Editor’s Dozen: Miles’ 2021 Gear Picks
A year after relocating to the Pacific Northwest, Miles reflects on some of his favourite pieces of gear and other highlights that have stood out for him in 2021. Find a dozen items that Miles thinks deserve recognition here…
Although I spent most of 2021 around my new home in Powell River, British Columbia, I was fortunate enough to spend a great deal of time on my bike. While I love the freedom and challenge of long-distance rides, keeping local has encouraged me to hone my technical mountain biking skills instead. I’ve started riding with flat pedals more often, challenging myself on steeper trails that fall outside of normal bikepacking terrain, and most importantly, riding with the new friends I’ve made here in Powell River quite regularly.
With that said, I’ve still managed to pack in a handful of local overnighters and route scouting missions here on the coast, four of which are now published as route guides. I’m perhaps most proud of the Tree to Sea Loop—a 1,000-kilometre gravel loop around the lesser-known areas on the north end of Vancouver Island. Several of the items in this list were either used during or inspired by that trip, and all have earned an enthusiastic “thumbs up” from yours truly. Find a dozen items that have stood out for me in 2021 below.
Released in September of last year, I jumped on the opportunity to test out the Hudski Doggler, which led to me purchasing it for myself a few months later. The Doggler is a modern, category-bending rigid bike that’s offered in three different builds: city, gravel, and mountain. Each model has the same aluminum frame and full-carbon fork, a 1×12 drivetrain, hydraulic brakes, and a dropper post. It packs a lot of punch for $2,000 USD and has quickly become my go-to bike for zipping around town, linking together gravel paths and the occasional trail with ease. I loaded it up during my scouting mission of the new Tree to Sea Loop on Vancouver Island this fall, and I’m sure it will naturally take on the roll of winter commuter rig as we head into 2022.
While the Doggler might not compete with dedicated mountain or gravel bikes, it does offer a nice middle ground for the performance-minded commuter who finds comfort in wide bars and a fun, upright riding position. I found it to be aesthetically pleasing, the built kit is dialled, and it has all the specs I look for in a do-mostly-everything bike. Make sure to check out my full review here.
$1,999 / Made in Taiwan / 25.8 pounds (large) / Details
Bags by Bird (BXB) Piccolo Short Flap
The Piccolo Short Flap is a smaller, more svelte version of the popular Bags By Bird (BXB) Goldback. The Piccolo is better suited to rigs with limited clearance between the bars and front/rear tire or for those running narrower bars. Just like the Goldback, it can be used as a top-loading handlebar bag or as a traditional-style saddle bag with or without a rack or support. While the Piccolo has a shorter, non-expandable main top flap, the adjustable webbing buckles and generous overlap easily allow for tightening down an overflowing bag. The bag has two side pockets, two lengths of daisy chain across the front for your dangling desires, and a drawstring closure that can expand to accommodate larger loads or cinch down to provide better resistance against the elements.
The Piccolo is a fine example of what a modern flap-style bag can be, and BXB nailed it. Beyond a few limitations while riding singletrack, which is common to all bags of this style, the Piccolo has me totally sold on top-loading bags. It’s incredibly solid and bounce-free on rough terrain, handmade in the USA, and the smaller overall size is great for lighter loads or bikes with less clearance. It’s an expensive bag, but the workmanship is exceptional and is clearly designed to last a lifetime.
$200 / Made in Georgia, USA / 630 grams (Small Liteskin), 780 grams (Large X50) / Details
Feedback Sports Team Edition Tool Kit
Since I try to do the majority of my bike maintenance myself and I’ve spent a lot of time traveling in our van, I wanted a tool kit that was both portable and well-equipped. The Feedback Sports Team Edition Tool Kit features 19 bike-specific tools in a compact, TPU-coated case that has proven to be quite durable over the years.
I like having a place for most of my tools, and it’s easy to just tuck the kit away somewhere in the van for when I need it on the road. At home, the kit stays out on my workbench or hanging on my repair stand for when I need it. It’s not cheap, but no bike-specific tool kits are, and I’ve been quite happy with the quality of the tools after over two years of regular use.
$300 / Made in China / 9.8 pounds / Details
Powell River, British Columbia
At the height of COVID-19, Emily and I found ourselves housesitting in a small town on Vancouver Island. The timing was perfect and I’m incredibly grateful for it, but if I learned one thing about myself during that time, it’s that I need social interaction and thrive on a sense of community. My mental health was at an all-time low and I knew I needed a change. Powell River—and the awesome people who call it home—has been my saving grace as we continue to navigate these strange and challenging times. Not only is the area home to hundreds of kilometres of volunteer-maintained trails and scenic gravel roads, but the community (cycling and beyond) has been so welcoming and eager to make the most of our current situation.
If you’re ever in a position to visit Powell River, at the upper end of the Sunshine Coast, I urge you to do so. Singletrack lovers should check out the Powell River Sampler route, those looking for a gravel loop with lots of swimming opportunities will love the 10 Lakes Overnighter, and everyone will appreciate the Texada Ridge Runner route, which is just a short ferry ride away from town. Stop by TAWS Bike Garage before heading out and check in with the Powell River Cycling Association (PRCA) to see if any group rides are going on.
7Mesh Thunder Pant
The newly released 7Mesh Thunder Pant is a 100% waterproof riding pant made from two different weights of Gore-Tex Pro fabric. The result is a breathable, weatherproof pant that’s reinforced in key high-friction areas like on the seat and upper legs. The pants feature a unique trimmable cuff to accommodate different leg lengths, which is a common issue with excessively baggy rain pants, and a riding-specific fit that leaves room for layers without feeling baggy.
The Thunder Pant has been my go-to choice for rainy, muddy, and wet conditions here on the west coast. So far, they have proven to be impenetrable in all types of weather, including heavy downpours. I brought them with me during my Tree to Sea Loop scouting trip, and they kept me warm and dry through several long days of nearly constant rain. They are expensive at $300 USD ($400 CAD), but after using several of their products, I can attest to their overall quality. The only two things that took some getting used to are the tiny side buckles and low front waist fit, which helps avoid bunching fabric while riding, but feels and looks a little goofy while off the bike. It’s worth noting that 7Mesh also donates to several important non-profits including the Indigenous Youth Mountain Bike Program and Reconciliation Canada, plus “7mesh” was chosen in celebration of their town’s indigenous name, Sk̲wx̲wú7mesh.
$300 / Made in China / 300 grams / Details
Esoteric Custom Dyneema Pillow
Forever on the hunt for a better night’s sleep, I reached out to Esoteric Fab Works in Vancouver, British Columbia, to see if they could put together a custom stuff sack style pillow for bikepacking. The end result is a Dyneema stuff sack with a Polartec Alpha Direct Fleece face on one side, designed to be stuffed with my down jacket that’s normally not in use when I sleep. The pillow is about 20″ long, which provides lots of room to roll around in the night, and it weighs just over 30 grams and packs down small. The stuff sack design holds its shape well when packed full of clothing and the Alpha Direct Fleece that Esoteric used on the top side of the pillow is soft and lightweight.
Although it was a custom order, Esoteric can build anyone something similar, and it’s handmade in Vancouver, BC—great for any Canadian readers looking to support a small bag maker.
~$60 CAD / Made in Canada / 32 grams / Details
Rad & Tagg Wolftooth Tool Sheath
If you read my recent review of the Wolf Tooth 8-Bit Kit One, you’ll recall that my only real complaint was the lack of a storage sleeve. To address this, I reached out to my friend Lindsey Gosnell of Rad & Tagg Leatherworks here in Powell River to make a leather sheath to protect the tool and its beautiful machined exterior.
The handmade leather sheath is the perfect addition to such a high-quality tool, and it has performed exactly how I imagined it would. I’m no longer worried about tossing the Wolf Tooth tool into my frame bag, all of the tools and parts are contained in one spot, and the leather is already starting to develop a patina of its own. Lindsey nailed the design and included some thoughtful details like a drainage port, an internal leather patch to protect the tool from the snap, and some cool branding.
~$70 CAD / Made in Canada / Details
Small Front Racks
I had the chance to test out a number of small front racks this year, which forced me to pack differently, try new setups, and challenge my idea of what the “ideal” bikepacking rig is. A small rack doesn’t add that much bulk or weight to your setup but allows for some more flexibility when packing. Whether you’re simply lashing on a camp chair, using the platform to support a larger handlebar bag, or attaching a basket on top, a minimal front rack is a great way to add some extra storage to almost any bike. Check out our roundup of small, lightweight racks for bikepacking here.
Earning the respect of local trail builders means putting in your fair share of trail work when possible. It’s been fun lending a hand on some larger trail projects here in Powell River, and learning from the seriously talented and knowledgable folks who volunteer so much time and energy into our mountain bike trails. Since I don’t own any trail tools, I picked up a folding Silky Gomboy saw from a local saw shop to take care of smaller trees and branches I encounter on rides. It’s small enough to tuck into a hip pack or frame bag, and slices through small trees and thick branches without hesitation.
Having the saw on me and stopping when I encounter obstacles means future riders can cruise through as if there was never anything there. It takes a few minutes to clear a trail from debris, which can make the next rider’s experience that much more enjoyable and also limits the chance of small branches getting caught up in someone’s spokes. If you’re able bodied and not pressed for time on most rides, grab yourself a small folding saw and pitch in!
$51.99 / Made in Japan / 320 grams / Details
Rab Vapour Barrier Socks
My Rab Vapour Barrier Socks are one of the items I was happy I brought along during my Tree to Sea trip. The idea behind them is that they’re worn over top of your regular socks to prevent condensation and moisture from building up and freezing your feet in cold weather. They keep the heat in and outside moisture out, and on a few of the colder days they made the difference between freezing cold feet and comfortably (although slightly damp from sweat) warm toes.
I’m not a huge fan of waterproof overshoes or booties while bikepacking, and often find them either too bulky or awkward to take on and off. The Rab Vapour Barrier Socks are lightweight, pack small enough to be hardly noticeable, and have proven to be quite durable. Oh, and you look super cool wearing them.
$35 USD / Made in China / 80 grams / Details
29 x 2.6″ Tires
I don’t think I’m the only one here at BIKEPACKING.com who will tell you that 29 x 2.6″ tires hit a sweet spot for trail riding and bikepacking. If I were to have one bike, it would certainly be based around this platform. You get the rolling speed of a big 29″ wheel, the floatation and width of a 2.6″ wide tire, and there are enough options out there that you can dial in your tread pattern depending on your preferences and terrain.
I’ve been running some extra chunky Teravail Kessels on my Why S7 for the better part of the last year, which has been perfect for navigating the chunky and rooty singletrack here in Powell River. Bontrager’s XR2 also comes in a 29 x 2.6″ model for something fast rolling. The WTB Trail Boss is another great aggressive trail tire for those looking for something with big side knobs and lots of grip. Neil has had great experiences using the Teravail Honcho and Vittoria Aggaro, which both come in a 29 x 2.6″ version, and also recommends the 2.6″ Maxxis Minion DHF and Maxxis Rekon as a great pairing.
DIY Fire Starters
These handy little DIY fire starters have been a gamechanger on damp nights here on the coast. They are easily made using old toilet paper rolls, drier machine lint, and candle wax, and provide a solid enough burn to help get a larger fire going or to simply provide some nighttime ambience around camp. They can be made at home for free and are small enough to pack a few without worrying about space. Find a step-by-step guide on how to make them here.
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