How good are Fat Bikes for touring? Equipment Review

I thought it might be useful to give a review of our equipment the good and bad points and the all important solutions. To link to company websites click on the coloured links.

Surley Moonlander Fat bikes.

So far they have performed very well. The last section from Charala to Duitama they were in their element. The first 17 km all up hill the road surface was loose stone of irregular shape mostly 75 mm or larger with base rock and ridges and steps often 100 mm or more. The fat tyres rolled over it all. It was a hard ride even on the fat bikes but we were able to ride it all. We would have had to push our Thorn XXPs on significant sections of this. They also dealt well with the soft muddy sections which suprised me. The sandy mud cleared out of the tyres really well and as we were moving slowly we did not get any aquaplaning.

Schwalbe Jumbo Jim with Schwalbe inner tubes. We had 5 punctures on the first part of our journey on the road from Cartagena via Santa Marta to Bucaramanga.  One from a thorn and the rest from the broken wires from lorry tyres. As soon as we left the main road for the tracks the punctures have stopped. One of the brand new tubes I fitted in Cartagena had a manufacturing fault next to the valve and blew the first day. I tried to fix it but couldn’t so had to fit another.

The RohloffRohloff hubs and the Schmitt dynamos have performed without fault.

The Brooks England Saddles of course perform the same as they have since 1886. Brilliantly.

We have had to get used to the different handling of the Fat Bikes. With front panniers they have to be proactively steered at low speed but having some weight at the front makes them much easier to handle on steep climbs as the front wheel stays firmly on the ground.  In every way they are a very stable ride. When we take all the luggage off for a quick local explore they suddenly seem very responsive.  I should really let some of the air out of the tyres when we take the luggage off but I don’t usually bother which makes them a bit bouncy! I am really pleased that I built these and bought them with us. It was very much a step into the unknown.

Most of the distance we have riden has been on tarmac and we have not found the Fat Bikes a significant disadvantage. There is more rolling resistance with the Schwalbe Big Jim tyres than the Marathon which are designed for touring but that is down to tread pattern not size.  I could not find a touring specific tyre 120 mm wide.


I swapped over to using the VDO M3 odometer as I kept finding the Cateye M8s I used to use only lasted about one year to 18 mths before corrosion would stop them working. Also the cage on the Cateye holds water and can also stop it working.  The VDO  is much better designed and works well.

Busch and Muller Lumotec lamps,

These unfortunately are a disaster! They cannot even cope either a small amount of moisture. I chose them because they have good focused light output and a built-in USB charger. I fitted these to our Thorns before our trip to ride the Great Divide. One of the lights failed in heavy rain. It was replaced FOC. So I fitted them to the Fat bikes and one light was faulty on delivery again replaced. Then both the new ones failed in the rain on our Scottish Isles trip. Again both were replaced FOC. On the third day of this trip we had a tiny shower and the light on my bike failed again! They need to change the design of the remote switch but to date have done nothing. They will not even acknowledge they have a problem.

Ortlieb bags

This is the first time we have used front bags. To begin with, even on the road, we had terrible trouble with the bottom clips coming out from the rack and the bags bouncing. After our experiences in Romania we have always added a velcro strap round the top bar and a second bottom clip to the rear bags to keep the bags from bouncing off over speed bumps and level crossings. So to fix the front bag problem I bought more velcro and sewed some straps to tie the bottom of the front bags in. This has solved the problem.  I don’t understand why but the bags with the least weight in them were the first to bounce out. We only have 2.5 to 3.5 kg in the front bags. It is quite noticeable that in the 40 deg C + heat the plastic on the bags becomes quite pliable. With all the velcro and the locks it is quite a palaver getting the bags on and off the bikes but at least they stay on while we ride.

Garmin Oregon 600t and 450t


I think (hope) that I have got a Friday build 600t and that the performance of mine does not reflect the typical performance. I replaced my 450t last year as the screen was failing after many years of good service. I thought I was upgrading going to the 600t. It has a much better screen, similar battery life. However the two most import parts the GPS receiver and the tracking software are very poor. On the average 60 km journey it will lose all satellites at least 3 times. This is either due to poor antenna or receiver. It is possible they have compromised the design to incorporate the dual satellite systems. I cannot tell if this is poor set up or poor design. The problem with the tracking software is definitely poor software design. The 600t also regularly takes more than one attempt to boot, the other day it took 10! I gave up a few days ago and now use the 450.

When the GPS receiver on the 600t loses lock the tracking software continues to log all the points. This adds lots of useless km to the track. The software knows it has lost lock because you get a message on the screen to say so. At this point the software should stop logging until a proper lock is reestablished, then just draw a straight line between the two points. Also the software should use dynamic averaging. As the receiver loses contact with some satellites the number of averages used to establish the position should increase. This is all pretty basic stuff and ought to be automatically included. The GPS in my Samsung phones work better.

The 450t performs much better as a GPS and has never let us down. The software is better written as well. The only reason to keep using the 600t is the better screen.

Delorme Inreach Explorer.

This is a fabulous piece of kit and I wouldn’t leave home without it. I keep it in my top bag where it is out of sight and works perfectly. Unfortunately Garmin have just bought them. I hope the technology  only flows from Inreach to Garmin and not the other way round otherwise someone is going to die unnecessarily if when you press the SOS button the Inreach outputs some arbitrary position instead of the last accurately known one.

Samsung SM 705 tablets and J2 phone

These continue to perform well allowing us to blog and generally keep in touch. We can also remote desktop into work. We have bought local Colombian sim cards for all three the tablets  have Tigo network and the J2 has Claro. On the route we have been on the Claro network has the best coverage. Outside the main cities Tigo rarely works.

Panasonic cameras, DMC-FT5 and DMC-TZ70

Both cameras have performed well. Sarah’s FT5 tough waterproof camera allows us to snap away what ever the weather and my TZ70 with it’s great zoom and compact form allow me to get more distant shots. The one minor irritation is that the FT5 will not charge from it’s USB port so we have to carry another charger specially for it.

Go Pro Hero 3+


This little camera performs well and allows me to capture snippets of the route just to give an impression. My only wish is that it would respond more quickly to the Bluetooth remote.

Bolse LC058 charger 5 output 40 W


This is an excellent piece of kit. 5 USB outputs 3 high power. Works off any voltage 100 V to 240 V 50 or 60 Hz.

Portapower smart USB charger

This charges up to 4 AA or AAA batteries from a USB port. This latest version is excellent.  Each battery is individually charged and monitored. I have modified these to cover the discharge button so that I can store the spare batteries inside while transporting them without having to worry about an accidental discharge. The black one is better than the earlier red one.

Life Adventure mini lock 600 mm

p1010973We have used these to lock our panniers to the bikes. While they will not withstand a serious attack it prevents a snatch and shows we have some security. After all any knife will open a pannier in seconds.

Lightwave T20 trail XT tent


This trip we are carrying this tent but we have only used it once so it is too early to pass judgement. It was chosen as it is a four season tent and can be pitched either all as one, outer first or inner first. Also the sleeping area is 100 mm longer than the Force Ten Sprite 200+ we have previously used which as I am 1 m 83 tall means I can actually lie out flat. I bought the additional porch groundsheet and made a footprint for the sleeping area as Lightwave don’t supply one. When the tent fabric is hot it contracts and it takes all my strength to fit the poles in their sockets. The Force Ten system of a pull strap to tension the poles is better.

Lightwave Sleeping Bags

For our Great Divide ride and this one we are using Lightwave down sleeping bags which are excellent.

XPED 7 sleeping mats 

We used these through out our Great Divide ride and they have proved excellent.  The additional down inside gives great insulation from the gound.


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