Tuesday, November 25, 2014

No More Panniers! The New Setup

A frame bag for food, a lightweight backpack for sleeping gear and clothes, and a small top tube bag for extras.  Tent on the handlebars.

When you carry heavy belongings every day, it's hard not to question their worth.  Here is what my bike setup used to look like:

It's hard to tell from this picture, but my stuff fit into two rear panniers, a backpack on top of the panniers, a handlebar bag (the "brain" of my backpack), and a top tube bag (the black bag behind the handlebars).  The waterproof panniers provided ample room for my bear canister and cold weather gear, and the heavy-duty backpack carried loads admirably through thick brush in Alaska.  But there was a price for such durability and space: the bags weighed almost ten pounds by themselves!  For the warmer parts of the world we're heading to now, Tam and I don't carry enough to justify being so weighed down, nor do we need the space.  Here are a few specific changes we made and the rationale behind them:

1) No More Panniers. Weight Savings: ~3lbs 3oz
Making The Frame Bag

We sold our Ortlieb Backroller Panniers (4lbs 3oz) in favor of a homemade frame bag (<1lb) that sits in the center triangle of our bikes.  We won't be able to carry nearly as much gear, but, with the weight centered rather than behind the saddle, the bike's handling and aerodynamics will be much improved. 

2) Lightweight Backpack. Weight Savings: 3lbs 5oz
My full-framed Osprey Aether 70 is incredibly tough and handles heavy loads with ease.  But, at 5lbs 3oz, and with its big, rigid frame, it doesn't fit well on a bike.  Enter the GoLite Jam 50, 1lb 14oz.  It lacks a frame, meaning it can be rolled up to fit on top of my bike's rear rack.  I can't use it to carry a lot of weight, but I don't have much stuff anyway.  Tam is keeping her full-framed Osprey Aura 50; it weighs a bit more than the Jam, but it works.  And she will certainly be more comfortable when we go backpacking!

3) Bye Bye, Bike Shoes. Weight Savings: 1lb 7oz
Power Grips

A few months into our trip, we mailed home our "clipless" shoes and pedals, the standard for competitive cyclists and many tourers, and acquired normal platform pedals with Power Grips, simple straps to improve the pedaling efficiency of normal shoes.  We carry hiking shoes anyway for backpacking (Merrell Moabs are my favorite), and riding in those rather than their being in our bags has many advantages.  We are lighter, better equipped for short forays into stores or down steep riverbanks to get water, and not cluttered mentally and physically by a superfluous pair of shoes.  If our pedaling is less efficient because of our feet no longer being in rigid shoes attached to the pedals, we haven't noticed it.

4) Less Stuff!  Weight Savings: ~5lbs
As we slowly approach the equator, cold weather will become a thing of the past.  No longer necessary will be our fleece layers, warm gloves, shoe covers, or beanies.  And, since we'll be leaving bears behind as well, we won't have to carry those clunky bear canisters (2lbs 9oz) anymore!
Goodbye, Bear Can.  We Won't Miss You.

Total Weight Savings: ~13lbs

This isn't all the weight we're cutting, and there are also a few things (like extra bike repair stuff) that we are adding.  So 13 pounds is probably a good estimate.  13 pounds!  I'm excited to get on the road again and not feel that weight.  We'll be able to ride faster and with less effort, especially into the wind.  Less weight also means less wear on our bikes, especially on the tires and chains.

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