PBP: Nick Bull’s Top 10 Gear Picks

Nick at PBPNick At PBP

Our own Nick Bull has come up with the top 10 gear choices that he made for PBP, with thoughtful explanations. Nick gives a big thumbs up to wool, fenders, and leather saddles.

by Nick Bull

Many of you know what didn’t work well for me on PBP: Catching a cold the week before that turned into pneumonia during PBP. Note to self: On the next PBP, remember not to pack any pneumonia in my bike bags. (At Dreux, it became clear that the best I could possibly hope to do would be to arrive in 92 hours, so with the pneumonia and coughing really starting to hurt, and wanting to avoid a stay in a French hospital, I got a 40-mile lift into Paris with friends. It took a month and two rounds of antibiotics to knock out the pneumonia.)

What worked well? In order of importance:

#1 The support of all of my friends–particularly of my unofficial support crew, who were there to help a friend who I was riding with, but who took me under their wing–and of the volunteers and the French villagers and farmers cheering us on at all hours of the night. Many were the times when I was just dragging along, and then a French villager cheered me up with a “Bon Courage” or “Bon Route”. Wouldn’t it be great to have that on your next 1200K, somewhere in the US?

#2 pSolar face mask. This is a face mask with an integrated heat exchanger, so that as you breathe out, you heat it up, and as you breathe in, it warms the air. Wearing the pSolar, my face was kept warm, and the warmed air helped me avoid coughing fits. Without the pSolar, there is no way that I would have made it past the first night. I wear the pSolar Ex through the winter, and it makes winter randonneuring possible–I have a touch of cold-induced asthma.

#3 Selle-Anatomica saddle. Much has already been said in other threads about this saddle. Suffice it to say that it works extremely well for me and it was comfortable enough that after arriving in Paris (and taking a little nap), I rode my bike down to the Gymnasium to cheer on late-arriving friends. No discomfort whatsoever (at least in the seat region; though my legs were pretty sore, as were all of my coughing muscles). There’s no way I could have conceived of doing that after finishing BMB on a Specialized Avatar last year (still an excellent saddle, by the way), or after finishing last year’s 600K on a Brooks Champion Flyer (B17 with springs) or the 400K and a previous 600K on a Brooks Pro. The Brooks saddles both left my butt black and blue. In the pouring rain on PBP, my S-A sagged just slightly and I had to give it a turn. Again, contrast that with a Brooks, where the sagging on the 600K gave me a choice between sitting on the frame or sitting on the seatpost. Very uncomfortable.

#4 Wool cycling shirt, wool arm warmers/leg warmers/socks. My shirt is a short-sleeve from Portland Cyclewear. The arm and leg warmers are both from Rivendell, but do not seem to be presently available. I also had on RainLegs (see below). On the second night, when it was too warm to wear a jacket, the wool clothes were a perfect cocoon of warmth. Even though I was riding through continuous light drizzle, and the outside of the wool was drenched, the inside of the wool was dry and warm. The Portland shirts that we ordered for DC Randonneurs had somewhat unique sizing, last time around. I would talk with the owner before ordering. The shirts themselves have a very nice feeling to them. I routinely wear them for commuting, as well.

#5 RainLegs . These work very well for helping to keep the tops of your legs dry and warm in all weather conditions encountered on PBP. I’ve also worn them on cold-weather rides instead of windpants or tights. The crotch occasionally catches on the front of the seat as you are standing either for a hill or to dismount. Generally this isn’t a problem, but on the third night of PBP, I dismounted on a hill, next to a friend, and the crotch caught and next thing I knew I was lying on top of my friend. He didn’t think it was very funny, but it gave him some fodder for good-natured ribbing. The RainLegs were particularly important on the first night, when it got to be too cold for the wool leg warmers by themselves.

#6 Seal-Skinz gloves, though I bought mine at REI. These were also particularly important on the first night, when it was cold enough that I started to shiver uncontrollably in the heavy, cold rain near Mortagne. I didn’t actually wear them very much on PBP, but had the night-time temperature dropped ten degrees, these would have made the difference between finishing (OK, DNFing at Dreux) and not finishing. They keep your hands dry and warm in the rain. However … they are somewhat delicate. Do not wring them out to save weight, or you’ll bust the membrane that makes them waterproof. I haven’t tried the SealSkinz socks, but wished that I had them on PBP.

#7 Fenders (sorry)–mine are standard SKS 700×45. I’ve modified them by putting the front-fender stay-mounts on the outside of the fender
so that water runs down the inside of the fender, instead of hitting the stay-mount and then running sideways and spraying into my shoes. It only takes twenty minutes to drill out the rivets and then relocate the stay-mounts to the outside and tie them down with either a ziptie or little bolts and nuts. I made fender flaps out of stair-tread rubber, which works OK but tends to hold its shape in a disturbing way if you put the bike in the car and bend the fender flap the wrong way. Oh, it’s much easier to get your fenders on and off your bike if you mount them using the Sheldon Brown fender nuts.

The fenders worked great: In the worst of it, there wasn’t a whole lot of spray coming off the front wheel and blowing back into my face; and when it wasn’t actively raining hard, my shoes weren’t getting full of water from road spray; and I had no gastrointestinal issues related to fecal-bacteria-contaminated-road-spray getting on my water bottles. All the bikes without fenders really were annoying, particularly when they’d zip past you and strafe you with a stream of road-spittle.

#8 Grand Bois Cypres tires, 700×30. Lightweight and very low rolling resistance, while still being extremely absorbent of road shock. There were sections of truly awful chip-seal on PBP that I didn’t even notice until someone else pointed them out. How do I know they are low rolling resistance? First of all, there are the extensive tests in Bicycle Quarterly. Second, I did test runs on a windless day going down the 1/2-mile, 100 foot hill near my house. The three runs on the GB’s had a top speed that averaged a mile an hour faster than the three runs on my Panaracer Pasela Tourguard 700×32’s. Third, I routine pass friends while coasting down hills. Though that could be because of the junk that I carry in my Carradice, or the spare tire that I carry round my waist.

#9 Lone Peak Altra H-100 handlebar bag. This handlebar bag has nearly the lowest weight per unit volume of any handlebar bag currently available. It has a capacity of nearly 11 liters in one large, main compartment (with a front divider pocket), and a smaller front compartment. But it only weighs 709 grams (25 ounces). It is incredibly convenient to have a handlebar bag that is big enough to carry three jambon baguettes plus the miscellaneous rain clothes that you put on and take off throughout the day; plus the divider pocket with reading glasses, cue sheet light, and a little pharmacy; plus the big front pocket with wallet/phone/camera/brevet card/PBP magnetic card/cue sheet; plus two large mesh pockets on the outside so you don’t have to keep opening the main compartment: One to carry “this control’s ration” of energy bars and a bottle of Hammergel; the other to carry trash.

The only bar bags that are lighter per unit volume are the JandD Touring bags, which look like good bags, but I don’t like the mount quite as much from what I can see on the website. I’d like to try one sometime. The Ortlieb Ultimate 5 Plus Large is slightly smaller than the Lone Peak, but weighs about the same, and its outside mesh pockets are so small you can barely fit a miniature bottle of sunscreen. Whose idea was that! The Berthoud 2886 is a lovely looking bag, but it holds only one liter more than the Altra and weighs more than twice as much, when you include the weight of a rack.

#10 Mountain bike shoes–mine are Specialized BG Comp. I had previously ridden the Specialized Comp road bike shoes with my Crank Brothers Quattro pedals. But several ride reports on PBP mentioned the desirability of mountain bike shoes, as people slipped about in road
bike shoes. Plus my plan was to spend a week riding through France and England after PBP, and I wanted something I could wear for somewhat-more-extended periods of walking, e.g. visiting tourist sites. With all the rain and mud, I was particularly glad to have mountain bike shoes on PBP. By sticking with a brand that I knew fit well, there was no transition period of getting used to the new shoes. They fit exactly like my road bike shoes and felt good from the start. I did have to cut off some of the cleats because the Quattro pedals have a big bearing housing next to the crank arm.

Nick