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
Courtesy of Kona. Words by Erkki Punttila. Photos by Teemu Lautamies.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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:
- 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
- Open the valve of your air mattress
- Get up and light up Jetboil
- Shut off the alarm
- Put on riding clothes
- Stuff sleeping bag
- 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.
- Since the coffee is likely too hot, pack your stuff and roll up your sleeping mattress while it cools.
- Enjoy your coffee. It also cleans your mug from the porridge. Kind of.
- Stuff your gear into your seat and frame bag, then take down the tent and pack it along with your dry base layer.
- Enjoy your 15 minutes of fame.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Five sizes will accomodate heights 4’11” to 6’1″. The complete bike (including frame bag) sells for $2,000.
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.
Tester: Eric McKeegan
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?
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.
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.”
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.
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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.Tweet Print
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.
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.
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.
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
What’s a bike overnight without the perfect cup of coffee? Swift Industries and Stumptown Coffee, both of the Pacific Northwest, teamed up to bring you this short and sweet video of how to brew on the road.Tweet Print
As you’ve likely noticed from reading this magazine and elsewhere, bikepacking and rackless touring has reenergized the bike touring market. What began as a niche sport supported by products from a few boutique brands has now hit the mainstream and the major players are getting involved.
No stranger to bike touring, Blackburn is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, having been dedicated to open road adventures since day one. The Outpost seat bag and handlebar roll are its foray into the lightweight touring scene and offer classic features with some unique twists. The seat pack ($120) attaches to your saddle rails and seatpost and consists of two pieces: an outer sling and a removable, roll-top stuff sack.
Rated at 10.5 liters it is more than enough to swallow a sleeping bag and a small tent, and the extra lash points on the back let you strap even more on. The buckles have locking adjusters, which makes it really handy to overstuff as well, as you can tuck in a jacket or other loose items and keep them secure. The included dry bag is a separate piece that you can pull out and take in your tent with you. The sling works best if the dry bag is filled at least half way to fill it out and prevent it from sagging.
In use, the Seat Pack offers a ton of storage capacity, but it does wag a bit from side to side. It’s largely out-of-sight-out-of-mind, though, and I’m willing to put up with it. I had no complaints about the build quality but, compared to the boutique seat packs on the market, the material used is thicker and heavier.
The Handlebar roll ($100) uses a similar modular layout consisting of a harness that holds a dry bag. This bag is open on both ends so you don’t have to unpack the whole thing if your jacket is at the one end. It also make it easier to pack. Inside the sling harness is a Velcro patch to keep the dry bag in place. The harness attaches to the handlebars with a quick release mechanism so it protrudes a good bit out and doesn’t interfere with shifters or brakes.
The extra lash points here are also handy for overflow storage and the red security strap keeps the whole setup from rotating downward on your handlebars should you hit a big bump. I appreciated the Handlebar Roll’s equally large storage capacity but feel the plastic quick release system is largely superfluous. Because it is so easy to unbuckle the stuff sack, I don’t see the need for a second means of removing it. I would trade that convenience for a simpler, lighter design.
Worth noting is proper installation to make it function well. The bracket has been updated for fall 2016 with a wire safety support instead of the plastic one on the first version (pictured here). The red strap is also important as a secondary method of keeping the whole setup from rotating down into your front tire (see the green arrow above).
The Blackburn bags offer a good compromise of cost and features if you don’t need the lightest handmade gear. The Seat Pack especially is a good way to haul a lot of stuff without adding a rear rack.
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.”
It was imperative that we stay vigilant against the danger. Our enemy would not discriminate. Young or old, strong or feeble, all were within its sights. It could sink its vicious teeth into our flesh and not release for days or weeks. Few would escape our journey without falling victim to its ruthless aggression.
Our expedition leader and Blackburn’s brand manager, Robin, tried in vain to prepare us for the threat. He gathered us up and spoke in hushed tones.
“It’s important to remember that if you’re not on the trail, you are almost certainly standing in poison oak.”
It was a valiant warning, especially since I’m still scratching two weeks later. I joined Blackburn and its 2016 class of Blackburn Rangers for an introductory ride through the mountains of coastal California. With a little help from Santa Cruz and Big Agnes we escaped from the arid asphalt plains of the San Jose airport parking lot and ascending through sun, wind, mist and fog to a quiet Boy Scout camp perched high in the hills above the city. Tucked beneath the massive evergreens we cooled our heels and warmed our hearts with a campfire and some of Kentucky’s finest.
Blackburn is the kind of brand that doesn’t just spit out products to make a buck. They’re out there using these things—both the employees and the brand’s annual group of Blackburn Rangers. The six Rangers chosen for 2016 will complete some of the most famous bike touring routes in North America. While off-road bikepacking is very on-trend right now, it’s really bike travel of all kinds that Blackburn is promoting, as many of the routes its Rangers travel are entirely paved.
Meet the Rangers
Brian Ohlen – Cody, Wyoming
Brian hails is an avid fisherman and cyclist. He intends to combine his passions and bike-fish his way from Canada to Mexico, in search of the elusive Steelhead Trout.
What is your goal for the route?
“I’d love to catch a steelhead in each of the three states I’ll travel through. Three fish doesn’t sound like much, but those buggers are hard to catch!”
Sorry Laura, this is the only photo of you I took.
Katie Hawkins and Laura Brigham – East Palo Alto, California
Katie, left, and Laura, right, are neighbors in East Palo Alto and decided to apply together to tackle the Great Divide this summer.
What do you hope to get out of this journey?
Laura: “I hope to share the enthusiasm that I have for biking and the outdoors with those on the Great Divide as well as those following from home. I hope at the end of this crazy ‘Canadian gone Mexican’ adventure, Katie and I will leave with unforgettable memories, strong legs, sweet tan lines, and a bunch of awesome new friends.”
Katie: “I see this as a soul-searching adventure for 2 months. I want to be able to get away from my normal 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. job and be on an adventure that separates me from life’s distractions. I want to share my experiences with various biking communities along the route and hope to learn from them, as well.”
Courtney Lewis – Brooklyn, New York
Courtney followed the Blackburn Ranger program for the last few years, and the variety of their backgrounds and approaches were immediate inspiration for her to tackle the same path in her own way. Courtney’s ‘own way’ includes stepping off the bike and hiking nearby summits along the route, and also bringing her dog along.
What do you hope to get out of this journey?
“I’m excited to shake up my routine, and the routines of my friends (and friends-to-be!) along the way. I want to push my limits to get the most out of the time I have, and to learn more about myself.”
Ivan Kilroe – Lancaster, Great Britain
Ivan has a great approach to cycling that is based on sharing beauty and joy with friends that we can appreciate.
Have you traveled by bike in the past?
“In the last year I’ve done a handful of short trips travelling by bicycle and really enjoyed the freedom you feel from carrying everything you need to survive. I’ve definitely got a bad case of ‘outdoorism’ – seeing the sun rise and set everyday, and waking up outside all becomes kind of addictive.”
Photo by John Watson
Christian Ayoob – Watkinsville, Georgia
Christian hails from the robust , but often overlooked, cycling community around Athens, Georgia, and is one of the first Southerners that has been selected as a Ranger.
What do you hope to get out of this journey?
“By the end of this journey, I hope to have collected stories, met as many people as possible, and all around have had fun. Along with doing this, I would love to have a very detailed journal and blog for others to follow and get inspired.”
While the Rangers plan to ride thousands of miles, you don’t need to quit your job and drop off the grid to have a great adventure on a bike. Most of Blackburn’s products are just as useful on a commute to school as they are on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.
We also got a look at some of Blackburn’s newest products on the ride:
Blackburn’s unique frame bags ($60 or $65) come in two sizes and are expandable depending on your cargo needs. They’ve been updated with stronger zippers and will soon be available in a limited-edition camo print. The Seat Pack ($120) and Handlebar Roll ($100) will be available in camo as well. All the bags will continue to be available in black.
These little 2Fer lights were one of my favorites. These $25 USB-rechargeable lights have a clip on the back that holds them snug on a loop like you find on backpacks, or on the included stretchy strap. The name derives from their ability to run with white or red LEDs so they can go front or back.
The new Switch Mini multi-tool is a bit of a crossover between something that stays packed away with your bike stuff and your at-home tool kit. There are four pieces with a tool at each end that can be held either perpendicular or inline with the handle. The rounded ends make it useful when working in tight spaces where you can’t hold the tool perfectly inline with the bolt. It includes a 2.5 mm, 3 mm, 4 mm, 5 mm, 6 mm, T25 Torx, T30 Torx and a flat head screwdriver that all pack away in the included case, with room to spare for an ID and a couple bucks.
My favorite item introduced was the new Chamber HV floor pump ($80), the highlight of a whole new line of floor pumps. Designed for big tires, it has a high volume piston and a HUGE gauge that only goes to 50 psi. Some trick features include a bleed valve in the head for precise pressures, a bottle opener (natch) and a 31.8 mm clamp for the handle that lets you bolt on an old set of handlebars for some custom flair.
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