Summary: Acceptable shoes for touring, reasonable to walk in, but Gore-Tex is not a great fabric for shoes, as they fill up with water in heavy rain.
The “Shimano MT60 Gore-Tex Bike Shoe” was sold as a commuting/touring/mountain biking SPD-compatible shoe. They are less obviously “cycling” shoes than some others on the market. When new they look like this:
After many years of use, they look more like this:
As the name suggests, they are made with Gore-Tex waterproof fabric. They have a fairly stiff sole, but with enough flexibility to walk. They are SPD-compatible. You can leave the sole plates in place, and use them without SPDs if preferred.
Earlier models had a velcro strap that held the laces down. These ones have a simple elastic band for tucking spare laces into.
Fit: Shimano runs a little small with their sizing. I normally wear a US 11.5, but in this case went with the EU 47.
Long-term readers will know that I have favored SPD-compatible sandals for long-distance touring. Horrifically ugly:
With matching tan/dirt lines:
I wore Shimano SPD sandals for long periods on the road. Later I got some Exustar SPD sandals. Just as ugly.
But when I was touring in Patagonia, I knew the weather would be mostly cool and wet, so wanted to just take shoes. These were the only shoes I took on this trip, for both cycling and walking. Here they are in action on the side of the road:
Note the wet weather gear – that was the sort of conditions these were designed for.
When not touring, these were my only SPD shoes. If I was going mountain biking, or riding my touring bike in cool/wet conditions, I would wear these. They’ve had plenty of on- and off-road usage.
Styling was (for the time) low-key. There are much better options today for shoes that don’t scream I’M A CYCLING NERD, but in 2009 there were not as many options. They looked like typical “Westerner traveling abroad” shoes.
Pretty good for walking around. Obviously some scraping of the cleats, and the soles are stiffer than regular shoes, but they are fine for walking.
The waterproof fabric seems like a good idea. And if you step in small puddles, it seems great. But on very wet days, you will get water splashing up from your bike and cars, and the shoes will tend to fill up with water. They don’t drain. Better to wear Sealskinz waterproof socks instead.
Laces are too long, and the elastic holder stretches over time, so the laces are not held in, and are prone to tangling with your chain ring.
The sole is not well-suited for pushing your bike up muddy MTB trails. I wore mine mountain biking because that’s what I had, but if you’re looking for a dedicated MTB SPD shoe, consider other designs.
Would not buy again. Nothing against Shimano shoes, the price/quality was fair, but I would not buy Gore-Tex cycling shoes again.
Summary: Highly recommended, a much-loved jacket, perfect for dry, cool conditions. Packed small, nice against the skin, and kept me warm in cold winds. Quality gear from Gore.
Gore Windstopper Element Jacket
The Gore Windstopper Element jacket is a lightweight convertible jacket, made of Gore-Tex Windstopper fabric. Gore makes a range of cycling and running clothing, all of it high quality. Not cheap, but fits well, and is well-made.
I purchased this jacket while touring across Europe and Asia. I found that regular Gore-Tex fabrics were not good in the cold wind, and that was more of a problem for me than rain. I needed a lightweight jacket that blocked wind, and gave some lightweight rain protection.
Here’s the jacket in use, somewhere in China:
Later it became my go-to jacket for mountain biking. I could put it on in the morning, wear it until I warmed up, and then either remove the sleeves, or just unzip the arm holes a bit for breathability. Here’s a shot riding in Taupo – note the frost on the ground. That’s at 4pm – it was a cold day, but I’m warm and comfortable.
The sleeves could be completely removed and put in the rear pocket, and the jacket itself could be stuffed into its own pocket.
Warm on cold mornings, but then can easily unzip the sleeves as you warm up, or remove them or the entire jacket, and stuff it in your Camelbak/pannier.
Blocks cold winds, yet remains breathable. Feels very nice against the skin. Not clammy, not prone to overheating. This, plus an insulating merino layer, along with a Buff and maybe a skull cap, keeps you comfortable even below freezing.
I like having the ability to convert it to a vest by removing the sleeves, even though I don’t often use it that way. It’s good to have it there.
No major quibbles here. The main issue is rain proofing: it’s not designed to keep you dry all day. When it was newer, the water would tend to bead and run off. As it got more worn, it would tend to soak in the water. It won’t keep you dry in all-day rain, but that’s not its goal. It will keep you dry in light showers, and you should be warmed up by the time it starts raining harder.
This has been a great jacket. Highly recommended, particularly for cool, dry conditions. Not great if you often ride in the rain, but good for most of us.
Quality gear from a company that consistently makes nice riding gear.
After many years of use, the main zip started failing. I investigated alternatives, but Gore was always going to be my first choice. I ended up with the current version of the Element jacket. This is basically an updated version: it’s still Windstopper fabric, with removable sleeves.
We also purchased one for Anna:
Note that mine is black, with yellow back & sides:
I much prefer the color of Anna’s jacket, or perhaps the blue. But the only color I could get was black/yellow.
The new model is good, but not quite as good as the older model. No hand pockets, but it does have a chest pocket suitable for storing your phone.
The inside of the jacket lacks any mesh, so it’s not quite as nice against the skin. It’s not far off though. Definitely not like other fabrics that can be clammy. Feels smaller & lighter, but still completely blocks out the wind. In those photos above, temperatures were near freezing, with strong cold winds, but we were happy in our jackets.
I’ve had this bag since August 2007. I use it when touring for putting most of my valuables in. I can quickly take it off the bike, and use the shoulder strap for walking around. My snacks for the day would usually be in the bag, for easy access. If I’m just going for a day ride I would often take it. Good place for wallet, tools, keys, phone.
Here’s its first outing, leaving Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan:
And here it is 11 years later, looking somewhat battered and faded:
Note the mounting: I mounted it on a T-Bar beneath my handlebars.This was because I used to have carbon handlebars, and the Ortlieb mounting system does not work with carbon bars. It also frees up some handlebar space putting it out lower.
It uses a Klickfix-compatible clip that is super-easy to clip/un-clip. Push forward on the lock barrel, push the bag up from underneath, easy. Putting it back on is faster – line it up, drop down and it clips in place. Very secure on the bike though – the clip never even came close to coming loose.
Prior to using butterfly handlebars, this lower position was good for stretching out and resting my arms on, when riding long distances on good roads, into the wind.
The map case attachment was sold as a separate add-on. This was “guaranteed not to yellow,” but don’t believe it: everything is affected by the sun. This is the second map case, as my first one was much more yellowed, and developed a crack.
Check the fading here, in the areas that were not covered by the map case. No issues with any leaks, rips or tears. The fabric stayed strong, and everything stayed dry.
Note the dome clips used for the map case. Two similar clips were used to close the lid. These were awkward to open when riding, and very difficult to close. You had to stop to do it. I’m sure this makes sense to people in a factory considering safety first, but the reality is that on the road, sometimes you don’t want to stop to grab a snack, but want to just keep on rolling. Or maybe you need to grab your camera in a hurry.
You can also see in the above shot that the lid has a tendency to fall in on itself. Technically this doesn’t matter – if there was anything in there it would push back against it. But it always annoyed me when it looked like that.
There were two small exterior mesh pockets, one on each side. I would put a snack bar in one side, my multitool in the other. Eventually the pockets came off, as you can see here:
The interior had a zip pocket + key clip – useful for keys + phone, and an interior divider. This divider seemed like a good idea, but in practice it was just a pain in the ass. It was not fixed in place, and would move around, and everything would end up underneath it. More trouble than it was worth.
I never loved this bag. But you know what? I kept using it for over ten years, and it did what it said it would. It kept my gear dry and secure, along good roads, rough roads, dirt roads. It was was easy to take on or off, it was just a bit of a pain to open & close. It’s only in the last couple of years that bits started breaking, and it started looking pretty old. If it were not for a good deal on a replacement at REI, I would have kept using it for a while yet.
Summary: Not great, but did the job. The Ortlieb price premium was worth it for something that lasted a long time.
This is a smaller, updated model. Similar shape, but smaller, and no side pockets. It addresses several issues with the original: the map case is integrated, and is designed for a smartphone (you can use a touch screen through the plastic).The catch is magnetic, making it easier to open with one hand.
New Zealanders and Australians have grown accustomed to a certain style of coffee. They hear about great coffee places in the USA, and assume they will have no trouble finding good coffee in America. They are wrong. Americans have grown accustomed to a different style of coffee. There is good coffee in America, but it can be hard to find. Here’s a guide for New Zealanders and Australians: How to find decent coffee in the US.
Assume nothing. Their expectations are different.
Food and coffee do not go together.
Yelp reviews: read with caution.
A mocha is not what you expect.
Chain stores: in general, avoid.
Let’s look at those in more detail:
New Zealanders and Australians have been spoiled over the last 20+ years with the quality of the average cafe. You can walk into almost any cafe in Melbourne, or any town in New Zealand, and there is a high likelihood you will get a decent espresso coffee.
It does not work this way in the US, even in places like San Francisco. You can find decent coffee, but it is not everywhere. Many places that describe themselves as “cafes” only have a pot of filter coffee. In major centers you need to do research to find good places. Outside major centers it gets much harder.
Here’s an example: a year ago we were driving through rural Louisiana. I knew that coffee would be hard to come by. Sadly the best option looked to be a McDonalds “McCafe.” We knew that when McCafes were introduced to New Zealand they had made a real effort on the coffee front.
The conversation went like this:
I’ll have a cappuccino please.
Dianne, get over here! These people say they want a – what was it – a capp – u – cheeno. You ever hear of such a crazy thing? What in the hell is that?
Yes, a place with “Cafe” featuring in the name had never heard of a cappuccino. Americans have different expectations about what food & drink a cafe should provide. Many Americans are quite happy to pay for a cheap cup of filter coffee and Half and half. They don’t all want to pay $4-$5 for a hand-crafted beverage. You might think “Why not make it yourself at home?” They don’t think that way. You can’t change this.
Once you get your head around this, you won’t be sucked in by a sign promising “Coffee!” It could well mean a glass beaker of coffee brewed 4 hours ago. No-one cares about the taste, that’s why there’s 8 different types of packets of sweeteners.
Fear not. All is not lost. There are places that know what they’re doing. You need to know what to look for.
Good Food Does NOT Mean Good Coffee
In NZ/Aus, there is a high likelihood that great food places will serve great coffee. Planning a lunch meeting with friends? If a good food place doesn’t do great coffee, it’s probably a bar.
In the US, there is an INVERSE relationship. Great coffee places in the US focus on coffee. They will offer nice pastries and muffins, but not proper meals. Places that serve good breakfast/lunch meals only have basic coffee. If you see lots of people eating, don’t expect to get good coffee.
Many of the best cafes here focus on coffee. Coffee is their main revenue source, with a small amount of cakes & pastries (usually good). If you see people drinking coffee, working on laptops, and not much food: it will be good.
Yelp Reviews: Treat with Caution
Everyone uses Yelp in the US. Most places have many reviews, making it far more useful than in other countries. It’s very tempting to read the reviews, look for a well-rated place, and head there.
When reading the reviews, you need to treat them with caution. The reviewers are American, and as above, their tastes are different. So you have to interpret the reviews.
Here’s an example of a review I was reading:
OMG the regular coffee was only 12oz (355mL)! The smallest size should be at least 16oz (473mL)! Plus the coffee was way too strong and I couldn’t understand the French accent!
Bingo! This sounds like exactly the sort of place I want to visit. Small, strong coffee made by a European.
It is time-consuming to read & interpret reviews for lots of places. I have found a few shortcuts with Yelp: search for the phrases “Flat White,” “Cortado” and “Hipster.” Something in that list will usually turn up. The first two are always positive triggers, the last one needs to be read for context.
Also look for “Coffee Roasters” in Yelp, rather than Cafes. This is a separate category. Coffee Roasters with retail outlets are usually very good.
Mocha: Not What You Expect
In New Zealand a “mocha” (pronounced: mock-a) is short for mochaccino. This is a cappuccino with chocolate added. Very tasty.
In the US a “mocha” (pronounced: moak-a) is regular coffee with a spoonful of cocoa powder stirred in. Not tasty. Note: you will come across a tremendous variety in mocha flavors in the US. Peppermint, White Chocolate, Raspberry, etc. Avoid.
Chain Stores: In General, Avoid
Americans love franchises, and every strip mall has the same set of shops. It would make life far simpler if one of the nationwide cafe chains did decent coffee, but they are all rubbish. Locals will rave about Peets, Philz, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, etc. but as above: they have different expectations to you. Those chains are all crap. Their popularity remains a mystery.
There are some smaller chains with groups of stores in certain regions. Some of these are very, very good. Examples in the Bay Area include: Ritual, Blue Bottle, and Sightglass. If you find a chain you like in your area, consider yourself lucky.
If you can’t find any conclusive Yelp reviews, and you’re wandering about looking for coffee, here’s a few more tips on spotting good places:
Queues. This may just be a San Francisco thing, but people love to queue. Be warned: they may be queuing for food. If so, the coffee is probably bad. Check that it is just a coffee place.
Espresso machine: it pains me to say this, but many ‘cafes’ do not have espresso machines. At least with these you can spot them from the window. Bonus marks if you also spot an array of coffee-making apparatus (Chemex, pour over, Bunsen burners, distilling units).
Cup sizes. If you see people walking out clutching dairy confections measured in quarts, run. Quality places will have small cups by default. I knew that I would like Red Rock when I saw that their Cappuccino had a single small size listed on the menu.
Hipster score. Sometimes a place looks “so hipster it hurts.” Say what you like about them, hipsters do know how to make good coffee (Photo of Hollow).
If all the above fail, find someone with gauged ears, and follow them to work.
I am somewhat of an airline snob, holding top-tier status with Air New Zealand, and generally avoiding non-Star Alliance carriers. Recently we had to fly British Airways, and had a problem with damaged luggage. But to their credit, even though I have no status with them, they dealt with the situation promptly, and turned around a bad experience. Well done British Airways.
I have been Air New Zealand Gold or Elite for the last 5 years or so. This provides certain benefits when I travel with Air New Zealand – some free upgrades, discounted upgrades, extra baggage, free seat selection, priority boarding, etc. The most important things I get are priority check-in, priority baggage, lounge access, and often fast track security and immigration.
This means I am also Star Alliance Gold, so I get some benefits when flying on any other airline in the Star Alliance group. None of the on-board benefits like upgrades, but priority check-in, security, lounge access, etc still apply.
If you only take one flight a year, none of this really matters. If you fly a lot, this makes a big difference, and you get grumpy when you can’t get it. My company policy is economy class for the ‘little people’ like me. It makes shitty US airlines just a little bit more bearable when you get a few extra benefits.
As a result, I always look for Star Alliance options when flying, and will pay a moderate premium to do so. If there’s an Air New Zealand-operated direct flight, I probably won’t even look at other options.
What if There’s No Star Alliance Option?
Star Alliance is a big network, but they don’t fly everywhere. Sometimes you don’t have a choice, and have to fly with one of the other networks. That’s what happened recently when I needed to find a flight from Edinburgh to London. The only options were British Airways, or the discount carriers like EasyJet and RyanAir.
This always makes me a bit uncomfortable. You start looking at weird routing options, to see if there’s any way around it. You dread the idea of getting stuck in monster queues at check-in or security. You wonder what the airport Wi-Fi will be like, and how much is it going to cost to get something to eat & drink when you’re stuck in the hell-hole that is the typical post-security ‘shopping and dining experience.’
Eventually you give in, accept that it’s just a short flight, and you’ll cope. So you book the flight, in this case with BA. BA has been getting some bad press recently, related to some of their cost-cutting measures. I wasn’t too worried about that: you don’t expect a full meal on a 1-hour flight.
In-Flight Experience: No Problems
Check-in was straightforward, with no delays. Security was fine, it was slow for everyone going through Edinburgh. I was a little bit lost when I got through security. Normally I head to the lounge, for some peace and quiet, but instead I had to hang around the gate. But it wasn’t too bad, and we got on the plane.
Flight was fine, no problems. Only annoyance was at Gatwick end where we had to take a bus from the plane to the terminal. This always adds annoying delays, but it’s not BA’s fault: It’s Gatwick’s design.
The problems occurred when we picked up our luggage. Anna couldn’t extend the handle on her suitcase. Makes it a bit difficult to wheel it along, and we had a fair bit of walking and changing modes of transport to get to our destination.
There were some marks on the outside of the bag, but it wasn’t until we unpacked it we saw what had happened:
The bag had taken a heavy blow, bending the handle and the tubes it slides in. Not the sort of thing that you could easily repair either. The tubing was crushed, making the bag a write-off.
You Won’t Believe What Happened Next
I was wondering what we should do about it. Make a claim on travel insurance? Complain to BA, and get sympathy but not much else? Or just write it off: It wasn’t a super-expensive suitcase.
On a whim, I thought I’d check out BA’s policies. Turns out they have an online form for making a claim about problems with a flight, including damaged luggage. We filled it in, not expecting much.
Surprise! They got back to us very promptly, and said “That sucks. How about we send you this Samsonite bag as a replacement?”
It’s not the top of the line bag, but it’s a more than reasonable replacement for our damaged bag. It was sent to us in San Francisco quickly, and is now in the closet, ready for our next trip.
I’m very pleased with this quick turnaround. It took something that could have been a bad experience, and turned it into a positive one. That’s a text-book example of how to treat your customers well.
In the short-term, I will probably still continue to fly Star Alliance flights, because United is my company’s ‘preferred’ airline, and Air New Zealand is my best option for flights back to New Zealand. But it’s good to see that you don’t have to be flying business, or hold top-tier status in order to get good treatment. I will be happy to fly them again in future for intra-Europe flights. Sadly US domestic options will continue to be mostly rubbish.
Ten years ago, a slightly naïve, skinny white guy with an overloaded bicycle set off from his house in London, aiming for New Zealand.
I had been living in London, but wanted to go back to New Zealand. I’d travelled around Europe and the Middle East by bus, boat, train, but I’d had enough of that style of travel. I wanted to be able to go where I wanted, stop where I wanted, and see the world in a different way. So I went by bicycle.
I was at a stage in my life where I could do it. I was single, I had the money, and I had the time.
So I set off, thinking how hard could it be?
Yeah, well, there were a few tough times along the way, but it’s not as hard as you might think. In aggregate it seems a lot, but on a day to day basis it’s mostly about dealing with simple challenges: Where will I get food? Where will I sleep? Should I turn left or right at the intersection?
I’d done a lot of reading, I’d spent time getting my gear sorted out, I had maps for Central Asia and China…but once I actually got on the road in Europe I realized I still had a lot to learn. I had to figure out how to look at a map and identify good cycling routes, loading/unloading the bike, what sort of food I needed through the day, etc.
As much as anything, I needed to figure out my routines on the road. But the good thing is that I had plenty of chances to practice. You figure out your routines, and they become default. Next thing you’re taking it easy, eating your morning pastry beside yet another river-side bike path, and life is good:
I made it to Turkey, growing a nice beard along the way:
From Turkey I headed through Iran, this time with some company. I’d been alone across Europe, but now I would bump into other touring cyclists regularly.
Central Asia meant cheap vodka & beer, sometimes with rough consequences. But then THERE WAS A SUPERMARKET! You know your perspective on life has changed when you’re marveling at shopping trolleys, aisles, and air-conditioning.
Kyrgyzstan presented a new sort of challenge, having to replace my passport & visas. But I had time, I had money, I could work through the logistics. It was a little frustrating at time, but I kept calm about it.
I think that’s one of the things I learnt about myself along the way. I can just roll with the punches, dealing with situations as they arise, and not getting all worked up. When I was stuck between Iran & Turkmenistan, I sat down and went to sleep, rather than ranting and raving. A lot of patience is required when applying visas too.
Some of my best riding was in China, from the deserts in the West, to the crowded cities in the East. It felt like China was where I really hit my rhythm on the bike. I figured out how the cities worked, navigation was simple (follow the G312!), food was an adventure…it was a good time. Even when I did look like an extra from The Walking Dead:
That’s what comes from only wearing sandals for 6+ months.
I spent four months riding across China, before heading south through Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia. I had some great company along the way, including my sister and her husband.
Remarkably, in Malaysia I caught up with my old drinking buddy Jan, having last seen him months before in Uzbekistan.
I put the bike on a plane from Singapore to Darwin, Australia, and rode through the center of Australia. The support crew for the first half made all the difference:
It was hard going for the last few weeks, knowing I’d come a long way, but still had a tough slog to go. I’d gotten used to the bustle of Asian cities, and the typical Australian roadhouse doesn’t offer quite the same level of excitement.
After months of cycling, I’ve realized that I’m not the fittest cyclist, and definitely not the fastest. There are many other cyclists who are much faster than me. But I can persevere, and just keep plodding along all day. Then the next day I get up and do it again, and again.
Anyone can ride 100km in a day. The difference is in whether you can get up the next day and do it again.
I tried to settle back down in New Zealand, working a regular job. But the first few months were hard. There’s a sense of dislocation, of not belonging. Even getting used to regularly sleeping in a soft bed was difficult. But I stuck with it, and settled down for a while…but I still had some unfinished business.
2009-2010: Closing the Loop
About 18 months after getting back to New Zealand, I went on the road again, this time to Patagonia. I spent several months in Southern Chile & Argentina, battling rough roads, wind, rain and snow…but with some amazing landscapes.
And then I closed the loop: I went back to the UK, on a sort of pub crawl from London to Scotland. All the countries I’ve visited, and the UK is one of my top destinations. It might not seem ‘adventurous’, but who cares? A great network of bike paths takes you along country lanes, through small villages, there’s always a pub that doubles as bed & breakfast, and English language media is always available.
From there it was back to New Zealand, with one more encounter with bedbugs in Singapore along the way
2011-2015: Now Biking for Two
Life changed in 2011. I got married to Anna, and now our lives are a joint affair. It’s not just about me any more. We do things together: This started with the honeymoon, where we could have stayed in a resort for a week, or gone cycling for a month: Anna chose wisely
We were settled in Auckland, New Zealand for the next few years, going on a few bike trips around New Zealand. Not fully loaded touring – instead we’d go mountain biking, or checking out the new New Zealand Cycle Trails.
Six months ago we moved to San Francisco, where I’m working. We’re getting settled in here, and starting to explore the country (LINK NEEDED). There’s a lot more to learn about this place yet. I don’t know how long we will stay in the United States, given the upheaval at my current employer, and the current political climate. For now, we’re staying here, and we hope to stay longer.