Building a touring bicycle

Photographer of Christopher Culver and his touring bike in Višegrad, Bosnia with the Drina bridge behind them
The bicycle and its owner in Bosnia
I built my own touring bicycle in the spring of 2013. Researching bicycles, ordering the parts and putting them together into a rideable bike was a challenge, with a few frustrations and disappointments along the way. Still, I am happy that I built the bicycle from the frame up instead of purchasing a ready-made tourer, as I have a much better understanding of how everything goes together and consequently it is easier for me to undertake repairs on my own. Here’s the details on how I did it. Continue reading Building a touring bicycle

Anton Krotov’s backpack

Russian hitchhiking guru and travel guide author Anton Krotov recently wrote a long blog entry listing the contents of his backpack. His insights will interest many who travel with all they have on their backs, so I’ve translated the entry into English.

Backpack inventory! Everything that I have with me now!

Many people ask, Comrade Krotov, what’s in your backpack? Do you take this or that with you? Specially for these curious people I have made an inventory of my backpack. I must say, however, that this is not everything that I have – I left behind in Kuala-Lumpur a large 70-litre ‘LoveAlpine’ backpack that had torn with some things in it, but I now have a small and simple Indian backpack that can go as hand luggage in airplanes. I’ve travelled with this ‘microbackpack’ for a month now, through the Philippines and Malaysia, but most people don’t plan travels that are too large. We can assume that in this backpack is everything necessary for travelling in the tropics.

So let’s get started. I’ll also say how often I’ve used these items, and whether and how they were brought.

  1. The backpack itself, which I bought in Kuala Lumpur for 45 ringgit (450 rubles);
  2. I’m carrying an abundance of electronics that I’ve never had before in my life. These electronics are: an Eee netbook, a gift from, along with a spare battery for it (one battery lasts 10 hours, the other four); a keyboard, which I bought for 305 pesos in the city of Sebu; a charger for four batteries, which I bought in Indonesia in 2006 and is still working; a mobile phone, given as a gift in the AVP House in Vladivostok (2009); a charger for the mobile; a head lamp, given to me in Vladivostok by a helpful woman named Natalya (2009); an immersion water heater from Russia; a mouse for the netbook, given to me by Justas in Manila. A camera, given to me by a guy by the name of Artur in the city of Wadi Musa (Jordan, December 2008). There happened to be a microdrive for it, which I’ve been carrying around with the camera for two years and only noticed in taking this inventory and threw away. 8 rechargeable batteries (4 in the camera, 4 charging), left behind in my house by someone or another over the years. A digital watch, which I bought in Sri Lanka for 110 rupees. Two USB drives – one is 16 GB, given to me by Aligozhin in Cairo on my 33rd birthday (thanks Ilya, it still works), and I bought an 8 GB one somewhere (and another USB drive is waiting for me in Kuala Lumpur, which I bought there). Three memory cards for the camera (2, 2 and 4 GB, but they are small and I need to buy a larger one in Kuala Lumpur. One was given to me by Igor Lysenkov, and I don’t remember where I got the others, but thanks to whoever helped me out). A card reader, given to me by a nice guy in Novosibirsk. Well, that seems to be it with the electronics. Each of them sees regular, and many of them daily use. A wall adapter is very important in the Philippines, but it wasn’t necessary in Malaysia and Indonesia, so I sent it home by post.
  3. Of clothes and other fabrics I have the following. The interior of the tent (it was given to me by ‘Santa Claus’, Sasha Katilin last year) is used as a mosquito net, but not so often – a couple of times a month in monasteries or churches where there are mosquitos. I sent the exterior part of the tent home as soon as I could – I didn’t pitch a tent in the rain. I also have a lightweight sleeping bag (a gift from the Alpindustria company in 2003 just before our Third African Expedition), used rarely, only in rooms that are very air-conditioned. A makeshift mattress, sewn by my mother from bedsheets, I use all the time. A hat with a fleece brim (bought in Vilnius in the spring for 1 lita from the Humania shop), some fleece thing that keeps my neck from getting cold (which I bought in the autumn of 2006 in Irkutsk at the start of the road towards Angarsk) which I also use in air-conditioned places (I bought it somewhere for 10 rubles, and it’s already kept me warm for four and a half years). Extra socks and shorts (from Sri Lanka, 50 and 450 rupees respectively), a light shirt (left behind at my home by someone). I don’t have anything for rain. The underwear I have is from Sri Lanka and cost 110 rupees. My trousers are from the Lithuanian second-hand shop Humania (2 lita = 23 rubles). A green skullcap, a gift from some Muslims in the Indonesian city of Labuanbajo in the spring of 2008. It’s great in that it stays on my head and doesn’t ever fall off. A sarong, just recently given to me in the city of Kudat.
  4. Useful coins. A toothbrush (0.8 ringgit) and toothpaste, recently bought (the last ones were lost). Anti-bacterial soap (a local brand). Sewing thread (30 rubles, from the store «Бивак») and a needle (a gift from Книжник), useful for repairing my backpack. (And that ‘LoveAlpine’ wouldn’t have torn if it were a real LoweAlpine, which can go 5-7 years without repair). I don’t have a knife, since they aren’t allowed in hand luggage. Large sewing needles, a gift from Mikhalych in Khabarovsk, which are waiting for me in Kuala-Lumpur, since they wouldn’t be allowed on the plane. A compass, in fact two, which were both gifts from Igor Tyutyukin. One compass always points north, and the other due south. Two rolls of scotch tape. I also had a GPS watch, a gift from a guy in Tver’, but on top of Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka it went crazy and stopped working, and since I couldn’t fix it, I had to throw it away along with its charger. Ropes! These come in handy. I bought a couple of coils of rope in Sri Lanka, and they are useful for everything: keeping the tent rigid, since I left the poles in Kuala Lumpur, and hanging laundry to dry. Ropes are our strength! I have also a piece of cotton wool for cleaning the camera. It’s just plain wool from a Philippines stall.
  5. Useless (for the time being) coins. Water purification tablets, a gift from Akhmet from Dagestan (I haven’t used them yet, but they will be useful in Papua). A funnel and a small bottle. An adapter where you can take out a light bulb from the socket and then have a light bulb and two outlets. I bought it in the Philippines, but I haven’t had to use it.
  6. Cooking supplies. This consists of a large iron mug — I don’t remember when I got it, but someone showed me a photo from the 2000 Trans-African Expedition and asked me, Is that it? It’s hard to believe that that mug has lasted 10 years, but I don’t remember if I lost it somewhere. So it’s possible that this is the oldest among my possessions. Two spoons, a little bottle (0.33 L) of sugar, tea. At the moment I also have a mango, which I should eat soon! I won’t carry it to Singapore.
  7. Camera bag. It’s the most expensive item in my inventory — I paid 1150 rubles for it, as the last camera bag that I had travelled with since 2003 was completely worn out. This camera bag holds, if need be, my netbook, notebooks and maps as well. Well, if there’s so much stuff inside, I don’t put the camera in there and just carry it separately. This is useful for distributing ‘hand baggage’, as it apparently doesn’t count as baggage, but just an extra like a beverage. I also have a passport holder (300 rubles, from RedFox, bought many years ago in «Экстриме», it’s even older than the fleece thing) and a waist pack with small change, pens, flash drives and other things used throughout the day. The waist pack was bought for 300 rubles last year (in the Moscow «Экстриме»), but the zipper is already broken, so it’s time to buy a new one in Indonesia that’s ten times cheaper.
  8. Paperwork and stationary. They are very heavy compared to other items and are rarely used – I keep them just in case. So, I’ve got a folder with papers in it and my old passports, so that I can show the course of my travels to consuls. Some references to show I’m a good person (which haven’t yet proven necessary), magazine articles about me (well, I didn’t of course take everything with me, but a good sample in several languages to show to police, if I go through a police state on these travels). Some official attestations in Malay, Indonesian, English, Chinese and Russian. A couple of my own books (200 дней на юг, about travels across Africa, and От -50 до +50 – these are nice, as there are many photographs in them that I can show people). There are some other books of mine, including Practical Free Travel in English, waiting in Kuala Lumpur, ‘in stock’, as it were. I also have an A5 notebook with important notes, a map with the route of my travels (in Russian, bought in 2007 – it’s time to buy a new one in Indonesia in the local language and record on it), maps of places that are important (and those which are not useful I’ve sent home by post with KK). Still more maps, papers and guidebook pages are waiting for me in Kuala Lumpur.
  9. Some items I don’t use. A small padlock, which we bought from Uncle Marat in Colombo and which has only come in handy once so far, when we had to use the left luggage office in the train station there. I’ve been carrying it around since, but I don’t know if it will prove useful (it weighs 10 grams with the keys). An expired ISIC card from Vladivostok (needed only for the sake of something to show, and I can buy a new one in Bangkok). Roll of plasters, charcoal and iodine – I haven’t had to use these first aid items at all in these two months. And a piece of gum to hold equipment in place, but it too hasn’t come in handy yet.

So far I’ve been wearing «Крафт» shoes, bought for 282 rubles in Moscow in the Spetsodezhda store in February 2009, so I’ve worn them for two years. I’ll throw them away soon.

That’s how much stuff I have. I’m afraid to know how much it weighs. It’s probably around 10 kg, but only 7 kg can go on a plane. Well, 10 kg doesn’t make a big difference, and if need be, I’ll just wear some items on my person until I’m on the plane. My large backpack with the extra items is waiting in Kuala Lumpur. The important things there are papers, books (my own, which I give away sometimes), maps and guidebooks. I’ve already sent everything I don’t need home, and I’ll certainly sent other items, but I can and must throw away some unnecessary items.

Why didn’t I just set off with a small backpack? I like things big. With a big backpack I keep myself steady and not blow away in the wind, and I can pack everything that I buy on the road or is given to me, and I have an idea of what to eat or give away. But in Kuala Lumpur I calculated that it’s cheaper (with five flights over this month) to buy a smaller backpack than to pay for checked baggage. I’ll eventually send the Indian backpack home by post with some small souvenirs. For city use I’ve also got a small backpack, stored in Kuala Lumpur, but that backpack has lasted for 15 years, and I felt too sorry for the old thing to take it through the Philippines – better to let it rest a while, and then in Indonesia I’ll use it in the city.

So that’s it. Almost everything I travel with, it seems, was given to me by various people, and I must express my profound thanks to those who gave me these gifts. Giving useful things as gifts is an skill everyone should have. There are so many useless things that I can’t manage to get rid of, but here are some helpful people and useful things – my gratitude goes to them, as the items listed above will accompany me to even the most distant islands. And even if something gets broken, the original owner will be happy that it proved useful to me and came on such a long and interesting trips. So thanks to everyone who gave me these items, — I will try to hold on to your gifts and use them as much I can!

But the most important thing when you travel is your brain. This item can’t get lost in some way, and it takes up a small amount of space, being in your head. No one gives you one; you’ve got to always have your own.

A. Krotov, Kota Kinabalu, February 14, 2011