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    Otso Journal

    #TWCC2020: This Week Contains Centuries

    Everything is canceled. Everything. I’m deeply lacking in motivation in these days where every day is a week, every week is a month, and every month is a year. But we might as well make the most of a given period of time. So, we need a plan. Something big, weird, maybe a little stupid, with ways for people to connect in creative ways.

    So, here’s the plan: Let’s all share a week (July 12–18) that contains centuries.
     
    Sometimes plans have lots of structure. This plan has a flexible form.
    • Each ride should start at a donut shop, coffee shop, bagel shop, diner, or campsite. (you don’t have to go inside and order/eat/drink if it isn’t legal or safe, but they provide convenient starting spots).
    • Each ride should end at a brewery, distillery, ice-cream shop, or campsite.
    • Each ride should be about 100 miles. Unless you are metric, then you get to ride 100k. That’s cool.
    • As we’re still trying to keep everyone healthy, we all should start when we’re ready, ride at our own pace, finish when we are done. We should plan to be self-sufficient on the ride and resupply safely and responsibly.
    • We can ride one century, or seven. (or 2–6)
    • Are you a runner? What’s the running equivalent of biking 100 miles? (for me, I think it would be about 4 miles, but I’ll let you actual runners pick a number).
    • We use this as a way to support organizations you believe in. Connie and I will be making a per-mile donation to the Black Visions Collective, Cycling Palestine, and the Salt Lake City Bike Collective. Maybe people want to sponsor riders?
    • Social media is fun and social. Let’s commandeer the hashtag #TWCC2020 (This Week Contains Centuries)
    • Ride bikes. Have fun.
    Our tentative schedule here in SLC: (We’ll start as early as we can in the morning in order to avoid some of the heat.
    • July 12: Big O Donuts to Fisher Beer
    • July 13: Sugarhouse Coffee to Hopkins Brewery
    • July 14: Publik Coffee to TF Brewing
    • July 15: Uintas A (Pre-drive coffee/Bagels at Bagel Project, whiskey at the campsite)
    • July 16: Uintas B (Route: Coming soon)(Coffee at the campsite, Post Drive beers at Roha)
    • July 17: Atticus Coffee and Books to High West Distillery (Route: Coming soon)
    • July 18: Banbury Cross to Fisher Beer (Route: Coming soon)
    Let’s Go!

    End of the Road – a Transcontinental Bikepacking Tour Cut Short by Covid 19

    Over the nearly four years we’d been on the road for our Alaska to Argentina bikepacking journey we’d anticipated our arrival in Patagonia. The southernmost region of South America is famous for its soaring granite spires, tumbling glaciers, alpine lakes and sprawling forest. A wild frontier land where humans have tamed only the fringes of its terrain. A place with untold possibilities for adventure.

    In mid March we left Lago Verde, Coyhaique Province in Chilean Patagonia, in the company of four Colombian bikepackers. The previous evening we’d had a rainy camp on the edge of the lake, it was an atmospheric place; moody and primal as mist hovered over the forest and steep mountainsides that cradled the water. The morning brought clearer skies as we resupplied in the small village above the lake, in preparation for the three days that it would take to reach the Carretera Austral, the only major highway in the region.

    Before we pedalled out of the plaza we made use of the public wifi to check the news. Stories of a novel coronavirus had been evolving in coverage for the past month, with widespread lockdowns in Wuhan and severe outbreaks in South Korea, Iran and Italy. The story of the day was the WHOs announcement that Europe was now the centre of what had been officially declared a pandemic. Meanwhile the New Zealand embassy issued a warning against non-essential travel to the few severely affected countries.

    The previous afternoon, after we’d arrived in the village via Paso las Pampas (from Argentina) the Carabinero officers had given us a verbal screening for symptoms, but it seemed a brief formality. In the rural quiet of Patagonia, northern hemisphere events seemed so distant, and Latin America virtually untouched by the stringent containment measures, panic buying and paranoia emerging in other parts of the world. But we were beginning to wonder how long the spectre of the virus would remain distant.

    For the following three days we had the mountains and southern beech forest of Patagonia mostly to ourselves, seeing few people. Double track led through pristine woodlands and past sparkling clear rivers. When we couldn’t ride the bikes we heaved them and their loads up the steepest of 4WD tracks. We spent the evenings with our Colombian compañeros, with whom we’d occasionally shared the trail since Bolivia. It was idyllic bike travel in a stunningly beautiful place.

    On the 15th March, after a few hours of fast gravel road, we reached the small village of Villa Amengual on the Carretera Austral. The Colombians had arrived about an hour ahead of us. We joined them in a small cafe as they sat in the warmth, intently reading their phones. José was outside making a call. The cafe owner stood near the door, with her sweater pulled up over her mouth and nose, and the Colombians commented that others in the village had done the same when they’d approached. Fear of the ‘gringo virus’ had pervaded the small community.

    Our friends relayed what they’d learned: closure of the Chile-Argentina border, along with imminent closure of Argentina’s and Chile’s national parks. Concerningly, cruise ship passengers had created an outbreak in the village of Tortel, to our south, initiating an immediate 14-day quarantine and uncertainty about further travel south. The WhatsApp group for cyclists in the Americas was surging with messages as people posted about their experiences at borders, difficulties with authorities and whether to try to fly home or sit and wait it out.

    When José looked at us solemnly and said “I think we’re going home” we couldn’t believe it. Admittedly the Colombians were considering ending their trip at Punta Arenas, so they were slightly closer to the end than us. Having bikepacked several months from Cusco they were so close to their goal. But with their families wanting them home and already so much uncertainty surrounding how feasible travel might be – by bike or air – in just the short term, they made a decisive call. Within a couple of hours they were packed into a truck and enroute to Coyhaique and Balmaceda airport to begin their long journey.

    For Hana and I it was not such a simple decision. We’d been on the road nearly four years, covering over 45,000km and while the end for us was relatively close, we’d also planned to winter over in Patagonia before exploring the region further and then closing our gap between Santiago and Puerto Montt to the north. A return to Guatemala was on the wishlist too, to study Spanish at one of the schools overlooking Lago Atitlan, while I began working on a book about the journey. New Zealand was not even on our radar, with the low cost of living and the potential for exploring being so tempting in Central America.

    But there would be little point in remaining in Chile if we couldn’t move. Until 1am the next morning we absorbed information about coronavirus like sponges. We read predictions of how the pandemic might unfold and the economic damage it might cause. It was unsettling, as the concepts of ‘flattening the curve’, ‘social distancing’ and ‘second wave’ entered our vernacular and the consequences of exponential growth became clear. We were still two day’s ride from Coyhaique, where we had friends we could stay with indefinitely, so we decided to continue to ride down to there. It could be a safe house for a while, or a base while we packed to go home.

    That evening we stayed in Villa Mañihuales on the Carretera Austral. Already this famous highway was quiet as traffic dwindled. The news we read that evening was grave for travellers: interprovincial travel in Argentina was soon to close, Tierra del Fuego was closed and the south of Chile was rumoured to follow. Panic swirled around the WhatsApp group as people began to realise we were looking at months-long restrictions, not days or weeks. After all, who had experienced a pandemic before?  

    Already we were seriously considering returning home ourselves, but with reports of flight cancellations uncertainty surrounded that too. Hana was the most willing to drop it all and return home, while I was still sitting on the fence, but as the news worsened every few hours, my resolve to stay in Chile was also weakening. Not only was travel going to be impossible for at least a few months, but the region of Patagonia we were in – cut off from road access – could potentially face food, fuel and medical shortages, and we would be out on a limb if we required any medical attention ourselves. With winter looming and a bleak economic forecast, New Zealand was a more appealing place to be stuck. The following morning, after another late night reading the news and communicating with the embassy and our families, we decided to pull the plug and try to get home.

    The prices of flights via our preferred route (Santiago or Buenos Aires to Auckland) were horrific, so we booked a flight that morning via Santiago - Panama City - Los Angeles - Auckland. An affordable journey, but fraught with potential for cancellations. In the end we cancelled this booking because we became worried about LAX tightening up its transit controls (you have to clear immigration there to transit). We immediately booked a more expensive Air NZ flight via Santiago – Buenos Aires – Auckland, along with a domestic flight to get to Santiago.

    We rode a fast 75km that afternoon to Coyhaique. The sun was shining, the day was warm; our last on the road of an amazing journey that we have never tired of in nearly four years of travel by bike. But I was amazed by how quickly the disappointment of ending our ride prematurely was replaced with the anticipation of home, family and friends.

    Fear of the virus was evident in Coyhaique. Many people were masked, some shops had installed distancing measures. Pharmacies and supermarkets had long queues outside and the whole town was out of masks and hand sanitiser. We booked into a hostel for the night and the owner covered her face as she talked to us. By the next day she’d ceased accepting guests.

    In town we collected some bike boxes, some of the few left in town, and then spent the following two nights with our friends Anna and Brian on their rural property 18km from Coyhaique. There the world seemed perfectly normal, with no people nearby and sweeping views over the Patagonian countryside. But as we packed our bikes the news worsened: Chile was declaring a State of Emergency, our embassy issued a plea for all travellers to return to New Zealand via commercial flights while they still could, and rumours were emerging that New Zealand itself might soon enter lockdown.

    As we absorbed all of this, information emerged that Air NZ was immediately ceasing all operations out of Buenos Aires, and with that our lifeline home. We were crushed, and with Latam flight prices yoyoing on the internet between US$5000–US$14,000 each we were reluctant to make another online booking for a fight that might soon cancel. We’d already bought two! In the evening we made the news ourselves in New Zealand after I spoke to a reporter about our plight. Many other New Zealanders in Latin America were in the same situation and already pressuring the government for mercy flights, should the commercial option fail completely.

    In the end we decided it best just to get to Santiago airport as soon as possible and try and resolve either our cancelled Air NZ flight at a counter there, or talk to Latam. Meanwhile we heard that Panama had closed to transit passengers, which would have been the ruin of our original booking before even making it to LAX.

    Skies were clear for most of the 2hr 20 min flight from Balmaceda to Santiago and while Hana slept, I spent most of it with my eyes close to the window, looking down at the very same landscapes we’d painstakingly traversed by bike over the previous three weeks. Patagonia is incredible to cycle through, but from the air it’s displayed spectacularly as you can see every peak, every hidden alpine lake and the complexity of the land. During those peaceful moments on the aircraft I also reflected on how accepting we’d been of the situation, and the methodical way we’d undertaken the process of returning home, without focussing on the negatives.

    While riding one day, just a couple of months back, I’d commented to Hana how arbitrary the notion of reaching Ushuaia actually was. If I’d said that during the first week of the ride it might have seemed mutinous to us both, but after more than three years on the road our perspective had shifted and we’d come to realise with more clarity than ever that it’s the experiences that count, not where you choose to stop pedalling. That day on the road I was looking over my shoulder at what was behind us and feeling an almost overwhelming satisfaction at what we’d accomplished during our ride: from every encounter with another human; to the astounding amount of knowledge and experience we’ve gained; to the physical challenge which has redefined our boundaries of possibility; to the synthesis of the two of us as a team.

    If I were to put what I feel about our journey now into one word, it would be grateful. Sure, we haven’t reached Ushuaia, and seen the Patagonian Icecap or the Fitz Roy Massif, but we have experienced an incredible amount. From the Arctic to the Amazon, to the high altitude deserts and the barrios of Bogota and all that’s between them we’ve filed away an indelible catalogue of memories.

    It was nearly 2am by the time we got to speak to a Latam representative at their ticket counter in Santiago. Air New Zealand had been impossible to contact, but there were flights with Latam still available. We bought a seat on standby for a flight in 48 hours time – possibly the very last flight – and were immediately upgraded to a confirmed seat due to ongoing cancellations in the system. We collapsed into our sleeping bags in a quiet corner of the international terminal for the rest of the night and then later in the morning caught a taxi to a nearby hotel for our final night in Chile. The airport felt like plague central and we were scared of contracting the virus there and then bringing it into New Zealand. We were repeatedly washing our hands and avoiding clusters of people, but awareness of the need for distancing varied massively. The taxi drivers were the worst; few wore masks or sanitised their hands after handling luggage, so we were happy to get out of there.

    The 787 sat on the tarmac for what felt like an eternity after we finally boarded the plane and we never properly relaxed until it was actually in the air. The first beer tasted so good. 36 hours after we landed in New Zealand, the whole country entered full lockdown, which lasted nearly five weeks. During that time we self isolated for 14 days at the home of Hana’s parents in Te Puna, near Tauranga. We spent our days in an RV outside the house and used a single room inside the house to sleep. Our sanity was maintained by riding loops on local paths and roads. It was no substitute for the Andes, but short and intense rides most days helped stave off the ‘post tour blues’, which is common among long distance cyclists and hikers.

    Our return to New Zealand had come so unexpectedly we’d made no further plans beyond self isolation, and with the country in lockdown there were few options anyway – be it travel or employment. But Te Puna, in the sunny Bay of Plenty, lies in the heart of one of the country’s biggest orchard districts. Annually the kiwifruit harvest employs thousands of seasonal workers and is considered an ‘essential service’, therefore able to operate under lockdown restrictions.  

    After nearly three weeks of lockdown we both started work in a kiwifruit packhouse, working on the packing line. Our task was simply closing boxes of kiwifruit after they have been filled by the conveyor. If you were on a slow line you could also push the boxes on rollers to the end of your line and put a barcoded sticker on it, ready for the stacker to stack on a pallet. Neither of us had ever done such monotonous, back and leg aching, boring work. 11 hours a day is a long time to be standing in one spot and the six day weeks were tedious. After the self reliance, freedom and constant decision making the two of us had experienced during our cycle journey, the packhouse required a change of mindset and a determination not to let the noisy and repetitive environment get to us.

    But we did pull through. One of the saving graces was that the team we worked with were all great people, hard working and committed. There is an irony to the fact that after over three years of travel in Latin America we were working with mostly Chileans and Argentinians who were in New Zealand on a one-year work visa. After a few weeks we were given more flexibility in our tasks and Hana became part of the quality team while I got to flex my cycling-withered arms as a box stacker.

    Through the generosity of Hana’s parents providing us a bed and meals, we’ve been able to save nearly everything we’ve earned during eight weeks of intense packhouse work. The packing season has ended now, and naturally we jumped at the opportunity of our first full weekend in a long time to get away for a bikepacking ride. Reacquainting ourselves with rural New Zealand’s unique forests, rugged landscape and strong sense of place was deeply satisfying.

    New Zealand’s a place we’re proud to call home, but the road always calls. We have 2500km left in South America to complete our journey and to close this amazing chapter of our lives. Our motivation to return there and ride again remains strong, but for now we’ll be moving onto other things until the time is right. We’re looking forward to making the most of New Zealand’s extensive bikepacking opportunities, visiting friends, and in the meantime working on business, bikepacking routes and some creative projects.

    New Fork With Mounts Available

    When we released the Warakin Ti at the end of February, the most common question we received was if the bike includes a fork with mounting points. We listened to your feedback. All of our gravel bikes now have a fork mount option available in our Custom Bike Builder. This includes framesets and complete builds.

    The fork that we added to our Custom Bike Builder is the Whisky Parts Co. No. 9 MCX Fork. Since all of our gravel bikes have massive tire clearance of at least 29” x 2.1”, it was important for us to find a fork that could meet our specs without holding negating the advantages of our bikes. This Whisky Parts Co. No. 9 MCX fork will clear 700c x 51mm and 650b x 61mm tires and it has three mounts per blade and fender mounts. Additionally, it’s made of the same lightweight carbon that is stock with our Lithic forks.

    Here are a few specs for those who obsess over details (like us):

    • Axle-to-crown: 415mm
    • Offset: 51mm
    • Axle: 12mm x 100mm thru-axle
    • Disc brakes: flat mount
    • Max rotor size: 180mm
    • Steerer type: 1.5” tapered
    • Steerer length: 350mm
    • Rake: 50mm
    • Crown race: 40mm
    • Weight: 530g
    • Tire clearance: 700c x 51mm, 650b x 61mm
    • Tire clearance with fender: 700c x 45mm

    Our Custom Bike Builder is a tool that allows you to completely customize your bike on our website. We’ve selected base build specs that are the default when you visit a bike’s Custom Bike Builder page. If you want carbon bars instead of aluminum, you can change that. If you want a 2x drivetrain instead of 1x, you can change that, too. Now you can select the Whisky Parts Co. No. 9 MCX Fork as a fork option so you can build your perfect bike that we’ll assemble and ship to your door.

    This new fork option is available on bikes sold through our website, as well as any bike shop in the Otso dealer network. Now start planning those bikepacking trips!

    Bikeglamping

    There’s a bikepacking adage that says “it’s not bikepacking until something goes wrong.” In a previous post, I wrote about a bikepacking trip that had almost nothing go according to plan at a humorous level. But what about when everything goes right? No rain, late departures, wrong turns, closed kitchens, etc. This is one of those trips--okay, we made one wrong turn, but we figured it out before going too far off course.

    Just 20 miles east of Otso HQ is a county park called Whitetail Woods Regional Park. While it is most popular with it’s day-use features--hiking trails, skiing trails, beach, etc.--it might be better known for its camper cabins. Dakota County installed three shipping container-sized cabins back in 2015 or so and they are still trendy AF with the local Instagram crowd. The cabins are heated, have electricity, and are just a short midnight stumble away from bathrooms and running water. They have beds for six, an elevated deck on the back, and a firepit out front. If you can get a reservation, Whitetail Woods is a great place to camp. That’s *if* you can get a reservation.

    We were lucky on this trip. I was monitoring the county parks website all summer to track a cabin opening. Back in June, cabins were booked through the end of September. Then in July, I noticed a Wednesday opening that must’ve been the result of a cancelation. We booked it instantly.

    Bikepacking to a cabin requires substantially less gear than bikepacking to a campground. We’ll call this bikeglamping compared to bikecamping. Most of us just had a single saddlebag, handlebar roll, or some other front bag. I went with a Swift Industries porteur bag on my Soma porteur front rack. All we needed was a change of clothes, a sleeping bag, pillow (optional), and bike tools. We didn’t even pack any food items beyond riding snacks: breakfast was planned at a coffee shop on the way back to the shop and we had someone meet us at the cabin with beer(s) and pizza(s). Honestly, the most difficult part of this overnighter was picking up the keys and firewood at a different park within the county, then driving the wood to the cabin so it would be there for our arrival.

    The route from our Burnsville shop to the cabins at Whitetail Woods followed pavement through suburban sprawl, before turning to gravel as we entered a quiltwork of farm fields and sand quarries. Rather than taking the most direct route to the cabins, we dipped south to ride a bit more dirt; direct suburban highways were saved for our return ride. This added 10 miles to our route, which was well worth it. Crowded roads were swapped for riding seven-across on dusty gravel. We were able to cruise our way from Burnsville to Rosemount and maintain conversation the entire time. It was a rolling party.

    Upon arrival, we unpacked a few of our things, changed out of sweaty clothes, and started a fire. This was about the time mosquitos materialized from everywhere and nowhere. Fortunately, our pizza and beer arrived just in time--yes, we arranged for pizza and beer on this trip because if you’re going to go bikeglamping, you need to go full bikeglamping. A couple hours at the fire, then it was time for bed and a spirited ride back to the shop early in the morning.

    Traversing the Andes on the Otso Voytek: Bikes and Gear

    Otso Ambassadors Mark Watson and Hana Black have been on the road for the past three and half years, slowly making their way along the American Cordillera from Alaska to Patagonia. With 44,000km of riding behind them they have racked up a wealth of experience in conditions ranging from the highest Andean passes, to the Atacama desert, the Amazon jungle, and everything in between.

    Since Cusco, Peru they have been riding a pair of our Voyteks which have been put through their paces with over 6000km of mountainous riding in Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina.  

    Here, Mark shares some of his thoughts about the Voytek and how they set their bikes up for long distance bikepacking. 

    If you are interested in seeing more about Mark and Hana check out their social media posts:

    https://www.instagram.com/highluxphoto/ and https://www.instagram.com/beinghana/

    and website: www.highlux.co.nz

    Frame & Fork

    The only carbon framed bikes we’d previously owned were our road bikes back home in NZ, so using a carbon bike for the rigours of heavily loaded wilderness bikepacking was something that was new to us. There seems to be a common misconception that carbon frames, for bikepacking, are only suitable for relatively light loads, such as might be carried in bikepacking races or shorter tours, and for some bikes, this is true. However, after using the Voytek for six months now, on the gnarliest bikepacking trails and with loads that have included up to 18 days food and 13 litres of water at a time, I feel confident taking the Voytek anywhere and have no qualms riding the bike on the roughest of tracks with a load on board.

    The size of the tubes and the bottom bracket cluster of the Voytek suggest that it’s probably a stiff bike, and indeed it is, which is very much in the bike’s favour when you load it heavily and hit back country trails. Climbing, accelarating and riding standing up, little is lost to frame flex. Our Surly Ogres were like wet noodles in comparison. Whether it was a deliberate decision by the Otso engineers, or just a side benefit, somehow the geometry of the bike seems to nail the sweet spot for loaded riding too, with the bike being confidence inspiring on steep, technical and sandy tracks. But it’s important to note that how the bike handles loaded is also a product of how you pack and distribute your gear – more about that later.  

    The fork we are running on the bikes is the Salsa Kingpin Deluxe, because it has a double set of mounts for cargo/water cages, which we like to utilise for a balanced load and extra water capacity. Something else that has been a stand out for us has been shifting from regular quick releases (as we had on the Ogres) to through-axles front and rear. These ‘tie’ the bike together with a stiffness that quick releases can’t match, improving handling, especially with a load and keeping the bikes quick and responsive on all terrain.

    Wheels & Tires

    Although the Voytek can take up to 4.6 inch tires (with a 26 inch wheel), our requirements for long distance bikepacking are best met with the combination of a 27.5 inch wheel and 3 inch tire. Neither of us are particularly tall, so 27.5 (especially with a 3 inch tire) suits us best for technical riding. Because the clearance of the frame is designed for a fat tire, when running 3 inch, we have a ton of clearance all around both wheels which makes riding in mud a breeze. Conditions would have to be really bad for this wheel combination to get clogged.

    We have spent a lot of time in past months in sandy regions and on sometimes very rough roads (with no suspension fork) so 3 inch tires have been our go-to as they strike a balance between efficiency-over-distance and traction/float. However if you were running a suspension fork, or riding firmer and less extreme conditions, 2.6–2.8 would be ideal for long distance riding on this bike, giving you even more generous clearance for mud. Likewise, were we on a shorter trip with desert riding or rocky trails, we’d probably opt for a 4 inch tire.

    Our rim of choice, the Hope Technology 35W, is at the narrow end of the spectrum for a 3 inch tire (40mm external), but the reason for this is that plus size tires are very difficult/expensive to obtain outside of a select few cities in Latin America, so we like to have the option to run a more widely availble tire size, such as 2.35, in an emergency. A narrower rim saves us weight and we like that this model is also eyeleted for longevity.

    The traditional school of thought for heavy loads and long distance is that 36 spokes are the way to go, however, in general plus rims have greater inherent strength making 32 spoke wheels sufficiently strong as long as the rim is eyeleted, they have strong spokes and are correctly tensioned. We have not broken a spoke on these bikes yet.  

    Hope Technology supplied us Fatsno Pro 4 hubs to combine with their rims and so far these have not skipped a beat, despite some extremely wet and dusty riding conditions for days at a time.  

    Drivetrain

    Riding these Voyteks was the first time either of us had used a 1x drivetrain (Sram Eagle GX), which again is a system that has its skeptics when used for long distance bikepacking. We have found that the pros, so far, outweigh the cons of these drivetrains for touring, but this will also depend on the riding style and requirements of individual riders.

    For us, with older knees and a penchant for finding rough and remote roads that are often steep, an easy climbing gear is key. So we paired the 10–50 12-speed cassette with a 28 tooth Wolftooth CAMO stainless chainring, giving us a minimum (easiest) gear-inch of 16.24, which has been enough, even with nearly 3 weeks food on board. We do get ‘spun out’ riding paved descents, but while touring this is not an issue for us. If were running a consistently lighter load (say for short trips back home) we’d use a 30 or 32 chain ring.

    Eliminating the front deurailler saves weight and improves mud clearance, providing a more capable bike when conditions are bad and after six months now we have not missed our big chainrings at all.

    We put new chains on the bikes after roughly 1800km of tough riding but due to lack of availability didn’t try to change them again until we’d done nearly another 4000km, by which time the second chain had stretched enough to have worn the chainring causing the new one to catch badly on the teeth. Interestingly that third chain seemed to work ok with the cassette, but this probably confirms that 12 speed chains do stretch faster than 10 and 11 speed, and require regular changes to extend longevity of the rest of the drivetrain.  

    Brakes

    As much as we love hydraulic brakes for trail riding and short trips, for us the best option for long distance and remote riding are mechanical disc brakes. The consequences of tearing out a hydraulic hose or snapping a brake lever (as we did on a high pass once in Peru) are too great. At least if you break a front brake lever with a mechanical brake you have the option to swap the cable to your rear brake lever.

    Mechanical systems are more reliable and maintenance free, and depending on your system, the pads will usually be more widely available in Latin America too. We prefer the TRP Spyke as it has two active pistons (unlike the Avid models which only move on one side). This gives the brake a more modulated and hydraulic-like feel. We pair them with 180mm rotors front and rear for better braking with a load, and this also extends the life of the pads and rotors compared with smaller rotors.      

    Handlebar

    Having both experimented with different handlebars over the years, our preferred bar for long distance riding is the Watson (no relation) Cycles Revelation titanium handle bar. Ti is a good choice for long distance bars because it is extremely strong, making it reliable for many thousands of kilometres of rough riding, and is also more shock dampening than aluminium. This bar is 680mm wide with a 32 degree sweep, which we find hits the sweet spot between comfort and suitability for technical riding. We’ve used this bar since day one and have never once wished for bar ends, or any other kind of bar.    

    Luggage

    For ideal bike handling in a range of conditions, an even distribution of the load over the bike is key. Revelate Designs supply us with their excellent bikepacking bags and we use a range of their models, as well as custom mini panniers to achieve both optimal load distribution as well as luggage capacity to suit longer distances between resupply. This system was pushed beyond capacity when we rode the Ruta de los Seis Miles Norte (18 days no resupply), so we extended our capacity with lighweight drybags attached to the decks of our Axiom Fatliner racks.

    In our front harnesses we tend to carry bulky but light items such sleeping bag, tent, down jacket, sleep socks, leggings and sleeping mat, while the fork bags hold the rest of our spare clothing and rain wear (for quick accessability). The framebag, with its low centre of gravity position, is best for heavy items such as my camera lenses & spare tire sealant. It also works well for water or in Hana’s case; multiple small but dense items that she likes to keep quickly accesible. Items that we most rarely use, such as spare inner tube, brake pads, spare parts and day packs are kept in our downtube bags and Wolftooth B-Rad roll top bag. Laptop, minimal toiletries, food and cooking equipment occupy the mini panniers, while other small and frequently used items go in our Revelate Designs Egress Pockets, up front.

    Summary

    Overall, our ethos towards long distance touring and bikepacking is to remain agile. We ride with loads that are light and consciously selected, but not ultralight. This is enough to keep our choice of roads and tracks wide open, and gives us plenty of options for where we chose to carve our southbound trail.

    Secondly, and just as important, is the choice of bike. For us, having a bike that is equipped to deal with the worst a trail might throw at it, means that it’s rare that we feel out of our depth, and it keeps the riding (mostly) enjoyable. It’s about having a bike that’s capable on all sorts of surfaces and that allows us to make the most of the riding, not riding one that just manages to cope. The bottom line after all is to have fun, and for us a light plus-tired bike with generous tire clearance is the perfect tool for this. As we’ve experienced ourselves and witnessed with other cyclists over the past 44,000km; if you are riding mixed surfaces, including pavement, the advantages of a plus-sized tyre on all dirt surfaces will always greatly outweigh its minor disadvantage of added rolling resistance on tarmac – after all, what’s 10 minutes extra at the end of a 10 hour day?