Editor’s Dozen: Miles and Emily’s Favourite Gear of 2023
After a busy year of bikepacking, including a six-week trip to Australia, Miles and Emily share 12 items that stood out this year. Find everything from trail-tested components and gear to their new favourite Tasmania-made chocolate bar in their 2023 Editor’s Dozen roundup…
Emily and I packed a lot in to 2023. I started the year by braking my scaphoid and spending eight weeks moping around the house and not riding bikes. As soon as my cast was off, we took for a six-week bikepacking Australian trip, which included finally getting the Munda Biddi Trail into our route database. After we returned to British Columbia, Emily headed out on a solo ride of the 1,000-kilometer Tree to Sea Loop on Vancouver Island. I met talented builders at the inaugural MADE bike show in Portland, we made time to visit Neil and Lucas in person, and we rode our bikes in some incredibly beautiful places. There’s a lot of pressure to make bigger and better plans for the new year, but I invite you to reflect on what you’ve completed in 2023. I doubt any of us give ourselves the credit we deserve.
Carrying on with our end-of-year Editor’s Dozen roundup, Emily and I put our heads together to come up with 12 items (not just products) that stood out for us this year. Below, you’ll find everything from our love/hate relationship with BC Ferries to bikepacking gear that has stood the test of time and some reflections from the year.
BC Ferries is a contentious topic among folks living on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast. On one hand, the ferries are the only way to access the qathet Regional District that I currently call home, as there are no roads to get here. On the other, the ferries are known to cancel last minute, are heavily dictated by the weather, and can be a real headache when travelling by car. If there’s one thing that we all agree on, it’s that these minor shortcomings are what make this area such a fantastic place to live and why (most of us hope, at least) it might never get too busy.
Boarding a ferry as a cyclist, however, usually results in a far different experience. For Emily and I, walking our loaded bikes onto the ferry to Vancouver Island or one of the smaller islands down the coast marks the beginning of something special. Whether it’s a short overnight getaway or the beginning of a longer trip, the ferry crossing forces you to sit back and relax. I remember riding with Emily from our house to the ferry terminal at the start of her solo Tree to Sea Loop ride this summer and watching her walk her bike down the ramp toward the ferry, marking the first step in a massive undertaking that would challenge her in more ways than she could imagine.
1UP RS Slide
Made in USA / $190 at 1UP-USA
Emily and I rent a neat old heritage home on the upper Sunshine Coast in British Columbia, and while it’s a massive house, the bike storage situation has always been chaotic at best. These old homes don’t have proper basements, so the walls are nothing more than hip height stone ledges, and the roof is packed full of awkward drain pipes and duct work. Plus, there is a surprisingly limited amount of floor space, so when I have a few review bikes on hand, in addition to our personal bikes, it gets hectic really quickly.
I picked up the 1UP RS Slide kit to put an end to our never-ending game of bicycle Tetris a few weeks ago, and I’ve been very pleased with the results. The RS Slide is a low-profile hanging bike storage solution that integrates a heavy-duty track with bearing-equipped trolleys to neatly hold up to six bikes per track. I’m sure there are some cheaper DIY alternatives out there, but 1UP’s kit is super burly, and the bike hooks roll on four sealed bearings, which makes sliding bikes out of the way to access the one I want smooth and simple.
Prototype MICA Rear Rack
Made in Canada / TBD at Mica Cycles
Mica Cycles, a new brand from Skyler Des Roches, a friend and contributor to the website, has set out to design a better low-profile rear rack. The idea is that the rack is nearly universal, meaning it should be able to attach to any regular-shaped bike and doesn’t require any threaded rack bosses to work. Plus, it packs down small and is perfectly suited for rowdy singletrack-heavy bikepacking routes.
I used an early prototype during my Sun Valley High country route scouting trip earlier this year and found it to be the perfect addition to the Mason Raw I was testing. Racks have gotten pretty good over the last few years, but they are still somewhat heavy and bulky. The Mica rack is slim, low-profile, and incredibly lightweight. The latest version Skyler made has three-pack mounts down each vertical strut, opening up the potential to carry extra water or bulky gear on longer, more remote trips. I can’t wait to see where Skyler takes the design, and we’ll be sure to share more when they become available to the public.
Wheels Manufacturing Solo-XD
Made in USA / $120 at Wheels MFG
I’ve been meaning to set up my Why S7 as a singlespeed for some time, but I just never got around to it. I imagine I’m not alone on this one. That all changed when Wheels Manufacturing announced the Solo-XD earlier this year, promising a hassle-free singlespeed kit for bikes using XD or XDR freehubs. The kit features a a 7075 aluminum carrier and cogs, adjustable 6061 aluminum spacers, an 18T cog with a narrow-wide tooth pattern for chain retention. Installing the kit and dialling in the chain line is as straightforward as it gets, and it’s a simple option for anyone who already has perfectly functional wheels and a freehub. The cog is also compatible with popular 12-speed chains, so you might not even have to purchase a new chain to get set up. I opted for a basic 10-speed chain as my 12-speed setup is beyond worn out.
I’ve been running the 20T cog alongside my well-loved 28T Wolf Tooth stainless steel chainring, and it was love at first ride. I find myself coasting down easy grades, hammering up steep climbs, and walking more than usual. Riding singlespeed has brought a sense of newness to trails and routes that are starting to feel mundane, and it has changed how I move through the environment. The Solo-XD kit is made in the USA, which is the cherry on top.
Made in United Kingdom / £2,395 (frame) at Mason Cycles
The Mason RAW was released in 2021 and was the UK-brand’s first dedicated flat-bar mountain bike. It caught my attention as a versatile trail bike and a super capable bikepacking rig. Aside from being built and fabricated entirely in the UK/Europe, it has what I believe to be perfect geometry for big backcountry rides and bikepacking, pedals smoothly and efficiently, and has a generously sized main triangle for a proper frame bag. Although it didn’t end up taking a spot in our 2023 Bikepacking Gear of the Year Awards, you can bet that I nominated it, and I’m happy to share it here.
I rode the Mason Raw a lot in 2023. It was my go-to trail bike for day rides around the Pacific Northwest, I brought it to Idaho’s Sun Valley region on a route scouting trip, and it came along on several overnighters in between. It’s lightweight, extraordinarily capable, and was by far my favourite review bike of 2023. Make sure to dig into my long-term review here if you haven’t seen it already.
EVOC Stage Capture 16L Backpack
Made in Taiwan / $210 at EVOC Sports
A week before the inaugural MADE handmade bike show, I realized I didn’t have a good way to carry multiple camera lenses and other essentials with me. I picked up an EVOC Stage Capture backpack last minute, picked it up on the way down to Portland, and crossed my fingers hoping that it would serve me well. After four days of nearly non-stop photography at MADE and several other projects since then, I can confidently say that the Stage Capture fit the bill.
It was great having the separate lower compartment for extra lenses and an additional zippered area on top for snacks and water. On the off-chance that I didn’t need my camera in hand, there was ample room in the lower section for it alongside several lenses, and it’s designed so that you can swing the bag around and quickly access that compartment when you need it. The pack has a well-ventilated rear back panel, a proper hip belt, and several other riding-friendly features that make it well-suited to far more than just covering bike shows.
Australian-made Cadbury Dairy Milk Caramello
Emily and I are on the same page when it comes to riding all day and how we like to reward ourselves. Chocolate is high on our “must have” end-of-day food list, and there’s nothing better than sitting down at camp, sipping on a tea, and nibbling on some chocolatey treats. As luck would have it, Australia has their very own Cadbury Dairy Milk Caramello chocolate bar, and it instantly became a favourite. Once our addiction for Caramello settled in, we were averaging around one bar every two to three days. It’s a miracle that we didn’t devour the stash that we brought home for our friends.
Whatever chocolate bar you find yourself demolishing at camp, just remember that you’ll always have our support. As Emily puts it, “If I can’t have a sweet treat at the end of a long day on the bike, I don’t want to be there.” Oh, and before someone mentions the Caramello that’s available in the US, don’t waste your time. It’s just not the same as the Tasmania-made version. A huge shoutout to our new friend Brent Jenkins, who visited us here in BC during the summer and followed up with a shipment of Caramello bars a few weeks later. Legend.
MSR Ceramic Solo Pot
Made in Thailand / $59.95 at MSR Gear
In preparation for our Australia trip, I purchased an MSR Ceramic Solo Pot. I don’t own a proper mid-sized pot, so although it’s labeled as a “solo pot”, the idea was it would make a lightweight and functional two-person pot for our six-week journey. It has a 1.3L capacity, a durable ceramic non-stick coating that’s free of PTFEs and PFOAs, and a strainer built into the aluminum lid.
Considering the Solo Pot rattled around for 2,000 kilometers throughout Australia with our Primus OmniLite Ti stove stashed inside, it’s holding up great. The non-stick coating inside only has a few minor nicks, and it’s maintaining its shape well. Plus, it weighs just 210 grams, so it was hardly noticeable to pack along. It is only 3.8″ tall with a 6.2″ diameter, which makes it easy to slide into a mini pannier or top-opening handlebar bag.
Double Sleeping Pads
Ask Emily and me what has been an absolute game-changer for us this year and we’d both say double sleeping pads. Although they are inherently big, harder to pack, and heavier than standard sleeping pads, the comfort they offer a couple or two close friends is worth it in our eyes. I’m also of the mind that good sleep is essential for a good bikepacking trip, so if strapping a somewhat bulky double-wide sleeping pad onto a rack is how we achieve that, I say it’s a good move.
Our favourite, the Big Agnes Rapide SL, took a top spot in our 2023 Gear of the Year Awards a few weeks back. It’s their lightest double sleeping pad, with a generous 40″ width, 4.8″ thickness, and 4.8 R-value that’s kept us warm on a number of sub-freezing nights. The Exped Ultra 3R Duo is also an interesting option as it has separate air chambers on each side, allowing each person to dial in the firmness of the pad. We have a few others in for testing as well.
Crust Towel Rack Bar
Made in Taiwan / $125 at Crust Bikes
It’s always fun to see how bike brands spec their review bikes, as component selection inevitably plays a big role in how a bike handles and performs. Thankfully, smaller brands get it and often nail the build kit, sometimes introducing us to new favourite components that end up finding their way onto our personal bikes. One recent example includes the Chumba Yaupon I reviewed last year, which came specced with the Ritchey Beacon XL handlebars, which quickly became a new favourite of mine. In fact, I ended up writing a standalone review on them because I liked them so much. However, the Crust Towel Rack Bar stole the show earlier this year.
The Sklar Super Something I reviewed was based heavily on Adam’s Super Something he rode in the Tour Divide this year and ended up being one of his favorite versions of the bike. It came with fast rolling 29 x 2.2″ tires, a 12-speed SRAM AXS drivetrain, and the Crust Towel Rack Bar. The Towel Rack comes in three widths: 600mm, 630mm, and a massively wide 660mm, measured from end-to-end or full width. They have a medium-high 25° flare, relatively shallow 105mm drop, and a 100mm reach that is offset by a 10° upsweep and a generous 12° backsweep. Paired with a 26.0mm clamp size, I found the Towel Rack Bar to be exceptionally comfortable thanks to its flex, but stiff enough to handle rough terrain and technical riding. The backsweep and generous width also left loads of room for bulky handlebar bags, which is great for bikepacking. As someone who almost always prefers flat bars, it’s a big deal to admit that the Crust Towel Rack is my new favourite curly bar, and I have Adam Sklar to thank for that.
7mesh Skypilot Jacket
Made in China / $450 at 7mesh
British Columbia-based cycling apparel brand 7mesh seems to almost always find a way into my Editor’s Dozen gear picks. I’ve loved nearly everything I’ve tried from them, and Emily has caught the 7mesh bug as well. Emily purchased the 7mesh Skypilot Jacket toward the end of 2022 while on the hunt for a reliable, breathable, and waterproof jacket for day rides here in the Pacific Northwest and bikepacking trips further afield. The jacket was tested to the limits with back-to-back days of heavy rain and mucky conditions in Australia, and after a quick tech-wash and run through the drier, it looks as good as new.
Emily chose the Skypilot over the Copilot due to its three layer GORE-TEX Active construction, which is better suited for highly-aerobic activities like riding. She’s able to run the hood over top of her helmet, it has a tailored fit that isn’t excessively roomy while riding, and it’s made with Bluesign-approved fabrics.
Finding the time and energy for non-work-related projects can sometimes seem like a daunting task, but I believe they are crucial for our wellbeing. Finding a creative outlet, whether that be something with your hands like sewing, drawing, or photography, is a great way to mix up the work week, and I find it to be great for my mental health as well. It’s so fun to see friends enjoying these outlets, and I’d be remiss not to mention Lucas’ very own Future Projects as one of my top picks for the year. His first collaboration was a stunning tote/basket bag designed in collaboration with his friend James of Beard Bags in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They used upcycled materials, including a front pocket salvaged from an artist’s drop cloth, resulting in an unpredictable and one-of-a-kind finish on each of the dozen bags they made.
I happened to be visiting Lucas this fall, and we got out on a few short photoshoots in preparation for the launch of his first bag. Although we were mostly goofing around, it was a pleasure to work in person with Lucas and contribute a small piece to Future Projects. We also jumped on the opportunity to pedal out into the mountains and help each other out with several other work projects, which served as a great reminder of just how fortunate I am to call Lucas and the rest of the BIKEPACKING.com crew my friends and colleagues.
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