Sarah, how does your approach to packing change between a race and a leisurely bikepacking ride?
‘Since I started racing I’ve actually become more likely to carry extra stuff on the leisurely rides, whereas my race kit is all about packing for practicality and lightness of weight.
On the racing side of things, I’ve managed to scale down on the amount of stuff I take by investing in better quality clothing and lighter equipment. The lighter in weight the better.
I guess it comes down to what you are prepared to go without more than anything. I can manage in both the cold and heat more than most riders I know, so I find I never need as much warm clothing as others. However, as much as I hate waterproof pants, I still pack them to avoid having to sleep in drenched shorts and socks. That’s just going to result in a miserable sleep – and it’ll most likely increase the chances of getting sick.
Another difference between a race kit and a weekend away kit is that I’m not too stressed about weight on a leisurely trip. I’ll happily carry what’s needed for that day and not care too much how it’s packed – especially on the return leg, when it’s more a case of “Throw it in, sort it out later!”
I also only use one feed bag instead of two, as I’ll most likely only be eating enough to get through the riding part, then slow down to eat a real meal at the destination.
When racing, my kit is dialed in and packed a certain way for access and time efficiency. I’ll always have a larger saddle bag than needed as it allows for when I may need to carry additional items not thought required at the start line. On super remote stretches this usually means space to pack more food!
Sleeping gear is minimal for races – maybe just a sleeping mat cut down to the width and length of my back, and a bivvy bag. On a weekend trip I may include a tent and a sleeping bag as the need to nap in the dirt isn’t required.
The Apidura Saddle Pack Dry is my most utilized piece. It’s always with me, regardless of whether I’m racing or cruising with friends at the weekend.’
How does your kit change between road and off-road events?
‘All the basic items are still there, and clothing doesn’t change much. You’ll always need to fend off wind or rain; you’ll always need items to repair the bike – but actually in that instance, inner tubes, a few bolts and the mech hanger may vary between my road and MTB bike.
Sleeping gear may alter a little too: When racing in more remote areas the options for comfort when sleeping may be limited so a thicker mat could be required – perhaps even a mat that reflects cold away from you into the ground? Animals and insects are more of an issue too, so a higher quality bivvy that zips up fully to protect from a million mosquitoes bites is a must.
During Race to the Rock (2,300km from Adelaide to Uluru) last year the insects in central Australia were like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Even riding through the day I would be using one hand on the handlebar and the other swatting away hundreds of flies for hours – until the sun went down. Then the flies were replaced with mosquitoes, and I wore most of my cold weather kit to fend off bites from bugs.’
Out adventuring. Photography: Jesse Carlsson
Does the climate or environment have any impact on what kit you take?
‘For me you can never be too cautious. How many times have you ascended a climb when it’s been thirty-plus degrees the whole way, only to be taken out by a tropical storm at the top, leaving you drenched and ice cold facing a long windy descent? It always pays to be prepared.
But saying that, my kit doesn’t vary too much between conditions. Obviously if it’s summer or extreme winter the clothing will vary slightly, as will the need for a sleeping bag or not. I’m yet to race in extreme winter conditions so I would imagine the quality of sleeping bag and mat would be much more important.
I did the entire TransAm Bike Race and the Indian Pacific Wheel race with only an emergency bivvy and sleeping mat the length of my back. Even through the icy snowy parts I found with quality clothing I stayed warm enough for the duration of my short naps.
But hey, if you wake up cold it’s always an incentive to get riding again and warm up. Racing isn’t a holiday!’
How has your approach to packing changed as you’ve gained experience? What sort of things no longer make it into your bags?
‘With experience you learn to go without. For me it’s been about learning what is essential and what is a luxury item. You’ll never find any beauty products, chamois cream, casual clothing, underwear, spare lycra, bibs or jerseys. What I wear on day one is on my back until the end.
Over time you find better quality items. Lighter means faster!’
Left: Sarah’s bike and kit for the 2017 Indian Pacific Wheel Race. Right: Sarah in action at the 2016 Race to the Rock. Photography: Jesse Carlsson
What’s the most important item in your luggage, regardless of the occasion?
‘Lip balm and music. I carry spare headphones in every race or ride. When you get tired you make mistakes, and I’ve ran many a pair of headphones through my wheel without realizing! The thought of having to deal with my own head is enough to drive me mad, so I always need my music.’
What’s in the packs?
‘I have a system! It’s taken a couple of races to fine tune, and I’m always keen to minimize it even more, but this is my current racing setup…’
‘I tend to pack in order of least used at the bottom and most required towards the top. I always keep my insulated jacket separate to everything to ensure it stays dry and protected, as it’s the one life-saving piece of kit. By the way, a good tip is that bagging clothing means it can also double as a pillow!
I use the top straps of the saddle bag when closed to tie down a bag that houses my tracker when racing. This ensures the tracker is always facing up to engage the satellite. I’ll also store baby wipes for nature calls here and lube/rag for the chain.’
‘Regular, easy access items need to go here.’
‘Pretty obvious what goes here – as much food as I can cram in! If I need to carry more than can fit in the pouches I’ll use Velcro straps to tie down extra food in between my aero bars.’
‘My sleeping mat is normally small enough for me to strap under my handlebars, in between each shifter, with Velcro. However, when racing in more remote areas or in cold conditions when I need a sleeping bag and stronger bivvy, I’ll use the Apidura Handlebar Pack Dry to house these two items. I’ll generally keep the sleeping bag inside the bivvy to save time too, then you can just roll it out or pack it up as one item.
Apart from that I’ll also carry two one-litre water bottles on the bike at all times, and my jersey pockets will always contain my iPod, as well as my sunglasses and a wind jacket for fast access if the temperature changes.’
Sarah’s next big event is the 2017 Race to the Rock in September: A 3,500km off-road epic through the remote wilderness of the Australian outback, which you can follow in its entirety via our live tracking hub here.