Packing your bike and worldly (mountain bike related) belongings up and heading off to a mountain bike race that is not so close to home is quite the adventure. Whether you are going interstate of overseas, you want to make sure you have the right spares and tools – but probably nothing you don’t require either.
At the end of this week, Imogen Smith and I will be travelling to France from our home in Brisbane, racing in three locations and with 12 days of racing between us over the three weeks. I’ll be racing the Roc des Alpes, Roc Laissagais and Engadin Bike Giro. Imogen will be racing the Roc des Alpes marathon, Marathon World Championships and the Engadin Bike Giro.
Flying internationally brings some constraints on luggage. While you can book extra, we have 30kg each which should suffice. Given we will stay in three different places, and have a hire car – we want to strike a balance between taking the right items, and not having so much to pack up and haul between France and Switzerland.
Keeping our bikes running in Europe
So let’s take a look at what spares and tools we are taking for our bikes. Above, you can see a general snap shot of what’s being crammed in our bike boxes. This doesn’t include our kit, nutrition requirements, media equipment or general personal items. It’s just most of the tools and spares I’ve rounded up in the service course to make sure we stay on track.
A question of traction
Both our bikes will have new tyres on before our own Grand Départ this Sunday. Imogen will have Maxxis Ikon 2.2″ TR EXO 3C tyres front and rear, and I’ll have the same on the back, but with an Ardent Race 2.2″ TR EXO 3C on the front. As such, we will also take a spare Ikon, and an Ardent Race in the non-EXO version. If Imogen needs a fresh rear tyre for World Champs, she has one. If she needs extra bight on the front, there’s that option too. If we need more, we’ll buy some. Lots of tyres chew through your baggage allowance pretty quickly.
We don’t often flat with NoTubes sealant in the Maxxis tyres, but we’ll take 4 Maxxis Welter Weight tubes. They’re about 190g so not the lightest but not the heaviest. I tend to wrap them in plastic taped up so they stay grit free on the bike, and you have a handy tyre boot when needed.
I’ve got 2 spare Mt Zoom alloy tubeless valves, plus a brass valve converter for service station tyre fitting. That sealant is about half full, enough for a top up and two tyre changes. Again, if we have real problems we’ll buy some more.
Our NoTubes ZTR Valor wheels are ultra reliable – but it would be silly to not take spare spokes, considering the wheels come with them after all.
There is also an Airborne glueless patch kit. I mostly use this on my road bike but they’re the best glueless patches I’ve found. This is more for a long training ride than race day.
History has shown I am hard on my brakes when in Europe. From boiling XTR M975 brakes, to realising M985 race brakes aren’t ideal in alpine conditions – Imogen and I both run the XTR M9020 brakes. The Trail version just has more power and deal with long descents better. We run Miles sintered brake pads at home.
That said, at the Swiss Epic we both had real problems with stock XT 160mm rotors and normal sintered brake pads. Our brakes were cooked on a daily basis from the long and steep descents. So we have a few options here. Imogen will have some super light 67g rotors for World Champs, as the descents just aren’t the same as alpine ones. She will also run some Shimano resin pads on aluminium backing – although Miles sponsor the team with some excellent sintered and semi-metallic pads, this is a case of #marginalgains. The Miles sintered will stay on if it is damp.
We also have Shimano XT IceTech rotors and the stock IceTech pads from our brakes – I’ll run these rotors and I expect I will put the pads on in La Clusaz for Rod des Alpes, and certainly for the Engadin Bike Giro. This pad and rotor combination do deal with heat better.
I’ve got some Ride Mechanic brake fluid, a baby syringe and I’ll get the bleed bucket too for some basic brake maintenance if required. Or, I’ll take it to a shop to have it done properly. While I don’t know of a shop in La Clusaz or near Laissac, I know of a couple of good ones in the Upper Engadin valley who have helped me out in the past.
Well we had a big bag of little ziplock bags… but seriously it helps keep it all in place. I’m running very lean on drivetrain spares. Why? We run Shimano, and we’re in Europe, it isn’t hard to find spares and if it’s something major you’re unlikely to be travelling with it anyway. I will throw in a spare rear derailleur for Imogen – but I run Di2 and don’t have any specific spares. So – don’t break anything.
We have two sets of jockey wheels, some Mt Zoom ultralight ceramic bearing ones and their Bullet Proof model, which is just that. There are 5 quick links, most of them KMC. There are 8 steel T25 rotor bolts. We run Ti on our race wheels, 4 per wheel. I also have some cable end caps and outer endcaps. I might throw a mnew cable and outer in for Imogen, but I’ve found the SP41 outer and XTR cable tend to run really well for 6 months. I just replaced the one on Imogen’s Norco after 4.5 months because I thought I should… but it was still perfect.
We have one XTR chain, I didn’t both cutting it to length (which isn’t a terrible idea) because as it is it’s nice and neatly packed. If we need another? Well a 105 11sp chain works and even a big sports store will have them.
No cassettes, no chainrings, no freehub bodies, no cranks, no shifter. The majority of these parts are new, or only a few months old in the case of the cranks and shifter. Problems with them come under ‘cross that bridge if we come to it.”
This is a bit more varied. I have a spare set of Mt Zoom Ultralight carbon bars, just in case. We both run custom tuned Fox Factory rear shocks, but this spare RockShox one that was stock on our bikes will serve well as a spare. Seems overboard? Well maybe – but for 260g it could save quite a few hundred euro or specialist labour. It’s lighter than taking a spare cassette, or even a chain. But it could save a whole chunk of cash if needed.
I have two lots of bearings here. Some for the main Norco pivots (although new ones went in on the weekend, and a lower headset bearing, top cap and a spare spacer. I’ll put some bearings for the ZTR hubs in here too.
That little bag to the right of the shock has a cleat plate, 4 cleat bolts, two brake caliper bolts, two alloy bottle cage bolts, 2 11sp chain pins, and a blank Norco Gizmo plug if we whip Imogen’s KS Lev Ci dropper out. There are two spare hangers next to that bag, plus we have a spare each for on the bike spares.
One spare cage will work ether on a seatpost clamp or under the downtube if hydration needs demand it for Imogen. Our Birzman Zacoo shock pump is there too – they do an awesome Micro one too, but this gauge is clearer for getting the correct pressure.
Tools of the trade
This is a bigger shot. It all makes sense though. The Bontrager Travel Charger is really good for use on the road, and it’s nice and compact. It would be easy to cut if we were over weight though as I’ve never had problems inflating tyres in Europe – and it certainly doesn’t set a tyre up tubeless. But it works very well and the gauge is good.
We have some small zip ties, my Di2 charger, some small snips/pliers, two Maxxis tyre levers, a Park allen key set that runs 1.5mm – 6mm, plus a 6 -8mm converter from an old Topeak multitool. There’s a Shimano crank extractor cap, a sharpened spoke (aka Shiv), electrical tape, and a tape measure for checking seat height and other inane tasks.
There’s a Birzman multitool (and another out of shot for Imogen) whose spoke key and chain tool work excellently, the KCNC seatpost bidon cage mount, a tiny carbon paste that comes with Mt Zoom bars, the excellent Ride Mechanic Bike Butter (grease by another name – just really good), some Fox Float Fluid because I always take it. There’s a small container of Ride Mechanic Bike Mix there, but we’ll take a bigger one of Bike Milk as well. It doesn’t last as long but we won’t be doing epic days save for race days. So we can train on Milk to keep things clean, and run Mix for greater durability come race day.
There is also a quick link remover. Yes, that seems at odds, but taking your chain off and cleaning it properly is typically something you have time for when you’re racing on the weekend and doing SFA in the week.
We have 6 Birzman Co2 25g cartridges (2 out of shot) but might put two more in as we can have 2 per item of luggage. Heads are the superlight Mt Zoom ones, taped on so they don’t rattle off in a race. There’s a Birzman pump and of course a sharpie – ideal for writing stage stats on tape, on your frame, labling bottles, kit, leaving memos, or putting moustaches on people at after parties.
If XCM racers ever had a big after party.
And the rest?
Well yes, more is required. While Ride Mechanic have excellent bike cleaners, I’ll buy a cheap bucket and car cleaner, dish washing brush and sponges from Intermarche or similar. I’ve got an old t-shirt that has served me well and will morph into a rag.
A few other extras might pop in, mostly a standard post for Imogen’s bike, possibly another cage – and if I find a spare set of cleats I’ll pack it, otherwise I’ll pick some up over there. I did have some new Ritchey WCS foam grips spare – until I fitted them to my bike. Again, an easy spare to source at Decathlon or similar.
Is this perfect? Certainly not. Is it taking some risks with spares? Probably. In Europe in 2014, we travelled for 6 weeks and took spare chain rings, cassettes, chains, bottom brackets, hub bearings, a saddle, cables, outer… and used them all. But we’re not starting with a 6 day stage race in Polish mud this time, which should help.
This collection has been honed from experience, but no doubt it will see some revisions again. It’s been put together understanding the equipment we run, what wears fast, what wears well, and what can be hard to get on the road.
Getting your kit together
Start by looking over your bike and making sure you have the tool for any maintenance you’re happy to do. A tricky one is making sure you’re multi tool has the right allen key for your derailleur hanger. Many don’t.
Don’t travel with worn out parts, and if you have something a bit boutique – is it a good idea to travel away from home to a big race with it? If you have specific spares, take them. Spokes, pressfit bottom brackets, hub and frame bearings, and even pivot bolts.
Be methodical, but also analytical. It can always be easier to buy it over there, if that’s possible at your destination. Do your research and you’ll save your luggage limit, and your stress levels.