Joe’s Grand Tour Bike & Gear Evolution

A Titanium El Mariachi for a Grand Tour

Last year’s grand tour rig was my Salsa Fargo. When I left Banff at the start of the Tour Divide it weighed close to 55 lbs. fully loaded with water, two days food, and kit. Over the course of the ride, as I realized what I didn’t need, the bike started to lose weight. In Sparwood, after the first day, I left a 2oz. bottle of tire sealant and a 2oz. bottle of bug spray. When I reached Helena, MT I shipped home my Revelate Handlebar bag with a pair of dirty shorts, socks, the 3rd bottle cage off of the downtube, and a few other small items. In Lima, I made another shipment including an slashed inflatable air mat and a broken Leatherman tool. My final shipment, including a can of bear spray, was out of Rawlins, Wyoming.


At the end of the race, after shedding all of the non-essentials my rig weighed only 5lbs. less, 50lbs. fully loaded. This was just the stuff on the bike and didn’t include my backpack, camera, backup batteries for electronics, and food/water that I was carrying in the pack. You could say I got it all down to somewhat of a lighter load than a multiple pannier touring mode, but it definitely wasn’t what I would consider ultralight.

Fast forward to one year later and I’ve learned a few things. I’ve got a bit of bikepacking experience behind me and I can thrive with quite a bit less out on the trail with good planning and just a bit of resourcefulness. There are two rules that I have learned when planning my kit for a bikepacking adventure.

The first is letting go of the things I don’t need. Need is dependent on an individual’s level of threshold for comfort and risk. For example, I still need some insulation to sleep under and a tarp overhead in case of rain if I’m traveling in an environment where rain might be possible. Others may want/need more or less. Letting go is hard to do, but working towards mastery on rule #2 creates a circular relationship with rule #1.

The second rule is learning to identify redundancy. I continue to find, and eliminate, redundancy in my kit on every bike packing trip I go on. Sometimes it is in my kit, but more often I realize that I can get something along the route that I end up carrying. During the TransWisconsin I carried my toothbrush and toothpaste for the length of the ride and never used them. You might be thinking that is disgusting, and it is. However, after the event I realized that I can just use small bottles of mouthwash, or the Colgate Wisp toothbrushes that gas stations typically stock. That is one less thing that I don’t have to worry about in my pack…just in my head when preparing for a stop. I would only take an approach like this in a race scenario. If I’m on a tour there is typically time to brush my teeth and a little bit of weight isn’t going to make a difference.

Using my experience bikepacking and knowledge of the course for TransWisconsin I’ve assembled the next iteration of my grand tour bike, A Salsa Ti El Mariachi.

Bike Build

  • Frame: Salsa El Mariachi Ti
  • Fork: Salsa CroMoto Grande
  • Headset & Bottom Bracket: Chris King
  • Wheels: White Industries Hubs laced to Salsa Semi Disc Rims with 2.0/1.8 DT spokes and brass nipples
  • Tires: WTB Nanoraptors setup with Stan’s Tubeless system (don’t tell our lawyer).
  • Brakes: Formula Oro K24 brakes


  • Mix of SRAM XO/9.0
  • RaceFace Deus crankset
  • Shimano Ultegra 12-28 cassette.


  • Moots Titanium seatpost
  • WTB SST Saddle
  • Salsa ProMoto Stem & 11° degree handlebar
  • Profile Aero bars
  • ESI Silicone Grips
  • Ergon bar ends (modified for use without the paddle grips)


On the bars:

  • Gossamer Gear Thinlight Insulation Pad strapped with simple nylon webbing
  • Garmin GPS for route finding/tracking
  • Princeton Tec EOS light (Princeton Tec headlamp and taillight strapped to my helmet for additional light and safety)

In the gas tank:

  • SPF 45 Sunblock
  • SPF 45 Lip Balm
  • 6 Starbucks Via coffee packets, enough for 3 days (for use in the .5L bladder)
  • Miscellaneous food (Clif Shots gel, Clif Blocks, Gummi Bears, Nature Valley bars, Snickers, Reeses, etc…)

In the Revelate frame bag:

  • 4L MSR Dromlite bladder (rarely filled with more than 3L of water)
  • .5L Platypus bladder (for coffee or coke)
  • Bailout bag (bike and personal ER kit)
  • 5 titanium needle stakes
  • Personal hygiene kit (toothbrush, paste, enough Handy Wipes and Chamois cream for 3 days)
  • Maps for some course sections
  • Dumonde Tech chain lube
  • 100% DEET in a .5oz. bottle
  • Camera
  • Miscellaneous food (nuts, pepperoni, etc…)

In the Revelate seat bag:

  • Two Innertubes
  • Jacks R’ Better Quilt
  • Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Solo Tarp
  • Clothes bag with extra socks, wool upper and lower baselayers, bug head net, wool knee warmers, and a wool beanie)
  • Rain Jacket
  • Rain Knickers
  • Spot Unit

I didn’t carry a pack, but I did have jersey pockets to fill with sandwiches, burritos, cookies, pop tarts, and crushed chips. The only other thing carried in my jersey was a plastic bag with my personal ID, cash, credit cards, and extra batteries for my lights and GPS. Getting all of my kit on the bike means no weight on the back or saddle, which means I can be more comfortable and enjoy the trail, of which there was plenty.

Planning, knowing the route and resources are key to mastering the rules of letting go and identifying redundancy. It is a simple approach in principle. It’s the approach I’ve used to reach a sub-45lb. weight with 3L of water and two days food. After TransWisconsin I’ve got quite a few refinements to make to shed even more weight. My goal is a sub-40lb. weight with food and water for a setup that would be suitable for the Tour Divide, should I ever go back…

This post filed under topics: El Mariachi

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Joe Meiser

Joe Meiser

I've had a lot of good luck and made a series of choices to be working for the brand and in the bike industry. In 2007 I signed up for the TransIowa just to see if I could complete it. I completed it and discovered a few things about myself in the process. Adventure cycling has been in my blood ever since.


Guitar Ted | July 14th, 2010

Thanks Joe! Much to think about here. I agree that our conventions about what is “needed” to live life are often at odds with the bikepacking philosophy. Finding that balance between minimalism and personal comfort levels is something that is different for everyone.

And I think finding out what you can do without is sometimes quite liberating.

Thanks again.

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Wally | July 15th, 2010

That was an awesome post. I’m just still digesting the info…very informative and very enlightening. I also love the bike! What a set up….Thank you!

Honestly, you should combine these posts into a book. I’ve gathered more info from your posts (across the net)  than any other place in or out of cyber space.

Vito | July 15th, 2010

Very informative and enlightening. I obviously have a long way to go, but I shall get there.

Now, I just need to get my hands on that beautiful, new, blue El Mariachi.

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David Pals | July 15th, 2010

Nice write-up. I think my set up was a bit lighter than yours and evolved since early spring. My only option was to add weight to my back, no thank you,  where I only carried 3 L of fluid. As to “comfort levels” I would say the only discomfort I felt was pushing up some of the 20% + grades (where I felt inclined to jettison more sundry items). Next year (please!), given similar forcast conditions, I think I could even pare down another half pound or so.

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Mat Long | July 15th, 2010

What a great article.  Any word on when the Salsa front rack will be available?

MG | July 15th, 2010

That’s some great information, Joe. You’ve amassed some formidable long-haul experience in a relatively quick period of time, compared to a lot of folks, but at the speed you ride, that’s really no surprise, ‘eh?!!  LOL!  And as much as I love my Fargo, that new ti El Mariachi sure is a sweetheart, isn’t it?  Wow… I love it. 

I have to admit though (and I can’t even believe I’m saying this) I’ve become completely smitten for the drop bars on long rides though.  The combination of ti and drop bars off road would be a sweet one.  Gnat’s onto the ticket with his ‘bike with no name’, IMHO. If you built that one, I’d have three of your ti bikes in my basement.

Thanks again Joe.  Great stuff… Keep it up.


JMeiser | July 15th, 2010

@Vito,  I’ve a long way to go myself.  Always will.  I’ve just been lucky to be immersed in it.

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AlanG | July 15th, 2010

thanks for posting this!
i have been digging around and picked up a lot of tips from both you and your brother (at least i think he is your bro).
it’s a huge help as i prepare for my first bikepacking experience. i could stand to shed a lot of bike weight in the future as this trip will all be on the pugsley. el mar sounds like a great frame for this.
thanks again!

S.Fuller | July 15th, 2010

Excellent post Joe. Like others have said, lots of things for me to think about, especially after TransWisconsin. I thought that 13 lbs on my back wasn’t going to be too bad, but after 4 days, I was truly sick of it. Less stuff and frame/seat bags are definitely in the mix going forward. I’m not sure my comfort threshold is as low as yours (and definitely not CF’s), but I won’t know until I get out and adventure more. A TI Fargo does have a certain desirability though… ;)

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Wally | July 15th, 2010

Joe, what gearing do you run up front to mate to that 12-28 in the rear?

jmeiser | July 15th, 2010

@SF, I trust you can get there…
@Wally, I just keep the standard 44,32,22 up front.  I like the tighter range on the 12-28 for mixed terrain use.  I never can find that perfect cadence on a 12-32.

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urbiksux | July 16th, 2010

Would love to learn more (i.e. see more pics) about the ESI grips with the modified Ergon bar ends.  Sounds like a great combo.

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smoore | July 17th, 2010

Great set-up.  Hypothetically, if you were to race in the Tour Divide again would you go with a suspension fork are stay with what you have now?  My build is pretty similar to yours right now (at least the frame, bottom bracket, headset, and fork…so “kind of similar” would be more like it?) and I can’t decide if I’ll keep the rigid fork or go with a suspension fork.  Anyway, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.  Thanks!

jmeiser | July 17th, 2010

I don’t see a need for a suspension fork on the divide.  I didn’t then and I don’t now.  However, everyone’s needs are different.  The value of one would be less fatigue and potential problems with the wrists and hands.  I had no problems with my hands or wrists.

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JB | July 18th, 2010

Thanks for the great info here.  One thing I’ve always wondered is why not an internal geared hub like a Rohloff for example?

JMeiser | July 19th, 2010

@JB, To Rohloff, or not to Rohloff.  That is the question.  It’s a perennial one that some of us ask after ripping a drivertrain off the bike in the mud.  Others just bite the bullet and buy one.  It comes down to personal choice.  I like the Rohloff in concept, but can’t get over all the weight in the rear end of the bike or the pedal feedback from the meshing of the internal gears.

Errin Vasquez | August 3rd, 2010

Joe, thanks for a really informative post.  So much to learn in and this was a huge help.  Regarding food, did you carry a stove?  Do other racers on the TD carry one?


Joe | August 4th, 2010

Errin, Certainly there are racers that carry one, I myself did not.  There are so many resources along the route that I really don’t see the need for one in a race scenario.

Errin Vasquez | August 5th, 2010

Thanks Joe, I’ve got another question for you.  Why the change from the Fargo the El Mariachi?  Handling with the drop bars vs. the straight bar?  I’ve got a Fargo, but I keep thinking that the El Mariachi would be better suited to the TD.


Joe | August 6th, 2010

Errin,  I wanted to compare the experience on the Fargo to using the El Mariachi for a similar experience.  On a ride like the divide where the technical riding is non-existent the Fargo worked awesome.  The TransWisconsin had a few sections of singletrack.  The El Mariachi titanium is lighter than the Fargo of course.  That played a role.  Honestly though, if I were going to ride the divide I’d be torn between an El Mariachi Ti and having a custom Ti frame built with dop bars in mind.  I had zero hand problems on the divide with drop bars, but I did have problems with flat bars in Wisconsin.  This could be attributed to setup, or other factors.  However, if I know what works with drops I question changing that.

Errin | August 6th, 2010

Thanks Joe,

There’s not that much technical on the Tour Divide? So the next question is this.  Can I run drop bars on the Ti El Mariachi?  Thanks for taking the time to answer my noob questions.  I’ve got less than a year to get up to speed regarding the Tour Divide!


Joe | August 6th, 2010

Nope, no technical.  It’s all gravel mountain roads.  Start with the ACA as your resource, learn the route and the resources available along the way.  Scour the web for information, but only use that info as a starting point.

Sure, you can run drop bars on a Ti El Mariachi, but it was designed for flat bars.  Proper fit may be hard to attain.

Errin | August 6th, 2010

I got it.  That’s where the custom build comes into play then. Like Jason’s BWNN?  It sounds like a drop bar bike would be ideal though. Would you still need the aero bars then?  Or are those only needed for the limited hand positions of the flat bars?

Dylster | August 11th, 2010

AlanG turned me on to this thread (thanks, man!). I’ve been looking for The One, to put a (dumb) name on it. A bike that could replace my Surly Trucker and play nice on both the road and dirt (with a quick wheel swap…or not). Joe’s post is really getting me thinking harder about going rackless, parting out my Trucker, considering the Ti El Mari’ as The One…?


Joe | August 11th, 2010

@Dylster, Going rackless/ultralight has been an awesome experience.  I can travel faster, farther, and with more freedom.  The things we think we need are mostly luxuries and there are so many resources available along most touring routes that it is possible to resupply often.  Nature also provides quite a bit if you know what you are looking for. 

I can’t say if the Mariachi Ti can be The One for you.  I can say that it is a versatile bike and one that I’ll ride for years!

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J. Foster | March 31st, 2011

Hey Joe. Enjoyed your write up. Had a laugh because I made a couple “mail stuff home stops” in Polaris, Pinedale & Breckenridge in 2010 TD. I planned to send home maps when it was convenient but always had a couple other dead weight items too. Hope to turn over the cranks with ya some day.

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Cara | June 30th, 2012

Might have missed this, but how much does your bike weigh unloaded?

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