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North Texas

Gearing Up

When it comes to bike touring, there's no getting around it - your bike is gonna weigh a lot. On top of using a bike that's heavy-duty enough to withstand the load put on it, you've gotta carry a bunch of stuff. Enough to survive with for months at a time.

The weight of your bike + gear has less to do with getting the latest greatest lightest weight equipment and has more to do with packing smart. The most efficient setups are those that manage to cover all their bases with only a few items. As a good rule of thumb, if you're not going to depend on something more than once a week, don't bring it.

Over the years, I've become more adept at making a packing list. On my first self-supported tour, I used front panniers, rear panniers, and a full-sized duffel bag. My bike, with its gear on it (but no food or water), weighed about 40 kg (88 pounds), easily over half my own weight. On my most recent tour, the bike's weight was trimmed to about 30 kg (66 pounds), despite having a suspension fork and bigger tires.

Leading up to this summer's tour, the quest is on to once again reduce my pack weight, although an article on pack weight, another on aerodymamics, and yet another on front vs. rear panniers have changed my thinking. And after riding the Great Divide Route last summer, I understand some of the benefits of a bikepacking setup, and also have an idea how to pull it off.

The aerodynamic benefit of switching to a bikepacking setup instead of four panniers is roughly the same benefit of dropping 20 kg (45 pounds) off your bike, which is more than I even carry. So aerodynamics matter a lot more than simply weight, although they go hand-in-hand: the less you're carrying, the lighter your bike and the slimmer your profile.

Early on, my idea was to ditch the front rack and panniers, which alone would save close to 2 kg (4.4 pounds) and would have an even greater impact on aerodynamics. But that results in a bike that's got almost its entire load on the rear, and 2/3 of a rider's weight is on the rear to begin with. Some weight needs to move forward to maintain balance.

As of now, the idea is to carry my water, by far the heaviest thing you carry, in a frame bag. That puts a lot of weight in the center of the bike, and relatively low, which helps balance. I'd still carry a rack and panniers on the rear. But what to do about the front end?

I've gotten a small bag that straps on top of the handlebars, and I keep a few small, heavy items there: multi-tool, pocketknife, spare tube, keys, wallet, phone, for a total of about 1 kg (2.2 pounds). And I've also wrapped the cable lock around the head tube. But it would be even better if I could also strap something to the handlebars. The tent seems like the most logical option: it doesn't need to be in a waterproof pannier, it's about the right size, and it weighs enough to matter.

But it fits so well on top of a rear rack, I feel like that's a waste of useable space. Here's my setup from last summer:

Strapping it onto the handlebars well enough that it doesn't move is difficult. Also, having the tent run sideways up front, rather than lengthwise on the rear, is definitely a step down in aerodynamics. A legit handlebar roll would be better, but the good ones aren't cheap.

I wish I could think of something else to fit in that space. It needs to be about the right size (like a coffee can), durable, and heavy enough to make a difference when it comes to the bike's balance.

As of now, here's what the setup will probably look like:

Although it'd be even nicer if I could use the smaller panniers instead:

Cutting down on volume capacity that much would almost certainly require me to not carry any off-the-bike shoes, and I'd probably need to get a sleeping pad that compresses smaller, like this one. And yeah, I'd get the women's version. The main difference is the "regular" version is made for someone over six feet tall. But again, it's not cheap.

But one thing's for sure - I love my new handlebars! Bullhorns aren't what you'd first think of for touring, but these ones rule. They're a little wider than normal, and they flare inwards slightly, giving you a more natural hand position. These ones were a no-name item from Taiwan; no brand name manufacturer bothers to make anything like this.

Less than a month to go. Probably a good idea to test out these setups on some training rides in the next few weeks!

Apr 30, 2017
from Western States

I am a carbon-based life form.


Read about Coyote's adventure with his father in Central Texas. Music, food, wheels, family, all the finer things in life.

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