Editor’s Dozen: Cass’ 2019 Picks
It’s always hard to squeeze everything we like most into our Awards series. So this year, we’re adding in an Editor’s Dozen – gear, routes, and more – that didn’t make it into our main roundup posts. To kick off, here’s Cass’ pick of 2019, covering family bikepacking, a cargo plus bike, favourite routes, fancy carbon wheels, a Dyneema hip pack, a magic bungee cord, and more…
‘Tis the season of festivitizing… and awards, right? Every year, we tussle over what to include in our yearly wrap up of gear and more. We ponder. We pontificate. We debate. As each one of the team has different interests and passions within the bikepacking fold, striking a balance that covers most bases is always our aim. But we’re the first to admit that it’s often a hard nut to crack.
So for 2019, we’re also including a dozen favourite picks from a few of our editors, too. This is partly because we couldn’t fit everything into our main 2019 Gear of the Year awards post. And partly so you can see where the particular interest of each of us lies…
Surly Big Fat Dummy
Even though it’s the diametric opposite of the lightweight rigs we all aspire to, I probably ride the Big Fat Dummy the most of any bike I own. And I absolutely love it. Being car-free, I use it for both family bikepacking trips and to pick up my son Sage from school, often towing his bike along too, so he can ride home. We use it for local exploration – exploring the local arroyos – and big groceries hauls. Technically, mine is the 2018 model (I preferred the colour), but I bought it earlier this year. I swapped out the wheels for a 29+ set of hoops (as per the 2019 version) and shod it with WTB Ranger Toughs, which are far more practical for my uses than the fat tyre goliaths it came with. For half its life, mine’s been on loan to Matt Mason, the desert-besotted brains behind such sandy challenges as the Monumental Loop – he’s used it both his own family adventures and as a ‘sag wagon’ for group rides. Right now, it’s bedecked with a whole host of bags I’ve collected over the years – some serve as receptacles for Sage’s rockhounding forrays, others carry extra layers, lights, snacks, a lock, tools, and more. The latest addition is a Wald 139 basket for Sage’s dog Bodhi – too cute! This is a bike that I can envisage owning for some time – I’ll use it to load up with gear on future family bikpacking trips, so Sage can pack lighter on his Salsa Timberjack.
- Price: $3025
- Place of Manufacture: Taiwan
- Manufacturer’s Details: SurlyBikes.com
I’ve alluded to how much I like these rims in a recent review of Schwalbe’s excellent G-One Allround 27.5×2.8in tyres (see below). I have to admit that I was a reluctant convert to carbon hoops. The price has always seemed disproportionately high compared to their claimed gains, when considered from a financial perspective at least. But now that I’ve run them for close to a year, in all kinds of terrain, I’m very impressed. I’m hard on my gear and there isn’t a single blemish to be seen, despite hard use and various long-distance flights – not that it’s always a big deal, but my alloy rims are full of small dings. The C-Rims are wide – they’re 49mm internally (and 56mm externally), so they’re best suited to tyres that measure 2.5in or more. I’ve been using them for everything from burly mountain biking to bikepacking to family load hauling. I’ll be writing up a full review in the new year – but in the meantime, these get my seal of approval. The 27.5 version weighs 545g and there’s 6mm offset in the drilling, allowing for more balanced spoke tension when used with asymmetrical hubs. Although they don’t carry a lifetime guarantee like some brands these days, you’re good for five years. Price-wise, I’m not going to tell you they’re a bargain at close to $600 apiece – or as a wheelset, as much an entire Jones SWB Complete, once you factor in befitting hubs (like DT’s 350s) and a build. But I can at least assure you that they’re both very light and plenty strong.
- Price: $590
- Place of Manufacture: China
- Manufacturer’s Details: Jones Bikes
Schwalbe G-One Allround 27.5 x 2.8
I enthused all too recently about these tyres, so I won’t take too much of your time here. Suffice to say, G-Ones will turn your Plus bike (note that my review relates only to the 27.5 x 2.8in model) into a veritable gravel-munching machine. At 655g apiece, you’ll shed as much as a kilo from your usual wheelset, every gram of which is rotational, making it that much more noticeable. The bad news? The lighter LTE version is being dropped for 2020… so stockpile soon! The standard heavier version, which is some $30 cheaper, will still be part of Schwalbe’s range. Hm, I should probably go out and buy another set too, now that I’ve just said this…
- Price: $85
- Place of Manufacture: Indonesia
- Manufacturer’s Details: SchwalbeTires.com
Tarptent Double Rainbow
This year, I’ve been enjoyed a number of family bikepacking trips, which I’ve written about both in the Bikepacking Journal and here. Most of the time we’ve been using a Tarptent Double Rainbow. For a start, it’s light enough that Sage can carry it himself. It packs down small. It’s easier enough to pitch that he can do it himself. And there’s plenty of room for two adults, or an adult and a child. The price is reasonable too, given the quality and weight.
My favourite tents offer a relaxing space to decompress after a day’s ride and promise a refreshing night’s sleep, whatever the weather. The Double Rainbow undoubtedly does a great job at both: it’s a pleasure to pitch and hang out in. Like Dr Who’s remarkable Tardis, inside living space feels especially generous and the high ceiling and plentiful length caters extremely well to tall folk. It’s also relatively affordable and durable, when you take its 1.2kg weight into account. And, just as importantly, the tiny pack size is a real boon for bikepacking, as the whole tent can be easily stuffed into the bottom of a seatpack.
Read the full review here.
- Price $299
- Place of Manufacture USA
- Manufacturer’s Details Tarptent.com
Tow Whee (original)
While I’m on a family theme, Tow Whee’s nifty towing strap (aka the Magic Bungee) has been a complete game-changer. Sage and I absolutely love this device. At just 140g (5oz) it’s light. It’s super quick to attach to his bike – he can do it himself – which helps keep the flow of our ride, especially when the terrain is rolling and he needs an extra bit of help on the ups. The bungee stretches out to just the right length and resistance. Like someone spotting a weight lifter, often I can barely feel it at work, yet it makes all the difference to Sage. If the terrain is semi-technical (relatively speaking), he can manoeuvre around rocks and bumps. The rubber cord itself is super thin and stretchy – the clever bit is how it’s stored in a pleated nylon cover, so it doesn’t drag in the road when we’re close together. And, when it’s not needed, I can quickly wrap it around my seat post. I wouldn’t recommend it for road riding – especially busy roads – but for off-road adventures and quiet bikepaths, it’s transformed the places we can tour together. Plus, it’s great for soul-crushing headwinds! I even think it would be really useful for two riders of different strengths, or if one falls ill and needs help getting to the next town whilst on tour. Note that there’s now a range of different models on offer.
- Price $39
- Place of Manufacture USA
- Manufacturer’s Details TowWhee.com
Exped SynMat HL
I’ve worked my way through many an inflatable mattress over the years. My current favourite is Switzerland-based Exped’s SynMat HL, which is available in a range of lengths and widths. The design is relatively slender (the M I tried tapers from 20.5 to 13.9in, is 72in long, and 2.8in wide), but includes raised, ‘cupping’ side baffles that help prevent you from rolling off. Although not the very lightest on the market (the M is 365g/12.9oz) it packs down small and with the additional Schnozzel Pumpbag, it takes me just 1.5 ‘bagfuls’ of air to blow it up – which is way nicer than the 20+ breaths that many comparable designs require. Plus, there’s little chance of mould developing from the moisture in your breath. Over the many nights it’s been used throughout the summer and fall, mine punctured once, but it was easily repaired with the included kit (and that could well be down to my own slightly laisser faire attitude to checking over my campsite for spikey plants). This is the mat I reach for when it comes to comfort, convenience, and packability – it strikes the right balance for me. My only quibble is that the provided bag isn’t quite big enough to fit the Schnozzel Pumpbag in as well – but the latter does double up as a roomy drybag, which can be very useful.
- Price $169-189
- Place of Manufacture China
- Manufacturer’s Details Exped
Solo Stove Lite
This summer, I made a real effort to cut down on my use of plastics whilst bikepacking. And whilst I was at it, I figured I’d reduce my dependency on fossil fuels too. The Solo Stove proved to be an excellent option for burning biomass. There are caveats – be aware of fire restrictions, prep some firestarters if you‘re expecting damp weather, or even carry a backup Trangia burner. Still, when it’s all said and done, the Solo Stove has been a pleasure to use in the right conditions. It gets a hard time from some ultralight hikers, because Solo Stoves are certainly influenced by the original, Alaksa-made Bushbuddys, albeit made in China. But this doesn’t seem to affect their quality or functionality, and I’d certainly recommend one if you’re looking for an alternative and (I’d argue) more rewarding backcountry experience to the plug-and-play gas cannister style approach. I’ve really enjoyed using it with my son – it’s helped teach him the basics of fire building too, without scorching any root systems. Read the full review here. There are lots of interesting comments to wade through, too!
Hyperlite Gear Versa
Hyperlite Gear’s Versa was only released recently… but it’s been stuck to my waist since it was out. At $70, it’s definitely not the economical hip pack out there. But it’s made from Dyneema DCH50 (formerly known as Cuben Fiber), which means it’s light. 83g (2.91oz) light. Yes, you read that right – and that includes a number of features, including the main pouch and elasticated sleeve within, as well as an outer zippered compartment too. The back is padded and the waist strap is removable – so you could also attach it across the sternum of a backpack too. I’m one of those people who doesn’t like too much weight around my hips, so I’ll either load it with my Moleskin notebook, snacks, and a wallet, or add in a padded insert for a spare camera lens. And when it’s all but empty, I barely notice it’s on.
- Price $70
- Place of Manufacture USA
- Manufacturer’s Details Hyperlite Gear
BXB Goldback (Medium)
BXB’s Teardrop made it into our gear awards. But I’ve actually been running a medium-size Goldback all year and I adore it. I’ve long been a fan of Carradice’s Super C Saddlebag, which I modified to mount on my handlebars – and this is the modern update I’ve been waiting for. Construction is top-notch, with abrasion-resistant Hyperlon at all the key points. There’s no shortage of daisy chains, so I can cinch it down tight to both my handlebars and my fork. No movement whatsoever. The internal centre strap really helps to hoist the bag up, so it sits well above my wheel without the need for a rack (and extra weight). The side pockets are huge and the overall shape of the lid is both elegant and functional. At 960g, it’s not the lightest bag out there, but it’s certainly built to last – mine still looks all but brand new after many miles of use. A nice touch is that you can order custom sizing – depth and width – which should help smaller riders get the fit dialled. There’s also a range of materials to choose from, waved canvas to Xpac to Cordura – mine is Tropical Camo Xpac, which looks great. Note that the current version has a few refinements compared to this early model.
- Price $230
- Place of Manufacture USA
- Manufacturer’s Details BXB
Ground Effect Helter Skelter
I’m a big fan of ¾ length waterproof shorts, largely because I quickly overheat in anything else. The Helter Skelters have kept my backside bone dry whilst bikepacking and commuting in the UK this spring, summer, and autumn. They pack down small, too, making them easy to stash away when the sun’s shining. Outside of ‘expedition’ style touring, where heavier duty, full length pants might be better, Helter Skelters are just about perfect. Yes, they’re on the expensive side, but they’re made by a Kiwi company with good ethics and a reputation for bicycle advocacy. Having used several Ground Effect products over the years, I can vouch for the durability of their gear. Read the full review here.
- Price $135
- Place of Manufacture New Zealand
- Manufacturer’s Details Ground Effect
Bear Bones Bash
As two of my dozen picks for 2019, I’m going with UK routes I’ve always wanted to ride… because all this gear is about getting out there, right? Like many, I love researching and devising journeys of my own. But I also really enjoy following those laid out by others, particularly when they know the area intimately. It was a pleasure riding what became the Bear Bones Bash, based on one of Stuart Wright’s epic all-in-one-go Bear Bones 200 events – albeit enjoyed at a more leisurely pace, with a detour to the Centre of Alternative Technology in Machynlleth. Stuart has been instrumental in growing the British bikepacking scene, so it’s great to have one of his fabled routes on the site – this one in particular showcases the wonderful riding to be enjoyed in Mid Wales. Find all the details for the route here; we were lucky enough to ride it in spectacular autumnal weather.
Perhaps I’m a sucker for punishment, but I do love a good hike-a-bike – at least if it gets me somewhere I’d otherwise not be able to experience on two wheels. The Lakeland 200 is another classic event on the UK’s burgeoning bikepacking scene. Knwing how good the mountain biking is in the area, it’s one I’ve long wanted to ride… and finally made a reality this summer. This is classic Lakeland tech, old school bridleways, and honest-to-goodness bike pushing at its finest, with glorious views to match. For those you don’t enjoy rushing, I’d advise taking at least a few days, rather than the ITT style format around which it was conceived – by local rider Alan Goldsmith. Check out the full route here. It includes a potential night in the UK’s most remote and atmospheric hostel. And the write up covers all the places for plastic-free resupplies and local, bike-friendly eats.
Check back for more 2019 Editor Picks soon! Or, follow #editors-dozen to see past roundups.