New Zealand Mountain Bike Web

06 May 2011

Travelling Light and Long

Long and Light – the way of the Dirt Brevet

By Simon Kennett, as published in NZ MTBer

There's a new style of mountain biking slowly spreading across the globe – call it a dirt brevet, bikepacking, or fat tyre randoneering if you like. It doesn't matter. It's about travelling light and covering big distances. Eighty kilometres a day is good for a starter; 250 kilometres isn't out of the question. When that includes gravel roads and dirt tracks, you can expect to be riding from dawn to dusk.

Sometimes it's an event, like the Tour Divide; usually it's just a bunch of mates out to see as much of the country as they can in a long weekend. Of course, the best way to see the country is from the saddle of a bike. The best way to see a lot of country is to travel light and quick.

New Zealand is well blessed with rough-stuff touring terrain. Where else could you see rainforest, glaciers, alps and grasslands all in the same day? Over 35 000 kilometres of quiet sealed roads, a similar number of unsealed road kilometres, 200+ mountain bike rides,and countless 4WD tracks provide almost endless opportunites. But our young terrain demands good gear choice, as well as good legs. After 25 years of touring, I'm still learning, but here's the set-up I enjoyed at the recent 500km Te Tawhio o Whanganu:

29er – the big wheels roll a little easier over rocky roads

Stans Crow tyres – minimal tread means low rolling resistance and light weight. At 40 PSI they will absorb most normal road shock.

Front Suspension – comfort, even on 4WD tracks, is a big part enjoying a long day off pavement

Aero bars (with extra padding) – a handy place to hang a bag, rest a map, and a position that gives hammered palms a chance to recover. Useful in a headwind, too.

Front bag – 5 ltr dry bag, for clothes

Seat bag – About 5 ltr, for tools, first aid, food, rear light, etc

Spare tube taped above BB – tucked out of the way

Gear carried:

Sleeveless riding top

Woolen riding top

Long-sleeve top

Lycra shorts x2 (with talc powder)

Pair of baggies

Wool socks x2 pair

Long fingered gloves




Sun block

Lip save

First aid kit

Spoon & can opener


Ear plugs




Spare tube taped to frame

Cell phone

Cash and Cards

Contact details & guidbook notes





Reflective ankle bands


2 large water bottles (1x H2O, 1x Sports drink)


2-4 Bananas

Peanut M&Ms

Raisin biscuits or OSM

Salty Cashews

Fresh fruit

Emergency Powerbar & drink powder

Total bike and gear weight = 15kg

The weight is critical for touring in most parts of New Zealand. The Tawhio had over 6 000 metres of climbing in four days, which is normal when using scenic backroads. On the most adventurous routes, some bike pushing is often part of the deal - you must be able to carry your loaded bike. If you carry enough gear to be prepared for every possible problem you might encounter, you'll have created a problem that you can be sure you'll encounter (right from the very first pedal stroke).

Gear I also considered:

Small backpack to increase food carrying capacity, and water purification tablets. Not needed as towns were fairly close together.

Small sleeping bag, bivvy bag and closed cell foam mat (on a Freeload rack). Not needed due to good accommodation options available. However, lightweight summer camping gear needn't increased the load by more than 2 kg, and it opens up a huge array of itinerary options.

Gear I wish I'd had:

A couple more maps (1:50,000 topomaps)

Chammy cream

Pack towel