During the 80’s and 90’s, when I was a partner of Burley Design Cooperative in Oregon, I spent my summers exploring Eugene’s vast network of abandoned logging roads using a standard steel road bike fitted with larger tires. Little did I know back then that rides like this would become its’ own ‘category’ within the cycling industry. At this year’s Las Vegas Interbike show, the growing bike-packing and gravel grinder niches were well represented, and we picked 5 of our favorite pieces of gear for the cyclist taking the less-traveled road.
Arkel, a Canadian company, isn’t new to the cycling touring crowd, having designed their first cutting-edge pannier bags back in 1988. In the past few years, they have been quick to embrace the emergence of the bike-packing and ultralight (UL) touring market with a wide-range of premium bags and accessories that complement their traditional touring gear.The Seatpacker 15 with the quick release rack is their latest innovative offering. This bag solves some of the biggest complaints with the current crop of minimalist bike bags that use the seat post as an attachment point. The Seatpacker two-part system totally eliminates side-to-side movement (tail wag), while a slim front design with reinforced panels eliminates thigh rub. For riders that have used earlier bag designs, this is a big deal.
The bag is completely waterproof with sealed liner, sliding easily on and off the rack for effortless packing and handling. It also works with dropper posts. The rack’s quick release connection to the underside of the seat means you probably don’t want to be using carbon fiber seat rails (which probably isn’t an issue for most of Arkel’s intended buyers or applications). You do pay a slight weight penalty for having a rack, but we found the trade-off more than worth the few extra ounces.Besides the typical Arkel-quality build and technical materials, we also like the versatility of this pack. Besides bike-packing, it would make a great option for road ‘credit card’ touring. Check out the Seatpacker video on their website to see how everything comes together in a very simple, ingenious package. $219.95 Volume: 9 to 15 liter; Weight seat bag: 440gr; Weight of rack: 280gr. A smaller version, the Seatpacker 9, is available for $199.95 Volume: 9 liters, bag: 360gr, rack: 280gr. $199.95. arkel-od.com
American Made For Adventure: Co-Motion Klatch Frame & Rolf Wheels
What’s not to like about two ‘Made-in-America’ businesses competing (and winning) with the big boys in the industry? For Co-Motion Owner Dwan Shepard, the bike-packing category is more than just a few bucks off a growing niche. The passion for backcountry exploring shows in the miles he spends playing on Oregon’s dirt roads using his Klatch bike (if only I had had this machine back in the day). The Klatch can handle 40mm off-road tires, features exclusive Reynolds 853 steel tubing, and is ready for disc brakes and hydraulic cable routing. Besides bike-packing, this model will serve double duty as an outstanding gravel racer. Like any good frame builder, Co-Motion offers a host of options, like S&S couplers, that are too numerous to cover here.
Frame Only: $2,095; complete bike, depending on build, will come in around 22-24 pounds. The Klatch with the Ultegra ‘Elite’ kit runs $4,550; with Shimano 105, the ‘Sport’ kit drops the price for a ticket to adventure to $4,195. co-motion.com, rolfprima.com
According to Rolf’s Brian Roddy, if you need a “great do it all wheelset” for backcountry escapes, their Hyalite 700c hoops will get the job done. Talk about road to dirt flexibility, you can run 120 psi 25c road tires or 60 psi 40c tires or even 30 psi 2.25 tires. For those looking for maximum versatility – like competitive gravel grinder events – we would opt for their White Industries ‘high-engagement’ free hub version offered with the Hyalite family. The 20/20 spoke count wheels come in at 1520g and cost $1,199. An “ES” model with a less-expensive hub option and a 24/24 spoke configuration, drops the cost to $899 – 1575g. rolfprima.com
The Breaker Multi-Tool
It’s not the lightest or most compact multi-tool on the market but this is a product for any admirer of old-school craftsmanship. This cast-from-stainless steel tool (using a lost wax casting process) showcases this type of attention to detail. In today’s high-tech marketplace, the patent-pending Breaker might seem a bit old-world but the workshop-grade tool was a hit on Kickstarter and this year’s Interbike.
For adventure travels where equipment durability is at a premium, you’ll want this tool with you. The breaker features a chain breaker with a tool grade stainless steel pin, magnetic tool bit slots positioned so the matching 3,4,5,6,8 mm hex bolts can be used like a screwdriver (or the bits can be moved to side if extra leverage is needed), tire iron, spoke key, tool bit extender, Phillips head screwdriver, T25 Torx Bit, and (most importantly) a bottle opener. Completing that old-world feel, the tool and parts are packaged in a leather case with recycled inner tube pouch. Tool: 100g – with leather case, 185g $69. fullwindsor.cc
Though the brand isn’t particularly well known here in the U.S., Germany’s Ortlieb has quietly been building a strong international following with their waterproof rack-touring bags. For 2017, they’re hoping to carry that reputation into the bike-packing category. According to Jeff Scully, Ortlieb’s USA’s president, their approach to the sag issue for bike-packing seat bags was to utilize a “double seat-post strap system” as well as stiffening the nose piece area – allowing for a “more laterally stable” framework. They also added a small valve to the waterproof ‘dry’ bag to bleed out excess air when compressed, which helps to firm up the bag profile. Their marketing team kept it simple with naming this new $165 addition to the line, calling it the Seat-Pack. 430g. ortliebusa.com