The Definitive List of What to Carry on Epic Cycling Adventures

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When your derailleur hanger snaps off in the middle of nowhere your choices are limited. You’re either going to make your bike into a single speed or walk, unless of course you are carrying an extra derailleur hanger…

Epic endurance cycling events like SBT GRVL, Cape Epic, Breck Epic, and Rebecca’s Private Idaho are minimally supported, meaning the courses are in remote areas and aid stations are few and far between. If your bike breaks you either need to be able to fix it with what you have on you, settle in for a long walk, or call for rescue (if possible) and be disqualified. Packing essential tools and replacement parts is crucial, but there’s also a balance between being prepared and being weighed down by too much stuff.

The list of parts and tools below will get you back on your bike in most situations. This is more stuff than the top competitors carry because they are willing to accept greater risks in order to lighten the load. For athletes who prioritize finishing over winning, and who are going to be out on course far longer than the top competitors, the added weight is a small price to pay for peace of mind and the ability to get yourself rolling again.

Carry with you:

Hydration pack

The more remote the course and the greater the distance between aid stations, the more you need to rely on hydration packs in addition to bottles. If the wind shifts or you have a mechanical your time to the next aid station could increase by an hour or more. Hydration packs also provide room to carry some of the gear below.

Pump

CO2 cartridges are lighter and quicker, but a pump can be used over and over again. It is better to be prepared for multiple flats than it is to get air into a tire more quickly once or twice.

Tubes (and Tubeless Tools)

If you’re running tubed tires, carry at least two tubes. If you’re running tubeless tires, you still need to carry at least two tubes. I love tubeless wheels and tires because they reduce the risk of flats and can run a greater range of tire pressures. But they are not flat-proof. If you’re just losing pressure and the tire bead is still seated firmly on the rim and you have extra sealant, you can try adding more sealant through the valve stem (you’ll need a valve core remover) and inflating. If the tire is no longer seated on the rim or has a cut sidewall, throw a tube in it and get on your way. If you go the latter route, make sure you have the hand strength or tools to remove the tubeless valve stem.

Here’s the pared down contents of the saddle roll Amanda Nauman carries for Dirty Kanza 200.

Tire boots and patch kit

Many a cyclist has been stymied by a cut sidewall. You can’t just put a tube in and go; you have to place a non-stretchable material between the tube and the cut. Wrappers from gels or bars work well, or you can use cash or spend cash on a tire boot that has adhesive on one side so it stays in place. A patch kit is also helpful in case you go through your supply of tubes.

Metal tire levers (2)

The reason I specify metal tire levers is that I’ve snapped my fair share of plastic ones. Even if you can technically remove and remount your tires without levers, still carry them because they are good for scraping tacky mud off tires and frame parts.

Set of extra brake pads

No matter what type of brakes you’re running (caliper, cantilever, disc), a set of pads is small and weighs next to nothing, but will be extremely helpful if you end up needing them. Why would you ever need them? Wet and muddy conditions can chew through brake pads much more quickly than you think, and during epic-length cycling events, burning through a set of pads can put you in a dangerous position.

Derailleur hanger

This is another very light, very small piece of equipment that could save your day. When it rains in the Flint Hills of Kansas, for instance, there’s enough clay in the soil to turn a gravel road to the consistency of wet cement. It sticks to your tires, jams the space between your wheels and frame, rips derailleurs clean off the frame, and stops you in your tracks. In mountain bike stage races, rocks can rip derailleurs off, too. It’s so easy to carry an extra derailleur hanger, and it saves you so many headaches if you end up needing it.

Shifting Hardware

Depending on your bike setup, this means carrying a long derailleur cable, a long eTube wire (Shimano Di2) or an extra battery (Sram eTap). Basically, you want to have a backup for whatever is controlling your rear derailleur. All three of these options are small and light, so there’s really no good reason for not carrying it.

Power links (2)

You’re not going anywhere without a chain, and if yours breaks a power link is the best and easiest way to put it back together. Is it a great idea to ride a chain with multiple power links? No, but it will get you out of a jam.

Set of cleats (2 cleats, 4 screws)

Cleats for the bottom of your shoes are small and light, so just put an extra set in the gear you’re carrying as insurance.

Multitool that contains a chain tool

I haven’t gone on a ride without a multitool in 20 years. It’s standard equipment for short rides, let alone epics. The biggest thing to remember about epics is to make sure you have a chain tool. You may need to remove bent links in order to piece the chain back together with a power link. If your bike has Torx bolts, make sure you have the right size wrench in your multitool, or carry individual Torx wrenches as needed.

Three feet of Duct Tape

You don’t need a whole roll of the stuff, but wrap about three feet of duct tape around a piece of cardboard and add it to your gear. It has a variety of potential uses, but the ones that are most relevant are booting a tire or taping a tire to the rim in the event of a blown tire bead. In the latter case, tightly taping it around the tire and rim can prevent the tire from jamming in the frame and hopefully hold together long enough to get to the next aid station.

Rewetting Drops

If you wear contact lenses, carry a little bottle of rewetting drops. Sun and dust and grit can dry out lenses over the course of the day, and restoring vision can make you feel and perform a lot better.

I put the tubes, tape, cables, and patch kit into a saddlebag, and put the small parts (derailleur hanger, power links, rewetting drops, tire boots, cleats, brake pads, tire levers, multitool, and duct tape) into a small plastic bag. The bag keeps all these essential items together so I can quickly transfer them to a new jersey or new hydration pack if necessary.

Have in Drop Bags

While centuries and Gran Fondos might have aid stations every 10-15 miles, epic cycling adventures typically have fewer aid stations farther apart. Some gravel events, for instance, only have aid stations every 50 miles. And it’s not the mileage that counts so much as the time between aid stations. When the ride time between aid stations is 3+ hours, you have to plan accordingly.

How you pack drop bags for aid stations depends heavily on whether one bag will be transported from station to station or whether you need to pack multiple bags because they will be delivered to specific locations and stay there.

I have ridden the Leadville 100, DK 200, La Ruta de los Conquistadores, and Trans Andes a few times each, and my philosophy on drop bags is to have clothing and parts to handle almost any contingency. This means:

Wheels and/or Tires

Depending on logistics and the crew you have available, an extra set of wheels is a good option if possible. If it’s not possible, then at least have a set of tires in your drop bag. You can boot a tire to get to the next aid station, but once you get there it’s wise to stop and replace the tire completely. I save old tires for this purpose.

Pedals

While carrying cleats is easy because they are small and light, I don’t want to carry an extra set of pedals. But in the off-chance your pedals explode, having a set in your drop bag can save your race. This is especially important if you have traveled a far distance to participate.

Chain or chain segment

If you snap a chain between aid stations and have a power link and chain tool you can get going again and get to the next aid station. But if your chain snapped once, it’s likely to snap again, so take advantage of the opportunity to change it out. This is also a good time to remind you to refresh drivetrain parts before major events.

More Tubes

At DK and the Leadville 100 my drop bags always contained four extra tubes. It might seem like overkill, but one experience with multiple flats will cure you of that notion.

Extra shoes

If you have an old pair of cycling shoes, put them in your drop bag. It’s unlikely you’ll need them, unless of course you don’t have them.

Chain Lube

Sometimes I’ve carried this with me, but I always have it in drop bags. If you are on a dusty course, ride through a rain storm, or ride through creek crossings, you will want to re-lube your chain. I forgot lube during one Leadville 100 and my squeaking, screeching chain nearly drove me nuts and made me worried my chain would snap any minute.

Extra clothing

My coaches made fun of me for packing winter cycling gear in my drop bags for the Leadville 100, until the year a cold rain soaked the race for the first 40 miles. My drop bags always contain a replacement cycling kit (shorts/jersey) as well as warm gloves, a skullcap, long sleeved jersey, rain jacket, knee warmers, and arm warmers. Better to have it and not use it than not have it in the first place.

The second year I raced the DK 200 I suffered a flat tire within 50 yards of where Road Bike Action editor and former professional cyclist Neil Shirley ripped his rear derailleur off his frame. We were 25 miles into the race, and Neil rode the next 175 miles in one gear because he didn’t have the parts to fix his bike with him or in his drop bags. Epic events call for epic preparations, and packing the right gear can mean the difference between a small inconvenience and a DNF-inducing mechanical. Your training prepares your body; now make sure you have the gear to reach the finish line!

Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach of CTS


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Comments 8

  1. Pingback: The Scariest Things Cyclists Fear, And How to Overcome Them - Chris Carmichael

  2. KT tape for saddle sores. (Bring whole strips or cut in half.) NOT just for muscles, but also for that darkest hour when the chamois cream fails you and your best chamois becomes your worst nightmare. Works similarly to moleskin over a blister or cut, except it’s more flexible and you can add tension as necessary.

    Great read!

  3. Pingback: Gear You Do and Don't Need to Pack for Gravel Rides: Experts Weigh In

  4. Pingback: Gear You Do and Don't Need to Pack for Gravel Rides: Experts Weigh In

  5. I’m surprised that you didn’t list Chamois Butter on the list. I’ve known plenty of folks that after a long period of riding, especially if it’s wet or extremely humid, need chaffing relief. It’s it just not feasible on the more epic rides?

    1. The single serving packets are a good idea if you think you’ll need to re-apply. or a jar of it in your drop bag.

      First aid materials are also a good idea. Adding a piece of gauze, plus the duct tape you already have, makes for a good emergency bandage.

      1. You can make your own single servings by putting some in small ziplock bags. If you turn the bags inside out when applying you will keep your hands clean. Great write up!

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