The Ultimate Techie Cycling List

We’ve spent hours and months researching, trying, returning, and purchasing gear. What we recommend is what has really worked for us and enjoyed using. We have not come across a tailored list with products links and reason to buy them, so we decided to create one. Here it goes:

1. Universal Travel Adapter. Instead of traveling with all your chargers and converters, take this one only. Even if you are traveling minimalist you will carry some devices that are powered by USB. In our case: phones, watch, iPad, Kindle, power bank, speaker, head lamps, tent lamp, drone, and bike front and rear lamps. You can charge 4 USB devices at a time and still plug a power hungry item on top -like an iron or hair dryer-. We really like the fact that it doesn’t warm up, fast charges our devices, and is relatively compact. We didn’t like that is bulky -if you need to charge only one device- and cumbersome to connect on tight areas. Totally worth the purchase and the weight and volume usage on our panniers.

  • 2. Phone mount. We’ve tried multiple types of mounts over the years spending up to $100, however this universal mount is less than a fifth of that price and works perfect. In comparison to others, this you can keep using when you update your phone. It has silicon belt grips on the corners as an optional holder for super extreme rides. We only had to use them on a few occasions because the side holders worked well enough. On those extreme occasions the phone did not fall but slipped a bit off the center, having the side holders squeezing the upper volume and lock button for a while which triggers the SOS alarm for iPhones. Once the belts are in all is good.

3. Power bank. Your phone will likely be your lamp, camera, map, internet browser, activity recorder, music player… and maybe a phone. It is likely that you won’t finish the day with some juice on its battery if you use it for all that. This power bank charges a couple of phones simultaneously through USB and the qi wireless capability. A few things to note: it comes with a USB C – USB A (regular USB) cable needed to charge the device, its nicely advertised as solar but you won’t charge it 100% that way, so better assume that its only for emergencies; Qi is nice but if someone happened to shift the phone slightly from its place, you wont wake up with a fully charged phone; lastly its not the lightest on the market but is super sturdy.

  • 4. Bluetooth Speaker. Surely you already have a similar bluetooth speaker, we also have a few. But we choose to take this one because the good quality of sound vs size and weight. The strap in the back loops perfectly around the bike frame (down tube). We both were able to listen music perfectly on our tandem while cycling upwind. One charge lasted about two days of riding around 4-5 hours. We liked the clear treble and bass -considering the size-, the sturdiness, water resistance capability, and large battery capacity. It comes with a USB micro – USB A (regular USB) cable needed to charge the device. We did not like the mechanical responsiveness of the buttons, they are not that intuitive to operate if you are not looking at them. This was not really a big deal since we normally control the music through an iPhone and Apple Watch.

5. Bike headlamp. We know, 1,100 lumens is crazy to point at someone’s eyes! But using this headlamp responsibly -it has 3 power levels- will change your late afternoon or night ride completely. Even if you don’t plan to ride in the dark probably at some point you will find yourself on that saddle after sunset. At its highest power this lamp gives you about the brightness of your car high beams but covering a much larger area. Like similar lamps, its heavy and it will get hot, the metal ribs work as heat dissipators so try not to hold it from there after long usage. We also have an older 350 lumens model -same shape and size, double the money at the purchase time- and we’ve been using for 8 years with no issues. We recommend placing the lamp on its mount only when using it, otherwise the mount channels will wear off. It comes with a USB micro – USB A (regular USB) cable needed to charge the device.

  • 6. Smart Bike Tail Light. A most have in your gadgets list. This tail light turns On on its own when you start moving, will go brighter when its darker, and brightest when you are breaking. It has a super wide field of view, the battery lasts about 20 hours. Every 5 days or so we saw the light at a lower intensity and it was time to charge it. It comes with a USB micro – USB A (regular USB) cable needed to charge the device. We honestly can’t find anything inconvenient on this thing, we strongly recommend it.

7. Headlamp. Having a lamp fixed to the bike is indispensable, but sometimes while riding you need to look to the sides or back. That’s what this lamp is for. Is super light and easy to carry everywhere. We loved the motion sensor where you quickly raise your hand and will switch off / on as needed. We purchased and returned 4 similar headlamps, and this one was the winner.

  • 8. Tent lamp. If you are doing camping this lamp is super helpful. Is rechargeable, water resistant, has a magnet, and 3 intensity levels. -It also has a SOS function, but haven’t come across anyone who has used that on this or any other device.- Our favorite function is the power bank with a USB-A output. Needless to say its bulky so don’t buy this unless you are camping.

9. 19-tool multitool. Needless to say why you need this and for sure you already have one. We like that this multitool is lightweight, rather compact, very complete, and good quality. We do not like that on many occasions the chain / spoke tool is often obstructing and adds another degree of movement so we simply unscrewed it and stored it with the spare chainlink. The tool often looses its tightness on its holding mechanism but can easily be screwed again.

  • 10. 8-tool multitool. Yes, a second set. My wife kept this one on her back pocket and I kept the 19-tool above. She quickly loved it and became her own tool for adjusting her saddle, tightening racks, and -of course- assembling and disassembling the bike. Its slimness and stainless steel shine makes it look fancy but is very affordable for what it does. This tool is super light, compact, and tough. In comparison to the 19-tool above this one has a system that wont allow to get its holding mechanism loose.

11. Pump with gauge. This is not your home floor pump but its the closest thing. This pump is comfortable to use cause it has a T-handle to push down with your hand, a fold down footpath to keep it on the floor, and a flexible hose with a gauge. It has both Presta/Schrader heads. Great volume and weight. There are lighter ones but not as comfortable to use and without gauge. You’ll need some muscles or patience, but if you tour-cycle you have both. After 7 years of usage an inner seal broke, other than that we have no complains.

This is all for now, keep checking our page for other products list and traveling stories. Feel free to contact us for any advice by leaving a reply below.

Do You Smoke? only two a day.

This woman has smoked two cigars a day since the age of 13. She’ll be 100 years old if she makes it to 2021.

This is what she has gone through: she grew in extreme poverty with no school, very limited food, and no access to public places in a state of almost slavery. Then saw Fidel stepping up and after the revolution she received food, healthcare, education, a house, and free access to public areas like beaches and plazas. The US embargo and socialism started and no longer saw the rich people living in their big houses, instead government was taking over. She got some of the Russian goodies as they sent all kind of luxuries like food, basic cars, tools, drinks, machinery, clothing, etc. Then the socialism field collapsed and went through tough days without the Russian breast, “The Special Period”, no food, no nothing for about three years. Taping into some muscle memory from her poverty days, she would go through a complete day or more with no food. Slowly food was grown locally and not brought from overseas reminding her childhood days. Later Fidel stepped down and died. Raul and Manuel took power and soften the socialism allowing private property purchase and trading. In the mean time she had kids, they had kids, they also had kids, and they are having more kids. Thats about it.

Today she sees tourists every day from her granddaughter Casa Particular and gives them that peaceful and wise look while smoking a cigar, free of illness fear, and ready to let the world keep spinning on its own.

Grocery Delivery

We tourists get shocked when going to supermarkets only to find half the shelves are empty. Reality for locals is different though. Beside the government monthly share of rice, beans, pork, matches, and other basic food, they get to buy whatever is sold door to door. The bicycle above is from an onion and garlic seller about to start his day going through Viñales streets. Yes, he was actually able to ride that bike and not only push it. We got to see this with bread, empanadas, vegetables, flowers, etc.

We are not quite sure if this is part of the informal economy -not seen by the government- or if what they are offering is already their share to sell on their own after giving to the state their obliged portion at the price they are told.

High level government can obtain local information very efficiently if desired from any area of the country. The lowest level of power is a kind of zone inspector, he is the area expert. His goal is to serve the people and be informed about everything, he lives and works in that area and maintains relationship with all people around. He knows everyone, their names, where they work, and where they live. If you don’t enroll your kids to school, he’ll easily get to know and will be knocking at your door reminding you that education is obligatory in Cuba.

It is then hard to believe the government is not getting their share from the full production, however we did not get to ask to confirm. On the other hand we can safely say that, despite the lack of basic products offered at the stores, a generous selection of rum, and cigarets never fail to appear.

About 3 hours later we found the onion and garlic seller with half or less of the load on his bike meaning he had had a successful day!

Cuba day 5. Viñales.

We haven’t been to Trinidad yet, but if we were to choose a single Cuban city to visit we would have picked Viñales. People is super friendly, plenty of choices to eat, drink, live music on the street, and everything is walking distance-sh. 

Weather was colder, we both got a virus somewhere and had some cold for a couple of days. We were strongly recommended doing a tour around the area which is normally done riding horses. We said let’s walk for a change and not ride bikes or horses, so we did the tour walking. We are still convincing ourselves that it was worth it, it was a demonstration of cigar making, coffee growing-rusting-grinding, honey, and rum. Definitely was fun and entertaining but mostly we felt that supported the local community.

Coffee grinding

Other attractions we decided to do on our own. Prehistoric mural, I was particularly excited because they were inspired by Diego Rivera’s murals, but as our German cyclists warned us, it is enough to see them from the highway. Mirador view was really nice mostly because it was a super hilly ride, got super loaded Piña Coladas while watching the sunset, and cycled down with almost pitch dark. We decided we could safely skip the Cueva de los Indios after seeing what it looked like through someone else’s pictures.

Some more of Viñales.

This is Our Casa Particular
The Casa Particular owner’s dog looks just like her.

Rear tire was flat again. Self note, when the specialist at the bikeshop says that such a tire is the one the manufacture uses for that specific bike, it might be wise to stick to that combination. Instead we insisted that the tire looked to thin -road like- and wouldn’t be good enough for bumpy Cuba. Before coming over we changed the original tires to something more gravel like called “gravelking”. Our theory is that these tires are too soft and that’s why they easily pinch into the rim. Luckily we had one of original thin tires with us and put it back into the rear wheel. It has worked like magic, no flat tires!

Viñales was definitely worth stoping because of the people, live music in the streets, options for buying needs, and nature around. You can also do day trips from here to other areas. But as in must cases, the journey was much better than the destination. Cycling from La Habana to Viñales was an amazing experience. Specially for us where we got to learn about Spaghetti’s repair needs on tough roads. Three nights were enough and we are ready to continue riding.

Close But No Cigar

Viñales is an amazing town to hang around for dancing, eating, and drinking, and is surrounded by all kinds of tour options. Coffee, cigars, rum, honey, murals, horse riding, cycling, etc. Most price tags are north of $50. Be creative and talk to your Casa Particular or hotel owner to tailor what you want to see and if you can use your own bike to get there instead of them picking you up. Once you negotiate the tour price, expect to pay another $20 or so for their only option they’ll give you for lunch or purchase some of their organic good quality products, either of those will support locals directly.

We gave up the idea of horse riding as we had enough “riding” in the previous days and instead opted doing the cigar-coffee-honey tour walking. The whole tobacco harvesting, drying, cutting and cigar preparation is completely artisanal. The government have local inspectors who accurately count their complete tobacco production ensuring that 90% is sold to the estate. Every other product, like sugar or coffee, have a lower percentage because in comparison, cigars have a better selling price, higher demand, and lower cost.

The word Cigar, Cigarro in Spanish, came from the Mayan word Sikar, which means smoke rolled tobacco. It is commonly known that Habano is a Cigar coming from Cuba. However Habano means anything coming from La Habana. The estate company Habano S.A. owns the trademarks of every brand of Cuban-made cigars in the countries they are exported to. To control distribution Habanos S.A. exports to only one company in each country, except the US.

In 2000 Spanish company Altadis acquired 50% of Habano S.A. and restructured each product, sizes, and marketing –limited edition and special releases are now available– more inline with the global market and maybe with what US consumers would favor in the future when / if the US blockage is removed. Then in 2008 British company Imperial Tobacco acquired Altadis and is said that they are looking in selling their premium division including Habanos S.A. in case you are interested.

To differentiate from these giants, local producers come up with something completely organic -free of nicotine-, hand made, and they are sure of selling you the experience of buying something local from their own hands and forbidden in some areas. The obligatory 90% share to the government is priced at whatever the estate dictates, the other 10% is left to produce their own cigars and sell them locally. This last share is where they live from. They do Cohiba, Monte Cristo, and Romeo y Julieta -stronger to less-. You will get to try each of them and of course buying your 10 pack.

On February 7th 1962, to sanction Fidel’s communist government, Kennedy imposed a trade embargo. The day before though, he ordered to buy 1,200 Cuban cigars, upon the shipment arrival the next morning he signed the embargo order. When structuring the embargo he tried to exempt cigars, but the Tampa cigar companies objected. These companies were manufacturers that originally came from Cuba in the 1800s when the US imposed higher taxes. The solution? Move to Florida and plant your tobacco there. Today their products are close but nowhere near to what the well seasoned consumer would expect from a cigar.

Cuba day 4. Palma Rubia (Cayo Levisa) – Viñales

Palma Rubia is not only a handy stop to break the road towards Viñales but it is the closest place to sleep around Cayo Levisa. Never mind the 35CUC needed to take you there that includes the boat trip, two drinks, and the rather regular meal. The beach is absolutely amazing, picture Cancun a few decades ago. It’s your choice if you want to see people or be on your own at this paradise.

We were told Cubans are not permitted there, we thought it was something similar to the no lobster or shrimps to locals rule leaving the high price tag items for tourists to bring money into the economy. We later understood they are actually allowed to go there, they just need to open their coffers and give away a month and a half worth of their salary to visit Cayo Levisa, enough reason for not seeing any local enjoying their own beaches sadly.

You have a few choices to take the boat in the morning and a few more to come back right before sunset. Don’t expect super nice meals there and be ready to find the typical all inclusive tourist attitude around you. The place is understaffed and is easy to see that they need to be patient with the lack of resources they have and super demanding tourists. The buffet offers the regular rice, beans, fried fish, chicken, pork, pasta, fruit, etc.

Next day we had an amazing breakfast again at the Casa Particular. We left candies to the worker for her daughter who was super excited and had not seen a lollypop before. Our German cyclist colleagues gave a much wiser gift, notebooks and pencils… how come we didn’t think of that instead of the unneeded sugar!

As we were preparing Spaghetti and were about to leave earlier than the Germans -for first time- we noticed another broken connector. This time the change was much quicker but we left the place last. At this point we only have one spare connector that can break, otherwise we will need to improvise on how to make our gears work. Pretty much like Cubans do everyday with anything.

The road had beautiful views, hilly and full of holes. We met over the road another couple on a Tandem. Their bike doubled Spaghetti’s weight but they had almost no gear in comparison to us with our 4 panniers, handlebar bag (for money, passports, habanero sauce, alcohol gel, mosquito repellent, multitool), and our rear “sausage” center bag (carrying shoes and food).

They had a few decades of experience traveling the world under their belt. “Have you cycled Thailand?” we asked. “Yes, we’ve crossed it five times”. And so was their answer for many other countries. Their attire including shoes had nothing to do with our carefully sourced -purchased, tried, returned, repeat- high tech gear, I guess they were at their home couch comfortably watching TV and suddenly jumped into their tandem to travel the world.

Other cyclist also congregated to our conversation at the side of the highway. The German couple that stayed at the same place in Cabanas and Palma Rubia, and a Canadian couple that travelled with one shirt each, they were going to sell their cheap mountain bikes at the end of their ride. Arriving to Viñales we stopped for lunch and before leaving we had again a flat rear tire. So we were not only the less experienced, but also the most gear loaded cyclist and with the most mechanic problems. Not that anyone cared but at least we were the fastest on the road. Overtaking other cyclist is a breeze on Spaghetti -when everything works that is-.

The Romance of Reality

Many buildings in the 500 year old city of La Habana have this appearance. It is said that at some point the city was compared to New York and Paris for being vibrant and luxurious. This was one of the first cities to have a running train, Spain had its own later. Cinemas were built right after they were invented. Then the Revolution came bringing basic rights to all Cubans through socialism and with that the country was converted into a time machine, a coffer of memories where past and present share the same space.

Some old buildings fall by themselves, others have a planned demolition, on either situation the government is determined to save the facade -as shown in the picture- for a later rebuild respecting their original appearance. When resources are scarce and the government is the only powerhouse for building, projects are left on the back burner for years as the trees and bushes grow on the 3rd floor balcony illustrating this neglect.

The vision is romantic and in line with the spirit of bringing the city back to its glamorous architecture. In the meantime, reality is different. Habitants are forced to live on temporary grounds where no one has a sense of belonging. As opposed to other countries, Cubans rely heavily on the power of communities; they share skills, food, education, etc. not as an act of goodwill but rather a means to survive. Something like this is hard to create when everyone thinks they are there for a short time and a new house is around the corner.

Should the government opt for a quick, simple, low-budget building to accommodate their habitants, or is it worth the sacrifice of waiting and respecting the original architecture?

Domino game on a premium location.

A Drive Through Time

I love my SLR camera but it did not pass the first filter when initially fitting all of our belongings in 4 panniers for two people traveling. Still this iPhone night shot shows more light, detail, and colors (at an ISO 2000 and 1/8 second) compared to the 20/20 naked eye.

Given the tools and capability to source parts, Cubans do an incredible work of art restoring 60+ year old cars. Everything from the outside looks very authentic including the paint colors. Under the hood is a different story. The Cuban government buys 2nd/3rd/4th hand diesel truck engines from South Korea or China to sell locally. They arrive to Cuba -very likely- without the emission and noise reduction system to make the shipment cheaper and more compact. The process is well known depending on the handful of choices your car belongs to. It goes into one of the workshops that is ready to do the adaptations needed.

The result, a car that looks amazing but pollutes, drives, and sounds like a diesel truck. Quality varies, often it feels that the engine is not sitting on the right mounts. In fact, it feels like the whole car is the engine mount sending all the vibrations from the pistons to your bones. Chances are that the car’s lack of tightness creates a vacuum that pulls the diesel exhaust back into the cabin. Despite all of this, the car will make you will feel as if you were sitting on your own couch traveling back in time through La Habana Malecon listening to some Salsa tunes.

Cuba day 1, Arrival.

La Habana, Cuba. December 2019

You are warned, Cuba is a place where stones float and logs sink. Expect to see a different world to what you are used to, and even then keep yourself alert to different ways of doing things. This is a place where there is no extreme poverty, no one starves to death, everyone has a roof to sleep under, all citizens receive food from government, healthcare system is free, education is free and obligatory up to 9th grade, there is a paid job for everyone who wants to work, people lives deeply in communities, and likely, it is the safest place you’ve ever been to. All that is 100% true, but before you idealize the perfect place, keep in mind that some resources are extremely scarce and the majority are non existent.

We stayed at the old Habana for 3 nights to do some sightseeing and cycling preparation before tour cycling around the island. We probably should have hired a tour guide but instead we just guided ourselves with local info, the Lonely Planet, and our own research. It’s easy to be guided by the live music in La Habana vieja and stop every now and then to drink, eat, and just watch people.

More of La Habana and around.

We assembled Spaghetti for first time in Cuba, our tandem bike, and went around La Habana all the way to Fusterlandia. A flat ride from La Habana vieja through all the Malecón and then the 5th avenue. José Fuster is using all kind of mosaics, tiles, plumbing and electrical parts, glass, and any other kind of waste to convert it into public-art.

Our AirBnb landlord, Jose, -Aguacate 512 #105, La Habana jcordero1960@yahoo.es – with whom we immediately became good friends, helped us to find places where locals go to. We were invited for coffee and New Year’s Eve dinner at his place and were immediately adopted as part of his family.

We had pork (Valentina and I haven’t had pork in years), rice with beans, yuca and other veggies. Everything was amazing! He had an extensive culinary background and proved that right away. Born and raised in Mexico and Italy we both are used to long table conversations after dinner is over. Not here. A few of us were still eating dessert when the table cloth was pulled and the improvised table disassembled.

We were ready to leave since the meal was finished -or our food driven culture suggested that-. How wrong we were… Tables and chairs were removed leaving a large, empty room right at the street entrance to create a make-shift dance floor. Everyone in the family started dancing salsa. We eagerly participated, and everyone noticed our skills -or lack thereof-. Our joints needed some grease, that’s all.

It’s apparently good luck to throw water on the street of La Habana on New Year’s Eve. (or any liquid you may have with you) That also includes garbage and eggs. Their tradition to celebrate the New Year lasts around 30 minutes and starts at 12:00am sharp. It is wise to wait until 1am to walk home through the center of the streets. It was an unexpected and fun way to celebrate the new year, and was a night we will always remember!

Capitolio

D-31 Barcelonnetta (F) – Puget-Théniers (F)

Lo bueno de vivir en un departamento chico, o en mi caso, una tienda de campaña pequeña, es que todo te queda a la mano. Desde mi cama abrí la puerta y esta era la vista.
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Otra de las cosas que tienen los camping sites, además de tener que traer tu propio papel de baño y no tener tazas en los escusados, es que las regaderas solo tienen una llave. Alguien decide de antemano a que temperatura te quieres bañar y el termostato se queda ahí para todos. Te metes y el agua está helada, al cabo de unos minutos pasa por tibia y luego esta hirviendo. O te congelas o te quemas.

Arreglé mis cosas y salí mucho más tarde de lo que acostumbro pero ya le estoy agarrando a la empacada acampando. Mi ruta hoy fue hacia Niza acampando a la mitad de camino. Al empezar el camino me di cuenta de dos cosas, una que la ruta iba derecho hacia los Alpes y otra que los rayos de la llanta de atrás empezaron a sonar otra vez.

Me pare como 4 veces para ajustarlos, según yo sonaban porque la tensión era demasiado alta pero creo que nunca encontré el punto ideal. Seguí subiendo esperando que no se rompiera nada.
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Después de varias horas llegué a la nieve, donde por fin paré a echar el lunch y unas fotos.
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A falta de fuentes y de agua en la botella metí varios de estos hielitos para el camino.
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Finalmente llegué a donde se dividen los dos valles.
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El otro lado de los Alpes fue bastante más amigable. Ajuste mis frenos delanteros porque aprendí que después se ponen muy calientes y emprendí la bajada. El paisaje cambió de nieve, a piedra negra caliza, a piedra roja, a vegetación un poco más tropical. Encontré un camping bastante decente con regaderas donde sí puedes ajustar la temperatura, puse mi tienda, y me eche una muy buena cena celebrando que mi hermana tiene nueva chamba.
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