There was no agonising drawn out deflation, just a familiar rubbery flapping followed abruptly by the metallic clanging of rim on root as air vacated at a rate only those old enough to remember latex Air-B inner tubes will truly appreciate. Without stopping I swung my leg over the top tube and jumped to the ground, jogging a few steps to decelerate before commencing the fifteen mile trudge home.
And that’s how it was for my thirteen year old self. It’s not like it was even an isolated incident, I remember several truly epic hikes all entirely preventable for the want of carrying a tube, pump and a couple oyre lever It’s easy to look back with twenty five years of rose tintedness and claim they were formative experiences that toughened me, earned me my stripes, but the truth is I was your typically disorganised teenager and I refused to learn from my mistakes.
Fast forward two and a half decades and I found myself shaking my head at an article bemoaning the swoopy lines of modern fully suspended carbon frames and their lack of accessible bottle cage bosses, forcing the author to carry a bag. He voiced his detest of having a sweaty gimp writhing around on his back and whilst I agreed about the pointlessness of bottles on the underside of downtubes, if I’m honest I thought he was being a bit over-dramatic.
After all, who the hell doesn’t carry a pack these days?
I’m not entirely sure at what point I transformed from my woefully underprepared teenage self to the kitchen sink carrier I subsequently became. Certainly my choice of profession had a massive influence with duty of care to my riders extending to dealing with all predictable eventualities. I suppose the normalising of carrying masses of kit for work gradually extended to my playtime through not being arsed continually re-packing my bag and mates relying on me having all the tools and spares they required because I’m a guide (you know who you are!). Either way, I got used to unquestioningly packing heavy and accepting the way it felt on the bike, until just a couple of months ago…
I’m fortunate enough to ride with some of Ireland’s fastest and most talented riders and like most coaches I observe their movements closely to better understand what sets them apart. Many of them unashamedly go ‘full enduro’ with bananas taped to stems and tools attached anywhere that liberates them from carrying kit on their bodies. Initially this was a point of humour, after all, one crash and their lunch was squished beyond recognition but watching the freedom of their movement around the bike set me thinking. Surely removing the kilos from my back would massively enhance my biking?
I’m forever encouraging an active approach on the bike, from the fundamentals of weight shift to the free speed of pumping the trail. A passive, constantly square-armed body position is a major inhibitor to speed and ability, particularly on corners and so I try to get riders aggressively forcing grip and control through accentuated body language. If there’s an easy way to help facilitate these movements then I’m definitely interested.
So what are the alternatives?
I’ve never been a fan of carrying excess weight on the bike so I was still seeking a body based approach, and ultimately I looked back to the nineties for inspiration. The bum bag was that much-ridiculed accessory that enjoyed a fleeting moment of acceptability before being consigned to the fashion police most wanted list. I was introduced to their functionality through fell running where carrying spare clothes and safety equipment is often obligatory but doesn’t necessitate a full on rucksack approach as every gram definitely counts. The idea of using this type of pack for biking never occurred though due to the amount of kit I carried, until I considered what I actually needed.
For a start there’s the whole water issue. Fortunately my Ragley has useable bottle cage bolts but even if your bike doesn’t, then consider how much you actually need to drink. When mountain running I’ve discovered that just 300ml will last me for three hours if I pre-hydrate properly. Do you always fully drain the bladder in your pack? Likewise, unless I’m planning an epic, just a couple of bars or gels are enough food to keep me happily functioning. Tools wise, I’ve removed all bar a tube, levers, pump, multi tool and power links. Lob in a big bandage in case of a huge bleed, my phone and a lightweight waterproof and I feel ready for most eventualities.
All of this kit fits comfortably in my one litre bum bag and sits on my hips virtually unnoticed.
So does it really make a difference?
To me, hell yes, a huge one. The lack of weight on my back and constrictive straps over my shoulders has made me feel so much more playful, attacking trails, pumping more, pre-jumping into every downslope and most importantly enjoying the whole experience even more than previously. I no longer clip trees with a back pack when leading with my head around tight corners and the overall feel of freedom has been a revelation.
Now I guess the feelings I’m describing probably emanate equally from not carrying half my worldly possessions as much as the vessel in which I carry them. Many of you probably already go minimal and I’m certainly not trying to dictate to you what you should or shouldn’t carry. My local trails are far from a wilderness environment and so major mechanicals require just a walking evacuation without any real hassles. If you’re heading out further from civilisation then definitely plan accordingly but if not then do consider packing lighter and definitely have a go with the bum bag.
I realise that I’m hardly breaking new ground here with several companies already offering fanny packs designed for biking use but I wanted to weigh in and encourage you to give them an open mind.
The more of us using them on the trails, the less I’ll look like a nineties fashion misfit and I’m already fully convinced, rucksacks just aren’t my bag any more.