2021 AR500


The winter of 2020/21, I finally decided to commit myself to the Alberta Rockies bikepacking race, scheduled for August 2021. The race has grown in popularity over recent years, with 2021 being the largest event to date. As with most things, there are ample resources and blogs across the web summarizing the event, the route, and the experience of participating riders. I don't plan to go into too many details about my actual experience riding, but more want to highlight some of the key considerations I made when preparing for my first event. Plus, I don't have much interest in writing "trip reports", so I wont be doing that. 

This will be a deep dive into the nitty-gritty details, so if that interests you, feel free to read on. 

Bike Check

The real reason for drafting this post. So let's get right into it. 

For the event, and all of my bikepacking/adventure riding pursuits, I opted to ride my trusty 2011 Surly Karate Monkey. This bike has been my daily driver for many years, and has lived many different lives. From a rigid, single-speed winter commuter to a local xc shredder, I have loved this steel framed 29er. 


  • Frame: Size Large, Karate Monkey
  • Fork: Fox Float 32, 100mm travel
  • Headset: Cane Creek 40
  • Brakes: Sram Guide R (Rear, 160mm rotor), Shimano SLX (Front, 180mm rotor)
  • Wheels: Mavic Crossmax
  • Tires: Maxxis Ikon (2.2 Rear, 2.35 Front)
  • Rear Derailleur: Sram Eagle NX
  • Cassette: Sram Eagle NX (11-50T)
  • Chainring: Wolftooth Oval (34T)
  • Chain: 12 spd Sram GX
  • Shifter: Sram Eagle NX
  • Grips: Ergon GP3
  • Aerobars: Prime S-bend Clip-ons
  • Bars: Bontrager Carbon
  • Seatpost: Raceface Ride XC (0 setback)
  • Seatpost clamp: Wolftooth
  • Saddle: Fabric Scoop
In my opinion, the gearing, 100mm of font suspension, and 2" tire width were perfect for the AR500 route. 

Bags

After scouring the internet for years looking at bike bags, different setups and weighing the pros and cons, I finally opted with a fairly versatile setup that lends itself well for both touring and "racing". 

I started my kit with a Oveja Negra saddle bag, handlebar harness and "lunchbox". I opted for the handlebar harness as this would allow me to recycle the plethora of drybags I already have on hand. It would also allow me to pick and choose the size based on the weather/trip. I am able to fit anywhere from a 5L drybag, up to 20L, while still affording enough clearance with the front wheel. 

Oveja Negra "wack pack" designs are fun and unique

I later paired this setup with two Revelate Designs Feedbags and a RD Magtank. For me, the Magtank seemed to be the largest top-tube bag white providing the easiest access (via magnets!). Going into the AR500, I wanted to be able to fuel easily on the bike. Being able to access snacks and goodies on the go was essential, and the magnets on the Magtank have been great!


I completed my kit with DIY framebag. It is nothing special, nor does it have any crafstmanship to write home about. But it has worked, and likely has a few more trips in it before I'll need to consider replacing. 

DIY Stuff

A few little added things rounded out my build for the event. I made use of the Topeak Versa Mounts to allow two bottle cages on my fork lowers. I ran 3 mounts on each fork lower.

These have worked great, and are essentially plastic/rubberized hose clamps. My only grief would the use of plastic bolts to ratchet the system. These are easy to strip and overtighten, so be careful! No torque rating is provided either, so its bit of guess work to get them snugged up. 

I created a bridge for my aero bars to mount my gps and light. This was done using a 3/4" PVC pipe. I then used a 1" "hole saw" bit to cut down the pipe and create a rounded edge that would nest in between my aero bars. Super tidy and clean! I secured using electrical tape and lashed with a strip of old inner tube. 


The bridge was essential when using the Oveja Negra harness, lunchbox, and RD feedbags. There just wasn't much real estate left over for auxiliary mounts.

Lastly, my more-or less vintage Karate Monkey didn't have any downtube mounts, so I used hoseclamps to secure a bottle cage for my bear spray. For daytrips I would typically just toss into my feedbag, but I wanted to reserve this space for an extra water bottle during the AR500.


Repair Kit

Given the length and duration of the ride, my repair kit was mostly focused on tires. I ended up slashing a rear sidewall about 30k into the race, so was glad I brought some extra kit along! It was a fairly stressful 450km following. 


Leatherman Skeletool, Filzer multi-tool with chain break, Lezyne pump, handful of zip ties, 2x inner tubes, Genuine Innovations tubeless tire repair kit, 2x Pedros tire levers, electrical tape, spare cleats and bolts, WolfTooth pack pliers with spare master link, Park Tool VP-1 patch kit and 2x Park Tool tire boots


Nutrition

I spent a lot of time thinking about nutrition for the race. I'm prone to bonking on longer rides, as I either forget to fuel, or fuel poorly. I knew that in order to finish in my preferred time, I would have to take hydration and nutrition seriously. 

About a week before the race, a friend had told me about "Tailwind" - an endurance drink mix. This later proved to be somewhat a miracle compound, and I feel was the secret to my success en route. I would use about 4-5 double-servings throughout the day, using 1 per bottle. This worked out to be about 800-1000 calories, just from hydrating! Game-changer for sure. 


I packed a few bars for the first day, about a dozen gels (approx 4/day) and a 3 trail butter packets (1/day). I would rely on gas station restocks for the rest of my snacking needs.

I also packed along 2x dehydrated meals and x4 servings of protein powder for the evenings. I figured fueling in the evenings would help with recovery, and thought the added weight would be worth it for a warm, calorie-dense meal in the evenings. I did not regret this decision. I brought along a new MSR Trail Mini solo cook set.  

The stove, my dehydrated meals, and my clothing (below) packed into my saddle bag. I had also packed along a 2L platypus gravity filter bag and 1L water bladder (empty) in my frame bag for emergencies.




About half the size of a standard Jetboil system

Sleep System

This was another area I spent a lot of time thinking about. The popular choice for most bikepackers seems to be something like an OR helium bivy bag. Having some experience using bivys in the past, I am skeptical of their utility. First, in summer months, bivy bags do not vent well and are prone to condensation build up inside the bag - not to mention get very hot! Given that the bivy is in constant contact with your sleeping bag, this condensation can soak your sleeping bag. It is my opinion that something more breathable is preferred. 

I'm also not convinced the bivy bags provide adequate weather protection in the event of precipitation. If it does rain, you are essentially laying in a bag on the ground, and have no real space to store your gear, eat, or reorganize. If you've ever slept in a crowded tent during a downpour, you know that by touching or being pressed up against the tent fly the water will bleed through. I believe the same concept applies to a bivy bag and would wager that you would just end up soaked anyway. Ok, rant complete!

In looking for an alternative, I had three main criteria: 

  1. I wanted the system to be compact (packed volume was more of a concern than weight)
  2. I wanted the system to be breathable, and provide some protection from elements (bugs and precipitation) 
  3. I wanted it to be cost effective (since I have a lot of outdoor things already). 

I ultimately settled on a OR bug bivy, paired with a lightweight siltarp from MEC I had kicking around. I feel this system strikes a good balance between breathability, and weather protection. The tarp can be setup when needed, to either protect from precipitation, wind or condensation build-up on the outside of your sleeping bag. The bug bivy acts a ground sheet, and keeps creepy-crawlies out of your sleeping bag. 

I paired this system with an appropriate sleeping bag for the weather and a Klymit Static V inflatable sleeping pad. For the AR500, I brought +10 MEC "Equatorial" Bag - a discontinued light summer bag made for use in tropical climates and hostels. Surprisingly, the mesh from my bivy held in a lot of heat and this system worked well for the forecasted weather. 

I was able to get everything into a 10L drybag to run on my handlebars with the Oveja Negra harness - perfect! 

Clothing

I will admit to overpacking my clothing. I did not need everything based on the weather. But, had it rained (which was forecasted the afternoon of the 3rd day), I likely would have appreciated it. 

All of this fit into my saddle bag, with the cook set and two dehydrated meals. 


  • OR Helium Rain Jacket
  • Patagonia Micro Puff Jacket
  • Patagonia Airshed Pullover
  • MEC T2 Leggings
  • 100% Brisker Riding Gloves
  • Buff Neck Gaiter

Given that I finished before the rain, I could have made do without the neck gaiter, the Mirco-puff jacket and the full finger riding gloves. 

For riding, I wore a long-sleeve synthetic running top, a pair of MTB bib liner shorts from POC, a pair of generic Arcteryx hiking shorts (with zipper cargo pocket), and some merino wool socks. I also made use of an unconventional rope belt. On a previous trip I forgot my belt, and found a piece of string to actually be very effective and non-intrusive. So I opted to do this again for the AR500. Next time I will likely opt for a pair of riding shorts that actually fit.

Lastly, as far as I am concerned, half-finger gloves are a must on a long ride like this. They allow you to work with your navigation devices, use zippers, snack on the go and complete other tasks without having to take off your riding gloves. I've also heard of people who have experienced irritation on the tips of the fingers due to the seam inside a full-finger riding glove. While this might be hard to believe, anything is possible after 12-14hrs on a bike, and eliminating areas of potential irritation is wise. 

Other stuff

I had a myriad of other things tucked away in my Oveja Negra lunchbox/in my RD feedbags: 

  • Charging cable(s) for phone, garmin inreach, front light
  • 1x extra set of batteries for gps
  • Spare "dark" lens for riding glasses (didn't need - I wore clear lenses the whole time)
  • Bluetooth headphones (really happy to have had these)
  • Anker 20,000mAh powerbank (likely could have gone with 10,000mAh)
  • Chainlube
  • Sunscreen
  • Toothbrush (for my teeth)
  • Small tube of Chamois Butter (never used before and was happy I brought along)

I think that about covers it! Riding the AR500 was a great experience, and I really have no reason to not try again. I would encourage everyone to do a deep dive on their setup in advance of an event like this - its half the fun! 

Fresh set of boots following the race! 29x2.25 Vittoria Mezcal 


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