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Bikes. Parts. Chaos.

Last month, Cass Gilbert was in town for QBP’s Frostbike tradeshow.  Cass asked if there might be an opportunity to spend a few days bike-camping in this part of the country, post-show.  So Paul crafted a plan for us to link up and ride some of the off-road trail systems in Duluth, MN…located about 3 hours north of Minneapolis, while carrying enough gear 3 days of riding and a couple nights of winter camping. Paul spent part of his summer working on those trails, so we were confident that he'd put together a fine route. And he did. With a little guidance from some local Duluth residents, including fun-hog Hansi Johnson and the fine folks at Frost River, we were able to sample quite a bit of the trails (and frozen waterways) that Duluth has to offer in the winter months. 

Cass rode an Ice Cream Truck with a handlebar bag set-up.  

Front view of a cyclist riding a blue Surly Ice Cream Truck fat bike loaded with gear, on a snow covered field

Right side view of a blue Surly Ice Cream Truck fat bike loaded with gear, parked in snow, against a tree in the woods

Paul rode a Wednesday with an 8-Pack Rack

Front view of a cyclist riding a turquoise Surly Wednesday fat bike with gear, down a snow covered trail in the woods

Right side view of a mint Surly Wednesday fat bike, loaded with gear, parked on snow in front of a tree in the woods

I rode my ICT with a 24-Pack Rack. 

Right side view of an olive Surly Ice Cream Truck fat bike with gear packs, parked against a tree in a snowy forest

It was fun to observe and discuss the varying performance aspects of each configuration throughout the trip. 

Every ride is an opportunity to test gear to some extent.  This outing was no exception.  It gave me the chance to tax the 24-Pack Rack and our Porteur House bag (pre-production sample…these are coming in August or September) in a setting that varies from the rigors of my daily commute.  I used the Surly rack and bag to haul the gear that wouldn’t travel in my Revelate framebag, Jerry Can, Gas Tank, and Viscacha saddle bag. 

I’ve been using 24-Pack Racks since the day I completed the first fillet-brazed proto in my home dungeon. 

Downward view of a Surly 24-Pack rack prototype, clamped in a vise on a workbench in a shop

Downward view of a Surly 24-Pack rack prototype mounted to a bike fork

Right side view of a Surly 24-Pack rack prototype mounted to a bike fork, in front of a gas welding system, in a shop

Since then, we’ve received racks from multiple sample runs.  And over the course of a couple years, I’ve mounted 8-Pack Racks and 24-Pack Racks on many of my other Surlys:  Instigator (shown below...rollin' on 27+ Dirt Wizards and a sample thru-axle Krampus fork), ECR, ICT, Moonlander, Stragglers...700c and 650b, Pacer (converted to a 650b rig with long-reach centerpull calipers), and a couple Long Haul Truckers.  Needless to say, these are versatile racks.  And they will take a beating. 

Front, right side view of an olive Surly Instigator bike, parked on a muddy stream shore, in front of a fallen tree

My Porteur House bag is a 3rd-gen sample that has all the features and functionality that the production model will have:

*  Designed to attach securely to a 24-Pack Rack…and many other porteur rack and basket configurations, using up to 10 straps

*  Heavy-duty urethane-coated nylon exterior fabric

*  Front pockets with light-attachment loops and pocket stuff sacks; big enough to carry a mini U-lock

*  Liner bag for the main bag compartment attaches, with Velcro, to the bottom and sides of the main bag compartment

*  Volume-scalable roll-top closure system

*  Shoulder strap

*  Rigid (removable, replaceable) bottom insert

When gear has to be accessed easily and often, it can be advantageous to use racks and rack bags instead of compression frame bags.  Usually, a combination of systems works best for me.  I carry my campsite gear – sleeping bag, shelter, ground sheet, and sleeping garments – in my Viscacha.  My inflatable Nemo Astro insulated sleeping pad and insulated water container (64 oz. Klean Kanteen in an Equinox bottle-insulating sleeve) get strapped into Salsa Anything Cages on the fork.  My bike tools, pump, spare tube, tent pole, and stakes travel in my front triangle frame bag.  Lights go in the Jerry Can.  Snacks are stored in the Gas Tank.  And the rest goes in my Porteur House. 

Downward view of an olive Ice Cream Truck fat bike, loaded with gear on racks, laying on it's left side in the snow

The Porteur House pockets are accessible with side-release buckles, so they provide easy access to my camera (waterproof/shockproof Olympus TG-4), lenses, and other items that I may need to find quickly. 

The main compartment provides ample storage for everything else:  clothing, meals, stove and cookware, long-term snack storage (the stuff that won’t be consumed immediately), and most of the contents of my daily survival kit…which also serves as a good portion of my go-to camping kit (first aid, sewing, cordage, assorted repair materials, firestarting kit, water purification, emergency shelter, saw, big knife, pen and paper, etc.).  Some of these items – tape, cordage, and first aid – might be needed during the ride, so the Porteur House is the best vessel to store and transport them. 

The main bag liner can be cinched (using a cinch cord and cordlock) and rolled.  This creates a separate storage compartment, on top of the liner, that can be accessed easily without having to dig into the entire contents of the liner.  I keep my glove shells and other optional riding layers stored in this area of the bag.  That way, I can easily get at them by simply opening up the roll-top of the Porteur House.  The bright yellow color of the liner and pocket stuff sacks helps to keep the bag from becoming a black hole where dark-colored gear might otherwise be hidden in plain sight. 

How did it all perform?  Very well.  The 24-Pack Rack is incredibly solid.  There’s no flex in the system…even with the Porteur House heavily-loaded.  I packed the bag with weight distribution in mind.  Heavier/denser items were intentionally placed at the rear of the bag to bias the weight behind the front axle as much as possible.  Neglecting to do so – especially when carrying a lot of gear on the front rack – can adversely affect handling. 

An added benefit of putting more weight on the front end of the bike:  front wheel traction.  Some of the trails we rode – especially the ones with exposure to direct sun – got a bit icy.  Having a little extra steering bite helped to keep front-end wash-out at bay, most of the time. 

I like scalable packing options.  There’s a good chance that you do, too.  Our new accessories – the 24-Pack Rack, the 8-Pack Rack, and the Porteur House – give us a few more to consider for the next haul.     

How was the trip?  Really fun, with great riding and camping throughout.  Write-ups from Cass and Paul will fill in some details.  Here’s one from Cass, regarding some of my gear choices.  

Two cyclists standing in the woods on snow with, their Surly fat bikes