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Day 43: Kaluga, Russia to Obninsk, Russia

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Start: Kaluga, Russia
End: Obninsk, Russia
Distance: 78.6km
Elevation Gain: 1574ft
Elevation Loss: 1631ft
Time: 5h26m
Reading Material:Ukraine: A History, 4th Edition – Orest Subtelny
Audio Material: Diane Rehm Friday News Roundups; Marketplace; Game Theory podcast (hiatus episode)

Remember about two weeks ago when I sang the praise of my Schwalbe tires? Yeah, as expected, the rear one blew out today.

The beginning of the ride was wonderful. Overcast skies kept temps comfortable; Sunday traffic out of Kaluga was light and the first 40km was on smooth, almost track like surfaces. Then, a loud “pop!” Rear tire suffered a full blow out. On inspection, the treads had starting pulling away from the wire bead. I replaced the tube hoping the tire would hold even though there was a definite bulge. Unfortunately, another 20km up the road (this time on the busy motorway) the tube exploded. Gear guru Sheldon Brown explains that this type of problem can be temporarily fixed by covering the rip but since I’m carrying a folding spare, I just swapped that out (very carefully watching out for large trucks on the small shoulder). Will need to go rubber shopping in Moscow.

Lucky timing as the threatening skies opened up with a big thunderstorm about 10 minutes later. By the time I reached Obninsk there were small rivers running down the motorway and traffic had stopped as the cars slowly navigated the water. I hid under a gas station awning with a large convoy of motorcyclists (evidently, there’s a big bike rally this weekend somewhere near here) trying to get my bearings. Found a place to stay the night where I’ll keep dry until making my final assault to Moscow tomorrow — along the same road which Napoleon made his hasty exit from Moscow if Wikipedia can be believed.

While I probably won’t venture out, Obninsk is famous as the home of the world’s first production-scale nuclear plant, opened in 1954. The city was built to house technical workers for the plant and has evolved into one of the premier Russian science cities.


Gear Porn update

Seeing as I’m about halfway through the planned trip, figured it would be a good time to provide some updates on gear:

ToutTerrain Plug II USB inverter
Unfortunately, somewhere in the Czech Republic this guy died. I removed the electronics (had to take apart the steering column) and it seems the inverter suffered a small explosion. Tout sent me a replacement for free which I picked up in Krakow but haven’t had a chance to replace yet.

PedalPower+ v4i battery pack
I use this as a buffer power-pack for GPS/phone. It still holds a charge fine, but the unit could use better manufacturing. The USB ports become loose and vibrations from the bicycle can interrupt power. I think my conclusion on USB power via dynamo hubs is that it’s a good idea but the industry still needs a few more design iterations before they find robust gear which can withstand a longer tour.

Nikon D7100 DSLR
Still taking pics like a champ. However, bicycle vibrations broke off the plastic case covering the SD slots. Duct tape works for interim fix as it turns out to be quite difficult to find replacement Nikon parts on the road.

Sigma 2209 wireless cyclocomputer
The plastic housing which secures the magnet to the wheel spoke broke early in the tour. Again, duct tape to the rescue. However, the wireless is flaky and the sensor needs careful alignment to register.

Ortlieb water bottle holder
Attaches to the outside of one of the front panniers. Not safe on rougher terrain. My thermos would often fall out so after an especially high-speed failure which took off a piece of my thermos, I’ve given up and just keep the bottle in a pack.

Double-leg kickstand
Some people don’t use a kickstand, but this piece of gear is essential. It would be a total pain to have to find places to lean the bicycle up all the time. It has needed to be tightened a few times but holds the weight without problem.

Schwalbe Marathon HS 420 26×1.75 tires
Shhh, I worry about even mentioning this out loud, but no flats so far. Tires have taken a ton of abuse but only minimal tread wear. Hope my luck continues.

Turns out I probably brought along too much in the way of cold weather gear. Expected since the trip began with very cold and wet weather. But, the long underwear and jacket mostly hangout in the bottom of a pannier.

Overall, I’m quite happy with the gear choices. Probably brought too much but since I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I feel more secure knowing I have backups even if it adds weight.


Gear Porn

Here’s a fairly detailed list of all the gear as of 20130414:

Co-motion Pangea bicycle
Brooks B17 saddle
Tubus racks
Topeak Road Morph tire pump
AxeDefender immobilizer lock
Double-leg kickstand
Shimano SPD pedals
MSR 30oz fuel bottle
Water bottle
Son28 Dynamo hub (front)
ToutTerrain Plug II USB inverter (powered by dynamo)
B&M Luxos Headlight (powered by dynamo)
Taillight (battery powered)
several bungees for rear rack
Sigma 2209 wireless cyclocomputer
RAM handlebar mounts for gps/phone
heavy-duty chain and padlock

Bicycle Repair kit
Leatherman Wave tool
allen wrench
adjustable wrench
S&S coupler wrench/pedal wrench
tire levers
tube puncture repair kit
folding 26×1.5 tire
3 extra tubes
Prolink chain lube
Finishline lube for couplers
Brooks Saddle proofide
Stein mini cassette lockring for emergency chain repair
Emergency spoke splint kit
duck tape
assorted extra screws, nuts, zipties, etc

2x Ortlieb Sport Packer Plus panniers (front)
2x Ortlieb Bike Packer Plus panniers (rear)
Ortlieb Rack Pack duffel (31L, back rack)
Ortlieb Ultimate 5 handlebar bag
BaileyWorks small messenger bag w/ MediaUnbound logo (city use)

Garmin Oregon 450 GPS
Nexus 4 phone
PedalPower+ v4i battery pack (buffer dynamo to USB)
Macbook Air 11″
Kindle Paperwhite
1TB portable drive
Voltaic Fuse 10W solar charger
router (dd-wrt)
Jambox mini
Casio el cheapo watch
Eneloop rechargeable batteries (8xAAA, 8XAA)
USB portable batter charger
extra batteries for cyclometer
assorted adapters, cords, etc

Camera Gear
Nikon D7100 w/ 18-300mm lens
Sigma 10-20mm wide angle lens
cleaning kit
portable battery charger
1 extra EL-15 battery

Cycling Clothes
2x Icebreaker underwear
Base layer long underwear & top
2x Cycling shirts
2x Chamois liners (bib style & elastic)
MTB shorts
2x socks (short & long)
Keen Arroyo cycling shoe and cleats
2x gloves (fingerless & warm)
Cycling cap
Project Rudy sunglasses + extra lenses

City Clothes
long pants (zipper convertible)
collar shirt (merino wool)
t-shirt (merino wool)

Camping Clothes
wool hat
flannel pants
ultralight down jacket
softshell jacket

Camping Gear
Hilleberg Anjan 2 tent
tent ground sheet
Western Mountaineering sleeping bag
Thermarest NeoAir sleeping pad
wilderness med kit
pack towel
Reef flip flops
carabiners, rope, sling fasteners
pack trowel

1L Nalgene
4L Platypus water bag
Reliance Camp water storage unit
1 travel flask currently filled with Lavagulin 16yr whiskey
MSR Whiserplite Universal stove
MSR expedition stove repair kit
GSI collapsible coffee pourover
Titanium mug
2L titanium pot
Titanium sporks
Titanium frying pan
spatula, spoon
Aquamira water treatment drops
olive oil
salt, pepper, chili pepper
coffee filters
lighters, waterproof matches, firestarter

Toiletries (sunscreen, toothpaste, dr bronner’s soap, etc)
Six-month supply contact lenses
Guidebooks (Germany, Eastern Europe, Ukraine, Russia)
stuff sacks to organize everything

Bike (and items attached): 40.4lbs
Gear (no food/consumables): 87.4lbs

Total: 130.8lbs

Packing & Transport

For the completest, here is full documentation on how to get your bike and tour gear from Cambridge, MA to Berlin with only some minor, repairable damage.

Step 1
Assemble your gear. I find it useful to spread my stuff all over the floor in a giant mess that your soon-to-be-housesitters have to walk over on their way to the office you make them use as a bedroom until you leave for your trip.

assemble the gear

Step 2
Take apart your bicycle. Remove all the accessories you would never be caught dead with on your city bike. Then, using the magical S&S Couplers, break the frame into two sections in preparation for Step 3′s contortionist exercise.




Step 3
After placing padding on all painted surfaces in attempts to limit cosmetic damage, carefully stack and interlace the pieces into the carrying case (in this instance, the Co-Pilot wheeling case). From bottom to top, I opted to pack in this order: front triangle (with handlebars removed but cables intact), rear wheel cassette down, rear triangle, handlebars wedged into place, front wheel. Next, smaller accessories (lights, axles, tools, etc) can be stuffed into available spots along with a large number of extremely cheap Target towels for padding.



Step 4
Assemble your bags and call a taxi for the airport. Be prepared for strange stares as you wrestle with three giant bags (also, be prepared for the somewhat reasonable $200 extra baggage fee for bringing three items on the Lufthansa flight even though all three are overweight).


Always a good sign when you see your bags being loaded onto the connecting flight

Made it all the way to the temp Berlin apartment

Made it all the way to the temp Berlin apartment

Step 5
While mostly successful, turns out this packing system had a few flaws. Noted minor damage includes a bent front axle (easily replaced for 12EUR), cosmetic damage to the down tube likely from a rouge cable which burrowed under the pads, and a dent to the front wheel (rideable, but hoping a Berlin bike shop can bang it out and true the wheel). Also, the front derailleur lost alignment. I spent an hour trying to calibrate it myself, but going to let the shop mechanics dial it in on an actual repair stand.




Overall, a fairly successful transport. With the baggage fees and repairs, probably a total cost of $300 to get the bike and gear to Europe. Will provide updates once the bike is back from the shop.