On September 27th I took part in the Grand Depart of the Vermont Super 8 Bikepacking Trip/Race. Since I didn’t take any notes while I was on the trip, I’ve decided to focus more on the setup I used and how it performed. I’ve added the above gallery of pictures that I took during the ride.
Bike - About 4 weeks before the trip I made a last minute decision to get a hardtail mountain bike to do the route rather than use my Cannondale Slate. A 125 mile ride on the Slate a few weeks prior had my shoulder screaming and I decided that even though it would be slower I’d leave my beloved Slate behind and sacrifice the speed for more comfort.
This sent me down a rabbit hole of researching hardtails. I eventually ended up going with a Santa Cruz Chameleon. The version I got is the R+, which comes with 27.5+ wheels and 2.8 tires. One of the reasons I settled on this bike was that Bicycles Express in Waterbury, VT had a special one on the floor and in my size.
The stickers on the shocks say Fox Rhythm 34 130mm but what it actually came with from the factory was a Grip2 36 140. That is a substantially nicer shock and I was psyched to get the upgrade. I then made some changes, some for fun and some out of concern of durability. I upgraded the shift levers to GX, and had a custom wheel set made by Thomas at Smyth Adventureworks in Burke VT. They consist of We Are One carbon 29” x 27id rims and I9 Hydra hubs. I also installed a GX cassette, as it is way lighter than the stock NX. Tires are Schwalbe Racing Ralph and Thunderburt, both 2.25. In order to accommodate the tall fast 29” wheels I swapped the Grip 2 fork out for a Manitou Mattoc 34 120m. I also changed the stem to a shorter 35mm length and put on a set of Specialized higher rise bars. I used the seat off of my Slate, as I’ve used it on many long trips with no problems and I wasn’t about to try anything different for the longest trip of my life.
In 27.5+ form the bike is incredibly fun to ride the trails. With the 29r wheels and shorter fork the thing becomes a race bike! Going with this bike was a great choice. My shoulder was happy the entire time I rode, which was a real blessing. Although it wasn’t as fast on the flats as the Slate, it made up for it in comfort and fun. I could rip the downhills with so much more confidence and speed than on the Slate it was ridiculous. I’m super happy with this bike and can’t wait to do more bike packing trips on it.
Rear Bag - In order to use the dropper I used a Bedrock Bags Black Dragon Dropper. With a capacity of 5-7 liters I was able to pack a Patagonia Puffy Sweater, an extra pair of socks, a pair of lightweight shorts and a pair of Patagonia Marino wool long pants. I put them all inside a thin waterproof stuff sack to ensure they stayed dry, which they did even in torrential rain. The only thing in the bag I never used were the long johns. One note about the bag. It was awesome. I was able to position the Wolf Tooth Valais collar in a way that allowed me to slam the dropper right down without having to worry about the bag hitting the rear wheel. It never moved, and hardly had to be readjusted. Although I was worried that the way it sticks up behind the seat would get in the way when riding, it didn’t. I highly recommend this bag.
Frame Bag - In less than 3 weeks after my order, Rockgeist sent a beautiful Fiber Flight frame bag that was custom made for my bike. One of my big goals for this ride was to not wear a backpack. So when the bag came I mounted it up and was lucky enough to find that I had a 2l bladder that fit really well. I put a dry connect into the tube so I can fill the bladder without disturbing the position of my drinking hose, which was right on top of my fork bag the entire trip. The setup worked great, even though the tube felt a bit restricted. In the bottom portion of the triangle I had my water filter, toolbag, pump, chainlube, spare lightweight tube and some all purpose white lithium grease.
Handlebar Bag - On the front I used a Revelate Pronghorn System with a Medium bag. The design is so simple it’s hard to believe how well it works. Once I figured out the best way to pack the bag, it was flawless. As in, I didn’t have to tighten any straps once the bag was attached even though I constantly was hammering down rocky descents. Because I decided to take my tent rather than my bivvy, I had to use a pair of Voile straps to secure the tent pole and stakes to the bag. It most likely added to the overall stability and I will do it this way again in the future. In the bag I had my EMS 40deg sleeping bag, thermarest lightweight sleeping pad and Big Agnes tent/raincover/groundcloth combo. It took me a while to figure out, but I ended up rolling them all up together in such a way that they just barely fit inside the bag, making it nice and solid.
Top Tube Bag - For holding my electronics, I used a Revelate Gas Tank. In it I kept a super lightweight Petzl headlamp, a generic battery charger plus a Goal Zero Venture 30 that I borrowed from a buddy. I also packed in an iPhone cord, 2 electric blocks, and a cord for charging my headlight. Everything worked good except the iPhone cord, which I discovered didn’t work on day 2. Luckily I was able to get a new one at the Eden Country store which saved my day.
Down Tube Bag - The Bottom of the downtube on the Chameleon has a three pack of mounts and I was lucky enough that the Salsa Everything HO cage/bag didn’t interfere with the fork travel. In the bag I carried a small bottle of fuel inside an aluminum cup. Also in the bag was an Olicamp Ion Micro Titanium stove, a ziplock bag with emergency supplies (band aids, space blanket, an extra twenty, toilet paper, shit like that), a zip lock bag with some Starbucks instant coffee (I never had any), another bag with a toothbrush with the handle shortened, toothpaste, 3prs contact lenses, a single use wipe. One more baggie contained some emergency fire starting supplies (oil soaked cotton and a few fire starting matches, and a small ferro rod). A plastic spoon and fork and my thermarest inflatable pillow in its own stuffsack filled the bag to a perfect level after rolling up. I secured it with two more Voile rubber straps instead of the stock Salsa straps because I trust them better than any other strap. The system never rattled, never hit the front tire, and never interfered with pedaling.
Handlebar/Controls - The bars were set up with Ergon GS2 Carbon grips. I’ve used these on a previous trip and they were great. No blisters and the extra hand position really helps with overall comfort. Once again, they proved excellent on this three day trip. I borrowed two Revelate Feedbags from my friend Tom. At first I was concerned that they might hit my upper legs when I peddled standing up, but they ended up not bothering me at all on the road. They fit perfectly on either side of the Gas Tank and never had to be readjusted after initial installation. These bags ended up being the primary place I kept food. Other items I carried in them (either inside or the outside pockets) was a spare lighter, small Swiss army knife, flexible paracord to use with a dry bag as a bear bag for food storage when camping, extra velcro strips, reading glasses, a buff, chamois butter in a small container and clear sunglass lenses.
To hold my phone, which I used for Navigation, I mounted a GUB pro 5. I don’t know anything about this company, as I found it in our take-off parts pile at the shop. If you look it up online there appear to be many different mounts. This one just happened to fit my handlebars perfectly. It worked extremely well and I have used it on my off road motorcycle as well, so it is plenty durable.
Lights - I had originally planned on using two Night Rider lights, but at the last minute decided to borrow a friends Exposure Diablo LED light with an auxiliary battery. Although I kept one of the NR on the bars as an emergency spare, the Diablo worked perfectly and I only once used it on a higher level than it’s lowest setting. I used it for 4-6 hours each night and didn’t have to recharge or even use the extra battery. It is a great light and I plan on investing in one soon.
Navigation - I decided to take a risk and only use one GPS system, my phone. With it mounted on the bars it provided a perfect view of the course when I needed it. The software I used to navigate is the Gaia GPS app. I have used it for years because it works extremely well, and is super easy to import .GPX files into the maps. For recording my ride I used Strava. To conserve battery life I used the phone in airplane mode, which both apps work perfectly in, for the majority of the ride.
Clothing worn - At the last minute I decided that function was a lot more important than looking like a hipster, so I scrapped my plaid shirt for a traditional cycling jersey. I am super glad that I did because the use of the three pockets on the back were instrumental in stowing everything from food to my glasses to my arm warmers. For shorts and liners I used a Specialized Enduro shorts and my old favorite threadbare fox liners. Socks were Darn Tuff and shoes were 510. I used a Outdoor Research Helium rain jacket for both warmth and rain protection. Most of the ride I had it tied to my waist so I could easily moderate my temperature.
The grand total weight for the bike with food and 2 liters of water was 51 pounds. I was pretty freaked out to think about peddling that much weight around, but it just seemed like after a while I was riding a normal bike. It is amazing what your body can adapt to.
As far as the ride went, it was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. I only did the North Lobe, which was 265ish miles, but I finished it in a little under 52 hours. Next year, if everything lines up, I’m going to make an attempt on the entire Super 8 Course which is 642 miles!!
For more information about the Super 8 go to Vermont Bikepackers.org