By Nick Legan
Well, I did it. I managed to string together nearly 25 days of riding along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and get myself from Banff to Antelope Wells. It was an incredible journey full of trials and jubilation. The bike I rode has already been profiled here. So here’s a look at some of the gear that made the trip possible.
This year I ended my obsession with using the lightest gear I could find and instead focused on reliable gear that was light but highly functional. Big Agnes’s brand new AXL Air Insulated pad was a treat. I went for the larger, rectangular 20 x 72in. size and, as a side sleeper, really appreciated the extra comfort and insulation. The sides of the AXL Air are slightly taller, keeping you centered on the pad while you sleep. PrimaLoft Silver insulation boosts the warmth in chilly weather without ever feeling stuffy on toastier nights. If you are in a hurry to inflate the pad, you can also use a Pumphouse from Big Agnes, a large stuff sack that has a nozzle that attaches to the pad’s inflation port. I blew the pad up the old fashioned way and was always happy that it didn’t take long for me to be atop the pad and dreaming of more Great Divide miles.
It’s difficult for me to describe the Sea to Summit Spark III sleeping bag without using superlatives. With 850+ Ultra-Dry Down fill, lightweight construction, ¾ zipper, and slim fit, the Spark was this skinny bike racer’s best friend. Inside my Borah Gear bivvy and atop the Big Agnes pad reviewed above, I was comfortable through some truly chilly nights. In fact, on only one occasion during Tour Divide did I wear my Patagonia puffy jacket to ward off a chill. On top of great sleep comfort, the Spark packs down to a truly impressively small size. In most cases I simply rolled up my entire sleep roll in one go after deflating my sleeping pad. When I did manage to get the Spark III wet, it still kept me remarkably warm and dried quickly hanging in the sun or even faster with a short tumble dry on low. Highly recommended if you’re a slim rider looking for a warm, packable sleeping bag.
Eye protection is important when you expect to encounter blowing sand and dirt, rain, snow, hail, and gusting winds. Julbo made its name looking out for the eyes of mountaineers, and with its Aerospeed glasses it has yet another great option for cyclists. The large rimless design gives unfettered peripheral views. The rubberized temples and adjustable nosepiece make customizing the fit a cinch.
But what really blew me away was the Reactiv Photochromic Zebra Light lens. I wore the Aerospeeds from the moment I woke up in the predawn hours to the time I tucked myself into my bivvy well after dark. From the often grey, overcast conditions in Canada and Montana to the sweltering, glaring sun in southern Colorado and New Mexico, I never wanted a different tint because the Aerospeed’s Photochromic lens adjusts automatically to changing light conditions. This saved me from carrying another pair of sunglasses or from changing lenses throughout the day.
If there’s a downside, it’s that you can’t replace the lens in the Aerospeed once you’ve managed to scratch it during your travels the way I have. But time on the Divide is often a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Why not see it in its full glory through a pair of top-notch glasses?
When I stumbled across Castelli’s Tempesta ¾ Pant and Leg Warmers, I thought to myself, “Why didn’t anyone think of this sooner?!” The Tempesta Pants are waterproof and breathable and, importantly, cut for the cycling position with a preshaped knee and stretch panels. They are exceptionally lightweight, pack small, and feature copious amounts of reflective material. Internally, all the seams are taped to ensure protection from chilly precipitation. And unlike a full rain pant, you still get a measure of breathability while riding, keeping you much drier inside the pants.
But they’re only knickers, you might say. What about keeping the rest of your leg dry? Well, that’s where the Tempesta Leg Warmers come in. They are, from below the knee, waterproof as well. Worn with a pair of shorts under the Tempesta pants and over a pair of waterproof shoe covers, you can ride for hours in the rain without any worries. And for another added measure of safety, the lower section of the leg warmers is also reflective.
With the extra wet conditions that I experienced during the first 10 days of riding, I loved the Tempesta pairing. It was only after many days of consistent use in wet, gritty conditions that I managed to wear through the seat of the pants. Despite my best efforts, the zippers of the leg warmers also started to jam up. But gear is meant to be used, and I think the Castelli Tempesta line is impressive not only for its function, but also for its forward-thinking integrated design and visibility features. Do note that like much of the Italian brand's clothing, these items run almost ridiculously small. I’m 5’10” and 148 pounds and wore size large in the pants and warmers.
The interface between rider and bike is always an important one. Velocio’s Luxe Bib Shorts are made for a long day in contact with the saddle. With a well-designed chamois, reflective logos, and quality construction, the Luxe Bibs merit the high price tag. And after several 100-mile days in them, I can attest that they are a comfy pair of bibs. If I had paid closer attention to the fit recommendation on Velocio’s website, I may have been even more at home in them.
Designed to be highly compressive to support leg muscles, the fit is tight. Velocio recommends sizing up if you prefer a more relaxed fit. Perhaps my ego got in the way, but I grabbed a pair of mediums and believe that for multiday rides, I would be better off with a size large.
That said, I love the thin leg grippers and criss-crossed straps. Both lie flat and never chafed. The black color remained true even after many long days in direct sunlight. If you’ve never tried a pair of Velocio tights and you’re in the mood to treat yourself, I highly recommend them.
Deciding on tires for the Great Divide can be daunting. After all, they need to be durable, offer good puncture protection, traction, and low rolling resistance all without weighing a ton or breaking the bank. For my go on the GDMBR, I used mismatched tires. Why? Well, the demands of a front and rear tire are pretty darn different.
Up front I wanted an extra measure of traction and comfort. To fit that bill, I mounted up one of Vittoria’s Mezcal TNT (tubeless) 29 x 2.35in. tires. The Mezcal has a fast-rolling tread pattern that works well in a wide variety of conditions. Its large 2.35in. size provides an extra level of cushion, and it corners and brakes well even when I’m too tired to be performing those actions with accuracy. In effect, it increases the margin of error when riding in varied conditions while fatigued from long days on the trail. And it did all this without a single flat tire and while lasting the entire 2,700 miles of the GDMBR.
There is something magical in the BlackChili Compound that Continental uses in its Race King Protection tires. Without sacrificing puncture protection or rolling resistance, they wear like iron. Because of that long lifespan, the Race King Protection is a perfect rear tire for the Great Divide. I used a Race King Protection 29 x 2.2in. tire on the back of my Mosaic bikepacking bike and could not have been happier with the results.
The tire lasted the entire 2,700 miles of riding without a single puncture. The tread is still ready for more riding, though the sidewall is a bit worn after countless days of scraping mud off its surface. But it never let me down.
After some issues with the seatbag that I used at the start of the Great Divide, I picked up an Oveja Negra Gearjammer Seat Bag in Salida, Colorado, the town where Oveja Negra is based (read more). While I was hesitant to make such a significant gear change during my ride, it was a great decision.
The Gearjammer is available in two sizes, medium and large, and a variety of colors. I purchased a large in multicamo black at Subculture Cyclery in Salida, and it easily fit all the clothing, spares, and food that I needed to stuff inside. It mounts securely, and once cinched down, the Gearjammer doesn’t sway unnecessarily. The locking buckles on the saddle rail attachment points keep the bag from loosening, while side and top straps compress the bag’s cargo. It was also easy to attach my SPOT tracker to the top of the bag thanks to the same top compression strap. For additional gear items, Oveja Negra also stiches on a daisy chain of nylon webbing on the bottom of the bag. Given enough tire clearance, this is a great spot for flip-flops or other items that don’t need protection from the elements.
Nick Legan is the Technical Editor of Adventure Cyclist and completed the Tour Divide in 2018 on his third attempt.