This is quite a thorough list of how the bike, panniers and racks have held up and problems I have had. Most people won’t want to read beyond this intro, which is fine. I just hope that perhaps for anyone planning a similar trip, they may find some of these notes useful in helping decide what equipment to use, what spares to take and what to do to avoid some of the problems I had.

I will write a proper review with my thoughts on the Rohloff-equipped bike in another update (please be patient!). And a review of the camping gear will follow too.

Regarding the problems with the twist-shift and wobbling wheel, I received much helpful advice from the guys on the CTC bike forum – I am indebted and eternally grateful! (You can read the full discussion here:  CTC forum. There is also a picture of the worn sprocket there. I considered keeping it as a Ninja throwing weapon as suggested, but think a machete will be more effective in the Congo forests, so it got left in Yaounde!)

Thorn Raven Tour Bike (Rohloff)

I’ve now cycled 16,300km on this trip, fully loaded. I’ve cycled across the Sahara with all that sand and across the West African dusty landscape and into Central Africa with the rainy season. So apart from extreme cold and snow, the bike’s been subjected to quite a lot. More than anything else though, rough, bumpy roads.

Overall, I am happy with this bike even though it seems a lot has gone wrong, besides recently in Yaounde, I have done minimal maintenance/repair on it. But I will give you a full view on my thoughts later.

And here is how it has coped:

Tyres – Schwalbe Marathon XR

The Schwalbe tyres have been great. I changed the front to the rear in Ghana (~12,000km) and put a new one of the front shortly after when I had to fix a puncture anyway. When I get another puncture in the rear, I’ll replace the tyre then with the new spare one I’m carrying. Looking at the tread, I’m positive they could have gone a lot further, but since this seemed to be about the half way point of the journey, I figured I may as well make use of the brand new spare I’d been carrying all this time.

Note on punctures: The first puncture occurred in Senegal (~7,000km) from the abundant acacia thorns which litter the bush, when looking for somewhere to camp. I then suffered with another couple of punctures which were from the rim side. In the heat, the repair patches I had did not seal well and I went through a stage of the air leaking from the repair (~9,000km).

I had used all the new spare inner tubes and was disappointed to find out that SJS had given me presta valve tubes and so the hole in the rim of the wheel for the valve was too small for the more robust and readily available schrada valve. I got the rim holes drilled out in Freetown also and so was able to then get new inner tubes. I also put more tape round the rims for protection from the spokes and since then have only had one or two other punctures. These have both been from the spokes again. But since putting on proper, thick material rim tape, I’ve not had any more.

I would recommend Schrada type tubes since these are more readily available (and since the same as the car valve, can be pumped up at a gas station if necessary). The hole in the wheel rim therefore needs to be big enough to fit this, if previously you have used presta valve tubes.

Wheels – Rigida Andra 30 CSS Rims

After fixing the first puncture, the wheel was not rotating in a perfect circle. I have not tried truing the wheel for fear of making it worse. But most of the time I barely notice it. Sometimes it is better when I have pumped up the tyre, sometimes worse. No problems with the spokes. Just the valve hole I had to get drilled out.

Brakes

Still going on the first set. They are very worn but I’m inclined to keep going on them for as long as possible across the Congo before changing them. I have spares.

Rohloff hub

I did an oil change in Seville (~3,000km) and again in Accra (~13,000km). I can’t say I noticed much of a difference after either oil change, but since I had the oil it seemed best to use it. The process was easy and didn’t take long (even for me). Neither time did I get out as much oil as I expected. I haven’t noticed any oil leaking, but with my bike getting so dirty from all the dusty roads, I’m not sure I would know if it was.

I noticed a wobble in the rear wheel more recently (~14,000km). After investigating further and with advice from Rohloff product support and SJS, this is attributed to worn hub cap bearings. These are within the hub itself and so to be repaired, the wheel would need to be sent back to Rohloff. I am not doing more damage by cycling as it is (and the wobble isn’t bad) so I shall continue to Kinshasa before making a decision to send it back. If it doesn’t get worse, I am inclined to wait until I have crossed the DRC before reassessing.

Rear Sprocket

I have just replaced this (Yaounde, ~15,000km) as it was very worn. I had a sprocket removal tool and chain whip sent out with the replacement and a new chain. I found a bike mechanic in Yaounde but we were unable to remove the worn sprocket (and broke the chain whip in the process). We resorted to brute force with a hammer, which did work eventually. It damaged the sprocket but I had no intention of reversing it since it was so worn, so this didn’t matter. Putting on the new sprocket is simply a case of screwing it in lightly. (Pedalling tightens it).

I have read that loosening the sprocket periodically (say every 2,500km) means it never becomes too tight. So if you know you will need to reverse or replace the sprocket on tour, this is probably worth doing.

Chain

Periodically I have tightened this by the simple process of adjusting the eccentric bottom bracket (EBB), by unscrewing and rotating until tight enough. Have used up all the play in the EBB and with the chain loose that it was starting to fall off, I removed a chain link in Benin (13,000km). This prompted the idea of needing a new chain and sprocket. The chain was replaced at the same time as the sprocket in Yaounde (~15,000km)

Front Chain Ring

This is also worn, similar to the rear sprocket. I shall replace this in Kinshasa.

Rohloff Gear Twist-Shifter

One of the screws securing the cable in place fell out in France (<1,000km). As a quick fix I just taped it up, which worked fine and so turned into a long-term fix. After ~ 13,000km the o-seal broke. Not realising what it was I just ignored this for the time being. In Yaounde (~15,000km) the twist-shift completely jammed stuck. I could not rotate it at all. This turned out to be nothing more that dirt etc solidifying between the rubber grip and the metal so it would not rotate. Once free (with much oil and sweat and force) and cleaned and de-greased, the twist-shift now works fine and rotates freely and smoothly.

Only now do I realise that the twist-shift had been gradually getting harder to change gear over many km. Presumably the broken o-seal and cycling in the incessant wet of the equatorial rainy season brought about it completely sticking in Yaounde. I have replaced the lost screw now, but am still without the o-seal.

If I notice the gears becoming hard to change I will immediately remove the rubber grip and clean it, which is actually very easy to do when not stuck from dirt.

Cables

No problems yet with the brake cables or hub gear cables. I have spares but on a gear check recently noticed that my pannier had leaked water and the hub gear cables got wet and so have rusted.

Internal Hub Mechanism

No problems yet. I have a spare.

Pedals

Twice I have had to remove the pedals and degrease them because they were clicking (in Spain ~3,000km and Ghana ~12,000km). I did have MKS toe clips but one broke when I fell off in Senegal (~7,000km) and the other broke later in the trip. I manage without now.

Saddle

I have a Brooks saddle (ladies fit). This is fine but I’m not a complete convert like many. I think I would have been just as happy with another saddle. It’s easy to keep dry – If raining, I just cover it with a plastic bag when not cycling. If it’s a very heavy downpour while I’m camping I remove the saddle (and seatpost) and put it in my tent.

After cycling a few days on dusty or muddy roads I give the bike a clean when I have a rest in town and re-oil the chain. Other than that I don’t do any regular maintenance. If I hear something unusual I check it out asap of course.

Notes

All distances quoted are since starting this bike trip. I also cycled approximately 1,500km in the UK before leaving (unloaded).

Thorn Racks

Thorn’s own make. These are strong and sturdy. I’ve not had to do anything to them. Not even tighten a screw. The paint has chipped where the pannier clips knock against them and so there is the onset of some surface rust, but I am not too concerned about this. At first I taped up the chipped sections, but this has all worn off now and I didn’t get round to replacing it.

Ortlieb Panniers

I am using Ortlieb’s front and back Roller Classics. These are supposedly waterproof. It wasn’t until Benin (13,000km) that I cycled in any substantial rain. Since then, I have cycled in a lot. One rear and one front pannier are not actually 100% waterproof. This is due in part to two reasons I think. 1. There are a couple of small holes in them from when I fell off in Senegal and the bike landed on the panniers and slid on the gravel. 2. A number of the screws fixing the plastic which the clips attach to the rack are on, have fallen off when cycling. I have never been able to find them and they seem to be a special size. So now there are some small holes where these screws used to go. The plastic moveable bar which holds the pannier against the rack has come off one of the front panniers. This happened when cycling but didn’t realise for some time and so I no longer have it. The pannier does now bang against the rack on very rough tracks but it’s not a major problem.

Handlebar Bag

I have the Ortlieb 5L one. This is great. One piece of kit I’m really happy about.

It’s waterproof and holds a phenomenal amount securely – I use it for my Canon DSLR with 18-200mm lens attached and 10-22mm lens in a padded liner. Then I fit in my wallet, money belt with passport, documents etc, GPS, compact camera, multitool, leatherman and a few other little bits and bobs. It’s fairly well packed in and some might say overloaded, but I use it as a camera bag when not cycling as it means I can keep my valuables with me at all times. Even with the rough African dirt tracks my camera is still is great nick.

I find the lid sometimes a little tricky to close and some people may prefer a bag with more compartments / pockets. From using it regularly as a shoulder bag, the top edges are very worn now, so I make sure the camera is in a plastic bag for extra waterproofness.

The way it attaches to the handlebars means that it swings up and down when going over very bumpy terrain. However this is an advantage as it acts to dampen the vibrations of the road/knocks and this is good for the camera.