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Jeff’s Bike – Jeff’s Bike Blog: Some Tour Aotearoa links

Training for the Tour Aotearoa
 For some of you preparing for a bikepacking event is a bit new. 3000 kilometres is a long way, but the more prepared you are, the more fun it will be. There is a saying that goes “any plan is better than no plan”.

Looking at Kiwi options for bikepacking bags/mounts

Tour Aotearoa 2016 – bikepacking the length of New Zealand…
The Tour Aotearoa was a vehicle for the organiser Jonathan Kennett to introduce a new cycle path from the northern most tip of the country to …

Jeff and Nils, at Pouto. Photo Matt Dewes

Nil’s bike – Tour Aotearoa 2016
Like me, Nils van der Heide lives in Wellington, and yet I only met him once before the 2016 Tour Aotearoa. His bike was a bit different to most, …

Tour Aotearoa Sports Illustrated Bikini edition – 4 different rigs
Feb 14, 2016 … Building a bike for the Tour Aotearoa is not that easy. With the TA just around the corner ( feb 21 for wave 1) we have finally got to the pointy …

Joes bike – Tour Aotearoa 2016
I met Joe Jagusch while waiting for someone else to finish the Tour Aotearoa the other day. I was impressed by his inventive bike build.

Tour Aotearoa 2018, a short re-cap.

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Jeff’s Bike – Jeff’s Bike Blog: Nil’s bike

 Like me, Nils van der Heide lives in Wellington, and yet I only met him once before the 2016 Tour Aotearoa. His bike was a bit different to most, and he had obviously spent a lot of time getting Jonty at Revolution Bicycles to build it up. It was a very sound machine. Nils shares some pix and a bit of background to it.



The day I heard about the Tour Aotearoa over a year ago I thought:
“this is me”. An amazing opportunity to explore New Zealand, and what a
great way to do it by bike. I had been looking at the Kiwi Brevet for a
couple of years now but time wise could never commit to any of them.
This would be my first adventure of this kind.

soon worked out that cycling 3000km on my full suspension Yeti would be
a long way. A bit silly really as 3000km is a long way regardless.
However this is where the idea started to build my own bike from
scratch. A unique chance to build a “go anywhere, do almost anything”
kind of bike that would not be fast and work well. Furthermore I wanted
it to be  aesthetically pleasing as I work as a designer.

doing some research online I soon worked out that a bike suitable for
the Great Divide Ride would most likely be suitable for the Tour
Aotearoa (TA). This is where inspiration for certain ideas started.
Since I am extremely pleased with the geometry of my full-suspension
Yeti SB95 I decided to turn Yeti’s rigid carbon ARC frame into my
starting point. The next question was front suspension or not. I decided
to go rigid as it is lighter, there are fewer parts that can break (=
less maintenance), and would cater well for 80% of the terrain.

next thing to decide on was the cockpit. I had been intrigued by the
Salsa Woodchipper bars for some time now and thought they would be the
way to go for my bike. I liked the idea of dirt drops but it turned into
a big time consuming effort to find brake levers and shifters that
would work with the Shimano XT Dyna-sys derailleurs for my 2×10 setup. I
ended up with a set of Gevenalle GX shifters. They are probably one of
the most notable parts on my bike. They’re like a funky old set of thumb
shifters mounted onto Tektro brake levers. The shifters take a bit to
get used to but they work flawless. Another advantage is that you can
run them indexed as well as friction. Furthermore I used a Fred Bar to
mount my aero bars onto. I read good things about them as they put you a
bit more upright while riding in the aero bars. This proved very useful
on 10+ hour days in the saddle.

It was
amazing to see the bike come together and it’s even more fun to ride. A
big shout out goes to Jonty from Revolution Cycles, Oli at Roadworks,
Zeph at Cognitive Cycle Works and Kashi at Yeti NZ for all their help.
The bike really inspires me to ride just about anywhere. Drop bars and
fat tyres go a long way, they are an awesome combo. I did end up
swapping the Woodchipper bars for the Cowchipper. The biggest difference
is that the Cowchipper allows me to ride off road tracks in my drops.
My hands are too small for the Woodchipper and were sliding down going
over rough terrain.

To date I have done about
5000km’s on my “one of a kind” Yeti, including the Tour Aotearoa. It has
proven to be a great brevet bike for this type of terrain. I would love
to take it over to the States one day and ride the Great Divide Ride on
it too. Here’s to adventure…!

FRAME: 2015 Yeti ARC Carbon – size medium

FORK: Enve Mountain Fork 29″ – tapered steerer, 15 mm through

• PAINTWORK: Custom painted in Yeti turquoise by Guy 

HEADSET: Chris King

HANDLEBAR: Salsa Cowchipper – 44cm wide model

BAR TAPE: Specialized Roubaix Tape plus Bar Phat gel pads

STEM: Thomson Elite x4 stem – 0 degree rise, 70mm extension

BRAKE LEVERS plus SHIFT LEVERS: Gevenalle GX – Compatible with Shimano Dyna-Sys Deraileurs

BRAKES: Avid BB-7 front and rear with sintered pads

BRAKE ROTORS: Shimano XT 160mm front and rear

AERO BARS: Profile Design T3+ Carbon

AERO BAR ACCESSORY: Fred Bar by Siren Bicycles and homemade gps and bike light mount

CABLE ACCESSORY: Jagwire compact adjusters

FRONT DERAILLEUR: Shimano XT direct mount 2×10

REAR DERAILLEUR: Shimano XT – medium cage

CRANKSET: Shimano XT 2×10

BOTTOM BRACKET: Enduro XD15 threaded

CHAINRINGS: Shimano XT 28t – 38t

CASSETTE: Shimano XT – 11- 36

CHAIN: Shimano XT SilTech 10 spd 

PEDALS: Shimano XTR Trail


SADDLE: Specialized Phenom Expert

HUBS: DT Swiss 240’s – front 15×100 & rear 12×142 6 bolt 

RIMS: Light bicycle 29” carbon rims – 30 mm wide and tubeless ready

SPOKES: DT competition


SEALANT: Stans- about 100ml per tire

TIRES:  Schwalbe Thunder Burt SnakeSkin 29×2.1 

WATER BOTTLE MOUNTTrevor’s unique double cage mount

WATER CAGES: Specialized side mount

Tour Aotearoa, a 3000km dirt brevet from Cape Reinga to Bluff

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Jeff’s Bike – Jeff’s Bike Blog: Tour Aotearoa 2016

Aotearoa New Zealand. A 3000km
unsupported bikepacking adventure.

I think we are lucky in New Zealand, on several fronts. We have a relatively small country with constantly changing scenery and terrain that can both challenge and
inspire. We also have people wanting to share it with the masses. The
Tour Aotearoa was a vehicle for the organiser Jonathan Kennett to
introduce a new cycle path from the northern most tip of the country to the
bottom. By no means did we take the shortest route, but we did take in
some amazing trails and scenery. We have a style of bikepacking in NZ that
allows participation by people who might be put off by the caffeine
fueled all-nighters that are the norm in some other events. A mandatory 6
hour stand-down for every 24 hours makes the events safer and more
achievable for many. The event was capped at 300 riders. In the end around 230 started and around 18 pulled out. That’s not a bad completion rate.

Drafting is legal in most NZ dirt brevets, but you do have to deal
with the personalities of your fellow riders if you chose to ride as a
group for the duration. Someone commented that if we were spending 100%
of the day with our spouses, it would likely result in a divorce after a
few days of  limited sleep.

In our case, on the first day a self-selecting team was born,
comprised of Geof Blance, the Tour Divide 4th place finisher from 2014,
Matt Dewes a graphic designer with an eye for a great shot, and Steve
Scott, the hard man roadie with 5 Tours of Southland under his belt.
Geof and I were the only ones with previous bikepacking experience. Matt
had spent time as an under 23 XC racer in Switzerland so we knew he had
a big motor. To date I still haven’t seen his conversation threshold
breached. He was young and fit and would dance up the hill and take
snaps as we rode past, sharing them on social media when cellular
coverage allowed.We have Matt to thank for most of these images. If you have  ever watched the Tour of Southland you know what kind of an animal Steve must be. It must be the hardest race in the southern hemisphere with hills and the kind of weather that makes you put an extra duvet on your bed.

Day 1. Cape Reinga to Waimamaku. 206kms.
Strava Cape Reinga to Kohukohu,
Strava to Cape Reinga Waimamaku,
Day 1
was always going to hurt. New Zealand is a very hilly country. I knew from
experience that average speeds for the fast guys in dirt Brevets in this country are
around 14kmh. We had to average over 20kmh to make the last 8pm Ferry to Rawene. Unfortunately mother nature had other plans in the form of a
head wind on the beautiful “90 mile beach”. Bikepackers learning to
ride in echelons was a comical thing, and I was struggling with cramp
for some reason.

I ended up stopping to clean my chain at the end of the 88km beach segment before carrying on, in hindsight a bad move. We had a
whole lot of climbing to do after the beach, before reaching the Ferry and we killed
ourselves to get there. It would have been nicer to save that extra 10 minutes of energy. We time trialled our brains out to arrive at
8.02 pm. Luckily the ferry hadn’t quite pulled out. Phew. It was like an 8
hour stage race. Not bikepacking as we know it. The beach was really
something and one day I’d love to go back and enjoy it with less
pressure. There was a funky little whole-food shop there at Rawene and we spent plenty of time stocking up on pies and stuff for the next day. Most of the other riders hit the road straight away, but a few decided to stay at Rawene, including Darren Burns, who had already broken his saddle, not sure how, maybe a violent “buttock clench” after seeing people rub wheels and go down right in front of him on 90 mile beach ! There were a few moments out there for sure. Someone tried to lecture Steve on how to lap out in an echelon which was a bit of a laugh considering his “roadie” background.

90 Mile beach into a head-wind. Photo by Matt Dewes.

The night was still young so we carried on for another 25 odd kms to Waimamaku where Geof spied a good spot behind a local hall for us to bivvy in. No need for tents yet as it was very warm. There was a tap on the side of a building which was good for those of us who were washing and alternating their shorts daily.

We just made the first ferry at 8.02 pm. Photo Matt Dewes.

As we were preparing to leave the next morning at 5am we saw a few people roll past in the dark, moving onto the first photo point of Tane Mahuta, the giant Kauri Tree in the Waipoua forest. The problem with only stopping for 6 hours a day is that you miss about 5 hours of scenery due to darkness.

Day 2. Waimamaku to Hunua. 138 + 116 = 253kms not including  the boat trip.

we thought day one was hard, we were in for another shock. We still had
to average around 20kmh to get to the next (Poutu) Ferry by 12pm. I think a
lot of people thought the TA was going to be a fast “roadie” affair with
lots of sealed roads. They were wrong. As soon as the first hills
abated we were into a series of relentless steep gravel climbs that just
kept on coming.

By the time we got to the “ferry” 7 hours later we were
cooked. We were also 12 minutes late. But the boat was still there. The
next one was at 6pm that day, so we had to catch this first one.
Imagine riding into the red for 7 hours, then clambering up a loosely
mounted modified aluminum ladder attached to a tiny boat rocking
around on a high tide with a 22 kg bike on your shoulder. It was funny
and grim at the same time. As usual, somehow Matt managed to photograph
it for posterity. I guess there were about 20 of us who made this first

Sad story of the day went to Kevin Moginie. He must be incredibley strong, as he had the aerodynamics of a Mack truck as he motored along on his full suspension Santa Cruz. He caught us earlier in the day, then I think we recaught him at Dargaville.  I saw him taking a turn on the front at some stage and then he just disappeared. I guess we assumed he had a mechanical. Apparently he wasn’t that far behind, and he missed the boat! Not to be deterred I think he may have caught up and passed us again by Mangakino on day 3.

Now the pressure was off, or so we thought. No more ferries to
catch, for a while anyway. Event organiser Jonathan Kennett had decided
that if we wanted to, we could utilise the 3 hour boat trip as part of
our 6 hour continuous downtime block. We took Geofs advice as a seasoned
campaigner and decided not to use the boat time as part of our 6 hour rest. A few of them did, Ollie, Seb, Anja, Matt, Cliff. They rolled
down the road to the closest cafe and took the extra 3 hours napping

Boarding the Ferry, what an experience. Photo Matt Dewes.

Before very long we were getting close to Auckland,
already we were missing the friendly locals from the far north and the
lush green country side. Now it was fast commuter traffic then the urban cycle-ways of Auckland. We saw some sights, including a commuter, completely on the rivet with a full-face DH helmet on. We couldn’t wait to get out of there and
back into the boonies. We climbed up Mt Eden to be greeted by a couple
of “blue-dot junkies” who had been following us the whole time. What a
buzz, We were actually leading the event as the other “Ferry sleepers” hadn’t caught up
yet. We shortly hooked up with Nick and Ben who knew their way around Auckland and navigated us to a McDonalds where something gave me the worst case of acid-reflux I have ever had.

Were winning! (But its not a race). Photo by blue-dot junkie ; )

We headed off to find somewhere to stay. Geof was keen on
accommodation but we saw nothing on route and before long we were into the
Hunua Ranges which is still kind of on the outskirts of Auckland.
Finding a place on the road side out of view of local farmers was a
challenge. Eventually after descending down through the Hunua Ranges Geof
spied a good spot amongst some trees that turned out to be mint. Another
night out with no tent and no problems.

Day 3. Hunua to Mangakino 244kms.
Somewhere after the sun rose, heading to Kopu.
It was another 5am start from memory. As we rolled away the duo of Nick and his buddy
Ben caught us as we glass-cranked along, as Matt had gone back to retrieve the
sunnies he dropped at the camp site. Ben was “off the grid” riding with
his buddy, not carrying a tracker, but he could sure pump out the watts.

We rolled through the very tame Hauraki Rail Trail, then
onto Matamata. This was a massive section for the aero bars and the
going was fast. Steve was mashing on the front so hard that we had to tell him to ramp it back a bit.

Maybe it was “milking time” or something, but I was surprised at how few cows I saw! It was quite a while before we saw some closer to the Paeroa end of the trail.

We eventually joined up with the extensive Waikato Trail
network where we were happy to meet Stephen “Stealth” Butterworth who
had been following our progress.

Hauraki Rail Trail

 The effort people made to try and say
hello was really appreciated. We eventually came across a large dam at
the head of Lake Waipapa and were met by a bunch of well wishers who I
assumed were all Matt’s family, but it turned out that the guy offering
to clean and oil drive-trains was a blue-dot watcher and blog-follower.
What a surprise. It really felt to me like we were in the middle of nowhere. I decided that when I was finished the TA, I was going to go over the entire course to see where the hell I had been, because I hadn’t really done any research on the course as such.

The next piece of trail was really good, unfortunately
it was very dark, and technical enough that the slow speeds we were
doing were not enough for 3 out of 4 of us to generate good light via
our dynamo lights, so it was on with the spare helmet lights. At one point it seemed like we had ridden the same piece of trail more than once, and every now and then there would be a granny gear climb to take back all the elevation we had just lost. I thought about Cliff Clermont and his 1×11 drive train and wondered if he was still enjoying it. I couldn’t believe how much time I spent in my lowest front sprocket and was very happy to have a triple, as were Geof and Steve.

Geof, Stephen, Jeff, Steve.

eventually made it to the foreshore of Lake Maraetai at Mangakino where we were
surprised to find an American woman who had been doing parts of the
course independently of our organised effort. A toilet block with
running water was an added bonus to this site. This was the first night
we used our tents.

Day 4. Mangakino to Owhango 180kms.
next day was to turn out to be a bit of a tough one. We got into some
pretty uninspiring 4wd track for a while and Geof was having some
“sleepy moments” but it didn’t seem to slow him down at all. We hooked
into the Pureora Forest Timber Trail after a while and it really was
quite beautiful.

Steve rides one of the massive swing bridges on the Pureora Timber Trail. Photo Matt Dewes

 We learned that Matt had incredibly, in our view, taken his fiancee
(not really a cyclist)  through the Timber Trail one day, the poor
thing. We all decided she was a keeper. It was 85 kms of relentless
singletrack with track markers every 1km. Some people liked the markers,
most didn’t. Matt was riding a Cannondale Cyclo Cross bike, but to see
him ride you would think he was on a fully. It must be great to have
those kind of skills.

Skills will only get you so far ; )

Fate caught up with him and a sidewall cut in his
tubeless tire meant a boot and tube had to be used… once he could find
the gash…. Geof used this occasion to catch 40 winks and during this
interlude a small troop of riders caught us and rolled through, Rob
Davidson, Dave Cooper, Linda Wensley and her husband Craig.  It really
felt as if we had been on the Timber Trail all day. A full suspension
bike or even a hardtail would have been great, but we were stuck with
our over loaded rigids, on what would have
been a really fun trail in normal circumstances.

Matt in Pureora Timber Trail.

 We emerged from
the forest to another group of well wishers from Matt’s whanau. He
really had the North Island covered. Wellington rider Nils caught and passed us as we
chatted to them, he seemed to be on a mission. Later on we called into the
McDonalds at Taumaranui and while we replenished our supplies Geof
mentioned that there was an open home within riding distance. I rang the
number and suddenly realised that I knew the host. It was sorted.
Before long we were being treated to such luxuries as electric lighting,
a washing machine, a dryer and some amazing soup that our host Paul
Chaplow had put on for us. I think Geof knew Paul from his adventure
racing days and he looked after us like family, it was a complete blast.
We were overcome with the luxury of it all.

Day 5. Owhango to Wanganui 190km. Including boat trip.
hit the road with a cheery goodbye from Paul who had graciously gotten up
to supervise our departure. Our initial goal was getting to the Bridge to
Nowhere, and joy, another boat to meet. The good oil was that you got yourself to
the Blue Duck Cafe and booked a Jet-boat from there, meeting them 4
hours later at the trail end. The familiar theme of racing the boat had
returned….. The initial trail was narrow and a bit slippery,
considering it was the height of summer. I managed to twist my chain
dealing with chain-suck so was forced to shorten my chain, very quickly.
It was a shame that we were once again suffering from “boat-anxiety” as
the scenery was quite beautiful and a bit more time to take snaps would
have been great.

This was the height of summer and the trail was still slippery. Photo by Matt Dewes.

 The trail widened and we were greeted with a very long,
maybe 20 minute descent? I was not enjoying it too much on my rigid
drop-barred bike, and by the time I got to the bottom, despite several
rests for arm pump, I had two numb braking fingers that still haven’t
come back to life, yet…

Another swing bridge. Photo Matt Dewes.

 We got to the trail end with 20 mins to
spare but still had to wait for a few more tourists to pad out our boat.
The trip down the river was great but I have to say I spent most of it

About to catch a jet boat. Photo Matt Dewes.

As we got off the boat we were hit
with blinding heat and the urge to find as much food and drink as we
could. A small cafe in a local Lodge was just what we needed.

THE Bridge to Nowhere. Photo Matt Dewes.

 We caught
up to Greg Galway who I think had passed us in the night, sleeping
rough, as he did, every night of the Tour. I guess he had missed the first two boats, but had managed to make up some good time on the faster sections. He seemed keen to ride with
us but some of us were struggling a bit on the rollers out of Pipiriki
so Greg eventually rode off to do his own thing.

There were the odd compulsory dismounts. Photo by Matt Dewes.

the time we got to Wanganui we were feeling like some accommodation
again. Paul Chaplow’s open house had spoiled us. We had a beer, which
went to our heads immediately, and I booked a room in a very swish joint
100 metres from the supermarket. 

105 years of crustiness. Photo by Matt Dewes.

Day 6. Wanganui to Masterton 310kms

we hit Wanganui relatively early we had to leave early so at 4am we
headed for the 1st photo-point of the day. Obviously it wasn’t open so we took our photo and moved onto some nice deserted b-roads. I was feeling good, and probably
trying to keep warm as much as anything, but I got the feeling that the
rest of the guys were not as frisky as I was. As we hit Hunterville
Matt’s parents turned up to wish us well. God knows what time they left
Taupo to get to Hunterville in time to meet us. As we were just about to leave Steve recaught
us and we were off on what must have been the biggest stretches of
gravel we were to encounter.

Even the gravel had gravel on it. It was the day of gravel. Photo by Matt Dewes.

 We practically traversed across half the width of
the North Island at this point, before we started to head downwards again, and
there was plenty of elevation in there too. Apiti, Ashhurst and finally
Palmerston North where we stocked up at a gas station and booked a
ferry crossing to take us from the North to South Islands. Not knowing
how long it was going to take us to get there meant we had to give
ourselves a bit of breathing room if we were going to avoid another case
of “boat-anxiety”.

There was morning gravel and evening gravel. It was also our longest day. Photo by Matt Dewes

 We exited Palmie and met a really
cool supporter on the trail with her young toddler, handing out
ice-blocks and bananas. We would have loved to chat more but we had to
keep rolling. The next piece of gravel linking us to Pahiatua was a real
blast and then I think we scored some tail-wind for the segment into
Eketahuna. We caught up with Nils again there and he still seemed to be
on a mission, dropping us when ever he felt like it. I texted Jonty from Revolution Cycles, who built Nils’s very flash bike, and asked him what his background was. Jonty said, “He has never done an organised bike event before”…..

There was a ton more gravel grinding to do before we
eventually grovelled into Masterton, the bogan capital of New Zealand.
Matt had booked us a very nice room but before we could get there we had
to put up with 4 drive by attacks by the local bogans who would throw
milkshakes or slushies at us as we rode. This was the only kind of
encounter we had come across like this and it took the gloss off what
was our biggest day at 310kms.

Day 7. Masterton to Pelorus 144 + 54= 198kms not counting the ferry
was the day we were to meet the Cook Strait ferry in Wellington to take us to the
South Island so we got our lapping out sorted pretty well on a piece of
road I had raced the masters time trial nationals on a few times.
Unfortunately as we straightened up for the run over the Rimutaka
Incline, in true Wellington style the wind came up. It stopped us in our
tracks, and blew us off our bikes, but luckily, as locals, Matt and I
were able to reassure the others that it was only temporary, at some
point it would be behind us, mostly. We were very lucky to have at least
3 sets of buddies ride out to meet us and escort us into Wellington via
the local river trail network and we spent time in the Ferry terminal
with family, and friends. Most of the riders we had come across in the
previous days were on another ferry that was leaving 2 hours earlier but
we chose to chill and do the family thing rather than hop boats.

Rimutaka Incline. A very short walk. Photo by Matt Dewes.

had decided he was going to sleep on the ferry and use it as part of
his 6 hour sleep as some of the others had done earlier. The rest of us decided
not to, and after a beautiful evening riding through the Queen Charlotte
Sounds road, Geof, Matt and I camped at Pelorus.

It was a magical night as we left the Ferry and rode the Queen Charlotte Drive heading to Pelorus. Photo Matt Dewes.

Day 8. Pelorus to Maruia 248 kms
Maungatapu was probably the most sustained off road climb of the TA, and
after about 20kms of introductory gravel we worked our way into it, all of us trying to clean the gnarly bits but all eventually succumbing. Matt
despite limited gearing probably did the best. His 34/40 front/rear
ratio was pretty damn good for someone with his young legs, but the loose rocky surface was the undoing. Of course he
cleaned the gnarliest part of the descent into the Maitai Valley. I
walked it.

As we came into Nelson I was greeted by my
cousin Paul who was whooping and hollering with excitement and we rode
with him to a cafe where we got a coffee fix and a few more sweet treats
before we took off. Craig and Linda were there too, with Craig about
too go to a GP to have his nether regions checked out. As we were just
about to leave my Aunt turned up which was also a highlight. She
had been watching the dots and was really getting into it.

Climbing the Maungatapu early in the day. Photo by Matt Dewes.

headed out of town on the local trails and when we got to Richmond were
joined by my buddies Susie and Gazz who were keen to accompany us on
the trail which took in one of their favorite training loops. It was
great to have fresh company. They were fresh off the Pioneer MTB stage race and were probably keen to see what these smelly cycle-fred tourists were all about.

Somewhere on some Gravel… Photo by Matt Dewes.

We eventually went our
separate ways near Dovedale and took in a whole bunch more gravel on the
way to Tapawera. On one of the big gravel descents I got a sharp pain
in my left quad which was to effect me badly for the rest of the tour. I
managed to keep pedaling, and it seemed to be alright upon waking most
mornings, but then get worse during the day. We picked up Steve again
at Tapawera and he was regretting his night without sleep, after
combining his ferry into his 6 hour sleep block, but at least he caught up
with his kids in Nelson. We pressed on through Lake Rotoroa and the Braeburn and did a
raid on the dairy at Murchison and after a beer and burgers at the
Commercial Hotel we rode on, eventually finding a camping spot somewhere
in the Maruia. Once again, another beautiful spot we missed because it
was dark. Luckily I had been through there 3 times before in the Kiwi
Brevet, twice in the day time.

Day 9. Maruia to Kumara 217 kms
morning on day 9 was uneventful as we climbed up out of Springs
Junction for some time, before getting a nice gentle downhill and
possibly some tail wind into Reefton. It was time to refuel and head
into the technically demanding Big River and Waiuta tracks. Not specific
man made tracks for biking, these were left over from the gold mining
days and were in places actually river bed. I called into the bike/sports shop there and chatted to the friendly lady, mentioning that my grandfather used to run the butcher shop in Waiuta before the gold dried up and it became a ghost town. She said that this very building we were standing in was one of the last to be removed from Waiuta and may well have been his. 

Geof picks his line in Big River…. Photo Matt Dewes.

My left leg was not happy. Every time I hit a bump it
would shock my left quad and I would bleat like a baby. I’d been through
these trails 3 times before in the Kiwi Brevet, but knowing what was
coming up didn’t make it any easier, even though I knew the tracks were
in as good a shape as they had ever been. There had only been about 10 people ahead of us, not enough to impact the track surface.

Big River. Photo by Matt Dewes.

It was hard work. I couldn’t
wait to get out. Maybe there is a difference between doing this trail
with 2 days in your legs compared to 9. Maybe I was just soft. Matt was
loving it on his cyclo cross bike and taking some lovely shots. I felt
like a real whinger, at least I had fatter tires than Matt, I should
harden up. The wet rooty bits were not to be underestimated. As usual
Geof was very stoic but somewhere along the way we had lost Steve again. Matt said that this was his favourite section.

Big River. Photo Matt Dewes.

We finally got out and our first stop was the
Ikamatua store before heading to Greymouth. After we had refueled I
realised that I had lost my spare dry-bag somewhere in the Waiuta. I was
gutted. It had my beanie, arm warmers and leg-warmers, and my buff.
They say in bikepacking you pack your fears. My fears are, 1, bonking,
2, getting a saddle sore, 3, getting too cold. If I don’t get my beanie
and buff on as soon as I stop I can revert to a shivering mess in

Matt in the Waiuta.

We were just about to leave Ikky when Steve turns up, my green
dry-bag hanging off his bars. What a dude! Steve refueled, we pulled out but unfortunately he went off
the back on the first climb we did after crossing the River and I didn’t
notice. I felt terrible. He’d just saved my arse. We even stopped at the Pike River monument thing but still no Steve in the distance. But what do you know, we got to Greymouth, and
were just about to leave the Subway and Steve turned up! He was like
the Terminator. We did a quick shop and I managed to dial up some
accommodation in Kumara township, smack in the middle of the West Coast
Wilderness trail. Score, the proprietor also owned the shop! Pies,
lollies, all the good things. It was win-win and the team was back
together again!

Day 10. Kumara to Pine Cove Motel 275kms.
the week an old friend from Christchurch, Ian, had been texting me,
saying he wanted to catch up and ride with us for a bit. Ian was a very
accomplished XC racer in his day, but I had no idea how fit he was
currently. Long story short, when we left Kumara at 5am the next
morning, Ian, his wife Lucy and Daughter Katie (in her pyjamas) were
there. Wow, what a send-off. Ian was on his old Raceline with v-brakes
and a household torch strapped to his handlebars! Geof had his MC-hammer
pants on this morning and the pace was on from the start. The West
Coast Wilderness Trail is a fun, fast and achievable trail for most
people. Unfortunately we had to do a detour and missed one of the best
parts of trail as we rode into Cowboy Paradise, a western themed Lodge
overlooking the beautiful Arahura Valley. The proprietor came out to
chat and mentioned that he barely got a sideways glance when the front
runners came through.

Lake Kaniere

We carried on to the back of Lake Kanieri and took
in the new trails alongside the water race that led us into Hokitika.
Somewhere out of Hoki Ian got shelled, then lost! He didn’t have a GPS,
but he did have a cell phone and a wife. We rolled into Hoki, spied
Geof at a cafe, ordered a coffee and pie and sat down. Geof announced
that he was off. Ok. He might see us later. We waited for our coffees
and pondered our next move. 

The rest of us
left and got into a good groove, losing Steve on an undulation somewhere
along the way again, Matt picking up his 2nd puncture. After riding through two herds of cattle we eventually picked up
Geof at the Hari Hari cafe about 75kms later.

A River somewhere between Hari Hari and Haast.

West Coast of the South Island has a scenery unique to itself, with
wide flowing rivers and strange tree forms.
There are two Glaciers that come right down to sea level. The Franz and
the Fox glaciers. They are unsurprisingly connected by some fairly
challenging hills, although they were on sealed road. Matt and I were
both struggling with left leg issues. Me with my dodgy left quad, Matt
with a tender knee. He’d had a minor Achilles problem earlier and asked
what he should do. I jokingly replied, didn’t you read my blog post on Achilles issues? He hadn’t, so, figuring that his cleat bolts were
probably burred to the point of difficult extraction we dropped his seat
post by about 5mm. The relief was instantaneous.

A hill somewhere between Franz and Fox. Matt discovering his seat height is not optimal. Amazing what 10 days of over-use syndrome will tell you about your set-up.

had rung my Osteo from Franz and left a message on his phone, asking
what I could do about the continued numbness in my right hand. He rang
back as we  were navigating the little trail out of Fox and gave me
some exercises. Unfortunately they didn’t help.

dropped down into the granny gears for the big climbs between Franz and
Fox and I told Geof we would have to catch him later as we were both
broken arses. Geof promptly dropped off the back himself. He had his own
problems. We were a sad lot, but regrouped at the top and rolled into
Fox. Geof and Matt researched some accommodation down the road and made a
phone call. We seemed to be on a mission to get there and ripped along
at a pretty good pace, wondering when the hell we were going to find it.
Each new corner revealed nothing and we pressed on. Then in the middle
of nowhere, a little group of motels sprung up, 35 kms outside of Fox.
The Pine Grove Motels were one of those oases in the middle of
nowhere. Very basic, but more than enough for a bunch of wasted smelly
cyclists. AND they had food. We washed all our clothes again as well.
Pure luxury.

Day 11. Pine Cove Motel to Arrowtown. 291kms
was the usual 5am start and we rode on, eagerly awaiting the sunrise.
Matt reckoned he saw a light up ahead. I thought he was hallucinating,
but he was right. We were catching someone. Who could it be. Anyone
ahead of us had a fairly good gap by now. Knock me down with a feather,
it was Steve, the terminator. He had passed us in the night and bivvyed
out in a shelter in the Copeland Pass. It was great to catch up again.
Geof had another sleepy moment but we got through it and motored on to

Terminator Steve Scott looms out of the mist. Photo by Matt Dewes.

 As we rolled in to the cafe there who did we see? The affable
American Cliff Clermont. He was about to leave, but always a sucker for
company we talked him into another round of coffees and we all left
together. Cliff and I had ridden most of the 2014 Kiwi Brevet together
and Geof had ridden with him in that years Great Southern Brevet as
well. Cliff had started out with the initial leaders, so we were keen to
catch up on all the gossip but it would have to wait until we were on the

Another River somewhere around Haast. Photo by Matt Dewes.

For some reason we were lapping it out very fast again. Cliff,
always the negotiator suggested we dial it back a tad if we were going
to have any chance to catch up on the news. There were some good steep
pinches through the Haast pass so now I had to battle the gradient with a
numb right hand that I could only use the bottom two fingers on for
braking and a left leg that was only really at 50% power.

leg was really annoying. I looked down at it, then across to my
top-tube mounted water bottle. Had the water-bottle cage shifted? I had
mounted it using the “insulation tape hack”, as I had done to the down
tube and front fork cages…. I suddenly had an epiphany. When I would
come to a stop, but sit astride my bike I was putting pressure on the
top mounted cage and bottle, and had imperceptibly been moving it
sideways over the previous 10 days, and I was also unconsciously moving
my left leg further to the left to avoid brushing against it! I was
riding bow-legged !  This was the cause of my pain. I stopped
immediately and kicked the cage off with enormous satisfaction. I still
had two more bottle cages and a camelbak so it wasn’t the end of the
world. I felt better already, but the damage had been done. 2 weeks
later its still not 100%.

We stopped at Makarora Cafe
for a lunch break and I waited for Matt who had a last minute thing to
sort. Geof’s MC Hammer pants were on again so it was quite a while
before we caught him and Cliffy again. There were more hills on the
approach to Hawea and we stopped for some photos at the “neck” of the two
big lakes, Wanaka and Hawea.

Photo-op at “The Neck”

We were straight into a trail at Hawea which from memory we
followed all the way into Wanaka. The pace was still on but it was good
to be on some dirt again. The previous two days had been 90% seal where
we were doing battle with tourists in camper vans, who I have to say
were pretty well behaved. This part of the South Island is pretty much
fully booked out for accommodation from November to March.

grabbed a burger and beers at a cafe in Wanaka, Geof and Matt called in
to Rick Woodwards bike shop, Outside Sports, Geof for a gear tweak, Matt for a new
nipple… for his camelbak, it had fallen off on the outskirts of Fox.

is bliss, at least temporarily. After the obligatory shots outside
the Cardrona pub we had to do the Crown Range. I had never ridden up it
before, and I did it in my middle ring as I figured that if I changed
down and dropped the chain onto frame again, as I had been doing, I
would probably just end up walking it. We had done close to 250kms already that
day, and there was more to come. At the top we rugged up again
for the descent down the other side onto the cycle trails that would
take us into Arrowtown. Another pub stop there and then we went and set
up camp at the local camping ground.

Attacking the Crown Range at night fall. Photo Matt Dewes.
Day 12. Arrowtown to Bluff 290kms, including boat.
got a sleep in on this day, til 6am. We had to catch a 10 am sailing of
the Earnslaw steamer to ferry us across Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak
and Mount Nicholas. Geof’s local knowledge meant that we had time in
hand to crank out 40kms of local trail and still have time for a leisurely cafe breakfast while we waited. A buddy from Wellington’s nephew was following the ride and joined in with us on his jump-bike as we wound our way into Queenstown. Greg Galway was
also there waiting for the same boat. I was impressed with Greg’s ride.
He’d spent most of the time by himself and bivvyed out every night. Not
only was Greg there, but Steve had done another superhuman effort to catch up as well, camping at the foot of the Crown Range and hitting it early that morning.

My buddy Ed Banks is a school teacher in Wellington and he chatted me one day to say that he had shown his class at school the tracking page and they were hooked, so he had it up on the big screen all day. He chatted me again while we were at Queenstown waiting for the Earnslaw and he asked me if I would mind it if the kids could ask me a couple of questions. Next minute the phone rang and we had a bit of a chat and then answered some questions for the kids. It was a very cool moment for me actually.

Geof wheels his bike onto the Earnslaw. Photo by Matt Dewes.

A couple of times during the Tour Aotearoa Matt had joked, “I’m gonna grow some balls and do a
break-away today and drop you guys”. It was a bit of an in joke. The
thing was, we knew he could, at any time, if he wished. But on this day I
was feeling good. It was still early in the day, my legs hadn’t started
to pack it in yet. It was around 11am when we got off the boat at Walter Peak, only 250kms to the
finish and my cousin Sam had told me there should be a tail wind. It was
time to put on the MC hammer pants…

Fresh legs after a coffee and pie on the Earnslaw Steamer having just crossed Lake Wakatipu. Photo Matt Dewes.

I went to the
front and picked up the pace a bit. It felt good, we already had tail
wind so I kept winding it up until we hit the first climb and just kept
going. Part way up the hill Matt shot by. I thought, oh, he’s going to
the top to take some more photos of us! What he’d actually done was
grown those balls. He wasn’t at the top waiting….

had got to the top with me, but his 1×11 just wasn’t up to it. I shifted it into the 44 and got down on the aero bars. I looked
back and Cliff was slumped across the bars. I was on my own. The tailwind
was amazing, smashing it across the tops at 48kmh on the aero-bars in
my 44-11. This was me having fun. Gravel, tail wind, aero-bars and 250 odd kms to go, I was truly in my happy place. From this point on it was just hammer. I wasn’t
stopping for anything. There was miles of gravel past the Mavora lakes
turn off and on towards Mossburn where my Southland cousins all come

I talked to a grader driver working on the road and he said he saw
another cyclist 15 minutes ago, going like the clappers. That would be Matt.
The new Mossburn cycle trail was a bit of fun but I just rode straight
past the township planning to pick up some food later. I had
plenty. I was really enjoying riding by myself at my own pace. I guessed Matt was doing the same. I stopped once at the top of a climb for a snack and once again
to put on some chamois cream as I approached Winton.

I looked over my shoulder. What was that? A
rider off in the distance behind me? Surely not. I renewed my efforts,
but within a few minutes a rider pulled up beside me. Greg Galway ! He
was on a cyclo cross bike like Matt, and this was a good day to be on

Actually, we were all three of us on drop bars, and had all paid
attention to aerodynamics with our bike set-ups. Greg and I rode into Winton
together and did a quick raid on a shop and were out of there in no time. I never ate half a fried chicken so quickly. Greg
was a great navigator and he rode up the road about 100 metres ahead of
me the whole way until we got to Bluff where it started to rain lightly
as we got closer. There was someone standing in the middle of the road
with his hand out for a high 5. It was Matt, he’d been there for an hour
already and had booked the last two beds in Bluff ! He was nice enough
to ring Geof and let him know, so they (Geof, Cliff, and eventually Steve!)  pulled the pin at Winton, had 5 pints at the pub, and
finished the ride into Bluff the next morning.

With the big tail wind, Matt had averaged 30kmh from when we got off the Earnslaw to Bluff, including Mt Nicholas. 251kms according to my computer.

At Bluff, with Greg. 11 days, 8 hours and 35
minutes at an average of 265kms a day.

I was strangely
unemotional as I finished the ride. I guess it was no surprise, it was
all I expected, and more. I had prepared well for it, I still had a
few issues, but they weren’t insurmountable. I had my cousin coming to pick me up, so I hung out in the foyer of Matt’s hotel, watching the pattern in the carpet pulsate… Who knows how much longer we could have gone for, or how much faster we could have done it, but right now I needed food and rest.

There are many ways to do a
dirt brevet like the Tour Aotearoa. There are no wrong or right ways,
just different ways. Some people did it with negligible training. Some people never stopped for a beer! Some
people wanted to take all 30 days and only travel during daylight hours,
and you cant blame them. It’s a beautiful country. I think that was the
one thing in common that we all took away from the Tour Aotearoa. We
are very lucky to live in such a beautiful place, lets keep it that way.

Riding through the Waiuta with Geof, where my mother actually went to school, now a ghost town. Even though I struggled through here, this is my favourite photo, by Matt Dewes.

Thanks to Matt Dewes for his amazing photos, also the Strava files of both the North and South Islands. Thanks also to my amazing cousin Sam Kopae and her husband Wally who looked after me and the two Matts in their “bikers haven” in Invercargill. Thanks to Jonathan Kennett for organising this thing, and thanks to  our spouses for letting us have the most fun you can have on two wheels in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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Jeff’s Bike – Jeff’s Bike Blog: Joes bike

I met Joe Jagusch while waiting for someone else to finish the Tour Aotearoa the other day. I was impressed by his inventive bike build. It’s largely self explanatory.

This is what Joe said:

“It’s a build that has evolved from 2011 when I used it in China/Tibet from new. From new it had a flat bar on a VRO stem for adjustability. The Alfine 11speed which it had from new proved to not be up to the task (drive mechanism in 2nd and 4th gears failed). I had a Ragley Luxy bar on it up till until recently with heavy Ultegra road brifters for braking and it was great for racing 6hr/12hr team lap races – short fast rides – but the drops were aggressive race low. At this time I ran it 1 by 9 but no availability of a clutched 9speed rear derailleur mean’t unexpected chain drops or a big cash lay-out for a 10speed brifter (at the time clutched rear mechs were very new too). So I did the obvious next evolution and upgraded to a rohloff.

The grip shifter never had a proper location with the Luxy bar however. I noticed that flat-bar thumb shifters were being made made a couple of years ago for the first time but having two shifters was defeating simplicity of what the rohloff offers and wasn’t ideal on a drop bar. I was hanging out for a drop bar with mountainbike bar diameter. Lo and BEHOLD! Soma made one. I was over the moon. The rest is history.

The avid vbrake type mtb levers did not fit on with the grip shifter taking up so much space on the right side and since I had the road BB7s on I decided the TTbrake levers (bonus being ultra light) fit the bill. I still consider going 1×10 orthodox gearing on occasion (for lightest build) using the luxy bar. It would be a simple conversion with the modular swinging rear drop-outs. These drop-outs are custom to either a rohloff or a derailleur system. obviously the lightest option is singlespeed which I am going to use for a coast to coast self supported trip in April, via packraft and bike, carrying all gear through the whole course.”

Soma Gator bars, in a diameter that fits MTB peripherals. TT brakes. Stem extender and riser stem for comfort and height, Rohlof shifters. Mini UCI legal tri bars for more comfort.

Belt drive, Brooks B-17 Saddle. Check out the elegant slot in the seat-stay.

Low drain smart phone with GPS. Ez-yo container on fork.

S&S couplers in frame for breaking it down for travel.

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Jeff’s Bike – Tour Aotearoa Sports Illustrated Bikini edition

Building a bike for the Tour Aotearoa  is not that easy. With the TA just around the corner ( feb 21 for wave 1) we have finally got to the pointy end of things.
I am going to take a look at a few of the local riders bikes, my
own, Bills, Matt G and Matt D’s. Bill has been tweaking his gear with the kind of
diligence that would get him a job at NASA if he wasn’t slumming it as a
lawyer. As older gentlemen we both appreciate the comforts that modern
bicycle design can bring, but my build tends a bit on the zombie
apocalypse side where as Bills is a bit more of a armchair ride. Ive
always been impressed with the attention to detail in Bills bikes so it
was a good chance to ask him some questions about it. The Matt(s) bikes are a bit more simpler in their approach, but are still completely different in many other ways.

will start with mine. Its taken me 2 years of testing potential rigs for
the inaugural 3000km Tour Aotearoa. I had plenty of bikes to choose
from, a light Carbon 29er frame, a supple steel CX frame, a 29er alloy
fully, a steel rigid and a 26er alloy fully. I narrowed it down, and
went through countless iterations between my Karate Monkey and the Giant
XTC. Racks, bags, flat bars, aero bars, drop bars, cranks, derailleurs.
Bottle mounts. I tried several of the iterations more than once.

I even wrote a blog post on the pros and cons of racks vs seat-bags.

There are many reasons for my final pick, and I have tried to list most of my gear choices and their rationale below. The weight of the carbon Giant was tempting but the way you can just duct-tape or radiator hose-clip something onto a tubular steel frame just appeals to me. There is a 2 pound weight penalty but I don’t feel that is much in the big picture, especially were peace of mind is concerned.

Same bags, different bikes…

 Frame An early steel Surly Karate Monkey, 4130 steel, horizontal drop-outs incase of derailleur failure so I can SS. This happened to me in my last Kiwi brevet, and the drop-outs saved my bacon. You could also argue that if I had a replaceable drop-out, and I replaced it I would have been better off, but these modern derailleurs are so flimsy I suspect it would have died as well.

Carbon. Nothing flash.

Rear-9 speed old school Deore XT derailleur. Strong pivots. Cable adjuster at the back so its tunable without inline cable adjusters when used with drop-bars. I ranted about it here once….

Front-3 speed old school STX narrow profile. Simple design. More clearance for my wheel than the modern designs, allows me to run the Karate Monkey with the short wheel base it came with. Some modern front derailleurs are really long.

A circumcised Brooks B-17. I love this saddle, but that’s easy to say when it hasn’t been sat on for 3×18 hour days in a row so far. With the crappy weather expected I will need a cover.I was really happy with my Brooks Swift, until I tried the B-17. I think the width is what makes is so comfy.

Woodchippers and Profile aeros for maximum comfort, positions and aeroness. I had a spell without the Woodchippers, but I was so glad to return to them. Each of the many positions allows a completely different weight distribution for your arms and butt. The Woodchippers give a much more aero frontage than flat bars too. Aero makes a difference, even at slow speeds. I have to claw back some watts lost via my dynamo hub too I guess.

Durace 10 speed on right. A gift from a friend. They work well. Not as bullet proof as bar-end shifters, but if they broke, I would adjust the cable to mid cluster and still run the three front rings and still have a massive range.
Bar-end shifter on left. Its not easy to get 3x shifting on drop bars with “brifters” and MTB cranks hence the bar-end shifters. Pauls make a  trigger mount that would work but I am happy with the simple 3 speed in friction  mode for simple trimming

My Tune Bigfoot in early 2x configuration

cable BB7s because they are rock solid and work. No surprises with cables

Stealth Seat, Top-tube and Frame bags. Home-made front harness. Supporting local grown industry! The Stealth stuff has been totally bomproof in daily commuter use as well as weekend rides.

XT. More reliable than XTR and not keen to go the Crank Bros route again!

Tune Big Foot : 22/34/44 A gear for every occasion. I love this crank. I’ve had it for years. It has a swapable spider, but I prefer the compact to the ATB style of  BCD.

White Industries. Square taper FTW !

White Industries cromo BB, square taper. If my crank falls off, I can probably find a compatible one on the side of the road somewhere. Most of my bikes are square taper. The Giant has a press-fit BB which was another point in the Karate Monkeys favour.


SP dynamo hub with Exposure Revolution light. Will use for main lighting and USB charging of Etrex and phone where needed, also the 18650 rechargable lap-top batteries for my cache and torch. I may take a 2xAA torch as back-up. I wrote a piece about charging these batteries using the dynamo hub

3x plastic Topeak. Cheap off T7. Applied with insulation tape. Seems rock solid so far.

DT Swiss front. Stans rear. I have been told they make Stans rims oversize to fit non-tubeless tires better. They are not compatible with many of my first choices in tires. On the other hand, a wire-bead WTB Nano beaded up perfectly on them, apparently a Nano TCS wont fit.

WTB Nano TCS front, WTB Nano wire-bead COMP rear. I am not really a fan of tubeless in general. Hoping to save a bit of rolling resistance, I don’t have great expectations for their self-sealing abilities given past experiences, especially with sidewall punctures. The Nano is a strange tire, and seems quite capable when you actually put your preconceptions aside. I cant see it as being confidence inspiring on wet roots though : )

Trialing Trevs bottle mounts.

Almost sorted…

I promise, no more tinkering!


And now for Bills bike, a beautifully set up Salsa Spearfish. Armchair comfort with a sensible gear range for oldies like ourselves.

Salsa Spearfish, why yes, his chain is blue!

Bills rear seat box.

Bill is the type of guy who spends a lot of time thinking about his kit and how it can best deliver the goods for him in the outdoors. If there is not an option good enough he will build his own.

Q. Is there an overall theme for the way this machine has developed Bill or is it just one iteration of many?

When I bought the Salsa Spearfish in 2014, it came with a Revelate frame bag which would be difficult to better, so I turned my attention to finding a way of making seat bags and a bar bag that better suited my needs. I didn’t want to just buy the off the shelf versions even though there were, by then, several well thought out and professionally made options.The inspiration for the top tube bag box came from you, Jeff, when I saw a picture of your bike with a spare bottle mounted on the top tube. It seemed to me that, if you were going to use all of the top tube, then you would be better off with one box going the full length of it rather than setting three different items to it.

How long have you been working with carbon fibre for, and how did you get into it? 

I have been playing with carbon fibre for many years. That probably started before it was possible to buy decent lights for bikes and I wanted something better than the plastic drainage tube holders for Halogen bulbs that we were all experimenting with at that time. As a teenager, I was involved and sailing dinghies which meant that I learnt how to use fibreglass at an early age. Carbon fibre is just fibreglass with a more modern and cool looking fibre.

How many carbon items on the bike have you built? The seat box, top-tube and front roll?

I spend my day providing clients with advice and documentation. At the end of each day, I have a little physical evidence other than a mound of paper to show for that. I love making things in my spare time so that I have the satisfaction of seeing something physical for my efforts

I understand you worked with Michael at Stealth Bike Bags for your top-tube bag?

Yes, Michael at Stealth Bike Bags made the cover for the top box and was great to work with once he understood what I was after. It’s great to see someone of his age being able to combine talent and passion into a viable business.

The mono stay aero bar, where did that originate from, I remember Trevor Woodward had one in stainless steel in one of he early Kiwi Brevets?

The single aerobar was inspired by Trevor’s 2010 Kiwi Brevet with a stainless steel version. I’ll give him credit for that now since he has since stolen (and bettered) my idea for a dual mount for bottles on the downtube.

A aero bar that rivals the Black Adders codpiece!

 There are plenty fullies out there at the moment, was there a particular reason that you went for the Salsa Spearfish?

After the Scalpel, I bought a Salsa Dos-Niner and loved it. Getting older, I looked for a bit more comfort and found that and performance in the Spearfish. An added attraction was that no-one else I knew had one.

Do you think that some riders in NZ tend to copy the trends of Tour Divide riders with rigid rigs regardless of the local terrain?

When the sewing machine chokes, get out the awl.

Yes, but I don’t see anything wrong with that either. We need to start somewhere, take other’s ideas and adapt them to suit our own needs. It’s part of the development process.

I see you have the Jones Bars, do they give you enough positions for your hands or are you on the aeros most of the time anyway ?

The Jones bar provides lots of options for hand positions, especially with the bar bag mounted well below that by the carbon tube spaces. However, I find myself riding mostly on the Aero bars so a lot of the Jones bars’ benefits are not utilised by me.

What does your light kit consist of, K-lite with a Lime-fuel for cache?

The dyno light set up was provided by Kerry Staite of K-lite. I have added a Lime Fuel Blast as a cache battery after trialling several other options. I’ll place my faith and Kerry’s advice in this regard as the remainder of the setup has proved very dependable.

Plenty of room here in Bills carbon fibre sandwich top box with fabric zip top.

Do you think the added complexity of a dynamo system is worth it in the NZ style of Bikepacking where you have a compulsory 6 hour stand down each day, stopping potential all-nighters?

I don’t need the organisers of the TA to impose a six hour compulsory stand down each day. I intend to impose that (or more) on myself. Having said that, I would still back the dynamo system for those intending to ride 18 hours as it is important to minimise the time spent looking for places where you might charge the various devices on which we have become so dependable. All of my electrical items can now be charged via USB – headlamp, 2 rear lights, my iPhone, my iPod and my Garmin GPS.

If time and money were no object is there anything you would change on this set-up?

If money was no object, I wouldn’t be wasting it on new bike parts. I would be working less, spending more time with my family and riding my bike. More time riding would result in a much better performance than any changes I might make by throwing more money on my bike. That doesn’t stop me dreaming about other bikes, though. My ideal setup would be a Black Sheep custom frame with a Lefty front fork, Project 321 adapter and hubs, carbon wheels built by Oli of Roadworks, a Gates carbon belt drive and Rohloff gearing – with homemade bits made from carbon fibre by yours truly.

 Your bike seems very aerodynamic, is this something that was done on purpose or did it just evolve that way ?

Aero?  “I’m a Wellingtonian! Wind has a big influence on our days here. The urge to be as aerodynamic as possible goes back to the time spent messing around with triathlons. We did our wind training outside, not on rollers in front of the TV. I was a useless runner, so needed to gain as much of an advantage as possible on the swim and bike legs. There’ll be plenty of wind on the TA to make it well worth being as aerodynamic as you can be. But, it’s also essential that you be comfortable in the aero position. I do wonder about those who are trying to fit aero bars to their TA bikes a week or so out from the event. Not ideal.”


The next bike is Matt’ Gs sadly recently discontinued Singular Gryphon. A bike he got specifically for the first  Kiwi Brevet in 2010. It has been added to over time with fruitier bits including a new Igleheart fork which was a replacement for the original one that met with a stubborn bollard one day.

Trialling the Bruce Gordon Rock n Roads, grippy but a bit slow on the road

What Matt G thinks.

Unlike Jeff, I have not put two years thought into my set up, and it likely shows. I built up a Singular Gryphon a little over six years ago for the first Kiwi Brevet and it completely changed – and made – my love for off road riding. I was disappointed to learn recently that Singular won’t be making the Gryphon any more; I have had my heart set on a Ti Gryph since I first saw one.

Since then I have had little desire to move away from it, and I did not consider anything else for the Tour Aotearoa. I have become a massive fan of dirt drops. I put quite a bit of thought into the set up for that first Kiwi Brevet, but since then I have mostly only made changes when replacing bits whose lives had come to an end. Occasionally I can be rather overly particular when those changes are made, and I’ve got to thank Mike Anderson who has put up with endless faffing from me when helping me get the bike together and keep it running (unfortunately, I still maintain my triathlon influenced mechanicing skill)

Three of the main decisions I needed to make were tires, bag system and tent vs bivy: 

Tires: I have spent quite a bit of time with both fat and skinny tires on the Gryphon. For the Tour I couldn’t get my head around the need for fat tires given the amount of road and gravel time and the competence and comfort I have found many skinny tires have in technical riding. Quite possibly I will change my mind in a few weeks time! I had been using Bruce Gordon Rock n Roads on my SSCX for quite some time, including a mountainous tour in Japan, and I am pretty enamoured with them. I feel like I am really giving up very little with them, even on moderately technical single track, So I initially planned on using them. After quite a few kms and wearing one down to the threads, I was pretty certain that they “felt” slower on the roads than I wanted. At that point I swapped to WTB Nano TCS 40s and have not looked back. I am running them tubeless and while I definitely do not feel as confident on them as the Rock n Roads, I am comfortable enough and they feel great on the roads. Having said that, I am infinitely more confident on them than on a previous pair of Stan’s Ravens! They do feel a little floaty at times in loose gravel, but all-in-all I am pretty stoked with these tires.

Bag-system: In the past I have run Freeload racks or Freeloads and an Ortleib handlebar bag. My set up has always worked well. This time I was determined to use panniers, dammit. I struggle with many of the reasons and logic I see for the superiority of bags over panniers for most bikepacking. I will skip that fight for now, because, here I am, with no panniers, and with no racks.

I pretty quickly decided I wanted a holster style seat bag because I did not really fancy the idea of fighting with loading a standard bag and I also really liked the idea of a dry bag. I went for a Revelate Terrapin, partially influenced by the long lead-in-time required for a Porcelain Rocket (and my late planning). I have been very happy with the Terrapin, until I broke a buckle today. Operator error? Probably, but I am suspecting my dexterity and mental acuity will not be impressive after I get a couple of thousand kms in me. It’s all fixed and sorted now. I hope. A key goal was to try and reduce the load I have carried in the past (maybe I have succeeded) and I also hate the look of a framebag. Yes, I know. Priorities. I also wanted to carry water bottles in standard places, so I had a custom half frame bag built up by Stealth Bike Bags. It’s been exactly what I needed.

I need to carry a little more up front (where else will my Aeropress fit?), so I went for a Fairweather handle bar bag, which has a drybag which opens on both ends, plus another moderately sized pocket and a map-pocket. It has performed flawlessly. I can get my tent and sleeping quilt in it and have room for a bottle and plenty of food. I strap the tent poles to the outside of it.

Tent vs. Bivy: There was no real debate here. With two to three weeks (four!?) in NZ, it’s going to get wet and grotty. I want to sleep out as much as possible so I ruled out a bivy. I have used them in the past and they have been sufficient, but I was looking for more. For reasons I cannot quite recall I decided on a Tarptent Protrail. The size and generally performance is certainly very good. However, after a night in 150kph gusts with either poles getting knocked down or pegs rocketing across the tussock, I decided I need a change – strong wind is a regular occurrence in this fabulous country. I am sure someone more clever and determined than me could make it work (that’s why I sold it to Jeff), but I just did not want to deal with the uncertainty from it. After doing a bit more research I have switched to a MSR Hubba NX 1-person. I will never look back.

Everyone around me was going for dynamos. I thought it was an interesting idea, but I was not quite ready to commit to one. After seeing them in use for a while now, I think they are a very interesting idea, but I think I will wait until some of the supplementary electronics become a bit more robust; I suspect it should not take too long. I will probably pay for one in AA and AAAs during the Tour.

Frame  2009 steel Singular Gryphon with some 4130 steel. It has a seized EBB so, should disaster strike. I won’t have that option! It also has a riv-nut mounted bottle cage on the underside of the downtube.

Fork – Custom Igleheart – a beautiful fork I needed after Jeff dropped a bollard in front of me.

Deraillers – Rear-9 speed  XT Shimano. Front-3 speed shimano.

Seat-post – Eriksen Ti.  Ohhh the plushness of it. I think. What would Jan Heine say?

Saddle – A Brooks Cambium-17. I have a couple of these and I think they are the vegan-business.

Bars – Salsa Woodchipper.

Shifters – Shifters – Ultegra 10 speed for the rear (after only recently moving on from a ca. 1996 DA 9sp Sam Raphael special). Thanks for the donation Owen! I never quite sorted the front, so I have a DA Bar-end shifter. As Cousin Biwl says, Friction..

Brakes – cable BB7s.

Bags – Stealth half frame-bag. Fairweather handlebar bag, Revelate Terrapin rear seat-bag.

Pedals – XT.

Cranks – Middleburn 22/34/44  Possibly an obscene amount of gears for a Singular.

BB. -Square taper Race Face, EPO-injected in the early 2000s

Cluster – 11-36

Lighting – Fenix BT-10 bar mounted light (4xAAs), 350 Lumen at 4.5 hours, a lot less at 16 hours;  Ali Baba Special Torch with a helmet mount (2xAA) and a generic rear light (2xAAA)

Cages – A couple of beautiful Nittos and a generic cage.

Bar end plugs – Simworks Simdrop(s)!  I am a fanboy.

GPS – Garmin 810 (USB charged)

Charging devices
– TP-Link 10,400mAh power bank, 4xAA power bank, and possibly a third.

Rims – DT Swiss XM490

Hubs – Chris King Gold Delights.

Tires – WTB Nano TCS 40mm tubeless.

Stove – Esbit Titanium solid fuel stove that is smaller than my thumb

Coffee maker – Aeropress

Grinder – Porlex custom Ti (I wish).


What Matt D thinks.

The other Matt, (Matt D) has gone all CX on us. The alloy Cannondale took over from his beloved Surly Straggler as his rig of choice in this years Hutt Cross Cyclo cross series. Normally I wouldn’t suggest a CX bike for Bikepacking in NZ, but having ridden with Matt D on Barryn’s “Brevets Little Brother” and seen his skills I suggest its not going to slow him down much at all.

 About the bike choice
Initially like others, I had trouble deciding on the bike. My choice was between a carbon 29r, steel cyclocross bike and an alloy cyclocross bike. In the end the alloy CX bike won over. The deciding factor probably came down to researching the TA route and the fact there will be a lot of time spent on tarseal and gravel. I also like the dropped bar setup as I think it’ll be great to have plenty of hand positions. Of course there is going to be the odd section where the bike will not be ideal but I feel for the most part it will be.

I’m fairly new to this style of riding, so it’s been great riding with seasoned brevet riders in the lead up to TA. They’ve been an invaluable source of knowledge and great to bounce ideas off and speak to about gear choices.

I have put a lot of thought into everything and there has been a real tendency to over-think every aspect of my setup. I’m ready now and looking forward to getting in to it.

Gear setup
CaadX 105 alloy frame with carbon fork 

11 speed
road setup running 11-40 on the rear and 34/46 on the front. A Wolftooth Roadlink mounted to the hanger has allowed me to run a decent sized cassette on the rear giving me a large gear ratio.

are Salsa Woodchippers and I find these really comfy. Have opted not to run an aero bar as I’ve never really been into them and I’m not a triathlete.

are all Stealth; Seat bag, top tube bag, harness, frame bag with loads of space. It’s been great having a locally based manufacturer to deal with and have done many trips out to Eastborne over the last year or so. Water storage goes in a bladder in the frame bag and in a basic camelback.

Lighting/charging: I went with a SP dynamo hub with Exposure Revo light and Limefuel blast cache battery.

Charge spoon saddle is nothing fancy. I’ve done some pretty long rides on it and it’s remains really comfortable.

Brakes are BB7s. When they’re set up correctly you can’t fault them.

Wheels Stans Arch on the rear and Crest on the front.

Tires are tubeless WTB Nano race 40c. I am a little worried about the rear wearing quickly so I have a spare in waiting Wellington at the half way point.

Ready to roll.
One of these Matts is not like the other.

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Jeff’s Bike – Dynamo lighting 101. Part 1

I have recently set up a bike with a dynamo hub for use in the Tour Aotearoa and while it’s all fresh in my mind I will share the basics so you might find it easier than I did. There are many resources out there but a lot of them assume you know more than you do.

A few disclaimers from the start.

1. Dynamo lights are not magic, and as far as I know, they only come with bike mounts, as opposed to helmet-mounts. You cannot ride singletrack fast with a bike mounted light alone. Optimally you would also have a helmet mounted light for seeing around corners. Obviously for commuting a bike mounted light is more than enough. This post is angled at a “bikepacking” end-use (although commuting is a no-brainer for dynamo lighting).

2. When the going gets slow, your dynamo light will put out a lot less light than you would expect from a typical battery powered light, depending on your set-up and how fast your “slow” is, this is why people will often run a spare light-weight helmet mounted light.

How dynamo power is typically used

Lighting only
Requirements: Dynamo and light

Lighting and/or  powering
Requirements: Dynamo, light and usb converter (and a device to power; eg Phone, GPS etc)

Lighting, and/or powering and/or storing power
Requirements: Dynamo, light, usb converter and a power-bank/battery (and a device to power).

Handlebar switch from kLite

A fourth scenario is to have all of these things working with a switching system. Kerry at kLite builds these to order and probably knows more about dynamo lighting in relation to bikepacking than anyone out there. A switch means that you don’t need to stop and unplug and replug devices.

Some jargon

What is a standlite?
A smaller battery or capacitor built into or attached to the light so that the lighting does not disappear immediately you stop moving. Many dynamo lights have them built in.What is a USB converter?
This device changes the current from the dynamo from AC to DC so that it can be used to charge devices like GPSes, smart phones, cameras or power-banks (batteries). A very popular device seems to be the Sinewave for bikepacking needs. Another popular choice is the Ewerks.
A well researched list of hub-dynamo USB converters is available here.
Some very good instructions on building your own converters can be found here, and here, just don’t ride too fast and make them explode. (This could happen – read ALL the comments : )

What is a cache battery?
It’s just a battery/power-bank you run inline, after your usb-converter but before the device you are powering. Eg.If your GPS sends up a nag screen saying “lost power” because you are riding slowly up a steep hill and not generating enough power, the cache battery, (if it has some charge in it) will supplement the GPS and stop the nag screen. The rich kids will use an Exposure Diablo or Joystick head-light as it serves double duty as cache battery/power bank as well as its original use as a helmet light, should you get into some gnarly trail late at night. When looking for a cache battery/power bank its helpful to have one with “pass-through charging“. This means you can charge the battery and use it to power other devices at the same time. Rob Davidson used a Plox branded one in his Tour Divide.

Some connection scenarios rendered in an “ascii diagram”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 

( hub )  – – – –  * LIGHT *

( hub )  – –
               USB-conv – – – – – { BATTERY }

( hub )  – –
               USB-conv – – – – – *] DEVICE [* – – – – – –

( hub )  – –
               USB-conv – – – – – { BATTERY } – – – – *] DEVICE [*

( hub )  – – – –  * LIGHT *
               USB-conv – – – – – *] low-drain-DEVICE [*

Obviously some set-ups might let you charge or power, and use the light at the same time but its unlikely you are going to be making enough power to do both equally well, but it depends on the load. If you read Kerry at kLites info page you will learn that some devices are more power hungry than others. Cell phones vs GPS for instance. You may still be able to use your lights and power your low-drain GPS.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

A very good primer can be found here:

Some popular dynamo lights
I’m not sure how useful the bottom two are but the top two are very robust and proven in Bikepacking circles.
Exposure Revolution
Supernova E3 triple
Son Edelux

The best dynamo hubs seem to be the following. Some are just licensed versions of another.
Shutter Precision
SON Schmidt

It’s my understanding that the Supernova and Exposure are licensed versions of the Shutter Precision (SP) hub. The SP hub is not user serviceable but can be overhauled for a reasonable fee after sending back to the factory. The SON hub is user serviceable, if you are keen. SP claim their system is more simple hence robust and therefore is not high maintenance. SON has been around for a long time and many people will say they have had no problems despite commuting 50kms a day through a monsoon for 5 years solid! The SON can cost twice what the SP hub costs but it is worth shopping around for prices. The Exposure Revo hub/light kits are amazing value if you can get one, as the Exposure parts, (lights) are incredibly expensive bought separately.

The best Dynamo lighting resources I have found are from Kerry at kLite, (in Australia) and the  Peter White Cycles sites (US).

Here are a few more real life cases where people are using dynamo lighting systems in Bikepacking situations.

Ollie Whalley.
Rob Davidson.
Composite MTB.
Mike Hall.

More to come as I discover it!

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Jeff’s Bike – Seat-bag vs rack, Kiwi designs

In 2016 a 3000km dirt brevet called Tour Aotearoa will be held for the length of our country, New
Zealand, and like many others I will be looking at what gear I will
take, and how I will carry it.

Luckily NZ
has been the testing ground for a fair bit of outdoor equipment, and we
even make a few items of our own. Two of these items will be the subject
of my review. The THULE  Pack n Pedal rack (previously known as the Freeload), and
the StealthBikeBags seat bag. These two items come from completely opposite ends
of the spectrum and as I have found offer very differing advantages and
disadvantages. While this review focuses on the pros and cons of these
particular items, you will find that a large percentage of the outcomes
can be applied to many other brands of seat bags and racks.

Freeload (THULE) rack with DIY bottle cage holders

THULE was designed and initially built by the Freeload guys in Dunedin
New Zealand and surfaced in time for the first 1100 kilometre Kiwi Brevet in 2010. I was one of the many riders using them in what was
essentially their first production test in the wild. The advantage of
this rack is that it can attach to the seat stays of a full suspension
bike, or a front fork: suspended or rigid. There are very few scenarios
it is not compatible with. It is generally used with a dry bag strapped
onto it, if you are using the sport model, but there is also a more
touring oriented deck that can be used with add-ons for pannier bags.
This review just looks at the sport model.

Seat-bag from Stealth Bike Bags in Eastbourne NZ

The Stealth seat-bag is the product of Michael Trudgen from Eastbourne
Wellington and is a typical seat-bag in the style of the Revelate Viscacha, Apidura saddle-pack or Porcelain Rocket Booster Rocket
Seat-Pack. It attaches via two Velcro straps around the seat-post and
via webbing belts with clasps through the saddle rails. It is
constructed from 600D Kodra plus with a plastic stiffener inside.

A Freeload Rack in use on the notorious Port Underwood in the inaugral Kiwi Brevet . Image Caleb Smith.
Comparing Stealth to Revelate for depth and length.

Water tightness

made of waterproofed materials the seams on the Stealth bag are not
sealed which is the case for most seat-bags. Some bags have a higher
inherent level of waterproofing than others, but generally you are
advised to use a dry-bag inside them for 100% water tightness. Obviously you need to use a dry-bag as well on the THULE.

Leg/butt clearance

You are slightly more likely to find your legs kissing the front edge of your
dry-bag using the THULE than you are using the Stealth which has a very
narrow profile. Funnily enough, despite the height of the Stealth I did
not come into contact with it when hanging off the back of my saddle in
technical riding, whereas with the THULE I could feel the dry-bag
brushing against the inside of my thighs in this scenario. Despite this, I would not say
that this is an issue in any way. One is good, the other is better.

Ease of attachment

speaking, attaching the Stealth is pretty much a doddle, although I
found a technique which makes it even easier. If the bike is hanging
vertically from a hook (ok, this is only relevant for commuting and you
have a hook at your house) you can attach the seat-post velcros first, and then
loop the belts through the seat rails and crank up the clasps. If the
bike is horizontal you have to wrangle the weight of the Seat-pack as
you try to thread through the clasps and attach them. This is not an
issue if the seat bag is not packed at this time. It’s the packed
weight that makes it difficult. You can pack it while it is attached, or
pack it while is off the bike. 

A Freeload rack ready to build up.

The THULE Pack
n Pedal, well, I would have to say this is it’s Achilles heel and
possibly puts a lot of people off. The first time you assemble one of
these things, it might take you 30 to 50 mins, screwing all the bits
together. Actually there are only 6 screws but there is some threading of webbing too. This is a one-off operation though. Mounting it to the actual bike might take you
15 to 30 mins the first time. The ratcheting system is very very good,
and anyone that breaks one has to be incredibly ham-fisted (and very
strong) or turning it in the wrong direction with a hell of a lot of
force and a distinct lack of mechanical empathy.

Rack mounts left on for racing.

Ease of removal

Removing the Stealth is as simple as undoing two Velcros and two clasps.

the THULE is another story. Understand that you would only want to
remove your THULE at the end of a tour or to lend to a buddy, or to put
it on another bike. Most of the time I actually leave the black plastic
ratchet mounts on, and just remove from the stainless steel struts up. The THULE pack n
Pedal comes with a dinky little tool for deactivating the ratchet for
taking it off the bike. I don’t bother with the tool but instead use a small
flat headed screw driver. If you do lots of riding in pumicy, gritty
or sandy conditions the grit can get in the webbing and can make un-winding
it a tedious process. The screw-driver also comes in handy here for
picking out the webbing. This sounds like a fuss, and compared to a
“normal” rack, it is. But this is not a normal rack. You cannot mount
most normal racks to a full suspension bike or to a front fork. If you only ever intend to buy one rack, for all of your bikes, this is it.

Toting two racks on the Team RTD tandem.

Ease of packing

Stealth is a pretty normal seat bag in most respects and packs that
way. It is useful to pack the lower wedge of the bag with something
quite compressible which helps give the bag rigidity. The opening to the
Stealth bag is a lot narrower than other similar bags on the market but
it makes up for it by being longer and skinnier with much better wheel
clearance. You have to make the decision on your packing approach. To try to jam a pre-packed dry-bag into the seat-bag, or to put the dry-bag into the seat-bag and pack from there. Probably best that way. An another approach might be to forget about the dry-bag and have an external rain cover. That is not a feature of the Stealth bag at this point. Packing the THULE is as simple as strapping your dry-bag onto the rack, but even there you need to take care. If you have pointy or hard items in your dry-bag you best have them well wrapped so that pressure from your straps does not wear a hole in your dry-bag. I have an old piece of camping mat zip-tied to the rack so that a full day of off road hammering does not rub a hole into the bag.

The amount of kit I used for testing. Sleeping kit plus tool kit, hat and wind breaker.

Ease of access

Stealth bag, like most seat bags has good quick “un-click and
roll-back” access in comparison to a dry-bag which is strapped to a rack.
It will always be a bit more hassle to un-cinch a dry bag on a rack and
then re-set it. The speed at which you can access your goods determines the nature of the goods within.


narrowness of the Stealth bag makes it easy to compress the contents
quite a bit before even calling on the compression straps. Compression
in the THULE scenario comes down fully to what kind of a dry-bag you use
and if it is one of the compressible kind. While weight is an issue in
Bikepacking so is bulk. You don’t really want a big fluffy mess hanging off the back of your bike.

Quality of construction

workmanship in the Stealth bag is impressive and the material appears
very robust. The proof of the pudding in the design of the THULE rack is
that it has remained unchanged since its launch in 2009. The chunky look to this rack may put a
few people off, and I often say “simple is always better” but I have to
say, the THULE/Freeload racks are bulletproof. I have actually sat on
mine in order to be more aero on a long downhill stretch and it felt rock solid.

The generation 2 Stealth bag with deeper cross-section. Still heaps of tire clearance but with one larger seat-post velcro instead of two.


you first try a seat-bag there is a that little tail-wag thing that you
notice, and then don’t notice again too much, until A. You drop into a
sharp corner at speed, or B, you take the bag off and on your first ride you notice you don’t have to compensate for it. Its just something
that you adapt to very quickly and the Stealth bag feels pretty much the
same as the Revelate Viscacha. The THULE is different again. The
feeling is there, but its a more solid feel. No wag as such, but a
definite rear weight bias that takes a bit of compensation until you
don’t notice it anymore. It’s the same with the Stealth although the Stealth’s weight is higher, but not by as much as you might think. Check out the image with the rack and the bag on the bike at the same time. I think most people would agree that having the weight down lower is more desirable.

A front mounted THULE/Freeload.

Need for tweakage

that you will likely experience is the “settling” of your “kit”.
Whether its a seat-bag or a dry-bag on a rack. Sometimes, depending on
the terrain you may need to stop and give the straps a tweak. In a seat
bag it will likely be the straps that go through the seat rails; in a
rack set-up it will just be the straps holding the dry-bag on the rack.
In the case of the THULE, I recommend installing your rack well in
advance of your trip and give it some good testing, maybe even
deliberately wet the webbing of the mounts. Check that there is
not another “click” available in the ratchet after some big rides and those mounts will not
move again until you go to take the rack off.

Suitability for very rough terrain

is a tricky one. Both these systems work exceptionally well on rough terrain with
pros and cons. When on a full suspension bike you need to check that
your seat bag has room when you bottom out on the rear. Too little room
and your bag will let out a loud “zub” as the rear wheel starts to rub a
hole in the bag’s bottom. In a similar but opposite scenario with the THULE, the
dry-bag may come into contact with the underside of your seat. Not a
real problem unless you have something brittle in there. On a hard tail,
with the THULE, there are no problems, with the Stealth you should have
no problems either. For some people the early model Stealth bag was prone to slippage with aggressive
riding on rough terrain. The new cammed clasps fix this and are a free upgrade if you send your bag back to Michael. The very narrow design of the Stealth bag gives it more wheel clearance than any other bag I have yet seen.

If you ride a small 29er you will want a decent amount of clearance for your wheel.

Complexity of construction

Stealth seat-bag looks very simple compared to the THULE Pack n Pedal.
The Stealth has a plastic stiffener inserted in its base to help with
rigidity. You need to be aware of this when packing this bag, as it is possible to push aside the velcro responsible for keeping the stiffener in place. If you know about it, it
shouldn’t happen. I believe later models have a tweak to stop this. I’ve
mentioned the complicated look of the THULE Pack n Pedal before, but I’ve
have never had a bolt unwind on any of mine since 2010, so while it does
look complex, the engineering behind it really does seem to stand up to
the job. Bear in mind that I am talking about the Sport version of this
rack as I have not had extensive experience with the Tour rack running
Panniers. See my first unboxing and installing of my rack here in 2010.

The newer version has one large
velcro for the seat-post attachment


Stealth bag will fit on any bike with 100mm of exposed seat post available, due to
its narrow style of construction. This is a boon to people with short
legs. By comparison the Revelate bag requires 127mm of seatpost. So far I
have managed to fit the THULE Pack N Pedal on all of the bikes I have
ever tried to fit it on. It has 3 different sized steel struts with
sliding ends so it is very adjustable. Sometimes people stress
about disc cable/hose routes but I just push them to the side if they
are ever in the way.


The ride
feels a bit harsher on the really rough stuff with the THULE Rack on, as it
feels like the weight of the rack’s load is going directly to the
wheels. With the seat-bag option I feel like the load is a bit more
suspended and it feels a bit more smooth.


Stealth bag, 430 grams, not including dry bag.
always assumed that the THULE/Freeload racks must be heavy, and that is
why the Bikepacking crowd in the US hadn’t warmed to them so much, but a
recent look at the website for the OMM (Old man mountain) racks shows
this not to be the case. THULE tells us that the sport rack weighs in at
760 grams. So far I have not been able to weigh any of mine accurately
to confirm this.The lightest of the OMM racks is 750grams with the
others coming in at 900 or 1000 grams. An important thing that I have just realised is that although the Pack n Pedal is relatively light, it will not let you run panniers in that mode, unlike a normal rack. You would have to install the special side-racks to the touring model version, which would add another 430 grams I believe.

Kiwi Brevet 2014 set-up. Set and forget.


The fat alloy tubes used in the THULE Pack n Pedal are very useful and well angled for attaching stretchy mount rear lights and
also water bottle cages attach easily with a couple of radiator
hose-clips, presuming you are not concerned with more rearward weight on
you bike. The Stealth bag has provision for maybe a rain jacket or banana
under its crossed elasticated straps on the top of the bag.


I found both systems great for commuting, the only issues are covered above in ease of attachment, assuming you unclip the Stealth bag, or unstrap your dry bag using the THULE option.

At the bottom of Serendipity after a balls-out loaded run.

Testing environment

the THULE Pack n Pedal (Freeload) I have to declare I have used this
system three times in New Zealand’s 1100 kilometre Kiwi Brevet. Twice on
a 26er fully, and once on a drop-barred rigid 29er. I also subjected it
to my new local “accelerated bike-bag test course” which is a route I
often take on the way to work. It’s is a 3.1 km winding downhill course
with many tight turns, some roots, a drop and some G-outs, depending
on how fast you are going. I went as fast as I could, on each run, on a half-loaded
bike. The course takes in the Transient and Serendipity Trails in the
Polhil Aro Valley area. I did many runs on my rigid drop-barred Karate
Monkey with both systems. Apart from 2 weeks of 20kms each way
commuting, and a couple of long gravel grinds this was the extent of the testing I did on the Stealth bag which I borrowed off a friend who had just finished this years Kiwi Brevet with it. If Strava can be trusted, and I don’t believe it can, the difference between both systems was about 15 seconds over around 12 minutes. Not a margin large enough to say if it was real in my view. If I was just tootling up and down the River Trails I would not have learned much at all about these systems. Anything will work in that environment.

Four Freeloads at Murchison, Kiwi Brevet

Plus+ sizingThere is a big movement into “plus” sized tires. It started with the Surly Knard, a 3 inch wide tire 29er tire for their Krampus and ECR models and has now moved into 27.5 plus and 26 plus formats. These are tires from 3 inches wide upwards. Not forgetting the original plus format; FAT, which I think starts around 4 inches. Obviously these tires will not work with the THULE rack due to their width. Thanks Michael for reminding me of these formats : )

Bottom line
of these set-ups do the same thing, but are coming from completely
different angles. The organised bikepacking I’ve done in NZ always has some
fairly rugged stretches in it. You don’t want to find yourself coming up short with
broken kit. Both of these Kiwi designed systems will do the job very
well, whether you are commuting to work or going all-out into the boonies. They are also systems that have a very high level of compatibility. By this I mean they will fit on 93% of bikes out there. The THULE because of its adjustability and the Stealth bag because of the narrow cross-section which gives superior wheel clearance for shorter riders.

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This kit was collected by various means. Initially I borrowed a Stealth bag from a recent Kiwi Brevet rider, and then spoke to Michael himself at Stealthbikebags. He loaned me two bags for further evaluation. I also borrowed a Revelate bag from another rider for comparison and used my own Freeload racks for the other part of the testing. I also tested some pannier bags from Stealth bags as well in conjunction with the THULE touring deck and sides. I was very impressed with the way these worked but that’s another story. Michael can custom build pretty much anything you need and is always keen on feedback so he can develop his designs further, quicker.

Stealth Bike Bags
Kiwi Brevet
Tour Aotearoa

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