Editor’s Dozen: Cass’ 2021 Picks
Cass shares his rundown of gear favourites and more from 2021, including mini panniers, a magic carpet bike, a burly cargo rack ‘n’ milk crate, shiny carving knives, a memory catcher, and bikepacking with a once-abandoned hound…
Like many, I haven’t strayed too far from home this year – home now being Oaxaca, Mexico – which means most of the gear I’ve been using has been tried and tested over the years, rather than brand new for 2021.
Still, visiting friends have proferred parcels from the north, affording me the opportunity to sample new delights. Some of my favourite items have made it into our 2021 Gear of the Year Roundup – as collated by Logan. For instance, you can put me down as a fan of Bedrock sandals, drj0n’s nifty Mission Control, Austere’s damn nice cam buckles, Tarptent’s airy Double Rainbow Li, and a few other items to be found there.
As for bikes, well, I’ve only had the throw a leg over one new one this year. Luckily, it’s exceptional enough to be included in my pick here, although I have yet to pen a full review. Not that this has stopped me from being a little envious of those on the team who’ve had access to a slew of great 2021 machines – the Tumbleweed Stargazer and Fairlight Faran 2.0 really stood out as ones I’d love to have tried. Still, I’ll be happy just to ride the bikes I already own, when the time comes. A year on since our last series of Editor’s Dozens, I’m still waiting to be reunited with my faithful steeds – including a Surly Pugsley, a Surly Big Fat Dummy, and a Tumbleweed Prospector. At this point, I bet they’re all going to feel like new bikes by the time I ride them again!
Anyway, here’s a list of a dozen items, or themes, that have stood out for me in 2021.
Tailfin’s hyper engineered Mini Panniers
When I first came across Tailfin – I was living in Bristol, UK, where they’re based – I suspected there was too much going on to be relevant to my needs. And yet here I am, several years on, rarely to be seen without something from their extremely well-engineered bikepacking lineup. This year, I’ve even been running their panniers. Panniers? Is that even bikepacking, I hear you exclaim?! Let’s not get lost in the terminological weeds because this growing wave of lightweight, scaled-down panniers we’ve been seeing from a number of brands is undoubtedly welcome, especially so for long-range bikepackers and those who run small, space-limited frames.
Tailfin’s Mini Panniers – available in suitably compact 5 and 10L sizes – are amongst my favourites. They feature an excellent cam closure that ensures they’re both easy to remove and completely rattle-free, whether they’re attached to one of Tailfin’s own AeroPacks or your existing bicycle rack. They’re completely water-resistant, which makes them perfect for touring in the rainy season here in Mexico or riding in the UK year-round. And, they sport a slim profile, so they’re less likely to get in the way when I’m pushing my bike up a mountain, or riding trails back down it again. You can read my review here.
$85-110 / 310-380 grams / Made in China / Review
Frost + Sekers trad Marvin and Quick Lock Mount
As much as I appreciate gear that uses all the latest manufacturing features and techniques, there’s no doubt that as I close on half a century on this planet, I’m still drawn to the simplicity, and elegance, of my old Carradice saddlebag. Frost and Seker’s offerings tap into a similar traditional aesthetic too, with a dash of steampunk. The Marvin combines the charm of a beautiful UK-made saddlebag with a sturdy, user-friendly, long-lasting, and practical mounting system. Look elsewhere if you’re an endurance racer looking to save every last gram. But as a bag that works for commuting to work, stopping to shop on the way home, and then escaping the city on a weekend dirt road ramble – think Purbeck Bimble for maximum aesthetic resonance – it’s a great option. I’ve seen others use the same Quick Lock Mount for all kinds of inventive custom projects, too. Also worth noting is the complete lack of single-use packaging – this year, the mount comes in its own tool roll rather than cardboard. Check out my recent write-up here.
£56/€62 / Made in UK / 356 grams / Review
Velo Orange’s humble Saddle Loops
Both of the above, as different as they are, lie at the upper end of the bikepacking price spectrum. You can always keep to a more inclusive budget by adding a set of Velo Orange’s stainless steel Saddle Loops to your favourite ‘plastic’ saddle, in order to run a traditional saddlebag – the kind that’s often fitted to a more costly Brooks or Selle Anatomica. There are burlier options on the market – see our Saddlebags Index – but these do a surprisingly good job, for smaller bags especially. And, if you’re worried that ‘bikepacking’ is becoming caught up in a dollar bill whirlwind of expensive gear, check out Logan’s DIY saddlebag tutorial and make use of all the old materials from bygone gear that you probably already own.
This saddlebag approach to a bikepacking setup probably won’t quite cut the mustard for a singletrack-heavy route like the Colorado Trail, but for the kind of dirt-road weekend rambles that many of us get up to, it’s a tried and tested, practical solution to camping out on your bicycle. The Saddle Loops cost just $15 and are available from Velo Orange. I see they’re out of stock right now, but hunt around online and you’ll find other options that look largely the same.
$15 / Made in Taiwan / Details
Wayward’s Very Minimalist Louise 2
Another bag! I have to admit that I don’t find the packing style of a modern bikepacking seatpack especially practical, at least for day-to-day bike travel. Yet there’s no doubt that they’re hard to beat for minimalist adventures – especially in the case of Wayward’s Louise 2. Their V1 made it into our main awards category last year and 2021’s V2 adds some welcome refinements. But for me, it was the system’s simplicity and extremely low weight that attracted me to it most. My favourite local bikepacking overnighter into the Sierra Norte starts with a four-hour climb, so slimming back my gear is definitely beneficial. At just 170g, the Louise 2 is perfect for short trips into the high country – rides where I want to enjoy my local trails with my dropper post, but I also want to have the option to camp out for a night or two. Similarly, it’s a great option for a change of clothes and some extra layers on a hut to hut – or cabaña to cabaña – style journey. I like to keep the weight to a minimum, so I run mine with a 7L Olive Ortlieb PS10 drybag. It’s surprisingly capacious, with room for stowing all my summer sleeping gear and some extra clothing, without impacting the dropper post’s functionality too much.
This said, I also aspire to get as much use from each piece of gear as I can, and I’ve found the Louise 2 and a 7L bag also works really well on my son’s bike, as it suits riders with minimal tyre-to-seat spacing. As a side note, I appreciate the fact that the rugged but flexible plastic harness packs down small during transportation, and the dry bag doubles up for other uses too.
I bet you could make a DIY version of this pack, but Wayward has done such a great job refining the design and honing the material choice that I think this small Kiwi company fully deserves your support. Miles wrote a thorough review on the Louise 2 and you can read it here.
$95 NZD ($68 USD) / Made in New Zealand / 170 grams / Review
Outdoor Research’s oddly-sized Ferrosi Shorts
I generally ride in non-bike-specific shorts, and I never use a chamois. So, it’s important for me to find ones that are comfortable and hardwearing, as I wear them both on and off the bike, pretty much all the time. I love these Outdoor Research Ferrosis… even if it took me a couple of attempts to get the sizing right. If you like the look of them too, bear in mind that by the time the material gives – which it does, a lot – you’ll want to size down. In fact, the right size for me ended up being at least 3 whole inches smaller around the waist than normal. Generally, I’m a 31-32″ but with the Ferrosis, I’ve slimmed right down to 28!
However, now that I’ve deciphered the perfect size, I’ve struck ‘bikepacking shorts gold’. The cut is relatively slim and the material dries quickly. There’s a generously sized zippered pocket to store keys/some coins/a mask when I’m out riding. There’s a comfy stretch to the fabric, yet it’s proved hardwearing enough for long hours in the saddle, over multiple months, without any signs of abrasion. There are no errant loose threads and no buttons have popped off either. I have two pairs that are going strong and plan to stockpile a third for a rainy day. Note that I have the 10″ inseam version, which you can find for $70 over on Outdoor Research’s website.
$70 / Made in Vietnam / Details
Old Man Mountain Divide Rack + Milk Crate
Some years back, I ran an Old Man Mountain rack on my wonderful Surly Pugsley omniterra that I used to travel through South America. At the time, it was the only option that was configurable enough for the bike’s quirky offset rear end.
These days, I’ve moved away from running heavy-duty racks, generally running more minimal options. But there’s no doubt that stout carriers still have their place for a whole variety of setups. When a recent build project necessitated a strong front carrier again, I was delighted to see that OMMs are even more configurable than ever! The standard alumnium Divide rack ($168) can be run at the front or the back, either via mounts on your frame or a dedicated thru-axle – which also ups its load capacity from 50 to 70lbs. There’s room for plus tyres – right up to 29 x 3″ – and it’s compatible with a 150TA fork, as seen on the Jones Plus SWB.
The whole system is very nicely finished, with straightforward instructions to help figure out what goes where, depending on your frame, fork, and needs. Mine is doing a fantastic job hauling a big plastic milk crate and a 30-pound dog – the rack doesn’t budge a nano-inch on pavement, dirt roads, or trails. Expect a full review soon, once I’ve had the chance to try it in different configurations. Find more details here and note that you choose a US-made version for $210. In case you’re wondering, mine is supporting a Jezero Milk Crate ($25) that measures 13 x 11 x 19″, attached with Voile straps and Austere Manufacturing buckles.
$168 / Made in Taiwan / 970 grams / Details
Buckhorn custom and colourful framebag
For the last few years, I’ve been alternating between Revelate (on my Pugsley) and Porcelain Rocket 52Hz framebags (on my Tumbleweed and Jones). But I’m thrilled to now have a custom framebag made by a local maker – well, local to where I used to live – that completely jives with my sense of aesthetics and love for pockets.
I love snapping photos of my bike almost as much as I like riding it, and New Mexico-based Buckhorn Bags’ two-tone coyote and pink framebag is extremely practical, beautifully made, and it does a fantastic job at setting my bike off just so! Going custom also gave me the chance to try a lace-up and bolt-on design, further tidying the aesthetics of the setup. Mine even came with multiple compartments, including a perfectly proportioned one for a tablet, when I eventually get one. Given the often overlapping geometries in different bikes, a custom framebag isn’t always a necessity. But it’s a really nice treat for you and your bike, a way to give your pride and joy a real identity and support a maker, local or otherwise, that you really connect with. You can read my full review here.
$170+ / Made in NM, USA / Review
Dos Erres’ 450 peso Hip Bag
Living in Mexico has allowed me to meet some of the makers here. The Riñonera hip bag – born from a robust and well-tested messenger design – has been a camera-toting favourite for me this year. For bikepacking, I asked Dos Erres’ owner Seth to make me a version with a lower profile, simpler attachment system (given that I didn’t need the provision to carry a burly Mexico City-rated U-lock), and some extra padding for my Fujis. From what I understand, Seth will be adding this ‘bikepacker’ version to his lineup in 2022. Either way, these are great, no-frills, fully waterproof hip bags, with loads of different colour combos and custom embroidered options, that are available in three sizes.
If you live in Mexico or find yourself here, these the Riñoneras are also really affordable, starting at around 450 pesos/$22 direct from Dos Erres. How about grabbing one if you come and ride in Oaxaca or Baja California? Or, order in bulk with a few friends to cut down on international shipping costs. Note that a Fidlock closure seen here is an extra – the standard model has a plastic buckle. I have a Small (as seen above) and a Large (used for my Fuji X-T2).
$22 upwards / Made in Mexico / Details
Nittany Mountain Works joyful Tool Roll
Sometimes, it’s the unassuming things in life that give you a surprising amount of joy. I’ve always loved tool rolls, born, I expect, from a childhood obsession with storing things (I always wore a waistcoat with a gazillion pockets). There are plenty of great options on the market for carrying everything you need to your steed out of trouble, but this one from Nittany Mountain Works really does it for me. It’s just the right size and it attaches securely to my bike with a Voile strap. I already knew its build quality would be excellent, having run a Deluxe Hip Sack for a number of miles in the past. And, I also appreciate the fact that it’s made in an off-grid facility that uses the power of the sun to keep machinery whirring. As I’m currently riding a Jones Spaceframe (more on that below), it’s found a home securely braced to its twin top tubes, where it’s quick to grab and unfurl. Otherwise, under the saddle is a classic spot for a day ride. Nittany offer a revolving selection of several stock colours and two different Voile strap options at a cost of $38.
$38 / Made in USA / Details
Morakniv Spoon Carving Birthday Knives
At the very end of last year, I penned a Beginner’s Guide to Spoon Making, with lots of salient input from the bikepacking-spoonmaking community (yes, it exists!). The post generated all kinds of interesting feedback, including a number of recommendations for Morakniv’s knives and Youtube tutorials.
Low and behold, I was gifted a set of shiny and sharp Morakniv knives for my birthday this year! I now have a standard carving blade (106) and two different double-edged hook knives for scooping (162 and 163). Mine live in a Frost River ditty bag that I bought whilst winter fat biking in Minnesota some years ago – it’s a great little pouch that just gets better with age, like my memories from that trip. I’ve gently encouraged friends who have come to visit this year to whittle their own spoons, my favourite being Yeshe’s long and slender example, seen below. And not to toot my own horn, but I made myself a coffee scoop this year that I’m especially proud of and I use almost every day.
$32 and upwards / Made in Sweden / Details
Bike touring and photography have always held a symbiotic relationship for me, in that they feed off each other in a very positive way. Earlier in the year, my Sony full-frame camera took its last frame, and as I’d already invested a small fortune in running repairs, it was time to let it go. In its place, I invested in a Fuji X100V, which has become my go-to camera for recording day trips and longer bikepacking journeys since. With its fixed 35mm equivalent focal length, I think of it as my little memory catcher – be it a dirt road, a fleeting shaft of light, or a fern that catches my eye, especially as does an especially good job at close focusing.
Sure, a camera is just a tool, which makes this one an extremely expensive one (it’s currently $1,400 new and a few hundred dollars less second-hand). But with all its buttons and dials, this little Fuji makes photography a fun and tactile process again, in a way that I find missing with high-end cell phones. The Fuji series is also noted for its colours and image quality, and the camera is relatively water-resistant and well built.
To me, the x100 series’ single, ‘honest’ focal length is surprisingly liberating, removing both the physical need to carry a clutch of lenses, and the mental space needed to decide which might be best for each given moment – reminding me of the difference between riding a single speed or a geared bike. I use a lovely, Peak Designs-compatible PS Bagworks wrist strap with mine, as reviewed here. Check out this year’s Guide to Bikepacking with a Camera for the photographic gear that contributors to this site use and recommend.
$1399 / Made in Japan / Details
Jones Plus LWB Spaceframe
At the risk of sounding myopic, last year I chose a Jones Plus SWB as my favourite bike – the titanium version of the more affordable steel SWB that I’ve recommended to many friends and readers, and would likely choose myself. A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to be sent a Plus LWB Spaceframe to compare it with. At a cool $4,550 for the frameset alone, I’m pegging it the ‘Ultimate Jones’ within the brand’s lineup. It’s certainly the one that Jones acolytes covet, thanks in part to its iconic spaceframe, its distinctive truss fork, and its glorious titanium tubing.
Suffice to say that this iteration of the LWB is an extremely special rig, offering the smoothest, magic carpet-like ride I’ve experienced on a fully rigid mountain bike. It’s also the consummate all-rounder; a bundle of fun on steep, rocky, and technical trails, and no slouch on countryside dirt yomps either. Sizing is often a topic of concerned discussion amongst potential Jones owners, simply because geometry numbers are so unconventional and reach numbers are much shorter than normal. I’ve actually sized down to a medium (for reference sake, I’m 184.5cm tall with a 91.4cm PBH) and I’ll be sure to discuss my ensuing impressions. As with all Jones bikes, there’s a lot to unpack – from its unorthodox and distinctly commanding riding position, its rigid-specific geometry, its 45-degree swept-back bars, and its tubing shapes and profiles – but I’ll save all that for what will likely be a wordy review. For now, consider my love for 29+ tyres reignited!
$4,550 / Made in Taiwan / Details
This year was my first experience with dogpacking. Well, initially it was less ‘dogpacking’ and more ‘stray dog feeding’ with my son Sage, which I wrote about here. The next dog-related trip involved a weekend in the Sierra Norte with a once emaciated, feverish, and bony puppy that we rescued and fostered, at least until a permanent home can be found for him. Now that Huesos (that’s Bones in Spanish) is back to full strength, I took the opportunity to whisk him away for a few days of bikepacking. More on this experience soon, as it was one that definitely opened my eyes to the wonders of dogpacking – and judging by his prancing gait throughout, a trip he really enjoyed too!
As this site continues to grow in all directions – my favourites being the less conventional ones, for sure – I’m reminded of all the untapped veins of information and inspiration to be found here. Whilst some posts may not feel relevant initially to many readers, it only takes a change in personal interests to appreciate what a rich resource it’s become. As an example, I’ve found myself grateful for all the canine-related resources, as well as those who have offered advice when I reached out – special thanks to Seth, who contributed photos to this year’s Trailer Index, and John Freeman, owner of dogpacking sensation Mira la Pera. John also authored the excellent 2021 Dogpacking 2.0 guide.
Did anyone else notice how I snuck in an extra pick? Hand-on-heart, I didn’t realise until I’d finished the post!
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