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A neat setup for ultralight bikepacking

Troy Szczurkowski's picture
Ultralight setup for bikepacking. Cycle Traveller

Like all of my builds, I plan out the components and cherry pick the best that suit the application, taking into account weight, durability, reliability and to a lesser extent, price. You've gotta start with a good chassis though – that is key.

I thought I'd share the build specs of my titanium Fargo, which I used in this year's Kiwi Brevet, a 1,200km audax around the South Island of New Zealand with as much dirt as possible.

I've had this bike for several years now; it has seen quite a few changes as it gets refined for different trips. This is not a how-to build thread as such, more a what-I-used-and-why article.

It's a 2011 titanium Fargo, 56cm, pre-alternator dropout. I like a low front end, and was never truly happy with the geometry (or weight) of the original steel fork, so I designed my own and had a titanium fork made by my good friends at Muru Cycles. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite ready before the Kiwi, so I'm rocking a steel prototype in these pics. With my new fork, the front end is now lower, the wheelbase is shorter and the bike now handles closer to my road bike, kinda like a monster gravel grinder that is super plush with that ti fork! Descending is superb and precise, and climbing performance is far, far improved on both the hoods and the drops. Climbing improvement was the primary factor in designing this fork for the Fargo. Comfort was a side bonus! This ti fork is available on custom order from Muru Cycles – mention the 'Troy' fork and they will sort you out!

I hope you enjoy the article and take some tech away, and as always, any questions – just ask!

Troy Szczurkowski in the 2014 Kiwi Brevet. Cycle Traveller

Specs

Frame: 2011 ti Fargo
Fork: steel prototype
Bars: 44cm Woodchippers, 30mm trimmed off the ends
Bar tape: Prologo Double Touch, with silicone gel underlay pads
Stem: 120mm Thomson neg 17 degree
Headset: Chris King
Seat post: Thomson Elite, setback
Shifters: SRAM Apex
Brakes: Avid BB7 road, 180mm rotor front and rear
Rear derailleur: SRAM Apex mid cage
Front Derailleur: SRAM X0 2x10
Cassette: 11-36 SRAM 1070
Cranks: SRAM X9 alloy
Chain rings: 38-24
Pedals: XTR
Rear hub: Chris King 36H, Salsa Flipoff skewer
Front hub: SON 28 36H, Salsa Flipoff skewer
Rims: Mavic TN719 disc
Spokes: DT Competition black, alloy prolock nipples
Tyres: Schwalbe Thunder Burt, tubeless

Handlebars

I trimmed 30mm off the ends of the Salsa Woodchipper handlebar as I just didn't need/use the extra length. I'm using Prologo Double Touch bartape, which has a thicker feel and a gel adhesive as well as silicone gel underlay pads in the key areas.

Front bikepacking setup. Cycle Traveller

I built up the junction area between the bar and the rear of the shifter/hood with bartape offcuts to smooth the transition and provide a flatter area between bar and shifter. I find the top of the bars are comfy enough to lean on without the need for aerobars; it's easy enough to ride with forearms on the tops and grab the front bag for stability – only for a few minutes to eat, rest the hands a bit or go super aero.

Shifters

I chose the Apex shifters as they are a real workhorse – easy to service, and the lever blades are alloy, which are a lot tougher and more resistant to damage than carbon units. These work well with SRAM drivetrains, which run a higher cable tension than others due to the two-spring (parallelogram and pulley knuckle) design, making them less prone to shifting issues in less than perfect operating conditions should the cables get contaminated or damaged.

Cockpit

Topside cockpit, I have my cue sheets rolled up in a large ziplock bag and tethered to the bars with blue paracord. As the distances roll on you just rotate the sheet.

Bikepacking cockpit. Cycle Traveller

I mounted both a Garmin 810 and a PRO SX4 wired computer. Huge fan of wired computers – they may be a hassle for travel with wires and stuff, but when set correctly they are super accurate and trustworthy with distances, and signal is not interfered with by lights, close proximity to GPS devices or overhead high voltage powerlines.

The 810 gave me overall distances, mapping and route finding (but I didn't follow a course plot) and the PRO allowed me to reset distances to match my cue sheets, as well as provide lightweight redundancy. The Garmin is tethered to the stem with green paracord through the silicone cover and a glued patch stuck to the Garmin body.

Brakes

Braking was with the bulletproof Avid BB7 road caliper and 180mm rotors on the front and rear. These mechanical brakes are heavy (when compared to hydraulics) but are simple and quick to adjust. I run metal pads for fully loaded braking performance on long descents, and my logic for running the same size 180mm rotors front and rear is that they provide redundancy in the case of damage to one of the braking systems – I can still cobble something together to make one fully functioning brake either front or rear, with no limitations due to caliper adaptor/rotor sizing.

Front bags

Bikepacking setup. Cycle Traveller

The bag up front is a Revelate Sweetroll; the latest drybag version. In this I stuffed my sleeping bag (Montbell down hugger) and night clothes (I took no other riding clothes – one set for the whole week), and rain jacket. I had no problem accessing the side of the bag through the 'chipper handlebar.

A medium Revelate Pocket clipped to the Sweetroll, and contained spare camera batteries and SD cards (in an old patch repair kit box), small backup cache battery and other small junk. Toiletries (powder, deodorant, baby wipes, bug spray, chafe cream) in the front mini pocket (Revelate Spocket), micro towel tethered and stuffed behind pocket. Having the towel there is great, away from the dust and it dries very quickly in its little mesh sack, with plenty of airflow. The tripod head fits snugly into an old phone case which I velcroed on for quick and easy access.

Because I run a low front end, the loaded Sweetroll bag is in danger of scrubbing the front tyre, so I made up a centreline support strap that allows the bag to droop on each side of the tyre, but is held away by the strap above the tyre... make sense? You can see a 20mm wide Velcro anchor strap around the front of the stem (under the Garmin mount), and then 15mm wide webbing strap running between the anchor and the stem, then around the load in the Sweetroll. Tighten this webbing strap after the load is in the Sweetroll and it will keep it away from the tyre. Simple and effective. I used this same setup (albeit a lot bigger with wider webbing) for my Alaska Iditarod trip and Oregon backcountry tour on the fatbike with great success, and the load was a lot bigger and bulkier.

Tent packed on driveside fork for bikepacking. Cycle Traveller

Top tube pocket

The XLab Stealth top tube pocket held the vitamin supply (Aspirin, Ibuprofen) toothbrush and paste (I store them here so I can get moving and brush teeth while riding - its easier than you think and it saves time) chapstick, pen and notepaper.

A tip on storage - the less you take the better, and the less you stuff into a storage space the better the load will sit when you want to access it on the fly - you don't want your essentials flying out while you reach for the chapstick. Also, I lube all the zips with a dry lubricant paste, such as Bike Butter from Ride Mechanic because you want the zips to open and close one handed with no binding. I like the low, narrow design of this bag as I don't hit my knees on it while climbing. Did a LOT of climbing in NZ...

Fork leg storage

I have a Salsa Anything cage on each leg. On the drive side I used an Outdoor Research insulated bottle cozy as a simple, quick access storage bag for my Synmat 7 airmat (luxury sleep) and an uber light Sugoi windvest. A Revelate feed bag held the daily ration of gels, bars, lollies and overflow food.

The other leg held my Tarptent Contrail. I loop the dry bag cinch cord around the cage and then loop the main webbing strap around the fork leg for security against cage breakage (these were the gen one anything cages).

Power

On board power was generated via a SON 28 dynamo front hub connected to an E-Werk converter.

Bikepacking setup with e-werk. Cycle TravellerHere you can see the E-Werk nestled in between the frame bag and the top tube. I've modified the length of the USB output cable to allow the USB port to sit neatly against the side of the top tube (visible just under the word 'Stealth' on the XLAB bag). This allowed me to plug in USB cables one handed, on the go. The devices to recharge included an Exposure Diablo 1100lumen headlight, Garmin 810, ES Beacon taillight, ES Firefly 200 lumen headlight (backup), Android phone, and a Steripen for treating water.

A tip on electrical cable routing: for expeditions I prefer to use strips of double sided Velcro (or a wrap of electrical tape on tapered tubes) instead of zip ties to secure the cables against the frame or fork. Zip ties can place a concentrated load on small gauge cables, splitting the insulation inside and causing short circuits and ultimately a failure. Velcro strips are gentler on the cable, provide easy removal/relocation for travel/packdown and allow a bit of give should a cable snag.

Frame bag

The lower segment of the Salsa frame bag is basically the garage with all the tools, spares, lube and rag, zip ties, tape, super glue, fabric and needle/thread. Sounds more like a doomsday prepper list than something you need for a bike ride, but it's all micro sized and super compact.

Water

Dromedary water blader. Bikepacking. Cycle TravellerMain water tank was a four litre MSR Dromedary in the top main pocket of the frame bag, it held roughly three litres of water. The process is to shut off the valve and disconnect the quick coupling, remove the Drom bag, fill it almost to capacity, then stuff it back in the frame bag, connect the hose, open the valve and drink what you can until the zip closes, forcing you to 'camel up' some water.

The hose on the bars is a convenient way to hydrate from the bag while riding; the thin velcro strap up near the mouthpiece keeps the hose in place. The hose disconnects, which allowed me to remove it for quick filling of pots at meals or the bidon after breakfast.

The Steripen Freedom (along with gauze filter cloth and Aquatabs for backup) sat well at the front of the bag where there was generally a void due to the water sitting level and the sloping top tube.

The bottle cage (a Salsa Nickless cage attached using stainless steel hose clamps) on the top tube works exceptionally well; keeping a bottle close at hand means you'll hydrate more often, have something to filter with/purify as required, and it's easy to drop into a stream or fill with a Slushie at convenience stores. My legs never hit it and capitalises on what would otherwise be wasted frame space. I have two thin slivers of rubber glued to the cage mounts to prevent movement.

Seat packs

Seatpacks for bikepacking. Cycle TravellerThis pocket on the front side of the seat post kept my camera (Panasonic FT2) close at hand. It was the only item in this pocket, so removal and putting away was a one handed affair and no worries about losing other stowed items during use. Again, the less you carry in oft-accessed storage pockets the better. I also use a Revelate Jerrycan in this position, but the seat bag straps can fight for space a bit when using it with the top tube bottle cage. This pocket also has a narrow, tapered top, so it doesn't rub on clothing like a jerrycan would this high up.

Out the back is a Revelate Viscacha seat bag with a Spocket on top. The Spocket contained exactly what it was designed for: SPOT gen-3 tracker, small head torch, blinky taillight, and a first aid kit.

The Viscacha seat bag held all of my food – six days worth – and cooking gear (a 600mL titanium pot, gas can and Kovea ti burner, spoon, and S2S silicone cup). Six days worth of food was overkill for the Brevet – there were lots of small towns to restock – but I wanted to test out certain feeding strategies for future remote area trips. I ran a secondary support strap from the seat rails to the back of the seat bag to alleviate loading on the main seat bag mounting straps. Strapped to the side of the seat bag you can see my Salomon mini gaiters; these were excellent in keeping debris out of my socks and boots.

Food rations. Kiwi brevet bikepacking. Cycle TravellerFood

I carried rations for six days, divided into controlled portions, as well as concentrates (gels and higher energy bars) portioned into smaller day bags. Each major ration pack had a cooked dinner and breakfast, with an MRE lunch, so I only needed to access the seat bag cook kit for major meals. The MRE and daily concentrate pack would be loaded into the jersey pocket or feed bag for daily consumption, along with fruit or other treats bought along the way.

Drivetrain

Drivetrain logic: I weighed an X0 rear derailleur (with its carbon pulley cage) against the Apex. I added an inline cable barrel adjuster to the X0 mech (because it doesn't have it built in like the Apex) and it was 1g lighter than the Apex. A full metal pulley cage is durable, malleable and provides peace of mind. I had spare derailleur hangers in the frame bag garage, along with cables, crimps, cutters, spokes and micro lock ring tool for cassette removal.

Crank. Cycle TravellerCranks: Durable hollow arm alloy X9 cranks with 38/24T chainrings. My choice of these ratios comes from experience loaded and unloaded. I looked carefully at how many ratios I used in real world conditions and I found that a 42T was just too tall to use the full cassette, even for high speed running with a sweet tailwind. Also, my move to the shorter fork drops the BB height, so the smaller big dog maintains reasonable log rollover clearance. The 24T preserves the lower tooth count jump between sprockets and is more than enough for climbs, even loaded. I still walk plenty of unrideable trails.

Overall, alloy components may be a touch heavier, but that added material pays for itself in durability over many, many years of field use. Yes I know carbon is strong and lighter, but often the design parameters for a carbon product in the bike industry is about lighter weight performance, not necessarily durability in arduous conditions for a decade or two.

Rear hub

For this application I liked the Chris King Ring Drive and full stainless bearing setup, the simple seal system and the ability to continue performing even after water ingress to the mechanism (with no corrosion after effects like many sealed bearing options). I service it prior to any major trip, and remains quiet for those stealth bivvy spots.

Troy Sczcurkowski preparing for the Kiwi Brevet. Cycle TravellerTyres

The Thunder Burts have an incredibly light casing, with low tread blocks and were a nice, fast rolling choice on both asphalt and dirt.

Rims

The Mavic TN719 rim is a favourite of mine. When I built them I applied a corrosion inhibitor to the nipples and eyelets from inside the rim cavity to prevent corrosion that often appears on tubeless setups. This is caused by both active chemicals in the sealant and trapped moisture in the cavity from river crossings and washing etc. This rim isn't perfectly suited to tubeless with no internal bead socket lock, but I like the light weight, strength and high spoke tension allowance in an eyeletted package. I prefer a 36H for these setups as it makes a bombproof wheel with plenty of redundancy when fully loaded over long hauls.

That about wraps it up for this tuned build for the Kiwi. I hope you found some tech that may help you net more out of your adventures, simplify your setup, get improved reliability and achieve lofty goals!

Troy Szczurkowski's is a bicycle mechanic with extensive bikepacking and fatbike adventure experience. You can follow his many adventures and tap into his bike knowledge on his blog troyszczurkowski.blogspot.com.au, or catch him at River City Cycles at Yeronga, Brisbane.

Comments

Troy,
Thanks for the detailed explanation of your bike setup. I would be interested to know:
1. Approximate loaded front and rear weights,
2. Where your Exposure light was mounted (and how much night riding you did),
3. Do you carry only one spare tyre, and
4. What length cranks do you use?

In an endurance event such as a 1200km audax over hilly off-road terrain, how do you plan your target speed and time each day spent on the bike when there can be so many variables?

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