Scouting Rigs of the Eastern Divide Trail
Quite a few people who are planning to ride a segment—or multiple segments—of the Eastern Divide Trail (EDT) have asked what bike they should bring. To help answer that question, we’ve rounded up photos and details about several bikes and setups used in the making of the EDT and details about what works and what doesn’t…
As we put the finishing touches on the 5,900-mile Eastern Divide Trail (EDT), I wanted to take time to reflect on the bikes and kits I’ve used in the scouting process. I’ll outline what worked, what didn’t, and what I’d change, all in effort to help prospective riders effectively plan their trip on this epic route. At this point, I’ve pedaled from the Canadian border to Tallahassee, Florida. I’ve also re-ridden spans from the Georgia-North Carolina border up through Vermont—multiple times in some places—to scrutinize the options and figure out the best possible routing scenario. In doing so, I’ve ridden several bikes over a lot of miles and used a ton of gear. This guide will cover each of those rigs, mention a few others that my riding companions and fellow Route Scouts have used, talk about what makes the best bike for this route, finally sumarizing “the ultimate Eastern Divide Trail rig.”
The East Coast is unique from a bikepacking perspective. We’ve been riding and making routes in the Appalachians and the surrounding foothills for the last decade, and in our experience, routes in the east have their own style. Most of them provide a riding experience that uses a wide variety of surfaces and terrain, which makes it all the more interesting. Embracing that fact was a defining principle in the creation of the EDT. The result is a long-distance route that takes in a smorgasbord of regionally changing surfaces. The entirety of the route is nearly 70% unpaved, and the off-tarmac sections range from smooth gravel and kitty litter bike paths to chunky doubletrack and “class IV” roads to the occasional stretch of rooty or rocky singletrack and everything in between. There are even some sandy sections once you get to the southern tier.
This variety only complicates the decision on what’s the best type of bike for the route. The EDT isn’t intended to be a mountain bike or gravel bike route, or a touring route for that matter. Rather, it’s something in between. We like to think of it as an ATB (All Terrain Bicycle) route, meant for bikes that can do a little bit of everything. However, no matter what bike you bring, at times you’ll wish you had less bike, and at other times you’ll want something bigger and more capable.
To better illustrate this, here are five bikes that I’ve used in the scouting process, with some highlights and details about each, what worked, and what didn’t. Check them out below, then read on to find a few other examples and the “dream bike” for the EDT.
Salsa Cutthroat (Flat-bar & Drops)
This Salsa Cutthroat has seen the most EDT miles out of all the bikes listed here, and to this date, more than any other bike. That’s partially due to the fact that I’ve had this bike in my possession longer than others. However, I got the Cutthroat specifically for scouting this route, which was a great choice. It’s a drop-bar 29er at heart, with the confidence and poise of a mountain bike, the stance and pedal feel of a stout gravel rig, clearance for 2.4” tires, and a comfortably compliant fork and seat stays. It also has a massive frame bag!
On its last EDT ride, I took it on a loop from Davis to Cass, West Virginia, then northward back to Davis via another route. The purpose of this ride was to try two new corridors—one of which would ultimately be in the final version of Segment 4. This was the third time I pedaled through West Virginia and Virginia while scouting this route. For that trip, a new corridor wasn’t the only thing I was trying out. I set up the Cutthroat with Curve Remlaw flat bars just before leaving. The reason being, on a previous scouting ride—a long pull from near Roanoke, Virginia, to Syracuse, New York—I suffered some major hand numbness when the Cutthroat was set up with drop bars. It was on that ride when I realized that drop bars might not be my cup of tea for ultra-long rides.
The Cutthroat was set up lighter on the flat-bar trip than it’s been on other occasions, with a small Rockgeist Gondola seat pack and a Revelate Pronghorn handlebar system. The previous drop-bar iteration shown above was a little more long-tour friendly, using a Tumbleweed T Rack that held a dry bag repurposed from an old Porcelain Rocket Mr. Fusion.
Built specifically for the Tour Divide, the Cutthroat makes a great option for the EDT with an efficient and comfortable ride, clearance for bigger tires, and plenty of carrying capacity. The setup with the shorter Tumbleweed T Rack is perfect for the Eastern Divide. It provides extra room for strapping on “camp shoes” or extra food with King Many Things Cages.
All in all, I don’t have many complaints with this bike and I think it will make a great option for anyone looking to ride the EDT. Personally, I had a fit issue that caused hand pain and numbness with drop bars, and using the Remlaws made the fit a little awkward. I’d love it if Salsa released a flat-bar-specific Cutthroat!
Regular readers are probably aware that I’m a big fan of this size large Nordest Sardinha II. It’s been featured in a review, Gear of the Year Awards, and a lot of ride coverage over the years, such as the Baja Divide reports from last winter. Honestly, it’s one of my favorite dirt-touring bikes of all time, and one that I often recommend to folks looking for a bike that can pretty much do everything.
This build features carbon wheels from Ibis with a 36mm internal width and an Industry Nine Hydra hub, now-defunct WTB Ranger 2.6″ tires, a Whisky Milhouse riser bar, and a SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain with a 10-52T cassette.
Aside from its impressive array of mounts and large frame bag-friendly triangle, the beauty of this bike is in its versatility. I’ve found that the Sardinha is near perfect for a mix of gravel and trails. That’s one reason I brought it along on the Baja Divide and to Oaxaca last year. It’s equally at home on rough singletrack as it is cruising on smooth dirt road rides.
The Sardinha’s geometry and sizing, loading capability, hardy touring tubeset, and versatility make it a great ATB that’s an efficient pedaler considering its relatively chunky weight.
It might be a little heavy for some folks, and 2.5/2.6″ tires might be a little much for some people on the EDT. My only other complaint about this bike is that 2.6″ tires are a little tight at the seat tube, which can be problematic in sticky mud situations.
After reviewing the Tumbleweed Stargazer last year, I ended up buying the frameset and giving it top honors in our Gear of the Year Awards. And that was after swearing off drop bars! It’s a special bike, however. Not only does it have all of the mounting points you might need and a sizable frame triangle fit for a large frame bag—or in this case a hefty “wedge” bag—it also has a lot going on under the hood that makes it a great bike. Namely, Tumbleweed nailed the tube set design with the right combinations of thicknesses and butting to give it a supple ride feel that remains responsive and lively.
This build features an Eagle X01 derailleur and 10-50T cassette paired with a White Industries crankset, 34T ring, and a Ratio-converted Rival shift lever, great gearing for this route. It also has Maxxis 2.35″ tires (Rekon Race in the back and Ikon up front), lightweight 1,474-gram Roval Carbon Control wheels, Paul Klamper brakes, and a wide PNW 520mm handlebar. I rode this iteration of the Stargazer from northern Alabama to Tallahassee, Florida, on a scouting mission averaging 100 miles per day for seven days in a row.
This might be be the perfect build and setup for the EDT. Tires, gearing, and bags were all dialed. And the Stargazer is nearly flawless as well, as you can find my review linked in the Related Grid below.
My only complaint is a personal one. I really want to see a version of the Stargazer made for flat-bars with a longer reach and shorter stack height.
Surly Ghost Grappler
The Surly Ghost Grappler is another excellent bike in this category. I didn’t do any extra-long pulls on the Grappler for the Eastern Divide. However, I used it while scouting the Wilson’s Ramble, a loop that plays off the EDT and was created in part to offer a new option through that zone.
What makes the Grappler interesting as an EDT bike is best summarized from this line in my review: It handles all types of dirt extremely well, yet still kind of “drives itself” on gravel roads, remaining comfortable and easy to pedal for long rides. In addition, as Neil found out, it’s equally impressive running flat bars.
As mentioned above, the Grappler is easy to pedal on long rides and almost requires very little steering input, which is a blessing for a long route like the EDT. It also handles all forms of dirt extremely well.
If I had it my way, the Grappler would be a 29er. As is, it clears 29 x 2.1. That’s fine for the EDT, but 2.4 would be even better. I’d also upgrade the Advent X 10-speed drivetrain to have closer gear spacing on this long route.
The Otso Fenrir was a surprise when it launched last year as it has an interesting and unique design feature: it’s made to be handlebar agnostic, meaning that it can be either be a drop-bar 29er or a flat-bar mountain bike. In summary, it’s longer than a typical drop-bar bike and shorter/higher than a mountain bike, providing a geometry that’s flip-floppable between the two genres.
The Fenrir fits neatly into this roster of “Divide-ready” rigs, although I would put it more on the mountain bike end of the list. Despite its gravel-esque large triangle and aesthetics, it has a frame designed around a 110-120mm suspension fork—or the rigid equivalent—Boost spacing, and MTB angles.
Other than the its mixed-terrain-worthy geometry, the Fenrir ticks a lot of boxes that one might have for an EDT bike. It’s loaded with mounts and has a relatively lightweight stainless steel frame that exhibits a nice balance of compliance and responsiveness.
The geometry might be slightly challenging for some folks. I found the large a little too short (for me) for flat bars and fear that the XL would have too high of a stack. The geometry works for me with drop bars, however. It might be the “goldilocks” for folks in need of a bike in between sizes though.
Other Bikes Along for the Ride
All five of the bikes above are great options for a route like the Eastern Divide Trail or other long, mixed-terrain rides—like the Great Divide route. But there are other great options too. Here are several others that stand out from other riders on EDT scouting trips. Each is equally suited for the task.
From left to right, the Tanglefoot Moonshiner is an excellent option. Joe rode this bike on a hefty scouting trip in New York and loved it (review here). And, Tanglefoot’s HQ, Analog Cycles, happens to be on the route in Poultney, Vermont. Second, Virginia’s Why Wayward has also seen a lot of EDT scouting miles and remains her favorite option. The Kona Sutra ULTD (now called the LTD) is another solid drop-bar ATB. Jess Daddio’s venerable Salsa Fargo on one of our scouting missions in Virginia/North Carolina was a reminder that the Fargo shouldn’t be overlooked. And although I only used it for shorter trips closer to home, the Kona Unit X makes a fantastic mixed-terrain rig.
The Best Bike for the Eastern Divide Trail?
All of the bikes listed here are perfectly equipped for the Eastern Divide Trail. However, I would have something a little different if I had my wish. My ideal bike for this route and other mixed terrain ATB-style rides would be something of a mix between the Nordest Sardinha and the Tumbleweed Stargazer: a flat-bar, rigid 29er ATB with the light and lively tubeset of the Stargazer and the long stance of the Nordest. Here are a few more key highlights about what I would consider in an ideal build and kit for the EDT.
There are four tires that I consider really good options for the Eastern Divide Trail. All of them are around 2.3″ in width, which offers a nice balance of speed and capability. You could get by on a smaller gravel tire for a lot of the route, but a larger tire is needed on the loose and rough terrain that’s peppered throughout the route—such as the rubbly T’rail in Newfoundland, class IV gravel in Vermont, rugged doubletrack in the southern Appalachians, and sandy dirt roads in the Florida Panhandle. My picks include the Maxxis Ikon 2.35, the Teravail Ehline 2.3, Maxxis Rekon Race 2.4, and the Rene Herse Fleecer Ridge 2.3. The WTB Ranger 2.4 is another solid option if you want a little more meat. For those looking for something a little more cushy, I enjoy the Ikon 2.6.
Drivetrain & Gearing
I really like the SRAM Eagle (X01 or GX) 1×12 drivetrain for the EDT. It has closer gear spacing through the first 11 cogs than the Shimano 12-speed equivalent, and once well-tuned, it works really well. Plus, with the Ratio conversion kit, it can work with Rival 1 shifters on drop bars. Additionally, the 52-tooth cog provides a nice bailout gear for the steep parts. Pairing it with a 32-tooth chainring provides a nice sub-19 gear inch granny gear, which is a good rule of thumb for me. If you want to play with gear inches, use this calculator:
Gear Inches Calculator
Comfort is king on a long route such as this one. I’ll toss out a few favorites, but since all these are up to individual preferences, I’ll also add some links where you can do your own research. For handlebars, I prefer flat-bars and like moderate back sweeps, like that of the Stooge Moto Bars or the Tumbleweed Persuader. Both of those offer a nice clamp area for bags or inner bar-ends, too. I pair those with Ergon GA3 grips. You can find a lot of options on our Alt Bar Gear Index too.
As for drop bars, I like the Curve Walmer Bar and PNW Coast, both at 520mm, a wide platform that offers more control and confidence in the rough stuff. Dig into more options on our Gravel Bar Gear Index.
I think my favorite set up is a combination of what was used on the Nordest and the Stargazer. The Tumbleweed T-Rack with Tailfin 5L Panniers makes a great combo. The waterproof panniers expand vertically and allow the addition of extra food when it’s needed. The rack platform is perfect for spare shoes, a lightweight camp chair, or whatever extra gear you might need. Up front (with flat bars) on a long trip like this, I like the Revelate Pronghorn system. It’s very simple, lightweight, and has proven incredibly durable on many big trips. I also love the fact that I can pack it off the bike and use the bag as a seat around camp and a bear bag at night. It ticks a lot of boxes. The bag is also 100% waterproof, and it’s long, so it can easily fit my tent and entire sleeping system without issues.
The roughly 5,900-mile Eastern Divide Trail (EDT) is the longest off-road-centric bikepacking route in the world. It runs from Cape Spear, Newfoundland, the easternmost point in North America, to Key West, Florida, the end of the road going south. The EDT follows as much of the St. Lawrence and Eastern Continental Divides as possible without compromising a focus on quality off-pavement riding and connecting the most incredible sights, landmarks, and landscapes in the eastern mountains. The route winds its way through dozens of national and state forests, numerous ecozones, and countless places of Indigenous, geographical, and historical significance. Find more info on the full Eastern Divide Trail here.
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