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....

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