"I've had this axe for over 50 years, always kept it sharp and it's never let me down." he'd state proudly.
One caveat he never brought to the conversation though, was that 'his axe' had 3 handles and 2 heads in that time. But the vibe is kinda the same. Grandad was good with a story and it always got better with each telling.
Over the years my Muru Witjira has undergone many changes - a bit like Grandads axe. Together we've shared some amazing adventures, seen some incredible things. Like the time I got pinned by a blowhole storm at 2am, would have been blowing 80km/hr, temps around -50C...but as I get older I'll embellish it more, where I was frozen crygenically by the storm, but then miraculously re-animated myself just by thoughts of dark chocolate and a rocking chair.
A history recap on this bike can be found HERE (PART 1) , HERE (PART 2) and HERE (LEFTY CONVERSION) What's happened between that time and now has been a constant refinement and evolution over 5 years on the Iditarod trail in Alaska. I'm always refining and improving - what you see this year might be totally different to the next.
I'm hoping that what you see in this article might help you refine your own setups, some things that will be a lightbulb moment - others may leave you scratching your head. Either way, the important thing is that it gets you thinking about what works for you, so don't be afraid to experiment. I won't give you the fish...but I'll teach you how to catch it...
Simple specs for the bikenerds: Muru Witjira overland ti frame, 2013 model, Wright style dropouts with QR axles, 170mm. Muru custom ti fork with everything, 135mm. Tune King/Kong hubs, Sapim CXray spokes, HED BFD 100mm carbon rims, SRAM 1x11 drivetrain, carbon cranks, Thomson stem, Muru ti seatpost. Black remains a fashionable colour on the trail.
Yep, I must be the only one still running QR hubs. Whats not to like about them for this low speed, low tech race? Nothing to drop into the snow, it all remains captive with the hub...and lighter than TA too.
I repack all bearings with winter spec grease - except for the TUNE hubs. The factory bearing grease showed no noticeable sign of additional friction due to low temps, but I do repack the freehub mech. Running a road BB7r caliper with ti hardware and Ashima rotors - 160 front and 140 rear, metal pads.
I prefer shimano pedals due to the rigid platform upon which to bash the cleat onto, to break up ice that builds on the cleat when pushing for extended periods.
Fully loaded is about 37kgs. That's with a load of stove fuel, water bottles full and framebag full of race chow - which equates to about 4kg of Bonk Breaker bars and 3kg of chocolate in many forms.
In late 2015 I made front and rear racks out of alloy tubing and flat bar, I then stitched up some micro race panniers to make use of the cavity space and provide load support for sleeping kit mounted on the Revelate harness. This was their 3rd race to Nome. All totalled, the empty front panniers and front rack weighed 360g. I incorporated some wide reflective strips for the long nights in motion on the trail, bright orange zipper pulls with reflective strip help identify closed position at a glance.
The rack maintains 15-20mm of clearance between the tyre and the load, no matter how bumpy the trail is.
Securing the load, was an older version of the Revelate Pocket, that I double clipped into the straps of the Revelate harness. When I want to release the sleeping kit, I only need to unclip the three clips of the harness.
Inside the pocket were my spare liner gloves, day/night lenses for my Oakley Airbrake goggles, lens cleaners, spare liner gloves, spare headgear and overflow food space. Can also hold around 3kg of M&Ms.
I tied on a pair of short Revelate straps to hold my lightweight Berghaus synthetic reversa jacket. Quick to deploy and stow. With any system, you need to simplify it. Grandma used the KISS principle of keeping it simple also - her cakes were the best around. Just a shame she never used denture adhesive when she used the kiss principle on us...
This year I ran mini aero bars and had to create a makeshift pogie to cover them. I picked up an old sleeping bag and a fluffy Christmas stocking from a dime store in Anchorage, cut them up and made a liner for my Revelate Periphery pocket, stuck it together with Tyvek tape. Very basic cockpit with just the essentials - analogue weather station and digital sundial.
Underneath the Garmin was a Revelate Spocket for battery storage. Used lithiums for the Garmin and alkalines for the headtorch - a 500 lumen Black Diamond Polar Icon - with the remote battery pack in the chest pocket of my fleece base layer. These two devices use AA batts, the Garmin can run happily on alkalines too. It's not used as a primary source of trail intel - but the time is good to know and you have buttons to play with, to stave off hand pain, monotony and sleep monsters.
On the top tube up front I had a Revelate Gastank (the older, superwide fatbike model) with close to hand food and supplies (I pre-heat my Bonk Breakers in special pockets I sewed onto my fleece base layer), Topeak multitool and Leatherman Style PS tool. I try to keep a minimum of things in each pocket and don't overstuff them - far too easy to lose things when pulling another item out. You do NOT want to lose your gum.
I had a Revelate Jerrycan on the rear section of the toptube, this held my power stuff - Topeak 7800mAh cache battery, Samsung phone, lithium camera batteries and a USB wall charger.
Hydration was in the form of immediate, short and long term storage solutions. I wear a Salomon skin vest with 2L onboard, I made an insulation panel that helps to trap the body heat better and not suffer from frozen hoses or junctions (but you still gotta blow that water outta the hose, people). Then there is a 600mL bottle in the Revelate Feedbag (I use 2 feedbags, the 2nd for food - which equates to approx 1000cc of M&M's) that is good for plain water or electrolyte drink mixes. Short term is a 1L Nalgene bottle in an OR cozy on the left fork blade. Long term is a 1L double walled Hydroflask. This gives me a much lighter and better performing storage system overall, with less dry weight and improved usage. A great thing about the Hydroflask is the stainless steel and high temp paint - I can pre-warm the flask on the cooler edge of a stove for longer water storage times - nearly 20 hours at around -20. I don't use sipper tops - they can leak and the leaking water will freeze the bottle to the cozy if you're on the edge of slush in the bottle.
I designed a custom ti fork, Muru got it sorted and it has a huge array of mounts - barrel mounts top and bottom, mid blade mounts for low riders and 3 pack mounts front and rear of each blade.
In the front RH pannier I have my Whisperlite stove, a pair of Evernew pots in .6L and 1.3L, my next meal and room for overflow/cache food. Inside the pots I also have a collapsible cup - handy for scooping water out of stove top pots for filling water bottles. I stitched these panniers up with a system in mind - the design of the zipper and flop down panel allows me to access all items inside, with the sleep system still mounted.
The Revelate expedition pogies (imagine big, insulated oven mitts) fit over the top of the handlebars, with the brake and gear controls inside, so you only need to wear liner gloves. The RH pogie pocket keeps my basic first aid stuff close to hand.
The LH pogie pocket is for chemical warmers. Again, if you don't have systems readily accessible, you won't use them. In the field you are always planning things out, so if you were planning a quick meal stop or have to deal with a mechanical, first thing you do is pre-plan it by cracking open a pair of handwarmers - easy to do on the fly when items are close to hand. After the frostbite of 2017, I now have toe warmers as part of my foot system. I use a closed cell foam Intuition liner in my boot, I removed the tongue from the liner and now I have this nice air cavity above the metatarsals of my forefoot - perfect placement for the toe warmer between my liner sock and insulation sock. Manufacturers don't recommend this, but experimentation has worked for me and is the game changer for my damaged piggies.
Inside the pogie, I like to overwrap the grips and exposed brake lever bodies with road handlebar foam tape. Helps insulate a little and provide some extra cushioning. Being able to feed yourself at the end of the day is a good thing. I said FEED.
That's your lot for part 1 of bike setup. The next article will deal with food storage, cooking tech/hacks, debunk the myth of hygiene and further encourage the vagabond lifestyle.