My sub 4kg S24O bike camping gear list

Regular reader @adventurepdx has asked me for details of my regular bike camping loadout for overnighters. Here is my current UL setup, which has been tweaked over the years and will probably continually evolve. However, this is what works for me for most three-season UK-based trips.

Shelter

OEX Phoxx 1 v2 tent – a small, low-profile, one-person tent with a small pack size, small enough to fit in the body of my Carradice Camper/Overlander saddlebag. Weight 1.58kg

Sleeping

OEX Helios EV300 Hydrodown Sleeping Bag – 600 fill power down bag with a -3C comfort limit. I pack it loosely in the bottom of the saddlebag because it occupies the nooks and crannies of the bag better than when it’s compressed into its stuffsack. Weight 750g

Forclaz MT500 Air Sleeping Mat – 1.5 R value inflatable mat which rolls up really small and is really comfortable. Weight 510g

Eating

Snow Peak Trek 700 cookset – superlight 700ml titanium mug with lid, large enough to eat from, small enough to drink from. Will nest a 110g canister, stove, lighter etc inside. Weight 136g

BRS-3000T titanium stove – the UL backpacker’s favourite. Super small. Super light. Weight 25g

110g gas canister – fits inside the Snow Peak mug with room to spare. Weight when full c.230g

Snow Peak ti spork – light, robust and multifunctional – weight 16g

Total cookset weight: 407g

Sitting

Forclaz folding sit pad – invaluable and ultralight comfort piece for sitting/kneeling outside the tent. Also serves as a pillow and bag stiffener. Weight 60g

Carrying it all

Carradice Overlander – a discontinued product that really needs to be brought back from the archive. 25 litres, robust and only 650g.

Total base weight is: 3,957g

The caveats

On top of this we have food, water and clothing, plus a ziplock bag of essential items like first aid, firesteel, toothbrush, hygiene items etc. This varies from trip to trip.

All of this fits with ease inside by Carradice Overlander saddlebag, which gives me great pleasure!

What’s your ultralight S24O setup?

Bring back the Carradice Overlander Saddlebag

I have a confession. I’ve got a bag collection habit. More specifically I’m on a quest for the perfect ‘one bag to rule them all’ saddlebag for daily commuting and bike camping. And I believe that quest might have finally been fulfilled.

Up until a few weeks ago I thought I’d found it in my Carradice Camper Longflap but then I tracked down a wonderful example of vintage, long-discontinued model from Carradice’s back catalogue, the Overlander.

The Overlander. Let’s just let that resonate for a while. What an evocative name for a range of luggage. Designed in the 1980s (I believe) the Overlander range was created from lightweight designs dreamed up by legendary bike overlander Ian Hibell, who worked with the Lancashire company to produce lightweight versions of its products for use on his specially-designed world touring bike.

The Overlander range comprised of saddlebags, panniers, handlebar bags, stuff sacks and rack top bags and was made of a lightweight Cordura type fabric.

The saddlebag is quite simply huge, packing 25 litres of space and tipping my digital scales at exactly 650 grammes. These numbers are impressive. Two more litres than the Camper and the Super C and a full 350 grammes lighter than either.

The main compartment of the bag is cavernous and is very overstuffable, featuring a generous water-resistant drawstring closure and a lid that closes with quick-release clips. The zipped side pockets are equally huge, easily swallowing water bottles, cooksets and the like with room to spare.

I’m confident that I could bike camp with this bag alone. In fact I did a trial run and the following was easily swallowed by the Overlander:

  • One man tent
  • Three-season down sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Titanium cookset
  • Tools and spares
  • Down jacket
  • Spare clothes
  • Food
  • Other sundry camping items

Basically everything you need for a minimalist camping trip in one elegant bag, rather than the plethora of bags scattered all over the bike in modern bikepacking setups or indeed the cumbersome rack and panniers of a traditional heavy touring setup.

I’m thrilled to find such a great example of the bag with years of use left in it but it’s got me thinking. With the resurgence of the classic saddlebag with the likes of Ron’s Bikes, Swift Industries, Bags By Bird and Wizard Works, Carradice, the OG of saddlebag makers needs to reissue the Overlander and show the competition how it’s done. What do you say Carradice?

No visible means of support: A Carradice Bagman Expedition Review

Above: Floating saddlebag courtesy of the Carradice Bagman. Image courtesy of Dave Jones.

Long-term readers of this blog will know that I have a real soft spot for Carradice’s traditional saddlebags. So it may come as a surprise that it has taken me until my 50th year on the planet to acquire what many would regard as an essential piece for the saddlebag user, the venerable Carradice Bagman.

Carradice’s saddlebags can of course be used unsupported on bikes equipped with a saddle with loops, such as Brooks’ offerings. But many users, especially of larger bags, find that some kind of additional support can be desirable to take the strain off the saddle, eliminate sway and hold the bag at a pleasing angle that keeps it away from the rider’s legs. This support might come from a traditional rack but far neater and more bespoke solutions are out there, the Bagman being the longest-lived and most well-known one.

So, what is it?

Well, like many great products, it’s a simple design that has been brilliantly executed and refined over the years. A loop of sprung stainless steel is bent into a cradle-like support, which is pressed into a sturdy aluminium bracket, which is then attached to the saddle rails. The saddlebag is placed on the cradle, attached to the saddle loops in the normal way, and secured by a special webbing strap that comes with the kit.

The result is rather elegant. The saddlebag sits at an aesthetically-right angle, almost looking like it is defying gravity itself. Sway is eliminated completely and the bag does not brush the back of one’s legs at all. The effect is of a rackless setup, but with all the support that a reasonably-loaded bag needs.

I must, at this stage, point out that my Bagman is one of four variants available. The product is available in either standard (mine) or quick-release (QR) form. It is also available in two sizes, sport and expedition, to suit various sizes of saddlebag. Also available separately is the quick-release element of the setup – for those who don’t need bag support but do need the ability to quickly remove their bag for commuting or other purposes. All of these are listed on Carradice’s recently updated website.

The non-QR, expedition version was ideal for my needs. I have no great need to quickly remove the bag and already have a saddle with built-in saddle loops, so I saved a little money and plumped for the standard version, in expedition size, to fit my Carradice Camper Longflap.

Despite being unsupported from beneath, the rack can hold up to 10kg, which is more than adequate for my ultralight overnight camping kit. Indeed, I tested it out last summer with a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, cookset and other sundries in the bag and it did not complain one bit.

For those wishing to load it further, additional struts are available to increase its rigidity. Up to now, I have resisted the temptation to buy them, preferring to put my faith in Carradice’s excellent build quality, while retaining the minimalist, floating look of the simple Bagman.

Does anyone else out there own a Bagman? How are you finding it? Do you have an alternative or do you have any hacks to improve the design further? Please let me know in the comments below.

Happy riding!

Coffee outside by bike at Halewood Triangle Park

The day dawned bright and dry today so I decided on a ride along the Liverpool Loopline to one of my favourite spots, Halewood Triangle Park, where I’d spotted a great place for an outdoor brew.

The Trangia went in the Fjallraven ReKanken along with the coffee and I was off.

A chilly start saw gloves for the first time since the start of the year but the cold didn’t stop early morning walkers, runners and cyclists being out in force, which was great to see.

The Loopline is a former railway line that has been my escape throughout lockdown, a place where I can get away from traffic and the pressures of life. In fact it has been more than that for a long time. It’s been my way to work for a few years now.

Once at Halewood Triangle Park I found the spot I had eyed up and pitched up with the Trangia stove and soon had coffee on the boil.

I also had a great chat with a guy who instantly recognised the storm cooker. He used to run Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme expeditions and the Trangia was the stove of choice for generations of DoE kids.

For me, combining the bike with coffee outside is the perfect combination. Using my favourite form of transport to take me to quiet places and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the outdoors while enjoying the ritual of coffee making.

Does anyone else enjoy coffee outdoors by bike? Let me know in the comments below.

Outdoor cooking: Chicken casserole in the garden on a Gelert Phoenix (Trangia 25 copy) stove

Today was spent on the home front, embracing some Sunday hygge vibes.

Susan and I had a loose plan to make a chicken casserole so I thought it was an ideal excuse to get the storm cooker set up in the garden and see if it was good as people claimed at making ‘proper food.’ So, intrepidly, I went forth.

I started by chopping an onion, some garlic, potatoes and carrots in the house before sautéing them in the frying pan. With a few sprays of FryLight (great for outdoor cooking BTW), this worked a treat, with no sticking on the anodized surface.

Once the veggies were sautéed, I transferred them to the bigger of the two pots, only losing a few carrots in the process, before adding a little cold water. Back on the storm cooker it went to bring it back to the boil.

Sea salt and a generous amount of black pepper went in, before popping the simmer ring on and letting things combine.

Then I got my second burner and trivet stand out to brew some cowboy coffee in the kettle. Why not? While the coffee brewed I added some pre-cooked chicken and two OXO chicken cubes and combined, letting the stock soak into the meat.

Just before I lost the light and the heavens opened, I drank my coffee and had time to savour the stew before rain stopped play.

I’m really impressed with the burn time on this system. About 45 minutes – enough time to soften the carrots and potatoes. I’m totally confident about preparing some real meals next time I’m out camping or day hiking.

Coffee outside in the rain with a storm cooker

Lockdown has made us all more inventive. Finding new ways of living, whether that’s working or recreating.

Work for me has predominantly been from home. Now we’re in a second lockdown here in the UK, once more our scope for exploring has been understandably diminished, so we need to find ways of expressing the urge to roam in a more local way.

So today I went for a ride in the rain with my Swedish style storm cooker in my bag. About 13 miles away, in the grounds of Speke Hall, I found the perfect place to sit and enjoy the ritual of boiling water and preparing coffee, with nothing but the sound of rain gently falling through the beams of ancient trees.

Here’s my document of the experience, filmed on iPhone XS with Filmic Pro and edited on Adobe Premiere CC, with a nod to the amazing YouTuber Erik Normark.

I hope you enjoy it.

Overnight camp with a Carradice Camper Longflap Saddlebag: The joy of packing light

Most Monday evenings are pretty drab affairs. The working week spreading out in front of you. The afterglow of the weekend still fresh in the memory. What better way to break the Blue Monday spell than an overnight bike camp?

I’d been assembling kit for a spontaneous camp for a while; ultralight stove, ultralight sleeping bag, sleeping mat and an ultralight one man tent. The final piece of the jigsaw was something to carry it all in.

My existing Carradice Cadet was a little too small to carry the load so I decided to splash out on a Carradice Camper Longflap, the biggest bag in the Nelson based bag maker’s ‘Classics’ range, at 23 litres, and a bag that I’d owned in the past and foolishly sold.

So the day the bag arrived from Practical Cycles was also a fresh, bright and sunny day, with a free evening. My plan was set. I’d finish work at 4:30, pack my things and head to a campsite near Delamere Forest in Cheshire, around 45km away. This would give me time to ride there at a comfortable pace, check in, set up, eat supper and watch the sunset.

Packing for an overnighter is great because you can get away with really minimal kit. You’re only away for one night so any mistakes aren’t deal breakers.

My kit was as follows:

  • Highlander Blackthorn 1 tent: At 1.5kg this rivals many more expensive trekking tents but only cost me £39 including shipping from an eBay seller. It’s a small, low profile tent that’s closer to a bivvy with poles, and packs down small so it can fit inside the saddlebag. I strapped it under the extended long flap of the Camper, which worked a treat.
  • Adventuridge Ultralight Sleeping Bag: An Aldi special buy that weighs about 400g and packs down smaller than some jackets. Great for summer camps and only £12.99. This went in the main body of the bag.
  • Adventuridge Compact Self Inflating Sleeping Mat: For another £12.99 this mat folds in half and rolls up into a sleeping bag sized object that fits neatly into the saddlebag leaving room on top for…
  • Vango Compact stove: about 100grams and around £17 this is a fantastic piece of kit. With a small gas canister and a single cookpot I was sorted.
  • Folding knife fork and spoon set.
  • Supper: some noodles and Soreen for afters/snacks – this went inside the cookpot.
  • A mug and some mint teabags.
  • Extra layers: ultralight down jacket, beanie, wool socks, merino longjohns
  • Headtorch
  • Lighter
  • Tools and spares
  • Water bottle

That’s it. All of this went in the Camper Longflap, with room to spare for more clothes if I’d been going on a multi day tour.

The bag just swallowed it all up and once attached, using Carradice’s excellent SQR system, seemed to disappear on the back of my gravel bike.

I had thought that I’d need to use the Cadet on the bars to give me a two bag setup but the genius of the tardis like Longflap means that I can get away with a single bag and resist the temptation to overpack.

I truly believe that the Camper Longflap and other traditional saddlebags are so much more functional than newer style bikepacking bags. Your gear is more accessible and they don’t wag around when you’re out of the saddle. Plus they ooze old school charm and who doesn’t like that.

The camp went wonderfully. Watching the ponies playing in the field next to the site, cooking noodles on my little stove, enjoying a pint of Cheshire Cat ale at the onsite pub before hunkering down for a solid sleep was a special experience, snatched from the dead air of a Monday evening.

I woke at around 5:30am, brewed up, packed up and was gone by 6:15, pedalling through the Vale Royal lanes with the sun shining and nothing but birdsong and the occasional fox for company.

I hope to repeat the process a few more times this year before the weather turns and the nights draw in too much. And my new Camper Longflap will be my trusty and capacious companion.

 

Sunday morning pre-ride ritual

Sometimes those moments before a bike ride are as sublime as the ride itself. Yesterday morning had that feeling. The morning sun. A quiet house. Coffee and breakfast. Really sets a person up for a day of spinning wheels.

What happened next?

I rode into the city, met with Jay, Paul and Dan and caught the train under the Mersey to meet Ian at Lever’s Causeway (which gives rise to the affectionate name of our fellowship, Lever’s Causeway CC).

From there we weaved our way to the Dee estuary, picking up the amazing bike path along the marsh at Burton before crossing the Dee into Wales. We tested ourselves on Paper Mill Lane, a local Strava KOM segment near Shotton, before a loop around Ewloe and Hawarden. Then we crossed the Dee again on the footbridge and took on a mighty headwind on the towpath all the way back to Net’s Cafe near Burton, where a brie and bacon panini girded me suitably for the ride home.

Strava

91.7 kilometres in the bank and great to see LCCC again after a few months of lockdown.

Review: Full circle back to the Microshift RD M-55 rear derailleur

It’s funny how things go full circle. And bad puns aside, nowhere is this more true than with my constantly evolving bicycles.

The Microshift M55 rear derailleur prior to installation

Back in 2011 I had a bike by the name of Ressurectio, a steel framed touring bike that went through many iterations before finally going to a new home. And one of the many parts that graced that bike was a Microshift M55 rear mech.

Fast forward 11 years and bikes have come and gone from the EC stable. My current and probably forever bike is my 1983 Raleigh Clubman, which I bought in 2014 completely stock and have, since then, systematically and sympathetically upgraded.

One piece just didn’t feel right though. For a long while it had a Shimano Sora short cage rear mech, which jarred with the high polish theme of the rest of the components.

Then I remembered the M55. A nine speed long cage MTB mech with a pleasing, minimal, polished aluminium parallelogram. They’re no longer listed on Microshift’s website but are still available online.

After a bit of smartphone noodling I bagged mine for £20 from Upgrade Cycles, ironically the same price as I paid back in 2011 and waited patiently for the postie.

It arrived super quick and it wasn’t long before I had it installed.

Installed on the Raleigh Clubman.

Initial impressions are great. It looks perfect on the Raleigh and works a treat. Easy to set up with lovely old school nickel-plated hi, lo and b limit screws and springs.

It’s light too, weighing in at 227g, making today’s be-clutched MTB derailleurs seem most portly.

The shifting action is extremely positive, combined currently with an eight-speed cassette and Ultegra bar-end shifters.

The great thing about this mech is it gives me options. I can move up to nine speed when chain and cassette changing time comes. I have a set of nine speed Dura Ace bar ends waiting in the wings for this very day. 

It will also allow me to go to an 11-34 cassette with the capacity to team with a wide range sub compact double or a triple. So basically I’m set for future tweaks to my setup.

All in all, I’m really happy to have rediscovered this unsung hero of a mech. Is anyone else running an M55 out there? I’d be interested to hear about your setup and your impressions of it.

The polished aluminium of the M55 ties in perfectly with the shiny silver theme elsewhere.

Have nine years changed my impressions of the M55? Nope. Not a jot.