From the moment I first threw a leg over my Warbird, I knew a gauntlet had been thrown down. This bike would travel places with me. But how would my gear?
Our first bike overnight without panniers to Cascade Locks.
As I stared at our bikes in advance of our overnight to Cascade Locks and as I dug around the pile of old bags at the back of the closet, I couldn’t help but think back to our very first bike tour, over eight years ago. A lot has happened in between then and now, but I once again faced a packing conundrum that proved how much I still had to learn.
Eight years ago, I had no idea where to start. I didn’t have any of the fancy gear, because I wasn’t yet sold on this bike touring thing. So, I used what I had, and I overpacked a basket that hung so heavily from my handlebars that it scraped the paint off the headtube.
We all have to start somewhere, but there would be no ill-fitting basket hanging on my Warbird. Nor would there be a hairdryer, or any of the other excessive items I packed on that first trip. But I needed to carry some things, and I once again faced the fact that I didn’t have any of the fancy gear – because, again, I wasn’t yet sold on this bikepacking thing.
Packing with panniers is so simple and easy.
The truth is I like panniers. They’re simple, they’re exceedingly functional, they locate the weight of your gear low to the ground. In contrast, most bikepacking setups rely on many small bags, strapped all over the place with fat ugly velcro, located so high off the ground that they raise your center of gravity.
Panniers are egalitarian. You can use them to buy groceries and you can use them to travel the world. Those funny seat bags, though? Where else do you use those?
Plus, I’ve become incredibly skilled at packing for a bike trip with panniers. It’s such second-nature that I really don’t need to think about it, other than deciding what to cook for dinner.
Put another way, though, maybe I’ve become too skilled at packing with panniers. There’s no challenge anymore, just the chore of finding the things and dropping them inside just-so.
I may hate the look of most bikepacking bags, but I have to admit that I like the challenge of completely re-thinking everything I know about packing for a bike trip.
And when I say re-think everything, I truly mean everything. The systems that I’ve adopted for packing in panniers aren’t transferrable. Neither is a lot of my gear. For the first time, I have to care about ounces and excessive compressibility. I love simplicity, but this is a whole other extreme. And I really don’t want to cut my toothbrush in half.
Definitely planning more rides like this!
In the end, though, I accept this challenge for one reason: this bike is a blast to ride!
I just hope I can find a Mary Poppins bag, because it turns out that the trunk bag I have will only hold one incredibly minimal change of clothes if I want to make decent coffee in the morning.
There is nothing quite like new bike day, is there? The hand wringing anticipation as you wait for the call from the bike shop that your bike is ready to go home with you. The simultaneously familiar and strange feeling of throwing a leg over a new bike and pedaling it home for the first time. This weekend, we added two new bikes to the flock – Salsa Warbirds.
The Warbirds are Salsa’s dedicated gravel racer and for some readers will seem like an unlikely departure for us (it doesn’t even have fender mounts!). But let me explain. Over the years, our interests and style of riding has changed over time. To paraphrase much wiser men/women than I: mutability is the only constant. Many will remember that we started with traditional fully loaded touring rigs, segued into lighter multi-modal touring with Bromptons, and for the last 3 years have been doing shorter trips with less overall gear on our Vayas.
While not quite ultra light, we’ve learned to pare down quite a bit! Check out our Gravel Getaway story.
We’ve also started doing more road rides and venturing into gravel riding. Fatbiking and bikepacking have exploded onto the scene, but since we choose to be car free in Portland, getting out to where those bikes really come to their own means a lot of pavement riding or navigating a Rube Goldberg puzzle of light rail and regional buses.
This is where the Warbirds come in. They are a better fit with our preference for trips that originate from our doorstep. We plan to experiment with a rackless softbag/bikepacking system on the Warbirds for mixed terrain, multi-day tours. There are so many backroads to interesting destinations and classic mixed terrain routes from Portland that we haven’t really explored yet.
We’re also eying some gravel rides and events, for research purposes, of course :), to understand what this “new” kind of riding means in terms of bicycle tourism and rural communities. One of the rides we’re looking at in particular is put on by Bicycle Rides Northwest, which features 3 days of gravel riding out of a basecamp along an awesome flyfishing river! Of course, we could use the Vaya for a lot of this, but they are our daily drivers and loaded tourers. For more spirited gravel rides, we find ourselves constantly taking off the racks and then putting them on afterwards. I’m a bit weary that we’ll strip out a bolt one of these days so it’s great to have a dedicated rackless go-fast bike.
Enough of the why and more of the how’s it ride?! Just as a note, we’ve only put in a few short rides and are still dialing in the fit, so these are pretty early impressions. We both have the Tiagra versions of the Warbird which come in a glossy orange and a more muted “army green.” Orange is my favorite color and the orange on the new Warbird is sublime and reminiscent of the orange waterproof Field Notes notebooks. The army green has a matte finish and evokes a more utilitarian version of Bianchi’s Celeste.
The bikes are outfitted with Tiagra throughout. The rear cassette is 12-30, fine for unloaded riding, but we might look at options to put in a 12-34 in the future. The crankset is a 46-34 cross crankset, which we actually quite like. The 46 is a sensible size chainring size for the kind of riding we do and lets us stay in the “big ring” a lot longer.
The handlebars are Salsa Cowbells, which we love and are on our Vayas. They have a very usable shallow drop and a bit of flair so they are pretty functional, even for cyclists that aren’t contortionists. The Warbirds came stock with WTB Silverados which many people like, but which we found a bit narrow for our anatomies, so Laura installed a Charge Ladle and I put on a 143mm Toupe harvested from another bike. As mentioned earlier, the Warbird has no eyelets for racks or fenders. For some, this will be a deal breaker. We knew about this limitation and since we have fully fendered Vayas, if the weather really got that wet out we’d have other options.
For our first ride we took them out to Forest Park, Portland’s local mixed terrain playground. The surface in Forest Park varies based on the amount of recent rain. When it is dry, there are some head rattling stretches with fist sized rocks. Just after a rain, you can get some muddy sections. The day we went, it was somewhere in the middle. Some of the rocky portions had been smoothed over with dirt and there were a few muddy patches but nothing too severe. The main road through the park is also generally climbing anywhere from a 2-3% to some 7-8% grade.
The first thing we noticed immediately was how the bike seemed to dull the rough surface. That’s not to say that it magically made everything buttery smooth, but the bike was working to take the sting out of the ride. We plan to ride the route again with various tires to see how much is a function of the rubber (35mm Sammy Slicks) and how much is the function of the bike. Another very noticeable difference from the Vaya was the Warbird’s willingness to climb.
The rear end of the bike felt a lot more taut and responsive to standing and seated efforts, due to the shorter and flattened chainstays. While not as responsive a climber as a pure-bred carbon roadie, it definitely had more get up and go than our Vaya and All-City Space Horse. The front end of the bike is mellow and predictable which is always welcome on bumpy road surfaces. Most interestingly is how well the bike descends on dirt, the mild mannered front end lends a lot of confidence on mixed terrain descents.
So far, in the short time we’ve ridden the Warbirds, the bikes are undeniably a blast to ride. If the Vayas are about going the distance, the Warbirds are about going fast. We’re looking forward to really dialing them in during the next few months and figuring out how to pack our gear without racks! So stay tuned!
We get a lot of questions about the gear we use for filming. Since I’m packing to do another Scenic Bikeway shoot tomorrow I decided to lay everything out and take a picture of it all. Our primary camera is a Panasonic GH3 which is capable of both stills and videos. There are, I suppose, “better” cameras in terms of resolution, sensor size, etc., But for our purposes, the micro 4/3rds format is really the best solution. We needed a system that we could carry easily by bike. By using a small camera, everything else tends to be smaller. The lenses are smaller, the supports and other contraptions for camera movement are smaller. I’m as much of a camera nerd as the next guy and would love to shoot with a RED or Black Magic, but honestly, I don’t think those cameras would survive a days worth of shooting after bouncing around in one of our panniers. So operating on the truism that “the best camera is the one you have,” the GH3/GH2 is the best camera for our purposes.
Everything is carried by bike with a mix of panniers, Wald 137 basket, some PVC pipe and Revelate Mountain Feedbags (makes great lens holders). For the eagle-eyed, you’ll notice an Abus Bordo lock in the mix. I use it for a counter balance for the camera on the jib
GoPro Hero 3 Black
Olympus 45mm 1.8
Panasonic 25mm 1.4
(Would love to add the Panasonic 35-100 2.8 and 12-35mm 2.8 in the future)
Benro Video Tripod
Nice Industries Aviator Jib
MeFoto and Joby ball head
Manfrotto quick release bases and plates
We like to march to the beat of our own drummer here on PathLessPedaled, so sometimes that leads us to trying things out that may go against conventional wisdom. For example, riding in flat pedals, touring with a 16 inch wheel folding bike, and touring with a paella pan :). It keeps things interesting. In the same vein, we’re going to make a bold statement here: Da Brim’s Rezzo visor is the most functional bike helmet visor ever. I’m sure there are lots of roadies cringing at something so Fredtastic. Deal with it : )Read More»
As some Facebook fans know, I just got an iPad Mini and have been nerding out on it. One of my favorite apps so far is Maplets. It lets you find and download regional paper maps! It’s great for touring or if you’re visiting another city/town and want to see their local transit/walk/bike map.Read More»
At this year’s Interbike, one of the new items that got us the most excited were the Velo-Orange Sabot pedals. Yes, they are “just” platform pedals and aren’t clipless. Yes, they aren’t made of any exotic alloys or fiber weaves. So what’s there to get excited about? As platform pedal users ourselves (and before you ask, yes, Russ use to ride clipless as well before coming back to platforms), there seems to be little innovation or new thinking in the commuter/touring flat platform pedal, so it was good to see that Velo-Orange was taking a stab at new designs. Perhaps the last interesting flat pedal design that was targeted towards tourists and commuters were Riv’s Grip Kings (aka Battle Axes). The Velo-Orange Sabot pedals is an attempt to up the ante, but does it succeed?
We’ve been riding our Salsa Vayas for a little over two months and have managed to put over 1000 miles on them. In that time, we’ve ridden them around town, on the 25th Anniversary Cycle Oregon ride, on our first randonneur event (the Verboort Populaire), up Larch Mountain, on a few overnight bike tours and miles and miles of hills and gravel on road rides around Portland. The good folks at VeloCult built up our frames with components that we picked out that are a little different from the off the shelf Vayas and we had the bikes fitted at Crank PDX. We’ve ridden them enough to get a good sense of how they handle and the ride qualities and what the best uses would be. So what’s the verdict? How do they compare to the venerable Surly LHT?Read More»
Let’s just get it out of the way in the very beginning. The worst thing about the Travoy is it looks like you just cart-jacked Arnold Palmer on the 18th hole. Yes, it looks funny. Yes, it looks tippy and strange. But, if you can get over that, you’ll find the Travoy is a pretty amazing trailer on and off the bike.Read More»
We’ve been riding the sweet 2013 Salsa Vatya frames for a while and have been dialing in the fit and components. Here’s a quick video tour of how we built them up. There are a few differences from the stock build. We wanted lower gearing than the cross double provided so we are running a 42-28 mountain double. Laura wanted to still shift friction so we set her up with some Paul Thumbies. We’ll post a more comprehensive component list soon, but for now enjoy the video!Read More»
Interbike 2012 has come and gone and we’ve braved Las Vegas once again to take a look at new trends in racks and bags in the bike industry. While this year seems less revolutionary than last, with most products only getting a new color scheme or incorporating some of last years innovations, there were a few things that caught our eye. For those that want to see things in action, watch our video roundup below.Read More»