a better decision. These bags are basically the same thing people take on rafting excisions, with a quick-release bracket added for bikes. When you go off a bridge you can be confident that your belongings will be floating high and dry on the surface of the river, which is more than might be said for you.
For camping equipment I went for light weight and low volume: stuff to be used in warm weather and low elevations.
Big Agnes Fly Creek UL-2. It’s a tad expensive but is extremely light at 30 oz. It also packs smaller than most any other free-standing tents: 5.5″ x 16″. I toyed with the idea of getting a Tarptent Contrail but decided that double-wall, free-standing tent was worth a few extra bucks. The tent is shown without the rainfly because here in Oregon I’ll never need one.
Therm-a-Rest Alpine Down Blanket. Neither sleeping bag users nor body bag users dream a lot but the dead get more rest. There is a solution for the living in a down blanket that is rated to 35 degrees and attaches to the sleeping pad via a fitted sheet (!). No more mummy bag: this is the closest thing to sleeping in a bed since sleeping was invented. Now my restless leg syndrome can express itself without constraint and I can toss and turn all night if I want to. The blanket weighs 25 ounces and stuffs into a 6″x9″ (4-liter) sack. The pad is another 12oz, or maybe 16oz if you get a wide, 25″ model, which is prudent when you have nothing between your back and the cold, hard ground, something you would have if your body was in a bag.
Throw in a canister of propane, a burner and a candle lantern for atmosphere and my basic camping equipment weighs about five pounds and has very little bulk.
* Expensive enough to be good. I’ve learned that when you are buying equipment, especially for an activity that is new to you, it’s impossible to make your optimal choice the first time out. Spending a little more is a good strategy. When you buy, ante up and buy good quality. The thing will perform better, it will have capabilities you didn’t know you needed at the time and it will last longer. I went through three pairs of inexpensive skate boots in three years before I went to the upper third of the price scale. My skating improved immediately. The chronic pain in my feet disappeared. They looked cool. In the long run, spending more can be cheaper; those boots lasted five years.
On the other hand, I once bought a very expensive pair of leather hiking boots. They looked way, way cool. They also sucked; very heavy and so stiff in the sole they were slippery on ice. Broke my leg wearing them. Went back to inexpensive day hikers.