Ortlieb has been a reliable pannier bag brand for cyclists for decades, so it wasn’t surprising to see them release a few bikepacking-specific products in 2016.
At the Sea Otter Classic this year, Ortlieb continued that progression by upgrading their Gravel-Pack panniers, seat pack and handlebar bag, and adding couple new items.
The big focus of these bags is reducing the overall size of the bag. This is based on consumer feedback that Ortlieb has conducted and the statistic that when given the option to use more space, most people will use it, but when space is not available, they make-do. When you are riding long distance, multi-day trips, less weight is a good thing.
The Ortlieb Gravel-Pack front panniers are a more compact version of their current Sport-Roller pannier. The Sport-Roller has 25 liters of storage space, while the new Gravel-Pack has 22 liter. The Gravel-Pack features Ortlieb’s signature 3M Scotchlite reflectors on the sides of the bag and double lower mounting hooks for V-shaped racks. The Gravel-Pack will be available this fall and will retail at $170.
And now a little sneak-peek at 2018 products:
The Ortlieb Seat-Pack M is a compact version the currently available Seat-Pack. Both bags offer Ortlieb’s 3M Scotchlite reflectors, honeycomb texture, waterproof with a roll closure, and the air release valve.
The original Seat-Pack is a substantial 16.5 liters while the M is a cozy 11 liters. Because the M is smaller, Ortlieb was able to make the seat post attachment a single velcro strap versus the original’s double. The benefits to a single seat post attachment are that it can now be used on a dropper post and it’s also more usable for petite cyclists who have limited space to attach a bag to the seat post. Price: $145
Another evolved product is the Handlebar-Pack S, again another shrunken version of the original. The S is 15.7 inches wide and 6.7 inches in diameter. Its short length makes it a good candidate for drop bars, with the capacity for up to 9 liters. The S has 3M Scotchlite reflectors, honeycomb texture, and is waterproof with roll closures. Price: $125
Ortlieb also has two brand new bags for 2018. One is the Frame-Pack Top Tube, a narrow frame bag that accommodates water bottle cages or rear shocks. The Frame-Pack is waterproof and offers 4 liters of volume. Price: $135
The second bag is the Cockpit-Pack, a waterproof bag positioned on the top tube to house a few small essentials in an easy-access location. It looks as though it could hold a cell phone, keys and a snack easily. Price: $55
All Ortlieb products come with a 5-year warranty.
Ortlieb also had their no-sew patches on-site. Patches are awesome, but holes in your waterproof gear are not. Thanks for the patch!
Keep Reading: Check out more coverage from the 2017 Sea Otter Classic here.
Looking for the perfect bike that provides the freedom to roam aimlessly regardless of the terrain ahead? Look no further, the Ritchey Break-Away Ascent may be your answer. It’s exactly what a bike should be, a do-all, go anywhere means for adventure. This steel-framed beauty relegates both one trick ponies and niche categories.
The heart and soul to the Break-Away Ascent is the custom, lightweight Ritchey Logic TIG-welded tubing paired with a relaxed geometry and ability to run up 700×40 mm or 27.5×2.1 inch tires.
Add the travel-friendly break-away compression system and you have yourself a versatile bike that’s capable of traveling the world with you as your checked luggage.
The Ritchey Break-Away Ascent is available to the masses only as a frameset, with an included soft-sided travel bag for $1,650. For testing purposes, ours arrived loaded with Ritchey WCS bits including the new VentureMax adventure drop bar, 27.5×2.1 Shield tires mounted on Vantage II wheels, a SRAM Force 2×11 drivetrain, and BB7 mechanical disc brakes.
The frame utilizes simple technology such as the highly-praised, threaded 68 mm bottom bracket, 27.2 mm seatpost and a post-mount disc brake mount. All of these should be easily sourced in any bike shop, letting you to get back on your journey quickly and with ease should any mechanicals derail you.
Sounds too good to be true, right? Check out our full review of this steel framed travel companion in the upcoming issue of Bicycle Times #46. Subscribe now so that you don’t miss out on an issue!Tweet Print
Words and photos by Matthew Salvadore
Where was it? It was the last item he needed. He had spent several days looking for a place that sold it. Now, as he shuffled through the local pharmacy convenient store in his pajama pants and Pink Floyd t shirt, he still couldn’t seem to find it. He made his way to the cashier and waited in line.
That’s my father-in-law. He spent a lot of his time this way. Not necessarily waiting in line at pharmacy convenient stores, but searching. Searching for that one last item he needs. He’s a buyer and a planner. It seems that planning for something and buying the gear for it is more exciting to him than actually doing what he is planning to do. I had forgotten that when I agreed
to take a bike packing trip with him.
He loves bicycles, but not riding them, necessarily. He’s a collector. At one point he owned ten new bikes, none of which he had ridden. Not even on a test ride at the bike shop before purchasing. It seems that the dream is always bigger than the
reality. If only riding the bikes could be as effortless as looking at the bikes. He’s not much different than the vast majority of people in our society. That’s why Disneyland is such a popular place. The dream is bigger than reality. People are drunk on the dreams.
He and I really couldn’t be any different. I hate buying things. I have always thought owning a lot of things is like being slowly choked to death. I also love to ride. I am drawn to the challenges and deprivation. The pain and difficulty. The struggle. For me the reality is always better than the dream. I hate dreaming and, yes, I hate Disneyland.
Bikepacking was something I had been wanting to do for awhile. One day, while talking about bikes (something that happened a lot with my father-in-law), I mentioned my bikepacking hopes. He wanted to go. So I said yes. That was the start of months of planning and to his enjoyment, purchasing.
Finally, the line moved and it was his turn. This was the big moment. He was about to find the last item he needed for the trip.
When the cashier invited him to step forward he asked, “Do you sell canned hams?” Aisle 4. Of course! Right next to the school supplies. How could he have missed them? This was the only store in a twenty mile radius of suburban America that carried canned hams. That’s because no one eats canned hams. However, thanks to a bikepacking tutorial on YouTube, he insisted that we needed canned hams for this trip.
After the purchase of two canned hams, the bikepacking list was complete. It was official. He finally had way too much stuff. For him, the adventure was over. It was only an overnighter, but it took months to plan. We decided on a state forest not too far away. It had a good system of gravel roads and trails. It was plenty of ground to cover, especially considering the fact that my father-in-law cannot ride much more than a mile or two without needing a break and he would be carrying enough gear to supply a small army. In the past few days, he had even joked about buying a bicycle trailer. At least I think it was a joke.
My wife and I live four hours away from her parents. So we took a few days off and went for a long weekend to their place. We got there late on Thursday night. The “Great Adventure” would begin on Friday.
I woke up early Friday morning. I didn’t really need to pack. I fit the few items I would need, including the infamous canned ham, into a backpack and handlebar bag. I went upstairs to see how my father-in-law was doing with packing everything. He was shuffling around the house in his boxers and a t-shirt from a local bikes shop’s racing team. There’s a level of irony in that.
“How’s it going?” I asked, almost knowing the answer. There was cycling gear spread out on every piece of furniture in the room.
“It’s supposed to rain,” he said. He almost said it with a sense of relief. The forecast had called for spotty showers. Nothing to worry about. “You know,” he said as if asking for permission,”We could just go for a ride and then come back here to camp
Over the past few months I had waited for this conversation to come along and now, here it was. I was surprised that we had actually come this far and gotten this close. He had walked right up to the edge of it. But when he looked over the edge into the great chasm of the unknown world of adventure, all he could see was effort and discomfort. He had already had his adventure in the months of planning and spending. He had ridden the endless waves of dreams. Reality now stared him in the face. And it looked mean. I felt bad for him.
So that’s how it went. We drove to the state forest. Rode for a couple of miles until he needed a break. Then picked up a pizza on the way home. That night, I camped in their backyard and he slept in his warm bed. We woke up in the morning and had canned ham and eggs for breakfast. It never did rain.
I’ve taken other trips since then. But that one was the best. Because caring about people is the greatest adventure.
We would love to hear your stories of bicycle adventure, no matter what they are. Send your submissions to [email protected]
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Over the past several years, Salsa has defined itself has a bicycle brand dedicated to adventures that lie beyond the ordinary bike ride. Epic-distance riding, exploration and bona fide bikepacking have become the company’s hallmark. Thus it should come as no surprise that Salsa has doubled down on this vision by announcing a complete set of bikepacking bags and accessories. We first heard about the EXP Series back in July.
As Salsa states, the EXP Series Bikepacking gear is, “built with the adventure-ready intentionality, functionality, and get-after-it-ability that you’ve come to expect from Salsa. The EXP Series invites possibility and the potential to transform any ride into so much more.” The EXP moniker is derived from three words batted about when mentioning Salsa Cycles: explore; experience; and expedition.
The EXP series is comprised of seven distinct products. While these items are designed to fit Salsa bikes, they’re likely also to fit the bike you ride:
- Cutthroat Framepack
- Toptube Bag
- Anything Cradle
- Dry Bag
- Front Pouch
- Front Straps
Let’s take a quick look at each item.
Available in four sizes (3.5L; 4.5L; 5.2L; and 6.1L), this weather-resistant frame fastens to the inside of the main triangle and features 500D Nylon with TPU lamination and PU coating, 1000D Polyester with dual-sided TPU lamination, #10 weather-resistant YKK Zippers, and Duraflex Hardware. Internal hook/loop dividers help keep gear separate and balanced, and it has the capacity for a water bladder for your inevitable hydration needs during the long haul.
Handy for those small items you often reach for – like gel packs, lip balm and cigarettes…or chewing gum if you prefer…this 1.2L toptube bag can be attached to Salsa frames that feature bottle mounts on the toptube (we haven’t confirmed if it’ll mount to other bikes with similar mounts like the OPEN U.P.) Features include two internal mesh pockets and a closed-cell foam structure for increased stability.
“The Anything Cradle, much like our Anything Cage HD, is built to create carrying capacity where once there was none.” It doesn’t get much more succinct than that. This injection-molded composite cradle features 6061 forged aluminum arms, and will secure up to eight pounds of whatever gear you need to bring with you, or…anything. The Anything Cradle is designed to mount to the handlebars. While it features almost limitless points to which you can fasten straps, this cradle is part of the EXP’s modular concept, as the EXP Series dry bags are designed to neatly fit right in.
Conveniently, the Dry Bag attaches quite nicely to the aforementioned Anything Cradle. This 15l dry bag is made of 420D Nylon with TPU lamination and a PU coating for reliable waterproofness. Three slotted strap anchors adorn the front for attachment of other bags and packs, such as the…
Anything Cradle Front Pouch
While the Dry Bag is great for keeping lots of goods nice and dry during your rides, it’s usually filled with stuff you’re not really reaching for while you’re riding. That’s where a pouch comes in handy. Strapped to the dry bag, the 1.7L waterproof Anything Cradle Front Pouch allows easy access to what you find important, usually while you’re riding.
Anything Cradle Front Straps
These 25mm-wide nylon webbing straps are made to work neatly with the Anything Cradle. In the absence of the Dry Bag, you can mount…well…anything to the Cradle. They’re also good for strapping down anything else to other places on your bike.
Salsa is including its EXP Series Seatpack in this suite of bikepacking kit, but it’s still in production. Details…and some official photos…will be released soon.
No word yet on pricing, but you should start seeing these EXP Series products hitting the streets…err…roads and trails soon.Tweet Print
Photos: Nicholas Carman
The Baja Divide is a 1,700 mile off-pavement bikepacking route down the length of the Baja peninsula, from San Diego, California, to San José del Cabo in Mexico. The route utilizes existing roads and tracks, 95 percent of which are unpaved, ranging from graded dirt roads to rough, sandy jeep tracks, for a total of 92,000 feet of climbing along the way.
The ride was developed by avid bicycle travelers Nicholas Carman and Lael Wilcox, who have been bike traveling for the past eight years. “We stumbled into a route project last winter when we rode across the border in Baja California and quickly realized that we needed to ride, document, and publish a route down the peninsula— the riding was that good,” wrote Carman. “What began as a quest for long nights of sleep and a mellow dirt tour turned into three months of route research, pushing our bikes, and riding some out-there roads.
The Baja Divide route connects the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez, historic Spanish mission sites rich with shade and water, remote ranchos and fishing villages, bustling highway towns, and every major mountain range in Baja California on miles and miles of beautiful backcountry desert tracks.
Life on the Baja Divide is defined by a rhythm of riding, camping, and resupply. Baja California is a mountainous desert and resources are limited, although the route is designed to encounter resupply frequently enough to make a self-supported tour possible. Riders may need to carry up to 2-3 days of food and 10 liters of water. A warm, dry climate minimizes equipment needs. Pack light, and leave room for food and water.
Check out the Baja Divide website, which is loaded with route and equipment guides, section narratives and resources for download including GPX files, waypoint folder, resupply guide and distance chart. The route is provided as a gift to the bikepacking community with the support of Revelate Designs and Advocate Cycles and is open to ride at any time, self-supported. The best time to enjoy this route is November thru March. Previous backcountry touring experience is strongly recommended.
In addition to the published route, a scholarship to ride and document it is up for grabs. Named in honor of Wilcox’s adventurous spirit—and her recent successes winning the Tour Divide and Trans Am Bike Race—the “Lael’s Globe of Adventure” Women’s Scholarship is being offered to a woman of any age who plans to ride the Baja Divide during the 2016-2017 season. The winner will receive an Advocate Cycles Hayduke or Seldom Seen bicycle, a complete Revelate Designs luggage system, and a $1,000 community-supported travel grant. Applications must be submitted by November 11, 2016. For full scholarship details and requirements, visit the Baja Divide website.
Words: Joanna Urban
A bike is an instrument of freedom. On it you can feel the breeze in your hair and against your skin as you pedal faster and faster, riding into the wind or along with it.
Nothing is weighing you down or holding you back. Wearing shorts that cling to the curves of your muscles, hair pulled back and legs shaved, you blend almost seamlessly into the air swirling around you. The wind is not your enemy—you are simply swimming in it.
On your bike, you might be riding away from something or toward it. Or you can traverse the same path over and over again, around in circles, until eventually your customary, frequented route starts to make a lot of sense. You learn it by heart, and commit it to memory. Nothing could seem more familiar than this treasured path. You remember exactly where the big hills occur on certain stretches and even your muscles recall the way they burn in your thighs when you stand up and pedal hard against gravity. Part of the path is sunny and too hot but you learn to enjoy it. You internalize this as a welcome feeling before riding into the shade where only meager patches of sunlight peak through the canopy of trees.
On the bike path, you ride past a tree with a tire swing tied to it in someone’s yard. Oddly, you never see a kid playing on it, but it is comforting to think that children have swung on it before and probably will again someday. You hope that kids have played there, or will play on it in the future, because if not, then what a waste of a beautiful swing tied to a big strong tree branch.
Each time you ride this route, you cruise past the same wrought iron tables outside of the neighborhood coffee shop. You eavesdrop on the conversations occurring at these tables, and you feel connected to these people in a way. Yet somehow, everything they say seems strangely remote and impersonal: “He dumped me for someone else via a text message; I missed out on the big promotion; we got a new puppy and he’s afraid of the vacuum cleaner; we’re going on vacation to Hawaii; now I just have to loose five pounds.”
You once cared about these things, too, when they were happening to you but on your bicycle the people are out of sight, their words out of earshot in a few seconds. There are different people at the tables every day with novel rumors, anecdotes and breaking news bits to share. Each piece of exciting or devastating news you hear lasts only transiently, then it fades into the breeze and is forever behind you as you continue on your route, forgetting.
Nothing is personal when you’re on your bike. None of the words you hear from the people outside the coffee shop have any bearing on you, nor does getting a flat tire, or falling down after swerving to avoid hitting a squirrel. These things inevitably happen on the trail. You have come to expect all of it.
The most important part is coming back home and knowing that your route will be there for you again the next day. It won’t give you the answers, but the trail and the air around you is a bank that carries for you the words that comprise your thoughts and questions and uncertainties. You won’t be burdened with any of them as long as you are on the bike riding somewhere, knowing that everything is temporary and the only certainty is moving forward.
These thoughts and words and feelings float around you in the breeze and you’re protected from them; you escape from them. Your thoughts don’t always define you, but often they are just reflections of what people tell you, what you’ve heard is supposed to happen and what you fear may not pan out.
When it’s just you and the bike and the ground beneath you and the wind surrounding you, there is nothing to reflect against; you are free to simply be. The thoughts are given back to you at the end of the ride, of course, but you feel different now. You realize that they never could harm you. As long as you have an outlet for expression, an instrument of freedom, your thoughts, questions, and anxieties are just your fuel.
How do you roll?
Share your stories by sending them to [email protected] with the subject line “How I Roll.”
Words and photos: Chris Reichel
Originally published in Issue #41
I had decided to do something I had dreamed about since I was a kid: to ride across the United States. I already had a habit of turning simple ride ideas into what I like to call “great bad ideas” and this particular bad idea has been a long time in the making. I now have a full-fledged mountain bike addiction, so why not tow a trailer with a mountain bike on it, stopping at great trails along the way? I called it the Ultimate Ride to the Ride.
I never once thought eastern Colorado and Kansas would be easy. I have heard enough stories from other riders to respect the difficulty of the prairie. But I had no idea just how much it would try to destroy me.
Most of my suffering was my fault. I came into this ride completely underprepared and out of shape. I could only laugh at the fact that while I was spending so much time arranging my life to exit society and live on my bicycle, that I had no time to actually ride. As I rode away from Longmont, Colorado, to start the trip, I hit the eastern Colorado prairie like it was training camp. There is no better way to get into riding shape than to ride all day, every day.
Day three of any tour is the hardest. It is the physical and mental barrier that will bring down even the strongest of riders. By this point soreness has caught up with you and the realization that you have a long way to go finally sets in. I have lived through it dozens of times before and this time was no different. I punched through and by day six I was in Kansas. My mileage was steadily increasing and by day 10 I was in full touring mode. Training camp over. Time to really ride.
Hitting my stride at that point, I was having a blast. I rolled into the town of Hill City with 70 miles behind me and feeling great. This was already my biggest day of the trip and I didn’t see any reason to stop now. I was stuffing my face with ice cream in a gas station parking lot when a man stopped to talk to me. He introduced himself as Jeramy and said he was a cyclist too. I told him my planned route for the rest of the evening but he recommended a better way, a way that had less traffic and no gravel roads. I thanked him and decided to take his advice.
Sure enough, he was right. It was a beautiful ride through the countryside at sunset. I had just pulled over to switch on my lights when a truck slowly pulled up along side me. It was Jeramy and a buddy. They thought I could use a beer so they drove out to find me. We hung out in a cornfield talking bikes and beer until nearly midnight.
My riding was obviously done for the day and I decided to camp right where we were standing. It was a 5-star day of bike touring. I woke up suddenly at 4 a.m. to my phone ringing. I was a little foggy listening to the voicemail, but it was Jeramy and he sounded serious. “Man, there is a really bad storm coming your way. It’s on my house right now or else I’d come get ya. Please find shelter. It’s REALLY bad!”
It was a little breezy around me, and I could hear some thunder in the distance, but nothing seemed very serious. I started to pull up the weather radar on my phone when, all of the sudden, I lost service. Just like that, the wind picked up and the thunder was right on top of me. There were some culverts near by, but how bad could it be? It was a beautiful night when I went to sleep.
I made the decision to stay in the tent with all of my belongings. I put my back to the wind and braced the side of my tent. I spread my legs as wide as I could to secure the corners of the tent and I held the crossbar in the tent’s ceiling. The wind was getting ferocious and with a single gust all of the stakes ripped from the ground. The rainfly started whipping me in the back so hard that I felt the zipper break the skin.
Then the rain came like a wave and I was instantly sitting in two inches of water. When the lightning flashed I could see the water rushing into all of my dry bags that I had poorly sealed before falling asleep. There was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t let go of the tent. This was starting to get serious. The wind speed continued to increase and I was now getting hit with debris. A few gusts were so strong that they caught the tent just right and started to lift me off the ground.
Then I heard a sound that I will never forget. Imagine standing next to a freight train. Now turn that sound up to 11 and mix in the demons of hell. It sounded like pure evil. It was so loud that at one point I let out a scream just see if I could hear it, and I couldn’t.
At that moment the tent poles finally broke and I instinctively rolled myself up like a burrito in the rain fly. Funny thing is that I remember being so calm, that I actually wondered why I was so calm. All I could think to myself was “Is this really a tornado in Kansas? How cliché.”
The noise passed as fast as it came and by the time the rain stopped it was dawn. I assessed the damage and it wasn’t pretty. My tent was flattened, all of my possessions were soaked and my cameras were under water. My bike rig had been moved about 15 feet downwind and my helmet was nowhere to be seen.
I busied myself with spreading my gear out to dry. Jeramy drove out to see if I was okay and handed me a beer to calm my nerves. I guess I looked a little shaken up. He informed me that the news reported a tornado touched down “just over there” and pointed at a field close to where we were standing. That was heavy news to hear. I just rode out a tornado. In my tent.
Suddenly I wasn’t so upset about my ruined camera gear. I was just happy to be breathing. At that moment I was done. Get me out of here and take me home now. If there was a big red button that I could press to end the trip I would have pressed it. Transport me back to the comfort of my home trails and my neighborhood pub. Back to my comfortable little house and my mediocre job.
But I didn’t set out on this trip to be comfortable. I did it to ride bikes and have unique experiences. I have to chalk up that crazy night to another experience and move on down the road. Plus, after 400 miles, I am almost to the singletrack. I can’t quit now, I have worked so hard to get this far. So I sucked it up and pedaled on down the road. Like a moth to a flame, I went to the trails.
Read More! Check out the seven-part series about this trip that Reichel wrote for our sister magazine, Dirt Rag.
Words: Amanda DelCore
Originally published in Issue #41
I was itching to ride alone. No offense to any of my trail pals that had accompanied me through Canada, Montana, and Wyoming on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, but I had a personal score to settle with Colorado.
In 2009 I had lived as a bat-shit-crazy Coloradan for a year—summitting 14,000-foot mountains at dawn, skiing powder for the first time and learning how to backpack. My inner explorer and adventurer woke up in those mountains.
I was lured away for graduate school and work but was never able to forget the thrill of the jagged peaks and the wide valleys. To compensate I toiled in the semi-secret woodsy trails hidden within the urban tangle of Philadelphia.
Then fast forward to the summer of 2015. I had already ridden about 1,700 miles along the Great Divide route with friends but I was about to finish the trail alone. I had returned to the Colorado Rockies and had them all to myself. Known for their fickle temperament, the mountains wasted little time putting me in my place. Almost immediately after leaving Steamboat Springs the cloud ceiling dropped and I encountered pockets of light rain. Intermittent showers turned to steady rain and thunder as I rode further into the mountains.
As my eyes darted from the sky to the dirt, I could feel myself cowering over my handlebars. It was either “ride” or “hide” from the storm, and I chose “ride.” The gnarled bows of scrubby juniper told me that these trees were not to be confused with shelter. I descended the switchbacks as quickly as I could on my top-heavy rig and swore under my breath. Lightning cracked and thunder boomed from one valley to another.
The confusing part was that I couldn’t see the storm. I felt like a blind horse running out of a burning barn. As I maneuvered down the mountain, the unincorporated community of Radium came into view. Relief and a sense of urgency hit me at the same time. I gritted my teeth and pedaled faster. A wide river snaked through the small, flat valley. Even better, I saw dots that resembled park shelters.
I managed to roll into the park just as the rain started falling in sheets. I splashed up to the sturdy outdoor latrine and perched atop the only logical hangout: a trash can tucked underneath the overhang. I didn’t know I could feel so much gratitude for such a simple thing. Cross-legged, I passed time doing the one thing that every long-distance bikepacker does when he or she gets off the bike: I put food in my mouth.
I had wanted to ride farther that day but the park rangers said the roads were so wet that I wouldn’t make much progress. I knew that the struggle for a few miles today would be quick work tomorrow, so I decided to sleep in the valley. The clouds broke, the sun came out, and I witnessed a full rainbow. As the sun went down I pitched my tent on a too-neat-for-nature gravel pad.
As I sipped some pasta-water tea, I reflected that it wasn’t such a bad end to a mostly annoying day of bike riding. This could be any day for a bikepacker. It certainly could be worse. There was the time I didn’t bring enough water to the high desert in New Mexico and was luckily replenished by bow-season hunters. Or the time I climbed a mountain pass only to lock eyes with a bull moose at the top. Or the day that I rode 120 miles from Cuba to Grants, New Mexico—60 percent of the way into brutal headwinds, 95 percent completely and utterly alone with the landscape and 100 percent responsible for my nutrition and hydration.
So how do people do it? How do they overcome the unique challenges of being alone, on a bike, especially in remote areas? The very nature of riding solo means that the physical and mental struggles are difficult to communicate to anyone who wasn’t there.
I had the chance to interview a handful of solo bike travelers who range from anxious to intrepid, but are nonetheless out there, alone. What resulted was a submersion into the human psyche, a place where the ever-determined ego confronts the stalking shadow of fear over and over and over again.
Being your only company, you witness the dark side of your mind. You learn to laugh at your own jokes. Personal growth isn’t just about VO2 max anymore. Music, podcasts and audiobooks can only mask solitude for a few hours. After that, you learn how to be alone.
Claire Porter, who solo toured the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route from Canada to Colorado as a Blackburn Ranger, recollects that “spending hours in the saddle alone, day after day, definitely put me deep in my head, and that didn’t end up being entirely good. But it forced me to ask the hard questions that had been looming before the trip like ‘What do I want to do with my life?’ and ‘How much eating is appropriate?’ All of which occupied my mind for hours on end.”
Lael Wilcox, a Tour Divide record setter, spun her way to a more meditative approach. “I’ll find myself thinking about things that have happened in the past, or I’ll think about future plans, but eventually I’ll get to a place where my mind is pretty quiet. After awhile, it’s going back into town that gets hard.”
Berly Brown, an artist inspired by her cycling adventures, thinks back to her first tour. “I often got lost in listening to my breathing as I felt my legs move—a mindfulness practice before I knew what that was. I just tried to stay engaged by noticing how my body felt or by watching the scenery. In the Pacific Northwest that was easy. I mostly felt incredible gratitude that I was doing it!”
Rebecca Rusch, a professional adventure racer and mountain biker, dishes an elegant but practical solution to staying mentally engaged during long solo adventures. “Choose a route that’s really inspiring. There are many classic routes I haven’t ridden simply because they just don’t excite me. Picking a place you’ve always wanted to go is an important first step.”
As a solo traveler, you are your own navigator. You pay attention. Not only do you plan, but you also plan for failure. Good planning sets you free to enjoy the ride once you’re rolling. One thing upon which all the veteran bikepackers agree is that good planning is crucial to a positive experience. And after you’ve controlled all you can control, you have to trust the universe.
Kim Murrell, who rode thousands of miles solo across Florida in the past year, admits that she’s probably a little fringe when it comes to planning her trips. She purposely doesn’t over-research to keep the adventure of the unknown intact. But even she admits, “you always have a plan B.” Rusch will tell you the same thing. “I like to always have a what-if-the-shit-hits-the-fan plan. Not that I plan on failure, but it’s reassuring to have an escape route. Know your escape routes.”
Good planning doesn’t just mean having maps and a GPS. It also means researching your gear, learning how to use it, and knowing how to exist wherever you are. Herein lies one of the greatest freedoms in bikepacking. If you don’t make it to your planned site for the night, all is not lost. In fact, all is very typical. As long as your have enough water and food, an impromptu campsite is a likely option.
I’ve never had a bikepacking trip that’s gone according to plan. Having a system to adapt to constantly changing plans is essential. In a way, it’s kind of like life.
Jocelyn Gaudi, founder of the Komorebi bikepacking team, uses routines as a means for on-the-trail organization and sanity. “It’s important to go through routines that make you feel in control. Knowing that when you arrive and you’re so desperately tired, you have a checklist and you just have to do it. It’s also a practical way to make sure you don’t leave things behind.”
Common sense and science both tell us that we feel safer in numbers. Studies have shown that people who are alone perceive threats as closer than when they are in a group. Anyone who has spent time in the backcountry knows this feeling: your perception of danger is somehow more acute. While some self-awareness is probably beneficial, fear of danger can be debilitating and, quite frankly, a huge downer on a solo trip.
“My biggest fear on the trail isn’t sleeping in a bivy in the wilderness or riding by the swamps,” said Murrell. “It’s when you’re on that old dirt road, in the middle of nowhere, and all of a sudden you see a car or truck. That’s the only fear I really have. That’s when I stop and process the situation. Do I stop? Do I keep going?”
“Usually if I am riding alone I worry about being run off the road or attacked or abducted,” said Brown. “I try to push past those thoughts by thinking of something else or coming up with plans or methods of how I might escape!”
Gaudi recounts the time she got stopped by a logging truck on the Cascade Skyline route in Oregon. “The driver wanted to let me know that, today, he saw bears and cougars, and he wanted to know if I had a gun with me.” She remembers that she started thinking very quickly. “Bears and cougars? Plural? I don’t know this person at all, I’m in the middle of nowhere, he has a truck, I have no escape route. How much information do I give him? But I think he might be giving me valuable information. So, I lied to him and told him that I had a gun. It was just my gut reaction. He seemed satisfied by this, and took off down the hill. So I turned on music really loudly and tried to make a joke about what type of music wild animals would be most turned off by.”
Whether or not Beyoncé repels bears remains to be confirmed, but there were no sightings that day.
On the contrary, both Wilcox and Rusch sounded miffed when I asked them about safety outside of sport-related injury. “Huh?” was their general reaction. (I personally think they’re going too fast to get stopped by anyone or anything, amirite?)
Wilcox has traveled by bike for about eight years and has ridden on the order of 100,000 miles around the world. Across time and space, she’s seen the face of humanity, and by her judgment, the stranger’s face is not very different from our own. “Put yourself in their shoes for a moment.You see a dirty, tired cyclist coming into town, what’s going through their head? Maybe they’re just as skeptical of you as you are of them.”
In 2015, Wilcox rode from her home in Alaska more than 2,000 miles to the starting line of the Tour Divide race. She then raced the 2,500 miles of the Tour Divide in 17 days and set a new women’s record. Unsatisfied with her performance, she retraced her tire tracks along the route a few months later and finished in less than 16 days. Here is a person who has taken fear out of the equation. Any kind of human limits seem to also be missing.
You might be thinking, “Why even bother doing a solo trip when going with others is just so much easier?” Believe it or not, bikepacking alone has its rewards. “I make it a point to do my trips as solo as possible,” Murrell said. “Don’t get me wrong, I love to ride with people, but I also enjoy just knowing I’m completely solo out there. When I go on a trip, I am only focused on the route and I really unplug. I can’t get that anywhere else.”
For Rusch, a long, solitary bikepacking trip was exactly what she needed after hosting the Rebecca’s Private Idaho race, a “gravel-strewn, grit-filled, pedal-cranking love letter” from Rusch and her Idaho home to the rest of the world. “After hosting a 500-plus person event with my name in the title I was just mentally and physically exhausted,” she said. “The Smoke ’n’ Fire 400 was actually the longest unsupported bikepacking trip I’ve done. I had so much fun on that ride. I was just on this amazing adventure, exploring places in my home state, seeing the animals at night, watching the sunrise. It was a beautiful experience.” She reflected that because her mental game was so positive, she ended up placing really well despite not training intentionally for the event.
Although Gaudi is typically preparing for group excursions with the Komorebi team, she took a time out to test herself on the Cascade Skyline route in Oregon over a long weekend. “I chose a challenging route for a reason. I’m typically the trip leader, but this time, for better or worse, I only had myself to think about … I wanted to see how far I could get, and see if I could leverage all the bikepacking skills I had gained in the summer. It turned out to be a much tougher ride than I anticipated. I was bushwhacking five miles into the route.”
Personally, I live for the sensory experience of bikepacking solo. My sense of smell is keener, my eyes are sharper, and I’m always aware of my environment. In some ways, it’s kind of like being an animal, and I love that. However, the emotional side of things also seem more intense. Fear strikes harder, persistence grows faster, happiness is easy, and subtle victories are satisfying.
Bikepacking the GDMBR alone through Colorado and New Mexico helped me realize that the sensory experiences and personal developments are worth every moment of fear. I’ll never forget my first day in New Mexico. It was littered with steep climbs, unfair terrain and pop-up squalls. But I daresay it was all worth it. That day, there was a moment where I could see sunshine on one end of the landscape and a storm on the other. That day, I experienced an overwhelming sense of satisfaction from just sitting on the ground to eat a snack. And at the end of the day, I was immensely thankful to fall asleep reading a book in my tent.
We all know that fear has many faces. The faster you characterize it the faster you can move past it to actually enjoy long, leisurely tours or race-pace adventures. This is a highly personal ordeal, and only you will be able recognize the face of your fear. Rusch sums it up perfectly: “Often times you can identify what you’re actually afraid of, and then get rational about it.”
Wilcox offered an expansive perspective. “In every country I visit, people ask me about my safety. People will warn me about neighboring countries and say, ‘You don’t want to cross that border, it’s bad over there.’ But I do cross that border, and the people there are just as hospitable, just as welcoming. And of course, the people in that country say the same thing. ‘Oh, don’t cross that border, it’s bad over there.’ But I’m going to cross that border too. Fear is so limiting.”
Words and photos: Beth Puliti
Originally published in Issue #41
It was Saturday, and Bishnu Tiwari was visiting his hometown 50 kilometers northwest of Kathmandu, Nepal, to attend his cousin’s wedding. Shortly before noon, as he and his brothers were preparing for the ceremony at their uncle’s home, the ground started vibrating. Subtle quivering gave way to violent shaking that nearly knocked Bishnu off his feet.
“It was like a swing, but terrific,” he recalled. “Houses in the village moved like branches of trees, and some of them even disintegrated before our eyes.”
Helpless against the powerful forces of nature, people cried out in despair as they watched their homes topple to the ground. In the distance, Bishnu saw the hills surrounding his village crumble into dust. The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck the Himalayas that day killed 8,000 people as the Indian tectonic plate was forced underneath the Eurasian plate. It leveled cities and caused a massive avalanche on Mt. Everest.
When the ground finally settled, Bishnu’s mind panicked: One kilometer away, his young son and daughter were in his family’s home which, a look in that direction confirmed, had been reduced to rubble.
“It was my life’s saddest moment,” Bishnu said. “My brothers and I ran as fast as we could down toward our completely destroyed house thinking it might too late to rescue our family members.”
Fortunately, their family survived, but they weren’t the only people to suffer such devastation. When the brothers traveled house to house to check in on their neighbors, they found out every home in their village had collapsed. “But everyone was safe,” Bishnu told me, “because of the marriage party.”
In a show of solidarity common in his village, everyone had been out helping to prepare for the wedding ceremony at the time of the natural disaster.
Nepal’s national mountain biking team was training for an upcoming national championship race a handful of kilometers outside of Kathmandu in Chobar when the earthquake struck. Initially dazed by the destruction, the cyclists immediately sprung to action when they heard screaming. Using their bare hands and ignoring neighbors who told them it was too hazardous, they worked together to free Pramila Nepali and her 7-year-old son Roshan, who had been buried alive.
The story caught the attention of the media, produced a flood of donations and inspired the team to continue relief efforts. “We were motivated to rescue earthquake victims in many different areas of Nepal,” said Ajay Pandit Chhetri, five-time Nepalese national mountain bike champion and five-time winner of Yak Attack, the highest mountain bike race on earth.
Utilizing their racing, cycling, guiding and tour company connections to form a massive relief effort, (NCRR) was born. This NGO consists of the Nepalese cross-country national mountain bike team (Ajay Pandit Chhettri, Roan Tamang, Narayan Gopal Mahajaran, Raj Kumar Shrestha, Suraj Rai, Laxmi Magar, Rajan Bhandari); as well as Santosh Rai, mountain bike guide and co-owner of Himalayan Single Track; Jenny Caunt, co-owner of Himalayan Single Track; and Jevi Limbu, mountain bike guide and Himalayan Single Track staff.
It took months before any form of government assistance reached some of the most heavily damaged villages in the aftermath of the earthquake. Roads were blocked by landslides and a fuel crisis kept potential aid vehicles at bay. The group took matters into their own hands and used the form of transportation they are most comfortable with to deliver help: a bicycle.
“It can reach everywhere,” said Ajay, NCRR president. “We could move fast and get to remote areas in the first few weeks before the roads were properly open,” said Caunt. “But we were limited in what we could carry.”
Much-needed supplies such as first aid, food, tents, blankets, roof sheeting and water purification were delivered to villages via bicycle. Additionally, temporary schools were provided with books, pens, clothing, school bags and more. In addition to racing, the cyclists are also mountain bike guides with intimate knowledge of almost all trails. Were the mountain bikers the ideal first responders? No, but they were the only responders.
“Mountain bikes are not ideal in mass emergency situations. Helicopters and government assistance and relief plans would have been much more efficient—but none of that happened,” said Caunt. “The entire time we were working [in our project area], we saw one helicopter, but it never landed, just circled around and went back.”
Ajay said the group did its best in a difficult situation to rescue and support victims. Today it is continuing to provide services to the villagers by building schools. Volunteers are using bicycles to travel to the village and supervise the construction work.
“It’s a 120 kilometer trip with about 2,000 meters in elevation gain. The boys use it as a training exercise as well to keep them fit for races,” said Jenny.
Five months after the earthquake rocked Nepal, I traveled there with my husband to see first-hand what made this country notoriously unforgettable among travelers. In a land where corruption is rampant, visiting the country’s hotels, restaurants and shops was also one of the best, and most direct, ways to help ensure the money we were spending reached Nepalis.
While we were there we planned to ride some of the country’s lesser-traveled dirt roads. As we mounted our bikes in Kathmandu, a cornucopia of conflicting sights, sounds and smells assaulted our senses as we made our way out of the city. Vibrant rickshaws pedaled on top of dusty brown streets. Burning incense tangled with smoldering trash in the air. Incessant honking harmoniously mingled with Om Mani Padme Hum chanting. And during our visit the sawing, drilling and hammering of new construction was interspersed throughout the chatter of daily lives.
Outside of the city we navigated the earthquake-riddled hillside over mud bogs, away from cliff drop-offs, up technical vertical terrain and through tiny villages. We passed hand-carved terraced rice paddies and massive swings made from bamboo set up for Dashain, Nepal’s greatest festival.
When the sun started to set about 50 kilometers outside of Kathmandu, we searched for a place to spend the night and came up empty—April’s earthquake had wiped out our options. At a local restaurant, we met a lawyer/college professor who offered to let us stay with his family after learning of our situation.
“My home is your home,” he told us. “There is plenty of space to sleep.”
Five kilometers down the road, in a partially rebuilt home, with wide smiles and heaps of food, Bishnu’s brothers, wife and young son and daughter waited for us to arrive.
Give and Go
Among the seven schools being built by Nepal Cyclists Ride to Rescue, four are completed and three are currently under construction. While contributions surged immediately following the earthquake, donors have since lost interest. The organization is in need of funds to complete the project and support victims.
“Most of the people helped only during the earthquake … but we are still helping by providing services,” said Ajay Pandit Chhettri, NCRR president.
To support NCRR’s efforts, you can donate directly through nepalcyclist.com.
“In spite of the government’s passive nature, we did our best to recover earthquake damages. It’s been one year, but the government has not provided such services. We did and we are still doing it,” said Ajay.
After the earthquake, Nepal saw a dramatic decrease in tourism, but contrary to would-be travelers’ fears, the country is open—and waiting—for business.
“Everything is normal. It is safe now. A bicycle is a vehicle that can easily reach anywhere and everywhere. So, cyclists can come without any fear!” said Ajay.
Diamondback has offered up some pretty impressive aluminum bikes over the last few years, but now it’s added lightness to the Haanjo line of adventure road bikes with three carbon fiber models.
In the beginning, road bikes had 700c wheels and other bikes had 26-inch wheels. But as the lines between bike categories have blurred, so too have the wheel size options. As such, the Haanjo can fit either a 700×45 wheel and tire or a 27.5×2.1 mountain bike setup for even more aggressive adventures.
One detail worth pointing out: the carbon fork uses a 12 mm thru-axle, the new road standard, so you can’t slap in any old mountain bike wheelset—unless you find one with replaceable and compatible end caps.
The Haanjo line also consists of five aluminum models that start at just $700, including two flat-bar versions.
Haanjo Trail Carbon
- Shimano Ultegra 2×11 drivetrain with SRAM Rival crankset(?!)
- Shimano RS685 shift levers
- Shimano hydraulic brakes
- Schwalbe G-One 700x40mm tires on HED Tomcat wheels
Haanjo Comp Carbon
- Shimano 2×11 105 drivetrain with FSA crankset
- TRP mechanical disc brakes
- Schwalbe G-One 700x40mm tires on HED Tomcat wheels
Haanjo EXP Carbon
- Shimano 3×9 drivetrain
- Bar-end shifters
- TRP mechanical disc brakes
- Schwalbe Smart Sprint tires on 27.5 HED wheels
Eric Porter and friends ride from Reno to Nevada City on the new Haanjo. Watch for more from this adventure in the next issue of Bicycle Times.
What’s your take?
What do you think? Do drop bars and “mountain bike” wheels + tires belong together? Let us know in the comments below.
Specialized is going full steam into the adventure realm with a full line of accessories for bikepacking or bike touring or commuting or whatever it is you want to do with them. Under the umbrella of Specialized Adventure Gear, the lineup includes bikes like the Sequoia, AWOL, Diverge and Fatboy, along with a ton of accessories and apparel.
Read about the new Specialized Sequoia that was unveiled along with this bag line.
Here we’re going to focus on the Burra Burra bag collection. Like many other Specialized products, the Burra Burra line is named for a location in Henry Coe State Park just outside of the brand’s offices in Morgan Hill, California.
The name is a bit clunky, but the Handlebar Stabilizer Harness ($90) should keep your gear stowed tight with an aluminum support that bolts to the handlebars and a simple, wrap around shape that can hold a dry bag or other gear.
It can hold your own dry bag, or Specialized will sell separately two sizes of their own, a 13 liter ($40) and a 23 liter ($45), both of which have double-sided entry and full waterproof 100D Cordura construction.
The Framepacks ($90-$110) are one of the most useful trends in recent years, as a great way to keep snacks and more close at hand. The coated nylon body is super water repellent, so anything short of throwing it into a lake should result in dry cargo. They even have water-resistant YKK zippers. A combination of thick, urethane straps and camlocks or traditional Velcro keep them secured in place. Specialized will offer three sizes to fit nearly any bike, though it’s worth pointing out that they often interfere with water bottles. The bottle cages are still usable, but a side-entry cage will make getting the bottles in and out a lot easier.
Fans of the awesome Specialized Pizza Rack will be pleased to see a new Pizza Bag ($100) designed specifically for that big front rack. It has a padded, roll-top body that is sure to keep the contents dry, or can be filled with ice and used as a rolling cooler. Trust us, we tested it. There are a few exterior pockets that keep essential items handy while you’re rolling and it measures 33 x 24 x 13 cm.
At first glance, the Stabilizing Seatpack looks like a lot of other roll-closed seat bags on the market, but Specialized has added a small, aluminum stabilizer bar that bolts to the seatpost to prevent it from swaying or drooping. Unlike some other designs on the market that use a support rail, this version only extends halfway along the bag’s length. The bag itself is made from the same watertight material so it will keep your gear dry, and is available in a 10 liter size ($130) and a 20 liter size ($140).
Bottle cages eyelets have been popping up in all sorts of new places in the last few years, and the Sequoia has a pair on each side of its carbon fork, so Specialized created these Burra Burra Stuffcages ($30). Made from aluminum, they are smaller than the ones you see from others, and only bolt to two eyelets instead of three. The aluminum body comes with two straps for water bottles, fuel canisters or whatever else you want to bring. Specialized also introduced a Stuffpack ($40) that is sold separately that holds one liter of cargo in its roll-top body. It also has its own Velcro straps attached that can keep it secure in the cage.
Finally, the handiest of all, the Top Tube Pack ($50) is perfect for your phone, keys or other essentials that you want to keep close at hand. It can be mounted at the stem or the seatpost and uses a single front-to-back zipper to access the 0.75 liter cargo area. The external pockets are good for a multi-tool or snack wrappers. It’s made of the same weather-resistant material as all the bags.
The first Sequoia bikes were designed by Tim Neenan as a road bike with an adventure attitude. The second generation, designed by Jim Merz, evolved into a full-blown touring rig to take you around the world. The name appeared on a series of, let’s say, “less-than-exciting” hybrids and city bikes through the years, but has made a grand return with this new 2017 touring model, hitting dealers in mid-August.
Specialized flew a collection of media slime like myself out to beautiful Western North Carolina to sample the bikes and get the story from both the Adventure Team that inspired them and the engineers that created them.
The new Sequoia is Specialized’s take on a modern adventure touring bike. That can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but there’s no denying the proliferation of rackless bags has brought a new generation into the fold of bicycle travelers. And while racks and panniers can take you across the country, many riders are just looking for a way to get the essentials out for a weekend.
While the existing Specialized AWOL model (steel touring bike) dips its toes into the off-road realm, the Sequoia is more road-oriented and slots squarely between the AWOL and the Diverge in the Specialized lineup. You could keep it lean and jump into a paceline or load it up with racks, fenders and cargo and hit the trail.
The new 700x42c Sawtooth tires roll exceptionally well on the road and their stout, tubeless casing held up on singletrack. Specialized says the Sequoia it will fit up to a 700×45 tire (that’s officially but you can probably squeeze more in there), and it will fit the 650×47 version of the wheels and tires that are coming soon. More on that in a moment.
The frame is a selection of custom-drawn chromoly steel tubes, and each one is specifically shaped and butted for each frame size to ensure a consistent ride quality across the five sizes. No two sizes share any frame tubes. The geometry is comfortable, with a low bottom bracket and more upright fit, but not so relaxed that you can’t put the hammer down when you want to. Details on the frame include a threaded bottom bracket, 142×12 thru axle, flat mount brake caliper mounts and a third bottle cage mount under the downtube.
To go with the new frame is an all-new carbon fiber fork. Not just a repurposed cyclocross fork, the new unit was designed specifically for this bike with a 12 mm thru axle and bottle cage eyelets on the legs that can hold 5 pounds each. It too has the new flat-mount caliper mounts, and even a hole to run a dynamo hub wire inside the right right leg. Specialized offers an AWOL model with a dynamo hub, so don’t be surprised to see a special edition version of the Sequoia with one down the road.
Not content to grab parts off the Specialized shelves, the design team also went about designing a new wheelset. The Cruzero wheels are tubeless compatible and offer a stout 25 mm rim width. The hubs were designed specifically for this application as well and roll on sealed bearings for the Cruzero wheels and standard bearings for the less expensive Hayfield variation. The wheelsets will be available on their own in the near future, Specialized says, in both 700c and 650b.
To wrap around those wheels Specialized has released an all-new tire in the Sawtooth. With versions in 700×42 and 650bx47, with either black or tan sidewalls, it was the standout performer of our time on the bikes. Designed from the ground-up, it uses Specialized’s latest rubber compounds and tubeless technology, with an all-purpose tread design that held its own on the rocks and roots of Pisgah singletrack. They roll well enough to paceline at 25 mph and cornered well on the gravel and dirt. Our group of about 20 riders put nearly 2,000 miles of abuse into these tires over three days and we suffered only one flat. The Sawtooth tires will come stock on the Sequoia and will be available separately for $40.
While many riders appreciate a more upright riding position, the downside is that often your steerer has a giant stack of spacers or you have a goofy upright stem. Specialized is trying to distribute that stack height with its new riser drop bars, the Hover. It has a small amount of rise built in along the center, allowing you to keep that stem flipped down or just offering a little more height. They also have a bit of flare to the drops too. The downside is that you have less room to mount accessories on the center portion of the bars, and the aesthetics are … unique. Riser drop bars. What will they think of next?
To go with the bars is a new line of canvas and leather handlebar tape and saddles that look great with the understated graphics on the Sequoia. The CG-R seatpost is probably a love-it-or-hate-it component, though.
- SRAM Rival 1×11
- Cruzero wheels
- Shimano 105 2×11
- Hayfield wheels
- Shimano Sora 2×9
- Hayfield wheels
- Steel fork
Sequoia Expert frameset (not pictured)
- The frameset version of the Sequoia will be unique, with a stainless steel downtube and chainstays, plus a white to black vertical fade paint job.
A few folks have asked me how this model fits into the current Specialized lineup and what kind of rider it is for. The new Sequoia might not be revolutionary, but it’s a great option for folks looking for a steel version of the current crop of big-tire road bikes. While it’s obviously not as sporty as the carbon or aluminum Diverge, it’s still more go-fast bike than an AWOL or even bikes like the Kona Sutra or Niner RLT steel. I don’t have an official weight number but I’d guess it’s around 20 to 21 pounds. The bike that it reminds me of the most is the Specialized Tricross, but obviously reimagined for a more discerning performance-oriented customer.
Photos by Beth Welliver – Specialized
Coming up next
You might see quite a few new accessories in these photos. More on those in the next post…
Two years is a long time to daydream about something before being able to make it happen, but I am infamously stubborn and will hold onto desires for unreasonable amounts of time. So it was with off-road bikepacking, which sparked something in me the moment I discovered it existed, but that I didn’t actually attempt until last weekend in Moab, Utah.
Several friends and I have a tradition of going mountain biking in Moab each May. This year, I found myself without a long-travel, full-suspension bike which, at my skill level, is necessary to keep up on technical trails. Instead, I decided to use the trip as my opportunity to bikepack for the first time. Moab is best known for OHV riding, Jeeping (yeah, it’s a thing) and mountain biking, but I found it to also be an enchanting place to pedal for several hours along a remote dirt road.
I cheated a bit on this trip—it was more of a shakedown to figure out where and how to pack the bags and to begin to learn the nuances of fully loaded bike handling. I did not actually ride somewhere and camp alone. Instead, I loaded up everything I would have needed for an overnight, pedaled for six hours, then returned to the group site and re-established camp. After one night in a tent, I gave up in the face of rain and high winds and slept in the bed of my truck.
The route I chose was Kane Creek Road up and over Hurrah Pass, which snakes through BLM land southwest of Moab. From town, the road is mostly smooth dirt suitable for gravel bikes and two-wheel drive cars. The farther you push toward the pass, the rockier and narrower the road becomes. Beyond the pass, multiple river crossings and deep, sandy two-track make for slow and steady work. But the remote landscape is jaw-dropping gorgeous, and I couldn’t help but ride with a permanent, appreciative smile.
Even when I slipped and went down in water up to my neck, even when dust devils swarmed and packed every orifice with orange dirt, even when my front brake gave out and my rear derailleur threw a temper tantrum, I was unfailingly giddy.
How far did I ride? That’s what everyone wanted to know when I rolled back into camp muddy, bruised and grinning. I honestly have no idea. I rode for a solid five hours during my six-hour trip, taking one rest break to enjoy a hearty lunch, another to dry out a bit after slipping into the river and a final stop to brew a cup of coffee (since I was carrying all of that crap I figured I might as well use it). Otherwise, I have no idea and I’m OK with that.
The steed I called up from my stable is the venerable Surly Pugsley which—to be clear—is a personal bike that I spent my own money on. As much as I appreciate a modern gravel grinder or finely tuned all-mountain bike, the Pugsley’s classic geometry and steel frame are my Goldilocks. It’s also unpretentious, easygoing, indestructible and versatile, which is how I happen to fancy myself.
We get along smashingly, the Pugsley and I, so much so that it’s my only named bike. It’s well-known to friends as “Bluecifer,” which is what we Coloradans call the creepy blue horse statue with glowing red eyes that rears over Denver International Airport. The understanding that Bluecifer and I have developed over our years together made it the obvious choice for my first bikepacking trip.
Throwing a leg over the loaded bike for the first time wasn’t without trepidation. I didn’t bother to bring a scale to the desert, but my guess is that the setup weighed close to half of my body weight. And yet the first pedal stroke was unremarkable. Each one after that, along an increasingly technical stretch of two-track, was no less familiar. I found myself surprised that the ride wasn’t awkward or heavy-feeling, but rather normal. My only complaint was a wish for more hand positions, as I simply used a traditional mountain bike handlebar setup.
Somehow, a Pugsley rides the same loaded as it does unloaded. I mean that as a compliment: The handling and predictability were largely unchanged by heavy, amateurishly packed gear draped all over its bits. I didn’t have to re-learn how to maneuver nor did I feel I was losing any feedback from the machine. I’m sure I’d love any of Surly’s made-for-loaded-adventuring bikes, but Bluecifer got it done without complaint. While it remains to be seen how a Pugsley’s wide Q-factor will affect my knees on multi-day trips, I am so far well pleased.
As a longtime backpacker, I glibly assumed I had enough lightweight gear and a good understanding of packing to nail this adventure. Instead, I struggled to cram everything into the bike bags on my size small frame, despite regularly seeing people who travel with far less equipment. The biggest offender was my sleeping bag, which doesn’t compress well. Finding a place to stash it left me scratching my head, and I ended up carrying it in a backpack along with a water bladder and my rain gear. Since I almost always ride with a hydration pack, I barely noticed it.
Up front I hauled my tent, extra clothing and sleeping pad in the handlebar bag. The top tube bag carried a sack of dark chocolate almonds, a camera, lip balm and a knife that I purposefully clipped in a spot visible to anyone who stopped to talk to me. In the frame bag, I loaded heavier items such as bike tools, hand pump, spare tube, sunscreen and food. The saddle bag carried my cooking equipment, eating utensils, headlamp and toiletries. I forgot the first aid kit and camp shoes, which I probably would have put in dry bags attached to fork-mounted cages.
A note about tires: I chose four-inch Surly Nates for this trip, knowing I’d be riding over a combination of deep-ish sand and rocky terrain. A few people chastised me for such a large, heavy choice, but on a loaded fully rigid bike I appreciated how the plush tires tamed the ride, floated through the sand and gripped tenaciously on steep climbs. I’m glad that I didn’t focus too much on weight weeny-ism, but rather sought to be practical and realistic.
- Olives: I brought along a small packet of seasoned, pitted green olives and their briny tang was a delightful snack. In other words, treat yourself. Dry goods are nice because they’re lightweight, but too much of them can be demoralizing, especially in a desert landscape where you always feel parched.
- Distribute soft things among metal and plastic things, or else the rattling of your cup against your fuel canister will drive you nuts. Also, think about what you might need to access during the ride and pack accordingly. Physically, it’s not a big deal to remove everything from one bag to get to your coffee canister but, mentally, it can be excruciating.
- Be aware of your personal limits. Know your strength level, ability level and what you can expect from your body, which will determine how far you travel outbound, how fast you can ride and when you know you can push through something or should stop and rest. I ended up being under-ambitious on this first outing (I easily could have ridden farther and/or faster) but that’s not a bad thing in an area with zero cellphone reception.
- Know some beyond-basic bike maintenance for peace of mind, rather than catching the “it won’t happen to me” disease. After an endless string of silty river crossings, I had to tinker with Bluecifer’s squealing, gunked-up mechanical disc brakes. I let the rear derailleur persist in its misery until I got back to camp but, had I been spending the night miles from my car, I would have needed to deal with it that evening.
- Wave and smile at everyone. It immediately diffuses any potential annoyance that other users (especially those with engines and go-fast agendas) have to share the road/trail with you and your lumbering load. I quickly learned that moto riders raise a balled fist to one another in greeting, so I started doing it, too. I also pulled off to the side of the road for larger Jeeps and four-wheelers, allowing them to pass comfortably.
Otherwise, I found bikepacking to be not a big deal. By that, I mean this: if you are a moderately-competent bike handler, are experienced with some form of camping, have at least half your wits about you, possess a respectable fitness level and can do some pre-planning, then you can bikepack with relative ease. Also, take the advice my winking friends left me with before I embarked: “Make good choices.”
The biggest revelation I came away with was that bikepacking is a damn good time. Sure, nothing went disastrously wrong and returning to a campsite packed with friends, cold beer and a roaring fire made the outing much easier than spending a night in the wilds alone, but every pedal stroke was full of stoke. Attaching a mission to cycling makes it an entirely new experience.
I had to wait two years because graduate school ate up all of my free time. If this is something you want to do, then just go do it.
“Journeys are the midwives of thought … There is an almost quaint correlation between what is before our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, and new thoughts, new places. Introspective reflections that might otherwise be liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape.” — Alain de Botton in “The Art of Travel.”
Courtesy of Specialized
In this episode of The Adventure Dispatch, we head out on an overnight ride with Sarah Swallow through the Humboldt Redwood State Park. Sarah is an expert when it comes to creative route planning, which is why we’re happy that she decided to share her methodology for sub-24-hour overnight riding (S24O). So take notes or just enjoy the scenery and get motivated, because you’re about to learn what happens when you saddle-up, slow down, and take notice of the world around you.
Read more about the Swallow’s pioneering ride along the Trans American Trail.Tweet Print
Remember cycling as a kid? Before we were all caught up in getting to work on time, tracking our mileage or worrying about nutrition? Or really anything at all?
It’s great to see the culture of cycling shifting back towards the unstructured fun of unknown destinations and free expression. Specialized is getting on board with its Adventure Dispatch series that blurs the line between cycling and non-cycling. It’s all a part of your life, so why worry about categorizing it?
The promise of adventure is all around us. Whether you live in Los Angeles or the Himalayas, opportunities to get outside present themselves to anyone with the right pair of eyes. For Ty Hathaway, this opportunity takes the form of the Angeles National Forest. Follow along as he shows you the City of Angeles that you won’t find in any guidebook.
Words and photos: Emily Walley and Justin Steiner
Gravel and adventure riding are all the rage right now and there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight. As a result, tire manufacturers continue to bring new products to market in order to meet the diverse needs of these disciplines.
In early April, Maxxis invited us to Mulberry Gap Mountain Bike Get-A-Way near Ellijay, Georgia, in order to sample some of the new tires it has launched within the last year across the road, adventure and mountain bike lines.
For all that Mulberry Gap offers for mountain biking, the area’s mixed-surface riding shouldn’t be overlooked. Bikepackers frequently stay over at the Get-A-Way on their travels and, after riding and driving Ellijay’s winding roads, we can certainly see the appeal. The surrounding gravel roads have minimal traffic, rolling hills flanked with farmland, some big climbs and noteworthy views.
While mountain biking was a big focus of the Maxxis Summit weekend, the company also shared its newest gravel adventure tire options, the Rambler and the Re-Fuse. We rode the Pivot Cycles Vault with the Rambler in the front and Re-Fuse in the rear.
Aptly named, the Rambler is Maxxis’ first gravel-specific tire. It’s currently available in 700 x 40c. Both the 60 tpi casing with SilkShield bead-to-bead protection and the 120 tpi model with EXO sidewall protection offer tubeless-ready construction. Weights check in at 420 grams for the 60 tpi casing and 375 grams for the 120 tpi version. Both casing options will retail for $64. Word is that a 38c version of this tire is in the works for bikes that don’t have quite enough clearance for the 40c version.
The Rambler’s closely-spaced center knobs roll and grip well in dry gravel conditions. We rode the 120 tpi casing and on the front of the Vault and found it to be very supple compared to the 60 tpi Re-Fuse on the back.
All told, the Rambler looks to be a good option for light and fast adventure as well as gravel racing. Just pick the model that offers the protection needed for your use and terrain and roll happily.
Maxxis has offered the Re-Fuse in traditional road sizes (23, 25, and 28 mm widths) for some time now, but has expanded the popular tire into more adventurous sizes. For 2016 the Re-Fuse will be available in 700 x 32c, 700 x 40c and the “new” 27.5 x 2.0 inch road plus sizes, which is really just the old 650b standard. What’s old is new again.
Like the road sizes, the 60 tpi casing utilizes MaxShield technology, which is the SilkWorm bead-to-bead protection teamed with a Kevlar composite layer under the tread area for the ultimate protection. Unlike the road sizes, all three of these tires are tubeless ready.
Weights are 610 grams for the 27.5 x 2.0 inch model ($50), 390 grams for the 32c version ($64) and 520 grams for the 40c Re-Fuse ($64).
On the rear end of the Vault the Re-Fuse felt sturdy. Certainly much stiffer than the 120 tpi Rambler on the front. Though it wasn’t as supple, this extra stoutness was confidence inspiring bombing down dirt roads with chunky gravel at high speeds not having to worry about flatting.
Traction was great on hard-packed dirt, but, as expected, the diamond-shaped file tread doesn’t have a lot of bite on loose surfaces.
Maxxis describes the Re-Fuse as a training tire, but it would also serve you well as all-around road tire.
After we rode the radical Cannondale Slate with its high-tech suspension fork, and got down and dirty with the Lauf leaf spring suspension fork on a fat bike, it only seemed like a matter of time before the two concepts came together.
Adventure riding is all about taking your bike places that you didn’t think it would go and having the freedom to explore. A suspension fork lets you push just that extra little bit harder and rip down that fire road or pothole street without worrying about every little bump.
Lauf has embraced that concept with its new Grit suspension fork for gravel and adventure bikes. Designed much like the brand’s mountain bike and fat bike forks, it uses a dozen glass fiber leaf springs to provide 30 mm of travel—just enough to take the edge off without changing the nature of the handling.
It’s available with either a 15 mm thru axle or the new 12 mm road standard, and can fit up to a 700×42 tire or 27.5 x 2.1. The 409 mm axle-to-crown and 47 mm offset pair with a tiny amount of sag to create a geometry that closely matches that of a traditional cyclocross or gravel fork. At 900 grams there is a small weight penalty over a standard fork, but being able to rip any descent should more than make up for it.
We have a Lauf Grit on the way and we’ll be putting it through its paces so keep an eye out for more. Consumer deliveries should begin in August and it will retail for $790.
By Colt Fetters
I awake as the plane touches down at Keflavik International Airport in Iceland. It’s midnight. I wipe the sleep from my eyes and exit the plane into a small airport. We work our way through customs and to the baggage claim; standing alone in the middle of an aisle are our banged and beaten bike boxes. We unwrap our bikes from the unconventional packaging we threw together hours before our flight and quietly assemble our bikes and pack our panniers.
Surprisingly, despite a few scratches, dings, and dents, our machines are in decent shape. Being much too excited to sleep, we set out on the road in the dim northern light at 6am, greeted by a barren landscape filled with rock and sand. Dark clouds move slowly overhead.
As fresh college graduates, my buddy Luke and I are cash poor, which means our trip has a very tight budget. Trying to save money, we managed to find a couch-surfing host in Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik. Our host, Guðmundur, insisted that we call him Gummi; we didn’t argue because weren’t able to pronounce his full name anyway.
We owe our trip to Gummi, since before our arrival we really had no plan, and no idea where we would be bicycling. Through a long night of deliberation, Gummi was able to talk us into attempting the entire Ring Road, which covers 828 miles, circling around the country of Iceland. That night, while lying in a miniature bed, which is usually reserved for Gummi’s young daughter (with my feet hanging from the edge), I worried that with our lack of experience, we may be biting off a bit more than we could chew. I try and remember if we informed Gummi that this is our first ever bike tour.
The following morning, Gummi escorted us through the weaving bike trails of Reykjavik to the edge of town. He rolled slowly to a stop and pointed to a busy highway with no shoulder. “That is the Ring Road” he exclaimed. This was as far as he was taking us.
Luke and I set out on the Ring Road as the light rain grew progressively heavier. Being from Washington State, we’re used to rainfall, but not this kind. Rain hurtled through the air sideways, invading every nook and cranny, soaking nearly everything we owned. The pockets of my rain shell filled with puddles of water. It’s our first day on the Ring Road and my ‘waterproof’ cycling computer has already died, along with my iPhone. I chalk these losses up as a sacrifice to Odin, the mythological Germanic god; hopefully he will take pity on us for the rest of the trip after these sacrifices.
We pedal slowly up a mountain pass while strong gusts of wind intermittently blow us into the middle of the lane, where speeding traffic weaves around us. Icelandic people have a fascination with extremely large tires; most of their vehicles are equipped with them, and if they happen to run over one of us, I doubt they would even feel a bump.
We quickly learned to ride during the night to avoid the wind and the traffic; this is possible with the perpetual daylight at 66 degrees north. Seriously, during the summer the damned sun never sets. Our destination for the day lies roughly 90 kilometers away from Reykjavik, and after 55 kilometers we roll into the town of Selfoss. After being beaten down by the storm, we decide to hole up for the night and reevaluate our plans in the morning. Despite it being 10pm, the sun lies along the horizon as we set up our tent and crawl in. The birds chirp loudly; I suppose they are just as confused as we are with this never-ending daylight. I fold my buff, slide it over my eyes to block the light, and fall fast asleep.
Our route is simple: follow Highway 1—known as the Ring Road—and find detours along the way. Each morning we break out the map and pick a town 50 to 100 kilometers away. After a week our routine flows easily, we boil water for coffee and oatmeal, break down camp, load our bikes and plop our sore butts onto familiar leather saddles. During our longer days of riding, we need extra motivation, and the best motivation for two perpetually hungry bicyclists is food!
Out in the distance I see them, the waving red flags, indicating a gas station, which are usually coupled with Iceland’s version of a fast food restaurant. More importantly, the home of the iconic Icelandic hotdog. These dogs are little meaty tubes of pure stoke sprinkled with fried onions and mustard. Hotdogs are about the cheapest food you can find in Iceland, so every now and then we eat a few too many. Two dogs in one sitting is normal, unless it’s a holiday, in which case the market is closed and we have most likely run out of groceries. During those days, it’s not uncommon for us to eat four or five dogs chased by a few soft serve ice cream cones for dessert. Originally we thought we would finish this trip fit and trim, now we realize that we may be gaining some weight.
Food isn’t cheap here in Iceland, so we’ve resorted to other means. We post up at the local fast food restaurant/gas station in town while hordes of tourists wander from their travel buses, buy expensive meals and leave leftovers on their tables. We’ve taken to nabbing these leftovers once they’ve finished. Sounds tacky but it works well, except for today. Luke discovers a plate of hearty bread left on a table that he grabs and brings back to our table, in his state of hunger he fails to notice it hardly looks to have been touched. As soon as he sits, we notice a lady looking around confused and suspicious, likely looking for her plate of bread sitting on our table. We watch her walk to the front counter, talk to the cashier, and return to her table with a new plate of bread. Luke quickly destroys the evidence and stares down at the ground while chewing with bulging cheeks. We decide we need a bit more reconnaissance before any more of these missions.
As days of cycling turn into weeks, we cruise down the road’s centerline while large dark clouds loom overhead. The wind is always blowing and it seems that it only travels in one direction: straight into our faces, slowing us to a snail’s pace. We learn in Iceland there’s no such thing as a tailwind. The key is to take turns drafting off each other, following within inches to stay out of the wind. Following this close can be tricky—“Icelandic kiss” is becoming all too familiar—this happens when one of our front tires kisses the other’s rear tire, which can sometimes sends one of us wildly out of control.
Throughout our tour we heard mumblings of a short cut, some of these mumblings good and others bad. This short cut would take us up and over a mountain pass we’ve been told should be devoid of snow this time of year, then dump us into a valley just short of Egilsstadir, one of the biggest towns on the eastern side of Iceland. We arrive at the turnoff to our shortcut, and are immediately greeted by dirt roads and a large yellow sign cautioning us of the extreme weather on the pass and 17 percent grades. Starting with fresh legs, we attack the hills with vigor but soon the sustained steepness pushes us to a crawl.
Mark Jenkins, in his story “Off the Map” states: “Pushing a bicycle is absurd. It’s a sacrilege. Like pushing an airplane or rowing a sailboat.” Well, Mark may be right, but sometimes there’s just no other choice. Being inexperienced bicycle tourers means we have unnecessarily heavy bicycles, mix that with unpaved steep grades full of potholes and well, maybe even Mark would be pushing his bicycle. So at some points we push, at some points we pedal, and finally there’s snow, which turns the air cold and so we pedal some more.
Fortunately we pedal through mostly dry roads that split massive 20-foot tall snow banks, along giant creeks rushing with snowmelt, and pedal up about 3,000 vertical feet. After a couple hours climbing, we reach the top; we are stunned by the beauty of the vast emptiness of the snow-covered mesa. We stay long enough to don our puffy jackets and a second pair of gloves before the cold drives us down the other side of the pass into warmer weather. At the end of the day, I crawl into my old down sleeping bag and am greeted by a familiar stale aroma: the smell that sends my mind stirring with memories of all the wild places this bag and I have been together. I drift off to sleep thinking this particular day of bicycling may be one of the best in my entire life, right behind the day I learned how to ride.
Today, we’re riding our steel steeds 70 kilometers to the town of Egilsstaðir. We struggle to pronounce any Icelandic words, so instead of trying we use nicknames for towns, streets or even people. For instance, Bústaðavegur would be Bust-a-move or Hvammstangi would be referred to as Hamstring. We’ve noticed that locals don’t really appreciate the nicknames so we’ve learned to keep them to ourselves.
Hot tubs and old men
Once arriving in Egilsstaðir, we set up camp, ditch our gear, and ride light bikes to the local town pool. With all of the geothermal activity in Iceland, community pools are very popular. Almost every town has some kind of pool, and for a small fee, we soak our sore legs in the hot tubs and revitalize our spirits.
Our hope is to meet young Icelandic ladies; to our disappointment, the tubs are normally filled with older overweight Nordic men. We sit and soak anyway, knowing these tubs are our only chance of recovering from the punishment that we put them through each day. Icelandic ladies haven’t seemed to take much interest in us; maybe our bicycle clothing doesn’t quite cut the fashion standards, or that we’re too cheap to buy them a drink, or maybe it’s the odd body odor that we can’t seem to get rid of. Whatever it is, we don’t let it crush our psyche.
Once we leave Egilsstaðir, it’s a three-day ride before we reach the next town. Due to the lack of civilization, this segment is when our bikes are at their heaviest, packed with meals and water. We set out with our fully loaded bikes, our panniers about to burst open at the seams, and are immediately greeted by the wind.
With each pedal stroke our bikes surge forward, and my mind slowly floats away. The mind travels to strange places while on a bike ride, processing old memories, mulling over past experiences and relationships, or it just floats. Sometimes hours can pass and seem like minutes. Riding bikes is our day job: eight hours of work with an hour-long lunch break – although a really cool day job where the views are world class and the air is fresh and clean.
We’re making good time, better than expected. Some days we ride over 100 kilometers just because we can’t wait to see what’s around the next bend in the road. Being ahead of schedule has given us the opportunity to take a significant detour. Outside the “large” city of Akureyri, we leave the Ring Road and set out on a quiet country road, hoping to bicycle as far north as possible.
Ferry time to the Arctic Circle
Another early morning, the alarm on my watch breaks the silence with its insistent beeps. I start boiling water for coffee and oatmeal as Luke breaks down the tent. We ride our bikes through a quiet sleeping town and down to the port where our ferry awaits. People give us odd looks as we ride our bikes onto the ferry; a shipmate helps us carefully strap our bikes to the large bins of fish at the back of the vessel. Destination is Grimsey Island, the most Northern point of Iceland, where we plan to ride the few kilometers into the outer edges of the Arctic Circle. We stand in the open air on the front of the ferry, straining our eyes to catch glimpses of whales and porpoises out in the distance. Grimsey Island is a birdwatchers paradise.
Once we arrive, we unstrap our bikes from the bins of fish, wheel them off the ferry, and set out through narrow streets, which quickly turn to gravel and then to simple dirt paths. Swarms of arctic tern, gulls, and puffins soar overhead as we ride our bicycles down narrow dirt paths until we reach the most northern tip of the island; we’ve arrived in the Arctic Circle. Sitting in the grass next to my bicycle, I stare north at the seemingly endless Greenland Sea and ponder what my younger self would think of all this. I try and remind myself of what I’m doing and where I am in the world, because so much of the time, this all feels too normal.
After four weeks on the road while coasting down the long winding road, we manage a view of the capitol–Reykjavik—the last stop on our tour. I’m filled with elation at the sight of the finish; however, this also means our trip is coming to an end. The sadness is a fleeting emotion and I embrace the sense of victory and accomplishment. I find myself dancing on my bicycle as I cruise down the hill toward our final destination.
Only a few months ago this trip was nothing but a half-baked plan derived over a few beers at our local college bar, and now we’ve actually accomplished the trek all the way around the entire Ring Road along with a couple of detours! After a month in the tent together, cycling beside each other day after day, we weren’t sure we were ready to be done. Our bicycles had become part of our everyday lives, and though we had pedaled them every day for a month, there was nothing else we wanted to do, except ride just a little further.
Pulling into the downtown metropolis of the capital city Reykjavik is surreal. A month before we had left this city not knowing what was ahead of us and now we are back with sore legs, knee problems, a few extra pounds of belly fat, and 1,000 miles under our belt. Detours here and there slowly bumped up our mileage, increasing our total distance traveled from the originally planned 828 miles to just over 1,000. The end of our incredible, epic—and sometimes arduous—tour called for a celebration. How to celebrate in Iceland? The only way we know how: hotdogs and beer, of course.
What would you say if someone took your favorite bike, swapped out your go-to compact gearing or reliable triple crankset, and installed a single chainring with a ginormous 11-speed cassette? Then, to pour salt into the wound, told you to climb nearly 3,000 feet of elevation on California’s central coast? On nearly 15 miles of rutted jeep trails? It happened to me and my small posse of journalists, and the results were quite impressive, as SRAM announced plans to expand its popular 1x drivetrain platform from mountain and cyclocross to include aero, criterium, gravel, adventure, urban drop bar, and fitness.
“We’re not proclaiming that 1x drivetrains will replace 2x; we’ve had huge success with 1x on the MTB and ‘cross side,” said J.P. McCarthy, SRAM’s road product manager at the recent launch in Pismo Beach, which included the introduction of Zipp’s 30 Course wide rim wheels. “Our feature focus for those categories has been on chain retention, keeping the bike clean. What we get out of 1x drivetrains on road bikes is simplifying the shifting process, and quieting the sound of it. It also features one-hand shifting.”
What is 1x (pronounced ‘one-by’)?
Defined by SRAM’s X-SYNC single chainring, which now extends its range from 38 to 54 teeth. When appropriately paired to SRAM’s wide or super-wide cassettes, and managed by SRAM’s dedicated clutch rear derailleurs, 1x ratios allow riders to push gearing comparable to that of double (2x) chainring systems. SRAM’s cassette lineup now features a 10-42*, 11-36, 11-32, and 11-30. (*requires XD driver body option)
There are three elements critical to the of the 1x drivetrain: the chainring, the cassette, and the rear derailleur. SRAM is expanding nearly all of its new 1x offerings into the renamed Rival 1 and Force 1 groupsets.
Essential to the development of 1x are the expanded chainrings options, which now extend from 38 to 54. The new configurations offer plenty of gearing for gravel and adventure riders, cyclocross racers, multisport or time trialists, as well the criterium racer and fitness fanatics. 1x provides the most secure chain and chainring interface available defined by simplicity, range and durability.
The single chainring defines the 1x system with X-SYNC technology, whose tall square teeth edges engage the chain earlier and the traditional sharp and narrow tooth profile, as well as rounded chamfer edges, help manage a deflected chain. SRAM’s X-SYNC chainrings are designed for optimal chain line and frame clearance.
SRAM’s new 1x rear derailleurs have adopted all the same technologies from MTB but in a road specific package, including the addition of a barrel adjuster.
The new long cage version is capable of managing the chain across SRAM’s super wide 10-42 and 11-36 cassettes. Short cage (up to 28T), mid-cage (up to 36T), long-cage (up to 42T) Other technologies include:
- X-Horizon: a rear derailleur’s ‘straight parallelogram’ design limits all movement to the horizontal axis, which makes ghost shifting nearly impossible and maintains a constant chain gap across all gears;
- Roller Bearing Clutch: derailleur bounce and chain slap are eliminated without sacrificing precision;
- Exact actuation: SRAM 1:1 actuation ratio (shifter cable travel/derailleur movement) helps to simplify and stabilize the uneasy act of balancing rear derailleur hanger design, tight cog spacing and exact cable tension.
- Cagelock: wheel removal and installation—as well as chain installation—becomes faster and simpler. Just pushing the cage forward to create slack and lock it into place. We witnessed this in action when Zipp brand manager Declan Doyle got a pinch flat toward the end of our dirt ride; click the magnifying glass to enlarge photos taken by Nils Nilsen N2Photo:
The new PG and XG cassettes provide 1x riders the gearing options needed for challenging climbs, fast descents, sprints and everything in in between. SRAM‘s strong, lightweight and precise PC 1130 and 1170 chains are the perfect match for SRAM Rival 1 and SRAM Force 1.
“Last year I used Force 1 exclusively,” said reigning national cyclocross champion Jeremy Powers, who spent three days riding with us in Pismo Beach. “We had zero mechanicals; I didn’t drop out of any races, never dropped a chain. I like its simplicity. Picking up and dropping the bike in a race didn’t affect the Force 1. In ‘cross the mud usually causes chainsuck; the Force 1 totally eliminated that. I used a 44T with a 11-32T cassette for most of my races, modifying my gear ratio a few times based on the course.”
Cutting the number of gears in half means cutting some gear ratios and eliminating a range in exchange for a simpler, better-looking bike for some riders. “Rider-to-bike interface is pretty limited to bars, saddle and pedals; the 1x drivetrain changes the way a rider interacts with his or her bike,” McCarthy added.
Here’s more from McCarthy:
“We determined that approximately 150 – 170 grams are saved with the Force 1x versus Force 22, depending on cassette choice. A real-world change might zero it out, but we know riders will ask.”
“Chain retention is a real priority; eliminating chain slap makes a better ride; simpler drivetrain with fewer parts.”
“Crit racers don’t use a small chainring anyway, so the benefits of a 1x drivetrain are most noticeable for them. The aftermarket opportunities are huge.”
“Less complication for the bike path rider or new cyclist by eliminating the front shifter.”
“The loudest request for 1x drivetrains came from product managers for adventure bikes; one less part for potential for failure.”
“We have hydraulic brakes (disc and rim) across the board for 2015.”
What was originally referred to Force CX-1 is now Force 1; the products have always been labeled as such, but the brand mavens at SRAM pushed the CX moniker on us. With the expansion including nearly every discipline but unicycles (wouldn’t that be cool?!), the CX was retracted.
Force 1 crankset
A few changes includes adding 48- and 50-tooth chainrings in the popular 110 bolt circle diameter (BCD), and 52- and 54-tooth in 130 BCD. Force 1 cranks will have carbon arms with detachable spider, come in GXP (24 mm) and BB30 (30 mm) spindle options, while magically offering the same exact Q-Factor as Force 2x (the distance between the inner crank arms and the outside chainstay, a term coined by Rivendell Bicycle Works founder Grant Petersen when he designed and specced Bridgestones in the early 1990s; legend has it that Petersen—after creating a geometry graphic—ran out of letters to label an important and little-known spec, and chose Q for ‘quack’, because he thought of how ducks walk and the similarity to how road racers walked with clipless pedals ~ Ed.).
Force 1 chainrings
“We eliminated the mud evacuation grooves on the road rings compared to the ‘cross rings, which also allowed us to keep weight down and durability up,” McCarthy explained. “We also kept the running noise down.”
Force 1 rear derailleur
Long cage variant accepts a whopping 10-42-tooth 11-speed cassette, providing road specific actuation with barrel adjust, a clutch retention system to stop the chain from moving around and bouncing around, even on the nasty stutter bumps we experienced riding near Santa Margarita.
“We do not have a 2x rear derailleur to accommodate up to a 36-tooth cog,” McCarthy added. “So, the SRAM PG 1170, 11-36T 11-speed cassette is specific to 1x drivetrains. Great application for gravel racing!”
According to SRAM, its XG 1180 10-42T 11-speed cassette provides the widest possible range for all applications, providing almost the same range (97 percent) as a current SRAM WiFli drivetrain (50/34 x 11-32T). “Up until recently this would require a 29er frameset; now, with the 30 Course wheels, gravel racers can benefit from this cassette,” McCarthy said. New refinements and features include:
Force 1 brake levers
Hydraulic and mechanical (with new hatch that covers shift area for better feel).
Rival 1 crankset
Forged arm, forged removable spider; 110 BCD 38, 40, 42, 44, 46, 48 50T X-SYNC rings. Same exact Q-Factor as Rival 2x.
“SRAM chainrings begin as a 7 mm plate, then are machined down to the proper chainline, where the teeth are sitting over the spider for best frame clearance,” McCarthy said. “We polled our OEM customers to get it dialed in.
“Our current 11-speed chains are compatible with our 1x and 2x drivetrains,” he added. “They share the same dimensions for shifting and chainring retention; the chain plates on our shiny finished chains are so hardened for durability the chainring will wear out before the chain will.”
Early efficiency comparisons between 2x and 1x, according to an outside testing resource, have shown that a small fraction of a watt is the difference, with the 1x coming out on top.
Rival 1 rear derailleur
Material differences between Force and Rival (stainless vs. galvanized hardware); Medium and Long Cage only (no Short);
Rival 1 brake levers
Hydraulic and mechanical (with new hatch that covers shift area for better feel) like the Force. Now offered as a pair with newer ergonomics.
Rival 1 Cassette
PG 1130 11-36T 11-speed; heat-treated cogs and steel lockring. “For weight savings we riveted more than one cog (no aluminum spider),” McCarthy said. “On the SRAM XG 1150 10-42T 11-speed cassette; cogs are pinned to one another to save weight, with an aluminum big cog.”
SRAM S350-1 Crankset
“Modelled on our Apex platform, specifying almost exclusively with a pant guard for fitness and lower-priced ‘cross bikes. This will come with 38, 42 or 44-tooth rings with no mud grooves, and is slightly heavier.”
S700 11-speed Trigger shifter
Based on the SRAM MTB shifter for flat-bar Rival 1 or Force 1 rear derailleur.
New groupset highlights:
- Criterium: crankset, cassette, brake/shift levers, hydraulic brakes, chain;
- Cyclocross: crankset, cassette, brake/shift levers, hydraulic brakes, chain;
- Fitness: derailleur, cassette, chain, crankset.
Retail availability is June for the Rival 1 brake levers, disc brakes and all rear derailleurs; July for all cranksets and X-Sync road chainrings, and August for PG-1130 11-36 cassettes. Click on the magnifying glass to enlarge photos of my Salsa Warbird: