Regular travellers say that packing the right things is easy, and others think that packing is an art form. I have never gone down the path of debating whether to roll or fold my clothes, or to pack only clothes in complementary shades, or to only take linen shirts – but I have put some consideration on what you do need and don’t need in a marathon stage race like The Pioneer.
While your gear bag is voluminous, it has to take a lot of essential equipment, and you need to be able to find what you need each morning and afternoon. It pays to take the right things, and leave the rest behind. First up, let’s look at the mandatory gear you’ll carry each day on the bike.
Due to the nature of the Southern Alps in New Zealand, The Pioneer have a pretty intense mandatory gear list. It is probably on par with the Mongolia Bike Challenge – except you don’t need a signalling mirror at The Pioneer – you have a spot tracker instead.
Mandatory Gear at The Pioneer
- A helmet – this should be obvious.
- A warm hat
- Windproof jacket
- A tool kit (per team), containing two spare tubes, pump, multitool, tyre levers, patch kit, chain breaker.
- A first aid kit (per team), containing bandages, plasters, tape, gauze, whistle and two emergency blankets. Something for pain relief, and sunscreen and electrolyte powder is recommended.
And for the bad weather days, there’s more:
- Spare base layer for your torso
- Thermal tights
- Full-fingered gloves
- Waterproof jacket (seam sealed) ideally with hood and sleeves
It seems like a lot, and it is. But rules are rules. Here’s my take on it.
Your tool kit
A key note on your tool kit – look over your multitool. Some are close to 100g, others close to 200g. Some miss allen key or Torx key sizes that are essential to your bike. Sometimes a 2.5mm allen key is missed, or a T30. The 2.5mm might be what you need to replace a broken derailleur hanger (which you should also be carrying) and many chain ring bolts are now a T30. It’s also worth checking that you can use the chain tool, which I made a daggy video about a few years ago. The Lezyne tool I’m using in that video is great, but it is very hard to get enough leverage to push a pin out of a broken chain. You might need to use a tyre lever to brace it. You might as well practice.
Another worthwhile step is making sure your inner tubes are in good condition, and work with your wheels. Ideally, you will be running new tyres with strong sidewalls, and more than the minimum amount of sealant. Your valves should also be close to new, or recently cleaned out of dried latex. Make sure the valve is easily removed from the rim – do all this at home. Not in your hotel room in Christchurch. Don’t neglect to check the length of your valves on your tubes matches with your rim. That is, they are long enough to get your pump or C02 onto once through the rim. A top team threw their race away last year with such a problem on stage 2. I tend to take a pump and C02. Flats are rare with a good tubeless setup, so if you do flat, there’s usually a problem with the tyre – and with a tube in, chances are you will flat again. A pump, and patch kit, will help get you home.
A quick link makes a lot of sense, as does a tyre boot. I wrap my tube in plastic to keep debris out, and it means it works as a good boot with a gel wrapper. A small tool like a Leatherman Squirt or similar can also be useful. Stage races are about finishing every day – you need to be able to make a lot of repairs, and hope you never have to.
I also tend to carry a small chain lube container on some long days, although the sample one-use packs are the best. Don’t forget a spare derailleur hanger, and there are all sorts of other spares you could take, depending how paranoid you are, including but not limited to:
- spare cleat bolts
- zip ties
- brake pads
- more tubes
- spare tyre
- electrical tape
- spare tubeless valve
- spare jockey wheel (actually I’ve a team mate’s collapsed once in a stage race!)
The best thing to take is experience. Understand your bike, the parts on it, and what you can make work in a bad situation. Remember you can split this with your team mate – work it out, it won’t be that bad. It’s just mountain biking!
Your mandatory clothing and first aid
This part will have most Australians scratching their heads. But again, it’s the Southern Alps. There aren’t many people in New Zealand, less in the South Island, and less again in the mountains. Help might take some time when the shit hits the fan.
Don’t skimp on the first aid kit – all that stuff is light. A sachet of Hydrolyte is only a few grams, panadol don’t weight much, and neither do the bandages. Done well, you should be able to fit it all into a saddle bag, without looking like you’re about to go and Instagram a bikepacking adventure.
The safety blankets take up almost zero space – just don’t open it to check it out then try to pack it again.
The windproof jacket should be small enough to fit in your back pocket, or strap beneath your stem. There are plenty of super light options out there. I used my 2013 era Netti waterproof jacket. Netti did our team clothing for a few years and hands down this thing was the best piece of kit they ever made, for fit, pack size and effectiveness. I’m likely to use it as my windproof again this year, as I did pull it on for the final descent of the queen stage.
Your warm hat can be a Buff. For a while there just about every major stage race or marathon race gave you a Buff, so you probably have one. I’ve equipped quite a few people with Buffs, and still have a few around. They do work well as a warm hat, or a neck warmer, or even for some sun protection.
Emergency gear and carrying it all
By now, you’re starting to have full pockets and a lot of kit attached to your bike. And that’s without food and water. In 2016 the conditions were optimal, and we never had to carry our emergency gear. But save for the last couple of days, I chose to use a backpack, to make carrying it all that much easier. There aren’t many trees in the Southern Alps, so once the sun is up you’re pretty much in it. You will go through a lot of fluid. You might be best to incorporate a hydration pack into your kit list – and go training in it NOW.
For 2017 The Pioneer have suggested adding sleeves and a hood to your waterproof, seam sealed jacket. I would have thought sleeves were a given, but I had a proper lightweight alpine waterproof in my kit bacg ‘just in case’. If you’ve ever had hypothermia in the mountains, you would pack to avoid it too.
The base layer can be one you wear at the start (emergency gear will only be needed on days with a foul forecast), but the reality is you might want another too. I have been caught out in rubbish conditions in races and training rides, and when the weather is truly foul, you don’t tend to maintain a fast tempo to keep warm. You get slow, you get cold, and things get bad really quickly. Putting a jacket on is pretty hard when you can’t use your arms beyond your elbows.
For that reason, the warm gloves make sense, and I’d pack some latex gloves too. It seems silly, but it is a thin and light waterproof layer. You might even have them in your first aid kit.
The thermal tights may as well be some polypro thermal underwear, but if you have cycling overtights, the tight knit of those would be perfect for bad conditions – and riding in it.
Kit to keep you going
The above is mostly the mandatory bits and pieces. But there is obviously a few other things that can help the cause. The cause being finishing the race as best as you can, with some comfort.
I would suggest using a GPS device, and also having a daily course profile with you. The profile is great for seeing where you’re up to. If your team mate is appropriately savvy, have them print and laminate some in the perfect size. The best choice is next to your stem, behind your number plate. Mark on the feed zones, and if you’re #fullpro, mark where you want to attack!
Being New Zealand, and being the South Island, there’s a fair old chance there will be a wet day. I’ve never truly found the pair of wet weather overshorts I want. Euros bust them out all the time. If I manage to find the perfect set between now and February, I will take them. A dry chamois is a good thing.
Nutrition is up to you, but pack something for each day that will make you happy. Something that might buck conventional thinking of sports nutrition, but will put a smile on your face. Stopping for strudel or nüss torte isn’t possible. But maybe some Haribo will lift your spirits? Or salami?
Anything else you take will be up to you, and based on experience. Next week we’ll have a piece about the gear to take for the week of racing. What you will use through the week, what you want, and maybe what you haven’t thought about.