Spring 2014 Tour: Shakedown

Shaking out the winter kit makes me want to live outside.


Skip down for the spring gear list and distribution, with links to everything.

I’m trying something new with this post; if you like any of the stuff I’m using, follow the links on this page and a fraction of your purchase goes towards keeping me fed. You don’t need to do anything else.

Without further ado…

The spring 2014 tour’s destination is still very much in flux, but that’s more of a convenience than a crutch. Getting the bike ready for some light-duty extended cold-ish touring is finally shaking the dust off of my cycling shorts. With about 3 feet of accumulated snow on either side of the road and another 6 inches falling, you can picture me testing weight distribution on a fully loaded touring bike. I’ve got a fever.

The 2013 Colorado tour came to a screeching halt when I put the bike down at 25mph, leaving me with a few juicy scars and a juicier story. Part of the problem was too much weight in the back; I had two panniers and my full backpack strapped to my rear rack. The weight wasn’t egregious, totaling around 30lbs, but the balance was way off, and the bike fish-tailed dangerously.

This year, I’m going with front panniers filled with lightweight, lofty stuff like sleeping bags and clothing. Water weight will all be in the Revelate Designs frame bag and Salsa Anything Cage, since that makes up the majority of my total packed weight. This keeps the bike pretty well grounded and balanced. Finally, the Revelate Design Viscacha gives me a bit more room for clothing and other bulky items without requiring more panniers.

My 38mm Schwalbe Little Big Ben tires are still performing more than admirably in the absolutely mad amounts of snow we’ve been getting up here. I mounted the rear one backwards so the tread pattern would work like a bit of a scoop. I’m not 100% sure it actually has that effect, but there’s placebo!

Alright, let’s break it down.

Gear List

Front Panniers:


I’m going with a pair of Ortlieb Front Rollers. Smaller than the back rollers, but still large enough for bulky items like my sleeping bag. Here’s most of what’s in them:

Frame Bag:


The Revelate Designs Tangle worked so well for my last two tours, and it’s still going strong. I’m keeping a Camelbak resevoir in here, along with first aid gear, hygiene stuff, my phone, camera, headlamp, chargers, etc. Battery powered devices will stay on my body if temperatures dip.

Salsa Anything Cage:


The Salsa Anything cage is for anything, but I’m using an insulated flask. When my water froze in Colorado, I had no water. This is a heavy convenience that I’m tolerating until temperatures stay above freezing at night. That’s a Hydro Flask 40oz bottle there.

Rear Seat Bag:


The Revelate Design Viscacha makes a really difficult decision much easier. Rather than place weight behind me in panniers, I’m using this to keep my clothing secure and dry (use a pack liner), and it’s also carrying my Snowyside Bivy from Borah Gear. Remember, your body weight also factors into the weight distribution on your bike, making front panniers a bit more stable. This is a lesson I should have learned faster than I did. If I were to run a rear rack, It’d be for a foam pad. Note also, I added a bit of shock cord to my Viscacha with a toggle, so now I can strap my Tyvek ground sheet out of the way.


I went with the Ergon BA3 Backpack here. There’s a great review of it here. It’s got plenty of organization for chargers and electronics, and a good place for the laptop. The added pouch lets me stick a raincoat within easy reach, or take off my helmet for a bit of a breeze when I’m in a grocery store. Here’s what’s in it:

Test Results

This setup felt amazing in testing. The bike feels less stable when it’s completely unloaded, which is not at all what I expected and I’m definitely not exaggerating. I felt glued to the road. I knew balance would improve, but it improved drastically. I highly suggest trying out a front pannier setup on your touring rig. If you mount the bags low or just fill them with lightweight stuff, you can seriously reduce your speed wobble and your tendency to fishtail.

I’m never going back.


Let me know in the comments if the affiliate links were useful!

14 thoughts on “Spring 2014 Tour: Shakedown

    1. I never want to attempt taking a trailer on trails or off-road, and when you’re trying to dip into a forest on the side of the road to stealth camp. It’s too cumbersome. I much prefer loading the bike with bags, it almost feels like I don’t have anything loaded on it at all.

    1. Hi Sarit! I don’t need a long one, I’ve gotten used to not needing to be super comfortable while sleeping. I usually put my backpack underneath my thighs and just sleep. If I expect it to be below 30º I’ll bring a little foam mat as an extra.

  1. Thanks for the detailed gear list. I just came across your blog last night from Facebook, but look forward to reading some of your archives and future posts. Stay safe!

  2. The scientist in me says to prevent your water from freezing, add a small amount of salt or sugar to depress the freezing point of the water. You could carry some electrolyte pills or powdered HEED or Gatorade and mix it in.

  3. What are your impressions of the Little Big Bens? I have the 50mm Big Bens on my Crosscheck
    now. I’m getting a ton of cushion with a bit of a loss in acceleration but no real loss of top speed which is pretty nice, but am wondering if I can find a better balance between cushion and speed with the Little Big Bens.

    1. Ultimately, inflation has a much bigger impact on the tire itself. I love the Little Big Bens, but I don’t think there’s going to be a super huge difference between the 50mm and the 38mm, especially if you’re already pretty happy.

      I would suggest keeping your 50mm Big Bens for touring and trail-riding, etc, and have a pair of real skinnies like a 28mm or 32mm set for when you want to go fast for a while.

  4. I’ve been thinking about moving to a very similar setup and your front rack caught my eye. Any problems with clearances with the panniers up that high? I really want a front rack with a platform in case I need to grab some extra food and water and the only other decent option seems to be the Surly Nice Rack which weighs and costs a lot more than the Topit…

    1. No clearance problems whatsoever, James. The panniers being up high is close on my 58cm bike with just a few spacers, but my drops and my bar-ends clear with about an inch extra. If you’re on a big bike like mine, it should be fine.

      There’s plenty of room for a fender in there, and if I load the panniers with heavier stuff on the bottom like my lock and tolls, the balance is perfect.

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