Trinidad, Cuba. This year's destination?

Bike and Gear

Us with the tandem leaving Bristol

Our tandem is a Thorn Explorer from St John Street Cycles in Bridgwater. It is our third tandem together and superb for expedition touring. We traded in our previous Thorn in 1999 because we wanted S and S joints. This is so that we can divide the tandem into three parts, originally for air travel but now even for trains in the UK. Robin Thorn gave us a very good price.

Thorn tandems always get good reviews in the various magazines. They also cost a good deal less than bespoke tandems from specialist builders. We had to choose from one of nine sizes but even with our unusual size configuration it was not difficult to get the right size.

Any tandem doing the kind of miles we do requires major overhauls and replacements. The Rohloff hub keeps maintenance to the drive system to a minimum. We still have to do lots of other maintenance. For example we wore out the wheel rims (Sun Rhino) but with great credit to Thorn they stayed true till the day the sides blew out. We have also replaced almost every moving part but the main structure remains sound and reliable.

 The right hand side of the tandem with the new hub gears from Rohloff

The S and S joints work superbly. You would never know riding the bike that it can be dismantled in 15 minutes. The joints come apart with a spanner which looks like an old fashioned hooked bottom bracket tool. We often take just the front off the tandem when we need to get it into a hotel room or onto a train. Thorn uses two sets of Moulton cable dividers on each of the cables. We think that one split on each cable is sufficient and a lot less trouble but it does need careful thought and non standard braze ons. We also have a very high tech divider on the hydraulic tube for the rear brake.

Tyres and brakes are a serious problem on a heavily laden tandem. The only tyres we have found to stand up to our use are Schwalbe Marathon XRs. On every other make we have used the sidewalls have blown out, sometimes in only a couple of hundred miles. Long ago we replaced cantilever brakes with XR V brakes and a drag brake is also essential.

In 2005, at enormous expense, we upgraded the tandem to work with a 14 speed Rohloff internal gear hub. This gives a gear range similar to the derailleur it replaced but makes gear changing, maintenance and dismantling much easier. The 32 spoke rear wheel has proved to be strong enough for us. The downside is that it is not possible to fit the usual third drag onto the rear wheel and because of this requires a totally different approach to braking. We have a top of the range 203mm Hope hydraulic disc brake on the rear and a XTR V brake on the front. We also have a Sturmey Archer new generation hub dynamo with a combined hub brake in the front wheel. For normal braking we use the disc brake. On long steep hills the management uses each brake in turn, braking hard and then releasing.

 The management loves the oqo

Following Anne’s illness we modified the tandem to allow her to free wheel. The timing chain drives forward to a free wheel mounted on the left hand side front crank. The main chain drives from the right front chain wheel direct to the rear wheel. The long wheel base of the tandem means that we can ride out of sync without our feet or legs touching. The bits we needed were not easy to get, once found they were modified by High Path in Wales and it all works well.

We do travel light although it does not feel like it very often. We have become credit card tourists and no longer take camping gear. In terms of clothing we have one on, one off and one in the wash. On this trip we also have sleeping bags, mosquito nets and a face mask and snorkel. We will also take a pair of aluminium three legged stools.

Unlike many travellers we like to keep in touch. Over ten years ago we were getting our emails by mobile phone and a great Psion. The rest of the world has caught up and made things more complicated. We carry a tiny but robust OQO ultra mobile PC working under windows xp. It can communicate via wifi where it is available. It can also communicate via our 3g mobile phone and by normal dialup. On it is stored all the information and routes we need for the trip and even 50 or 60 books to read. It is also a backup for our ipod. All this technology may not work in Cuba, starved of infrastructure by the USA. We may have to resort to internet cafés.

We pack all our stuff in two Ortlieb rear panniers and two Altura front panniers. Both claim to be waterproof and both are nearly waterproof. We do put sensitive electronics and the stoker’s blood monitor into waterproof bags just to be on the safe side. We keep a small backpack in the top of a pannier so that we can quickly take the more important things with us when we leave the tandem.

Home      Cuban tips + tricks      Route and Navigation      Voyage Out 1      Voyage Out 2     
Week 1      Week 2      Week 3      Week 4      Week 5      Return Voyage 1      Return Voyage 2      Cargo Ship Travel      Stoker's Leg      Bike and Gear      Transporting Bikes     
Photos      Links and Downloads