The Backcountry Bike Team: Prepping for a Shoulder-Season Bike Trip
The bike schedule for the next few days was looking quiet, without any racing or training scheduled, and a heap of bad weather was parked over northern Utah. A quick trip to Fruita and Moab was in the cards–time to start packing. The question was, how? Late spring in the desert mountains can be one of the toughest trips to prepare for. It’s just as likely to be sunny and in the low 90s as it is for a storm roll to through with wind, snow, and hail. And between those snow and wind storms, when the calm and sunshine return, you’re suddenly hot again. With that in mind, here are my strategies for packing for a shoulder-season (i.e. variable weather) biking trip based out of a campground.
You’re not backpacking, so bring freshies of most things. Bibs, short sleeve jersey, and a base layer for each day on the bike. Base layers keep you cool, keep you warm, and they take up less space than a pair of socks. Same goes for socks; bring a pair for each day’s ride, and one for each day’s after-riding activities. One pair of arm and leg warmers will do the trick–reusing them isn’t a big deal.
If there ever were a do-it-all biking jacket, it’s the Gore Bike Wear Alp-X jacket. As a jacket, it’s stretchy, waterproof, windproof, and breathable, so you’ll survive winter weather. Zip off the sleeves and you have an awesome vest for cool, dry days.
It’s never a bad idea to have an extra layer of insulation on hand. A jacket like the Patagonia R2 Fleece Jacket works well because it’s warm, but it has lighter-weight panels at the sides so it fits easily under another jacket. And for those cold desert nights, a puffy piece, either down or synthetic, can make or break your evening.
Zoic’s Ether Stretch shorts have a great cut and don’t flap. Heck, I even raced the Sea Otter Classic short track XC in them.
When I got my first Buff as a swag item at the Absa Cape Epic in South Africa, I thought, “what am I going to do with this thing?” Now, I never travel without one. It’s a loose hat, a tight-fitting beanie, a neck gaiter, a face mask. Get one, you’ll find yourself using it far more than you could imagine.
For jeans, something dark and stretchy is my usual choice. You go with what’s comfortable, won’t upset you if (when) they get dirty, and fit well after a few days of use. For just wearing around, the Levi’s commuter jeans fit the bill, for both men and women. You might also want to bring along versatile camp pants, so you’re ready for both cold nights and warm days. The Gore Bike Wear Countdown Active Shell Pants are great by the campfire, easy to ride in, and turn into shorts when needed.
Of course, you’ll want T-shirts. Dark colors handle mustard, coffee, and other spills well. And guys–back when I first started traveling and racing, a team director once told me, “If you’re traveling, wear a collared shirt.” I think at the time it had to do with talking your way out if a speeding ticket, but looking sharp never hurts. Synthetics look better when folded poorly and stay fresh for days, so I go with Kuhl’s technical shirts.
This is a bit of a choose-your-own-adventure, especially depending on where you plan to sleep. Not geographically, per se, but are you car camping? Are you using a tent? Truck bed camping? In the back of your customized Sprinter van? Are you kicking it solo, or will you have a significant other?
My advice is, when you have the space, use it. This isn’t the AT thru hike. When it comes to real camping gear, the Eureka Mountain Pass tent is a winner for me. There’s plenty of space inside for two, it buttons down tight when needed, but you can still see the stars with the fly removed.
As far as sleeping bags go, spring in the desert is not the time to gamble on the weather; a down bag for western camping is a safe bet. Guys love roughing it and don’t mind being a bit cold, so a 25-degree bag will probably be fine. In general, ladies might want to aim for a much warmer sleeping bag than they expect to need, in the 15-degree range. I’m a fan of the Big Agnes Lost Ranger 15-degree bag; it’s versatile enough for winter and zips open well for all but the hottest summer nights. Pick a sleeping pad that’s longer than your sleeping bag, you’ll appreciate being able to put your feet on it at some point.
You won’t be on your bike all day, and there’s a chance you could get stuck in the tent, hiding from wind, the sun, or some sort of weather. Bring a simple set of cards. It’s throwback entertainment, and will make you appreciate those Twitter and Instagram moments all the more.
Campground Cooking Gear
Camping requires cooking. Don’t live like an animal, make yourself a kitchen box, man! I have a plastic travel kitchen setup that is always ready to go with the following things. You’ll always be thankful to have them, whether you’re car camping at the trailhead or crashing at your sister in-law’s former roommate’s place. Most items are self-explanatory, and of course, you’ll need more provisions, but trust me on the following:
A small cutting board: It’s a table and a device.
Knives: Take your two least favorite kitchen knives, you’ll love them in the field.
Forks and spoons: Make sure everyone on the trip has their own, OK?
Spices: Salt, pepper, cayenne, and oil olive can turn just about anything into a quality meal. Same goes for Nutella and spicy mustard. These things last just about forever in your kitchen kit, too.
Hot stuff: Oatmeal and a course-ground coffee work just about anywhere, but with the Jetboil Flash Java kit is worth its weight in gold, if you’re into that sort of thing. Include a coffee cup for your traveling companion, and a little brown sugar if you need to sweeten things up a bit.
Carbonated water: Don’t judge.
We’re here to ride, right? Essential gear to bring along includes:
I always bring a spare tire, just in case, along with a spare chain, multi tool, tube, CO2, and spare tubeless tape. Orange Seal lube and sealant makes life easy. Spare cleats and a tape measure because…its better to be looking at it, than for it.
An assortment of bike snacks always comes along. I happened to have some chocolate and Ibuprofen in my gear back, but that’s just me.
And lastly, pack your front wheel. You’d be surprised.
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