Cycling across the rough high desert roads of the Pamir mountains was the perfect occasion to use a complete bike packing setup aka: the ‘full Apidura’. In this blog I will go through every bag I used and what I carried in them -an essential kit list for lightweight adventure cycle touring! I was going light but still well enough prepared for winter and the isolation on this trip. The Apidura bags’ concept and design perfectly suits the arid climate, strong winds and rough roads and it’s success certainly raises the question of whether I’ll ever use panniers again…..
Why Panniers are dead to me
High up in the Altay Mountains of Kyrgyzstan I saw a guy struggling uphill with four classic red plastic coated panniers. For me they now look so dated; heavy, bulky and unnecessary. Then after a while I realized that everyone else we saw was using at least four panniers and maybe a bag or two on top as well. Almost all of them said that next time they wanted to go lighter, “it looks far easier with your set up” they would say, this seems so logical to me now but I too learnt it the hard way!
On bumpy rough roads like in the Wakhan Valley going rack-less makes so much sense. Racks and panniers are just not designed for rough riding. The constant vibrations and abuse from big bumps fatigues an aluminium rack, loosens bolts or cracks the eyelets on the frame. The next weakness are the pannier hooks, these are normally plastic and can frustratingly break, meaning your bags either fall off over bumps or simply can’t clip on.
Cheaper waterproof panniers also seem to split on the seams where they fold over or on the corners. In fact Marion’s pannier failed on us like this in the middle of nowhere, but as I’ll explain later in the post we got lucky and managed to carry on.
First ride with my new large Apidura Frame bag
In 2015 I had a brand new Apidura frame bag in the largest size that I was using for the first time. My initial impressions were that it is substantially larger than the smaller pack I used before during 2014. It now fits a lot more inside, way more than I expected. I was concerned that despite my large bike frame size, it restricted the size of water bottle that I could use in the bottle holders on the frame. The solution was simple: use a 1.5l bottle upside down and it fitted fine.
For the Pamirs my frame bag contained:
Full first aid kit, bike spares, chain oil, 4x spare inner tubes, pasta, oats and noodles, big snack food stash too.
First ride with Apidura front Accessory pack
This is the clever pack that clips onto the bar bag. I was a little bit underwhelmed by how useful it might be when I cycled to China, in fact I didn’t take it with me. I used my DSLR bag instead, however on this trip I had the brainwave to use both, they fitted together OK with the DSLR bag on top.
This pack like all the Apidura classic bags isn’t totally waterproof so I used it for waterproofs, genius you might say! It is a bit of a tardis, I just kept shoving warm/waterproof clothing inside!
It took waterproof trousers, jacket, ski gloves, neck warmers and hat.
Apidura Bar Bag
This was the Apidura bar bag’s second tour of duty. It was in very good condition from 2014 and was ready for action again, complete with old blood stains from my altitude nose bleeds in the Himalayas!
I stuck with what worked well using it to take my sleeping bag along with titanium pan, sporks and MSR Dragonfly stove. I also normally shoved a small towel in as well.
The mighty Saddle Pack
The large saddle pack was also on it’s second long tour with only a few signs of wear showing from Cycling East. With no panniers this bag was taking a good load of weight. As I’ve said before it sits well behind the saddle, not too high that it sways about, nor too low that it catches the tyre, goldilocks style. Like all the Apidura classic series bags it’s not waterproof as the seams aren’t sealed, but it didn’t rain on use during the whole trip, nor did I expect it to. Hence why these light bags are perfect for the trip.
When packing I just kept pushing stuff in it for the Pamirs it was awesome:
Two man Terra Nova Voyager tent (less poles, I did take poles but these were strapped on the frame), Alp Kit lightweight sleeping matt, change of cycling clothes, thermals, fleece, underwear, inflatable pillow, cable lock on top.
I tooke more clothes than this but the picture shows how much kit it fits:
Fuel Tank or top tube Apidura Pack
This is one of the most common Apidura packs you see out and about, but possibly it’s my least favourite bag. It’s pretty small in either size so it fits limited stuff, but nonetheless useful for Garmin E-Trex 30 GPS, android phone and some cash and sweets. I needed all the space I could get so took it along. I saw this pack used a bit by 24hr racers who want lots of snacks easy to access.
I had a master plan for the trip that I would carry all the heavy stuff and Marion would use her two small light panniers for bulkier stuff. With space for extra food/water if it was needed. It worked out well until we hit head winds then you realise how much better the Apidura bike packing bags are, simply because they are streamlined. Panniers act like sails pushing you backwards, draughting doesn’t help either as you’re just too wide.
I decided it was only fair that I swapped to the panniers to speed us up. However Marion’s rack bolt conveniently rounded, another example of the frustrations of racks! We were stuck with what we started on.
Then the next disaster struck; Marion’s pannier split, it wasn’t totally unexpected but nevertheless annoying. However it limped on until Khorogh and here a stroke of luck struck. A friendly English guy on a motor bike had a spare pannier to donate so we happily accepted. It was also an Ortleib pannier so a good chance to review and test these tourers favourite. In conclusion they are strong, well built but heavy #nosurprise.
We next saw Ed the motor biker on top of a pass, he had a cup of tea on the go for us when we arrived, it was all very English!
The MSR Dragonfly stove which replaced our old Dragonfly that was nicked, performed perfectly well even at altitude where the lack of oxygen interestingly resultant in failures for Primus equivalents.
Regarding food we took chocolate protein recovery drink powder which was really good as a hot chocolate and great idea to take with you. It has vitamins and minerals too to keep you healthy and fit feeling. We also took a few protein bars and snacks from UK which was great for shortish month trip like this. It was also a struggle to get enough protein at homestays where bread and pasta were standard.
The sediment filled water was an issue and I suspect there’s a better solution out there than our Aquapure water bottles that bunged up pretty rapidly when rain cloudied the river water. It was a fine silt that most filters hate. We also accidentally filtered salt water, not a good idea. Not sure what the best solution is to the water filtering but we survived fine without getting sick.
What would I have done differently
For the Pamirs bike packing is by far the best option and the lightweight but not waterproof Apidura bags really excel on trips like this. I didn’t have anything I didn’t use nor did I wish I had taken something. Nothing broke other than the rack bolts and pannier, so I think that’s a pretty emphatic case for bike packing bags!