Bikepacking for me started with a loop of the Cairngorms on a hot, sunny weekend in 2013. I used a couple of harnesses borrowed from Annie to attach oversized, dumpy drybags to the bars and seat of an Orange Elite 26” hardtail, and faded into the moors. A couple of days later I emerged, slavering a little and desperate for a shower, but also permanently attached to the idea of carrying camping stuff on my bike rather than my back, and riding to places too far away to sleep in your own bed at the end of the day.
The bike itself was skinny and built for cross-country racing. Foam grips, a flipped stem and those tiny, tiny wheels (do they even work anymore..?) didn’t add up to a particularly comfortable ride, but luckily I’d had the wisdom to fit some high-volume tubeless tyres. The level of traction from the weight of the gear was a bit of a revelation, not to mention the terror-inducing speeds of a loaded bike on a long gravel road descent. Magic!
Not long afterwards I joined the future with a Trek Stache 29er. This felt like a move in the right direction in terms of a growing number of bikepacking trips – more relaxed geometry, a higher stem and obviously those larger wheels. Adding a ‘manual granny’ – a granny ring without a front mech that must be changed by hand – was great for loaded riding off-road, and the Bontrager tubeless tyres were cheap, tough and high volume, so a series of them came and went and got worn out. One of the few things that I changed was to add the Hope brakes that I always add to my bikes, as they are reliable, easy to service and have ace modulation. When we rode around/over/across Iceland in 2014, the Stache took on a heavier load than normal, which was perhaps a little cruel, but aside from slightly slower handling no disasters occurred. I valued having a bike that would perform well on ‘proper’ singletrack with a lighter load more than one that was suited to many miles as an out and out tourer. The magic-carpet feeling of glue-like traction was miles better than it had been on the Elite, but I still found myself wanting more support, even when running the tyres as soft as I could. I became aware of some crazy new tyre size through David at Bothy Bikes in Aviemore, when he started rolling around on a Surly steamroller that was being called ‘29+’…
Currently, for touring/bikepacking/bushwhacking and any other adventure that requires a solid and dependable steed, I use a Surly Krampus. It isn’t designed as a tourer, it doesn’t have the low BB of its brother the ECR, or the myriad attachment points and long wheebase. It’s so capable in the mountains though that I just don’t care. Although it’s comfortable enough to pedal all day and is a hoot for day-rides on smoother trails, it really shines when it’s loaded up and taken to rough 4×4 tracks or technical singletrack – the stability and level of controlled traction always makes me smile, while the rigid fork and massive tyre diameter makes OTB incidents mercifully rare. It will never be the fastest bike down the hill, but some of the things I’ve taken it down with a full compliment of luggage are outrageous – the Achnashellach descent in Torridon is one example that I expected to walk the majority of, but somehow emerged at the bottom with clean feet.
The stock build was good value, but heavy, oh so heavy. I don’t tend to obsess over weight, but at every upward turn in a trail the Krampus would slow dramatically, and it felt as though four legs rather than two were needed to beat the inertia. A series of rolling changes have saved several kilos and made it into a whole new bike.
First to go was the heavy Surly chainset, changed to a Raceface Turbine direct-mount setup. It lost me the ability to run a granny ring due to tyre rub, but since Raceface make a 26t direct-mount chainring if you want it, that hasn’t been a problem. Recently, putting an 11-speed XT drivetrain on the back has opened up a wider range of gears to make the most of the traction on technical climbs.
One of the biggest changes was wearing out the supplied Surly Knard tyres, and replacing them with tubeless-ready Maxxis Chronicles. The weight saved was noticeable, and the extra suppleness of a tubeless tyre has been a huge help on the rocky trails of the Cairngorms. From experience, the bigger the tyre the greater the advantage of tubeless, and I haven’t looked back. Patagonia will be a test of the reliability of the tubeless setup on the stock Rabbit Hole rim, but I choose to take standard 29er tubes rather than full-size (heavy) 29+ tubes.
The mechanical discs went in favour of the mandatory Hope X2s, and as the cheapish hubs didn’t survive their first salty winter, they were replaced by dependable Hope Pro2 Evos. A Salsa Firestarter carbon fork going cheap lost half a kilo from the front end as well as adding the ability to bolt on Anything Cages, which was a huge bonus. A 70mm stem, 750mm Salsa flat bar and Thomson seatpost finish it off.
Most importantly from a bikepacking point of view are the Revelate Designs bags that hold the kit! The Krampus’ dropped top-tube limits the size of the frame bag a little, or perhaps it’s just my stubby legs. I use a Harness on the handlebars, which van accept a detachable drybag as well as odds and ends like tent poles, tripod or even a packraft and paddle. Behind the seat is usually a Terrpain drybag holster, but in Patagonia I’ll be using a regular Viscacha seatpack to squeeze in a bit of extra volume. A series of small bags are dotted about – the toptube Gas Tank is great for a day or two’s worth of snacks, as are the Mountain Feed Bags nestling beside the stem. For longer trips, Anything cages on either side of the fork and beneath the downtube add 5l of volume when used with a drybag.
The Krampus is a jack of all trades – able to cope well with long days on smoother surfaces, use as a regular trail bike, and excels at the technical bikepacking that I love. I’m intrigued by the greater versatility and lower weight of a 29”/27.5+ setup, and that might become the norm if current product releases are anything to go by, but 29+’s stable platform when loaded will be hard to beat.
Annie’s bike has undergone a few iterations. Starting life as a black Orange P7, it has since emerged from its chrysalis to become a beautiful blue Frankenbike with purple Hope X2 brakes. The rear is a standard Hope Pro 2 EVO built onto a ZTR Crest rim, but up front a 135mm hub built on to a 50mm trails rim takes a Surly Larry 3.8” tyre, and fits into a steel Salsa rigid fork. Annie loves it, although it is a little on the small side. The fat front tyre doesn’t sacrifice too much rolling speed, but the added stability when a heavy load is pressing down on the front of the bike in steeper situations is visibly apparent. It also moonlights as a normal bike from time to time, fitted with the front wheel that matches the rear, and a 120mm Rockshox Reba fork. I think I know which she prefers though.
Annie also uses Revelate Designs bags: a Harness on the front, a recently acquired terrapin on the back, and a Tangle half-frame bag in between. The rigid forks can take Anything Cages for those times when you’re not sure where the next bit of fresh fruit is coming from.