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Tag Archives: West Branch State Park

Panniers and bivvies and Crocs, oh my!

I’ve been helping my friend Keven select bike-camping gear lately, and so we planned a Sub 24-Hour Overnight to test it out. Keven rode down to meet me in Peninsula, and we left as soon as I got off work at 4:00pm. We headed up to Hudson and stopped at the Acme for supplies.

I brought my commuter bike this time around, because it was the bike most ready to go in touring mode (my Salsa Fargo currently has mountain bike tires on it). Keven rode his Cannondale flat-bar commuter bike, with his gear all on the rear rack.

I had a couple new pieces of gear of my own to test out.

First were my new panniers from Hyalite Equipment (formerly known as Pacific Outdoor Equipment). The rear panniers are sold as a set, and the front panniers are sold individually. The rear panniers are left- and right-specific, with cutouts for heel clearance. The front panniers are ambidextrous. The rear model has zippered side pockets. They all are waterproof, and use a roll-top closure, with side-lock buckles and straps to hold the roll-top in place. There’s a loop of velcro attached to the ends of each strap, so you can roll up the excess strap and hold it in place without it blowing in the wind and getting caught in your spokes. The R&K hardware is adjustable, so you can make it fit almost any rack. It all looks kind of complicated at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to make all the necessary adjustments the first time you pack up for a trip, and everything just attaches, detaches, opens, and closes easily during your trip. There’s a double pocket on the inside of each pannier, which would probably be big enough for a pair of flip-flops, but not big enough for a standard pair of shoes (or Crocs).

My previous panniers were Axiom Monsoon (front) and Typhoon (rear) panniers. They also had roll-top closures, but with an added flap that dropped down over the roll-top. I found that the flap just got in the way more than anything else when I was trying to get stuff into and out of the panniers, so I don’t miss the flap on the Hyalite panniers.

The one thing the Axiom panniers had that the Hyalite ones don’t is a stiff bottom that allowed the bags to stand up on their own when not on the bike. This was handy when packing the bags at home. I find, however, that during a trip, I usually leave the panniers on the bike most of the time, anyway, so I don’t think I’ll miss this feature, either.

With all of the experimenting I’ve been doing this year with ultra-light, ultra-compact bike-packing gear, the space provided by a full set of four panniers was like being back in the land of luxury. There was a time when I could barely fit everything I needed for a bike trip inside four panniers, but now as I packed for this trip, I kept thinking, “What am I going to put in all of this space?”

In my left rear pannier, I had my sleeping bag, pad, and shelter, with room to spare. In my right rear pannier, I put a pair of Crocs, a pair of pants, t-shirt, sweatshirt, underwear, and a spare pair of socks, hat, pack towel, a bottle of camp soap and sponge, and my toiletries kit; again, all with room to spare.

In my right front pannier, I put my stove, cooking pot, coffee press, bowl, mug, utensils, small pack towel, small scrubbing pad, and fire starter sticks and matches. After putting my food supply in here after the stop at Acme, I still had room to spare.

Finally, the left front pannier was left only for the obligatory 6-pack. While packing, at the last minute I decided to toss in the couple of zip-lock bags full of tools and spare parts. I didn’t think I’d need any of this for a one-night trip, but then figured that since I had the room, it would be foolish not to pack them in case I did end up needing them. This still left plenty of room for the 6-pack as well as room to spare.

The next new piece of gear is not really bike-related, but it’s my new choice of off-the-bike footwear. No matter how comfortable my bike shoes are, I always find that it feels good to have a non-cleated pair of shoes to wear around camp in the evening. I’ve always felt flip-flops were not quite substantial enough. I never thought I’d buy a pair of Crocs; I always thought they were the ugliest and dumbest-looking things around. In talking it out with my other bike-touring friends, though, we came to the conclusion that they’d make the perfect bike-touring shoes. Enough support to walk around for reasonable distances, toe protection, they can double as shower shoes in less-than-ideal facilities, and you can strap them on a rack outside your bags if needed and not have to worry about them getting wet. I decided that if I were going to dive into the world of Crocs-wearers, I may as well dive in feet first and do it right, so I got the garishly bright blue version, to match all of the blue components on my Salsa Fargo.

Finally, the last new piece of gear was the Outdoor Research Highland Bivy. I had been thinking about investing in some kind of ultra-light shelter in place of a full tent in order to get the bulk of my bike-packing gear down even further. The Highland weighs next to nothing, and packs down to next to nothing:

The head area is supported by a single shock-corded pole. It’s got two stake loops on each end, plus a tie-out loop at the top of the hooped head area. I didn’t use any of these, but the stake loops would come in handy if it’s really windy and you need to worry about the thing blowing away when you’re not in it.

The inside is plenty roomy enough for my rectangular inflatable sleeping pad. The head end has a mesh zip-up panel, and then the outer zip-around panel. Getting into the shelter is a bit more of a challenge than a regular tent, but it’s not that bad once you get used to it. It’s not big enough inside to change clothes, but the head area does provide enough space to read or write for a bit before you go to sleep.

I had read in an online review that it’s recommended to leave the outer zip open six to eight inches in order to allow enough air to get inside for you to breathe. I did this after working my way inside for the first time. As I laid there trying to get to sleep, I was panting heavily and out of breath. I figured at first that this was just from exerting myself to get in, so I gave it a few minutes. After about 10 minutes, I was still panting heavily, and I realized that I was suffocating myself. I opened up the outer zipper completely, and that made all the difference in the world; I was able to breathe easy immediately.

With the outer cover zipped almost all the way, the tension from the front and back is enough to keep the hoop upright. However, with the outer cover unzipped, the hoop drooped over. I’ll have to experiment some more; maybe unzipping the cover halfway would provide a balance of enough air with enough support for the hoop. Tying a guy-line to the loop on the top of the hoop would provide good support, but that might make getting into and out of the bivy that much more of a challenge.

There were a few brief showers throughout the evening, but I stayed completely dry. With the outer cover unzipped, I had to try to make sure the edges of the top still hung out over the bottom edge, so that any water falling down would roll onto the ground rather than inside the bivy. This seemed to work well enough during the light rain this evening, but for a full-on downpour, this may not work as well.

In conclusion, the Outdoor Research Highland Bivy provides a reliable and comfortable enough shelter for when I want an ultra-light and ultra-compact option for a one- or two-day trip. Whether or not I could stand having it be my only home for an extended six- or eight-week trip remains to be seen.

Keven and I slept in and took our time packing up our gear in the morning. After making some camp coffee and having some breakfast snacks, we left around 10:30am and rode into Kent for a full breakfast at the Wild Goats Cafe.

Product Review: Salsa Fargo, Part 3 – Touring

This is the third part in my ongoing review of the Salsa Fargo bicycle. In Part 1, I gave my initial impressions based on some short road rides, including commuting. Part 2 was my head-to-head comparison of riding the Fargo on singletrack versus a full-suspension mountain bike. As promised, this post describes my experience with using the Fargo in a touring environment.

First, I’ve made a couple of changes to my Fargo setup since the last part of the review. After the singletrack test was done, I swapped out my Kenda Small Block Eight tires for the new Continental Comfort Contact 700×54. This is a smooth but fat tire, basically equivalent to a 29×2.1-inch tire in size, which runs at a maximum of 60psi. As you might have expected, these tires made the Fargo feel much more road-worthy, rolling more efficiently, not to mention more quietly.

I initially debated about which crankset would be better, a traditional 22/32/44 mountain triple, or a 26/36/48 touring triple. I used the mountain triple for the rides covered in Part 1 and Part 2, and found it to be ideal for riding singletrack, but it felt a bit anemic on pavement. I swapped on the touring triple, and found this, like the tires, made the Fargo feel much more road-worthy. It may seem like a no-brainer: the off-road crankset works better for off-road riding, and the on-road crankset works better for on-road riding, but I can’t really explain why this is the case. The differences in the upper and lower limits of the gear ranges aren’t that significant, and I didn’t really spend much time riding at the upper and lower limits on either crankset. Maybe it’s a mental thing, or maybe it has to do with how often I needed (or didn’t need) to shift between the middle and large chainrings. Anyway, perhaps my experience with choosing the ideal gearing for a Fargo is common, based on the recently released specs of Salsa’s 2012 models. For 2011, they offered the Fargo with one version of the complete bike, which came with a mountain double crankset. For 2012, they are offering it in three complete versions, one with a mountain double, and two with a touring triple.

To transition into touring mode, I installed a pair of Planet Bike’s Cascadia 29er full-coverage fenders. With the Fargo’s full complement of eyelets, plus the chainstay-mounted rear disc brake, the fenders went on without any hassles. The only thing that caught my eye was that the two pair of eyelets on the rear are spaced kind of close together, making the mounting points of the fenders and my Topeak Explorer rack bump against each other. It worked with no problem, but the slightest variation in the length of the rack’s lower struts, or in the angle required for the fender struts, might cause some issues with other fender and rack combinations.

The Topeak rack works great for both commuting and touring, but I decided to dress up the Fargo with matching Salsa front and rear racks. The Salsa Wanderlust rear rack has more streamlined lower eyelets compared to the Topeak, so the rack/fender eyelet crowding is much less of an issue. The upper struts on the Wanderlust rack need to be trimmed to length for installation. Theoretically, you line up the upper struts with the upper eyelets on your bike, then mark the other end of the struts to know where to hacksaw them off. However, it’s not possible to line up the struts with the eyelets at first, because you can’t rotate the struts down enough to clear the strut mounting plate on the rack. This photo makes it more clear what I’m talking about:

Ironically, the installation instructions that come with the rack describe the process of lining up the struts with the eyelets, but they include a photo that looks pretty much like my photo above! So, they’ve designed a rack with a Catch-22 installation procedure: you have to align the struts to know how long to cut them, but it’s impossible to align the struts until after they’re cut. (This would be less of an issue on larger Fargo frames, or other frame models.) What you end up having to do is just completely remove the struts from their mounts on the rack, line up the eyelets, and hold the other end close enough to make an educated guess as to where to mark them to be cut. This is what I did, and my struts ended up being just long enough, so I would suggest over-estimating the length you need on the first cut, test-fit, then cut to trim again as needed.

The front rack from Salsa is called the Downunder. It’s a two-piece rack that uses the lower- and mid-fork eyelets. The problem with many two-piece front racks is that once you load them up with cargo, the torsional forces that the load places on the rack can cause the mounting bolts to loosen, or worse yet, strip out (I have had this happen). The usual solution to this issue is to use a one-piece front rack that has an upper platform or an arch that connects the two sides of the rack, which makes the whole rack rigid enough to relieve the torsional forces on the mounting bolts. The Downunder rack takes a different approach; it keeps the two-piece design to save weight, but the mid-fork mounts have a double prong design. Thus, in addition to the bolt on the lower-fork eyelet, each half of the rack is held in place by a bolt on the outside of the fork leg and a bolt on the inside of the fork leg. This design provides plenty of rigidity, and installation was a breeze.

Not that I anticipated needing them for my first brief touring tests, but just to show how cool they are, I threw on two extra bottle cages using the mounts on the Fargo fork. So finally, here’s a shot of the Fargo in its full touring-mode glory:

One final addition I made that is not apparent in the above photo was to add a taillight bracket to the rear rack. This ended up being a bit more of a science project than I anticipated. Most rear racks made for sale in the US have a light/reflector mount that consists of either two holes oriented vertically, or two holes spaced horizontally at 50mm apart (some, like the Topeak Explorer, have both sets of holes). Many racks made for sale in Europe have a light mount that is two holes oriented horizontally at 80mm apart. The Wanderlust rack has two eyelets spaced 80mm apart, but these eyelets are oriented so that the openings are vertical, i.e. pointed towards the ground and the sky. I emailed Salsa and asked what their thinking was behind this eyelet design, and how they suggested mounting a taillight. In their response, they said that the eyelets are intended for mounting your own home-made enhancements to the rack, and they suggested using a taillight with a rubber or circular (seatstay-type) mounting bracket.

My favorite taillight is the Planet Bike Superflash, which has an optional rack mounting adapter that uses either of the two US-style mounting holes, and I wanted to find a way to make this work. I dug through my stash of spare rack parts, and it turns out I had an adapter made by Topeak that converts an 80mm Euro-style light mount to a vertical US-style mount. I bolted this to the bottom of the Wanderlust’s 80mm eyelets, then bolted an L-bracket (the kind that comes with some cheaper racks in the US market to provide a reflector mounting point) onto the Topeak adapter. The L-bracket then provided two mounting holes in the proper vertical orientation to attach the Planet Bike mounting adapter. So, here’s the finished setup, without the actual taillight, so you can see all of the bracket detail:

I’m still on the fence about how I feel about this. On the one hand, it works really well, and I’m proud of myself for coming up with it. On the other hand, it kind of offends my aesthetic sensibility, because it seems a little too Rube Goldbergian.

I did a few commutes and other short road rides with the Fargo’s touring mode setup, and everything felt great. The first major ride I did was not a “touring” ride in the true sense, but what many recreational cyclists consider to be touring; it was the BikeMS Pedal to the Point on August 13. This is one of the many MS150 rides held throughout the country to raise funds for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. My girlfriend and I do the one-day ride instead of the two-day, so that we don’t have to worry about finding somebody to watch our beagles. We wanted to figure out a way to do this without having to deal with taking a shuttle back (from Sandusky, Ohio) to the starting point (in Middleburg Heights, Ohio). So, we do the first-day route to the lunch stop, including the optional century loop that adds an extra 25-30 miles before lunch. Then, we do the regular route in reverse from the lunch stop back to the starting point. This makes a nice 93-mile loop. The weather forecast that day called for possible thunderstorms, so I put a single waterproof pannier on my rear rack to give us a place to stash our rain jackets and helmet covers, plus to keep our wallets, keys, and cell phones dry. Since we’d be riding the last part of the route “self-supported,” we also threw in a few extra snacks, and took an extra pair of water bottles (in my fork-mounted bottle cages). The predicted rain never came, and the day ended up being not too hot and quite pleasant. The Fargo continued to feel great throughout the whole 93 miles. I never felt like it was a struggle to keep up with the true roadies along the way when I felt so inclined.

My first true self-supported tour on the Fargo came when my friend Brent and I took an S24O trip on August 28. “S24O” stands for “Sub 24-Hour Overnight,” which means a bike-camping trip with a single night stay. The term was coined and made popular by Grant Petersen of Rivendell Bicycle Works; the Adventure Cycling Association has created a spin-off web site dedicated to the activity at www.bikeovernights.org. This was another “Tour de Salsa,” as Brent was once again riding his new Salsa Vaya.

I left work in Peninsula around 5:30pm, after realizing I forgot to pack a bike jersey for the tour. I decided to just ride in my t-shirt, and that worked fine, since it was a cool, pleasant evening. I had a full complement of front and rear panniers. In one rear pannier, I carried all of my camping gear: tent, ground cloth, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, camp pillow, and headlamp. In the other rear pannier, I carried my cooking gear and food: backpacking stove, fuel canister, cook pot, coffee press, plate, bowl, mug, utensils, two packs of instant mashed potatoes, one pack of ramen, and some pre-ground coffee. In one front pannier, I carried spare clothes: shorts to change into at camp; hat, arm warmers, and long-sleeve jersey in case it turned unexpectedly cold; spare socks; and rain jacket. I left the other front pannier empty to serve as a six-pack cooler. I also used a small handlebar bag for my phone, wallet, and keys. If this were a more full-length tour, my gear arrangement would have been a little different in order to better balance the load, plus I’d have more food, clothing, and spare parts and tools. But for this short trip, this packing scheme worked fine and would be easy to keep organized. When I first got going, the bike and panniers felt a little more shaky and unsteady than I had expected, but I think this was just because it had been so long since I had ridden a fully loaded bike. Within a half mile or so, I got used to the feeling again, and the load on the Salsa racks felt rock-solid.

I met Brent at the Acme supermarket in Hudson.

We stocked up on a little more food, and the aforementioned six-pack:

You can see from the shots of us and our bikes that we are sort of using the opposite packing schemes compared to what our bikes are optimized for. I’m using the full front and rear panniers that are more traditional for a road touring bike, where Brent is using a more “fast and light” setup becoming popular with the off-road touring crowd, with his camping gear up front, top tube bag for extras, and other gear in a large seat bag.

We made quick work of the remaining leg of the 26 mile trip to the campground at West Branch State Park, outside of Ravenna, Ohio. We took the Portage County Bike & Hike Trail for part of the route, which is an unpaved rail-trail, so the trip did provide just a small taste of multi-surface touring. We checked in at the campground a bought a bundle of firewood, which let me test the cargo-hauling ability of the Fargo a little more:

We had enough daylight left to get our tents set up, then enjoyed cooking and eating our dinners under the light of the moon and our headlamps.

We got up with the sun, packed up all our gear, fueled up with some camp coffee, and hit the road.

Our return trip was uneventful; our bikes and gear performed well. We stopped at the Starbucks in Hudson for a quick breakfast, then headed back to work.

I noticed one new thing about the Fargo after several rides with the current setup. I mentioned in my two previous reviews that whether riding on-road or off, I spent much more time in the drops of the handlebars on the Fargo, compared to a typical drop-bar road bike. However, I think mostly due to the smooth tires, and partially due to the touring crankset, I’m not having to exert as much effort to keep my momentum up, and so I’m spending a lot more time riding on the hoods now.

In conclusion, the Fargo without a doubt makes a great touring bike. I had some minor setup issues that were more related to the racks and accessories themselves, and not the actual bike. Packing, organizing, and hauling touring gear is a snap, and the Fargo handles it with finesse.

Of course, a longer, more rugged tour would be a true test of the Fargo’s design and abilities. As I mentioned earlier, the Fargo was meant for off-road touring. I’ll be experimenting with some alternative touring setups, including some fast-and-light off-road options, in preparation for a tour of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route I’m planning for 2014. Until then, I’ll report back on any more shake-down tours I undertake. Either way, the Fargo will be the first bike I reach for whenever I’m planning a self-supported bike tour, whether on-road or off.

S24O Bike Camping Trip

Here are a few shots of one of my Sub 24-Hour Overnight (S24O) bike camping trips with my friend Brent. I feel like all of the photos from these type of trips are interchangeable, and the only way to tell one from the next is what bikes we’re riding.

On this trip, I took my Surly Long Haul Trucker, and Brent took his ’09 Salsa Fargo. We started in Peninsula, made a stop for supplies in Hudson, then rode to West Branch State Park outside of Ravenna to spend the night at the campground.

S24O Bike Camping Trip

The latest bike overnight trip led Brent and I to the usual destination, West Branch State Park, outside of Ravenna. Brent rode his Surly Big Dummy, and I rode my Xtracycle. We stopped for breakfast on the return ride the next morning at Perkins in Hudson.

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