The gear, the goods and the bulky: Review of Rig for Manila to Vigan Bike Tour

In my previous entry, ive written about our itinerary for our Manila to Vigan trip. This time, I describe and provide a review of my rig used for this bike tour. I divide my review into two sections. First, the build and second the bikepacking system used for the trip. Some preliminaries though:

  1. I am a notoriously heavy packer-that is, I bring stuff in extras (clothes, etc). Prioritizing comfort over weight and speed, I prefer bringing the necessary items with me to make sure that ive got potential concerns covered.
  2. Aside from personal preference, I consider the route and potential ways for experimentation for my build-while some riders prefer their bikes/rig with a standard set of components or specs, I feel that constantly updating your build/rig gives your riding experience much depth.
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Surly Crosscheck (AKA Dr. Jekyll)

The build

For this trip, I opted to use my Surly Crosscheck’s third build variation-As I aptly call this build Dr. Jekyll (Single Speed). I haven’t tried doing a multiday using single speed but ive gotten great advice from other, more experienced riders and they claim that the use of single speed has it advantages and problems.

Specs:

Surly Crosscheck Frame/fork

Cockpit: Jones Loop w salsa guide stem 90mm, 6 deg rise

Saddle: Brooks Cambium C17 carved

Wheelset: Alex adventurer rims/DT swiss champion spokes/New Surly Ultra hubs (front)/Chris King Single Speed Specific Hub (rear)

Tires: Vittoria Randonneur 700x 35 laced with panaracer flataways at the rear tire

Crank/chain ring: Shimano Tiagra with 38t wolftooth narrowide chainring

Cog-Surly stainless cog 16t

Brakes: shimano non series vbrakes

Additional: Free parable design’s gorilla clips with waterbottle cages

The whole build is an interesting one as it is swift and light but offers the same comfort in other touring bikes and is decent in terms of handling cargo. Using a rackless setup, I found the current build responsive in terms of turns and climbs but still allows me to keep an upright, more relaxed position while riding (due to the Jones loop handlebar). While the single speed build can sometimes  be frustrating as you don’t seem to get the right gear in certain stretches of your route, I find the 38tx16 ratio adequate for keeping up with other riders on flat road or exerting minimal-great effort during climbs. Now on to specific parts of the build:

Chris King Single Speed Specific Hub

Though I admit I am a Hope fan (got the SS hub too!), I felt greater engagement of the CK hub as response to pedaling effort was just right on all occasions (sudden movement or needing to rush during a climb or speeding up when needed). Though I felt a little drag which makes the pedaling chunkier than the hope ss hub, I found this as a pleasant experience. Also, the noise produced isn’t as annoying or loud compared to the other hub.

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CK single speed Specific Rear Hub

Vittoria Randonneurs (Available at Epic Cycles, Alabang

(https://www.facebook.com/Epic-Cycles-584705501596426/)

Though I had doubts about these tires, after this trip, I am now a believer of this tire because of its weight, durability and all around use. It grips well in wet surfaces and shines the most in asphalt and is decent in rough roads, I remember hitting a lot of potholes during the night and no tire pressure was lost nor did I experience a flat during the tour.

Wolftooth dropstop round chainring 38t (Available at Gran Trail Cycles)

(https://www.facebook.com/Gran-Trail-Cycles-22731374206/?fref=ts)

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Wolftooth 38t Oval Chainring

When I started using single speed for my riding I stuck with the generally accepted ratio of 2:1 (36×18) but wanted to experiment on a higher tooth profile for my chainring. While I felt I could have gotten better performance with an oval version, the round chainring had small instances of deadspots while pedaling. A nice thing about the chainring is that no drops were experienced even if I encountered varying road conditions during the trip.

The bikepacking system

Now I proceed with sharing my experience and review of the bikepacking bags used for the trip. I promised myself to take a chance in using a Philippine made set of bags produced by Conquer Outdoor (Available at Built Cycles https://www.facebook.com/BuiltCycles/?fref=ts) as they seem to have a lot of potential in terms of durability, ease of use and cost. Since I have previously used Revelate designs bags in other bike tours, I was able to compare how this new bikepacking system would fare in a physically demanding tour.

In general, the Conquer bikepacking bags (handlebar, saddle, feed, frame bag) have shared characteristics-several loop options for strapping your bags in a variety of builds. Second, quality straps with foam underneath the straps assuring you that your bike is protected from scratches. Third, they  are all made of water and tear resistant material making them ideal for long distance tours. Now with the specifics:

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a lot of loops for your straps

The handlebar bag

Contents:

Aquazorb Towel

Trekking Shorts

Slippers

The scout handlebar bag has similarities with the Revelate designs sweetroll but is quite short in terms of length but is roomy in terms of volume- allowing you put a large amount of stuff but would not interfere with your use of your handlebar-I tried using this before with handlebars as narrow as 42mm and they don’t interfere with your dropbar shifters! The adequate straps and adjustment options allow you to hold the cargo securely but not run the risk of having tire rub which some bags fail to address. Moreover, the accessible outer pocket provides additional space for smaller items such as phones, wallet etc.

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scout handlebar bag

The framebag

Contents:

Toiletries bag

Extension cord and usb multiplug

Rainjacket

Tools, pump, lights, 2 small towels

Among the different bags in the system, this is my personal favorite as there are different options for customization. Unlike other framebags which have a standard set of compartments, the Conquer framebag i chose has one vertical and horizontal pocket which allows you to maximize the use of space. With a generous amount of padding, the internal divider assures that your stuff is organized and adds to the internal structure of the framebag preventing sagging. Though i was concerned about knee rub while pedaling, I was surprised that I didn’t experience any considering that I packed the framebag with bulky items. Moreover, the fit of the bag which is similar in specs compared to my Revelate Designs straggle-check framebag , provides ample space for the bottom part of my frame and saved me from hassles concerning interference with the Bottom bracket or crankarm while pedaling. Also, the zippers have a housing to prevent rainwater from entering the bag

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Saddlebag

Contents:

2 cycling pants

3 cycling shirts

4 pairs socks

4 pairs underwear

3 headgear

2 outdoor shirts

Among the different bags I brought during the trip, this was the one that I kept an eye on as I have encountered several problems with other saddlebags-sagging (causing tire rub), swaying (due to cargo), and leg rub-these problems are not only annoying but can cause serious delays during your trip as you constantly fix these concerns on the road. The same problems could probably be your criteria in selecting the saddlebags you’d like to consider for your trips

The conquer saddlebag didn’t pose any of the problems mentioned above for several reasons. First, the mango shaped structure of the bag with thick padding at the base of it assures that the bag is held in place. Similar to my Revelate Designs Terrapin, the Conquer Saddlebag stays in place despite my careless stuffing of clothes. Second, the numerous loops and clips provided in the bag allowed me to make the necessary mounting options for my saddle.  Though I had reservations with the strap provided, they definitely held well and did not slip during the whole trip. I have to admit that this is the second saddle bag that didn’t pose problems for me (the first one is the Revelate Designs Terrapin)

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Conquer saddlebags on 700c, 26er wheeled bikes-no sag, sway or leg rub!

The feedbag

Contents:

Nalgene 1.5 liter bottle

Aside from the solid Velcro straps and tough fabric, i found this bag useful whenever I needed to store food or small items during the trip. Also, I used this to store my personal belongings for the bus ride home.

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still sturdy after three days of touring

Though the bags are solidly built, there are two minor issues of concern. First, the zipper for the saddlebag appears to be a bit flimsy. Perhaps in succeeding versions of this bag could include a much more robust one or simply take the zipper out. Second, though the company admits that the fabric is water resistant, I hope to see the bags be in fabric that’s waterproof. Though waterproofing can easily be addressed by putting your stuff in ziplock bags or not riding out in the rain, I feel these two points can definitely make the bags even more bombproof

Overall, these bags are definitely tour worthy and I recommend that you check them out for three reasons. First, they can carry a huge load but at the same time these are not complicated in terms of adjustments and does not pose great demands on your part to constantly pack systematically and watch over your stuff as other bags give way. Second, the bags are comparable with foreign brands such Revelate designs in terms of quality construction and durability with an added option for customization (in the case of the framebag) and important of all, the price appeals to the budget conscious tourer. At an estimated cost of around Php 10,000-11,000 or 200 usd for the whole system (aside from the bags ive used you get the anything bag and panniers) the price is difficult to beat. With these points in mind, this bikepacking system is definitely at par with the international brands that we’ve always yearned for but are either unavailable locally or are too expensive to invest on.

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