It’s a bit tricky knowing what to pack for a two week race across Europe. You’ll need clothes for all sorts of weather, hot, even hotter, cold, wet, even wetter and all the bikes spares to cover the usual mechanicals, and then some extra bits for the unusual mechanicals. Then there’s the day-to-day ephemera to pack in and maybe that little special thing just to make life a little bit nicer when you’re having a bit of a moment. I have always been a serial over-packer whenever I go away, all the kit, spare waterproof, every pair of socks I own, just in case. Venturing into long-distance riding, bike-packing and finally the Transcontinental soon makes you pare down to what you really need. It’s actually quite cathartic, and you get used to the smell. There was room to fit more into my frame-bags and then again I could have packed less as there were a lot of things I didn’t use, I did choose things that could have been considered luxuries but their psychological effect was worth their minimal weight and size. Hello old and loved pink beanie hat that came in handy for keeping warm when sleeping on benches. And was a little hug.
There was a system to packing the frame-bags, sleeping stuff in the front; bivvy bag, silk liner and merino top don’t weigh much so affect the bike’s handling little. The Goretex and warm gloves went in there too for quick access, and a double plastic bag with the Transcontinental rule book, insurance details and doctors note. Day-to-day bits such as the Busch & Muller USB-Werk, small dry-bag of tools, inner-tubes, small dry-bag of electrics gubbins, zip-tie lock, proper pump (with lengths of gaffer tape rolled around it) and Gerber tool all fitted in the frame bag. Passport in the slim pocket on the reverse side. Spare cycling clothes and well wrapped Di2 charger fitted easily in the seat-bag out the back. None of this would ever pack the same way twice leading to an ugly baggage profile, this needs practise.
If you can pick something that can perform two uses then do that. I came to love the Rapha merino long-sleeved tee and Brevet Insulated Gilet for both wearing as intended and then sleeping in. And they were both light and easily squashable, the same with the Gore long-sleeved undervest, included for possible colder days on the bike it came in handy for off-bike use when walking around in or for warmth when sleeping although the merino top was more snuggly.
Apart from inner-tubes my pairs mate and I didn’t have to resort to any of the random bolts, screws, chain-links, brake-pads and knick-knacks we’d packed as bike spares and the only maintenance we did was to oil the chains twice. But then we only made it as far as the edge of ‘safe’ Europe and the stories we saw of those that rode further east suggested that we might have to rummage into the bags of bits as poor roads and unexpected WTF incidents took their toll on bikes and bodies.
As far as we got everything worked perfectly with no annoyances or niggles, well, the seatpost clamp started creaking again, but that eventually faded into the white noise of travel. The Kinesis GF_TI was a great bike to take on the race, stable enough to remain controllable on the vast array of tarmac surfaces, take gravel roads and worse in its stride and almost fall asleep on (maybe actually fall asleep on, who knows?) without crashing, yet nimble enough to be able to have giggly fun whilst fully loaded on long switchback descents. I may have patted it on the stem as you might a well performing horse’s neck at one point. What happens on tour…
Shimano hydraulic discs came into their own in this sort of caper, I am usually ambivalent in the whole disc vs rim brake debate but I couldn’t imagine trying to ride the Transcontinental on rim brakes. Fingertip control, wet or dry, not having to desperately haul on levers to slow up a heavily laden bike, especially when a little weary, makes discs not an expensive indulgence but an essential. Also Di2 is amazing and worth the cost when tired, being able to change gear with just a push of a button instead of having to manhandle a lever sideways makes a big difference especially when feeling starts to fade from the fingertips with the infamous Cyclist’s Palsy after a few days.
The Exposure Revo front dynamo light provided more than enough light at a max of 800 lumens even when a bit broken and eyes stopped working, and the fact that it stayed lit for up to an hour after stopping was handy for safety too, although it needed to be covered when trying to be a little hidden when dong a cheeky bivvy behind the bins. The Red Eye rear light was bright enough to burn the retina when tucked in behind your team-mate and made our supplementary rear lights redundant. Swap the connectors over on the hub onto a wire to the Busch & Muller USB-Werk tucked in the frame-bag and the variable current from the dynamo could be magically converted to a form of juice that the Garmin could charge on all day, as could the phone or power bank. This system takes self-sufficiency to a whole new level and it’s possible to travel for days without having to go near a plug to charge today’s necessary devices, although that opportunity is always taken.
The Praxis RC21 Wheelset took everything in its stride, the carbon rims noticeably taking the edge off stuttery tarmac and with 32 spokes they were as tough as old boots, worthwhile when you might lazily crash through potholes when tired and paying less attention and have to deal with roads that are significantly more off-road than on. The Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite 700x32 tyres have become a favourite rubber and something I’d choose again. Considering the surfaces we covered I’m not sure I’d want to run anything slimmer, the TCR rider we bumped into that had just done over 20km of gravel road on 25s certainly looked like he just had. These were standard tubed tyres and I had no problems although Gavin was running the same wheels and tyres and had several punctures, most of those down to faulty tubes though and that somewhat awkward “I’m not coming back down the mountain to help” situation. I’m aware of the tubeless option and I use it on my MTB where it’s a no-brainer and people have already asked why I didn’t choose the road version. I think it’s a great idea but when it goes wrong it goes very very wrong, and not something I want to deal with in the wilds, you can buy and fix normal tyres and tubes anywhere.
The only clothes I took that weren’t intended to be used for cycling time were the Rapha Touring shorts and Morvelo tech-tee, both were small and light enough to be packed away at the bottom without much notice but useful either end of the race when travelling and needing to look normal. Gavin threw the old trainers he wore to the start in the bin, other riders buy clothes at the finish to get home in. These and a spare pair of not ruined with dirt sweat tears and road grime socks. I have standards. The Specialized S-Works 6 XC MTB shoes were okay enough to walk about in that I didn’t need to take flip-flops or any of the other lightweight foot attire that other long distance cyclists may carry, and if you take the cleats out you can safely get through airport security with just an odd look. They didn’t half stink though.
This is by no means a definitive list of what you should take if you want to do something like this, this was my first attempt at any ride of this magnitude so there’s lessons to be learnt and trimming to be done, we all have our own likes and foibles, and we pack to our fears and all that. If I had to do it all again tomorrow I’d run pretty much exactly the same kit but have a think about the including any of the items I didn’t use but might actually need in an emergency. I’d probably buy a sleeping mat for a little bit of nicer bivvy experience, when you’re tired enough a concrete floor can be comfortable, until about 2am.
Here’s a list of All The Things, for those that like lists...
Fork - Tracer Disc
Wheels - Praxis RC21 Road Wheelset, custom built with Exposure Dynamo front hub
Tyres - Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite 700x32c
Chainset – Rotor
Chainrings – Praxis Compact 52/36
Bottom Bracket – Hope
Pedals - Shimano A600
Levers – Shimano Ultegra Di2 Hydraulic
Rear Derailleur - Shimano Ultegra Di2, long cage
Front Derailleur – Shimano Ultegra Di2
Cassette – Shimano Ultegra, 11spd, 11-32
Chain – KMC 11spd
Brake Calipers – Shimano RS785
Rotors – RWD (140mm rear, 160mm front)
Saddle – Fabric ALM
Seatpost – Fizik Cyrano
Stem – Fizik Cyrano
Handlebars – Black, shallow drop
Tri-Bars – Profile Design T2+ DL
Handlebar Tape – Profile Design (needs burning)
Lights – Exposure Revo dynamo front with Red Eye rear
Wildcat Tiger seat pack
Lion handlebar bag
Custom Ocelot frame bag and pink dry bags.
Morvelo Superlight Jersey x 2
Morvelo and This Is Cambridge short sleeved undervest
Gore long-sleeved undervest
Morvelo Nth Series bib short x 2
Giro Zero II and LTZ II Road Cycling Mitts
Specialized Deflect gloves
Morvelo Long Sleeved Jersey
Rapha lightweight reflective gilet
Rapha Brevet Insulated Gilet
Gore Oxygen 2.0 Goretex Active Jacket
Morvelo ‘Fuck Cancer’ socks x 3
Specialized S-Works Prevail helmet
Specialized S-Works 6 XC mountain bike shoes
Oakley Radar sunglasses
Hello Kitty Buff
Lucky pink fleece beenie for sleeping in
Rapha Touring shorts
Rapha long sleeved merino t-shirt
Busch & Muller USB-Werk
Exposure Tracer rear light
Lezyne Zecto LED Light
Anker PowerCore 10000 power bank for phone/Garmin
EU plug to USB adapter
Charging leads for phone and Garmin
Alpkit Hunka XL bivvy bag
Rab silk liner
Rapha tyre levers, because they’re pink
Gerber Crucial Multitool
Zefal HPX frame pump (stored in frame bag)
Park tyre boot
Park Super Patches
Tip-top puncture repair kit
Hiplok Z-LOK Cable Tie Lock
Alpkit folding titanium spoon
Random nuts, bolts and chainring bolts
Specific Torx key to fit chainring bolts
Spare disc pads
Mini pot of chain oil
Clif Shot blocks
Silicone wrist band
2Toms Butt Shield Roll On chamois cream
Carmex lip balm
Mini roll-on deodorant
Here’s the stuff that didn’t get touched.. Morvelo arm-screens, Exposure Tracer rear light, Lezyne Zecto LED Light, Specialized Deflect gloves, Notepad and pen (I used the Notes on my iPhone instead, and used photos as aide-memoire), random nuts, bolts and chainring bolts, specific Torx key to fit chianring bolts, spare disc pads, Clif Shot blocks, Park tyre boot, Park Super Patches, Tip-top puncture repair kit, 3 of the 4 inner tubes (I gave one to Gavin), zip-ties, latex gloves, Petzl headtorch, old timing chip velcro straps and a silicone wrist band for attaching/bodging situations, safety pins
Big thanks to all of these people for keeping me rolling, I hope you don’t want any of it back, there’s further adventures to be had…
Upgrade for the Kinesis GF-Ti frame and fork and the Praxis Wheels and chainrings.
Madison for the Shimano Ultegra Di2 electronics and hydraulics.
Exposure Lights for the dynamo hub and lights.
Fabric for the saddle.
Bontrager for the tyres.
Wildcat for the custom bike-packing bags.
Gore Bike Wear
Morvelo for all the clothes and the special socks.
Specialized UK for the shoes and helmet.