I was always a bit of a black sheep…
In a stroke of serendipity, both of my off-road tires fit the new Raleigh frame (look here) with generous clearance, so with a 40c in the front and a 35c in the back, the trails are definitely calling my name again. I’ve got big plans for the week; I’m initiating the first annual Berkshire Triple Crown, a self-invented race with just one competitor that is much more focused on good eating than good riding.
On top of that, there’s a mountain whispering my name… Max… Max…
See that steep part? Yeah.
Mount Equinox’s Skyline Drive in Vermont is a legendary motorcycle road that closely resembles the Mortirolo climb in Italy, a famed climb on the Giro d’Italia. There’s about 3,200 feet of vertical climbing and an average grade of 11.5%, but some of the steeper sections approach 20%. By packing light and moving fast, I should be able to bike all 42 miles from my front door to the summit along quiet back-routes and mountain bike trails, summit Equinox, and be back in North Adams in time for an early supper. See all that gear in the pictures? I won’t need it; I’ll likely slim down to just the handlebar bag and tangle for that little jaunt.
I’m proud to say I’ve picked up another partner in this little corner of the web.
Oveja Negra is based out of Salida, CO and is one of many cottage industry bike bag manufacturers catering specifically to the demands of endurance mountain biking. Bikepacking bags use ‘soft’ mounting systems instead of heavy racks and panniers, which is less prone to breaking when you’re off-road and lighter to boot. Ultralight bike touring, my personal niche, is all over rackless carrying systems. There are loads more riders using frame bags instead of panniers even on skinny road tires, letting you pack on serious miles without killing yourself.
The first new piece of kit is the Front End Loader, a drybag handlebar mount.
Smooth, huh? The Front End Loader uses two straps around the handlebars and one around the head tube of the bike, securing a drybag gently right across my brake and shifter housings. There’s about a centimeter or so of clearance between the mounts and the backing of the mount, so my bike light still mounts and clears the drybag, and so will your iPhone holder, bike computer, or whatever else makes up your cockpit.
For a drybag, I’m using a Sea to Summit eVent Compression Dry Sack with my summer sleeping bag and fleece packed in it. This dry-sack is a Size X-Small, but I also have a Size Medium for my larger 15º Mountain Hardwear Ultralamina, which clears both sides of my drop bars fine. Winter touring!
The mounting hardware feels robust, and I didn’t worry too much about cinching everything down as tight as I could. it doesn’t bounce, and it’s not impeding my braking any, but I did have Josh, my mechanic, pull the cables in as close as he could for this setup exactly. There’s no side to side sway, either, so I don’t get any pull in either direction from my bars.
Next up, Oveja Negra’s Snack Pack.
Made from sailcloth and HDPE plastic inserts, this thing weighs a sneeze and attaches about that quickly. As if some great standard existed across all bikepacking companies, the pack is perfectly compatible with my Revelate Designs Tangle Frame Pack. There’s a waterproof zipper with a nice pull, and it’s the perfect size to house my camera with a little closed-cell foam to protect it. The capacity of these are measured in candy bars, and this is the larger version, which fits five.
The pack pulls a bit side to side as I steer, but it’s aesthetic and bike-specific. If you have an extra spacer before your stem to a total of, say, two inches instead of one and a half, it shouldn’t move at all, but in my case, I like to tap it back into place with my knee when I happen to look down. It’s definitely not going anywhere and there’s no abrasion.
I trimmed down the velcro straps when I got it; they’re so long, even big aluminum frames should still get wrapped.
With ‘monstercross’ tires, I’ve got the fast-and-light trail setup I’ve been dreaming of. I took this soft-mount system up Mt. Greylock in North Adams, which included some hiking and bike-carrying on the Thunderbolt Trail (don’t you dare bike on that trail, it’s for feet!). It felt completely solid and effortless, and I climbed to the summit without tiring myself out. Jim came with me, but I definitely tired him out. The kid’s got SPIRIT!!
For a frame bag and seat tube bag, I’m still using the Revelate Designs Tangle and Viscacha. I’m experimenting with using my trusty Tom Bihn Side Effect as a front bag, if I can find a mounting system I really like.
Enough shop talk! With two major cycling events in the next five days, it’s officially CYCLING WEEK! Let’s end the summer on a good note and get ready for some dropping temperatures!