Hostelling in Scotland

Words by Molly Brewer Hoeg, photos by Molly Brewer Hoeg and Rich Hoeg 

It had been forty years since either of us stayed in a youth hostel. Back in our college days, we each independently did the backpacking through Europe thing. Staying at youth hostels was standard practice and the best way to stay within a tight budget. I remember too well the strict curfews, requirement to leave the hostel during the day and the restrictions against alcohol.

As my husband, Rich, and I began planning our first cycling tour abroad, we got our first inklings that much has changed in the hostelling scene. And it worked to great advantage for us.

Rich Hoeg at the Cullen Harbour Hostel

Rich Hoeg at the Cullen Harbour Hostel

This three-week trip through northern Scotland would follow our usual routine. We’d travel on our own with a general itinerary, making more specific route choices as we went. In the interest of simplicity, we decided against bringing our camping gear. It meant we would be paying significantly more for lodging each night, especially considering that cheap roadside motels – our staple in the U.S. – do not exist in Scotland. It appeared that B&Bs, guesthouses and inns would be our options – until we rediscovered hostels.

For starters, forget the “youth” part. Hostels are for everyone. Although they frequently cater to people inclined to outdoor adventures, they are not limited to such. And we soon learned that the range of accommodations, facilities and services ranges widely between hostels. Sampling four hostels, we found each one to be unique.

Lodging at the Cullen Harbour Hostel

Lodging at the Cullen Harbour Hostel

Our first hostel stay came about as a backup plan. We had been following the National Cycle Network Route #1 across northern Scotland, impressed with the dramatic coastal scenery. Reaching Cullen, we headed to the B&B we had selected. Rather surprised to find us on his doorstep, the owner informed us he was no longer in business and quickly directed us to the Cullen Harbour Hostel. We arrived at the eclectic collection of buildings right on the water to find the yard draped with surfing gear. A university group was there for the weekend seeking big waves. Unsure about sharing rooms with the young students, it was a pleasant surprise to find that they had a four-bed family room we could have to ourselves. Not only were blankets and linens provided but we had our own bathroom as well. Although we were uncertain whether we would have heat, which seemed important in that spring season, we returned from dinner to find the room plenty warm. The $67 we paid for the night was a far cry from our student days, but was still a big savings over a B&B.

View of Cullen and viaduct

View of Cullen and viaduct

That was our first introduction to independent hostels. Each is owner-operated and usually a member of either Scottish Independent Hostels or Scottish Hostels. Together they offer over 180 hostels. Most have dorm rooms as well as private rooms, are flexible in the length of stay and usually have a self-catering kitchen.

We might never have found the Gearrannan Hostel if it hadn’t been for a local cyclist’s recommendation. By this time we were on the rugged Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. She told us it was in a “blackhouse” but until we arrived we didn’t realize it was actually part of a museum. The Gearrannan Blackhouse Village featured restored and reconstructed stone buildings from the late 1800s, unique for their double stone wall construction and thatched roofs secured by stone weights. They originally served as living space for both people and farm animals, as well as barn storage. Historic on the outside but modern on the inside, the hostel accommodations were very comfortable. We found that sharing a bunk room and kitchen facilities with several other hostellers provided good company. Having arrived without food and too far to cycle to any shops, the museum staff arranged to bring us dinner and serve us breakfast in their small café. We felt well cared for.

Demonstration of weaving Harris Tween in Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Demonstration of weaving Harris Tween in Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Staying in the hostel gave us free access to the village where we could tour the buildings with historical displays and demonstrations of making the famous Harris Tweed fabric. But the real treat came after closing time. We had the freedom to roam the grounds which included hilly terrain and a rough coastline. It was hauntingly beautiful under the late setting sunlight. We easily voted this our most memorable lodgings of the whole trip.

The Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

The Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Moving on through the Highlands, we made our way down to the Isle of Mull. Tobermory was reputed to be a picturesque town with colorful buildings lining the harbor. That lineup included the Tobermory Youth Hostel. As its name implies, this hostel is part of the Scottish Youth Hostel Association (SYHA Hostelling Scotland), which harks back to the International Youth Hostel organization we remember from our college days. However, today they welcome travelers of all ages in more than 70 hostels. We found the hostel to be simple but neat and clean, and again opted for a private room, this time with a shared bathroom down the hall. The trip up several flights of stairs to our room included a dash outside, but it seemed a small inconvenience. The kitchen was large and included cubby holes for individuals to store their food. We certainly couldn’t beat the location, and it had the added advantage of allowing a single night’s stay when most of the B&Bs had a two night minimum. It was an easy walk to restaurants as well as the sights of the town and harbor, which was especially welcome after a long day of cycling.

The town of Tobermory

The town of Tobermory

Traveling up the Great Glen, cycling along Loch Lochy and Loch Ness, we continued on to Inverness. Knowing that accommodations in the city were more pricey we sought out a hostel once again. From several options, we chose the SYHA Inverness Youth Hostel for its central location. The very large facility not only provided the usual hostel amenities but also included wifi, a guest lounge, coffee bar, café and served alcohol – quite a departure from yesteryear. Also, as in their other city hostels, the front desk was open 24 hours a day.

Overlooking Loch Ness

Overlooking Loch Ness

Most hostels now have websites and the hostel organizations provide locator maps. They all offer the convenience of advance reservations. Even though we were traveling early in the season in May, we took advantage of that in the two SYHA hostels, mainly to secure a private room. In the busier seasons it would be wise to book ahead. Where we stayed, dorm beds started around $20, private rooms ranged from $40 to $67 for starting prices. And vital for cyclists, each of the hostels provided secure storage overnight for our bikes. We had no need for the sleeping bags that we brought; linens and blankets were provided.

Yes, times have changed – for the better. Hostels were a big step up from camping and far more interesting than blasé motel rooms. We may no longer be youth, but next time we cycle abroad we will definitely be staying in hostels.

On the Isle of Skye

On the Isle of Skye


Molly Brewer Hoeg is a freelance writer living in Duluth, Minnesota. She is currently writing a book titled America at 12 Miles and Hour about her experiences bike touring with her husband. You can also read more of her work on her website, Superior Footprints. Her husband Rich is a photographer and birder. His work can be found here.

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Bike Father, Bike Son

Words and photos by Ben Popper

Three miles from the end of the road, the rain cloud that we’d been skirting for the last 15 miles finally caught up with us. It opened up as we wove along Carbon River past the ranger station, blasting the sheet of water off the windshield with the wipers set to Mach 1. For the first time in the last 90 minutes, my son was silent in the back seat. At 5-and-a-half, I wondered if he had yet gained the emotional ability to be pensive. Truth be told, the confident front I was putting up to hide the butterflies in my stomach probably wasn’t fooling even him.

Mom is away and the boys are going to play. He and I were headed straight from school on a Friday afternoon to the northwest corner of Mount Rainier National Park for a quick overnight in the backcountry. Though Carbon River Road has been closed to vehicle traffic since it washed out in spots back in 2006, it’s still passable by four-wheel drive, or bike—its five-mile stretch leading to the marvelously appointed, and now remote, Ipsut Creek campground.

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It seemed like an easy-enough introduction for him to the wonderful world of bikepacking, and we were both eagerly awaiting sleeping outside for the first time this season. The rain let up a little, and I turn back to him. “We should be there in a minute or two, are you ready?” To which I got an enthusiastic response: “Yeah Dad, I am ready to go bikepacking!”

When we first brought home an Adams Trail-A-Bike, I noticed almost immediately that the hand-me-down had enough random holes in the rear dropouts that I could probably get a rack onto it. A family bike-camping trip was being hatched right there and then. I found a rear rack for a 24-inch bike at our local bike co-op, and have been ready for the adventure ever since. All winter I had been eyeing the waiting rig in the corner of our basement, and when the day finally arrived, I attached my Rock Lobster gravel bike and loaded it down with two full panniers, a bear-proof barrel and a 45-pound kid.

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The rain started letting up. Struggling around the gate like an 18-wheeler in a Walmart parking lot, we were on our way into the backcountry with, save for our car, an empty parking lot behind us. We were going to have it all to ourselves.

If there were any moments along the way when I began to get discouraged because I couldn’t ride a soft, rocky, uphill section, my spirit would instantly be lifted by the giggles of my boy. He thought it was hilarious that I was off the bike, grunting and pushing while he got to pedal. He would even clamber off and help push, because, apparently, pushing your bike is a necessary part of bikepacking, and I was giving him the full experience.

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It only took about 100 feet for me to start sweating through my rain gear, and another mile to get a little tired. But as soon as I’d start wishing for the campground to be just around the next bend, I’d hear a yell from behind, letting me know that he was shifting into a better gear to help more as if he could tell I was feigning. A flurry of pedaling would ensue from behind, and—like a black-and-gold ’73 T-Top Firebird—my underweighted front tire would lift off the ground. We happily swerved, wheelied and bounced up the river valley, keeping a keen eye out for bears.

I had been watching the weather forecast for the weekend degrade for days, but we had been granted a window and made it to the campground without it raining. Even better, we were able to set up the tent and get most of dinner in before the next set of showers rolled through. We climbed into the tent, and I settled in for trying to contain a little boy after a long car ride and not a whole lot of rumpus time. Expecting this, I came prepared. I got him into dry, warm clothes, and surprised him with a little Lego set he didn’t see coming. It brightened his mood and gave us a light, compact and fun in-tent activity.

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As the last blocks clicked together, the rhythmic patter of rain slowly fell silent, and we left the tent to make a short pajama-clad exploration of Carbon River. The sun slowly sank below the ceiling of clouds on some far, unseen horizon, bathing a perpendicular valley in a blaze-orange sunset. A bear could have appeared in the river bottom riding atop a moose juggling live salmon, and we would still have been more surprised by the sunset on this rainy evening deep in the mountains.

The rain really started in earnest at about 1 in the morning. After that, I didn’t sleep much, trying to plan our exit strategy the best I could. I knew the hardest part was going to be getting out of the tent to retrieve the bear barrel, but after that I could cook from the relative shelter of our vestibule.

I awoke the sleeping boy after his oatmeal and hot cocoa were already cooked and cooling. Keep him warm was my mantra. The hot chocolate, a two-prong approach, warmed the belly and put a little extra oomph in his step. After hours of restless worrying, the transition from bag to bike went swimmingly, and we were cruising downhill in no time. It would have been rad to stay and explore the river and trails some more, but it seemed foolish to tempt the rain any further, and we had a violin recital to get to.

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Three miles into the five rainy miles back to the car, I was a little apprehensive on what his outlook would be. This could turn him off forever. I try not to push things on him, lest he never want to do them again. The proof was to be in the pudding.

I had taken my hood down so I could hear all the chatter from him as we rode. He had gotten silent again for a bit, and I called back to make sure I wasn’t spraying him. He replied, “No Dad, I just think we made the right decision by camping and not staying home.” An hour later in the car, when asked by his Mom on the phone what his favorite part of the trip was, he enthusiastically responded, “Riding through the rain this morning on the way back to the car!”

This had been an amazing time with my son in the backcountry, our first father-and-son-only camping trip. I will remember it fondly, forever.


This article originally appeared in Bicycle Times 46. Subscribe to our email newsletter to get fresh content delivered to your inbox every Tuesday! 

 

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Sea Otter Classic 2017: Ortlieb bikepacking bags

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:

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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 

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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!

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Keep Reading: Check out more coverage from the 2017 Sea Otter Classic here.

 

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First Impression: Ritchey Break-Away Ascent

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Canned Ham and Sleeping in the Backyard: The Best Bikepacking Trip

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.

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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.

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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
out.”

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.

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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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Inside Line: More details about Salsa’s EXP bikepacking bags

Salsa EXP Series Bikepacking Bags

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
  • Seatpack

Let’s take a quick look at each item.

Cutthroat Framepack
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.

Salsa EXP Series Bikepacking Bags

Toptube Bag
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.

Salsa EXP Series Bikepacking Bags

Anything Cradle
“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.

Salsa EXP Series Bikepacking Bags

Dry Bag
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…

Salsa EXP Series Bikepacking Bags

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.

Salsa EXP Series Bikepacking Bags

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 EXP Series Bikepacking Bags

Seatpack
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.

Salsa EXP Series Bikepacking Bags

No word yet on pricing, but you should start seeing these EXP Series products hitting the streets…err…roads and trails soon.

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Kona: Not Far From Home

Courtesy of Kona. Words by Erkki Punttila. Photos by Teemu Lautamies.

The calling

I really love exploring new places with my bike, but I also constantly hear the call of the sea – why not combine the best of both worlds? First enjoy a nice evening cruise and then hit the trails with your lights on and find a peaceful spot to camp. My boat is an old fishing boat and has a 5.4 litre truck engine from 1972 that has proven to be quite “reliable”. They are somewhat simple machines after you get to know the basics of maintenance and repair. Just like bikes. Remember your first wheel build? Slightly scary at first, but very rewarding at the end.

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Into the night

On longer bikepacking trips it would be ideal to find a camp site before the sun goes down. It just makes things easier. But sometimes it’s fun to ride in a pitch black forest with your lights blazing. Your focus shifts from the scenery to the trail and its obstacles. And what better way is there to scare yourself shitless than startling a sleeping moose just a few meters from you?

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A few tips for night riding

  • Set up your lights before it gets dark. Then you can just turn them on and keep going.
  • Know your gear. How long does the battery run on low/medium/full power?
  • Conserve power. On roads you can use the low setting on your lights and then turn it up when the trail gets nasty.
  • Always have a backup light source so you can continue if one fails. Probably the best option is to have a hub dynamo powered light for riding and recharging your GPS/phone/headlamp during the day. And a good quality waterproof headlamp for camp activities.
  • Know where your gear is. Try to memorize all of your stuff when packing and always pack things in the same place. You can then find spare batteries or your multitool even with your eyes closed.
  • Pack wisely. Having your shelter in one place with easy access is nice. I keep my tent as the first thing in the handlebar bag along with a dry base layer. Dry clothes, shelter, food, sleep.

Flow

If you are planning to get big miles in for the day your only choice is to get up early and get going. There is no way around that. But sometimes it is utter bliss not to have a plan at all. Sleep as long as you feel like. Enjoy breakfast and coffee. Get going when you feel like it and do it for as long as it’s good. Have a break, take a nap. Eat warm food, look at birds – whatever makes you happy.

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Steps to a quick getaway

Set up everything for a quick start before going to sleep. I fill my Jetboil with the right amount of water for porridge and coffee and keep it on standby in the tent’s vestibule. Have all the food you plan to eat ready (but don’t do this in bear country!). Then, this:

  1. Make sure your alarm goes off loud as [email protected] in the far end of the tent so you’re forced to get up to turn it off
  2. Open the valve of your air mattress
  3. Get up and light up Jetboil
  4. Shut off the alarm
  5. Put on riding clothes
  6. Stuff sleeping bag
  7. By now the water is boiling. Pour it into your favourite titanium cup and add porridge flakes. Eat and scrape the sides with your spork. Pour more hot water and add instant coffee.
  8. Since the coffee is likely too hot, pack your stuff and roll up your sleeping mattress while it cools.
  9. Enjoy your coffee. It also cleans your mug from the porridge. Kind of.
  10. Stuff your gear into your seat and frame bag, then take down the tent and pack it along with your dry base layer.
  11. Enjoy your 15 minutes of fame.

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Tips for big days

  • Eat light and fast in the morning. Ride for about 1-2 hours, take a dump and have a second breakfast :)
  • Have food ready on your stem bags to eat on the go.
  • Eat something once per hour even you don’t feel hungry. You don’t really need a big lunch break, just keep on going and remember to eat.
  • Hydration is key. I always have one bottle with electrolytes and one with plain water. On longer legs I fill them from my bladder or other source and try to keep the balance.
  • Your favourite candy and something salty like beef jerky is good motivational food.
  • If you eat at a restaurant or gas station during the day, don’t eat in. Order 3 hamburgers and a coke, eat one standing and continue with the two burgers in your jersey pockets. The satisfaction of eating a cheeseburger while coasting along a gravel road at 25km/h is heaven.

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Climax

Every trip comes to an end unfortunately. If you have a specific goal that you want to reach, why not celebrate a bit when you reach it? A mountain top, a tough hike-a-bike, a big climb, a 200km day, whatever – reward yourself and maybe take a picture of it. Later on you won’t remember all the details of the suffering, but you will feel the sense of accomplishment and have a great story to tell. Just go out there and do it your way.


From Kona:

For this adventure, Erkki rode our Swiss Army knife, the Unit, in completely stock form. With its Reynolds 520 steel frame and single speed drivetrain, the Unit has been a mainstay in the Kona line for years and for 2017 we’ve given it some updates that only expand its versatility. Five bottle cages and room for 27.5+ wheels – which now come stock on the bike – will enable you to get out there whether you’re looking for a singletrack ripper or the foundation of a solid bikepacking setup. The powder blue Unit in the video is available in Europe, while North America gets down with matte olive green. Get all the details on the Unit here.

 

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New: Advocate Cycles Sand County

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We caught a glimpse of the new Advocate Sand County adventure machine at Interbike and finally have some details on this new bike to share with you.

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The Sand County slots in alongside Advocate’s 700c Lorax, which we reviewed in our previous print issue and really loved for road and gravel grinding, but felt that it wasn’t quite set up for loaded touring. Now, that opening in Advocate’s lineup has been filled.

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The frame features a proprietary triple-butted, heat treated tubeset, and full rust-proof coating inside and out. Highlights include attachments for every possible thing you could imagine, geometry suited for hauling a pannier-based load, and six sizes designed around 700c wheels and drop bars.

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The excellent build kit features Shimano Tiagra (which the Lorax also sports and which we have found to be really darn good), a triple crankset and 11-32 cassette, Avid BB7 disc brakes, a WTB Rocket Comp saddle, Formula hubs, Alex Adventurer rims and 700×40 Terrene Honali tires.

The bike will sell complete for $1,600.

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New: Advocate Seldom Seen

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We caught a glimpse of the new Advocate Seldom Seen adventure machine at Interbike and finally have some details on this new bike to share with you.

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The Seldom Seen, named for a character in Edward Abbey’s “Monkey Wrench Gang,” is purpose-built for bikepacking and off-road touring. It can take either 29er or 27plus wheels, and is built around the Boost chainline.

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The stock build is excellent. The Seldom Seen comes with a Shimano SLX groupset (including SLX brakes), 11-42 cassette, Ergon grips and saddle (nice touch!), Stans NoTubes rims and 27.5×3.0 Terrene Chunk tires.

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The Seldom Seen comes complete with rack and fender mounts, lots of bottle cage mounts and its own frame bag. It is the first Advocate Cycles bike to use the company’s proprietary quadruple-butted, heat treated, eccentric integrated gusset tubeset for an extremely strong frame. The green paint is perfect for blending on on backcountry adventures, and we can appreciate the understated graphics.

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Five sizes will accomodate heights 4’11” to 6’1″. The complete bike (including frame bag) sells for $2,000.

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Baja Divide bike route through California and Mexico announced

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Review: Ultralight & Watertight .5 First Aid Kit

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Tester: Eric McKeegan
Price: $17

First aid kits are one of those things we all know we should carry, but rarely do. Even on backcountry trips, I almost never have anything besides a dirty bandana and some duct tape to patch myself up.

That has changed dramatically now that the Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight & Watertight .5 now resides in the bottom of my pack. Besides local day trips, I’ve made sure this was with me anytime I travelled anywhere, including a week-long trip to Chile. It is light enough to just leave in a hydration pack or frame bag, because really, who is going to notice another 100 grams?

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My good luck held out, but had I needed it, there are some very worthwhile items inside besides the standard adhesive bandages, butterfly closures and antiseptic wipes. High-quality, stainless-steel tweezers can pick out tiny splinters or remove ticks. Three decent-sized safety pins can hold up your shorts or keep a dressing in place over a wound. A sheet of anti-blister material could save your feet on a long ride. A few packs each of antihistamine, aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen could come in handy for both accidents and hangovers.

All of that (and more) is crammed into resealable plastic bag, which is placed inside a treated and seam-sealed nylon pouch with a waterproof zipper. I’m betting I can stuff a set of nitrile gloves and a small pressure dressing (to replace that dirty bandana) in the bag as well, which would make me the best equipped rider on most any trail.

Probably time to take another wilderness first responder class as well.

Adventure Medical sells a huge range of first aid and survival supplies that range from tiny kits for short solo trips to huge packs for large groups.

 

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Feature: ALONE

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Photo: Nicholas Carman

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.

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Photo of and by the author: Amanda DelCore

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.”

Photo: Ian Hylands

Photo: Ian Hylands

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.

Photo: William Stump

Photo: William Stump

“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.

Photo: William Stump

Photo: William Stump

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.

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Photo of and by the author: Amanda DelCore

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.”

 

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Wyoming bikepacking: Medicine Bow National Forest

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Sometimes, you need a full year to plan an overnight.

Last fall, my uncle William and I had succeeded in talking each other into an off-road bikepacking trip (and acquiring a bunch of cool new gear), so he went out into Wyoming’s Medicine Bow National Forest to find a route and a camping spot. I eventually had to cancel and the trip—which would be a first for each of us—was shelved.

At the end of July, we finally made it happen. We started with a shakedown ride, a bowl of my aunt’s delicious homemade chili and a sendoff from my 16-year-old cousin that consisted of an eye roll. Our two-day ride began above 10,000 feet and took us even higher over steep, chunky Jeep roads and along barely-visible singletrack before reaching Heart Lake. We pitched our tents in a field of wildflowers and proceeded to catch up on about 10 years of not seeing each other very much.

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Just one night? One has to start somewhere and one night is absolutely worthwhile. Philosopher Alain de Botton explained in his book “The Art of Travel” that appreciating and holding onto small experiences with nature was an ideal of poet William Wordsworth. Even though two or three days vacation can’t solve all of your problems, they can reside in your mind as a comfort.

The poet celebrated what he called “spots of time.” Those are, essentially, scenes that may have seemed minor in the moment but that nonetheless stick with us, and that we return to in our memories for contentment when everyday life feels crushing. Daffodils moving in the wind; the smell of a stand of pine trees—anything is up for grabs.

There are in our existence spots of time,
That with distinct pre-eminence retain
A renovating virtue…
That penetrates, enables us to mount,
When high, more high, and lifts us up when fallen.

— William Wordsworth, re-printed in de Botton’s “The Art of Travel”

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That, to me, is the value of these experiences. Sure, they are fun to share on Instagram, but in thinking back to my first backpacking trip 20 years ago as a comparison, I realize how many times I have called upon that memory and savored it fondly. That is what I know I will do with this trip, and likely every one after, even those that inevitably don’t go well.

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That is the excellence of bicycles: they give us spots of time. Even if you simply ride a couple of miles to work and back every day, it’s a unique moment in your 9-to-5 or equivalent. Even if it’s just a one-night bikepacking outing, it’s a unique break in the regular routine of life.

I read recently (in relation cycling) that, essentially, the only rides worth remembering are the really difficult ones. Nah. Suffering certainly tightens memory’s grip, but so do beauty, camaraderie, relaxation, novelty. And fun. If you spend two days riding a bike with a giant grin plastered irremovably on your face, that ride is probably going to get filed away in a safe, accessible place.

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I may not precisely recall every stream crossing, or how beautiful our tents looked set up in a field of flowers as the light of the sinking sun illuminated them in pinks and oranges, or how silly giddy my uncle and I both were when I busted out a SPAM single in the morning to fry up and share and we launched into a 30-minute conversation about different types of camp stoves and their merits, or how that kid backpacking with his mom brought a soccer ball and we could hear him kicking it in the distance as we rode away from camp.

I may not remember each of those things individually but, collectively, they will engrain themselves as a new spot of time in my memory, hopefully one that I get to hold onto. And, nothing could have motivated me more to go bikepacking than actually going bikepacking. When is my next trip? When and where can I go for two or three nights? How quickly can I start working my way up to an adventure that is classically “epic?” I knew from the first few pedal strokes that this Wyoming trip was just a beginning.

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The outing had the enhanced glow of nostalgia because it took me back to the same mountain range where, at age 10, I followed the same Uncle William and my parents into the woods for my first backpacking trip. Twenty years on, it seems that neither one of us has fundamentally changed all that much, which was somewhat of an unexpected relief. There’s an indescribable comfort at being able to slip into familiarity with a kindred spirit, especially in the process of exploring a shared passion.

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This isn’t where I tell you that you need to go out and do something like I did or that it was a big deal or that it wasn’t a big deal. There’s more than enough finger-wagging in the outdoor media about how you’re not doing it right but someone else is. We meticulously planned a one-night trip and only rode a handful of miles each way. Our way is certainly one way to do it. There are many others.

Define your love of cycling and the outdoors in whatever way you damn well please. That’s something I learned from Uncle William and have always admired. I appreciate that he doesn’t chase trends or exclusive toys. Besides, as he puts it, “if you want only expensive bikes, then you can’t have very many of them.”

So, I suppose I am going to tell you what to do, and that is this: Do what you want.

The Bike

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You can’t talk about bikepacking without talking about the bike. My Surly Pugsley has been a faithful friend now for the last three years and has broadened its usefulness from winter snow machine to adept touring rig.

Following my shakedown trip in Moab, I shod its stock 50-mm rims with 26×2.75 Surly Dirt Wizard tires, swapped in a Jones H-Bar up front and a Brooks Cambium saddle out back and called it good. I don’t yet know how the 100 mm bottom bracket width will affect my knees on longer journeys, but that width offers the benefit of preventing my legs from rubbing a stuffed frame bag.

I was extremely grateful for the stability, cushion and grip of extra-knobby, plus-ish tires paired to the great ride of a steel frame. The new crop of up-and-coming bikes designed around plus tires might seem like just a fad or a phase, but I don’t think I’ll ever do loaded, off-road touring on anything else. I’m sold. Now that some bike companies are turning to 26plus tires for smaller-frame and women’s-specific mountain bikes, I might have more tire options in the future.

The Gear

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Backpack: Water bladder, sleeping bag, rain cover for pack, ultralight wind vest, arm and leg warmers (the only items I did not use), wallet, phone, keys to my truck

Apidura seat pack: alcohol fuel stove and small fuel bottle, small cook pot, collapsible bowl that doubles as a tiny cutting board, titanium fork and spoon, waterproof matches, insulated mug, insulated vest, insulated jacket, rain jacket, small pack towel, spare clothing (socks, underwear, wool hat, warm gloves, baselayer tights, long-sleeve shirt) and camp shoes attached to the outside (Crocs clogs)

  • TIP: Make sure you don’t strap so much on the top of the seat pack that you can’t get your rear back off the saddle on steep, loose descents.

Revelate Designs frame bag: toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, glasses, contact lens solution/case, wet wipes); breakfast (SPAM single, oatmeal, almond butter, instant coffee); dinner (freeze-dried backpacking meal); small bottle of cooking oil; bike-specific toolkit; spare tube; tire pump; ultralight one-person backpacking first aid kit; headlamp; camp knife; small roll of biodegradable toilet paper; pocket-sized sketchbook with pencil

Revelate Designs handlebar bag: one-person tent, ground cloth, tent poles/stakes, sleeping pad, camp pillow (the only thing I’d leave at home next time)

Fork-mounted dry bags (made by Salsa): Left: lunch/snacks (bagel, dried sausage, marinated green olives, dark chocolate-covered raisins, small container of peanut butter, Clif Bar energy food pouch-sweet potato flavor); Right: 1-liter water bottle, SteriPen for water purification

Revelate Designs stem bag: compact-ish camera (Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100), lip balm, DEET bug juice, sunscreen

Did I forget anything? Yep: a small flask of bourbon and an evening hot drink such as cocoa or decaf tea. Luckily for us both, my uncle brought fire starters (cotton balls rubbed with petroleum jelly) since everything around us was wet. A small folding saw would have been welcome for firewood gathering and trail clearing, but not necessary.

 

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Salsa Cycles introduces EXP Series bike bag line

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Continuing its march toward capturing every corner of the bike touring market, Salsa Cycles is now making its own bikepacking bags, just like Specialized started doing. Yes, there are a lot of bike bags out there and some hard feelings toward major companies taking on what once was strictly a mom-n-pop-shop type operation.

We love small companies, too, but it does make sense from a company’s sales point of view and a design control perspective. Not everyone knows about the small companies or is willing to hunt those products down. These bags are designed in-house and specifically tailored to Salsa’s bikes for the best fit possible. However you feel about it, here they are, and they look and feel pretty nice. Long-term construction quality will have to be tested, so we’ll see if we can get our hands on some.

Salsa EXP bags

The classy-looking grey bags are made of fully welded construction and PU-coated fabric that is “weatherproof” and uses welded zippers. The Cutthroat frame bag is specific to Salsa’s Cutthroat bike and offered in all sizes. The bag has a map pocket on one side and a large storage compartment with a Velcro divider and hydration bladder mount on the other. Retail is $120.

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The top-tube bag will work on any bike but was designed to attach to the bottle bosses now appearing on the top tubes of many Salsa bikes. Retail is $50.

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The large seat pack is PU-coated to keep your gear dry. A roll-top closure keeps the rain out with bungee cords on the top providing extra storage. A slick, 1000D material on the bottom and front sides keeps grime off your bag and easily wipes clean. Retail is $120.

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Completely new is Salsa’s new Anything Cradle handlebar bag mount with aluminum arms and an injection-molded plastic cage. Designed to hold up to eight pounds and mount to even narrow drop bars, its long arms should clear most cable clusters. We’ll see if we can get our hands on one to check out its durability and stability. The cradle sells for $75.

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Salsa also designed a super-lightweight dry bag and extra storage pouch to work with the cradle. The dry bag and front pouch aren’t sold separately, but as a package deal with the cradle. Pricing is $100 for the cradle and dry bag, and $150 for all three.

 

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Diamondback expands Haanjo series to carbon

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.

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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.

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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.

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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
  • $3,100

©Earl Harper

Haanjo Comp Carbon

  • Shimano 2×11 105 drivetrain with FSA crankset
  • TRP mechanical disc brakes
  • Schwalbe G-One 700x40mm tires on HED Tomcat wheels
  • $2,500

©Earl Harper

Haanjo EXP Carbon

  • Shimano 3×9 drivetrain
  • Bar-end shifters
  • TRP mechanical disc brakes
  • Schwalbe Smart Sprint tires on 27.5 HED wheels
  • $2,300

Video

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.

 

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Specialized launches new Adventure Gear line

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.

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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.

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Specialized revives Sequoia name for adventure road bike

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

Sequoia models

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Sequoia Expert

  • $3,500
  • SRAM Rival 1×11
  • Cruzero wheels

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Sequoia Elite

  • $2,000
  • Shimano 105 2×11
  • Hayfield wheels

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Sequoia

  • $1,300
  • Shimano Sora 2×9
  • Hayfield wheels
  • Steel fork

Sequoia Expert frameset (not pictured)

  • $1,200
  • 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.

Update

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.

More photos

Photos by Beth Welliver – Specialized

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Coming up next

You might see quite a few new accessories in these photos. More on those in the next post…

 

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Press Camp 2017 gear preview: bike bags, packs and hydration

The nice thing about Press Camp is that most of the companies attending are actually showcasing new product. A few things stood out to us on the pack, travel and hydration sides of things from Camelbak and Thule. Here are the highlights:

Camelbak Quick Stow Flask

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The thing that grabbed my attention from Camelbak was one of the simplest, least-expensive items displayed at Press Camp. The half-liter Quick Stow Flask is simply Camelbak’s bladder material with a lockable bite valve, an insulated option, a hole for hanging the flask to dry and packability. This little thing will fit in all kinds of bag corners. Take it on tour for extra water storage or stick it in a rear jersey pocket: it will be much more comfortable than a bottle as it will conform to your spine and can be more easily stowed when empty.

Available in October, the non-insulated version will sell for $20 while an insulated version (Quick Stow Chill) will sell for $28. Note that Camelbak said not to use the hole in the bottom for clipping the flask to a pack or otherwise; it’s strength was not tested for banging around on a carabiner while full of liquid.

Camelbak Reservoir Updates

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Camelbak’s reservoir line got an update that was about five years in the making. Flow rate was increased by 20 percent thanks to a larger tube and a 45-degree (not 90-degree) angle on the bite valve. The bite valve has a new on-off flow switch that’s self-explanatory. Also updated is the handle, which is easier to hold and slips into pockets on the updated packs for security and stability.

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The best update, in my opinion, is the cap. If you have ever had an entire water bladder leak out all over your car/back/wherever, you know how annoying some of them can be to properly and securely close. Camelbak came up with what they call a “pickle-jar” closure. Just put the cap on, turn and it’s sealed—no fiddling with alignment required. It really is that simple.

Camelbak MULE Lowrider

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Camelbak’s lowrider packs situate water in a squat, square-shaped bladder that keeps the weight lower on your back. Most commonly seen in mountain biking, they’re also comfortable for touring and road riders who like packs for lengthy excursions.

Previously, the lowrider packs were rather small. Camelbak previewed a new, 15-liter Mule LR with 3 liters of water capacity and 12 liters of gear capacity that will retail for $150. That added room means this bag could be a good choice for bikepackers—stick some clothing or a sleeping bag in with your water and free up more room for gear in your bike bags.

These bags have some serious engineering in them. The plethora of adjustment straps, widgets and pockets take some getting used to, so this bag won’t be for those who just want a cavernous, unfussy opening. But if you like to stay organized and keep the bag well-fit to your back, this will be one to check out. A rain cover, tool roll pouch and waist strap pockets are included.

Thule Bike Bags

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Thule is expanding its line of bike bags. In addition to its panniers, Thule is adding a waterproof, roll-top handlebar bag. This one has a clear plastic map pocket on top and a simplified mounting system for attaching the bag to the handlebars.

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The bag easily clips off if you need to take it with you. The mounting system also doubles as an adjustable cell phone holder. A roll-closure saddle bag made of the same waterproof material will also be offered.

 

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Records fall in two cross-country races this week

A cross-country bike tour is no easy feat, but for the new breed of self-supported bikepacking racers, they’re starting to make it look that way.

On June 22, Lael Wilcox became the first American and first woman to win the TransAm bike race from Oregon to Virginia, while on June 24 Briton Mike Hall completed the Tour Divide route from Banff, Alberta, to the U.S.-Mexico border. In both events the riders must carry everything they need for the entire trip, and receive no outside assistance. Riding 200 miles a day is commonplace and a good night’s sleep is not.

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Photo by Nicholas Carman

Now in its third year, the TransAm has already become one of the world’s top endurance races, stretching 4,400 miles across the TransAmerica trail from Astoria, Oregon, to Yorktown, Virginia. After smashing the women’s record at the Tour Divide in 2015, Wilcox was the first to Yorktown this week with a finishing time of 18 days and 10 minutes, the second faster time ever. Unbelievably it came down to an almost sprint finish with Wilcox edging out second place finisher Steffen Streich of Greece by just 2 hours.


You can read our interview with Wilcox about how she has zero fear of riding alone in the current issue of Bicycle Times.


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Photo courtesy of Pivot Cycles

Former TransAm winner Mike Hall instead returned to the Rocky Mountains this year to settle some unfinished business. Despite taking the overall win at the 2014 Tour Divide race, he was forced to detour around forest fires and his then-record time was deemed unofficial. Two years later he smashed the 2,700 mile course again for an official finish time of 13 days, 22 hours and 51 minutes, a staggering 12 hours faster than the previous record. In addition to wins at the Tour Divide and TransAm, Hall has won the World Cycle Race and is one of the principal organizers behind the Transcontinental from London to Istanbul.

Congrats to all the finishers of both these epic events.

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Rapha and Apidura launch pack collaboration

When you think Rapha, you probably think of ultra-high-end apparel or Team Sky at the Tour de France. Now, the company has teamed up with fellow Britons at Apidura to offer its first line of packs for long-distance cycling.

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The Handlebar Pack ($130) and Saddle Pack ($160) are built by Apidura with Rapha‘s classic accents. Whether you’re on a race bike or a touring rig, now you can load up some extra clothes, a hearty amount of snacks or whatever else you want to bring to the beach or on your next brevet—and do it with that classic Rapha style.

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The packs are made from a water-resistant synthetic body with reflective strips and accents. A separate dry bag that can store inside the packs is also included. Each attaches to the bike in three points with rubberized reinforcements.

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What do you think? These are priced competitively with other manufacturers’ bikepacking equipment. Would you choose the Rapha/Apidura collaboration over the competition? Let us know in the comments below.

Location photos by George Marshall/Rapha

 

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