Cycling

Around Norway: the kit

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Around Norway

I was going to combine this with a “lessons learned” post, but I know some people are eager to know what I took with me, so without further ado here’s the list.

With three full bottles of water, the bike and luggage weighed in at a shade over 20 kg. I didn’t weigh the bike beforehand, and I have to admit I was a little shocked when I eventually did weigh it at home, after the event. I think by slimming down my kit and choosing some lighter options I could maybe shed a couple of kilos, but I’m not sure I could realistically get it down much further than that without making too many compromises.

So here’s a list of what I took and how I set the bike up. I’ve written things roughly in order of how much I used them. Things that I didn’t use are starred* and things I would not bring again are struck through.

On the bike

Clothes

  • Bib shorts
  • Summer short-sleeve jersey
  • Summer socks
  • Lace-up MTB shoes (Shimano SH-XC500)
  • Cap
  • Helmet
  • Photochromic sunglasses – can be worn day and night; never have to take them off
  • Knee warmers
  • Long-finger summer gloves
  • Gilet
  • Arm warmers
  • Mid-season gloves
  • Wind-proof (but not waterproof) lined overshoes
  • Waterproof jacket (Gore Shakedry 1985)
  • Head band
  • Leg warmers
  • Waterproof winter gloves
  • Long-sleeve base layer
  • Quick-drying underwear (for sleeping in)
  • Woollen hat (for sleeping in)
  • Woollen buff
  • Spare bibshorts
  • Reflective straps

The conditions were really challenging in terms of clothing. There were times when I was wearing nothing but a summer jersey and bibshorts and still sweating terribly, and others when I was wearing literally everything I had, and still felt like I was in the edge of hypothermia. I don’t think there’s much to be done about this, sadly.

I was very impressed with the Shakedry jacket, which I bought especially for this event. Shout out to Sam Thompson, winner of the 2019 edition, who recommended this to me. Before this I didn’t even own a waterproof jacket, just because they always turn me into a sweaty mess within seconds of putting the thing on. But this one did a very good job of keeping me dry and not boiling me alive at the same time.

The sleeping gear (underwear and base layer) was also a big hit for me. It meant I had something dry to change into in case I got soaked late in the evening, and gave my saddle sores a chance to recover a little bit after wearing filthy bibshorts all day. In the interests of keeping myself warm (and the inside of my sleeping bag clean), I think a thin full-length base layer for the legs could be even better than the undies I brought.

All three pairs of gloves came in useful, with the summer ones being the most useful. I always wear long-finger gloves, even in hot weather, because my fingers otherwise get a) sunburned and b) filthy and sticky. They’re also a little more versatile in the temperature range they work in.

Electronics

  • Wahoo ELEMNT bike computer
  • Dynamo front & rear light & USB charging apparatus
  • Battery-powered front light
  • Battery-powered rear light
  • 10,000 mAh battery
  • Various USB cables
  • USB wall charger
  • GPS tracker
  • Spare power meter battery
  • Earphones*
  • Head torch
  • Helmet light

Toiletries

  • Toothpaste & folding toothbrush
  • Chammy cream
  • Dental floss
  • Sleep mask – useful if there’s a streetlamp next to your bus shelter
  • Ear plugs – useful when sleeping near a busy road
  • Sun cream
  • Vitamin tablets – to compensate for the awful diet
  • Painkillers
  • Two FFP2 masks*
  • Antihistamines
  • Smidge insect-repellant wipes
  • Nail clippers
  • Shower gel
  • Skin moisturiser

Tools & accessories

  • 3 water bottles – rarely needed the third, but it was useful once or twice
  • Zip-lock bags – for keeping things dry in the lovely Norwegian weather
  • 60 ml bottle of wet chain lube – used once a day
  • Electrical tape – used for raspberries
  • Mini penknife
  • Multitool
  • Selection of cable ties
  • Pump – almost caused me to DNF
  • Tyre levers
  • 2 spare tubes
  • Patch kit*
  • Spare gear cable*
  • 60 ml bottle of tyre sealant*
  • Spare chainlink*

Bedroom

  • Cumulus X-Lite 200 sleeping bag
  • Thermarest NeoAir XLite sleeping mat
  • Alpkit Drift pillow
  • Alpkit Kloke bivvy bag (?)

This setup worked pretty much perfectly for me. Cumulus rates this bag as “comfortable” down to 4°C and I can vouch for the accuracy of this claim – as long as you’re wearing enough. On warmer nights (8°C ish upwards) I just wore my base layer, undies, and hat, and it was fine. Around the comfort limit I had to layer up a bit more – keeping knee/arm/leg warmers on, adding a buff, and head band, and perhaps my jersey too, but still comfortable enough for a good (half) night’s sleep.

I’d already used the Thermarest pad before and knew that it was good, but I’m amazed I ever tried sleeping outdoors without it now. At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s essential to have some kind of barrier between yourself and the ground – both for heat retention and for comfort. I can’t compare it to other mats, but with this one there was no difference in perceived temperature between the mat beneath me and the sleeping bag around me. I can only assume this means it’s a good one.

Similar sentiments toward the pillow – the extra comfort it afforded me was truly indispensable. It may sound like a luxury, but I really can’t get comfortable without some kind of support beneath my head. And if I’m not comfortable, I won’t sleep properly. It’s now a permanent fixture in my sleeping kit.

All this stuff allowed me to have a genuinely comfortable night’s sleep, even when it got really cold. The only thing I’m not sure about is the bivvy bag. I used it once and ended up rather clammy when I woke up, despite not even pulling it all the way up. I think I will bring it in the future anyway, but only for emergencies.

The bike itself

Luggage

This was the first time I’ve really used the Restrap aero bag in anger, and it really impressed me. Very well made, neat, easy to use, and light.

In contrast, the Wildcat saddle bag was terribly awkward and time-consuming to work with. With 5 separate straps to be undone and re-adjusted every time I wanted to access the bag, I tried to avoid it at all costs in order not to lose too much time. Ideally I would only pack/unpack at the beginning and end of each day.

Even when you’re not racing, it’s super annoying to have to spend 5 minutes faffing around adjusting straps when you just want to get a hat out of the saddle bag. What use is a bag when you’d rather just not use it?

Cockpit

  • Profile Designs Supersonic Ergo brackets and pads
  • 15mm riser kit
  • PRO Missile J-Bend 65° aluminium extensions
  • Profile Designs UCM Aerobridge – for mounting a front light

It took me a while to dial this setup in properly, but I’m now able to spend literally days on end in this position with no discomfort at all. The key changes for me were:

  • Raising the aero bars with the riser kit → less back flexion, which has always been a limitation for me
  • Moving the pads further apart → less stress on my shoulders
  • Using steep J-bend extensions → less stress on my wrists and a more natural hand position

The aero bar setup is rather heavy – 755 g in total – but I wouldn’t be without it. There may be lighter options out there, but comfort is absolutely paramount and having found something that works for me I would not compromise for the sake of a few grams.

Lighting & electronics

  • Power sources:
    • SON 28 dynamo hub – powers the front and rear lights and provides USB charging via the front light
    • 10,000 mAh battery – used a handful of times, mainly for charging my phone
  • Front lights:
    • Dynamo: Busch & Müller Lumotec IQ2 Luxos U senso plus – wins prize for most contrived product name
    • Battery: Exposure Strada 1200 – very bright; useful for fast descents and when/if I cannot use the dynamo-powered light
  • Rear lights:
    • Dynamo: Busch & Müller Secula Plus
    • Battery: A cheap USB-chargeable rear light

Despite a few problems with dodgy USB cables, I was able to run all of my electronics (phone, bike computer, GPS tracker, and lights) off dynamo power for the whole race. However, while the dynamo can fully charge my ELEMNT in around 3 hours, it cannot do so while powering the lights. This meant that I had to be careful that it was sufficiently charged before it started to get dark, to avoid having to switch to battery-powered lighting. Battery-powered lighting of course works fine, but it’s another thing to charge. In this case, I didn’t use them much and never needed to charge them.

Overall it worked very well and I wouldn’t change anything about this setup, other than getting more reliable cables. The dynamo is a pre-requisite for the bus shelter sleep strategy I opted for, but it’s also great to be self-sufficient. It removes a lot of worry about batteries running out, having to find places to charge, etc., and just generally affords you a lot of freedom. For the cost of a few watts, it’s worth it.

Drivetrain & groupset

  • 11-speed Shimano mechanical groupset
  • Hydraulic discs – blue Hope callipers, colour-matched to the other blue things on the bike (this is of course extremely important)
  • 11-36 cassette
  • 46/30 chainrings
  • power2max NGeco power meter (the Shimano GRX-compatible variant that takes smaller chainrings)

Hydraulic brakes just because I like them. Rim brakes would’ve done the job just as well (although maybe the pads wouldn’t last so long).

The gearing is the important thing here – I wanted the lowest gearing I could practically get. I know that in ultra-distance events my power output should not go above around 200 W for any significant length of time (this was my average power for the 2-hour ascent of Lysebotn). I also know that I don’t want to do an extended climb at less than, say, 60 rpm.

Alpine climbs tend to be around 10% or a bit less, and if you shove all these numbers into a calculator (here and here), you get around 25 gear inches for the total weight of me, my bike, and my kit (90 kg). But it’s nice to have a bit of breathing space below that, and it turns out that the “gravel” drivetrain mentioned above gives me 22.6 gear inches in the lowest gear, allowing me to tackle an 11% incline at 60 rpm/200 W, with all my bikepacking gear in tow.

The message here is: get the lowest gears you can. Standard “road bike” gearing is really not adequate for bikepacking/ultra events on mountainous routes, given that you need to be very conservative with your power output.

Tyres

I used 32 mm Continental GP 5000 TL (tubeless) tyres. They’re expensive, but very fast. I’ll buy another set when these ones are done.

Funny story: my pump nearly caused me to abandon on day 3. I realised that my tyres might be a bit soft, so I tried to top them up a bit with my hand pump. Long story short, I ended up snapping the valve core and getting the pump stuck on the valve with the broken valve core inside it.

The pump head was a screw-on type, which meant that when the time came to unscrew it, it took the valve core with it. Psssssshhhhhhh, and all the air was gone. I put the valve core back in, tightened it up a bit too much, screwed the pump on, and found that the threaded section of the core had sheered halfway down, so that one part was threaded securely into the valve, and the other into the pump head. I was left with a pump dangling off the free-spinning end of the valve core and no way of removing it.

For about 5 minutes I was panicking, thinking I’d have to abandon for the stupidest reason ever: I have a pump stuck to my wheel. But, thank goodness, I managed to remove the damn thing and insert an inner tube, which got me going again.

Still, would I keep using tubeless? Without a doubt: yes. This is the first such problem I’ve had in 4 years of using tubeless tyres on this bike, and arguably it was the pump’s fault anyway. In those 4 years, I’ve ridden around 60,000 km and never had a puncture that didn’t immediately self-seal. Not one. On day rides, I’ve even been known to be so complacent as to leave my pump and spare tube at home, such is my faith in tubeless tyres.

Other bits and pieces

  • Mudguards: Did I need them? No. Where they nice to have? Yep. Would I take them again? Err… not sure. They sure are nice for keeping you dry when the roads are wet, but the combined weight of these full metal ones (PDW fenders) is about 600 g, and that’s ignoring the (unknown) aero penalty they bring with them. I guess if I’m really in race mode, I should leave them at home.
  • Pedals: Shimano SPD. The mountain bike ones. I like being able to walk around without tripping over my own feet.
  • Frame: Not that important, really, but it’s a Kinesis Tripster ATR. It’s made out of titanium, which I like because you can scratch it as much as you like and it still looks fine. It’s getting a bit long in the tooth, though, and I’d like something that has a built-in third bottle cage and Di2 routing options.

So, there you have it. Turns out it’s much easier to write about equipment than to unpack your thoughts and feelings!

The kit is a work in progress and I will certainly make adjustments for my next event. It’s always easier to over pack when you have no idea what you’re about to be faced with.

I didn’t take many photos of the bike, but here’s what I could find.

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