Packing for bike touring – lightening the load

OldSkool? - Touring Iceland on a Surly Troll with 30kg of kit across four panniersa dn a drybag

OldSkool? – Touring Iceland on a Surly Troll with 30kg+ of kit across four panniers and a drybag

I’ve been experimenting with packing for my trip to Scotland later this month. Given I’ll be riding off road as much as weather conditions allow the traditional pannier set up has been ditched and I’ve been forced to re-evaluate my packing routine.

Adios panniers

A traditional cycle touring set up where the load is split across four panniers, bar bag and, maybe, a drybag on the rear rack offers the rider the chance to bring the kitchen sink – literally. For me, this results in luxuries such as books, a (relatively) large tent, hipflasks of whisky and bottles of ale, numerous electronic gizmos, extended camera kit, at least one full change of clothes including ‘evening wear’ for nights in the pub… you get the picture.

But if you want to incorporate rough trails and single track into your touring stew, then the four-pannier solution is less palatable. Bags attached preferably low on a touring cycle offer stability on the road but can be a major headache when hitting the dirt. A bike with panniers is awkward to push and carry too, something I’ll not doubt be doing plenty of later in the month.

Bags for off-road touring are more ‘integral’ to the bike, attaching directly to the frame. This set up should improve handling and the manoeuvrability of the bike albeit at the expense of carrying volume.

Getting Lighter - The Troll in the Atlas, Morocco, with two panniers, a small drybag and a framebag

Getting Lighter – The Troll in the Atlas, Morocco, with two panniers, a small drybag and a framebag

‘Bikepacking’ compromises

As a hillwalker and backpacker, the current ‘bikepacking’ trend to lighten one’s load and head off into the yonder on two wheels mirrors the lightweight backpacking ethos which had it’s roots in the States and gained traction over here thanks to the efforts of some pioneering bloggers and outdoor publications.

Lightweight backpacking is about the balance of weight, comfort and safety; bikepacking demands a similar philosophy and, ultimately, compromise.

Frame-fit bags are helpful offroad, but carrying volume is reduced as are the permissible dimensions of objects carried – sleeping mats and tent poles, for example.

My initial intention was to opt for full bikepacking luggage for Scotland. This would comprise my large Apidura seat pack, a made-to-measure Revelate frame bag for my Surly ECR and an Alpkit Airlok drybag lashed to the Jones bars. While this set-up has been adequate for overnight blasts and bivvy trips, I needed more room and flexibility for an extended trip where food supplies may be bulky and the weather unpredictable, necessitating more clothing options.


Ready for Scotland – the ECR packed as it will be for Scotland on the trails near home

Finding a balance

I think I ‘ve now struck a happy balance. The Alpkit and Revelate bags remain, although the former now sits a bit lower on a Nitto M18 stainless rack, while the Apidura has been replaced by my trusty Carradice Nelson Longflap. This venerable bag, hardly lightweight and now in a pretty sorry state after a year’s hard use doubling as my rear mudguard – does offer greater flexibility for handling more load while the expedition rack on which it sits offers another ‘outpost’ to lash a drybag if needed. The set up is completed with an Alpkit gas tank for camera, wallet and snacks to save me rummaging around at every breather break or photo stop.

After experimenting with a Platypus and hose in the framebag, I’ve reverted to good old bidons and cages attached to the bosses on the forks of the ECR. These are surprisingly easy to access even when on the move.

This arrangement does allow some luxury. I could take a tablet if I really wanted (but won’t) and the Revelate bag is just big enough for me to include my Thermarest chair kit – a Godsend if you have a geriatric back like me.

Freeing up the Jones H bars also means I can lash on an additional drybag if needed for extra food or whateveryou.

My kit list and packing plan looks a bit like this:

Alpkit dry bag

Golite Shagrila 3 with custom Ookworks inner
Thermarest Neoair, long

Caradice Nelson Longflap

Mountain Equipment Co-op Merlin down sleeping bag, XL
MSR Titanium pot containing spork, Titanium mug, MSR mugmate, MSR Pocket Rocket, lighter, ground coffee, tea bags, creamer etc
350 gas cannister
Crocs (for stream crossings and camp)
Sealskinz socks
Endura M500 waterproof shorts
Montane Minimus Smock and
Montane Trail Windproof Jacket
Marmot Beanie
Petzl headtorch
North Face Apex gloves
Minimal frist aid kit

(Side pockets)
Park Tool mutli-tool
Park Tool Torx drivers (for Rohloff)
Tyre levers
2 spare 29+ Tubes
Chain lube
Zip ties
Spare brake cable
Spare brake pads

Revelate frame bag

Rab Microlight vest
Nike running tights
Icebreaker merino top
Socks (1 pair)
Lifeventure pack towel
Merino boxers
Endura cycling undershorts
Tent pole
Thermarest chair kit
Tent pegs

Alpkit gastank

Camera (Olympus EPL-1)

Additional luggage

Alpkit drybag attached to Jones handlebars

Clothing worn

Icebreaker Merino top
Pearl Izumi Jersey
Altura vest
Buff (2)
Endura padded undershorts
Specialized mits
Rohan Outrider shorts
Inov 8 tights
Merino socks
Giro Terraduro cycling shoes

Optional items

Abus lock

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Easter in the Yorkshire Dales

If a pattern is emerging in 2015, then it’s to squeeze in as much as possible in the time I have away from the office.

While my four camping trips may pale in comparison to the bevy of lightweight backpackers and cycle tourists who pepper the blogosphere with their exploits, for me the tally is an impressive one.

The fourth trip to add to these pages was an Easter amble to the rather lovely Yorkshire Dales – Swaledale in fact. We took the Vango Force Ten to Usha Gap campsite near Muker and revelled in the scenery and simply wonderful weather.

We managed two walks – a gentle 15km circuit to Keld and back via Swinner Gill and a more demanding 26 km tramp over Great Shunner Fell to Hawes and back. The latter was a bit of an intentional test as my other half has ambitions to complete the West Highland Way later this year and I felt the need to give her a flavour of a typical day. I’m pleased to say her enthusiasm remains undiminished.

Our third outing in the Vango Force Ten prompted an addition. A Vango Adventure Tarp has now been added to the rig, which provides an excellent, weather resistant open porch. The two work effortlessly together, the only drawback being the shadow cast by the tarp affecting how the canvas fades in the sun. As a result, our Force 10 now sports a ‘tie-dye’ darkened patch on one flank. Not a problem, but something to bear in mind if you too wish to dabble with the Old Skool.

Vango Force Ten with an Adenture Tarp

Vango Force Ten with an Adenture Tarp

Climbing out of Swaledale

Climbing out of Swaledale

Spring has sprung

Spring has sprung

Fuel stop

Fuel stop

Lovely landscapes up here

Lovely landscapes up here

The Pennine Way to Great Shunner Fell

The Pennine Way to Great Shunner Fell

Beacon on Great Shunner Fell looking to Swaledale

Beacon on Great Shunner Fell looking to Swaledale

Still a good ways to go

Still a good ways to go

Time to go home

Time to go home

Usha Gap campsite - a highly recommended place to stay this way

Usha Gap campsite – a highly recommended place to stay this way

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ECR miles

The last couple of weekends I’ve been getting the miles in on the ECR ahead of my trip to Scotland in May. Importantly, these have been largely off road miles and with luggage to a lesser or greater degree.

Last weekend saw me out with those fine folk from Keep Pedalling and a couple of other customers, among them Tim from Life in the Cycle Lane. We bimbled around the byways of the South Pennines on our passé geared machines while our hosts chewed up the trail on single speeds. It was the workout I needed and a salutary reminder that my fitness is not quite where it should be. Read Tim’s account here. Continue reading

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Photo post: Edale, Jacob’s Ladder and The Woolpacks

I had the opportunity to head out with our Vango Force 10 at the weekend. The accessibility of Edale proved too tempting to resist and we pitched at Fieldhead. This campsite seems stuck in a time warp – the facilities no more appealing than the first time I poorly pitched my old, heavy backpacking tent on its muddy fields – yet its location remains a major plus.

Saturday saw us climbing Jacob’s Ladder and picking a route through the Woolpacks before clambering down the boulders of Grindsbrook Clough. I promised my other half ‘proper’ Dark Peak and the Dark Peak didn’t disappoint – although a slip on our descent and bruised behind did prompt questions about my ‘classic’ circuit.

Heading out on the Pennine Way

Heading out on the Pennine Way

Continue reading

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This year’s adventure and a change of plan

rannoch moorI had planned to head to France for this year’s bike tour and tackle the Grande Traversée du Massif Central, a 700km mountain bike route from Clermont Ferrard to Montpellier.

I bought the guidebook and had (nearly) sorted my slightly awkward logistics flying outbound and grabbing the Bike Europe Express coach service home. Naturally, I wanted to take the Surly ECR on this trip although this bike’s massive proportions would cause problems on both modes of travel. If you’re interested, Bike Europe Express will take fat bikes – be they half or full fat – classing them as ‘unconventional solos’. However, I think it’s a good idea to call them first if you fancy taking your monster truck. Continue reading

Posted in Cycling, Scotland | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

The best of weekends in Lakeland

It’s been over a year since I’ve visited the Cumbrian fells. My last trip – for the other half’s 40th birthday – was a wonderful week of friends, campfires, canoes, great food and liberal imbibing.

During that trip I managed to squeeze in a couple of classic Lakeland walks – the Coldedale Round and Blencathra via Sharp Edge – although the card on my camera corrupted so those excursions didn’t make the pages of this blog sadly.

Last week we returned. A number of motivational factors aligned: we needed an escape, we had a new tent to ‘test’ and the forecast looked OK. I booked the Friday off work and we trundled up the M6 amid seemingly endless road works to Keswick. Continue reading

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Birthday wander – Lantern Pike

New mills signNotwithstanding my rather sombre introduction to the year, I recaptured a sense of the restorative effect of one foot ahead of the other on my birthday.

The plan had been to head to the Derwent Valley and kick trails through the snow on its edges. Overnight flurries conspired against us however and the Snake was closed.

A local ramble on Glossopdale was presented as an option only to be rejected by the other half, favouring the familiar territory of Lantern Pike from Hayfield. The snow would offer an alternative take on this agreeable ramble.

This being a Thursday the car park at the countryside centre was empty. Donning hefty footwear, we ambled along the Pennine Bridleway before heading to the slopes and higher ground. The summit maker was soon reached and we celebrated my 41st year with coffee and chocolate cake.

Our descent took us ‘behind’ the Pike and to Birch Vale where we enjoyed tea at the excellent Sett Valley Café, a sure-fire stop for summer bike rides both on and off road. From here, we simply retraced our steps to the car.

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This time last year there was an overwhelming sense of a need for change. This wasn’t the superficial, ephemeral tokenism of New Year resolutions but driven by a dissatisfaction with the course life was taking.

The early manifestations of change were functional and pragmatic. I emptied the contents of my loft onto eBay and reinvested the resultant funds into experiences or tools that would facilitate these experiences – namely bikes(!)

Lightened both spiritually and materially after clearing this consumer flotsam, I managed to sell my house and thus remove a set of irons that had shackled me to a financial commitment disproportionate to any benefits home ownership delivered. That’s not to say I don’t wish to buy another home – I do – but not one that becomes such an inflexible burden.

Moving house is a stressful business of course. However, in common with many, 2014 presented other challenges and these are yet to fully play out. The latter half of the year has been particularly difficult, accounting for the sporadic activity on these pages focusing on the simple escape of riding and building bikes or (not) hitting the hills. Continue reading

Posted in Cycling, Walking | 16 Comments

Should you buy a custom bike frame? Some thoughts

I’ve had a quite a few emails from readers since I posted about my Woodrup Sportivo asking about the process of specifying a custom frame.

Now I have few hundred miles under my belt on this lovely machine, I feel it’s time to offer some thoughts on going custom which may be of help if you are considering a similar project.

Why do you want a custom frame?

Woodrup SportivoThis is an important question and one that requires some thought. In my case, my height, back trouble and aesthetic considerations were key factors in opting for a custom frame.

Your requirements may be different… Continue reading

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Woodrup 853 Sportivo: done

Woodrup SportivoHere are some pics and build specs on my Woodrup. Assuming I can sell some more stuff, I hope to add an upgraded wheel set at some point but the hoops off the Thorn will do for now.

Frame: Woordup Sportivo 853 oversize tubing, custom.
Wheels: DRC rims on XT. Gatorskin 28mm tyes.
Mudguards: SKS
Brakes: Shimano Ultegra 57mm drop.
Pedals: Shimano Ultegra
Drivetrain: Sram Rival 20 spd, 50/34 crankset and WiFli rear mech. 11-32 rear cluster. 10spd Sram PC1051 chain. Chris King BB.
Bars: Pro Lt
Stem: Cinelli
Headset: Chris King
Seat post: Deda RSX 02
Saddle: Brooks B17
Accessories: King Cages, stainless steel. Carradice Zipped Roll.

Posted in Cycling, Gear | Tagged | 5 Comments