Since we purchased our Salsa Powderkeg tandem in June, it’s seen several different incarnations. First, we set it up as a full-on mountain bike, but a plethora of mechanicals proved that it’s a ride way more suited for mountain touring than singletrack shredding, and so that’s the direction it’s been moving. Then we decided to ride it the 200 miles to Evan’s parents house for Thanksgiving, so it became a road touring bike, designed to go far and fast.
We’ve been working on outfitting the bike to perfection for months, resulting in a pretty great touring setup that worked quite perfectly on the Thanksgiving trip. In this article, I’m just going to go into some of the main pieces of the puzzle that made for a great ride this time around. There’s certainly more to our tandem setup than I go into here, and in the near future, I plan on writing an in-depth piece on the issues we’ve had with the Powderkeg and how we’ve solved them, and of how the bike evolved into what it is today.
We purchased the Powderkeg as a complete bike, but by now, have stripped most of its stock parts and replaced them with ones that work better for us. The main problem we had was with rear hubs. The stock Shimano SLX exploded after less than 100 miles on the bike. We went through another one before finally getting a Chris King, which has done us well for the past couple of months, including our first century on the tandem and of course the double century ride to Thanksgiving. In the front, we built up a wheel with a Shutter Precision PD-8X Dynamo that was a wedding gift from our friend Jared. I love useful gifts! More on the Dynamo in a bit.
Aside from durability of the bike, comfort is one of the most important pieces of doing a long ride. I struggled with comfort on the tandem for a while–my back hurt a lot, and it took me a while to find a good saddle. We decided to do double Jones H-bars, for both me and Evan. Evan has been using them on a few of his bikes for a few years now, but I had never tried them. I was immediately a fan, as they have made long hours on the back of the tandem a lot more comfortable. After trying multiple different saddles, I finally decided that the WTB Deva is the one for me right now. Evan is currently running a WTB Volt.
Riding overnight in the winter means about 13-14 hours of darkness, so a reliable, sustainable lighting system is crucial. The Dynamo hub combined with a Supernova ThePlug USB charger was a perfect setup. The Dynamo continuously powered a light that we mounted low on the front fork that was a constant secondary light. We alternated between two other main lights, a Cygolite Turbo 800 and a Light & Motion Urban 850. The Cygolite had two battery packs, which we charged fully before leaving, and was our backup while the Light & Motion was charging. We also took an auxiliary battery along with us, the Anker PowerCore 15600, which is able to be charged via the Supernova Plug, and can charge lights, phones, and whatever else via USB. We ordered the battery a week before we left, not having any experience with such things in the past, and it arrived just in time and worked flawlessly. We charged the Light & Motion twice with it during our ride, and it still showed full charge at the end, so I imagine we could have gotten many more charges out of it before needing to charge the battery itself.
The last thing you want in the middle of the night is to have a fixable problem but not have the right tools or parts. So, we brought a pretty extensive, but still compact, repair kit.
-Spare tubes x 2
-Zip ties x 4
–Crank Brothers M17 Multi-tool
-Section of 10-speed chain
-Chainring bolts x 2
-5mm hex head bolt and washers
-Rear alternator plate
-Small amount of electrical tape
On a bike, food and water is the fuel. Although we knew we would be in civilization and not the middle of the woods, we also knew we’d be riding through the middle of the night when not much would be open, so we made sure we had enough fuel to get us through. We ended up stopping quite a few times for coffee and hot chocolate at gas stations. We bought a Vitamin Water once, and a breakfast sandwich after dawn. Other than that, we subsisted on what we brought along, and had quite a bit left over.
-2 bladders for water, 3-Liter x 1 and 1.5-Liter x 1
-Stanley insulated, stainless mug for coffee
-Trail mix – nuts, dried fruit, M&Ms
-Sour Patch Kids
-Clif Shot Bloks
-2 apples, sliced
-Starkist tuna packets
–Hammer electrolyte pills and SaltSticks
The frame obviously lends itself to plenty of frame bag storage, so our friend Brendan Treffinger made us some really nice, waterproof, durable custom bags for the three triangles. We also used a number of smaller bags. I had the Jandd handlebar bag, and we each had a Jandd Stem Bag for small essentials. Evan also used a Revelate Designs Mountain Feedbag for quick access to important things.
Overall, our equipment worked flawlessly. The operation of the lighting system was especially pleasing. We had no flats or mechanicals, which was a relief because changing a tire while along Rt. 30 at 3am when it was 20 degrees was not exactly on our list of things we wanted to do. The only issue we really had was clothing—we were certainly underdressed. Not because we don’t own appropriate cold-weather gear, but because we failed to bring it because we underestimated how cold it would actually get, and how cold it would feel on the road for that lengthy period of time. We know for next time. There are actually two articles of clothing, a packable down jacket and a thicker pair of tights, that I seriously considered bringing and then ditched at the last minute, that would have made all the difference. We know for next time.