The Mountain Bike Life

As mountain bikers, we often prepare for the worst when we are on the trail. With hydration back packs it makes it easy to have everything conveniently located and stashed in one place. Sometimes our pre-ride check lists can get a little out of hand. We end up bringing an entire mobile bike shop, power bars to feed an army, and so many extra tubes for all of your buddies. With wheel sizes of 36ers, 69ers, and 29+ers dancing in your head, you can have nightmares. It is no wonder that companies keep making hydration bags that are bigger and bigger. There are even some out there that are bigger than a lot of overnight camping bags. I will admit, I am very guilty of over packing. My massively over sized hydration bag is evidence of that. While it is nice having the ability to carry all of these accessories and tools with us at all times, many years of riding bikes has left me and others a little worse for wear. Twenty plus pounds on your back for an afternoon of riding does not feel so great. Over the past season I have been exploring alternatives to your traditional style hydration back pack and have been pleasantly surprised by the current crop of frame bags, the fanny pack of the bike world.

The start of an adventure. I see several mountains that need climbing. 

I will be the first to admit, in the grand scheme of all things mountain bike fashion frame/saddle bags are far from cool. A lot of riders I know would relegate such things to touring bikes or old road bikes. The truth of the matter is that sometimes you have to sacrifice what is cool or in for something that just makes sense. After all, what sounds better; looking uber rad to passing riders, or being comfortable enough and having ample gear to turn that 2 hour ride into an all day alpine epic?
A small frame bag can fit all of this: Two spare tubes, a patch kit, pump, multi tool, two tire levers, camera, wallet, knife, car keys, spare cables, extra layer, and a battery pack for your lights if you are out after dark. (Photo by Martina)

There are several clear cut advantages to ditching your traditional hydration bag. One advantage that a lot of performance oriented cyclists confer about is lowering your center of gravity. A lower center of gravity can really help a rider rail around a turn. A lot of us have had old mountain bikes with more or less antiquated geometry. There is a reason trail and cross country bikes no longer come specced with high rise handle bars and 17 degree rise stems. The completely upright riding position makes handling feel unresponsive and awkward. Keeping the weight  low on a bike helps a rider to be less affected while negotiating tighter and faster corners. The storage capacity afforded by frame bags is a huge benefit. Some full frame bags have 13 liters of storage while some adventure worthy saddle bags offer up 14 liters storage capacity. That is a lot of stuff! Some other things that any rider would look forward to are a rested back and a fresh set of shoulders. Use your muscles for pumping transitions and boosting rollers, not for the mundane task of carrying your stuff.

Local bike wrench Jon Lawrey’s Surly Krampus with a Revelate Designs full frame bag. 

Of course as with all good things there are some draw backs. I will admit there is a bit of a learning curve if you have always used a back pack for carrying your gear. Obviously mounting anything on your bike will make it heavier. Taking 10 pounds off of your back and onto your bike turns your 25 pound race machine into a 35 pound behemoth. While this can be disconcerting it is important to realize the combined rider and bike weight has not changed, not to mention you are now maneuvering and controlling the weight with your hips and legs. Another concern is, depending on your frame, there may not always be a good fitting bag available. There are a lot of companies out there making bags specifically designed for certain styles or brands of bicycles. So while there are lots of options available for both hard tail and full suspension frames, you may still only have an ill fitting bag available that could easily leave a sour taste in your mouth. Fortunately with the growing popularity of frame packs, it can be easy to find some sort of solution.

Set up for 120+ miles of self supported backcountry adventure in Jay P’s Backyard Fat Pursuit. (Photo by Jon Lawrey) 

There are several different styles of bike mounted packs that can help accommodate any range of uses and frames. The traditional saddle bag has had a pretty serious facelift recently. With many adventure racers seeking extra storage space there are lots of collapsable saddle bags that offer surprisingly ample space. There are several different kinds of bags that can be mounted on the front triangle of your trusty steed as well. There are full frame bags that take up the entire front triangle, these often get in the way of things such as water bottles, however, a lot of companies recommend just stashing a hydration bladder in your bag. Some smaller options include varying sizes of bags that fit inside the front triangle, and other styles that are known as gas tank style bags. Gas tank style bags tend to sit on the top tube right behind your stem, and yes, it does look very similar to a motorcycle gas tank. Handle bar harnesses and bags are a great way to stash gear such as a tent or a sleeping bag if you really wanted to extend your ride time.

How far are you planning on riding? Do you drop down the next gully back to civilization, or do you climb one more ridge line? 

So really there is no right or wrong way to bring all of your gear with you. Some riders only bring what fits in their jersey pockets, others refuse to start a ride without bringing an entire tool box, and several different replacement parts with them. The only real important thing is that you do whatever gets you out riding for as long as you want to be in the saddle.

Indulging In Fat
Winter Cabin Fever