Bike Packing: Going Long And Taking It With You- Part II

Bikepacking part 2: Measuring, ordering, and fitting the packs.I

In order to bikepack, first you need a bike. What kind of bike? Well, what is it that you ride normally? That bike will do, most likely. OK, maybe not an 8” travel DH bike or something very niche like that, but your basic mountain bike will be fine. Whether it needs have any kind of suspension or not depends on you. If you are used to riding full rigid or hardtail, then ride that. If you plan on riding a lot of rocky trails just like you do on your FS, take that. Most any 4-5” travel mountain bike will do fine. It makes sense to have low gears at the ready, but I have seen singlespeed rigid bikes all decked out for overnighters. So for the most part, you are likely already riding what you need, but if not, it does not take a ton of cash to get something suitable for bikepacking. XTR, Ti this or that, carbon bits, etc, do not really need to be part of the deal. Keep it simple, keep it basic, and keep it practical. Nuff said.

I have two bikes I could use but only one has gears, that being the Lenzsport Leviathan 3.0. Easy choice. So now that we have a bike, we need packs. There are only a few makers of bikepacking bags at this point in time, but I am sure more will be popping up as this gains popularity. I chose to order from Carousel Design Works (CDW) , based out of Northern California. A pioneer in the bikepacking industry, Jeff Boatman, the owner of CDW and master sewer of seams, is highly regarded as a purveyor of high quality packs for some demanding clients. In fact, Jeff’s packs have seen harsh duty on the bikes of top flight ultra endurance racers from Canada to Mexico, Alaska to Arizona. I figured if it is good enough for that level of rider/adventurer, it is good enough for a hack like me. I spoke to Jeff quite a few times on the phone and he was very patient and informative. I knew I wanted a full suite of packs: saddle pack, frame pack, fuel tank, and bar bag. There are quite a few choices as far as materials, sizes, options like extra pockets, roll top closures, etc. It actually is quite daunting, so I left a fair amount of this up to Jeff. I trusted his judgment based on his experience and feedback from customers.

The saddle pack and the bar bag are not truly custom in the sense that they are not unique to the shape, fit, etc of my Leviathan. But, the frame pack and the fuel tank are built specifically for my bike based on measurements I provided Jeff. In order to do this, I followed his instructions on how to make a template of my bikes main triangle.

Take a sheet of poster board large enough to cover the area that the bag will occupy plus a bit more. Place it behind the frame as shown in the pics and trace out the details that matter, basically the inner dimensions of the main triangle, the location of any suspension components, water bottle brazeons, cable stops, etc. Also, the diameter of the downtube and toptube were noted. The tracing may be hard to make out in the photo, but it is a simple matter of tracing the shape of the inner space onto the paper. Be careful to keep the pencil parallel to the ID of the frame or you will enlarge or shrink the proportions out of scale, so keep the pencil or marker level as you trace.

    Making the template.

    Making the template.

    Template and notes

    Template and notes

    From there, I sent in a deposit to CDW, took my place in the queue, and waited. And waited. In many ways, this is like ordering a custom frame. The bags are made for you, one at a time with love and attention to detail. So this takes a while. How long will vary, so ask about the time line involved. It would be wise not to have an imminent deadline for a planned trip, race, etc.

    In good time, this arrived from Fed Ex:

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    .As you can see, I had, beginning at the bottom and going clockwise: A bar bag, saddle pack, frame pack, and fuel cell. One of the first tings I did was weigh the packs to see how they compared to my last set-up:

    Front and rear Blackburn racks with hardware and Jandd panniers : 3000 grams

    CDW packs: 1200 grams.

    That is a savings of 1800 grams or very nearly four pounds and we have not even started packing! Nice!

    So, let us take a minute to look at each pack.

    Beginning with the bar bag, it is a medium sized bag with roll top ends and nicely placed rubber patches where the bag would typically rub on the stem. Also, you can see a ladder of loops sewn into the bag to allow for fit adjustment to the head tube strap. I found it to be tricky to get the bag in place and work around all the cables and brakes hoses. This is to be expected, but I believe I came to a reasonable arrangement that prevented binding or any issues when steering the bike. I had no problem with brake lever interference, room for fingers, etc. I tried to fit a pretty good sized Big Agnes foam core pad and the rolled diameter of the pad was too much for the bag. It easily swallowed a ¾ length Thermarest pad, my one man tent poles rolled inside the pad, and still had room for more things. A sleeping bag would fit in here if it were a lightweight one and newer sleeping pads designed for ultralight backpacking would likely allow a full length pad to fit in the medium bar bag. It also has pockets sewn into the front of the bag, but I am not sure exactly what I would use them for. They curve to fit the stuffed bag and they are not all secure enclosures so we shall see.

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    The frame pack was the most custom piece of all and it fit very well indeed. Notice how the bottom downtube strap sits between the water bottle brazeons? That is part of the notes you make on the traced template, so details like that are important. The frame pack has outside mesh pockets on each side and two inner zipped pockets, one larger than the other. Very nifty. I can see keeping this on the bike for long rides to keep a smaller hydration pack in play as it could carry tools, extra tubes, food, etc.

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    The fuel cell was next. Now, I would have loved to have had this for the last endurance event I did. GU packs, snacks, glove liners, and whatever could be kept at arms reach without the need for reaching around to jersey pockets or removing a pack to get to them. I am not sure a camera or GPS would be a good idea unless you padded the more fragile items. Still it is a great piece of stand alone gear and worth having all by itself.

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    The saddle pack was last. It has well thought out rubber material in the area of the seatpost and saddle rails. Compression straps will allow for a tidy bundle. There is also a bit of shock cord sewn under the bag as a place to carry something that you don’t mind getting dirty and muddy from what ever the rear tire would kick up. Before I mounted it, I tried stuffing in my lightest sleeping bag, a down filled Blue Kazoo North Face bag. No go. It actually did fit, but I could barely roll the ends over to close the pack so it was just pushing the limits too far. Bummer. Actually, I kinda’ expected that and my options are to get a smaller bag, carry it somewhere else, or sleep in the open, wrapped in native grasses and shrubs. Pick one. Since the bag did not fit, I took my one man tent, a REI Chrysalis, and easily stuffed my main tent canvas and storm fly in the saddle pack. Nice!

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    To add to this, I purchased a moderate sized backpack at a good price on clearance. So now I have my Deuter pack, a Camelbak HAWG, or this pack to choose from depending on how much I need to carry.

    I rode the bike around a bit as best I could with a still healing left wrist from a recent crash. It all seemed very stable, but that remains to be tested more completely.

    The saddle bag did not seem to get in my way when I slid back to simulate where I would be for a steep downhill. That is good. I did forget it was there when I dismounted and my leg hit the bag as I swung it past the saddle. That is bad till I get used to it. I would not suggest a lot of weight in any saddle pack. It is pretty high and behind you and could feel like the tail wagging the dog.

    The next step is to sort out my gear and make some decisions on how I want to travel. I want to be able to scale up or down with gear needs based on the trip and the environment I will be passing through. Things I am looking into are tent-less options like tarp camping, bug bivvies, and or course lighter sleeping bags and pads. I have plans to make my own penny stove and all kinds of fun things. And, I plan on bringing you all along for the journey.

    That will take a while, so in the meantime, in the next article we will pause for a moment and spend time with Jeff from Carousel Design Works. We will hear what he has to say about this bikepacking thing, where his inspiration came from, what fuels his passion, and any advice he has for you to make your next trip a success.

    Stay tuned for more bikepacking related goodness coming your way.

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One Response to “Bike Packing: Going Long And Taking It With You- Part II”

  1. XchokeX Says:

    You forgot to mention classic touring saddlebags like the Carradice Camper and Nelson, or the Baggins bags by Rivendell… 😛 I’m using the Nelson longflap exclusively. I commute on my 29er so I leave the Nelson on all the time even when I’m just on a regular trail ride.

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