Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Tour Divide 2015 - Gear Tips on Bike Bags

Well the countdown is on to Tour Divide 2015! We are well inside 100 days away which is a pre-marker that starts to worry some of those who may not feel yet prepared.  Although I wont be participating this year I will be missing my fair share of work hours following the blue dot parade on  The unofficial start list is at 90 or so and I would expect the number to be closer to 150 when all is said and done.  I am expecting this year to lack the amounts of snow we have seen in years like 2012, or 2014 but rain is always something that will do a good job of breaking souls. 

I have recently spoken to some rookies looking for gear advice, who are planning attempting it this year.  Gear choices are always something the vets have an advantage on, and a lot of first timers (myself included in 2012) use a great deal of panic when trying to decide what to bring. 

There is no standard.  Although many set-ups are starting to look identical, I don't think you will find 2 riders that have identical gear lists.  Here are my thoughts on what I think works best.

Bike Bags

2014 Set-up. Blackburn Outpost Harness and Holster with drybags
I have seen a handful of panniers and metal racks as well as home made racks with bungee cords or 40 Litre backpacks at the start line but most riders choose frame bags as a preferred method of carrying gear.  Of course, I know financial restrictions are an issue for some riders and using what you have can work to get you to the finish but frame bags are a lighter, safer and more efficient choice.  Some obvious advantages to the frame bags are fewer possibilities of failure, they are lighter, they are compact and help you to manage the amount of gear that you bring and I think they make handling the bike much easier.  For the most part they are durable and should be able to take a beating on jarring washboard roads and 40mph bumpy downhills.  Some claim to be water proof, but it doesn't take long for wear and tear and relentless weather to argue that nothing is truly water proof. 

There are many manufacturers of bags and more seem to be popping up.  This isn't a bad thing since a few years ago trying to source these bags was a headache.  Trying to get custom bags took months since the guys making them were too busy to keep up with the orders.

Frame Bags (Triangle Bags)

These are typically a custom order.  You can by tangle bags to run under your top tube and above your water bottle to avoid the custom charge, but they don't offer the volume provide by a custom bag and you can get it made to suit your gear set-up.  Some bikes like the Salsa Fargo and some Surly bikes have an off the shelf ready bag to fit the frame, but most bikes are completely different dimensions and off the shelf is not a one size fits all option.

2012 Set-up with Porcelain Rocket Front Roll and Seat Pack
My favourites for custom bags are Porcelain Rocket and Spok Werks.  Scott at Porclelain Rocket is very responsive and has made my bags perfectly each time.  He makes the changes I require and really understands what we need as riders.  I requested extra long zipper pulls (numb ridding hands have a hard time in the wet and cold) I specifically asked for a specific width on the frame bag and extra pockets to fit 3 litre bladder and side pockets for maps.  It was perfect, AND he delivered it when he said he would!  He gave me a realistic timeline and really came through.  He is located in B.C. and shipping is easy in NA.   Michael at Spok Werks is a rider too!  He is a single speed nut.  His designs are fun and he is always creating great stuff.

Handle Bar Bags


Colorado  Trail 2014
I used a whole set of Porcelain rocket bags for my 2012 Tour Divide attempt.  I used the one piece bag set-up and found it extremely annoying.  It's hard to get on and off and it is terrible trying to load the bag with it attached to the bike.  It takes too long to load up and is too awkward to take off the bike. 
Revelate Designs has one called the 'Sweet Roll'.  I'm not sure if Porcelain even produces them any more, and may be exclusively offering the harness.  One benefit of the roll is you can load things from both sides.  With the harness you unclip the dry bag and load it up off the bike.  So much easier, and offers more flexibility.  Revelate, and Porcelain Rocket offer harnesses. 

Blackburn's Outpost collection is what I am using now.  Harness system with quick release.  I have used it on the Colorado trail and it held up very well.  I have been a product ambassador for them for the last couple years and impressed with their commitment the Ranger program and  to the bikepacking community. These products are only going to get better!  Riders make the best gear for riders.

Seat Post Bags

There are two types that I have used and would recommend either.  There is the holster system with a dry bag and a self contained bag.  I have used the Porcelain Rocket and Revelate Seat Packs (Self Contained) and preferred the |Revelate, although they are very similar.  I just liked the dimensions of the Revelate better.   I know Blackburn and Revelate offer the holster with drybag.  What I have on my bike now is the Blackburn OUTPOST seat bag and have been real happy with that. 
Using a drybag is the best way to waterproof your gear and being able to take your gear off the bike by unclipping your drybag is much preferred again to packing gear with the bags attached to the bike. 
The benefits to a self contained bag is fitting an oddly shaped drybag into a tapered holster gets annoying.  Stuffing extra gear into a self contained bag is easier.  Having said that, The holster allowed me to keep a few items strapped to the outside of the bag for easy access.  There are different sizes of bags that hold varying volumes as well. 

Seat bags tend to flop around quite a bit especially when you have weight distributed unevenly.  I keep the heavier bulkier items closer to the stem to avoid this.  Some bags now come with a metal clamps for the post to prevent this which isn't a bad idea, but not a great idea for carbon posts.  I still think the velcro straps are better and simpler and have a much smaller chance for something failing.

If you have a suspension bike and/or smaller frame make sure you buy the right size bag and test a few gear set-ups.  Even with hardtails I have seen bags dragging on rear wheels.  Doesn't take long to burn through your bags when it keeps hitting your wheel.  Handle bar bags as well have to keep things packed tight.  |I have had my wheels rub through the handle bar roll when riding downhill using a suspension fork, even in the locked out position.  I take a lot less gear now, and since I have changed to the harness, I haven't had an issue.

Top Tube and Feed Bags

Lots of options here.  I use two small bags on my top tube.  The OUTPOST top tube bag from Blackburn is my favourite.  I use that for repair kit items and tools and some smaller items like extra flashlight and batteries.  I also use a smaller bag next to my seat post for first aid stuff. 

Other than that I love the Revelate Mountain feedback.  Whether you use one or two.  A lot of guys use two.  One for extra water and one for quick grab food.  They fit nicely behind the bars.

That's all for now....

Thursday, 17 July 2014

OUT THERE | Meet the Rangers

It has been such an incredible opportunity being a Blackburn Ranger.  Very excited to hit the Colorado trail in a few weeks as part of this years adventure.  So many cool friends at Blackburn and its great to be able to follow the other Rangers as they head out on these epic journeys.  Check out the newest Video introducing this years crew.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Tour Divide 2014 !!! The Mullet

This is a very exciting time of year for me.  Two great races going on, the 1st Trans Am Bike Race which is coming to the end of its first week and The Tour Divide.  I will be spending probably too much time as a Blue Dot watcher this year...

Business in the front, party in the back

Tour Divide 2014 features some familiar names this year Jefe Branham, Alex Harris,  and Max Morris are among my favourites.  Jefe claims to be aiming for a 14 day finish!  Several racers out for redemption after being forced out in previous years.  Sarah Caylor is at the top of that list for me.  She struggled through the snow and rain, and blizzards in 2012, had nav issues and an unfortunate bear spray to the face accident that year.  I am really looking forward to seeing her finish this year.

So many racers accomplish so much just finishing this monster.  Though I think that all racers should be racing each other and the clock if they are taking part in the grand depart,  there is a second race inside every one out there.  They are racing to push themselves.  Usually it is yourself that is the hardest person to beat.

You must keep smiling and expect for everything to not go as planned.  Have fun in the rain, the wind, the mud, the sandy washboard roads and smile through the cold, the wet and the heat. If Montana doesn't chew you up and spit you out then you often have a great chance at finishing, so always focus on the day and the mile ahead. If the weather is bad this year, accept the days where you miles are low you will get faster and stronger and more sure in your mind.  Push through and have a blast.  When it gets hard, stop look around at where you are, realise how lucky you are and laugh.  Laugh hard, because you did this to yourself :) and you love it.

The racers in the mid pack and even the 'red caboose', the ones who take a few minutes to look around, take a picture or two between the pain, stop to talk and smell the roses are some of my favourites.  These guys and gals are the dreamers, the doctors,the barristas, the teachers, the lawyers, the students, the mail carriers, the lab techs, the unemployed, the dads, the moms, the husbands and the wives.  They are us.  They have decided to go after this, to live a dream.  They are inspiring and that is as life should be.  I think we are going to get some great stories out of this years race.

Here is a video of my 2013 Finish

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Pay it Forward - Inspire Unkowingly

I was reading a fellow Blackburn Rangers post on Blackburn's website and she was talking about the encounter she had with a family on route and she was explaining her trip down the Pacific Coast Highway.  She commented on the kid staring up at her in amazement as she told them of her adventure, and that she remembers being that kid hearing a similar story when she was younger.

We are not the first, we are not the last but we can inspire others as we have been inspired.  I remember the story of Terry Fox and his incredible attempt to run across the country with one leg. I never met him, he never knew my name or imagined that he would give me a perspective that made me dream more, but he did. He just did it. When the sickness ended his trip, and ultimately his life, his journey did not seem unfulfilled to me.  He did what he set out to do and he gave it everything.  He is one of my heroes.  The perspective that gave me as a child is a world of endless possibilities.  People were actually doing things that others deemed impossible and I always wanted to be part of that world.  It took a while but I conquered one of my own impossibles and now I see things in the world I dreamt of as a kid. 

At a point on the route in Colorado where the route meets the mighty Colorado river I stopped in at a white water rafting outfit to find some lunch.  No real food to be found except for the sandwiches that were made for the paid participants that had returned for their lunch break.   I settled for 3 ice cream sandwiches, a bag of chips, a couple chocolate bars, a large bag of skittles, Coke, water and Gatorade and prayed that someone would not be too hungry and there may be a sandwich left on the tray when they were all done!  No Luck. As I sat on the porch, I noticed a dad and son checking over my bike that was leaned up against the fence in the shade.  Dad had his finger out pointing to all of the bags and explaining what he though might be in each one, as the son stood slightly bent over with both hands on his knees taking in his dad's knowledge.  As he looked over at me I wasn't sure which he thought was better the bike or my lunch. I headed over and we discussed the bike, the race and my lunch choices and I could see the wheels turning in this boys head.  I took off shortly after our conversation and with a wave goodbye I had to smile to myself and wonder if I will be unknowingly following this kids blue dot one day. I hope so. 

I hope I can leave a legacy to my kids that will lead them to inspire others unkowingly. 

Friday, 14 March 2014

Events - Whiskey Off Road

I am really looking forward to this.  Great to get some bikepacking in with some great friends.  Looking forward to meeting new ones. 

It has been a long and painful winter so looking ahead always brightens my spirits.  There is only so many hours one can do on a trainer without losing their mind.  If you are looking for some fun in April, follow the links.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Bikepacking - What to bring for cold an wet riding.

Scott Thigpen, this is for you....

As I am preparing to thaw out from this incredibly cold winter, I have been unpacking the gear I have been storing and starting to get out on the bike.  I regret my decision not to purchase a fat bike this year since it would have been the best season in years for it. If I wait for the warm weather I may not be out for another month!  As I write this, we sit at  a bomby -13 degrees Celsius which is about as cold as I can handle with this system.

I hate over dressing.  I hate being cold.  And I hate carrying things that take up space, weight or things that I have to remember to pack each time I stop somewhere.  The K.I.S.S theory applies here. The Keep It Simple Stupid, not the if you paint your face and stick out your tounge you will make a rock band theory.  So to solve this I layer.  Obvious to many, but I still see many people bundled too tight and carrying too much gear, or complaining about not wearing enough.  Or  worse people having to stop every 15 min to readjust gear regulate temperature. 

I want to be a little chilly for the first 10 minutes or so.  I start with my merino long sleeve base layer, wool arm bands and a t-shirt or jersey.  Giro winter riding gloves and my Under Armour balaclava.  When I start getting too warm I pull the balaclava down as a scarf to keep my throat warm as to try to help with the post cold weather ride sore throat.  I sometimes carry thin glove covers for rain and terrible wind, because they take up . no room and carry a huge net benefit.  Comfortable hands is a huge priority for me.  Next I use my North Face lightweight rain jacket. Whilevriding, this works to keep the wind out and the heat in and as I heat up, I use the pit zips to vent.  On my legs I use light weight wool socks, Shimano GoreTex shoes, bike shorts and my Patagonia rain pants with full length zipper.  The rain pants were a last minute purchase in Banff before TD 2013 and are one of my favourite pieces of gear now.  They pack up about the size of a coffee cup, have some stretch in them, tight ankles and full length sealed zippers on each leg.  Great for cold and rainy.   I carry a small down jacket (which doubles as a fantastic pillow) and put it on if I have to stop, but when riding I am very comfortable.  Using the rain gear really helps keep heat in and the windchill out.  I also carry fleece leg warmers that I wear instead of the rainpants in warmer temps, or with when its really cold.  I am actually going to switch these out for shorter wool knee covers. This system kept me warm and dry on the Divide.  With the option of arm bands and zipper I can regulate my temp on the fly pretty easily.  I think the key component is wool. If I do start to sweat and get the chills then I keep riding to stay warm or use the down jacket to make sure I keep warm if wet. 

When I wasn't using the Gore Tex shoes, which I didn't on the divide since they would have been awful in the hot weather and too heavy, I have used Gore Tex socks and/or plastic bags.  When I knew I would be on the bike for a while I put the plastic bags right over the shoes and clipped in through the plastic.  On hike a bike sections, shoe covers become a pain and get trashed. They also become one more thing to pack and remember every time you are stopped. Not worth it.  Plastic garbage bags are a great thing to carry for emergencies. Cut arm holes and wear over your core to keep the heat in.

If I ever get really cold I try to keep moving whenever possible.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Bikepacking - 20 Lessons I've learned from the trail

In no particular order....

1.  Beef Jerky in trail mix isn't an awesome idea

2. Don't ride with someone who would rather be on a conference call

3. Make Friends.  Lots and lots of friends

4.  Don't sleep in wet or damp bike shorts

5. Even if you are racing, take the time to see, touch, listen, smell, and feel.  The world is an incredible place and we are lucky to be out there.

6. Every mile you push and suffer through now is one you won't have to struggle with later. 

7. The sun will rise and the sun will set.

8. When you feel discouraged with the length of the race or your tour, try to focus on the day.  When the distance of the day seems impossible, focus on the next town.  When the next town seems too far away, only think about the mile ahead.  If that mile is creating pain and misery, focus on your next pedal rotation.  If that fails, take a look around, realize how lucky you are and pay attention to each breath you take.  Every breath, every pedal stroke, every mile, every town, every day are all equal parts of the whole.  Keep moving, if only one breath at a time.

9.  I quite strongly dislike New Mexico's sheep dogs, or stray dogs for that matter

10.  Lower your tire pressure before taking on the sandy rail trails.  Yes Idaho, I am talking to you.

11.  Teenagers in Helena don't take kindly to men in spandex

12. Pack light whether you are racing or touring, the lighter the better.

13.  Mike Hall may not really be human.

14.  Wherever you are riding, leave the route better than how you found it. 

15.  You will need chain links and extra shoe screws, derailleur hanger, tire repair items, a scaled    down first aid kit, a Leatherman, and Sour Patch Kids

16.  Duct tape can hold parts of your frame together

17. Age, gender, sexual orientation, race, occupation, religion, marital status, income level, educational background DO NOT MATTER when your riding bikes together, sharing stories and loving the journey. It's pretty awesome when you share a passion with people you may not otherwise have had the chance to meet.

18.  Payphones don't exist anymore so bring a cell phone.  Just try to avoid certain phone providers that have terrible coverage.  Not to mention names but  if your phone company rhymes with
T-Smobile find another company.  I have a phone for sale if anyone is interested.

19.  Bikepacking becomes part of your DNA

20.  Limits only define where you have been, not how far you can go.