A couple of my cycling buddies are experienced bike tourers. As in riding across China, or riding from the Malaysia – Thai border to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, carrying all they need with them on their bicycles. They own touring bicycles. Touring bicycle frames are differentiated from ‘standard’ road bike frames by having
- A more relaxed geometry to provide a comfortable ride and stable handling
- Mounting points for the attachment of mud guards, carrier racks, panniers and three water bottles, and
- More clearance in the frame to accommodate 28mm or wider tires
As the rest of us followed their progress enroute, and heard their post ride stories, the thought of doing a bike tour ourselves started to appeal. After all, if The Tandem Men can ride around the world unsupported, we could surely do a multi-day ride, albeit something much less ambitious.
Those thoughts coalesced into a plan to spend four days riding through southern Thailand. For our first foray into the world of self-supported tours, we decided on the ‘credit card’ variety. We would carry basic cycling gear and clothing, then pay for things like meals, supplies and overnight accommodations as we travelled.
This lightweight approach would allow us to ride our road bikes. All we needed were some ‘rackless’ touring bags. Leslie pointed toward Apidura for the bags.
I had first come across the Apidura name in a feature on the Rapha website. Rapha had partnered with Apidura on a series of rackless packs. The feature made interesting reading.
Apidura was founded by Tori Fahey. An experienced cycling tourist, she took some time off work in 2011 to race in the Tour Divide (a 4,400km continent-crossing race from Canada to Mexico). In an interview published online in The Guardian, she says “It was through my trip from Canada to Mexico that I discovered pannier and rack systems and my revelation from the trip was that I was never going to use them again.”
So, in 2013, Apidura was born, producing storage solutions for people looking to travel the world by bike, race across continents and carry all they need to do so.
Today Apidura produces a range of packs and accessories.
I bought three items, all of them the dry versions designed to keep water out, even in a sustained rain.
Saddle Pack Dry (14L)
Handlebar Pack Dry (14L)
Accessory Pocket Dry (5L)
All five of us on the southern Thailand tour had Apidura saddle packs.
The Apidura saddle packs meet four important criteria:
- They are easy to pack, and then to compress and close.
- They attach simply and securely to the seat post and saddle.
- They do not adversely affect the handling of the bike.
- They are waterproof.
We tested the waterproofness early on, when we were caught in a torrential tropical downpour. It was so wet that our brakes were almost useless, and it was too dangerous to keep riding. Despite the deluge, not a drop of water got into the packs.
I was the only one with the handlebar pack and the accessory pack as well. The handlebar pack was just as easy easy to pack, close, and attach to the bars. The accessory pack clips neatly to the handlebar pack, and together have negligible impact on bike handling.
The only thing to watch for with the handlebar pack is that it doesn’t press on the cables in front of the bar enough to actuate the front brake. That happened to me, and the only solution was to lighten the load in the handlebar pack.
Apart from that niggle, the Apidura packs performed brilliantly. The large 14 liter / 3.7 US gallon capacity saddle pack accommodated a full set of cycling kit, a pair of sandals, a pair of shorts, two tee shirts, a small foam travel pillow, toiletries, a spare inner tube, tire levers and a multitool, and a rain jacket. With room to spare.
One trip is not enough to satisfy a fifth criteria, that of durability. The materials list from the Apidura website, however, points to products designed to cope well with the rigours of bike touring in all conditions.
Dimension Polyant VX21 is the main body fabric. This 4 layer laminated fabric offers a combination of superior waterproofness, light weight, ultra high abrasion and tear resistance, and low stretch.
Ultra-durable hypalon is used in high abrasion, high stress areas to provide additional protection against friction and puncture.
Woojin buckles are used in the fastening system for enhanced reliability.
HDPE structural support to reinforce the shape of the pack, ensuring that it does not interfere with the ride.
I must report that I managed to separate the top and bottom parts of a clip on the handlebar pack to which a strap from the accessory pocket is attached. I pulled too hard on the strap to tighten it. Fortunately Marco was able to maneuver the two parts of the clip back together again.
While the Apidura packs are clearly built tough, care must be taken when tightening straps.
So far so good though. I think I speak for all five of us when I say that we are very happy with our Apidura packs. I recommend them highly to anyone interested in a rackless packing system.