I sit outside in a small, cube-like courtyard in the center of my apartment rental, tucked in the heart of the Medina in Marrakech, Morocco. As I reconstruct my bike, the call to prayer emanates from a nearby mosque and reverberates through the narrow streets. It is official: I have arrived.
I am few days from the start of the 2020 Atlas Mountain Race, enough time to get my bike and kit properly set up—there is no telling what mishaps can occur during the three-flight journey across the globe. I am still not convinced the baggage handlers aren’t joy-riding my bike at each layover, before dismantling it again and tossing it back into the bike bag. I have always said, just getting to the start of a bikepacking event or adventure is more than half the challenge.
For the AMR I’m riding the tried-and-tested Salsa Cutthroat. There is rarely one perfect bike or setup for a long-distance endurance event, as evidenced by any given start line where each bike is as unique as its rider’s DNA. Each setup is an expression of an individual’s interpretation of the course and conditions and the pace at which they will apply themselves to it. The bike frame is a blank canvas—anything is possible.
For me, the bike build was less about technical parameters and more an emotional decision. In bike shop confessional booths, I am quick to profess my cynicisms to my gear-pious mechanics. I am no brand devotee and certainly agnostic when it comes to any one bike build. But that doesn’t mean I am a non-believer. Anyone who has ridden thousands of miles, especially all at once, has a deep-seated faith in what they put between their legs.
With the 2020 Salsa Cutthroat Apex 1 as my blank canvas, I started to make the necessary additions to my AMR opus. I am accustomed to riding a 2x drivetrain but decided to try the stock 1x system for simplicity, adding a SunRace MX80 11-speed, cassette with an 11–50 tooth range. I am giving up a little power in the big ring but don’t want to relinquish gearing for the 25,000 metres of climbing we have in store.
For tires I’ve stuck with the Teravail Sparwood on the back and Maxxis IKON on the front, taking the sled dog approach of mixing breed or gender, one enticing the other. Both are tires that have served me well in multiple races and conditions, earning their place on the team.
For cargo carrying, I’m using the Salsa EXP Series for the frame, seat and top tube bags. Not only do these bags fit the new bike well, they are highly water resistant. I’m not expecting rain to be a big issue but it gives me peace of mind. The biggest lesson I have learned from multiple events is to protect against the elements. It is just one less thing to worry about. On the handlebars, I’ve opted for the Revelate Designs Pronghorn to hold my sleeping kit, which includes an extra-small Thermarest, inflatable pillow, Mountain Laurel Designs eVENT Soul Bivy, and the Big Agnes Flume, a lightweight but warm sleeping bag rated to the lowest temperatures we will (hopefully) face. A proper sleeping kit means I won’t have to concern myself with where I am or where I need to get to in order to sleep. I hope this will liberate me to keep riding as long as I can stay awake. This is especially true with the time-zone change, as it is unlikely I’ll fully overcome the jet lag (more on this: https:// bikepacking.com/plog/highland-insomnia/).
For the first time, I am illuminating my path with the K-lite Ultra endurance MTB, SON dynamo hub lighting system. I have relied on a simple headlamp-on-the-helmet setup in the past and I’m keeping that as a backup. But faster sections of trail and singletrack necessitate the upgrade. I’ve slammed into enough trees, rocks, and cattle for one lifetime.
For wardrobe, I’m riding in the apparel of Squamish-based 7Mesh, with multiple layers to manage the potential climate swings from zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) to 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit), discrepancies created by the changing elevation and time of day, and typical mountain weather. My kit includes 7Mesh’s MK3 bibs with Seymour tights for extra warmth, the Quantum jersey, Mission jersey, Cypress Hybrid vest, Orio jacket, Guardian jacket and the Outflow PrimaLoft jacket for those colder nights or long downhills at 4 a.m. I am going extra-warm with the gloves to play it safe. Training in the wet and cold has taught me to protect the extremities. Achilles had his heel; I have my fingertips and toes. On my feet, I’ve made the last-minute addition of the new Lake Cycling MX238 shoes. Because of my wide feet, I’ve always struggled with pain and friction but the Lake shoes have so far addressed that with their extra-wide design. What better way to know for sure than a 1,200-kilometer test ride?
For navigation I’m sticking with the 21st-century explorer’s faithful compass, the Garmin eTrex, as it isn’t overly thirsty for power.
My goal for the Atlas Mountain Race is to keep my setup clean and simple. The less to fuss over the better—no need to get artsy here. Although the trail will be an exhibit full of surrealism, expressionism, and abstraction, a long-distance endurance race like the AMR will be measured in pedal strokes, not brush strokes.
Atlas Mountain Race will be making updates via the following channels:
Facebook page: facebook.com/atlasmountainrace
On the blog section of our website: atlasmountainrace.cc
Atlas Mountain Race YouTube Channel
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As a bikepacker and cyclist I am always learning. Riding my bike takes me to new places, teaches me new things and introduces me to an incredible community of wonderful people. My passion is to combine my love of creative storytelling, with the physical challenges of exploring new and wondrous environments and cultures.