First Bike Packing Trip
Have you ever wanted to jump on your bike and escape for a few days?
I certainly have, so after years of talking about it I finally made it happen.
There was a fair amount of research and preparation that went into this first bike packing trip, but in my world, that’s half the fun. As an experienced cyclist with advanced googling skills, it was still a struggle to find clear information on what a proper setup looked like.
With this article I’m going to break down my setup for this first trip, then detail what I think went well and what I would change.
At the bottom of the post, I’ve linked a YouTube video in which I review the entire setup as I load it up.
As a Lauf Ambassador, Lauf supplied me with a True Grit complete bike back in April.
The only items I’ve swapped out are the saddle, crank, and bottom bracket (to fit my power meter crank). I would normally use Panaracer Gravel King 38 slicks, but I’ve heard good things about the Maxxis Ramblers that came stock on the bike, so set them up tubeless with 2-3 ounces of Orange Seal in each tire.
This is the same setup I would use during a race with the addition of bags and an extra water bottle. The bike performed flawlessly, so let’s get into the bag setup.
I meant this trip to be a learning experience, therefore I only purchased a few of the bags and borrowed the rest. If you’re just getting into bike packing, I think this is a good way to test what works and doesn’t work with your particular bike and needs.
After reading this article on the Revelate website about using their handlebar bags with drop bars, I purchased the large bag.
Supposedly, the large bag hangs lower and helps with cable/shifter clearance, but in practice, this wasn’t really an issue. In fact, the bag hanging lower meant tire clearance was an issue with my long/low position. I initially solved the problem with some bungee cords, but as I learned my equipment better, I could secure everything by shifting the placement of a couple of straps.
The only thing I stored inside the SweetRoll was my tent. There was space for a couple of smaller items at the end, but with my tire clearance issues, I didn’t want to increase the diameter of the bag any further.
On the outside of the bag, there is a flap I used to secure my sleeping pad. This extra flap was very adjustable and would have easily handled something larger if needed. The bag is designed in a way that I could also strap plenty of other items to the front of it if needed. I kept my Bluetooth speaker strapped to the front during the entire trip.
I would definitely purchase this bag again. The build quality and design details that went into this bag are excellent. I’m curious about whether the medium-sized bag would work, but I didn’t have any issues with the extra material that wasn’t being used and it’s good to know I have a little extra storage space if I really need it.
I wanted a frame bag that would allow me to still use water bottles and this bag fit the bill perfectly.
I measured my frame and decided the small would be the safest bet, but upon setup realized I still had a couple of inches of room. I’m not positive the medium bag would have fit on my size large True Grit, but it would have been nice to have the extra room. This is when borrowing equipment, or at least being able to test the fit before purchasing would be helpful.
In the main compartment I stored:
- Crank Brothers Hand Pump
- 2 USB Power Banks (1 a little larger than a deck of cards, the other a little larger than a lighter)
- 2 small charging cables
- 2 Backpacker Pucks
- 4 Granola Bars
- 3 Shot Blocks
- 1 travel size tube of sunscreen
In the smaller side compartment, I stored:
- Pocket knife
Overall, this bag design is functional and feels like it will last thousands of miles with no problem. The storage was enough for what I needed on this trip, but the extra storage a medium would provide might be helpful on a longer trip.
If I were to change one thing it would be the width towards the end of the bag that attaches to the seat-tube. I have my cleats setup in the middle of my shoe and normal knee tracking (Retul verified) and my inner thigh was rubbing the bag throughout the entire trip. I slightly adjusted my pedaling motion over time (not ideal) and mentally blocked out the rubbing, but by the end of my first 80-mile day, there was some very minor chafing. It didn’t ruin my ride, but I will look to change the setup somehow before my next big adventure.
After scoping out the limited number of bolt mounted top tube bags, I decided on the Dark Speed Works 483D, which is their medium-sized bag.
When researching top tube bags I found a ton of options that used only straps or a combination of bolts and straps, but I didn’t want to mess with straps at all. This limited my options considerably.
The Dark Speed Works website isn’t great, but after perusing their Facebook for a while I could get a good idea of how big the bags were and what options would best suit my needs. I chose the medium size bag because it would offer the most versatility for racing and adventure. The small would have been a race-only bag, as it appears to only hold a few gels, and the large would have been an adventure only bag because of its bulky nature (still fairly streamlined considering its size).
What I stored in the bag:
- 2 Shot Blocks
- 1 Backpacker Puck
If I was using this bag during a gravel race, I would definitely use it for only gels or salt tabs (I don’t use these, but I know a lot of you do).
Despite the website being a little primitive, the checkout process went smoothly, and the bag arrived quickly. The quality is top-notch, and it mounted easily and securely to my bike. Having never used a top tube bag before I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed having such convenient access to my food. I’ll be keeping this on my bike full-time from now on.
This is the one bag I borrowed, and it worked like a charm. A giant bag flopping around every time I stood out of the saddle was a concern, but it wasn’t ever an issue throughout my trip. When I glanced back I could see it waving slightly, but I can’t say I ever really noticed the movement (riding a loaded bike is a whole new experience).
This version of the bag is no longer made, and an upgraded version from Revelate called the Terrapin serves as its replacement. The key difference between the old and the new is a removable dry bag. Having only used the Viscacha for a single-trip was enough to make me realize loading a bag while it’s still attached to the bike is mildly challenging. Being able to remove the bag entirely, load it up, then secure it to a mounting system that stays connected to the bike would have been awesome.
When loading the bag Revelate recommends putting all your heaviest items towards the base, and lighter items towards the top. This was a little tricky because some of my heavier items where things I wanted quick access to if needed (like my flat repair kit).
Here’s everything I carried in the seat bag:
- Shoes—Astral Loyak Water Shoes(very packable and highly recommended)
- Small blanket
- Shorts and shirt
- Travel toothbrush, toothpaste, Advil, Tums…, sunscreen (all in a Ziplock)
- 2 tubes with tire iron
While the Revelate Viscacha was a great bag, I’m convinced the newer Revelate Designs Terrapin will be a nice upgrade worth having if I make these bike packing trips a regular occurrence.
The Camping Equipment
I grew up doing a lot of camping and cycling with my family but never combining the two until now. My mom and dad did some bike touring in the 70s, and my dad still goes on the occasional trip. Borrowing equipment from my dad and learning from his experience was invaluable to the success of this trip.
A couple of things I learned from dad:
- Setup and test your equipment before the trip. For example, the tent I borrowed was easy to set up, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t confuse the hell out of me the first time (I only had to call my dad once to ask what a certain part was).
- Only take what you need. I can get food/water/beer in the towns I pass through and trying to pack a stove and groceries would be overkill.
This was a very nice tent. The material seemed strong; the poles assembled themselves, and after a small learning curve the setup/teardown was quick.
For only using the tent once, I thought I gave it a solid test run.
The weather was around 70 degrees and sunny when I first arrived at the campground. It was a little windy, but it felt good in the shade and I left the rain fly off initially. I knew it was going to potentially rain overnight, so I ended up assembling the rain fly about an hour before sunset. The lack of airflow made it a little hot inside the tent, but opening the doors solved this problem right away.
Around 4:00 AM a storm rolled through and the wind picked up dramatically. I’m guessing 20 mph winds with strong gusting along with heavy rain, lightning, and thunder. Having not used this tent before, two potential issues worried me; the water seeping in because of the wind and/or the rain fly getting blown off. Neither happened and I stayed perfectly dry through both storm cells that hit.
I’m not sure what other options are available, but this was a high-quality single person tent that performed admirably in tough conditions. I borrowed this from my dad, but I’ll likely be purchasing one of these before my next adventure.
Another great item I borrowed from my dad. Unroll the pad and it self-inflates (obviously…), then a few extra breaths of air and it’s plenty firm for sleeping. Deflating the pad and putting it back in its carrying bag was also easy.
Putting it all together
Putting together a bike packing trip was intimidating at first, but once I began gathering equipment and putting the pieces together I quickly realized it’s just a long bike ride combined with minimalist camping.
The Katy Trail is a tame route, and the State Fairgrounds in Sedalia make for very manicured camping, but I’m glad I started with something easier. Being a little uncomfortable is part of the adventure, and this trip absolutely took me out of my comfort zone. Had I jumped into a serious bike packing adventure, such as Tour the Divide, things probably wouldn’t have gone so smoothly.
I learned a few things, such as taking a pillow would have been nice and I didn’t need to bring Tums. I also learned that I love solo rides, but I’m also a social guy and taking some friends on my next bike packing adventure will be a must.
Let me know what you thought about this article and please ask questions if you have any!