The gear, the goods and the bulky: Review of the Rig for the Caliraya bike tour

In this post, I describe the bike and gear used for our recent Caliraya bike tour

The bike: The Smurf With No Name (Brompton P6R)

SPECS: Brompton P6R

Chain: KMC 9 speed chain

Drivetrain: Sturmey Archer internal gear hub x 50t crank

Tires: Schwalbe Marathon Racers 16x 1.35

I got this bike in Febuary 2016 and among my rigs, this remains to be the last one that hasn’t experienced a multiday tour. Initially, when I got this, the model was M6R and did a conversion of the handlebar (the P Bar) for touring purposes.

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earlier version of the smurf with no name

With a Sturmey Archer 3 speed Internal Gear Hub and External Cogs 14 and 16t combined with a 2 speed derailleur, the bike has a total of 6 speed configurations. Noticeably in folding bikes, the long stem tends to make the handling a little twitchy and the same is noticed with the Brompton. With a 50t crank, it does take a little more effort for the bike to power and the shifting of gears may make riders feel the difference between using an IGH and regular derailleur systems. One noticeable feature is that every shift in gear may tend to be quite abrupt-either too light or too heavy. In addition, the steel construction of the bike makes it stiff yet a favorable flex is felt similar to  other steel bikes (i.e. Surly). But while the stiffness is a good thing, the small frame and fork and wheels tend to absorb vibrations weakly making the rider feel every pothole or bump on the road.

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that’s me-“loving “every freaking climb! (courtesy of Nerica Joy)

The bike has a long wheelbase comparable to bigger wheeled bikes making the ride quite stable. The 16inch wheels provide a much more sleek feel and this makes the Brompton shine as it is easy to maneuver especially in heavy traffic.

In a tour, small wheel bikes may obviously be an unlikely candidate but they are worthy for long distance explorations (ive done one in Pagudpud using a Dahon C7A) since they are easy to transport when folded and when things go wrong, you can always bail out with a small foldie!

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one of my most memorable epic tours-Las Pinas to Pagudpud using a Dahon C7A

For the Caliraya trip, the Brompton was very much agile in terms of maneuvering through traffic. It was quite easy to go through small spaces as you move along with other vehicles. The standard brakes that come with the Brompton also provide great stopping power. The feel is comparable to those high end v brakes-XT/XTR/Avid SD7s.

In terms of cruising and speed, it is similar to other steel bikes-feels a little bit heavy (slow) but is relaxing to operate and you don’t feel your body aching after the trip. Make no mistake though, it isn’t like a Surly that can take a lot of punishment in absorbing vibrations but the steel frame doesn’t make you feel like a rotten fruit after the ride

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at Los Banos, Laguna

As regards its performance in climbs, the gearing may feel a bit inadequate as I had to exert effort in certain gradually elevated portions of the route. It may be safe to say that it may be a bit difficult to spin the rig given the large toothed Chainring and abrupt changes in gearing. However, the bike appears to be fine for moderate/light stretches of climbs.

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Along Calauan Laguna

For this tour, there are several features I’d like to zero in on specific parts of the bike.

The P bar

Among the different handlebars offered by Brompton, this one can be considered as their touring bar. Similar to butterfly handlebars (only oriented vertically), they afford several hand positions providing comfort during the whole stretches of the ride. Since the rider’s position is upright on a Brompton, the P bar allows you to hold on to the bottom part of the bar similar to dropbars making your posture a bit more aggressive-great if youre cruising on open road to minimize the effect of headwind. Also, the P bar provides a lot of mounting space for lights and other stuff.

Front Carrier (Available at Coolstuff168 https://www.facebook.com/pg/All-about-Bromptons-364830127010048/photos/?tab=albums)

The Brompton’s key component for carrying luggage is the Front Block Carrier and can carry a variety of bags. Though it does not get in the way in terms of steering the bike, bigger bags tend to be a problem if headwind is encountered. Hence, for this tour, I used the Ortlieb Mini O bag

Rack

The Brompton has its own specific rack bundled with a pair of bungee cords for Cargo hauling. Though the rack may accommodate a drybag, mounting third party rack bags or panniers may be a problem as there is very little space between the rack and the rear fender underneath as well as the railings are quite thick compared to other racks (ive tried installing a Deuter rack bag and it just didn’t fit!). Some would use dry bags or a backpack on top secured on the saddle but I used a new set of panniers which I will get into later.

Tires

One major concern among Brompton users is the difficulty in changing flat tires. In my rig I used Schwalbe marathon racers with Dr. Sludge sealant inside the tubes. I’ve been using this since March 2016 and I haven’t experienced a flat since then. Though it tends to corrode/contiminate the valves after a couple of months, cleaning it can extend the life of the tubes as well as the sealant.

Brooks Cambium C17 (available at Bikeary bicycle lifestyle https://www.facebook.com/bikeary/?pnref=story)

Much like in my other rigs, this saddle has been spot on for me and didn’t pose problems while riding. Another advantage for the Brompton is that the use of Brooks saddle affords you additional space for attaching another bag in case you’ll need to go for a longer tour (Carradice or Ostrich bags are perfect for this)

Overall while the bike has potential for longer tours, operating this rig may require the rider more effort and getting used to.

 

In the trip, I used three bags-Ortlieb mini O bag, Pacgear top tube bag and the Conquer Dispatch Lite (prototype)

Ortlieb Mini O bag

This bag is custom fit for the front block carrier of the brompton and ive placed my electronics and other personal stuff. True to the company’s assurance that their products are waterproof, my stuff remained dry amidst two days of light-moderate rain. It is spacious and does not seem to cause problems when riding against strong headwind.

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Bingo and the Mini O

PacGear Outdoors “Tanke” Top Tube Bag (https://www.facebook.com/pg/PACgear/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1092919724140439)

For this one, ive placed my tubes and Brompton Tool. Attaching the bag to the seatpost and frame, the bag is quite sturdy and didn’t pose problems while pedaling. Surprisingly, the thick fabric has a high level of water resistance, when we experienced constant raining, the contents remained dry.

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length comparisons with the Revelate Gas Tank

Conquer Dispatch “lite” (prototype) panniers

As part of expanding the bikepacking line of Conquer bags, the dispatch lite panniers (I just gave a name to it!) is a response for riders who need bags for their small wheeled rigs or those going on extended tours but need a little extra space for their stuff. I’d say the bags are similar to Porcelain Rocket’s Micro Panniers and Revelate Designs’ Nano panniers. That is, if one finds a fully racked setup too heavy or a rackless setup very limiting, you may want to go “semi-racked” (perhaps using a low rider or light/small rear rack for extra stuff).

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Prototype of Conquer Bags’ Dispatch Lite (Front)
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Back view

Weighing at 0.47kg per bag, the dispatch lites appear to be one of the smallest ones in the market (much like the Vincinta B050V panniers https://www.vincita.co.th/collections/pannier/products/b050-single-pannier-small)

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side by side with the Vincinta B050V mini panniers

Made of ripstop fabric with excellent stitchwork, it has a high degree of water resistance. As ive experienced during the Caliraya trip where it drizzled and eventually rained (light-moderate) for two days, the material absorbed moisture but didn’t get through the inside (to be sure though, it would be wise to store your stuff in ziplock bags as they are always effective!). like other bags of this type (Revelate Design, Porcelain rocket and Rogue Panda Designs), the bag attaches to your rack using clip straps/Velcro with several attachment loops making it versatile in terms of accommodating different rack types. Moreover, the bag has shoulder strap loops for easy carrying when you need to take out the bags from the rack (yup, the strap is included in the prototype). In addition, the front part of the bag has loops as well for daisy chaining a ripcord or using bungee cords for additional attachment security if carrying heavy loads (much like in the Brompton!)

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Beads of rain on top but the stuff inside the bag didnt get wet
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after the Caliraya Ride, Dirty but easy to clean with a brush and still sturdy

In terms of volume, I suppose you can store as much as 2.5 liters in each bag (5L in total). In my case ive tried stuffing 2 days of clothes on bag, my Klean Kanteen (500ml), slippers, extension cord/multi USB port and charger, toiletries kit in the other with space to spare. I would assume that for a heavy packer like me using a Brompton in a longer tour, I’ll probably stuff 4 or 5 days of clothes in the bags and have a saddlebag to store utilities and other stuff there.

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locked and loaded

The bags blend seamlessly with the Brompton as they attach easily to the rack with the clip straps. Though it touches the IGH chain, it doesn’t affect the shifting performance (and ive run through unfine contours of pavement, some puddles of water in the street and several potholes on the route). During the ride, the bags didn’t sag nor were they a problem when banking during the descent from Caliraya (they didn’t touch the ground) as it had several inches of clearance from the ground keeping your stuff safe.

 

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Still no Sag

While the bag may seem perfect, it is not without problems. Several improvements can be made with this prototype-good thing Conquer reports this will be released early 2017 (with a price much lower than its big brother-the Conquer Dispatch panniers).

The dispatch lite can be improved in several ways:

  1. The zipper can be replaced with a rolltop strap clip as it helps in increasing storage space as well as water resistance.
  2. Since I tried both Velcro and Strap Clips for attachment, the strap clips appear to be better at securing the cargo as well as ease in removing or attaching the bag.
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Clip straps or Velcro? I’d go with Clip Straps!

Users of the bag will need to closely consider heel strike in attaching these to the rack (especially for small wheeled bikes). Though I haven’t experienced heel strikes during the trip, Marvin Martinez who tried pedaling felt heel strike due to his big feet and therefore, one will need to attach the bags further to the end of the rack (good thing, the clips can afford you greater ease and variation in mounting.)

Though this prototype appears to have certain minor issues, I think this may be the perfect pannier for the Brompton or similar small wheeled bikes (as far as i know, there are no existing panniers for the Brompton). Further, for those needing smaller bags for their bike commutes or extra space for extended tours and not wanting great weight penalties, this should definitely be part of your armory.

In sum, given the setup of the bike, gear and ride conditions, it would be good to see how this setup performs in a much longer tour and see how these hold.

 

 

 

 

 

Going local: Meet your (Bike Bag) Makers

Several websites devoted to bikepacking do not only show innovative builds but also feature interesting gear on how riders carry cargo…though several prominent brands such as Revelate Designs, Porcelain Rocket, Apidura, Ortlieb to name a few, are prominent brands that consistently show up with these dream builds, Filipino cyclists often are often discouraged because of the steep prices of these brands charge.

 

What complicates matters is that though there are many bikeshops around the metro, very little is offered in terms of quality bike commuting or bike packing systems leaving the Filipino cyclist with very little options.

 

The growing popularity of biking to work or even bike touring has sparked innovative inviduals and local companies to come up with the solution of providing quality cargo hauling gear for those who dream of going places on two wheels with the right price.

 

In this entry, I focus on four Filipino bike bag makers offering different types of bike commuting/backpacking systems…

 

But before you go out and get these bags, there are several considerations that you should think about before investing…Of course what I share comes from  insights I’ve gained through numerous rides trying some of the stuff these bike bag makers have to offer.

 

Functionality

While there are several bags out there, very few will serve a multitude of purposes and functions. For instance, there are saddlebags that can also work as handlebar bags or an “anything” bag (similar to Salsa’s Anything bag) that can hold clothing and even bicycle parts. Also, it’s important to check the capacity of bags. If you’re going on a multiday tour on a rackless setup, it is important that a fewer bags that can hold stuff such as clothing, tools, gadgets (or even small mammals) are used to reduce the hassle of removing these from your rig when you check in for the night

 

Fit and Versatility

While bags may look good on photos or even videos, an important consideration cyclists will have to think about is if these bags work with their x number of bikes they own. For example, a handlebar bag may not work with your mountain bike but works perfectly with your cx/road bike. Or does the bag require a rack? What happens to it if you decide to go rackless? Nothing frustrates a biker after saving up money for a framebag only to find out that your bag doesn’t fit your frame! Fitting bags to your bike is as important as making sure that your frame fits your physical features. More importantly the bags shouldnt affect your overall ride. For example saddlebags when loaded heavily may tend to rub with the back of your thighs or may sway up and down and sideways causing tire rub as well as discomfort while pedaling

 

Durability

For bike bags, waterproofing and sturdiness are some of the features you’d want to look out for whenever buying. There are bags that are water resistant-meaning they will hold your stuff dry when exposed to light rain and water proof-meaning even when exposed to heavy rain, they keep your gear wet free. Though most bike bags are water resistant, it would make more sense if you get those that are water proof to save your gear from damage and time from dismounting from your bike to put rain covers on your bags. Sturdiness is also important for bags so it wont break down on you during a trip. Particular here are bags that use zippers and structural shell of bags. For instance, rack bags when loaded can put a lot of stress of zippers causing damage and exposing your stuff to the elements. Likewise, a weak internally constructed bag may give out along the way.

 

 

Cost

Now here’s the tricky part, most quality bags come at a price. The rule here much like in buying components is “you get what you pay for”. If you have a budget meal mindset, expect your bags to disintergrate after your first trip. My take is that spending something mid level will be economically sensible since you will be using these bags for several trips. Also, if you decide to sell the bags in the future, you’d fetch a decent price for it just in case

 

And now, meet your bike bag makers

 

Larga Bikepacking Bags (https://www.facebook.com/largabikepacker)

One of those pioneers of bike packing gear, Larga bikepacking has a simplified system of saddlebag, handlebar bag and top tube bag (the fuel tank) as well as soon to be launched framebag. Designed by experienced bike packers who have traveled in parts of Southeast Asia and Beyond, these bike bags are made with water resistant materials and can fit in most bikes. One nice feature of these bags is that they are roomy and a lot of stuff can be stored

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Larga Handle Bar Bag (i fit a small tent here)

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22 dryfit shirts fit in their saddlebag!

 

Hidden Gem: Fuel Tank

Ive owned all bags previously and while ive had issues with the saddlebag  and handlebar bag, the fuel tank, appears to be a great item in their lineup. A top tube bag that has three compartments, it can store several items and can easily be accessed during rides.

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The fuel tank top tube bag on my cannondale hooligan

 

Khumbmela (https://www.facebook.com/groups/122066318220402/)

If you grew up in the 80s, Khumbmela is part of that generation’s experience with their ever memorable lineup of backpacks and other bags. Designed by Rodel Guinto (he loves coffee outside), the Khumbmela’s bike packing line covers all your rackless bike packing needs (framebag, anything bag, feedbag, handlebar bag)…though earlier versions of the bags use heavier stock materials, the new xpac made bags are not only lighter but feature greater water resistant properties. Recently, they have launched their pannier set l for those deciding to go with a racked rig.

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“Mr Coffee Outside”Rodel Guinto (Right)

Hidden Gems: Frame bag and Anything Bag

I got my frame bag last year and have done several day trips and a multiday tour to Legazpi, Bicol and under extreme conditions (heavy rain and heat), this keeps your stuff intact and dry.

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The Khumbmela Framebag en route to Legazpi

 

 

The anything bag is also a good piece of gear that ive used this during bike to work trips and I can say it can hold a lot of stuff.

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The Anting-Anting bag on the Surly Crosscheck

Conquer (available at Built Cycles https://www.facebook.com/BuiltCycles/?fref=ts)

The established brand for mountaineering gear has also joined the fold in launching in their extensive bike packing system in collaboration with Built Cycles. Comprised of a handlebar bag, saddlebag, panniers, feedbag, and anything bag (and soon framebag), their bikepacking system appears to be reasonably priced and are made of light waterproof and heavy water resistant fabric. While I haven’t toured with these bags, they seem to fit in a wide array of bike builds (I’ll be using them for a future biketrip to Vigan, Ilocos Sur). Moreover, with the same quality in their mountaineering lineup, these bags were developed by experienced bike tourer Vincent “Sok” Palisoc who has subjected these bags in various multiday trips. Best of all, Conquer prides itself of offering a limited lifetime warranty for their gear

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With Scout master Vincent “Sok” Palisoc

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Hidden Gems: Panniers and Handlebar Bag

Ive ridden briefly with the panniers and handlebar bag and both seem to hold well. The panniers are made of thick but light stock water resistant material assuring you that your clothes and important stuff don’t get wet under the rain. Equally impressive is the attachment system for these panniers. Similar to Ortlieb, the Conquer Dispatch Panniers fasten securely to your rack when pushed by the handlestrap and can easily be dismounted when pulled. At the bottom part of the pannier, there is a hook which can be easily adjusted to fit a variety of racks adding more stability to the panniers.

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The conquer pannier bags-yup, they come in pairs 🙂

 

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Excellently designed attachment system

 

The handlebar bag is also a good product as it does not only have a simple yet effective attachment system but has foam lining protecting your handlebar as well as your stem. Though the length may be a bit short, its width can hold several pieces of clothing or a small sleeping bag or other bulky stuff. The nice thing about the scout handlebar bag is that its short length will fit perfectly with your dropbars if youre using a cx or roadbike

Best of all, is that it has an intergrated large pocket fastened by buckle straps and thick Velcro assuring you that you can access your phone or small gadgets but not worry that it might fall off from the main bag

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Comparative length with the revelate designs sweetroll

Pacgear (https://www.facebook.com/PACgear/?fref=ts)

Produced in Cebu, Pacgear produces custom made framebags and saddlebags. Too bad I haven’t had the chance to get a hold of their products, their demonstration videos have shown that their stuff is robustly made as well as waterproof (they even have a video of spraying their framebag with water!)Also a popular brand in mountaineering, their bags are made of thick, waterproof fabric. With the possibilities of customization, they can design your framebags for a perfect fit for your rig.

 

So there, while you might find this post wanting because prices aren’t shown, this is where you come in…I encourage you to visit or get in touch with these makers as they are very receptive to feedback and queries-best of all given that they are close to home, test their offerings and im sure you’ll be able to select the best bike commuting/bike touring bags for your needs