In just over a week I’ll be somewhere south of Banff on my way to the US border. It’s quite the adventure and a very important consideration is the gear you will take with you. In fact most of the Tour Divide (TD) bloggers report that their their gear pages are by far the most visited. I can see why. As a self supported race you’ve got to carry everything with you and the more you have, thee harder it is to slog over the 4,418 km course. There are some like perennial champion Matt Lee who are the absolute minimalists: a sleeping bag and not much else, and then mere mortals like me who want to enjoy a few creature comforts: like rain gear. After months of planning and running my credit card red hot this is what I’ll be racing with.
Very important of course and the good thing about deciding to race the TD is that it gave me an excuse for Bike #13. In selecting a bike considerations were:
- Hardtail rather than suspension. The length of the race exceeds the life of some components and a rear suspension would wear out
- Front and rear hydraulic disc brakes. Pads wear out and mechanical discs get clogged by all the road crap.
- 26” wheels rather than 29”. This was hardest as the 29” are much easier to ride, but last time I rode the TD course I had to leave the course to get a wheel rebuilt and since 95% of cyclists are on 26” I decided to be cautious.
- Light. You’ve got to from sea level to the top of Mount Everest like 7 or 8 times so everything counts.
I found the perfect bike at www.bikesdirect.com which is a fantastic low-cost bike retailer in the US. It was a Motobecane Titanium Fly which was under 20 lbs without pedals. My long suffering boss Genie Jensen agreed to let me have one sent to her place near Washington D.C. and I then brought it back with me to NZ after one of my D.C. visits.
Having got the bike, it was time to customize it.
- Tyres. A lot of the TD racers use the Nanotube Raptor but I decided instead to go with Schwalbe Marathon Pro. These are very strong tyres which also have quite good rolling resistance.
- Tubeless Conversion. I had the the tubes removed and the wheels converted to tubeless using the ‘Stans’ tubeless conversion kit. My local bike shop did it for me and it went quite well.
- Seat Tube. In the absence of a rear suspension on the bike I decided to get a Cane Creek ‘Thudbuster’ which is a shock absorbing seat post. This has a parallel suspension design which works surprisingly well. It’s also nice to be able to adjust the hardness.
- ISM Mountain Bike Seat. This was the most difficult choice. As kiwi Simon Kennet – who rode a few years ago – says, you want a seat that will not have you bleeding after a few days. I use the ISM for my triathlon time trial bike since they are designed to protect certain key parts of the male anatomy and do this well. Unfortunately, there are tradeoffs and they are not as comfortable to sit on. Even though I’m on the wrong side of 50 I decided that anatomical protection was better than comfort—we’ll see if that was the right call.
- Shimano Mountain Bike Pedals. Simple and robust. Well proven.
- Hydration. I mounted two water bottle cages to the front forks. My plan was to have a hydration pack in the frame bag but it was too small so I decided to carry a Camelbak Lobo hydration pack instead.
- Ergon GC-3 Grips. These are the grips of choice for TD riders. They have a larger surface area which hopefully reduces the load on your palms—hand numbness is a big issue for TD riders. They also have built in extenders which help vary the position.
- Bontraeger XXX Carbon Fibre Handel Bar. I replaced the aluminium Richie handlebar with this one since the carbon fiber will absorb more of the impact and it was also an angled rather than horizontal bar so easier to get into a good riding position with.
- Profile Design T1 Aero Bars. Aero bars on a mountain bike? Needed to give your body a bit of a break. The T1 are ideal since the arm rest position is adjustable which means you can get into the right position. I used a handlebar stem adjuster and a second stem to have them attached separately. A cut old carbon fibre seat post stem was used to provide the attachment for the aero bars.
- Ay-Up Lights. Dumb name. Poor customer service. Brilliant lights. Without a doubt some of the best engineered lights you can get. They come with a head lamp attachment so you don’t need a head lamp for night camping. Light but long lasting 6 h battery. So I took a spare. Just a pity they weren’t customer enough focused to let me swap my single recharger for a dual recharger and pay the difference. Or bothered to ship my spare battery within the 10 days of ordering. You’ve been warned …
Here are some photos of the bike.
There was a lot of extras to take with me—although as little as I could.
The TD is a self-navigated race and the rules are that if you travel off the route by more than 1 mile and don’t go back to where you went off you are relegated and not a finisher. So navigation is very critical.
- Garmin Edge 800. This is a brilliant cycle computer which I’ve loaded the US topo maps as well as the ‘official’ 2011 TD GPS course. It will be my main navigation aide.
- ACA Maps and Cue Sheet. These are the seven ‘official’ maps of the TD route.
- Specialized Cycle Computer. You can’t rely 100% on GPS so this is my backup.
- SPOT GPS. Included as part of the ‘deal’ with my wife Lis to ride the race, the SPOT provides regular updates on your position to the Internet and also has an emergency SOS function in case the bears, mountain lions, or wolves get me.
- Panasonic Optio W20 Camera. Waterproof and shockproof, just what I need for the TD. With one spare battery.
- Sony Mobile Phone. Not that it will work much, but it is also my alarm clock. With one spare battery.
- iPOD Shuffle MP3 Player. Great little device with a super long battery life. Using it with a small iHome speaker to keep me from surprising bears.
- USB Quad Charger. This is a nice charger which lets you plug 4 x USB devices for recharging into a single wall socket.
- USB Battery Supply. A Tekcharge MP1800 portable rechargeable battery which will recharge my Edge 800 three times before it needs to be recharged itself.
- Sleeping Bag. Macpac Express 400 lightweight bag.
- Tent. While many got with lightweight bivy bags, I had such a weather scare last time I rode the route that I’ll take the weight of a tent just to have that extra safety margin. Then again, my Sierra Designs Lightning XT1 doesn’t way *that much* more than a bivy bag.
- Sleeping Pad. A Klymit Inertia X-Frame. This is an excellent new product – the size of a small coke can and weighs only 300 grams with pump. It is mapped to the body size so there is padding only where needed. Not quite as comfortable as a full sleeping pad, but a lot more portable.
- Base Layers. I’m from New Zealand’s so merino base layers from Kathmandu.
- Shirts. Only two – but the best you can get from www.groundeffects.co.nz. One ‘Baked Alaska’ winter riding shirt which is a merino wool/poly mixture. Brilliant. For warm weather a ‘Zip Tie’ long sleeve shirt. SPF 50 so don’t need suntan lotion.
- Bottoms: Pearl Izumi cycle shorts, an old pair of winter weight cycling longs, 2XU compression longs, and Goretex rain pants.
- Jacket. Pramo Quito Jacket. Probably the best cycling jacket you could ever hope for. It is a Nikwax – the UK version of Goretex – so it is waterproof and breathes, has a hood, is vented, extended sleeves and tail, and just so comfortable. For cold nights I’ve also got my down Kathmandu jacket that some years ago accompanied me when I hiked to Mt. Everest Base Camp. Also makes a nice pillow.
- Socks. 2 pairs of ‘Zig Zag’ merino/poly cycling socks from Groundeffects. The most comfortable and warm socks you could eve hope for.
- Shoes. Lake Mountain biking shoes (waterproof) with Torpedo 7 neoprene rain covers for warmth/extra protection.
- Gloves. Specialized cycling gloves and for cold weather/rain Goretex full finger cycling gloves.
- Hat. A Headsweat microfleece hat to keep my head warm, a sweat bandana for hot weather.
There are two companies who specialize in bags for cycle races like the TD: Cascade Designs in California and Epic Designs/Revelate in Alaska. Both have rave reviews but I went with Eric at Epic Designs and I’m glad I did. His kit is absolutely brilliant and perfectly designed. You just need to give him a long lead time—three months seems to work.
- Handlebar Bag. This consists of a dry bag which holds my sleeping bag and tent, as well as an outer carry bag which, when attached, provides a very convenient way to carry the tent poles and sleeping mat. The only addition I did was two extra straps around the handlebars at the end for extra stability.
- Frame Bag. I sent Eric a tracing of my frame and he made a custom frame bag. Since the frame area is fairly small I only got a single compartment bag. In hindsight I should probably have gone for the two compartment.
- Saddle Bag. This is another dry bag which rolls up so you can put as little or a lot under your saddle. Eric makes a version specific for the Thudbuster.
- Top Bag. This is a small bag which sits on the top frame behind the headset.
- Map Case. Arkel design map case. Brilliant design and they are also Canadian (eh!).
- Hydration Pack. I was planning on putting my 3 L water bladder in the frame bag but it did not leave a lot of space for other things so I decided to carry a hydration pack. I went for the Camelbak Lobo which is a minimalist pack.
- Helmet. Trek helmet with flashing light on back.
- Dust Scarf. To wear on the face on dusty roads with traffic.
- Tools. Pump, Topeak micro-chain breaker, two Alan keys, tubeless tyre repair kit, tyre boot, cable ties, 2 x super links, shrader-presta valve adapter, derailleur hanger, cassette cleaning brush, gaffer tape; micro luggage lock and cable.
- Spares. 4 x spokes; 2 x fibre spokes; 2 x tubes (1 Slime, 1 light weight); 2 x derailleur cables; 2 sets disc brake pads; 5 x chain links; Stans 2 oz tire sealant
- Bear Whistle. Came with my Spot GPS. Very loud but if I’m that close to bears I may need …
- Bear Mace. A pepper spray to use on bears. Seriously.
- Torch. To supplement my head torch, an eGear micro-led torch that came with my spot.
- Emergency Bag. Lis insists I take one of these silver metal bags just in case. Seems likely to attract lightening.
- Utensils. A Swiss Army knife and a titanium ‘Spork’ (spoon and fork)
- Personal Effects. Kinesys SPF 30 Sunscreen, chamois cream, sunglasses, mosquito repellent, Kadadyn Micropur water purification tablets, lip balm, micro-fleece towel, ‘Action Wipes’ for when I need a clean.
- Laundry Detergent. Tiny bottle of backpackers detergent to clean the clothes.
- First Aid Kit. Adventure Medical .5 kit with supplements.
This is the fully loaded bike – weighed in at 20.5 kg with almost all the equipment.
The following table shows where everything is packed.
Total weight: 20.5 kg without water or hydration pack.