Friday, January 27, 2017

2016 Bicycle Tour of the Alps Equipment Review


In decreasing order of importance:
  • Mountain bike cleats and shoes. Any walkable cleats and shoes will do. Add five pounds of muscles. Unless you are very strong, don't try to climb the Alps without them. Practise before the tour.
  • Deore 22-30-40 crankset, XT 11-36 cassette. With cleats, this gear range allows me to handle 15% grade climbs.
  • Kool Stop Dura 2 salmon colored brake pads. Excellent dry and wet performance for 50km/h 15% grade descents. They won't last as long as the stock Shimano pads though.
  • Caliper brakes. They stop well, are easy to modulate and easy to adjust. They are also not noisy and they don't warp.
  • 28mm Schwalbe Supreme tires. These tires aren't light or durable. But they have puncture resistant linings and grip well in the wet. Too bad they have been discontinued.
  • Velocity A23 32H/36H rims. We rode gravel, dirt, cobble stones and potholes with extra load. The wheels easily survived. I didn't have to worry about wheel failure.
  • Lynskey sportive. Can't go wrong with titanium. Still looks as good as new.
  • Soma Smoothie steel fork. I couldn't find a titanium fork. This steel fork has the same geometry as the original Lynskey carbon fiber fork.


I used a saddle mounted Carradice Barley and handlebar mounted Montbell Dry Front Bag 8.  Both bags are water resistant. The total capacity is about 16 liters and I only needed around 12 liters of space. The bicycle feels balanced with the weight split between the front and the back. Together, they do not interfere with the handling feel of the bicycle. In short, both works and are good enough.

GPS Tracker

In the past, my Garmin 500 had locked up a few times and I had to full reset it to work again. Furthermore, I couldn't upload the data without a computer. So, I bought a Garmin Vivoactive HR to supplement it for the tour.

The Vivoactive HR's recording and wireless uploading functions worked well. The batteries lasted ten hours of riding although the device went into low-power mode at the end of the day. The barometer wasn't accurate without a temperature sensor. Between the three of us, the four different Garmin devices recorded big differences in elevation climbed, differing by more than 50%.

It turned out that I didn't actually need to know my heart rate during the rides. It was also less convenient to read from the wrist-worn Vivoactive than the bicycle mounted Garmin 500.

I have since retired the Garmin 500 and I am using the Vivoactive HR for running and biking. Next time, I would just strap the Vivoactive HR to the bicycle's handlebar.


I didn't have a small portable camera and I didn't want to spend a thousand dollars on a camera just for the tour. So, I used the cameras on the iPhone 5S and Samsung S6. They take better pictures than my old Canon S100 and do not require another battery charger. But the phones didn't support raw captures (then) and that was something I was willing to compromise.

The iPhone 5S and the Samsung S6 each have its own strengths and issues.

The biggest factor about using a phone while riding is the ergonomics. Samsung S6 wins big time here. Just double tap the home button and it fires up the camera app. The volume button can then be used to take a picture. I can take a picture without looking at the phone or touching the screen. The iPhone requires a tap on the home button, a swipe at the right place and then another tap on the screen to take a picture. It is harder to use the iPhone to take pictures while riding.

The Samsung S6 has visibly better resolution by far (16 vs 8 megapixels). The 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio is excellent for landscapes.

The iPhone's colors are subjectively better and more consistent. The Samsung's colors can get washed out or simply tinted in some random way. The Samsung's default camera app also does weird things to people's faces. Faces look over-processed and plasticky. The phone won't allow me to change the camera app that is triggered by double-tapping the home button. So, it isn't convenient to use a different app.

The iPhone managed to record the GPS location all the time. The Samsung can't lock in to the GPS signal in time for any shot. None of the Samsung shots had any GPS information.

After the trip, I noticed that I should have turned off Auto HDR on the iPhone while riding. Auto HDR doesn't work if you are moving fast. The pictures were a little blur even in bright light. When stationary, Auto HDR worked great, saving many blown-out skies.

Despite the problems, the phone cameras have produced many good pictures on the trip and I'm quite happy with them.


  1. It still boggles my mind that you did the entire tour without bike shorts!

  2. My 2XU running compression shorts seem to work. They don't give me rashes and they feel more comfortable than padded bike shorts. The Brooks B17 saddle is great too.