In my obsession to jettison weight, the panniers have now gone. The theory? A light, sleek bike opens up a whole new world of dirt touring scope, as well as simply being more pleasurable to ride. Seek out singletrack. Bunny hop over obstacles. Shoulder your bike with (relative) ease. Go explore.
With my framebag/seatbag/handlebar bag combo, I still have enough room for a few days of food, with careful packing. Thus far, that’s realistically more than I’ve needed – it’s rare to go hungy in Latin America, with some form of nourishment in almost every village in Colombia and Ecuador. And from what I’ve heard, this should be the case for a while yet, at least until La Paz, Bolivia. As a caveat, I should add that these days my cooking has lost most of its gourmet aspirations – travelling solo so can do that to you. A pack of soup with noodles and a can of tuna, plus some veg if I don´t have to haul it over a mountain – I keep things light, simple and quick, and save the big meals for roadside restaurants.
The good news is that thanks to this cull, I’ve managed to send back almost 4kg of gear. That’s a lot of heft to be carrying over each and every Andean pass.
Gone for now are my Arkel XM28s. Although they’ve proved to be very capable panniers – they’re tough, with a kung fu grip clamping system – they’re also not the lightest. The quoted weight is 1.4kg (I expect they’re a little more), plus there’s the waterproof covers to add in as well.
Sacrificed too is my tried and test Ortlieb Ultimate 5 bar bag, which comes in at just under 700g – that’s over 2kg right there, before you’ve even started to fill them. Bar bags are great for road tours but for dirt trails, they push the weight further forward than I like, and the contents tend to rattle around. I know I’ll miss the Ortlieb’s complete waterproofing, which has been particularly beneficial in Ecuador – so fingers crossed for drier conditions in Peru. If you think I’m nitpicking grams, I compared typical weights back in this post, so you can see how all those little g’s adds up.
However, in their place, I’ll be wearing a lightweight backpack, carrying little more than my Macbook Air, which weighs in at a touch over 1kg. The cardinal rule in long distance bike touring is not to carry a backpack – let the bike do the heavy lifting. And it’s sensible advice. After all, even a light pack can strain your back eventually, not to mention leaving it sweaty and clammy.
But the more I tour, the more I find myself riding the style of trails where a light bike makes the difference between enjoying the experience, and trudging through it. And while I admit that I prefer not to carry a pack, I find it more tolerable when riding dirt roads and trails, where body position is less static than on pavement. When it comes down to it, riding riding offroad is what I aspire to do, and what this trip is about.
That’s not to say that going light doesn’t have its own set of compromises – space for food is limited, reducing range between resupplies. Packing is also more fiddly.
Whether I’ll live to regret this decision, we shall see. I still have a rear rack, so in a pinch, I can bungee on my pack for longer paved stretches, or use it to carry more food. My escape clause is my mum, who’s planning visiting me in Peru. I can always get my panniers brought back out (-;
I´ll add in a complete kit list at some point soon…
In the meantime, here’s how things were looking for the Ogre back in Santa Fe. And for some bikepacking inspiration in South America, head over to Joe Cruz’s great blog, or check out this trip to Bolivia in 2011.