Cycle touring or bike packing the Pamir Highway was a challenge that required my Kinesis Tripster ATR Titanium to undergo a few tweaks in its set up. For last year’s trip to China I stuck to Tarmac 90% of the time, this year it would be 50:50. So I thought I would write this overview of what I changed on the bike and how well it worked.
I didn’t really know what to expect from riding the Pamirs because there are so many scare stories out on the web: tales of absolutely awful roads, myths about the guys who ‘stupidly’ ran 32mm tyres and puncture 28 times because of them.
People warned me that it can snow several inches in August, the passes are so high you can’t ride much due to oxygen deprivation they said. But until you ride it you’ll never know how true these are, but what I did know was that it’s so remote that mechanicals would be a pretty serious issue.
I spent quite a while pondering options and then adapting the bikes however I was very keen to maintain my ethos of travelling fast and light. This meant no rack, just all my Apidura frame bags and a few other important kit decisions of weight versus durability – the age old debate. This particular blog is about how I set up my Kinesis Tripster ATR.
I had been using my Kinesis Tripster ATR titanium framed bike in pretty much its stock form from Kinesis during 2014. This bike is simply fantastic for touring and big adventures whatever you use on it. Hence ATR = Adventure Tour Race. I can’t recommend titanium frames more for their comfort, light weight and strength, it’s the perfect material for soaking up the road on long days. As I’ve said before the Tripster ATR geometry is slack enough to handle well and be comfortable, but still nippy at accelerating and cornering. This is that bike you always go to if you want to rip gravel fast and bring a smile to your face, from Scotland to Afghanistan it’s done this to me! I wouldn’t swap it for anything else available, that’s how good it is.
To prove this opinion of mine the bike again rode faultlessly and like a dream across the Pamirs, getting much love from all the fellow cyclists on the road. Some were struck by the concept of using Titanium not steel and going lightweight , but everyone loved the look of the frame.
The big Tyre debate
THe big decision was tyre choice. I normally go for a 28mm road tyre like Continental Four Seasons or Gatorskin for all tours. This trip however is verging on the mountain bike side of touring so I had to go wider, stronger and nobblier. NEVER use mountain bike semi slick tyres for touring unless you are doing some serious off road miles, they aren’t as puncture resistant and they drag so much more.
I couldn’t possible bring myself to run anything wider than 700x35mm despite the Tripster taking up to 47mm wide, I know this goes against current trends, but drag is my enemy not lack of grip or comfort.
I opted for Continental touring tyres over classic Schwalbe Marathons. This is due to weight and also I have a bit more faith in Continental quality control and sidewall strength after seeing a few Schwalbe disasters on my travels. There’s little in it though.
Continental travel contact in 700c x 32mm on the front as these have good side lugs for cornering and slick smooth centres for good rolling. They maybe don’t give you much braking control in a straight line and they don’t have epic puncture proofing just good.
On the back we both ran Continental 700cx35mm Touring Plus tyres. These are heavier than the contacts but offer more grip and puncture proofing. They are 100gms lighter than Schwalbe equivalents.
During the trip the tyres proved the perfect choice in width and puncture resistance. Not one puncture at all between us and comfortable all day long. THe Touring Plus offer plenty of grip on steep, loose ups and downs even at 70psi. While they lost traction in loose sand, other cyclists with 45mm+ width tyres were struggling more. My tyres actual cut through the loose stuff better I found, meaning the guys lugging wider tyres all the way from Europe for these rough roads had made a pretty big error!!
This year a crisp new Shimano 105 drivetrain had been fitted to the Tripster since my Cycling East adventure. However I had ditched my compact road chainset. Instead I opted for a ‘touring’ style 46:36:26 Shimano Deore MTB triple chainset for the easier gearing. On the back was an 11:28 cassette with 10 speed STI levers.
It consumed much dust during the trip as it was regularly lubed, but all worked fine. Getting the MTB chainset to shift with STI levers took a bit of spacing to get right as well.
Other kit on the bike
I was sticking with my reliable TRP Spyre SLC mechanical disc brakes. V Brakes or Canti brakes are officially dead for touring. If you can, then always use discs as they make for less maintenance and longer pad life and better braking too. I am a full convert now. Some new pads were fitted along with slick new cables. I am still hesitant about fitting hydraulics for a trip like this whether cable activated or full. It just takes a small leak and they’re suddenly useless.
THe best tip and upgrade I had was to use double bar tape. Just as it sounds I used two rolls of bar tape wrapped around. It makes the area to grip bigger and way more comfortable, if you’re touring on drop bars and have large hands defintely do this!! THink the picture shows the tape doesn’t look to huge but adds so much more comfort.
I was still using my 700c Kinesis CX Lite wheelset with the two replaced spokes from last year’s trip. Despite those early issues in 2014 they’re still true and have given me no problems all year they also suit wider tyres very well. This was proven to be good choice with no issues despite pounding them down some rough gravel ‘roads’. When you are bike packing you can hit the rough stuff way faster than panniers, therefore the wheels were properly tested and fully passed the test.
I used these clip on bottle cages to take extra water bottles and I was super impressed with them. I had low expectations, as they look weak and vulnerable on the rear seat stays but they held 1.5l each and survived the trip. By using bike packing bags I had no room for extra water so these were vital.
Saving the best for last we both used toe clips for the first time since 1997. We both wanted to wear hiking shoes not SPD’s on this trip so we went old skool. It’s fair to say toe clips are sketchy. It’s easy to get stuck in them and fall over. not ideal on mountain roads, but we got used to them and they help with power transfer when spinning.
Can you elaborate more on how you got the front derailleur to work with STI shifters? Did you have to buy a new shifter?
I used a standard Tiagra triple STI lever. I found I needed to move the chainline a little with BB spacers, I can’t remember now if added or took one away but it was trial and error. The shifting ratio/gap was actually OK and it worked after some fine tuning with limits and the chainline. With the wider range on rear MTB cassettes now more prevalent I’d probably just swap cassette if doing it again and use double or single front.
Great setup. Wouldn’t be better though to use bar end shifters for such a trip for reliability?
To be honest I’ve never had STI levers break on me on a trip. The most common issue is either old age or over tension due to dirt/corrosion in cables forcing plastic internals to snap therefore I keep fresh cables. Not convinced bar end shifters offer any real advantage.