Category Archives: Gear

Tested: Ortlieb 30L Travel Zip review

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Tested: Ortlieb 30L Travel Zip

Where: Morocco, France, NZ, Sardinia (on bike and kayak)

Cost: 105 euro from NL

Weight: 870g + shoulder strap

In a line: Road or trail, river or sea, plane or train, the Travel Zip is a handy, waterproof day or overnight bag.

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What they say
Ortlieb’s 30L Travel Zip Waterproof Duffel is a versatile bag you can use for sports, weekend outings or business trips. The extremely durable and abrasion-resistant Cordura fabric is waterproof, dirt repellent and easy to clean.

What I think:

tik

• Light, airplane carry-on size (unlike Duffle, see below)
• Submersion proof Tizip (unlike roll-tops)
• Zip is less faff than roll-tops
• Grippy, indented shoulder strap pad – it really works
• Easy-to-clean PVC body
• Nifty but small outside mesh pockets. Another one inside
• Clever rigid carry handle set up

cros

• Discontinued. Hard to find new and nothing similar around, afaik
• Pricier than roll-tops
• TiZip requirse cleaning and re-greasing once in a while

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duffle

Review
It took a bit of searching to track down Ortlieb’s 30-litre Travel Zip (search in NL shops) – I get a feeling the handy Travel Zip may be discontinued. But in the minimum size of 40-litres, the current Duffle Zip (right) is too big for my needs, even if it’s only a little more expensive.
And although they’re simple and bombproof, I’ve become less of a fan of the roll-top Rack Packs since I’ve needed bags like this for paddling. The submersion-proof TiZip offers useful emergency buoyancy if my packraft gets attacked by a school of irate swordfish.
On the back of a bike an immersion-proof seal is not that critical unless you’re enduring monsoonal conditions, but the simple zip opening is less faff then the roll-up and clip-down of a typical roll-top.

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In Morocco the Travel Zip was big enough for my overnight needs once tools and other quick-access stuff were stashed in my old Touratech Tailbag, and mucky spare oil, a one-piece wet suit and spare inner tubes were lashed around the 700GS and 310GS I used.
A waterproof Tizip adds quite a cost and complexity to bag construction, but with the wipe-clean and easy repair PVC body, the bag has an airtight seal. I can vouch for that because after zipping the bag closed in the desert, by the time we reached 2000 metres it was bloated out from the lower air pressure.
It’s only a bag: you put things in, carry it around, and then take things out. But I like the clever hard-handle carrying arrangement, rugged-enough build and most of all, the easy opening. The small exterior pockets may prove more handy in a boat than on the back of a bike, and there’s no harm in the other pocket inside. For a dry-suit zip, the TiZip runs smoothly after a wipe of silicon grease out of the box, and this ease of access in a big improvement over the same-sized Watershed ZipLoc duffle that I used for years. The Watershed fabric is way tougher, but used as a boating day bag, doing the seal up properly as the next rapids approached became a pain. For a boat or a bike, I’m sure the Travel Zip will do me nicely.

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Tested: TCX Baja Mid boots in the Sahara

altberg

Tested: TCX Baja Mid boots

Where: Algerian SaharaHigh Atlas Morocco, UK

Cost: £200
Supplied free for review by TCX UK

Weight: 1017g each


TCX-21630

What they say:
Designed for Adventure both on and off road, and on and off the bike, the TCX Baja Boots are built to be protective on the bike and walkable on the trail. Full grain leather upper for durability and lasting good looks. Polyurethane inserts at the ankle, heel and toe. The perfect hybrid of a low hiking boot and a high motocross boot, the TCX Baja Mid Cut Boots will take you where the adventure leads, over any terrain, through any weather. [Revzilla]

  • Full grain leather upper
  • Suede front and rear padded areas increase comfort
  • Soft padded upper collar
  • Waterproof membrane lining
  • CFS Comfort Fit System
  • Ergonomic shin plate reinforcement
  • PU malleolus [ankle bone], toe and heel inserts
  • Leather shift pads
  • Inner suede heat guard offers maximum grip
  • 2 interchangeable, micro-adjustable ALU6060 aluminum buckles for superior fit
  • Anatomical and replaceable footbed
  • High performance rubber compound sole with differentiated grip areas for stability and traction on any terrain
  • CE certified 

What I think:

tik

• Light, do-it-all books for gravel-roading and even hiking off the bike
• Solid construction ought to last years
• Easy to operate, adjustable and replaceable buckles
• Non-clammy waterproof membrane

cros

• Not much; looked a bit grubby by the end but brushed up OK

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Review
My old Altberg road boots (right) were showing the years. Bought from a junk shop for 20 quid, they were OK for my Morocco tours but didn’t have the solid protection nor a stiff on-the-footrests instep for a two-weeker in Algeria on an XR400.

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beachy

I’ve been eyeing up the Italian TCX brand, in particular the Baja Mids from the ‘Touring – Adventure’ line looked good in natural hide and looked like they fitted my needs.
For my sort of non-competitive desert riding I don’t believe a full-height MX boot are really necessary. Looking back I see I only wore such things (Alpine Stars; right) on my very first desert trip in 1982.

tcxbootangs

dietfoot

In the real world I’m not blasting through shallow rivers or showers of stones on my way to the chequered flag, but solid ankle support and foot protection are important for any form of biking, particularly off-road where a typical slow speed fall over often sees the bike drop on your foot (as happened to a rider on our trip, cooling his sore foot, right). After another crippling accident on our ride a couple of us wondered whether in a foot-catching-a-rut prang a solid, full-height MX boots transfer more twisting force to the knee than a mid-height boot like my Baja which lets the shin bones twist a bit before a knee ligaments snaps.

tcx-bux

I’ve had problems with narrow hiking boots, over the years but the size 11 Bajas fitted me just right. Your foot slips smoothly into the padded lining where you can replace the basic footbed to suit your needs, though for bike riding they’re not that critical Everything clamps down with two micro-adjustable buckles which look like they could take the odd whack from a rock and are replaceable once they don’t. This is all a lot less faff than the zips on my old Altbergs which have lasted, but occasionally refused to budge until you reboot, so to speak.

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Being mid-height means tucked-in trousers may tuck-out on the move. I also found if wearing short socks the padded edge of the upper collar chaffs on bare shins, as any boot would. The solution is knee-high socks or as I did, tuck trouser-ends into the short socks. Or of course you can wear them OTB for hipster soirees. Being short, they’re light too at just over a kilo each, same as my Lowa desert boots. I never had that encumbered, boxy feeling I recall from full-height MX boots.

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When it came to standing and riding over rough terrain, with larger-than-standard pegs the Bajas supported my feet comfortably and with no pressure, just like a proper MX boot.

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I’ve yet to test the Baja’s waterproofness but noticed in the desert they never became uncomfortably clammy to wear which suggests a more breathable, higher quality membrane.

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There’s no word what it is on the Baja description, but TCX’s generic Gore-Tex page suggests all TCX boots use one grade of Gore-Tex or another. In my experience, cheaper membranes err towards waterproofedness rather than true breathability which results in clamminess round the clock.
Looking forward to more long rides in my Bajas. More thoughts here.

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Tested: X-Lite X551 GT Adv helmet review

Tested: X-Lite X551 GT Adv helmet

Where: Scotland, Spain Morocco

Paid: £250 on ebay from Germany

See also: X-Lite X420 GT


551-X-Lite-X-551-SHIFT-3

What they say:
This is X-lite’s on/off full-face helmet. Its compact volume (thanks to the availability of three outer shell sizes), VPS sunscreen (also available in yellow, designed for easier riding in low-visibility conditions), efficient TVS Touring Ventilation System, broad peak, Unitherm2 Touring Performance Comfort inner comfort padding with marked touring characteristics and N-Com X-Series communication system (ready for) make the X-551 GT a reference on/off full-face helmet for the most demanding of motorcycle tourists.


What I think:

tik

• Cushy, well made, looks good
• Peak pivots down for low sun angles
• Good price for plain-ish black
• Can lock to a bike securely

cros

• Stiff sun visor actuation – yet again!
• Sun visor lever eventually came away
• Sun visor seemed to pick up some internal glue which exacerbated stiff actuation
• Mouthpiece too close to use a hydrator hose easily
• Top vents are a few degrees too far back to be effective


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Review
X-Lite is said to be the upmarket range of Italian lid-makers, Nolan; you pay more for a quality feel which hopefully translates to better protection in a crash. Wouldn’t know about that I’m pleased to report, but I like my full-visor open-face X-Lite X420 GT which I’ve been wearing for years (lost the clip-on chinguard years ago). It came after using a similar modular Airoh TR1 followed by a recently ditched Bell Mag 9.  Both of these were under 100 quid so presumably you get what you pay for: road legal protection, good looks but a cheap, creaky feel, especially with the Airoh. For all-day comfort the Bell wasn’t significantly better than the X420, nor quieter or better vented.

What I really miss with my X420 (but which the cheap Bell had) is a peak to keep the low sun out of my eyes, and the 551 has one, usefully adjustable back and forth and removable with three screws.
Riding without the peak (left) wasn’t noticeably quieter and in Morocco I found the mouthguard was too close to easily get a hydrator hose in there for a quick drink. I also noticed that the top vents only worked properly with the head tilted so far forward you couldn’t see where you were going; in other words they were positioned a too far back on the shell (this was with or without a windscreen or the peak).

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Also, I find I can’t bear wearing such an ‘in-your-face’ lids any more than necessary when at rest, but taking it off meant carefully removing my ‘still-in-denial’ glasses first. Never thought of that, but what an added faff.

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Then, the slide-button which actuates the sun visor became unglued (it’s dropped right off my 420 I notice) and for some reason the sun visor was occasionally picking up some random soft glue when retracted which made it even harder to actuate. I have yet to use a lid like this where the retracting sun visor is not stiff to actuate.
Deary, deary me. All these negatives outdid the benefits and made me decide to ditch the X-551 after a few months. I’d still like to try a full face adv-lid but for the moment will go back to my 420 which isn’t noticeably colder or draughtier than the 551.
Instead I bought myself a nice Shoei RJ Platinum (right) for 90 quid with a range of pivoting visors and beaks. I’ve gone off X-Lites. For a supposedly premium-brand, £400-rrp lid, it seems you don’t get what you paid for after all.

Tested: Kriega Saddlebag Duo 36

See also; Soft Baggage Comparison
Kriega Overlander S – OS-32

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The custom-retro scene is encroaching on the adventure biking boom. Bonnevilles now have more spin-offs than a Hadron Collider, Klim have a Belstaff-mimicking retro jacket in the works and Kriega have come out with the Saddlebag Duo 36 throwovers, much like what we ran in the 70s and 80s, but made of PVC-coated cardboard. Fittingly, the promo video features a Ducati Scrambler in a post-industrial, brick-and-iron setting.

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I used the Duos on a ten-day trail ride between the Colorado Rockies and Phoenix, slung over a KLX250S. No rack is not recommended (by me or Kriega) but that’s how my KLX swung.

ptero

Listed at only 18-litres each side (will actually be hold much more: see this) they’re on the small side so not pitched at long-range travel bikes. But throwovers are throwovers, whether outside the barbers on Shoreditch High Street, or fighting off pterodactyls in the Lockhart Basin.
They cost £289.

kriega-saddlebags-duo36

What they say:
Kriega Saddlebags are available in either SOLO or DUO options. Universal fit* to modern retro-styled bikes, combining classic design with modern performance.
They are 100% WATERPROOF and constructed from super-tough abrasion resistant Hypalon™ + 1000D Cordura®.
A roll-top closure guarantees total weather protection and the white liner makes it easy to find your kit and is removable for cleaning.
Aircraft grade anodized alloy strap connectors and heavy-duty cam buckles hold the bags firmly in position. 
Mounting straps are included for single or double bag set-up, plus an adjustable shoulder strap for use off the bike.

What I think:

tik

• Usual rugged Kriega built quality
• Durable hypalon panels
• Thoughtful locating loops on the base to attach to frames.
• Can be used singlely and convert into a large shoulder bag (strap included)
• Bags come folded inside a nifty zipped pouch

cros

•  Closure straps were a bit short on the KLX once crammed to the max
• The throwover straps may be a bit short too
•  For regular use, the closure system was a little convoluted compared to OS-32s

krigdupak

Review
With nothing else at hand, at the last minute I grabbed the Duos Kriega had given me to try, to relocate my KLX via a scenic route to Arizona. This meant turning up at a remote house in the Colorado Rockies, getting the dusty KLX running, loading up (left) and hitting the road.
That worked out better than expected, but I was well aware that having the Duos resting on the 250’s side panels was not how they were supposed to be used. I’ve had enough throwover fires and meltdowns, so loaded the Saddlebags as lightly as possible – probably less than 6kg each.

krigmelt

As I was heading straight for the dirt, I used some chunky Rova Flex cable ties (left) to stop them swinging around, using the handy loops sewn to the bags’ inner bottom corners. I admit this was all a bit of a bodge, but riding appropriately and in an underloaded state, they worked fine. I mounted them as far forward as possible to reduce inertia loads and pressure on the side panels, and only once I dropped down into baking Phoenix, AZ did the pipe-side side panel go soft on me and wilt towards the silencer (left).

krig-6

Inside, the Saddlebags use Kriega’s signature white TPU-coated liners velcro’d to the shell which means it’s easy to see inside. The proofing on similar looking liners didn’t last on an R30 backpack I used a while back, but on this trip it was only dust that needed to be kept out. Mostly motelling, at night I just unFlexed the bags from the frame and carried the lashed-together bags indoors.

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rafters

A big hypalon flap closes over the Cordura body roll-and-clip opening and connects a flat hook to a loop strap from below. You then tension down with a shorter alloy buckle on the edge of the flap. You need to stoop-and-grope a bit to catch the back strap to join with the flat hook. I’d have preferred the higher adjustment buckle to also be the connection, or a loop to keep the under-strap in place, but perhaps there are sound reasons for doing it this way.

krigdudu

All the straps also felt a bit on the short side, when you consider how wide a high-piped bike rack can be. Of course, your typical retro sled will usually sling its pipes low. Longer straps also enable tucking other stuff under them, outside the bags.
As it was I didn’t get into the bags much during the day; all my day stuff was in the included pouch strapped on the back on the seat. On the dirt I kept the pace down to reduce loads on the sidepanels – the thoughtful hypalon patches all kept wear to pretty much zero.
In case you don’t know, hypalon is the very durable rubber-based fabric they use to make white water rafts. And those things last 20 years or more. A bit overkill on panniers, but very few plastic-based fabrics such as PVC abrade anywhere near as well.
There are other thoughtful touches like extra straps to make a shoulder bag, and another set to attach the bags directly to a rack and so eliminate the over-straps which may get uncomfortable for a pillion.
I didn’t use the Kriega Duos long and hard enough to really get a good impression, but a picnicking hipster will have nothing to complain about, providing the bags are solidly mounted. They demonstrate all the features you expect with Kriega gear and for overland travellers whose loads are modest, I’m sure the Duos would lap up some hard travelling too. The simple, crash-proof design and rugged detailing will see to that.

kriga

Tested: Double Take mirrors

ramdeath

I’ve been using the original round Double Take mirrors for the last few years on various bikes, usually as a back-up mirror alongside an original mirror on the other side of the bars.
Riding down and leading groups in Morocco, a mirror is essential to keep tabs on the group, and is of course useful for all riding. The problem is the annoyance of  breaking the glass, be it from a prang, a sidestand sinking in, or overtaking a little too closely.

ramsey

With regular glass embedded in a tough nylon shell, Double Take pitch themselves as ‘the only mirror you’ll ever need’, one that’s ‘virtually indestructible’. They mirrors work in conjunction with RAM mounts, the bombproof but expensive and pilferable mounting system of ball-ends and clamps for just about anything you got.



Review

tik

• Much more adjustable than regular mirrors
• Fold back harmlessly under loads
• Adjustable/removable without tools
• Fit any bike
• Replacement glass available

cros

• Expensive once you add RAM mounts
• Easily nickable (or not adjustable without tools or a key)
• Enduro mirror blurs on various bikes

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I found the original round mirror (2013 review)  did what it was supposed to except blur at speed on at least four different bikes. The new Adventure model (right; Lord knows the A-word has lost all currency!) has a snazzy angular shape, but the real change here is it’s lost it’s nylon plastic stem and steers you instead towards buying a six-inch RAM arm for nearly the same price as the mirror. Let’s hope RAM has shares in Double Take. I’ve only used it a short while, but the rigid alloy RAM arm does greatly reduce the blurring of the round mirror, and the mirror’s greater width is an improvement too.

mirmir
ram-knob

The cost and the nickability is the weak point of Double Takes on a travel bike. Any scrote who knows what RAM hardware costs might pinch it. I suppose any regular bike mirror is nickable without tools, but it’s the RAM bits that people will want, not a poxy Yamaha mirror. The answer is to remove mirrors in dodgy places – takes 5 seconds, but a faff; replace the screw hand adjuster with a bolt; or fit a RAM lock (right) for another $25 or as many pounds. By this time your bars are looking pretty cluttered, compared to an OS stem mirror.
But once you bite the bullet – or manage to get some cheap, RAM mounts are a great way of quickly mounting and adjusting all sorts of handy stuff: sat navs, cameras and so on. There’s one for everything.

Depending on what type of mirrors you bike has, I’d say having at least one Double Take for a long journey (plus the mounts to swap sides) makes sense. Out in the AMZ you’d hope RAM mounts aren’t yet hard currency, and once you’re RAMed up for your other gadgets, fitting a Double Take makes sense, especially if you’re riding on the dirt.

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