How many times have you been in that situation where you realize that your saddle height is a bit off, or you’re dealing with achilles pain because of where your cleat is mounted, or even babying it on the descent because you realized your tire pressure is far to low? It happens and that is why testing out your rig weeks before a big ride ensures that you don’t deal with these annoyances. Bikepacking adds even more to the puzzle, figuring out the proper bags, gear, and where to put it all. How much water to carry, and how to distribute the weight. For this years Colorado Trail Race, I decided to prepare myself a bit more then I have in the past. This decision proved to not only make me mostly comfortable for 550 miles, but gave me a bit more confidence. It is without question that planning is just as important as the ride itself. For the most part the bike, bags, and everything in between worked flawlessly. There were a few things that could have worked better, or that I could have even done without, but in general I’m very please with my planning and gear choices. Below is a list of my gear that was previously posted in my 2014 Colorado Trail Race Gear list. Colorado Trail Race Bike: The Salsa Spearfish proved to be a perfect fit for the Colorado Trail. 80 mm of rear travel combined with the 29” wheels was plenty of bike. Last year I told myself I would never ride a hardtail for this trail again, I’m so happy of my decision. The descents were far more forgiving than last year, and from time to time…super fun. The plus side of specifically choosing the Spearfish was the Split Pivot. The Split Pivot offers small bump compliance, reliable traction and braking, and most importantly efficient pedaling. When the pro pedal is turned on, the amount of bob is so minimal, sometimes I forget I’m even on a full suspension bike. The only downside to a fully suspension is lack of frame space for two bottles, or a custom bag, but I had no issues with this. I did end up with some pretty serious cable rub from my frame bag, where the downtube meets the bottom bracket. Electrical tape next time. Colorado Trail Race Gear Components: A drivetrain may be the most important component on your bike, other than the power you put behind it. This year I ran a Sram XX1 setup with XO Cranks. I removed the spider from the GXP crank and threw on a Wolf Tooth Components 28 tooth chain ring. Along with applying some T-9 chain lube every so often, the system ran pretty good. Near the end however, I noticed some grinding. I had a similar occurrence earlier this summer when my chainring and chain were ready to be replaced. Colorado Trail Race Gear The other important part is brakes. Hands down my favorite product of all time is Shimano XT brakes. They modulate well, hardly ever make noise, and  feel great. Along with the metal Ice Tech finned pads, and Ice Tech rotors I have no problem bringing them in the backcountry for a few days. As far as wheels go, I’m a big Stan’s No Tube fan. I love how both the Crest and Arch rims work so well with Maxxis tires. This year I made a last minute decision to borrow Jefe’s SP Dynamo Hub accompanied with an Arch Rim. This was the same wheel that won the Tour Divide. I threw my standard Maxxis Ikon 2.35 TR/EXO tire on that wheel. The width gives me a bit more confidence with traction, especially when its moist out. I used a Stan’s Crest rim laced to a Stan’s 3.30 hub for the rear, a bit of an unconventional combination, but it worked. It is going to be hard to get me off my 2 year Maxxis Ikon kick, as I also ran a Ikon 2.2 TR/EXO on the rear. XTR pedals were one piece that I am not the biggest fan of. Don’t get me wrong, I love SPD’s and I love Shimano, but I think the R in Shimano’s XTR line means… more prone to breaking. One side of both of my pedals was hammered in so much that it’s nearly impossible to unclip, this actually may have been a driving factor in my right knee injury.   Lights: In order for me to comfortably and efficiently ride at night, I need light, and lots of it. In past years I have gotten away with Fenix LD 20s’ and Black Diamond headlamps. But this year I wanted to keep a similar night pace to my day pace. Especially on the descents. The SP Dynamo Hub charged a Exposure Revo light. This thing was really cool to use. I kept it un-plugged for most of the day as the dynamo creates slightly more drag. At night I would plug it in and instantly as long as the wheel was moving it would illuminate. Once I got going more then 10 MPH The light would beam brighter, and the faster I would go the brighter the light would get. The wide beam also worked great, as I had to mount it slightly off center on my bars. Colorado Trail Race Gear The other light I used was an Ay-Up light that was connected to my helmet. These lightweight, minimalist lights worked great. On the low setting I could produce 175 lumens for 10 hours on one battery. The downside was not being able to recharge them from the Dynamo. I had to carry 4 large and heavy batteries. In the future I will be using some sort of power booster that I can charge from a wall or my Dynamo and then bring just one battery. Either way, it was bright out there this year and my night riding was a success.   Bags: How fun, stuffing everything you need in a couple of bags connected to your bike. This year I decided to do just that, opting out on a backpack. Usually I roll with a Camelbak Octane, a very minimalist lumbar hydration bag, that holds water and not much else. Still, after the AZT 300, I ended with a pinching sensation near my upper back/neck. In attempts to remedy this, I opted to put all my weight on the Spearfish. My Oveja Negra saddle bag worked flawlessly. The Gearjammer, as they creatively call it, held my Marmot Atom Sleeping bag, SOL Escape bivy, and when I was not wearing it my Mountain Hardwear down jacket. It packed down very small, kept my sleep system dry, and hooked up very nicely to the saddle staying secure with very minimal moving around. It was wet and cold this year, staying dry was a difficult feat. I never had to worry about my SOL Escap Bivy or my Marmot Atom for that matter. The only issue I had was the last day, waking up in pouring rain, shivering… mainly because my feet were so wet. I will likely be taking this setup on the Tour Divide next summer. Colorado Trail Race Gear My Oveja Negra Custom Frame Bag was one of the best pieces of gear I was fortunate enough to use. The bag came with two compartments, a large one on my right side and a smaller one on the left. The large compartment carried emergency gear, pump, Stan’s, etc. It also carried my two liter bladder and extra food. The first half of the race I carried a full two liter bladder from resupply point to resupply point. I soon realized that I was not as efficient as I could be. Like past years, carrying a backpack I would just filled my bladder up all the way and not think twice about it. With this system, I decide to fill up less yet more often. It proved to work well, and only two times past BV did I need to carry a full 2 liters. On the left side pouch I carried my Aquamira tabs, phone, sunglass lens cloth and clear lenses. This small compartment worked great and is very easy to access on the fly. The only issue I ended up having with the bag was the zippers near the end of the journey. After riding through puddles and rivers of singletrack, grit would eventually find its way to the zippers making them slightly more difficult to open and close. The gag kept everything dry and the fit to the frame may be the nicest custom frame bag fit I have ever seen. Stay tuned for a full review on this.   The handlebar bag was my biggest question going into the race, I was between a few bags until a week out from the race. I ended up rocking a Porcelain Rocket Salsa Anything Cage Bag. I did this because it was small, had loops to connect to the bars and it was was super light. Lucky for me, it ended up working out. There was a little water that penetrated the bag from time to time, but I stored my rain stuff in that bag, so I was fine with that. For me finding the perfect handlebar bag has yet to happen, I may be doing some stitching in the near future to fully suit my needs. My main food compartment was the Nuclear Sunrise Stitchworks Titan Tank. After BPM determined in the Top Tube Throwdown that it could fit the most calories. I went with it for that reason, as well as the multi cam to match my bag theme. You can stuff this bag, and still find space for more. The one hand zipper function also plays a big roll, and it never let me down. Colorado Trail Race Gear My last bag was the Bedrock Tapeats To-Go bag. This bag hung out on the right side of my bars. This unconventional handlebar “stash” bag is meant to keep things dry while keeping stable on your bars. I kept batteries, Button Hole (chamois cream), my CTR Databook and at times some extra food for super easy access.  With the simple rip of  a velcro flap, the bag easily opens. This is one of my favorite bags of all time! Food: Coming into the race this year, I had some set calories that I would carry for the duration of the race. Both of these item are based around caffeine, which is crucial in a race of this magnitude, especially if you plan on sleeping very little. A week prior to the race, I decide to go cold turkey on the caffeine in order for it to really work when it mattered most. I’m one of those 2-3 times a day coffee drinkers so this proved to be pretty hard. I relapsed a few times, but in the end, significantly cut back. The two products that I would lean on to keep me going were Tailwind Nutrition Rasberry Buzz, and Honey Stinger Energy Chews with caffeine. It is amazing how focused I was that first night after I took my first nightly dose of caffeine. I ran out of Tailwind on the last night, but had purchased some extra chews in BV that I was saving, which proved to help a lot. Colorado Trail Race Gear As far as the rest of my diet went, I pretty much ate what ever tasted good at the time. I made sure to always carry sweet snacks, and salty snacks. When I would stop at gas stations or grocery stores, I would head directly for the coolers in search of a sandwich, and also try and find a Colorado peach as they are in season. I would purchase calorie rich snacks, and try and find a protein drink to chug down. I would then get a few candy bars, either Snickers or Paydays. I was also drawn to gummy bears this year, more so then past bikepacking trips – they proved to be a great source of energy, as well as calorie rich. I never ran out of food, didn’t have any stomach issues, and was pleased with with everything I put down.   Me: A few things that worked yet again were my Rudy Project Sterling helmet, and Rudy Project Noyz glasses – both very reliable products. I switched up my shoes for the first time in a year going with Specialized Rime’s. I like how stiff they are for a HAB shoes, but lack in width, creating some pain from time to time. I also had one of the boa closure wheels malfunction. It would tighten, but not un tighten, leaving it difficult to take off my left shoe, not that big of a deal, but still an inconvenience. Colorado Trail Race Gear The biggest issue I had was my chamois/saddle. I hit Buena Vista feeling good, but soon after could not stand the saddle sore without chamois cream. Not bad considering I was nearly halfway home without severe saddle sores. The next few days I would have more issues than any of my previous bikepacking adventures. I used a small SM3 saddle, which I would recommend up to 250 miles. I may be done using Pearl Izumi bibs, I have used these bibs in previous bikepacking trips, and they have given me fits. Just like saddles, because of the cost it is tough to test out bibs. I do know that I will be looking for something other than Pearl Izumi.   Overall most of the gear was tested well before the CTR, and that is why the majority of it worked. There will be situations you run into where gear just explodes in front of your face. Luckily for me, I avoided the heart sinking feeling of any of my gear breaking. Let’s hope my planning and preparation had a factor in that. Either way, for me, planning starts months before the actual ride.
Colorado Trail Race Gear
A naked, yet dirty bike post race.


  1. Great write up and Congrats on the win!

    Couple of questions:

    1. beyond the buckle failure and width issues (not an issue for me my feet are a bit narrow) what did you think of the Specialized shoes?

    2. I read you disconnected the dynamo hub when not in use, and are you saying the drag was less when connected? I was under the impression the drag would remain constant wether a charge was being drawn or not…

    Again thanks for the write up!


    • Neil Beltchenko
      Neil Beltchenko

      Thanks Ben

      1. It was the Boa closure system, I honestly could not take the shoe off…haha.Yes I thought the shoes were great, I’ll be doing a full review on them in a few weeks. I really enjoyed how they acted as a normal/stiff cycling shoe, but when I needed to hike it was like I had a regular gym shoe on.

      2.Yes, if the Dynamo is charging anything, it will create more resistance. I unplugged the light because there was no off switch. If there was an off switch on the Revo, all I would need to do is flip that switch and the dynamo would think that it is unplugged. No sense in pulling watts from my body if I don’t need light.

      Hope this helps.


  2. Congrats Neil on your CTR finish!!! Really appreciate the detailed reports on your trip and the gear you used and how it worked for you. Trying to get a better understandings of the overall bike packing thing and with your specific and with this information really helps a lot. Hope the knee heals fast!


    • Neil Beltchenko
      Neil Beltchenko


      If you have any specific questions at all just let me know. I would be happy to answer any of them. Its a pretty fun activity, leisure or at race pace.

      Knee is doing better, PT started today. At least my confidence is higher 🙂


      • Jake Bruce

        Hey Neil.

        I see that this comment is from years ago, but it looks like your knee made a strong comeback! Congrats man, that’s awesome 🙂

        I’m dealing with similar symptoms (not as severe) and was wondering which exercises helped you the most? I’m trying to put together a hip strengthening / knee rehab plan together.

        Thank you!
        ~ Jake Bruce

  3. Neil,

    Awesome post report. Can you show how the front bag fastens to the bar system. I used the Revelate sweet roll. Which can fold up really small and also hang out to be really big. I feel like the front roll is too much though and I miss the days of just lashing the compression bag to the front bars.

    Having had the Rimes for a few years now Ive had a few issues with the BOA. A little squirt bottle H20 has helped me unjam the grit a time or two. Still annoying none-the-less.

    As for the chamois. Good luck on the test. I think every ultra rider is looking for the ulimate. My goal has been to find breathable anything. Sweat is the enemy. Clean often. Dry at night (helps if you stop). Naked hikes are a must. But then again im a baby wipe fan.

    MY DT was uber gritty from the highspeed descent on detour #4’s rain storm. I hit it with the H20 bottle and it brought it back to life but I was hoping to use one of the water hoses on the farms that I was passing by. Obviously easy to say all this when I was on a much more conservative ride about 24+ hours behind you.

    Again im really impressed with your ride. Cant wait to see your time on the AZT this year. Keep up the info,

    Also waiting for the write up on the different Dynamo light setups and USB chargers.


  4. Did you try lubing the springs on the XTR pedals? I’ve had shimano and spd type pedals and they work better lubing the springs every once in a while. or were they smashed? I know people have hated the new xtr pedals, like how could they be so much worse than XT. I guess that’s what happened when they went for minimalist profile.

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