Rigs of the San Jose del Pacifico “Grand Old Tour”
A few weeks ago, seven riders set out on a seven-day tour around Mexico’s San José del Pacífico Grand Dirt Tour route, in part to celebrate a certain someone’s milestone in spacetime. One thing that stood out was the variety of bikes in the mix. Learn more about the trip and route, find details on six loaded rigs, and see a gallery of photos from the ride here…
The passage of time can be both painfully unsettling and endlessly fascinating. Moments, milestones, places, and things can stir up reflections and introspection, resulting in heart-wrenching, empowering, humbling, or genuinely sublime experiences. As humans, we’re often individually judged based on it. The amount of time we’ve existed and the aesthetic effects that time has had on our hair, skin, and body are rings that show the years and barometers that tell tales.
We came to Oaxaca in part to celebrate the passage of time—for a certain somebody’s journey into advanced adulthood—but more importantly, to ride one of our premier bikepacking routes, the San José del Pacífico Grand Dirt Tour. There’s no better place to embrace the beauty and relentlessness of time than the Oaxaca Valley. Here, the cool, dry, high-desert climate has conserved archeological sites for as long as 10,000 years. This immense history makes Oaxaca the most biologically, linguistically, and culturally diverse state in Mexico with a saga that’s visible in its architecture, arts and crafts, celebrations, and all aspects of day-to-day life. As fellow rider Jess Daddio summed it up: “Riding the San José del Pacífico Grand Dirt Tour feels more like an immersive seminar on Oaxaca’s Zapotec, Mixtec, and many other Indigenous groups than a bikepacking trip, and that’s the most powerful part. A good route is like a living, a breathing textbook, and there’s no shortage of learning opportunities on the San José del Pacífico Grand Dirt Tour. The stellar dirt road riding almost feels like an afterthought.”
We were a posse of seven and set out to ride the route over the course of a week. We ranged in age from 30 to 53, and our variety of bikes reflected a similar multi-dimensional narrative. To tell that side of the story—and serve as a resource for others aiming to venture into the Oaxaca Valley—here’s a rundown of six of those bikes with a description of what worked and what didn’t in everybody’s kit. Note that I’ll be publishing a separate post about my bike and kit soon.
From Harrisonburg, Virginia, Adam Ritter is something of a renaissance man. He’s a stone mason, artist, banjo player, arborist, trail builder, and one hell of a rider, I might add. During our trip, he could often be found admiring the ancient stone walls we ran across, intently studying plants or sketching in a notebook.
Adam brought his time-tested Bruised Ego Purple Surly Krampus with both a 140mm squishy Rockshox and a rigid Niner carbon fork—he switched to the suspension fork when trail riding in Ixtepeji and beyond. His Krampus was set up with I9 Backcountry wheels, 2.4” Maxxis Rekons front and rear, steel Arise handlebars, and a beat-up WTB Rocket saddle. A 1×12 SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain pushed him along with a 32-tooth chainring. “Not completely necessary, as it turns out, because I met a guy who did it gracefully in style on a singlespeed,” Adam added.
For luggage, Adam used a well-worn set of bags made up of a Revelate Ranger frame bag, a Revelate Terrapin seat bag, and an Ortlieb handlebar pack. Water-carrying duties were assigned to a Blackburn Everything cage on the downtube and Oveja Negra and Wanderlust feed bags. “I had the capacity to carry four liters of water, and that worked out pretty well the entire ride.” He also mentioned being happy with the Trangia alcohol stove and having a sturdy reusable vessel for packing food out of towns.
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Generally speaking, Adam was pretty content with his kit. “Nothing fancy at all, but I can’t complain, as it was comfortable and all worked so damn well. I carried a few clothing items I didn’t pull out but for the most part was happy with my setup and had a good ride.”
A trail builder from Poultney, Vermont, Caitrin Maloney was the only member of our group using drop bars and also the only one rolling on true “plus” tires. Caitrin’s stout prototype Tanglefoot Moonshiner was equipped with 27.5 x 2.8” Kenda Booster Pro SCTs. “Wider tires are my suspension,” Caitrin added. Caitrin’s bike was kitted with a mixed MTB/road drivetrain with a 32-tooth chainring and a 10-50 cassette Garbaruk cassette, PAUL Klamper mechanical brakes, and a mixed bag of luggage, including an Ortlieb saddle bag, front roll, and accessory pouch with an Oveja Negra top tube bag, a Revelate Gas Tank, and a Fairweather snack bag.
I recall Caitrin scooting up chunky and steep bits faster than all of us and commenting about how well the Moonshiner handles techy ups, despite it probably being the heaviest frame out of all these bikes. When I asked Caitrin what worked well, she responded: “I’ve been loving my summer sleeping kit. I’ve got an REI Flash Air tent (20oz) and REI Magma 30 degree bag (20oz). The gear is light, warm, and fits in my narrow front roll along with my pad and pillow. I also was glad I brought my Patagonia Nano puff jacket. I get cold easily, and the nighttime temps in the desert/mountains drop quickly. Also, 3.75 liters of water was more than plenty with all the resupply options.”
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Conversely, there were a couple things she wanted from time to time. She added: “I wish I had brought my Steripen instead of my Trail Shot water filter. The water sources we filtered didn’t have lots of sediment and the Steripen is smaller and easier to use and stow. I also have to admit I was a bit jealous of Logan’s camp chair. I don’t think I’d actually bring a chair, but I have a small Z-fold pad that would have been great to have. I kept getting little spikes stuck in my pants every time I sat on the ground… and of course an itchy butt is no fun.”
Resupply and food options along the route are plentiful and delicious, and Caitrin was happy she didn’t bring a stove kit. She and Rusti were able to collaborate on all-important morning coffee. “Jess and Adam introduced me to the super delicious Swift coffee packets, which I’ll definitely be acquiring for future trips,” she said.
Custom Rob English Rigid
I’ve ridden with Joe quite a few times, several of which he was aboard his custom Rob English steel rigid 29er. It has a clever break-apart frame design that packs into a small S&S coupler suitcase. He’s had it since 2010, and as he pointed out, “I guess it’s headed toward vintage now.” That being said, this is the first time I’ve seen him bikepacking on a singlespeed. For this mission, the English was geared 32 x 20, with a 2.3” Teravail Ehline in back and a 2.6” Schwalbe Nobby Nic up front.
The San José del Pacífico tour isn’t exactly singlespeed-friendly, which Joe knew in advance: “I kinda cornered myself into it. I put the beloved English up on social media, mildly suggesting that I was considering riding it in Oaxaca. Everyone—Cass, Logan, Jess, random strangers, my wife, probably Cass’s dog Huesos—pounced to tell me I was doomed and an idiot and to definitely not do that. Of course I replied with bravado and shit talk about being a singlespeeder for decades and how people need to shut the hell up. That kinda committed me. Which was glorious and great but also colossally stupid because I’m old and feeble. Obviously, it was the perfect bike for the job and I enjoyed the challenge. It was also fun to do some rugged day rides (including a shuttle day at Ixtepedi Enduro Park) on the English.”
Needless to say, Joe made the singlespeed setup work and was able to pedal a large majority of the route, which surprised all of us. He did so by meticulously honing an incredibly minimal kit, bringing only the bare necessities. When I asked him why and how it worked, he responded: “I traveled with minimal gear. A Six Moon Designs Ultralight Serenity NetTent, a pad, a 40-degree quilt, and an emergency bivy in case it rained, plus some spare clothes in the front roll and tools and essentials in the frame bag. I had additional room in the frame bag for day snacks and two Modelo Especials, and I had a tiny packable backpack for carrying dinner to camp.”
I figured it would be dry and warm enough to want to sleep under the stars, but with enough crawling critters so that I’d want to be behind some netting. The NetTent was mostly a great choice, though dew on my quilt at 3 a.m. a couple of nights had me concerned. The sun dried things out pretty quickly. If I had to pick out one thing that was perfect, it would be the Search and State short sleeve field shirt. The puckered cotton fabric kept me airy and cool all day every day, and the buttons and collar felt respectable while off the bike in the many pueblitos.”
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Gear-wise, Joe was pretty pleased at the fact that he used just about everything he brought and didn’t find himself wanting too much else, although I did catch him sitting in my camp chair a few times when I stepped away from the camp circle. Otherwise, he only had to break out the emergency bivy once. He added: “I thought it would be cold at 9,000 feet, but that night turned out to be balmy. I do wish I had brought my set of Snow Peak titanium sake cups. They would have been clutch for drinking mezcal (and the Ti mug I brought—and didn’t dangle—went mostly neglected).”
Custom Våt Fot 29er
Many of you are probably familiar with the multi-talented writer, videographer, and photographer Jess Daddio from various articles on this site and in The Bikepacking Journal. As with most of us, Jess planned to extend her tour of the San José del Pacífico Grand Dirt Tour with some singletrack riding on the trails in and around the Oaxaca Valley. To do so, Jess rode her brand-new custom Våt Fot 29er hardtail with a shreddy setup featuring a 120mm Cane Creek Helm MKII Air fork, a OneUp dropper, and a 2.5” Maxxis Minion up front and a 2.4” Maxxis Rekon out back. The Våt Fot—which we affectionately dubbed “wet fart”—was built with a 10-52 SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain and outfitted with a suite of Rockgeist bags, including the BarJam harness system, a custom frame bag, and a dry bag/dry bag protector paired with a Tumbleweed T Rack.
“Since I’ve never owned a hardtail, this setup was entirely new to me, and I was super pleased with everything. The Våt Fot (s/o Gary in Richmond, Virginia) was super capable on the long dirt road days and playful on the trails,” Jess said, adding, “Being 5’4″, my options for packing get pretty limited if I want full use of a dropper. Although it’s heavy, the T Rack/Rockgeist dry bag pairing was a great solution and allowed me to use my dropper when things got spicy.”
“Gear-wise, I appreciated having a sun shirt for the long, exposed, and shadeless climbs. I got my synthetic button-up at a thrift store back home for a couple of bucks and it has definitely earned its keep. I was glad I packed a couple of spare Ziplocs for the tour. There is so much food on this route, and it’s really quite easy to pack out some quesadillas or tamales for dinner. As a vegetarian, I did opt to play it safe and pack two freeze-dried meals in case I couldn’t find any meat-free options in the smaller, more rural towns. In the end, I only had to make one freeze-dried meal over the course of 10 nights.”
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Summarizing her choices, Jess said: “The Minion might have been overkill on the dirt roads, but I was grateful for the burlier tread when it came time to ride Oaxaca’s notoriously steep, loose, and rowdy trails. Otherwise, my bike setup was dialed! On the gear front, I did carry leg warmers, a pack towel, a wind jacket, and a chamois for 350ish miles and used none of those things.”
Surly Karate Monkey
We were all blown away by this route and the experience, but perhaps none more than bike mechanic and fly-fishing guide Rusti Broadway. When I asked Rusti what he thought about the route, this is what he had to say: “The route was amazing. The scenery was expansive and beautiful. Most of all, the people. Riding through rural Mexico is a challenging experience. The sun is unyielding, and my Spanish is very bad. Despite the confusion, I was usually met with kindness and patience. I feel fortunate and humbled by the people we met along the way, and I left with a yearning to return and connect.”
Rusti brought his old Karate Monkey that’s aging quite nicely. Its latest iteration features a splatter paint job that Rusti applied himself. In its former life, it was a single-speed Pisgah shredder, but he robbed the GX Eagle drivetrain from his full-suspension trail bike, “…and I didn’t regret it. It was nice to have a suspension fork on the steep and loose gravel, too,” he said. It was built with a Fox 34 fork, 29 x 2.6” tires—Dissector up front and Rekon in the back—a cushy Chromag saddle, and Ergon grips that he says helped him get through the long and dusty days.
Rusti outfitted the KM with a mix of Rockgeist and Revelate bags, a $20 Amazon rack, and a brand new pair of Rockgeist Microwave Panniers. He said: “It was hard to swallow the aesthetic, but the Rockgeist panniers have maximum function, and were great for carrying extra food, liquid, and trinkets I found along the way. I also brought several silicon resealable bags for grabbing to-go food, and that was a good idea. Oh, and tubeless tires, fresh sealant, and tire plugs. Plenty of pokey things.” As I mentioned in a recent Lezyne Dispatch, Rusti was carrying a set of the larger Lezyne 3.5mm plugs. One of those sealed a large, stubborn rip in my tire, and it’s remained intact ever since.
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Looking back, Rusti said: “I packed too much clothing, but it’s nice to be comfortable at camp. I packed my heavier rain jacket because it layers better. It stayed packed and unused. Not much use in the dry season. It would have been great to save space/weight by sharing a tent, stove, pot, etc. with a partner.”
Why Cycles Wayward
Many of you know co-conspirator Virginia Krabill, and if you’re a regular reader, chances are you’ve seen VA’s Why Cycles Wayward hardtail on the site before. That being said, there are a few things that changed on it for this trip. After realizing there’s no such thing as traction on many of Oaxaca’s steep singletrack trails, Virginia opted for more toothy Vittoria Agarro 29 x 2.6″ tires. Otherwise, the build remained the same as it was for last year’s Baja ride, featuring a SRAM Eagle GX AXS drivetrain with a 30-tooth chainring and 10-52T cassette, Shimano XT hydro brakes, and Industry Nine hubs laced to WTB rims. For luggage, she used a top-opener handlebar bag, a Rockgeist custom frame bag, and a single stem bag for a 0.75L water bottle.
After much deliberation, Virginia opted for a Tumbleweed Mini Pannier rear rack and panniers for this trip. She said: “I had considered a seat pack, as the panniers I used on our previous adventures in Oaxaca proved to be very challenging on singletrack hike-a-bike sections. In the end, my aversion to the cold and the need to carry significant volumes of water won out, and I opted for panniers because of their storage capacity.”
The smaller Tailfin 10L Mini Panniers proved to be a better and more hike-a-bike-friendly than voluminous Microwave Panniers she used last year. Talking through her choices, she said: “The rack and pannier system worked well. The panniers were more than ample in size but not so big that they interfered during the periodic hike-a-bike. The rack also proved very useful for carrying my larger 1.5 L water bottle and camp chair. The camp chair was a last-minute addition, and it was a good one. A foam pad would pretty much work equally well, but takes up just as much space and weighs only a fraction less.”
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As other folks mentioned, there are a boatload of excellent food options along this route, so we didn’t do a lot of cooking on this trip, as usual. Virginia added, “Squeezing the 1.2-liter pot into my relatively small frame bag was not worth the effort. If I were to do this route again, I’d opt for a smaller pot.” Another change she mentioned was with her headwear: “I brought along a sun hat instead of a ball cap or a beanie. While the sun hat provides more coverage than a ball cap, I rarely used it. With so many steep ascents and descents, I rarely removed my helmet. When off the bike, a simple cap to cover my unruly mane or a beanie to keep warm would have been a better option.” Lastly, she said she would have left our SteriPen behind. The water that we filtered was pretty clear and seemed far enough removed from livestock that our SteriPen was never used. We used the BeFree filter on a few occasions, filtering stream water in the mountains instead.
About the Route
As has been dribbled throughout this piece, the San José del Pacífico Grand Dirt Tour is an amazing route that blends culture, history, art, and beauty into an inspiring experience. As Joe put it: “Kudos to Cass. This route is brilliant. It has the perfect rhythm of resupply and remoteness, the history and culture and people are front and center, and it’s pretty hard without the difficulty of it being the main storyline. What I liked most was that we found ourselves in vibrant, interesting towns echoing with Prehispanic Mexico, and then 10 kilometers onward, we were in the tranquil desert sipping mezcal in the seemingly infinite quiet.” Check out the gallery of images below and scroll down for more on the route.
San José del Pacífico Grand Dirt Tour
From rural terracerías to forested two-track, from to tlayuda pit stops to mushroom foraging, the San José del Pacífico Grand Dirt Tour in Oaxaca has a little of everything this remarkable state has to offer. And, because it begins and ends in Oaxaca de Juaréz, the state’s capital and a beautiful mountain city that’s a destination in its own right. Find the full San José del Pacífico Grand Dirt Tour route guide here.
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