Stepping out into Patagonia in the 1800s British Navy Commander, George Chaworth Musters, came prepared with more than just a flamboyantly adventurous name. His book, At Home with the Patagonians, provides his kit list to “gratify intending explorers”. This includes some basic necessities that remain pertinent today, like soap, clothes and matches. Other features that seemed surplus to our requirements included: a rifle, two double-barreled breech-loading pistols and hunting knives.
Despite his bombastic armory, Musters was already well ahead of us on the low carbon footprint stakes. He had arrived on a boat, while we landed on an Airbus. So as not to be outdone by a mustachioed Musters we set out to find gear with minimal environmental footprint and maximum panache.
As outdoor brand Patagonia puts it, the least impactful items of clothing already live in your wardrobe. Luckily for us, Emily’s forays into the great outdoors have left us bedecked with an array of useful equipment, many now older than 10 years, including: a sleeping bag, tent, roll mats, thermals (yes Sam has spent 8 months in women’s thermal leggings) and a long-suffering MSR camping stove.
To address the gaps in our inventory we set out to source solutions as if the planet depended on it. The kit would need to stand-up to rough nights in forests, gutters and bus shelters, and of course meet Sam’s exacting fashion standards made famous by the single, year-round work outfit of bobbly jumper and crumpled blue chinos.
In 1899 a Berlin writer Herr Paul Von Schnonthan, asked the women of Berlin why they had taken to cycling. One young lady responded:
” I do not think it nice for girls to ride on a bicycle. One perspires so horribly, and after half an hour’s ride one gets into a dreadful state. I always take a little powder-box, a pair of tongs and a spirit lamp to curl my fringe, but it is very difficult to use them when there are gentleman present, for that makes such a fuss, and they might laugh at one. I am always getting bruises too, and hurting myself. I hope the fashion will soon die out.”
One hundred and nineteen years later neither the fashion or passion for cycling has died out and today’s choice of gear is frankly mindboggling. As total strangers to the world of cycle clothing and equipment, we sought out the help of that friend everyone needs. The person with those sunglasses you thought only Lance Armstrong wore. The person unashamedly wearing Lycra on a Saturday morning. The person that remodels their small flat into a bike workshop, with rides hanging proudly where most ordinary folk have a TV. We all have that friend right? Anyway, Ross Clayton shall remain unnamed (whoops).
Where our “anonymous” friend referred us to the Internet, the labyrinth of blogs and comments raised an eyebrow or two. Rife with high tempers and vitriolic back-and-fourths, attitudes to right and wrong on cycle socks resembled something you’d find on a protest march.
Never ones to shy from the fight, we now propose our own definitive guide below. All others are now clearly redundant. And for those tempted to shop around for different opinions, the wealth of catty blog rhetoric out there should keep you on the right path.
Panniers, or bike-bags to the uninitiated, were a real head-scratcher.
After the combined failure of panniers and racks on Sam’s last cycle adventure led him to scale some of the highest roads in the world with bags duct-taped to his handle bars the idea of pannier failure was a real worry. Panniers also cost about as much as a trip to the Seychelles, another concern for trip quartermaster Emily.
Luckily, we got talking to seaside sustainability trailblazers SAILORMADE, who make bags from upcycled boat sails in our very own backyard (Manly, Australia). Scott and Sophie lovingly crafted and generously donated a full set of sail panniers. Find out more in the video below.
This we weren’t excited about. Normal cycle helmet fashion seems to be stuck in its earliest design cycle. Streamlined, plasticy, and not really aesthetically pleasing to all but an Olympic cyclist.
Luckily for us, the legends at US-based Thousand Helmets have designed epic epoch helmets that combine aesthetic awesomeness with the right safety requirements. Their purpose is to get more people wearing helmets and riding safely with good-looking lids, while also sourcing from as environmentally-friendly materials as possible.
We can confirm that in the 80mph Patagonian winds our egg heads were not the thing holding us back, so if you’re in the market for something less overtly belonging in the velodrome then check them out.
The limited wardrobe space allowed for three pairs of undies each (the less said about this the better).
For outer layers (t-shirts, shorts), we picked hemp-based products. Our friends at Afends in Byron Bay are at the forefront of this hemp revolution creating a product far more environmentally friendly than cotton, and rescuing it from a fashion crisis (go on, admit it, when you read hemp you pictured hippies in bogey-brown threads and burlap sacks).
Patagonia are hot on their heels, making some stellar hemp shorts which Sam snapped up. There is a time and place for slick downhill mountain bike attire or all in one lycra morph suits, and it isn’t traveling at 10mph up a hill on a heavily laden wooden bike. Em went for a pair of exceedingly jazzy secondhand leggings kindly donated by the hero that is Natalie Brend the night before departure.
All clothes have an endurance limit and eight months into the journey our threads are…. well literally threads. But we’re confident the brilliant repairmen of South America will see us to the finish line, they’ve done a pretty incredible job so far.
The world of cycle shorts is about as sexy as a Tupperware party, but some bum padding is a must if you want to finish the journey with your nether parts intact.
Introducing the bib. Part mankini, part 1920’s bathing suit, we were told this padded short with elastic over-the-shoulder straps is the weapon of choice for serious cyclists. Aside from the obvious sartorial benefits, Sam noted the added advantage that it scoops ones belly and pushes it through the very low cut vest. Altogether the combination of Bridget Jones tummy tucker and tight shorts left him feeling somewhat body conscious in the remotest Patagonian wilderness. Despite looking ridiculous they undoubtedly saved his ass.
Not bad at $7 from our local charity shop, cheers The Red Cross!
Em has long been an early adopter of unlikely trends. Notable examples include a foray into the onesie while it still resided in the domain of babywear, and as the owner of a complete wardrobe of dickies dungarees that should never have left the domain of swarthy lumberjacks from British Colombia.
With this in mind and no luck on the charity shop racks she found a pair of padded stripy undies from Urbanist. Comfy and totally versatile, think long car journeys, bum breaking bar stools or Brazilian beaches.
This trusty friend was a surprise. Not only does the rain jacket have a poor environmental footprint during the manufacturing process, it also leaves harmful PFCs in the beautiful places you visit.
Sad irony that most buyers are trying to enjoy the outdoors and not pollute it.
Luckily, Colombia and Patagonia are spearheading designs made from recycled plastic bottles making them slightly less environmentally odious.
Patagonia made Sam’s pick for the simple rationale of availability within Australian shores, and after facing into full days of rain it holds up great and now sports enough black chain grease to add the authenticity any real adventurer craves. Em already had one so no new gear for her.
BITS AND BOBS
Old innertubes. We’re only scratching the surface with their superpowers. They secure stuff on our bike panniers and, in the form of an upcycled saddlebag, hold our bike locks and repair kit.
Repurposing inner tubes seems like an Aladin’s den of opportunity for all the budding McGuivers out there.
The bike frames were handmade from bamboo, hemp fiber and bio-resin. The components were predominantly new and made from steel. We dallied with the idea of using second-hand parts but with the scale of the journey in mind, we went instead with high-quality parts many of which, with enough TLC, we hope will last a lifetime.
As with all things it was hard to have no environmental impact and inevitably buying new gear, whatever its credentials, comes at an environmental cost. One pair of jeans uses 3,781 liters of water in its lifetime! That said we did our darndest best to keep it to a minimum. Talking of darning…. we have some work to do!
It’s said that after his return to England, George Chaworth Musters often preferred to sleep in the garden wrapped in a blanket, if you have any questions, you know where to find us.
- CHARITY SHOPS are a total treasure chest for bike wear and camping kit and buying here will not only help the chosen charity but will have a far lower impact on the environment.
- REPAIR AND REWEAR Hole in your shorts or talking shoe? Don’t chuck them! Carry a little sowing kit or drop them into a repair shop and they’ll come out good as new. Patagonia Worn Wear is also well worth a look, you can find used kit or trade in and upcycle your old Patagonia threads.
- WASH LESS This sounds gross but we have become a bit obsessed with washing, I mean one of the King Louis of France had to be surgically removed from a vest he had been wearing for four years – now that is dedication. We don’t need to go quite this far but it’s good to keep in mind that the greatest environmental impact of a garment over its entire life is not in its production, transport or disposal, but in its use by the consumer – washing, drying and ironing. If they’re not smelly and don’t have ketchup down the front do you really need to wash those shorts?
This article is part of a series on sustainability in South America by Emily and Sam of Two By Bamboo. Cycling 10,000km from Patagonia to Colombia on worryingly wonky homemade bamboo bikes, their mission is to share the stories of the movers, shakers, recyclers and makers of the continent.
Biologist turned producer Emily worked on a number of documentaries for BBC and Discovery Channel in the UK before moving down under where she joined SBS as an impact producer. By sharing the stories of amazing humans and animals she meets, Emily hopes to inspire herself and others to make more positive choices for our planet.
Read more at twobybamboo.com