All posts in Gear/ Reviews

The Art of Building a Wheelset – 27.5 WTB KOM Tough

There’s something to be said about building your own wheelset. Accomplishment, truth in knowing exactly what you’re going to get by design, craft, and a perspective of learning a new skillset. It gives you the opportunity to appreciate biking at a different angle. However, It’s an arduous process and takes patience and not so sweaty hands.

I remember my first attempt at building a wheelset. It was in my earlier years when I rode BMX. It turned out to be a disaster. My second wheelset was when I decided to bikepack in Colombia. I bought the hubs, spokes, and rims that I wanted to build a bombproof bike touring wheelset. It was a Mavic A719 laced to Shimano M8000XT hubs wrapped with DT Swiss champion spokes that stays true to this very day.

My new wheelset is a bit different from anything I’ve built before. It’s a special wheelset and bikepacking specific. After contemplating on what rims and hubs I’d use for this new build, I was set on a 29er setup but then completely flipped the switch and decided to build a 27.5 Plus wheelset. Why? After testing out the 27.5-wheel format on a bike with 3inch tires I became hooked. The wheels shredded easily and stuck to the trail the way I wanted it to. Sure the tires play a major roll in this, but I’ve already decided after that ride that I was going 27.5 plus.

With my 2017 Surly Ogre, I have the option of running both 29er and 27.5 wheels with an array of tire size selections. The build I decided to go with is the WTB KOM Tough i45 rim, XT M8010 Boost 12×148 rear/ XT M8000 front hub laced with Wheelsmith spokes. I went with the i45 rim width because I wanted wide coverage for my tires. After riding Mavics and other wheels on trips in the past this size works well for my style of riding along with comfort on the bike and protection and traction for the tires. It’s a style that became highly popular in bikepacking. It forces you to take on challenging terrain, making you unstoppable against anything thrown at you.

I’ll be wrapping these wheels with WTB Ranger 3.0 tires for an upcoming trip and will give a full breakdown of the ride and set up post trip

Colombia Bike Rig

The Colombia bike rig. This was a serious setup. And one of my more important rigs to focus on as this was an international bikepacking trip and resources may be slim. For this one in particular, we’ll be riding for 17 days so I needed to make sure everything was tight. I custom build a set of wheels specifically for this trip and others to follow. It was my first set of MTB wheels built by hand and I was excited to put them to the test. The gear for extended trips is also extremely important. I took time rounding this up and usually start a couple weeks before departure. This setup for my bike derived from past trip experienced knowing what works and what doesn’t. One of the things I would have changed for this trip would be riding disc brakes instead of rim. I learned the hard way. If you haven’t seen the film for the trip I will leave a link to it at the end for you to watch. You will see what happens.

Chime in with a comment below if you have questions about this setup. Would love to know what some of you pack for extended international trips.

Surly Long Haul Trucker
Surly Long Haul Trucker, 4130 CroMo
Crankset/Bottom Bracket:
Shimano Deore
Shimano XT M8000
Shimano Deore, Shimano 32/11-42 Cassette 11spd
Shimano XT (front) Shimano XT Long Cage (rear) 11spd
Shimano Koyak MTV Crossbar
Thomson Masterpiece, Specialized Toupe
Front Wheel/Hub/Tire:
(Custom) Mavic A719, 32h rims, Shimano XT M8000 32h hubs, Sapim spokes, WTB Riddler 700c/40 front/rear tire
Rear Wheel/Hub/Tire:
(Custom) Mavic A719, 32h rims, Shimano XT M8000 32h hubs, Sapim spokes, WTB Riddler 700c/40 front/rear tire
Outfitted with Revelate Designs bags to hold gear for 17 days.

Watch The Film – End Route: Colombia Bikepacking Adventure

George’s 2017 Soma Juice 29er

Bikepacking is such a fun, but extreme and mellow sport. Route planning, gear checking and the proper bike to use are some of the things we bikepacker’s face whether it be for short 2-3 day trips or month long extended expeditions. It’s always great to see what other riders use to carry their gear. We got George to share his rig and gear breakdown from his most recent trip to Colombia, where he rode for a 5 days bikepacking from Armenia to Bogota Colombia. George built this bke from the ground up and chose every part for a specific reason. This is what bikepacking is all about. You choose your gear based off of your specific needs, and then you forget about it. You rely on it to do the job and work for you.

2017 Soma Juice 29er
Fork: Rockshox Yari 120mm travel fork
Wheels: Spank Oozy 395 wheelset
Drivetrain: Shimano XT 1×11 11-42 with Wolftooth Components oval 32t chainring, XT cranks, Crank Bros 5050 pedals
Brakes: XT brakes
Stem: Diety stem
Handlebars: Specialized bars/ Ergon GS2 grips
Tires: Maxxis Icon 2.3 tires Tubeless
Seat/ Seatpost: Thompson elite post and Ergon saddle

The bags I used to outfit the bike with are by different bag manufactures. I have my seat bag by Revelate design. Specialized Handlebar and Stabilizer Harness, Specialized Burra and Burra handlebar dry bag, 2 Anything cages mounted to the fork with hose clamps. Rogue Panda Coin purse bag, Revelate gas tank and 2 Revelate cup holder things.


Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Review

If your one who can appreciate the full worth of a cozy nights sleep after a long day of hiking or bicycle touring then you wouldn’t have much of a problem blowing air into this sleeping pad. The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite is one of the most comfortable sleeping pads I slept on. We spend a 3rd of our lives sleeping so why not do it comfortably while out camping. I know some of my best periods of sleep were spent in my tent in the outdoors after a long day of hiking or biking.

Before I started using the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite sleeping pad my nights were spent sleeping on the Ridge Rest SoLite closed cell foam pad. While that is a great pad with an effortless setup, I wanted something more compact and lightweight to accompany with me during bicycle touring trips. When you’re out on a bicycle touring trip or hiking you want to go light. The idea is to leave the kitchen sink at home and cut your gear in half. While many variables exist here in terms of your gear setup. Cutting down weight on certain items can change your entire experience.

Space was a concern for me with my Ridge Rest SoLite as it’s not very compact at all. The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite was the answer. Weighing at only 12oz for the regular size pad and about the size of my Camelbak water bottle, I was able to pair this pad with my tent inside of my dry bag and mount it to my handlebar system during tours.

Recently I went on a bicycle touring trip to the Catskill Mountains. At night temps were in the mid 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit. With the 3.2R value and ThermaCapture technology that the NeoAir XLite boast I had no problems with keeping warm and cozy in my tent.

Now if you’re a side sleeper like myself then this is, without doubt, one of the best pad’s out there. I sometimes toss and turn around at night to find the coziest spot in my tent. I had no problems redefining comfort, which means more time is spent sleeping under the stars.
If you’re looking for an ultralight setup for camp, bike, and hiking trips, look no further.

To purchase the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite follow this link.

Surly Long Haul Trucker: Custom Disc Brake Bikepacking Setup – Manual Pedal

Latest image taken – 11/7/2017

After booking Colombia, it didn’t take much thought to decide whether or not I was going to build a new rig for this trip or bring my trucker. After shortly deciding on the trucker being the bike I’d be taking. I had to take a look to see what needed to be changed and swapped with updated parts. My Kokopelli rig was a 10spd drivetrain 32/24, with a 10/36 in the rear that sat on 2.1 tires. It was a solid rig that was capable of handling Kokopelli’s rocks, dirt and sand with no problem. I expected this bike to perform the same in Colombia. You can read more about Kokopelli’s Rig on this link. This bike was fully modified for that trip and retains most of the modifications today.

With my latest concoction, I changed a few things around. I adapted a front disc brake setup. This happened after my original forks brake mount snapped off during a crash in Colombia, that left me with no front brake on descents. Shortly after returning home here in the states, I bought and mounted a disc trucker fork to the long haul trucker frame. After my front brake failed after that crash, I knew instantly disc brakes would have been a far better choice due to the terrain and the load being carried.


I went with the TRP Spyre SLC road disc brake for my bike. TRP crafted a fine piece of aluminum and carbon for this brake. It’s light weight, designed for road and cx but can take on mud and mixed conditions. I think this is a great match for the rider looking for a bit more quality, functionality, ease of use and longevity. I see no issues with this brake on the long haul trucker going forward.

What I like most about it is that it actuates both pads simultaneously. This is different than other systems I’ve seen for mechanical systems. What I mean is, when touring you want your bike to have a solid setup this way you can focus on the riding and being there. Also you want to be able to fix your bike in a barn in any event you have a brake down. A straight cable to the the disc brake and a few turns to mount and adjust the disc brake and set.

Adjustment is a fly with this brake. It will require a hex tool and allen wrench to mount. I have mine mounted up easily to my existing Avid brake lever. The pull is very nice on this brake. I have a Shimano 180mm disc center lock rotor which will provide better stopping power and extended pad life. The Spyre SLC disc brake makes for a nice addition to my setup. It should suit most disc touring frames and comes with additional mounting hardware.


I’ve been wanting to get new wheels built for a while. I had my eyes set on the Mavic A719 rims laced to Shimano XT Disc Hubs with DT spokes. I was also stoked that this was my first official set of wheels I built myself.


For me drivetrain was a battle of trail and error. From the stock triple, to a double to now a 1×11 setup. I think after riding in different locations and getting a feel for the terrain you can get a better feel for a setup that works best for me. I now run a 1×11/42. This new setup is a keeper. It’s clean, light, shifts smooth and low maintenance will be required.


Surly Long Haul Trucker
Surly Long Haul Trucker, 4130 CroMo
Crankset/Bottom Bracket:
Shimano Deore
Shimano XTR M-980 Pedals/ MTB Bear Trap Platform
Shimano XT, Shimano 32t 1x 11/42 Cassette 11spd
Shimano XT SGS (Long Cage) 11spd
Shimano Koyak MTB Crossbar
Thomson Masterpiece, Specialized Toupe
Front – TRP Spyre SLC Disc
Rear – Shimano V-Brake/
Leavers – Avid
Wheels /Hub/Tire:
Mavic A719 32h, Shimano XT Disc Hubs, DT Champion Spokes, WTB Riddler Tire 700×45 front/rear
Ergon GP2 Bar end grips, Outfitted with Revelate Designs bags

Colombia Gear Packing List

The best part of bike touring and bikepacking trips is rounding up gear. For me, I take time doing this and usually start a couple weeks before departure. This setup derived from past experience with gear used, over and under packing. For my first international bikepacking trip I packed half the kitchen sink. If you look at my earlier setups dating back to my 2014 first tour, you would know what I’m talking about. We project rainy days riding in the Colombian mountains so rain gear is a must. Mixed with smart wool tech shirts for hot days and my trusted 4 season Akto. I’m happy to say I have everything I need.

All items will be compartmentalized and packed in my Revelate Designs framebag, handlebar bag, saddle bag & Osprey 18L backpack. Smaller items like food and electronics will be stored in waterproof bags and inside another bag which will be mounted to my handlebar system. I’ll do a follow up after our trip on how it performs. Chime in with a comment below if you have questions about this setup. Would love to know what some of you pack for extended international trips.

Riding Gear:
Endura bike shorts
1 smart wool short sleeve
1 smart wool long sleeve
2 smart wool socks
2 underwear
MTB shoes
Rain gear
Helmet/ Cycling cap

Off Bike/ Casual Gear:
Pants x5
Shorts x4
Socks x6
Under x a lot
Sneakers & Shoes

Tent/ Sleeping Bag/ Air Mattress/ Camp Pillow
Water Bottles/ 3L Reservoir
Tools/ 3x Tubes/ Tire/ Lock
Pump/ Patch Kit/ Chain Links & Master Link
Portable Battery Pack x2/ Lithium Batteries
Headlamp/ Bike Lights
Bike Lock (Not Pictured)

Passport/ Driver License/ Travel Insurance
iPhone & Charger/ Headphones (Not Pictured)
Cash/ Credit Card
Travel Docs & Other Paperwork
Camera Gear/ Storage Cards & Extra batteries (Not Pictured)
First Aid

New England Weekender: Gear List

Planning for bikepacking trips are the best. It can be very strategic or effortless. Over the years I’ve developed a someone what decent, and streamline way to my packing list. Some things to consider are duration, location/ terrain and weather. By designing your packing list around these four essential variables you will begin to see things fall into place. I tend to layout all my gear on my floor a day or two before departure. This can change based on the length of the trip. For extended touring/ bikepacking more than two weeks, always plan ahead.

A little about the trip. This is a New England weekender. A short Vermont brewery bike tour Beginning in Londondale, VT, looping through country roads for on & off road dirt touring. The route passes through Hawks Mountain, and up to Bridgewater for Brewery stops before making it to camp at Coolidge State Forest. The total loop is a short 81miles and can be done in a day or two.

The Hilleberg Akto tent I’ve used for 3 years now, and it’s held up excellent through multiple conditions. I’ve used it in the winter, spring and summer. It’s a bit on the warmer side in summer so I usually pack less clothing to compensate for the warmth. Often times I find myself sleeping on top of my sleeping bag.

My sleeping bag I picked up last minute before I rode the Kokopelli Trail. I needed something lightweight and packable that would fit inside my saddle bag. The EcoPro 50 fit the bill. It’s a great little bag that can be opened up all the way and used as a blanket. I like to do this on hotter days.

I used to ride with my Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest sleeping pad for years. However, I’ve since retired the RidgeRest and included the NeoAir XLite to my arsenal. It’s a game changer. Not only is It lightweight, but it’s extremely comfortable. After long hours on the saddle, you’ll thank yourself for the investment as you gaze at the stars in awe that you switched.

These bags will all be packed in my Revelate Designs Viscacha seat bag, Sweetroll handle bar bag, Tangle frame bag, and Gas Tank. In terms of distribution of items, I put my sleeping system in the handlebar bag, clothing food and sleeping bag in saddle bag, bladder in frame bag, and camera and snacks in the gas tank. With this setup I have plenty of more room for food, clothing and other paraphernalia if needed.

Pack List:

Sleeping System
Hilleberg Akto
EcoPro 50 Degree Synthetic Sleeping Bag
Thermarest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad

Clothing on bike
Endura MTB Shorts
Merrell Wicking Tech Shirt

Clothing in tent/ sleeping
Thermal bottom
Thermal Top
Patagonia Nano Puff
1 Pair Merino Wool Socks
1 Pair Tech Boxer Short

Snowpeak 3-piece Titanium Cookset
Titanium Spork
Camp Stove

Spare Tube
Patch kit
CO2 Cartridge

Point & Shoot
Mobile Phone (Maps)

First Aid

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Altra Lone Peak 3.0 & Kokopelli Trail

The Altra Lone Peak 3.0 is a trail specific shoe that boast many attributes as a light hiking shoe. When I decided to go for comfort on my trail hikes I was in the market for something with a nice wide toe box and comfort that can sustain itself for hours on end. I was already running and walking in the Altra Instinct 3.5 which is a very light weight shoe with a wide toe box. If you know Altra, you know that they produce a natural foot designed shoe that gives your feet a good splay in the toe box. This is pretty much how I discovered Altra. I needed a shoe that would aid my toes to splay better over time in the shoe. This will eventually help with posture, your stride when walking, and over all comfort and healthy feet. Talk about embrace the space, they provide comfort, zero drop which in respect is a barefoot styled shoe with cushioning.

My first Altra shoe was the Instinct 3.5. I used this shoe for everything from runs to bike rides along with long day hikes. I wanted something for mountain bike trail rides, bicycle touring and hikes. It had to be something that can meld to me feet and active lifestyle, rather then having melding to it. The Altra Lone Peak 3.0 was the answer. When I first got these shoes I put them on a trail run. Now I’m not a trail runner at heart, but I was stunned at how comfortable they were. Over roots and rocks they over delivered. My next test was to take them on an upcoming trip on the Kokopelli Trail for a 5 day bikepacking trip. They did everything they needed to.

I used platform pedals for the ride which makes it easier to get on and off the bike. The ridged sole gripped the pedals effortlessly. I was surprised to see how well they gripped when we had to cross over wet rocks and other rough terrain. With 6 to 9 hour days of riding, these shoes were so comfortable that I would forget they were even on.

To Sum It Up:

If you’re looking for a shoe that’s extremely versatile, light weight, stylish and sporty, and easy to get on and off. Go for the Altra Lone Peak 3.0. They’re a many color options available for men and women to meld to your lifestyle. Check out the link below to view the shoes we have in stock.

Surly Orge Bike Check with Mickey Cheng

If there’s anyone who is down to take off for an adventure it’s this guy right here Mickey Cheng. Mickey’s one of the most versatile riders I know. He has a big background in MTB racing and can crush it on a road bike as well. Last summer we went on a 5-day bikepacking trip together in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains where he rode the Surly Pacer camping, climbing and catching picturesque views. You can read more on that story following this link here.

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Mickey recently built up a Surly Orge and swapped some of the stock parts with his preferred custom components. The Surly Orge is one of those 29er’s that will do it all from commuting, bikepacking, expedition touring, and singletrack. When I took it for a ride I couldn’t help but notice how comfortable and well it handled. It’s siting on 2.1” tires, which in turn make up for it not having suspension. The fork has a very wide clearance and fitting up to a 2.5” tire shouldn’t be a problem. The bike is well made for adventure.

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I’ve learned a thing or two from Mickey on choosing bike components. So I trust his recommendations for parts I use for my rigs. One of the parts he recommends is Paul levers, and when you first ride them you will understand why. They’re lightweight and can be adjusted easily for a 3-2-1-finger pull deal. They also spring back very nicely compared to my avid levers on my Surly Long Haul Trucker. He also talked about the Spyke Mechanical Disc Brake which have dual pistons and stop on the dime. They have a really clean design with a very easy setup compared to single sided mechanical discs.

Enough with the chatter, now, Let’s get to the bike!

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Surly Long Haul Trucker

Transformed from last years setup, the Surly Long Haul Trucker is the “Ultimate Machine.” The bike was recently out on a 5 day bikepacking trip in Virginia and over delivered as expected. Check out this video with the new components that were added to the bike.