Bikepacking…. what sort of Gear are you taking?
No I’m not talking about your sleeping bag, tent or rain pants.. It’s about the cogs, your gears on the bike … your front chainring[s] and rear cassette.
I came across an article on the topic with some observations from the legendary ultra distance racer Jay Petervary. I don’t have a lot in common with Jay except that what he says is true for him, is the truth for me …. and for all of us!
“a rider can get away with a certain range on the first few days of a tour, but as the rider gets more tired and the days get longer, all of a sudden you’re looking for a wider spread.”
For most, buying a mountain bike and heading off XC racing and then maybe venturing into bikepacking with a loaded bike there is only casual consideration of what your off the shelf bike gear specifications set-up is. The 3x10 drive chain was almost standard as the 29er became mainstream from around 2013. Soon followed by 2x and more recently 1x drive trains as the bike industry finds new and endless ways of presenting us with the Emperor’s New Clothes.
The journey into the world of gear ratios, chainrings and cassettes evolves for each of us over time. It’s sometimes a slow dawning …. on occasions after moonlit nights and a lot of walking up very steep hills.
In the first two years of the Cloudride there were some revealing moments for a number of riders who thought they had all bases covered with experience, gear, bike and fitness only to discover after a day or two that they had grossly underestimated the difficulty and steepness of the Australian east coast terrain.
After 2015 I made some changes to the route that reduced the volume of difficult sections and introduced a better balance of difficult and faster sections that is now the current 1000k journey.
Steve Fitchett 2017 Cloudride winner.
"Just awaiting an egg and bacon roll in Bungendore I want to savour the last of your masochistic masterpiece beautiful yet brutal…"
It’s still tough! The difficult sections are just as steep and difficult, often loose rubble adds to the technical difficulty. You need to be a very strong rider to clean these sections, no harm in walking them but having a decent low range 40/42 tooth cog on the back and a max 32t on the front might help….. I run a 2x and even went to a 22t on the front for a while in 2015. It was terrible for anything other than climbing a wall. Once the 11-40t cassette option arrived I switched back to 26t on the front that I now find is my sweet spot for climbing. So, the bottom line of best advice is if you’re young [under 60!] and fit but not at the elite level don’t hesitate to go for a 28t or 30t front ring.
The other critical factor in making your gearing choice [read JP’s comment again] is to get out into some difficult terrain and do some multiple 12-14 hour days with +2,500Vm. Don’t delude yourself that cranking out 150k with a few hills in 10-12 hours on a training ride is anywhere near what you will experience on any given day racing the Cloudride route. Accumulated fatigue will slam you on day two and three to a level that you need to experience BEFORE you go out on a multi day self supported race.
Matt Turner 2nd place 2017 Cloudride
"By 9pm I was totally spent and felt unable to continue for the day. I had only traveled 105km and 3000m elevation in 15 hours. Jindabyne was too far and nothing would be open when I got there. Better to get an early start and be at Jindy for when something hopefully opens up."
Back to the gears. To further illustrate this point I’ll revisit a question I put to our two ITT riders Pete Salakas and Anton Iassenev who had recently completed the Cloudride 1000k route [6d:11h] before the Grand Depart riders. I was asked by Jeroen Jedelo [an entrant this year] for some advice on his 1x front ring choice for this years race. So while the race route was fresh in their consciousness I passed the question to Pete and Anton... two strapping young lads a bit either side of 30 …. on their own admission carrying way too much gear.
“Jeroen Jedelo was going to go with a 1x10 and a 34t on the front .... says he’s OK on the climbing but not elite...and he's thinking he might drop to a 30t …”
Anton answered thus ….
“I had 2x10 which was 26/38 front – 11/36 rear basically lowest gear is 26/36.
Heading into the ride I thought I would never touch lowest 3 gears as they seemed ridiculously low. I enjoy climbing too… Well guess what, I spent a good 70% of Cloudride in the lowest 3 gears.
Jeroen is dreaming if he thinks 34 front and 36 rear is enough……. Pete had 30 up front and 42t at the rear and wanted to buy a 28t front when we got to Jindabyne. My advise is go low and give up high gears. If you are going 30km/h+ then put your feet up and coast!
As JP says in the following article it’s still a work in progress …… Haa, something else we have in common.... I’m sticking to my 2x!