Historically I have not been a gear head. I’m not a gram counter and generally choose bike parts based on durability over weight. But, generally speaking, the lighter you go, the faster you go, so I thought it would be good to spend some time pondering the weight and gear dilemma for CTR.
Bike-packing has come a long way in the past couple of years. Much of it is inspired by the ultra-light backpacking movement, started by Ray Jardine (founder of GoLite) and the ability to hike the entire Appalachian Trail with a 15 pound base weight. On bikes, sleek bags replace bulky panniers and racks, the weight of bikes themselves has dropped rapidly, and sleeping technology has traveled leaps and bounds in the past decade. One could literally spend thousands of dollars to put together the lightest bike-packing setup, or, like I did last year, spend under $200 for the entire setup and have a great time. (See previous CTR Prep blog-post for what I was running)
There are two approaches to touring/ultra-racing. It’s possible to pack an amazing amount of gear onto a bike outfitted with front and rear panniers, a handlebar bag, and a backpack. With that much cargo space, one could dine on finely cooked filet mignon every night and stay toasty warm and dry in even the most dismal weather conditions. But it’s heavy, and heavy means slow, and slow means more time between towns, which in turn means you have to carry more food that will weight you down even more, so you’ll go even slower, need more food, etc.
The opposite end of the spectrum is the ultra-light and fast approach. In theory, CTR could be raced with a single set of clothing and a day-pack with an emergency bivy. Or if one were really brave, they could leave the bivy behind. But, while light may be fast, light also has the potential for disaster. For example, if the weather’s bad, heavy raingear allows for movement while a water-resistant jacket will leave a user scrambling for cover with the distinct possibility of hypothermia. Warmer sleeping gear allows for camping up high, which allows for more flexibility in day-length. And when it comes down to it, lighter bits and pieces on a bike are more likely to fail. All that being said, the CTR route provides many points for a bail-out should one become necessary. The first half of the route is riddled with towns and stretches of road and the second half, while more remote, have plenty of escape options by coasting down a dirt road back to civilization.
Most people who race the CTR choose gear somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Light enough to allow for rapid movement, but heavy enough to allow for some creature comforts. The following list is just a start of items needed to stay safe and survive but is by no means an exhaustive list. Its merely a list to start thinking about gear...seeing that August 1st is fast approaching.
Sleeping Bag Covers
The main goal of a sleeping bag cover is to keep your sleeping bag dry at night and add extra warmth. In the end, this item could be seen as optional, but I for one wouldn’t want to be trying to sleep under a tree in a rainstorm without one. They come in a variety of sizes, shapes, materials, and costs.
- Emergency bivy – Mylar, non-breathable, ultra-light, water-proof
- Normal bivy – Various materials, potentially breathable, potentially water-proof, mid-weight
- 1-person tent – Breathable, water-proof, comfortable, heavier
The big consumer question with sleeping bags is the debate between down and synthetic and warmth versus weight. How much effort are you willing to make to keep a lighter down bag dry? The warmer you are, the better you’ll sleep, and presumably the faster you’ll pedal. The warmer you are, the more weight you’ll carry, the slower you’ll move. What’s your balance?
- No bag – Yes, this has been done with success but limits sleeping spots to lower, warmer elevations. Not having a sleeping bag also increases the ‘When things go wrong, they go VERY wrong’ risk factor. But, you’ll save at least a pound off your base weight.
- 50 degree bag – You will not be warm, but you will survive. Most likely.
- 30 degree bag – You may be warm if you sleep at lower elevations.
- 20 degree bag – You will be warm under most circumstances, but you’re going to be hauling around 2+ lbs of sleeping bag. How much do you like your sleep?
Pads serve the dual purpose of added insulation from the ground and comfort. The Rocky Mountains aren’t called rocky for nothing. Pads can be full length and width or cut down to torso size to save weight and lose comfort and insulating ability.
- Pipe insulation – Light, will ‘pop’ over time, sub-comfortable
- Closed-cell foam – Light, bulky, warm, comfortable
- Inflatable – Warm, slightly heavier, have the potential to pop.
90% of the CTR route allows for a place to string a tarp up between trees. A tarp can help keep gear dry during a rainstorm, add a little bit of warmed, and give a nice sense of ‘camp’ at night. They are made in a wide variety of weights and sizes and depending on the tarp, can also double as a bivy, burrito-style. If the forecast calls for rain, this is the most invaluable items to have.
One tube or two? Spare spoke? Two chain-ring bolts or four? Do you know how to use a chain break? Can you single speed your bike if you happen to rip your derailleur off on a rocky descent? More tools equal more weight, but being stranded and having to walk out to a town is going to lose more time than carrying spare disc rotor bolts.
A lot of racers carry a stove, a lot don’t. When bedding down for the night, there’s much to be said for a hot meal and a cup of coffee in the morning. On the other hand, ramen can soak in cold water, chocolate covered espresso beans work wonders in the wee hours before dawn, and peanut butter doesn’t need to be warmed up to be enjoyed.
There are dozens of items I haven’t touched on here. Are you going to be riding at night? How strong of lights to do want? Do you want to purify water with iodine, chlorine dioxide or carry a filter? Bottles or Camelback bladder? Every item matters, every ounce adds up. Every item left at home comes with an increased risk factor.
Now, how is all this stuff carried? In my next blog post, I plan on exploring the different packing and bike options for a bike-packing adventure. Racks versus bags. Frame packs versus backpacks. Big wheels versus small. Full suspension versus fully rigid. It’s all a game of variables.
In the end, it’s all comes down to user choice and rider goals. What works for one person may be a complete disaster for someone else. Acceptable risk also factors in here. All racers walk the fine line between carrying enough so that the experience is enjoyable and safe, and carrying so much that speed is sacrificed and unneeded items are hauled across the state. I know this because I hauled 2 full baggies of energy drink mix from Denver to Durango last year.
What am I going to carry? I’m going to take a look at the weather forecast on July 31 and decide from there, but hopefully this is a good starting point on what is needed to survive this brute of a race.
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