Aidan Harding is a man with a penchant for long rides. He’s ridden the Tour Divide and Iditarod Trail Invitational, and his riding plans this year extend to two epics, England-Wales-England and the Grenzsteintrophy, a 1300km ride along the former German border.
What these rides have in common, aside from colossal distances, is their fully self-supported nature, you need to carry everything you need for the whole ride, on the bike. Commonly referred to as bikepacking, it’s a discipline that has been around since the early days of mountain bike, but still sits on the very fringe of the sport.
It’s getting more popular, helped by the advances in lightweight camping equipment, sleeping bags that pack down really small, carbon fibre poles in tents. But too ruthless with choices and things can break or fail, far from ideal when you’re out on the rode along miles from help.
Bikepacking essentially involves carrying everything you’re likely to need for anything up to 10 days or more of riding, including camping equipment. And it’s here that preparation and bike setup becomes very personal. Some people opt to carry the smallest pack possible, keeping their bike light and affording quicker progress. Picking the right equipment is the result of long evenings spent pouring over catalogues and weighing up the pros and cons of each choice, and experience from previous events that can be called upon.
Before he embarks on his next challenge, Aidan has shared his current bike setup, a Singular Swift, and the choices he’s made to ensure the bike is light and durable, up to the task of transporting him to the finish.
The heart of the bike is a Singular Swift frame – agile, fun, and strong. 29er wheels are the present and the future of cross-country riding for me, so in this case it’s Hope Pro 2 Evo hubs with Stans Crest rims. Tyres are Maxxis Ikon EXOs run tubeless.
The combination of a quality steel frame, big wheels, and tubeless gives a super-smooth ride with scary amounts of grip for cornering and climbing.The grip is particularly scary for climbing due to the singlespeed drivetrain – never in the wrong gear, never lacking traction to the rear wheel: Just legs vs. hills.
32:18 is a pretty standard ratio, giving about the same output as 32:16 on 26in wheels. I’ve got a chain ring and cog from Velosolo along with a 9 speed SRAM chain. I haven’t had good experiences with singlespeed-specific chains and it’s handy to have parts that are interchangeable with geared riders. Boring but useful for the long-distance rider is Truvativ chain ring bolts with hex-bolts on both sides so no need for special tools.
A rigid fork keeps things simple and maintenance free. It is teamed up with 710mm wide USE carbon bars to keep things under control. Another tiny detail is the PRO lock-on grips with 3mm hex bolts – bigger than the bolts on my old grips, and matches the pad retaining pin on my brakes. One less tool to carry.
There is a dose of ordinary Shimano stuff: XT brakes, XT cranks, and M520 pedals. All hassle-free. A Hope Ceramic bottom bracket, in my experience they far outlasts Shimano. Also, a Hope headset, it’s now on its third bike and working perfectly.
A USE carbon post gives noticeably more comfort than my old Thomson, and has a flashy rear light for road sections.
Then comes some of the special adventure kit: a Wildcat frame bag – custom cut to fit one (side-entry) bottle cage. It zips with one hand; it’s very water resistant and carries a lot of stuff. And an inner tube mud-guard on the fork.
Wildcat front bag harness – keep the bag away from the brake cables and headtube. With just a drybag and webbing straps, I had to re-tighten the straps again every morning so I didn’t want to touch that bag again until bedtime. With the special harness, I can get to my sleeping gear to dry it out during the day if the opportunity arises.
SPOT personal satellite tracker. Really more for fun than for safety. If I need to push the SOS button, then I’ve let myself down. People can track my progress on the web, so that’s fun.
Garmin Dakota GPS has “proper” mapping with OS data and/or open-source data. It uses AA batteries (like the SPOT) so I can refuel it pretty much anywhere.
Exposure’s MaXx-D light will run for 10-hours on medium brightness, so can take me right through the night. There might be prototype lighting on there later this year for multi-day use.
With all that on my side, I’d just better make sure I don’t give up!
My adventure events this year include:
Plus some more normal endurance racing and a bunch of unheralded rides to just get out there.
You can find out more about Aidan at his website www.aidanharding.com