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Looking to start bikepacking after many years away from cycling
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Jason Elsworth
(jephoto) - M

Locale: New Zealand
Looking to start bikepacking after many years away from cycling on 01/03/2013 02:07:42 MST Print View

After about 25 years away from road touring and about 18 years away from mountain biking I am looking to make a triumphant return to cycling. By which I obviously mean falling off a lot and pushing up hills:). I can't believe it's been so long as I used to be cycling mad.

I am looking for a bike to use for bikepacking, some easy mountain biking, and a bit of on road use (replacing the car for short journeys and combined with off road when bikepacking).

I would love some advice on the type of bike I should be looking for and specific recommendations if you have any. I have a budget of about USD 1,500. Cycling has changed quite a bit in the time I have been away, but so far I have a had the following ideas and questions.

1. 29 inch wheels.
2. Am I right in thinking that steel seems to be the preferred material for bikepacking set ups.
3. Hard tail
4. Opinion seems a bit divided on suspension forks, so looking for input here.
5. I can see the appeal of single speeds, but I live in a hilly part of a hilly country, so will go for geared.

My thoughts currently are to build a geared Surley Karate Monkey set up- potentially with Salsa wood chipper bars. However, I have also been thinking that maybe a more conventional 29er mtb with suspension forks may be better, but most of the widely available ones seem to be aluminium framed.

Any advice greatly appreciated.

Thanks.

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
Re: Looking to start bikepacking after many years away from cycling on 01/03/2013 09:45:58 MST Print View

Jason,

I've been in the same boat as you perse, though my "return" to cycling wasn't after such a long absence. Anyways, I racked my brain as you are earlier this year in building up a budget friendly 29er that I could make work for a variety of uses (endurance racing/riding, bikepacking, local group rides, commuting). I landed on the Surly Karate Monkey for all the same reasons you're looking at it for, versatility and price.

I think the Karate Monkey (KM) is a safe and smart frame to get rolling on, it really is a chameleon. The geometry is nice, not a dull ride, has some "snap" in the steering assuming you have it built up and sized to fit you well. I'm 6' with a 34" inseam and long arms, so I went with a size Large frame, which gives me room to adjust reach with a shorter stem or different bar sweep.

Some thoughts after several months riding the KM:

Shorter chainstays on the frame are nice, let's you get the wheel up a little easier for technical riding (I also have a 80mm/0degree rise stem which helps). This may not be as important if what you're looking for is a big mileage cruiser and offroad tourer, but I like the way the KM rides on switchbacks and flowy singletrack for shorter weekly rides.

The build is simple and not flashy, basic straight tubing like most steel frames, and the frame definitely has some "give" to it, which you can notice when you're mashing the pedals out of the saddle. (*I have mine setup as a singlespeed but I will be setting it up as a 1x9 for bikepacking and riding to the trailheads a little quicker)

There is plenty of room for a decent sized frame bag in the lower triangle, less with the size small frame due to the slacked top tube. Fitting 2 water bottle cages may be tight in the smaller frame size.

The "Monkey Nuts" work fine in the rear dropouts, but can be a little fussy getting chain length setup right. If you go singlespeed, take them off and slam the tire as far forward as you can, really makes the bike handling shine. I've found a tensioner to be necessary, but good skewers could probably remedy that.

The bottom bracket region gets a little "squirelly" if your getting after it, I always noticed it and it became more apparent when I picked up my Vassago frame which is aluminum. Steel is more forgiving and I believe a better candidate for bikepacking for sure, but it has some downsides and frame flex/power transfer might be one of them depending on what you like in a ride.

Weight. Its a bit of a tank, but not anything abnormal for a 4130 steel framed 29er. Honestly, don't buy a KM if weight is a high priority. The stock KM forks are like lead, but steer true and take a pounding on rocky trail without throwing the front end around. Setup tubeless with high volume tires, there is a surprising amount of dampening for even nasty bits of trail. Not sure how pounding away on a rigid for days on end with a loaded bike would feel, shocks might be nice there, but again its all preference.

Drops on the KM. I've seen a bunch of drop bar setups with the KM, so its definitely a good candidate for that setup. I'm looking into doing the same as you, but there are some challenges in getting the right fit (stem length/rise) and stretch with drops and I'm not sure I want to mess with it. I run Avid BB7s which are linear pull, so there are only a few brake levers that are compatible with mechanical discs. You also have to figure out shifting with the drop bars if setup geared, which takes a little more homework and expense. There are a lot of "alt bars" out that give you hand position variety without resorting to a trail drop bar. Just a thought. I have Salsa Bend 2 bars on mine with Ergon grips, they're very comfortable and natural, no discomfort for all day riding.


There is of course the Salsa Fargo, but I think that bike is best for the dedicated off road/mixed surface cyclist or die hard bikepacker. I haven't ridden one, but I considered it when purchasing the KM. Fargo geometry is more conducive to extended upright riding, comfortable when riding in the drops on the bars. I wouldn't want to race or try and keep up with the group on Tuesday night rides sitting on a Fargo.


Sorry for the mouthful.

Check out the Salsa El Mariachi as an alternative to the Surly, its in the same league, but has a more refinedto dropout setup for geared or singlespeed use IMO. Also take a peek at the Vassago Jabberwocky or Bandersnatch since you're looking at the Surly KM.

Good luck.

Jason Elsworth
(jephoto) - M

Locale: New Zealand
Looking to start bikepacking after many years away from cycling" on 01/04/2013 14:55:56 MST Print View

Hi Eugene. Many thanks for taking the time to write such a great reply.

I'm 6' with a 34" inseam and long arms, so I went with a size Large frame, which gives me room to adjust reach with a shorter stem or different bar sweep.

I am pretty much the same. slightly longer inseam, short torso and gibbon arms, so a 20 should be a decent fit for me. One of my local shops has them on sale currently.

(*I have mine setup as a singlespeed but I will be setting it up as a 1x9 for bikepacking and riding to the trailheads a little quicker)

I will probably go for a 2x9 or 2x10 if that is possible. With the right front deralieur this is apparently possible without monkey nuts.

Steel is more forgiving and I believe a better candidate for bikepacking for sure, but it has some downsides and frame flex/power transfer might be one of them depending on what you like in a ride.

Being such a dinosaur I have only ever ridden steel bikes:). In fact my first MTB the Kona Cinder Cone is a lot like the KM is today.
http://www.retrobike.co.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?p=1628733

Thanks for the info on alternative bars. I will definitely look at that. I love the drop bar look, but as I understand it unless you you with Avid Road brakes then you end up with bar end shifters, which I am not sure about.I have seen a KM set up with brifters, but as you say it all gets a bit complex. Also the issue of getting drop bars set up just right and how this might be different for a few hours single tracking versus a days bikepacking on back roads.

I looked at the Frago and if I was off for a few months touring i would go this way, but as you say the KM seems better in terms of versatility. I am also looking at the singular Gryphon, as I have the option of a secondhand one.

Check out the Salsa El Mariachi as an alternative to the Surly, its in the same league, but has a more refinedto dropout setup for geared or singlespeed use IMO. Also take a peek at the Vassago Jabberwocky or Bandersnatch since you're looking at the Surly KM.

Don't know how I had missed the Vassago frames. El Mariachi looks great, but I don't think it is available in New Zealand, like so many other things:) One of the good things about the KM is that I can get it here. Also they have full bikes in a 20 inch frame on sale. I could give single speed a go and then get a mechanic to convert to a drop barred geared bike later if needed.

Thanks once again. I will drop you a PM when I finally get a bike:).

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Looking to start bikepacking after many years away from cycling on 01/04/2013 20:33:49 MST Print View

So what endurance racing are you doing, Eugene? 12 hours in the Wild West?

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
Re: Looking to start bikepacking after many years away from cycling on 01/04/2013 22:36:07 MST Print View

Hey Joe,

I rode the "12 Hours of Old El Paso" back in October in the Solo Male dividision/ Singlespeed. That was some fun.

I plan to ride in the "12 Hours in the Wild West" in April since it's a short drive. If I don't run the Jemez 50 this May I want to ride the "Dawn 'til Dusk" in Gallup.

Maybe I'll see you at one of these yea?


@Jason,

This just popped up onto my radar and may be an affordable solution to shifters on drop bars for your KM. I bookmarked this for myself and totally forgot about it. The setup looks really clean, moves you away from the bar end shifters. They're designed to properly modulate linear pull brakes, so you can keep the Avid BB7 mtb disc setup. Price is pretty dang good considering how much a brifter setup will run you. I could see a nice 1x9 or 1x10 on your KM.

http://retroshift.com/store/products/cxv/

Greg Wheelwright
(gdw) - M
Some other options on 01/05/2013 09:59:09 MST Print View

See if the dealer who carries Surly has a Troll available. The Troll has the same geometry as the Karate Monkey and comes with more braze-ons. It's very versatile. http://surlybikes.com/bikes/ogre
There are a number of other steel 29er frames and complete bikes worth checking out- Voodoo, Soma, Raleigh, and On One. The On One Inbred 29er frames are currently on sale for under $200. They can be ordered built up with the components of your choice if you contact them directly although shipping costs could be very high.
http://www.on-one.co.uk/i/q/FROO29VD/on_one_inbred_29er_vertical_dropout

I'd go with a suspension front fork if you can work it into you budget. The Rockshox Reba has an excellent reputation and is reasonably priced.

If you plan to do much bikepacking try to get a 9 speed drivetrain. 10 speed chains, rings, and cassettes wear out quickly especially if used on a loaded bike in wet conditions.

Bikepacking.net is a worth checking out if you haven't already discovered it. The website has lots of info and a number of Kiwi members. Good luck.

Jason Elsworth
(jephoto) - M

Locale: New Zealand
Looking to start bikepacking after many years away from cycling on 01/06/2013 01:25:51 MST Print View

@ Eugene - Retroshift looks v.interesting thanks. I think they would be a good choice for a classic off road tourer where you may spend quite some time riding on the hoods, but for a drop bat mtb, where you are more on the bars I think changing gears would be tough. I might get a set of the levers that have the option to fit shifters later, then I could switch from bar end shifters to the full retroshifter set up depending on the sort of riding I was doing.

Another option could be these crazy looking things http://kellybike.com/2nd_xtra_takeoff.html#.

@ Greg - The Ogre would be a good option, as it is already geared. I will talk to the dealer but getting stuff here in NZ is tricky. Shipping a full bike myself would almost certainly become subject to high shipping costs and import duty. I will add the other options to my growing spreadsheet:). I now know what backpacking noobs feel like:).

Alex Eriksson
(aeriksson) - M

Locale: Austin, TX
Sooooo tempting.... on 01/06/2013 01:41:47 MST Print View

I started mountainbiking in '92 and have stepped away from it over the past couples years because I lived in a mountain-less, nay, hill-less, part of the country. Now I'm in a very bike friendly, outdoor friendly, city and have been giving serious consideration to the idea, especially since my backpacking gear is getting quite light. However....

I don't ride alone, which means I would need someone else interested in bike packing and it's hard enough to find someone locally who is interested in not-car-camping much less bike packing. I'd also like to eschew the whole "hard tail, marry bars, leisurely pace" of bike packing and find a way to get out into some pretty technical all-mountain style riding, the kind where a 6" travel fully suspended bike would suffice going uphill but be a blast downhill (my old lift and shuttle access downhilling ways die hard). And last but not least, I don't think anywhere reasonably close has enough wilderness area that even allows bikes plus camping in one place. Lots of factors to consider, which is a bit of a bummer to say the least. Plus I would need to find an appropriate all-mountain ride. *scratches head*

On the plus side, I think I could conceivably pick up a pack in the 35L range, stuff in my marginally comfortable Fly Creek UL2, quilt, air pad, food and water into a pack and be good to go for a few days. I really don't see any reason to mount stuff to a bike, but I'm also used to riding with a 20L camelbak style pack long before I got into backpacking.

Honestly though I have no idea where I would ride....aside from Moab UT.

Ken Thompson
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: Behind the Redwood Curtain
Re: Looking to start bikepacking after many years away from cycling on 01/06/2013 07:25:43 MST Print View

I too have not pedaled in too many years. Never replaced that last stolen bike. I've seen some really cool things bikepacking wise with the diminutive Brompton folding bicycle. Unconventional choice perhaps, but seen it work,

Plenty of places to camp here, close by. Started taking public transportation to work to save some dough and not pile up the miles on the Vanagon. My kit is small and light enough. Not looking to do anything more hardcore than gravel roads.

I really like the idea of being able to ditch the lock and take it with you.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: beginning bikepacking rig on 01/06/2013 10:05:39 MST Print View

I have an '06 Karate Monkey and while many frames have come and gone since, I've not been seriously tempted to replace it. It does everything well, and survives crashes and abuse very well.

For your original criteria I'd recommend a Surly Ogre complete. Same geo as the Monkey, but added versatility of rack mounts. The parts spec on the complete is solid, reliable, and not flashy. Ergons are a good first upgrade, then perhaps a saddle if the stock one doesn't suit you. With an existing lightweight backpacking kit you can add a rear rack, bottle cages, use your existing daypack, and be ready to roll for multi-days. If you like it get a frame bag and (if singletrack calls) a seatbag later.

If you think you'll do lots of singletrack riding looking for a complete with a suspension fork is a wise investment (buying an aftermarket fork is expensive), but if not rigid is better. Put the weight and dollars into other parts. On the other hand if you want a fork a year down the road you can buy a good one, put it on the Ogre, and still be ahead of the cost/value curve for that particular application.

The Fargo is great for loaded cruising, but I'm not a fan of how it rides as a mountain bike.

Jason Elsworth
(jephoto) - M

Locale: New Zealand
Looking to start bikepacking after many years away from cycling on 01/08/2013 23:54:39 MST Print View

@Dave C. I was hoping you would give your input. I have been reading your BPL articles on Bikepacking and I think it was after visiting your site that the name Katare Monkey started to mean something to me other than a bizarre Youtube video.

I am going to see if the dealer can sort me out with a Ogre and how long it will take. If not will probably get a single speed KM on sale and build it up to geared version or get a frame and go from there. I am a bit reluctant to just get a frame as it means I have to choose every component and would have to pay someone to put it together for me, as I don't have the time or skills.

I like your pragmatic advice to try it out first with some basic gear before getting specialised frame and seat post bags. I might not like it:). Having said that when I start on an activity I tend to get really into it, before suddenly dropping it completely. Also there are some great looking trails opening up here in NZ http://www.nzcycletrail.com/. Some of these could also be good options for family trips.

There are some great single track options in New Zealand, so I may look at suspension forks now or as an upgrade.

Any thoughts on the Salsa El Mariachi. I could get one here with RockShox Recon Gold TK forks.

Thanks everyone. This is what makes BPl so great.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: bikes on 01/09/2013 10:57:06 MST Print View

These days complete bikes are the way to go. In 2006 there were no complete 29ers on the market; now they're so much cheaper than building it yourself unless you have deals and/or a bunch of parts in the basement already.

The El Mariachi is a solid bike. Besides the suspension fork (the Reba is a great one) there are only a few fairly minor differences compared to a Monkey or Ogre. Surlys are a bit more tank-like, in both components and the tubing itself, than Salsas, which I prefer.

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
Re: Looking to start bikepacking after many years away from cycling on 01/09/2013 12:02:54 MST Print View

Whatever you do, post some pics once you sort it all out. I don't think you can go wrong with anything mentioned from Salsa or Surly really.

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Looking to start bikepacking after many years away from cycling on 01/09/2013 12:18:33 MST Print View

@ Eugene - I may see you there. Looking at doing a team with some other old guys. If I get the knee rehabbed in time.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
racing on 01/11/2013 13:42:57 MST Print View

Dusk to Dawn is a great course. Worth riding laps on.