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.
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.
We’re here in Las Vegas this week for the bike industry’s annual tradeshow of brands, suppliers, dealers and media slime. Most of our time is spent inside a giant conference hall with confusing booth numbers and overpriced rubber sandwiches.
Blackburn Design wasn’t having any of that though. Last year they invited us on a ride down to the Hoover Dam, which is an insanely impressive piece of engineering (aside from the ecological ramifications) that is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. Anyway, Blackburn upped the ante (that’s a Las Vegas pun) and invited Bicycle Times on an overnight bike camping adventure.
We started by fueling up on some Vitamin T.
The Hoover Dam is a major source of hydroelectric power for Nevada, Arizona and California. There is quite a bit of infrastructure surrounding it.
While the dam has a road atop it, the highway now passes by on the bridge. The Black Canyon forms the border between Nevada and Arizona.
We hung out for a bit spitting off the side of the 726-foot side of the dam and taking in the scenery.
Some of the tourists were quite quizzical about our bikes.
Opened in 1936, the dam includes some beautiful art deco details including the black marble public restrooms inside the intake towers. It’s hard to imagine a government project including such nice details these days.
The water in Lake Mead also sits 50-60 feet below the historic level, creating a dramatic bathtub ring.
Back to the bike riding. This custom painted Santa Cruz belongs to one of the Blackburn employees.
We left the bridge and headed out into the desert for some backroad exploring just as the sun was setting.
The incoming thunderstorm had us dodging lightning and racing for lower ground.
Nature’s light show was pretty impressive. We rolled into camp just at dusk and set up our Big Agnes tents and polished off some sandwiches before heading to bed.
Being woken up in the middle of the night by a howling pack of coyotes was a memorable experience.
The sun soon rose above Lake Mead and I couldn’t be happier to be further away from the bright lights of Las Vegas.
Once the sun was up it was time for coffee.
Jason from Limberlost kept the caffeine flowing with hand-ground beans and pour-over brewing.
We filled our hydration bladders with filtered lake water and tried to keep our distance from the nudist kayaker guy.
Made some new friends that morning, including this guy, if you can spot him…
… and some desert bighorn sheep.
Finally it was time to load up and ride back uphill and back to reality.
Our time in the desert was just thing we need to revitalize our spirit.
- Our bikepacking bags, lights, multi-tools and other assorted items were provided by Blackburn.
- Our tents, sleeping bags and mats were from Big Agnes.
- The bike I rode was a Niner RLT.
Blackburn has been making gear for bicycle touring since 1975, and for its 40th Anniversary it is looking back at more than a century of bicycle travel in a film called Comes With Baggage. It includes stories, footage and interviews from historic and influential cycle tourists. Here’s a trailer:
The film will make its debut just before the Sea Otter Classic on April 15. The event is free and open to the public at the Monterey County Fair Grounds. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.
Now in its third year, Blackburn is recruiting cyclists looking to get “Out There” as part of its brand ambassador program. Known as Rangers, the six members will test Blackburn products and share their experience with the world while they conquer some of the most iconic cycling routes in the country, including the Pacific Coast and the Great Divide.
The Pacific Coast Bicycle Route covers 1,852 miles from Vancouver, British Columbia to Imperial Beach, California. Consisting of beautiful roads lining the Pacific Ocean, Rangers will use touring bicycles and Blackburn racks and panniers to carry necessities along the way.
The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is an off road route that was originally mapped by the Adventure Cycling Association, from Banff, Alberta to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, a distance of 2,740 miles. Great Divide Rangers will ride mountain bikes, whether rigid or suspended, and use bikepacking bags strapped to their frames, handlebars and saddles. Lights, pumps and computers from Blackburn will keep them rolling and safe.
To become a Ranger, present your best experience on a bike, or why you want to ride from Canada to Mexico to Blackburn. Upload a short video to YouTube, using the hashtag #beablackburnranger2015, that embodies who you are and showcases what will make you stand apart as a Ranger. You must also inspire others by sharing your adventure. After submitting your application, get your friends, family, and community members to endorse you via social media.
For more information on the Blackburn Rangers and the “Out There” program visit the Blackburn website.Tweet Print
This summer Blackburn’s Rangers spread out across the United States in search of adventure. Sam and Kurt set out along the Great Divide route, and while the Tour Divide race gets most of the attention, not everyone who rides this route is racing.
“Truth is, if there is any flint of an excuse to stop, we will do it.”
And they’re choosing some awesome spots to stop. By saving grams on creature comforts, they were able to bring along their climbing gear, and hit some great lines along the way.Tweet Print
A good set of lights is one of the simplest ways to promote your safety on the road. Being seen—and seeing where you’re going—is pretty much the most essential functions of urban cycling. Blackburn Designs continues to expand its lighting options with a new set of USB rechargeable “blinky” lights that pack a lot of technology into a small package.Tweet Print
To paraphrase a famous Army cadence:
“I wanna be an Blackburn ranger / I wanna live the life of adventure”
Sponsorships for the non-racers out there can be rare. Blackburn is stepping up into that gap and offering support to the adventures out there with the Ranger brand ambassador program.
The main criteria for Ranger-hood is a commitment to ride either the Pacific Coast bicycle route or the Great Divide mountain bike route. Of course, Rangers will be responsible to share their adventures via the various social media platforms. In return Blackburn will outfit Rangers with Blackburn gear (including prototypes!) and a small travel stipend to help defray the cost of your adventurous undertaking.
Also in the perks category: Ranger Camp at the Whiskey Off-Road in Prescott, Arizona, paid for by Blackburn. I don’t know about you, but I’d be down with missing out on some spring showers to hang out in Arizona April 25-27. The application process involves submitting a short essay, a few photographs and uploading a short video to YouTube. Best get busy!Tweet Print