Sunday, November 17, 2013

Overnight ride - trying out a lot of gear for the first time

Friday past I finally got around to trying out almost all the new kit I'd acquired over the summer on a rather easy overnight bikepacking trip with a couple of guys from the local club. For those not really interested in bikes, I didn't even take any photos as it was pretty much all in the dark - so sorry about that.  I'll cover the ride first & then give some initial impressions of the new gear.

All week I'd kept an eye on the forecast for Friday night - as the weekend approached, the expected temperature kept dropping.  So my bike was a bit more loaded than I initially thought it would be as I met Mike & James at Chilworth Arms for a quick pint before heading out into the winter's night.  It's been about a year since I've been on a night ride, my single handlebar light set-up is adequate but nothing fancy.  I'd forgotten how much fun night-riding is when it's not raining or ridiculously muddy.  We mostly rode bridleways & farm tracks due north - connected by the odd country road.  Being Hampshire, there weren't really any climbs of note, although the Beacon Hill downhill was enjoyable & comparatively long.  The pace was nothing too strenuous, which I was happy to go along with as I got used to riding a much heavier bike than usual.

With an almost-full moon out I was loving riding through the countryside that could have only been English - reminded by the silhouettes of very cute villages; in the daylight it all looked very expensive, but in the dark the detail was lost & it just looked nice.  By nine o'clock it was time to stop at our northern-most point, Crawley, and head for dinner at the lovely Fox & Hounds.  For some reason the other two weren't content with a few pints and dinner - I wasn't prepared to try & keep up as the Jack Daniels & Coke and brandies flowed.  It was all very enjoyable and I haven't been quizzed on so many details of New Zealand for a long time.  Those drunker than me were quite surprised by the size of the bill, but that was eventually settled and as the bar staff declared we were quite mad, we rolled away at one o'clock - some in straighter lines than others.

The chosen camp area was about an hour back south (on a more easterly route - closer to Winchester) and somehow I (the only one who wasn't familiar with the area) ended up navigating.  I'm not sure what the villagers of Sparsholt must have thought about much laughter when Mike managed to ride into quite a large & obvious hedge & then fall on the ground.  We made camp at two o'clock and settled in for the night - I was declared soft for having a tent, the other two happy to sleep with no cover on a fine frosty night.  Not surprisingly, we didn't stir until nine-thirty on a cracking Saturday morning.  After a light breakfast & decamping we were riding shortly after the hour back to my car.

So a very manageable introduction to bikepacking that I thoroughly enjoyed - helped by some superb weather & good company.

Now for some quick thoughts on those items I was using for the first time on a bikepacking trip. Below is a photo of the set-up that is almost as I used on the weekend - the main difference being the dry bags were fully loaded due to the clear, cold night.

The thirteen litre dry-bag on the handlebars is secured to a Wildcat Mountain Lion harness. The dry-bag was packed to the gunwales with my tent & poles and winter sleeping bag. The harness held it securely, although on the return trip I had to tighten the straps as I must've repacked it differently. I did find that with the dry-bag so full, I had to lock the front fork out as the bag would rub on the front tyre if the fork compressed too far - I don't expect this to be a problem for most of my bikepacking in summer as the bag won't be so heavily loaded.

On the back of the saddle, the eight litre dry-bag is held in a Wildcat Tiger. In the picture, it isn't loaded very much - but it definitely was for this trip. At first I thought that I wouldn't be able to fit the full bag in, & even if I could it would rub on the rear tyre. But some careful adjustment of the straps had the bag in the harness & securely held. I was very impressed by how stable the bag was - it didn't swing around at all; in fact, I occasionally had to turn around to check the dry-bag was still in the harness - so oblivious was I to its presence.

In the middle of frame is the custom-made (you trace your frame on to a piece of cardboard & send it to them) Alpkit Stingray frame bag.  I've had this for a few months, so know that it performs just as it should - for this ride I'd stuffed it full of all sorts of little things, I'll have to get a bit more organised for longer tours.

My water carrying for this little trip was courtesy of two bottles attached to each leg of my front fork - not shown in the picture (the bottles, that is).  For this I've got two monkii cages mounted on monkii clips - as I've swapped out the rigid fork for a suspension fork there are no longer any cage mounts.  The clips are secure and I don't have a problem carrying a full 750 mL bottle.  However, while it is possible to carry a one litre Nalgene bottle on the cage, if it does get bumpy the bottle can escape - so it's worth securing it to the fork.  I need to rethink this a bit.  Also, while having bottles mounted on the forks is good for carrying water - it's no good for hydration while riding as it's a faff to have to stop to drink.  So I need to get a bottle holder on the handlebars somewhere.  I found on this trip I didn't drink at all while riding - that was OK as it was pretty cool, so dehydration wasn't a problem (the pub stops helped too). But in warmer conditions, this would be a problem.

I've also got a tiny meths stove - it's only good for heating up enough water to make a cup of porridge or a hot drink.  It's suitable for such a small trip, but I'll have to get around to making some sort of penny stove out of a beer can for larger cooking requirements.

I'd been eyeing up various lightweight single-person tents that I could easily carry on my handlebars for some time when Megan mentioned that she was keen on the Six Moon Designs - Skyscape Trekker.  It ticked all the boxes I needed it too, so I rather hurriedly bought it (much to Megan's chagrin) and arranged to have it shipped to Boston during my recent visit - craftily avoiding high shipping costs & twenty percent VAT. It definitely is lightweight & the material is subsequently very thin - but I haven't torn it yet; most importantly, it's very easy to carry on the bike.  I had one practice run a couple of weeks ago pitching it in a gale out in the New Forest - I managed that OK, so five pegs & two poles at two o'clock in the morning was a cinch.  I did notice that my thermarest Neoair does tend to slide around a fair bit on the floor of the tent when I moved in my sleeping bag - possibly not helped by the slight incline I was on.  It seems good so far, more nights sleeping in it will show if that's correct.

That's probably enough initial gear reviews for one post.

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