One of the things I like about bikepacking is that each setup is unique to the rider. Each person will have different requirements or preferences which are ultimately reflected in their kit. Shaped by experience, setups become dialled in and what works for one person might seem ridiculous to another. There is no rule book to tell you that a setup is perfect other than the conclusion of the ride and even then there are always new lessons learned for the next trip. Even on an adventure where two similar riders tackle the same route on the same bike there are is so much scope for different approaches. This could not be any better demonstrated than by the setups that Stu and I ran for a 1000+ mile fixed tour across Europe which saw us covering the wide range of terrain and surfaces that span between Barcelona and Rome.
Both of us rode 56cm Surly Steamroller’s, both were fixed and by the end of the trip we were both sure if we were to ride the route again neither of us would change much. This is where the similarities end.
My Steamroller is a standard spec frame-set from Surly in black. I switched out my off-road disk fork back to the standard fork and rim brake for a sportier road riding position and less worries when packing the bike into boxes. The spec was:
- Cockpit – Easton Haven bars (750mm), Easton grips and Thomson X4 stem (70mm). Easton Carbon EA70 post and a Charge Knife saddle
- Wheels – Mavic Open Pro with a front XT hub and double fixed formula rear, 28c Continental Ultra Sports
- Drivetrain – Omnium cranks and Surly sprockets (48×19/21)
I went for a predominantly front loaded setup. I did a trial with a seat-pack but the additional small storage space that came along with my front loaded setup was a key consideration. This meant that I was able to be fluid in regards to where things were kept depending on how accessible they needed to be and the time of day. This approach allowed me to accommodate different situations throughout the ride while maintaining an element of organisation. Another consideration was that long days in the saddle with heavy seat-pack loads can cause a noticeable element of arched flex in some saddles. This is certainly true for my Charge Knife which can be a cause of discomfort although this could be resolved by switching out the seat for something with burlier steel rails.
I used the front roll to store all my sleeping things which I would not need access to during the day. The small roll top seat-pack carried my change of clothes allowing me to stow them away after everything else was packed. The custom Straight Cut Designs frame bag and the front food pouch stored spare riding clothes, toiletries, electronics, food and other bits and bobs. Spare space was limited, however, I was never in a situation where tucking some salami in my frame bag and strapping a baguette to the front wouldn’t see me to the next resupply spot.
Stu’s setup was different and had some very nice custom touches. His frame has additional bottle cage mounts added to the top and bottom of the downtube allowing extra water storage and a tool keg on the underside as well as some very jazzy splatter paint. His spec was:
- Cockpit – Zipp bullhorns and Thomson X4 stem. Thomson Elite post and a Fizik saddle
- Wheels – Mavic Open Pro with Goldtec front and double fixed rear, 30c Schwalbe Durano tyres
- Drivetrain – SRAM S300 Courier cranks and Surly sprockets (44×17/19)
His setup was focussed on the seat-pack as his main area of storage where he kept sleeping gear and strapped his jacket to the outside. A small handlebar bag was used to store things needed through the day and a top tube bag meant that a snack was never further than a zip away. One advantage of Stu’s setup was that he had options to attach clothing to the outside of his bags which in 30º heat would allow a bit of needed airing out while on the move. Stu’s light setup was better than mine, opting for a helmet mounted light as well as a front and rear light mounted to the bike.
We both discussed our setups once we reached Rome and other than a different light setup and an extra bottle for me and a different saddle for Stu, we were both very happy with how things worked out. Interestingly we estimated that both our setups had around the same capacity although Stu’s was more efficiently used as he included a duvet which compressed smaller than my sleeping bag. Both setups certainly wouldn’t be interchangeable between bikes. Stu’s narrow handlebars would never be able to accommodate my front roll and my lack of frame mounting options forced me to rely on frame bag storage.
Both bikes show the versatility of the Surly Steamroller frame as despite their radically different setups both rode superbly. Unfazed as road turned to gravel and flat plains turned to mountain cols. My risers offered exceptional control on the fast and loose segments where as Stu’s bullhorns gave him a great position for long stretches of open road. Over the full distance neither particularly showed any overall advantage over the other.
So which would you choose? Or is there any changes that you would make? When we both rolled into the Vatican together all I could conclude is that we were both right.
For a visual breakdown of how I packed my kit check out my unpacking video which will be on my youtube soon.