ADVENTURE BY BIKE®
Over the past few years, I’ve received quite a few inquiries about what I carry during bikepacking races. Obviously, my kit is different for every bikepacking trip and every multi-day race.
During my aborted Arizona Trail 300 ride this past spring, I carried less than I do on most single-day backcountry rides in the mountains above Boulder. I didn’t plan on sleeping and the weather was hot, so all I really needed was food, water, a bunch of spare tubes, and batteries for my lights. Two years prior in the same event, I had several pairs of gloves, waterproof booties, a down jacket, and suffered like a dog in a wintery storm atop Mount Lemmon.
The Tour Divide is an entirely different beast. It lasts far too long to be able to look at the weather forecast and pack accordingly. And trail conditions are likely to vary as wildly as the weather. On the other hand, while the days in the saddle are long, riders sleep virtually every night, there are ample resupply options, and the majority of the route isn’t particularly remote (at least by Western standards). Recovery at night is immensely important, and when racers are only sleeping for a scant few hours, sleeping soundly for that entire time should be one’s goal. I carry a few extra ounces to make sure that’s the case (dry clothes and a cushy sleeping pad). I also carry a few additional ounces to make sure that both my gear and my body can stay dry and warm in the foulest of weather. This has helped me win races in the past. Thus, I try to strike a respectable balance between ultra light and well prepared.
Kurt riding across the Centennial Valley in Montana...
To appease your curiosity, here’s the lowdown on my gear choices and bike setup. I know some characters might chastise me for sharing my “secrets,” but in ultras, well-chosen gear falls far short of creating fast riders, it does allow for more enjoyable experiences, and that’s what the majority of bikepackers are seeking, no? But keep in mind that just because this selection of equipment works for me, it may not for you.
Front end setup...
On the handlebars, I used a homemade roll-top bag (with camera pocket on the non-rolling end) strapped in an old, minimalist Epic Designs (pre-Revelate Designs name change) harness. This bag contained my sleeping kit, which included a Marmot Atom 40-degree sleeping bag, a Montbell UL bivy, a Thermarest NEOAir short pad, sleeping shorts, shirt, socks, and a bug headnet. I never open this bag during the day, and the sleeping bag and clothing were all stuffed in an Outdoor Research drybag inside the roll-top bag. Wrapped around all this was an old Epic Designs pocket where I carried food. For the first few days, I also carried some kids snowshoes for the long, snowy slogs. It turned out that the snow was firm enough that snowshoes were unnecessary.
On the frame, I used a homemade frame bag and two bags on the top tube (a Revelate Designs Gas Tank) and a smaller homemade bag on toptube adjacent to the seatpost. The gas tank held bear spray for the northernmost part of the course (I’ve had enough close encounters with polar bears to realize the negligence of not carrying spray), as well as some food. The other smaller bag held items that I wanted to be accessible quickly – chain lube, sunscreen, lip balm, headlight batteries, multitool, etc.
In the frame bag, I stashed quite a bit of gear. For water, I carried a 4L MSR DromLite bladder with hose. I only filled this up completely a few times, but in New Mexico when I was drinking close to two gallons a day in the heat, I was glad to have this capacity. My repair and first aid kits, as well as a few spare spokes, lived in here, as well as my route cues and notes, cash, passport, cell phone (this dinosaur served as my alarm clock) and charger, toilet paper, and a very light cable and lock. The last item simply keeps honest folks honest since there are a few towns along the route with some rather suspect characters hanging around the gas stations and fast food restaurants. A couple spare 29” tubes were tucked in the very bottom of the bag. I’ve learned from experience that carrying 26” tubes as spares, especially ultra light 26” tubes, is a recipe for trouble, so I carry the ultra light 29” tubes and have never had a problem. I also stashed my Pearl Izumi arm warmers and wind vest in the front of the frame bag for quick access when temperature modulation was required.
Kurt and Ethan Passant press pause to dry gear along the route...
A bit of elaboration is needed for a few of these items. My first aid kit is very minimalist, containing only a few items to deal with blisters, minor scrapes, and some road rash. In Divide racing, one is never more than a day from help, and in most cases, far less. On more remote trips, a few more items should be added. My first aid kit also includes forceps (great for extracting thorns from tires), and a few waterproof matches. I also always carry a roll of athletic tape – there’s no substitute for this when your Achilles tendons start to scream!
My repair kit contains all the items I can think of to get me out of nearly any situation in which my bike (or other gear) suffers some sort of mechanical failure. This kit is tailored to the particular bike I’m riding, as well as biased toward problems I’ve encountered in the past. A small multitool and a few individual hex keys cover all bolts and adjustments on the bike (both in terms of head type and access to the head). I carry small Leatherman pliers that can facilitate a number of other tasks. A plethora of patches, boots, plugs, a Presta valve adapter, a spare valve stem, stout floss and a strong needle, and usually a bit of extra tire sealant cover the flat tire side of things. I also pack spare cleats, quick links for the chain, brake pads, a spare derailleur pulley, and an assortment of bolts. Zip ties, Gorilla tape, and a few safety pins facilitate makeshift repairs for other damaged parts.
Revelate Designs prototype 'Lemming'...
My seat bag was a prototype Revelate Designs cuben fiber bag called, continuing with Eric’s rodent naming scheme, a Lemming. This bag carried the remainder of my clothing – a long-sleeve Salsa jersey, Pearl Izumi knee warmers, a Montbell Thermawrap vest, Gore Bike Wear rain gear (the only rain gear I’ve ever had that keeps me truly dry – GoreTex Paclite is a great laminate). For chilly weather, I had a thin wind-resistant hat and fleece gloves. I also carried some homemade, compact cuben fiber mitts and oversocks that are truly waterproof. They saw no use this year, but in the two previous editions of the Tour Divide, I would have been quite happy to have them.
As far as the bike goes, I rode a custom El Mariachi Ti frame. It was essentially an 18” frame with a longer seat tube and higher toptube, equating to decreased standover clearance but increased room in the main triangle for a frame bag. I also opted for PressFit30 bottom bracket compatibility, standard 1-1/8” steerer compatibility, and cable routing to get the housing out of the way as much as possible. The result was a phenomenal Divide racing frame. On the front end, I mounted a White Brothers Rock Solid rigid fork with an aluminum steerer and carbon legs. While it’s not the lightest rigid fork out there, the fore-aft flex in the round carbon legs absorbs washboard vibrations better than any other fork I’ve ridden. Should I ever race the Divide again, you’ll see me on this same fork.
In the cockpit, I used ESI Chunky grips wrapped with Salsa’s Gel Cork handlebar tape, Cane Creek Ergo bar ends, and some ‘Frankenstein’ aerobars cobbled together from the best parts of three different sets of aerobars with the ends wrapped in more Salsa tape. These cushy hand positions gave me many options and prevented any hand, wrist, and arm discomfort. Also mounted on my Pro Moto Carbon flat bars was a Garmin ETrex Vista HCX GPS unit and a VDO cyclometer. I only used the GPS for navigating at night and to double check that I was on course if I was ever unsure. The primary reason for carrying the GPS was that I have had far too many cyclometer failures to entirely trust it. However, the VDO unit worked flawlessly. Cues were held in a waterproof pouch atop the aerobar extensions, and my SPOT device was housed in a homemade pouch nestled between the extensions and beneath the cues.
Wasted in the San Juans...
I ran a set of Stan’s Arch rims laced to DT Swiss 240s hubs with WTB Nano tires and a generous dose of Stan’s sealant inside. The wheels, built by Mike Curiak at Lacemine29, have been bombproof for XC riding, but the new made-in-China Nano tires left much to be desired. Many riders had trouble with them this year – the sidewalls will not remain reliably sealed when run tubeless (NOTE: they are NOT designed to be run tubeless), so at least once a day, I would have to swirl the sealant around the sidewalls and add ~10 psi to the rear tire. The front was more reliable, but the tread was completely shot by the end of the race. The tread on the rear was pretty far gone by the time I replaced it with a trusty Michelin Dry2 mailed to me in Rawlins.
The other components on my bike were dominated by SRAM parts. I still run a 9-speed drivetrain, so I used an XG-999 cassette, X0 rear derailleur and shifters and brakes, an XTR front derailleur, and a PF30 bottom bracket with an X0 carbon triple crankset (I don’t think these cranksets are available to consumers, which really is a shame since it’s a great crank). Race Face rings were bolted to the spider. A discontinued Specialized saddle and XT pedals are my preference for the other contact points. An ever-reliable Cane Creek 110 headset kept my fork attached and bars turning smoothly. The lack of rain and mud this year helped minimize wear and tear on parts, but aside from the slow leaks in the Nanos, I didn’t have a single problem with any of my gear.
A few odds and ends that didn’t get mentioned above include my lights (a bright 4-LED blinky and a Fenix LD20, both mounted on my helmet), ClO¬2 tablets for treating water, a waterbottle mounted on the underside of my downtube, ample chain lube, a trusty frame pump, extra ziplock bags, and assorted personal items. I also bought some cushier socks in Steamboat Springs to alleviate some soreness in my feet, as well as a second pair of shorts to provide some chafed areas a chance to heal by moving seams to another location. This helped tremendously, but by the end of a long day in brand new shorts, the foreign chamois created other discomforts and I was happy to return to my old shorts.
That’s about it. I’m sure I left off a few items, but these were the important things in my opinion. Feel free to ask away with any questions you might have. I hope this information is of help to any of you planning your own escapes and adventures.
Hello Antelope Wells...I've missed you...
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After growing up in Minnesota, I’ve been lured away by the rugged charm of the mountainous West. Now a professor at Prescott College, I teach students about the geologic wonders that surround us. I relish every opportunity I find to spend a day (or days) on the bike, linking together unknown trails and forgotten routes through deserted country and enjoying the simplicity and unpredictability. And when driven to race, I am growing ever fonder of pushing the limits of endurance and sanity, quietly spinning the cranks, staring out over the handlebars, and watching the scenery evolve while wondering where I’ll next be able to fill up on water. Kurt's Going Nuts: http://www.krefs.blogspot.com