Dream, Build, Inspire: the story of Ayla and her Surly Troll

Many of us clearly remember our first long ride. It is an ordeal couched in hardship, perseverance and triumph. When we opened our invitation for our 400km plus ride to Vigan Ilocos Sur, the usual suspects-frequent riders who joined us in our tours-confirmed. But there was one brave soul who took the leap of faith and asked if she could join.

Some of our group members met Ayla when she had her XS surly troll built in our favorite LBS and she has been riding for quite sometime in different trails and sites around the city. She has done occasional group rides in the outskirts of the metro. When we were planning the trip she expressed concern about a variety of things-what to pack, what to bring, where to sleep, how to train, HOW TO COPE…

her mighty surly troll

Though most of us felt, that these are common jitters for the first timer in doing a multiday tour, she spent time making sure that she her rig are prepared for the trip…

And the day came…

While members of the group knew each other’s riding style-fast, hard, taking few breaks, She took her time but managed to keep up the pace with us. Good thing the group adjusted taking turns in riding with her…

Day 1

we intended to target Urdaneta City, Pangasinan but she opted to spend the night at Gerona, Tarlac-about 30 kilometers away from us-good thing there was Japz who made sure he was with her throughout. I remember suggesting that she should take the bus to reach Urdaneta the next morning so we can wait for her-but she refused and instead promised to leave early

have a break, have a float-With Japz Maristela
the warm welcome to Tarlac

Day 2

Keeping her promise, she did show up early and was ready to ride…I thought she’d stay on course but with another experienced rider, she took a sidetrip to Kennon Road where the famous arch that welcomes visitors to the mountain province is seen…I recall the rider who accompanied her even said there was a point while pedaling the long distance (as we needed to cover 160km at the time)-that she wanted to cry and give up but that rider kept on pushing her to stay sane and keep on track…similar to the previous day, she again opted to stay 30km away from us as she spent the night at San Fernando La Union. Again, I suggested that she might want to take the bus-but refused

that’s why she was missing!

Day 3

I and another rider stayed while the others left early to reach Vigan and it was our turn to ride with her and we were surprised that she was quite early! And we asked to pedal forward as we’d manage to reach her…as we went along we were lucky that her family and friends who intended to be with her at Vigan caught up. They were in a car but never did they suggest that she take a ride to finish the trip nor did Ayla even bring the idea up…I felt that the last 90km was grueling for her as there were climbs, never ending flat roads and heat and headwind…but along that trip we were able to take a lot of photos-showing her the different sites which served as a breather for her…

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early morning photo op at Ilocos Sur

The last 10km was perhaps the most difficult for her as we sense a feeling of hopelessness as Vigan wasn’t in clear sight- “umay na umay na ako at pagod na pagod” (I’m dead tired) , “malayo pa ba?” (are we there yet?)…those were things I heard from her and I and the other rider kept on pushing her through words of encouragement- I remember saying, “not everyone can do what you have gone through and there are even male bikers who just stop at building but never go the distance to finish any ride”

en route to Vigan

And there we saw Bantay Church and we witnessed relief that the ordeal was over-upon reaching the arch of Vigan her family and friends cheered and after three days, she finished this 400km plus journey…

it is finished
family and friends-a source of inspiration

Post ride, I remember her telling me that she felt that the trip can be done by anyone given the opportunity…while someone (jokingly) told her you should have paid 650 pesos and boarded the bus to Vigan, I told her 650 pesos cant buy you that experience of perseverance, triumph and humility…

Her story reminds us of our own epic long rides-with many apprehensions, we often fail to forget that while it pays to prepare, a certain level of (positive) stubbornness and openness is needed to make our ride an adventure and not simply a routine of self-glorification of the ego…while some may think, she needs training or there is a need to go faster to get to the destination earlier, I believe that only the rider him/herself can tell when s/he is willing to take that leap of faith and adventure can never be confined for the sake of meeting a “time limit”

So, when are you taking that adventure on two wheels?

(Photos courtesy of Ayla)

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.
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.


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.

CK single speed Specific Rear Hub

Vittoria Randonneurs (Available at Epic Cycles, Alabang


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)


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:

a lot of loops for your straps

The handlebar bag


Aquazorb Towel

Trekking Shorts


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.


scout handlebar bag

The framebag


Toiletries bag

Extension cord and usb multiplug


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




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)

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

The feedbag


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.

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.

Bike Adventure: Manila to Vigan, Ilocos Sur

The heritage site of Vigan represents the blending of cultures (Asian-European) that is worth visiting among the different places north of the Philippines. The classic architecture as well as unique food and cultural experiences offered in the city should be part of the tourist’s long bucketlist.

Classic Calle Crisologo

Last December 2015, we had a chance to visit the city as we were heading to Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte. Though I had enjoyed Vigan a few hours, I missed the opportunity to get to the know city more and with that in mind, several friends and I decided to head out to this wonderful city for a multiday tour.

Day 1 (Manila to Urdaneta, Pangasinan, approximately 200km)

8 of us converged at the Valenzuela town center as we took the national highway route (the most common one if you intend to go north). Our target for the day was Urdaneta, Pangasinan-roughly around 200km from my place (Las Pinas City)…

Her first time to do a multiday tour and she has to have that arch collection!

We rode out early and had breakfast at the lugawan near the arch of Bulacan…

Lugaw and other sides at Bulacan

Moving on, we got past Bulacan and Pampanga with relative ease given that the heat wasnt too much and traffic was fine…Unfortunately, one had to back out somewhere in Angeles due to an emergency…


Of course, one of the dreaded stretches of this route Tarlac City-this is my third time to pass here and the heat and lengthy flat sections just made us want to end our trip immediately.

the ever ‘exciting’ entrance of Tarlac city (you gotta love the heat and lengthy stretches of flat roads urgh!) (c) Rahnel Sison

Moving on, we arrived at Urdaneta Pangasinan around 8ish-and spent the night in M’s motel (700 per night good for 2 people-the place was ok since youre just after a shower and decent sleep)

Day 2 (Urdaneta to Taguiden, Ilocos Sur, approximately 140km)

To start our day, our fellow cyclist from our local bike group invited us for breakfast at his place at Pozzorubio, Pangasinan…Aside from exchanging stories and enjoying food, we also  talked about different builds and potential tours in the future…we left a little bit before lunch time…

our host picking us up at Pozzorubio


breakfast at our host’s house
ride out for day 2

Though we got past different towns easily, it became a bit difficult at La Union (Bacnotan-Sudipen) as the roads became narrower and by nightfall, several buses and trucks were out-good thing, we reached Taguiden, Ilocos Sur in one piece and checked in at Edibel inn (the place is just plain terrible-no light in the bathroom, plenty of mosquitoes and weak airconditioning!)

The entrance to La Union
Agoo, Pangasinan
the Church at Agoo

Day 3 (Taguiden, Ilocos Sur-Vigan, Approximately 90km)

Some of our friends rode early but I and another ride cyclist rode out late as we waited for another biker who needed to make up for lost distance from yesterday’s target…the exciting thing about this day is that not only did we reach our destination but also had fun checking out the wonderful seaside sites, and other structures before the city of Vigan…

60km away from Vigan
Located at Candon City, You should try their papaitan and caldereta-highly recommended!
taking a rest at a police station in Santiago Ilocos Sur
Loving the seaside


A few Kilometers more before Vigan
Finally Reaching Bantay Church, Ilocos Sur
The Entrance to the Heritage City of Vigan
Vigan Catherdral
classic architecture 
Along Calle Crisologo
must try-Longganisa from Vigan!
Native Delicacies, Okoy and Empanada
a must try restaurant!
Bagnet from Cafe Leona is a winner!
Photo Op with the former Governor of Ilocos Sur
gotta love the horses

Rider Notes:


  1. Though some groups who earlier toured Vigan claim that you can reach the place in two days, it is sensible to schedule it with an additional day to address concerns about delays in the trip. Again, based on personal preference, I’d rather spread my effort out equally in a number of days rather than burn ourselves out just for the sake of reaching the place in the shortest time possible. Having an additional day allows you to adjust your itinerary (our day 2 target was Candon City but ended up 20km short-which was fine since we only needed to travel a shorter distance for the third day).


  1. One of the new things we’ve experienced here is that we were invited by bikers based in certain areas-such as the case in Pozzorubio. In cases like these, it is nice to accept invitations as this helps widen your network of friends along the way. Of course, it would be rude and disrespectful to simply eat and run-so hang out a bit, tell stories and plan bigger trips with them! Too bad we weren’t able to meet bikers from Agoo who also wanted to see us-perhaps next time.


  1. There are several transient houses in Vigan which charge really low rates (in our case, 500 with breakfast-very nice place and highly recommended!)
transient house where we stayed-very roomy and clean! they serve breakfast too!



  1. If you want to get home by Bus, take the Partas Bus line. This is my second time to ride their buses and the trip was pleasant and quite fast-consider leaving early evening since traffic is lighter. Also, leaving late evening allows you to tour the place. In this case, we  enjoyed moving around Vigan, taking pictures and choosing the best restaurants in town
The Large Partas Buses can accommodate the storage of your bikes going home

5. Budget is key in this trip. Though it is sensible to allot 300-500 for your lodging be prepared to shell out as much as 700 at La Union (if you intend to stay for a night) as decent places here seem to charge a bit higher-again, based on preference, I’d rather spend a little bit more for decent sleep rather than save up a few hundred pesos and deny myself of comfortable rest.