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The road to 40 years old – carrying stuff

January 21, 2009

As I map out the coming months, one thing is clear.  Whatever route I take and where ever I go, I will need to carry gear.   By gear, I’m not just saying water and food.  Nope, I will likely need to carry some overnight gear, food, water or water filtration, camera and repair parts.  I know there is more and a lot more detail than those categories above.   This email is not about the categories.  Nope, it is about how to carry gear.

I’ve done the extended tour thing where I had racks, bags, and straps.  Somehow I managed to carry everything but the kitchen sink.

How'd I carry all that stuff?

How'd I carry all that stuff?

Looking at that picture, I laugh a bit.  Just after that picture was taken, I packed up and left the Colorado National Monument for Moab, Utah.  My route was the Kokopelli, 126 miles.  On this little journey, I learned a couple of things.

1)  Panniers aren’t necessarily the best choice for off road touring.  More than once, I had to stop and reposition or reattach my panniers.

2)  Weight matters when doing an off road tour.  Pretty self explanatory but until you do it, you may not realize how much this matters.

3)  Vibration.  I lost a very valuable (to me) Patagonia fleece.   Thankfully, this was a matter of life or death, but as a result, I had a couple of cold nights.

As I’ve previously posted, my friend Joe convinced me to consider bags.  Eric at Epic Design built me a custom bag for my Fargo.   I’ve discussed it a bit here and on my work blog.

Epic Design bags are pretty amazing

Epic Design bags are pretty amazing

Over the last couple of months riding with a frame bag, I’ve grown to really like it.   I was a skeptic at first because I was stuck in my traditional tour mode of packing.  I had my way.  I had my little stuff sacks and I had a vision for how and where everything went.   Once I got over the change, I’ve now got a system for packing my frame bag.   I know go on winter rides and carry extra stuff just in case the dreadful “something” happens and I need dry & warm clothing or protection. The stuff doesn’t move.  The stuff is integrated into the bicycle as opposed to hanging off the bike.

However, not all is perfect.  This past weekend I found out that in cross winds, a full frame bag can be a bit of a handful.  I had 20 MPH side winds.  I was on a shoulder that had snow and ice.  In more than one instance, I was literally pushed sideways.   Looking back at my tour in Alaska, I still remember one section of gravel in Alaska where I was pushed sideways on a gravel road as I crossed an open glacial moraine at about 3.5MPH.   Doing that section again in the same conditions with a full frame bag would have been challenging.  Really challenging.  Right now, I’m not sure which way would have been worse.

Beyond this new found fact, I still think that frame bags are the ticket.   My gear requirements are minimalistic.  I don’t want stuff rattling around.  I want them integrated and not too far off the back or way low like low riders (catch on rocks).  Right now I’m thinking that I will build around my frame bag  as well as a large seat bag.

I need to tackle the water issue next along with the camera issue as both are required equipment.  One arguable.  One not so arguable.  Regardless, they are both requirements for me.  Due to my back issue, I can’t carry as much stuff on my back as I probably need too.   I really need to keep my Wingnut back pack light.    I’ve got a couple of good ideas.

Stay tuned as I obsess about carrying stuff.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. January 21, 2009 6:43 am

    I’ve been playing with several ways to carry “stuff” with the frame bags and get it all contained on the bike. It is possible to get full touring regalia on the bike with minimal amounts of gear on the back, sans a bit of food and water. There are several cliches to describe this, “less is more” is one that comes to me.

  2. January 21, 2009 12:30 pm

    I am watching with great interest here. It will take a lot of convincing before I will go with a frame bag. I think I am headed for a slightly different tack with the Fargo, but with similar goals in mind.

    This is going to be fun!

  3. Gnat permalink*
    January 21, 2009 8:01 pm

    Meiser, I can’t wait to see your final set up.

    GT, interesting. I can’t wait to hear your story and plan for the Fargo. For me though, I’m not sure if the idea I have in my head is for the Fargo. If I end up really following through with this idea in my head, right now I’m thinking its an El Mariachi with a suspension fork or my Big Mama. We shall see.

  4. January 21, 2009 9:09 pm

    Very interesting indeed… I’m looking forward to this little shootout too. I’ve gotta’ say that, while by then I’ll have all three bikes mentioned in my stable, I’ll most likely be Big Mama-mounted for the epic journey. I’m still pining on my cargo carrying setup, as I am the fork I’ll be running. The El Mariachi is an appealing option as well… It’s gotta’ be suspension for this 36+ year old body. That much I know for certain. I’ll let my fingers do the walkin’ — 1-800-BIG-MAMA. I’ll be ridin’ and smilin’ all day long. I can’t wait to see, to experience it all…

  5. January 22, 2009 9:25 am

    How does the surface area of a frame bag compare to that of front and rear panniers? I can’t see that it is significantly more. I’ve been pushed all over the road by cross winds with all sorts of luggage options.

  6. Gnat permalink*
    January 22, 2009 9:46 am

    John, I don’t have a technical answer for you and it depends on what size bike and/or framebag you use, but intutively I think it is different, here’s why.

    If you look at a traditional touring bike with panniers mounted. The panniers are over the wheels. Wheels also cause a bike to get pushed over due to spokes and what not. On a traditional touring bike, this cross wind catching surface area is a bit less because both the wheels and the panniers are in the same physical location.

    Now….Take a frame bag. Now the wheels are still rotating and being impacted by the wind. In addition, the main triangle is now one big sail as well. This could mean ultimately that more surface area is taking or catching wind.

    I’ll admit, this is very, very non scientific nor have I tested this theory. It is a theory that is going on in my mind because it really shocked me the other day when my bike physically moved feet during a heavy wind gust. Again, theory.

    Anyone else have thoughts here.

  7. January 22, 2009 12:23 pm

    I think it’s great that you found something you like and you are fortunate to have a friend who was able to make the custom bag for you. Obviously the cross winds would be an issue, but packing this way could be great for some people on some trips.

    My question, however, is what exactly are you carrying in the frame pack and what are you not? Because I can see you fitting a rain jacket and pants and maybe your bike tools, etc in the bag, but not much else. For example, when traveling long distances, where do you put your tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, stove, food, water, etc? Or did you just ditch most of that?

  8. Gnat permalink*
    January 22, 2009 8:12 pm

    Darren, thanks for the comment. Very cool website you have there. I just checked it out and will frequently check back.

    First, the set up I am going for isn’t a replacement for traditional type touring….At least not without some serious sacrifice. This set up is for light weight, or ultra light, bike packing and I’m following the lead set by many other individuals. It’s taking minimal gear and covering serious miles. This method opens up new doors, new trails by freeing you from traditional gear and by providing a bike that is more capable to ride off the pavement or gravel road.

    Second, what do I carry. I’ll be rolling that out as my plan is finalized. That said, today on my way to work I was carrying 2 29er tubes, a small tool kit, tire irons, a mid size rectangular Tupperware, a mini pump, two emergency heat packs, and an extra set of gloves that I use if I want to take my mittens off for stopping and taking photographs. On my way home I added to this as I cleaned out my locker at work and brought 2 days worth of clothes home to wash. I also put my neck gator in there as my ride home was at about 30 degrees and I didn’t need it.

    Again, this set up isn’t for everyone nor is it aimed at replacing panniers and what not. It certainly is an option for some.

    Hope that helps.

  9. January 22, 2009 10:39 pm

    Just as a note to John G: I have ridden in extreme wind with front and rear mounted panniers and Gnat’s analysis is very close to the mark here. You still get a fair amount of push, but I can’t imagine what it might have been like with a frame bag in the wind I rode in. (40-50mph winds)

    The wheels do have that “pie plate” effect whether you have panniers on or not, the wind “sees” that mass of spinning spokes as something solid anyway. So, putting bags over that area of the bike adds little to your problems in cross winds, in my mind anyway.

  10. Eric permalink
    January 23, 2009 10:42 pm

    Interesting, I’ve never noticed a issue with it. I think to really make a comparison you’d have to be riding with someone without a frame bag and see how much more you have to steer in a crosswind. I guess the mid-west & plains is a good a place as any for this..

    I never noticed a problem in the windy places I’ve ridden with them. In Patagonia where it was super windy I also had a rear rack so that stabilized the bike more than if I solely had not much gear and just the frame bag. On the whole though I haven’t had much feedback about the crosswind effect much. Keep me posted.

  11. January 24, 2009 9:43 am

    Thanks for the input. I’ve ridden in windy conditions with panniers, but my frame bag experience is limited to commuting to high school in the 1970’s with a groovy orange AMF frame bag.


  1. The road to 40 - Carrying even more stuff « Gnat Likes Bikes

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