Updated: Jan 12, 2020
I test gear constantly. It's part of my fun in this world of bikepacking, touring and racing. Most long rides, beyond the enjoyment of getting lost and exploring new areas, hold a purpose for putting a piece of gear, or a "system", through it's paces. It's not necessarily the focal point of the ride , but I add it in to ensure I'm learning something each time I log long miles in the saddle. I want to make sure I have found what really works best for me, and often what works for me changes with time, terrain and even mood.
That's pretty much what I've been doing for the past several months. It's not like I'm spending enormous amounts of money on things, using them once and them shelving them. Most of what I'm testing is a slight iteration of a system that I already have, or an item borrowed from a friend before making a purchase. It goes without saying that nothing I can do in training will fully simulate what a race like the American Trail Race will put in front of me. You can't really figure that out until you get into the thick of it. So I throw myself into the middle of nowhere when possible, try and push the gear a bit, then extrapolate from there.
Even after I took these pictures just a week ago, I made more adjustments. But I don't have the time to take new pictures. This isn't my job. The bike is in a box, about to be on a truck being shipped across the country to North Carolina. I'll just note that as I go through this.
The bike, with all the final gear that will be on it, in the bike box, weighs 48.5 pounds. How much does a bike box and packing materials weigh? No idea. That's more steps than I was willing to do. The bike is well under 50 pounds, which I'm happy about.
One more note: no sponsorships here, no discounts given for plugs, no paid advertisements. This is just a dude that likes gear and just happens to be about to put it all through a boat load of miles. I like to support the companies that I have appreciated working with and who make good products and provide great service. You'll see links embeded in a few places to reflect that.
Probably not what you would have expected. Here's my logic: I already have a pretty capable gravel bike (Ibis Hakka MX) as well as a full suspension (Intense Primer), but neither one of these really fit the profile for this race. I wanted something efficient, yet could be softened a bit with larger cross country tires. I focused on something that would climb well but would also handle well on fast, loose descents. My ol' hardtail was a size too small, and so I was left to buy a new frame (what a bummer!). The DV9 had most of the characteristics I was looking for, and would also make a great 120mm hardtail later this fall for exploring some of the Utah Mixed Epic route. A slack front end and long wheel base ends up giving me enourmous amounts of confidence on fast trails, especially when weight distribution gets funky on a packing setup. Ibis launched this bike right when I was in the market, and I had a helluva good time on their Hakka MX for the Trans Am Bike Race last year. For under $1,000, it seemed to make sense.
After several months of riding it, both on and off road, I don't have any regrets. It's fun to ride, and I feel confident to take it almost anywhere. I recently rode the Kokopelli section of the Whole Enchilada in Moab, fully loaded, and it worked pretty well through the chunkier rocks. The only two issues I could raise are frame capacity for storage and that a 34T is the largest chainring it will accept. But Ibis wasn't really making this bike with bikepacking in mind, so no knock to them here.
Brakes: Shimano SLX
Shifter: Shimano XTR
Rear Derailluer: Shimano XT
Cranks: Race Face Affect, 175mm, 32T
Cassette: SRAM GX 11 spd 10-42
Pedals: Shimano XTR
I've been using SRAM almost exclusively for the last 5 years, so I decided to give Shimano a try this time around. The parts were less expensive, more accessible, and I didn't plan on doing a fancy eagle build for something that was going to get beat to hell. The last Shimano group I rode was an Ultegra 10spd on a road bike, so it's been a while!
Would I do it again? No. I've grown fond of the performance of Shimano brakes, even on their lower level SLX line, and would probably stick with their brakes for future builds... but the shifting is trash. I first started on the XTM8000 shifter, which experienced clucky and sticky shifting out of the box. Shifts into larger cogs required a massive effort from the thumb. Delayed "thuds" are felt on most up and down shifts, and often the shifter can be picky on what constituted a up shift. On some gears, it was a small engagement, for others it needed to be a deeper push. I've adjusted the clutch and rerouted cables only to help a touch. There's quite a bit of information online about issues with the M8000 series of XT shifters, so I upgraded to the XTR version, hoping to smooth things out... but I'm finding only marginal improvements. Maybe it's a Shimano mountain bike groupset thing, or maybe I'm having bad luck, but I can get better shifting out of a SRAM GX group than Shimano's top of the line XTR. If you see my bike in a ditch somewhere in the middle of the country, it's probably because I'm done with this damn shifting.
Niner RDO Boost
I ate alot of ramen with a fork because of this fork. Honestly, this thing broke the budget. But, it's been a solid workhouse with a pretty good compliance profile. I never feel beat up in the arms and upper back when finishing long rides on harsh terrain, and it's stiff yet feathery through fast chunky trail. Gripes? No pre-drilled routing for dynamo wiring and only one set of bosses per fork.
Lighting & Electronics
Shutter Precision PD-8X-110 Dynamo with Supernova E-3 Light
The PD-8X was an extra from a buddy Dylan Morton (racing TD this year- watch out for this guy) and came at a price I couldn't pass up. It rolls smooth and powers the E-3 nicely, with good visibility at low speeds and full brightness hitting about 15mph. I plan to run a 100 lumen helmet light to help with sighting around corners and night camp setup/breakdown.
I won't be charging off the dynamo for the ATR. I own a Plug III, but was having a hard time finding a shop willing to drill into the fork for its (required) internal routing... and honestly with as harsh as some of the sections of this trail will be, I didn't want to do that either. I never found the charging all that consistent with the Plug when using it for TransAm, so I wasn't in a hurry to install it either.
I'm packing a beastly Ankor 21000 mAh battery pack, which could be a big weight penalty, but I estimate I can charge my phone, Wahoo and backup lights for about 3 days before needing a full recharge. It also features quick recharging through USB-C so if I stay on top of intermintent charging while at restaurants, I suspect I should be pretty set. Only time will tell.
Most riders would be using an e-Trex for a route like this, but I've had pretty good success with Wahoo's navigation capabilities. Plus with offline RWGPS I feel confident with course navigation.
Apidura 9L Expedition Saddle Pack and Expedition Top Tube Pack
Both of these bags are leftovers from Trans Am, and while not my favorites of the group, they get the job done. The seat bag will house all clothes for ATR, and unless fully loaded, it has a good bit of sway to it. It's also a little bit of an annoyance to get on and off if you want to make any saddle adjustments (which I do every few days), but that's likely with most saddle bags.
The top tube pack has been pretty great though. The zipper on this is fairly snag proof and the material is extremely flexible, allowing me to stuff very odd sized items in here and still get a clean zip back up while riding.
ATR Use: First aid, toothbrush, sunscreen, multitool and chain lube. Basically non-food items that I would like to have easy access to while riding.
BedRock Bags Dakota Tank Bag
Holy mother of storage. This 1.5L bag is large and can fit whatever you throw at it. I'm mainly using it as a electronics charging base. The Ankor battery tucks snugly down one side, with cords on the other. I can run a plug up to the Wahoo (sitting on it's dock on the aero bar mount) and charge while riding, or place whatever is charging in the bag as well.
I do get some interference with the ends of the aero bars while turning because the bag is so tall, but the bag seems to move side to side just fine with it. I'm not sure about the need for the large metal clasp on the top tube strap, which ends up betting torqued right on the frame. A hefty amount of electrical tape is needed to avoid scratching.
ATR Use: Readily accessible electronics, maybe a few snacks.
Bedrock Honaker Nalgene Bag
Water capacity is going to be critical for this race, and I couldn't be happier with this addition. Using two cinches and a clever velcro securement system, I've found this bag practically bombproof while adding 32 ounces down low on the bike. I have about 1,000 miles of rocky rough terrain on this thing and it hasn't moved an inch. Bedrock also shipped me a few extra velcros when I needed to shift the placement.
ATR Use: Water resupply (long stretches mainly)
Rockgeist Custom Wedge Frame Bag
I partnered with Rockgeist for a custom full frame bag for TransAm last year. I was super pleased with how well that bag fit my Hakka MX, and the materials and construction have held up to over 10,000 road miles. They were definitely at the top of my list to work on this custom half frame bag for the DV9. One of the things that nagged me about my TransAm setup is that I didn't have a regular water bottle. Removing a bladder constantly from a frame bag to take into convenience stores to fill sucks after a while, and I wanted to have options for simple bottle refills this time around. But without a frame bag and only bottles, I was losing valuable storage space.
I chatted a few times with Greg at Rockgeist, and agreed that a half frame bag that also allowed access to a 28 oz bottle on the frame would be a good option.
When my last long training ride for ATR was pushed up, Rockgeist also came through with getting the bag shipped a week early.
ATR Use: Hydrapak Seeker 2L collapsable water bladder, snacks, spare tube shoved in bottom, maps and water purification tables (non-drive side zipper pocket).
Oveja Negra Bootlegger direct mount fork bags.
I've been really stoked on these bags. Capacity is great, and the direct mount feature is quite secure, allowing me to ditch a little weight from cages and straps. A light aluminum bracket is built into the backside of the bag and is pretty damn stable. I've ridden a good amount of single track with these on and they have very little play. Because they do bolt directly on as one unit, putting the bike on a bike rack requires you to take the bag off, but I rarely put this bike on a rack. Hi-Vis orange always ensures I have some level of visibility on roads.
ATR Use: Sleeping bag in one, sleeping pad and pillow in the other.
Handlebar Bag: Big Agnes Flycreek HV1
I try to keep as much weight off the handlebar area as I can. I find when it gets too heavy here it messes a bit with the bikes handling on technical trail and I wanted to keep the bike feeling as nimble as I could. To accomplish this, I'm only storing the "shelter" components of my camp setup here, and which I might not be accessing every night.
ATR Use: Shelter setup (details below)
Sleeping Bag: Sea to Summit Ultralight Spark 40°F
Sleeping Pad: Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated
Inflatable Pillow: Brand Unknown
Ground Cover: Old Mylar Race Blanket
Shelter: Big Agnes Flycreek HV 1 Fast Fly system (modified)
I couldn't stomach the idea of a bivy for over a month, but a full tent felt like overkill and too much weight. I settled on a hybrid fly system, using the fly from the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV 1, poles (which break down to 12"), and a homemade "footprint" which is basically a piece of nylon webbing with grommets. It sets up in a minute, and provides a good shelter when needed.
On cold nights, the extra clothing I have helps bring a little more warmth to the 40° bag. With the fly, I can stay comfortable down to low 30s. Any colder than that, I'll just get up a ride! .... and as the race goes on I'll care less and less about how comfortable any of this is. Dirt naps FTW!
That's pretty much it. In less than two weeks we'll see how all of this really works. Will there be "what was I thinking?" moments? Absolutely... but that's all part of the fun. Learn and adapt.
Full Kit List
Sleep & Shelter
Sea to Summit Ultralight Spark 40°F Bag
Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Pad
Inflatable pillow (brand unknown)
Big Agnes FlyCreek HV1 Fly, Poles, Modified Footprint
Drivetrain & Components
Shimano SLX brakes (metallic pads)
Shimano XTR shifter and XT rear derailleur
Shimano XTR pedals
RaceFace Affect cranks, 175mm, 32T
SRAM GX cassette, 10-42T
Niner RDO carbon fork, boost
Maxxis Ikon Tires, EXO, 29 x 2.35
Rear Rim: Roval Traverse SL with DT Swiss 240 hub
Front Rim: DT Swiss M502 with Shutter Precision PD-8X-110 hub
Profile Design aero bars
Ti Cycles Fabrication Ti seatpost
Rapha Classic Bibs
Specialized Expert UV Block Jersey
Amazon shoes covers (b/c even the nice ones all fall apart)
Orange bandana for sun protection and hi-visiblity
Patagonia light rain jacket
Pearl Izumi Softshell Lite Gloves
GORE Shell Knee Warmers
Helly Hansen Wool Baselayer
Tifosi Davos sunglasses with interchangeable lenses
Thin wool socks
Hygiene & First aid
Whistle (for dogs)
Pepper spray (for bad dogs)
Chamois cream packets (for my ass)
Baby powder (for my ass, my poor ass)
(1) packet hot hands
Bike Repair & Maintenance
Lezyne HV Hand Pump
Chain breaker with master link
(20) Water tablets
(1) 32 oz Nalgene (downtube)
(2) 20 oz bottles (seat stays- last minute add!)
(2) 28 oz bottles (frame & aerobars)
(1) 70 oz Hydrapak Seeker collapsable bladder
*can store additional fluid in jersey pockets for extreme stretches.
Electronics, Lights & Navigation
Google Pixel 2
Ankor 21000 mAh Battery Pack & Charger
USB to multi prong (charging multiple devices at once)
SuperNova E-3 Light (Dynamo Powered)
100 lumen helmet light (USB rechargeable)
Cateye Rapid X Rear Light (USB rechargeable)
Spare Lithium Ion Batteries
Spot Gen 3 tracker
Printed & laminated mile marker maps & notes
Post Office General Delivery