Southern Peaks Bike Tour: A Journey of Self-Discovery - The Gear

2 comments by Igor Shteynbuk

If you want to check out Nic's Tour, here are the links to part 1 and part 2. Now for the fun bits! 

A guest post by Nic Morales


 Velo Orange Pass Hunter Nic Morales Southern Peaks Bike Tour Rodeo Labs

Though I do have some motivation to say so– folks, I am continually blown back by this frame. Regardless of what I throw at it, there’s little that sits outside the possible with the Pass Hunter. VO has truly created something versatile enough to traverse pretty much anything that classifies as a road while still being extraordinarily fun. Be it a long, pacey day ride or a multi-day bikepacking trip rife with chunder, the pass hunter has the capacity to take you where you want to go. While a younger, less experienced self once wondered about the necessity of its durable tubing, I’ve been incredibly appreciative of the strength and reliability of the frame. It’s strong and aggressive enough to make sure you get where you want to go in a timely manner. If you’re looking for a beautiful frame that does it all, look no further. 

Velo Orange Pass Hunter Nic Morales Southern Peaks Bike Tour Rodeo Labs


Velo Orange Pass Hunter Nic Morales Southern Peaks Bike Tour Rodeo Labs

Though I worried about whether the gearing was a bit too aggressive given the elevation on a full load, the classic gravel 42t to 11-42 setup was, once again, perfect for this trip. I didn’t find myself to be under or over-geared at any point. I don’t have much experience on anything else, but for the non-competitive, limit-pushing cyclist, I think it’d be hard to find a better all-rounder drivetrain. The bailout in having a 1:1 ratio in my largest cog was more than plenty of range, even being fully loaded. At the top end, I never really find myself spinning out. An added benefit is that, at least on the pass hunter, this gearing configuration requires no chain alteration for most SRAM 11-speed chains. I typically use the SRAM RED 11-speed chain (114 links), and I don’t have to add or subtract any links out of the box. It’s an extremely easy and convenient swap and an added bonus that makes your life a bit easier. 

Friction is Flawless

Velo Orange Pass Hunter Nic Morales Southern Peaks Bike Tour Rodeo Labs

I put a friction shifter on my pass hunter in the Fall of 2022, and it has fundamentally changed the way I view bikes. There’s, perhaps, an old, curmudgeonly aspect to my character that has always been around, but even without snarky comparisons to SRAM Eagle transmission, friction is the only way I really want to ride a bike. It makes what is already a fun experience even more so for way less money than any other system out there. It also gives you limitless capacity in terms of component choices. A win, win, win. 


Velo Orange Pass Hunter Nic Morales Southern Peaks Bike Tour Rodeo Labs

This was my first trip using the Swift Zeitgeist pack, and it was a total lifesaver. With an ever-growing number of options for a front bag, it can be hard to know what works best. Part of what I love about the swift bags I own is the plastic liner that helps keep their shape. I’ve tried some other options, and while every bag has its pros and cons, the shape their bags tend to keep is a bit of a game changer. The zeitgeist also straddles the line between spacious cargo bag and svelt weight saver. It’s ideal for true ‘bikepacking’ because of how light it is, but can stretch into the bike touring realm due to its over-packing capacity. I can’t speak highly enough of the zeitgeist, and it’ll be a mainstay in my pack list for a long time to come. 

A while ago, I sprang for a custom frame bag from Wizard Works. After faffing about with a number of less-than-ideal solutions from various makers, there was always a disappointing point of compromise. Carry a little less water with one, not enough food or space for layers with another. It’s a skill of bikepacking that was becoming a little too frustrating. That said, the decision to commission a custom frame bag is one I haven’t really looked back from. It’s spacious and allows me to fit everything I need within what is the most ideal spot to pack necessary items. The pass hunter doesn’t have the largest inner triangle in the world, so making the best use of space with something custom has made my experiences that much better. 

The Oveja Negra gearjammer is another recent change that has made my bikepacking experience that much better. A good mantra within the style of mile-heavy bikepacking I tend toward is everything you need and nothing you don’t. Though everyone has different needs and different fits, some of the larger seat packs can create more problems than they solve with sway and dour weight distribution. The gearjammer in medium is the perfect size for bikes within the 54cm mark and below because it gives you the perfect amount of space in an area you don’t want to put too much weight if you’re only using a seatpack. The only thing I keep in it is my light and compact sleep system, which fills the bag and keeps it taught. This, combined with the sleek design, means it doesn’t add an insane amount of weight to what is already the heaviest part of the bike, doesn’t sway, and stays out of the way. You really don’t think about it until you need to unpack it. And that’s all you can ask for. 

The TIM TAS ahead rack was another solid addition, as it gave me the insurance to run the zeitgeist without worrying about it hitting the front wheel. I’m not a big rack guy– ideally, I’d run a bag that could just hang off the bars and easily clear the front tire– but given how aggressively I run my stem, that just isn’t an option with a tapered head tube and some of the bigger bags. The TIM TAS performed well, although something like the Jack’s Rack seems a bit less complex, given you don’t have to remove your stem to take it on and off. The other part that worried me about the steerer-based rack is the clamping of a carbon steerer. I could foresee that being an issue, though nothing happened with mine. 


Velo Orange Pass Hunter Nic Morales Southern Peaks Bike Tour Rodeo Labs

I’ve spoken about how much I’ve enjoyed Rodeo Labs Spork 1.2 before, but I really can’t speak highly enough of it. You pretty much get all the benefits of a carbon fork in that it’s light, responsive, and a useful tool for ride and terrain feel, but almost none of the drawbacks. To my knowledge, it’s one of the only rack-rated carbon forks on the market and one that has been tested to mountain bike standards. It has made my experience on the pass hunter better, and if you’re looking for a way to reduce some weight, I’d say it’s the best bang for your buck. 

Gear Standouts

Garmin inReach mini 2: Cool that you can share progress with a trackable map– wild that you pay 400 for the device, and it requires a subscription service to use in any capacity. 

LifeStraw: Awesome, compact rubber flask that makes planning for water stops far less complicated. Tastes great and folds away easily. Relatively cheap at 45 dollars.

Ultradynamico Cavas: Undoubtedly the best multi-terrain tires I’ve ever used. Supple.

Quoc GT’s: Comfiest shoes I own full stop. If you’re really saving weight/ pack size, I wouldn’t even fret about bringing camp shoes. They’re that good.

Oru Case magnetic top tube bag: It’s definitely not the most spacious top tube bag, but some of the bigger ones have issues staying put on round, steeling tubing anyways. The best aspect of this little gas tank is the magnetic closure. Especially if you’re doing #content. Slips in and out with ease. 

Makeshifter stem bag: Beautiful, practical, and convenient. What more can you ask? 


  • Igor

    Hi Merlin,

    I’ve always been a more traditional rack, panniers, and handlebar bag kind of guy. The nice thing about backpacking gear is that since there are no hard contact points, there isn’t anything to really break. The downside is that packing your gear definitely needs to be more deliberate and organized. I haven’t found any significant handling characteristic differences that you wouldn’t be able to get used to within the first mile or so. Oh, and with bikepacking gear, you can theoretically tour with any bike since now there are no need for rack accommodations.

    I’d suggest trying it out! I have a Biggish Bag out front and panniers out back on my Polyvalent. On my Neutrino, I have our upcoming Utility Bars and Rack and a custom-made frame bag. You don’t need to go all in on bikepacking gear, but sometimes it can help organize and solve problems!

  • Merlin The Bike Wizard

    Nice bike! I do have some questions. The fairly recent changes to bike bags from racks and panniers to the “bike packing” setup seems strange and mainly because the weight is moved higher which seems like it would effect handling in a negative way. And volume per dollar is a way better value prospect in panniers. Is the change to save weight? Does modern geometry allow for better handling with weight up high?

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