I’m half way through one of those winter rides. The temperature has been hovering just above zero, the air is damp, dank and somehow feels colder than if it were sub-zero. Grey slushy remnants of snow sit in the ditches beside the road and the whole world is black and white and sepia. Clouds have been building, tinged almost yellow, heavy with more snow. I’ve been plodding into a headwind for hours and just as I reach the most exposed section of the ride, crossing barren moorland, sleet hits me face on. I stop instantly and unzip my frame bag to pull on my final layer – a waterproof jacket – and spy the spare set of gloves I stashed. Another hour later, I feel like I’ve aged years. I pull over once again, sodden, numb hands pulling the orange zip toggle. Swapping gloves doesn’t quite bring instant relief but it makes the last couple of hours of riding bearable. Strange how riding bikes sometimes makes near-comfort feel like absolute luxury sometimes.
In my last blog I talked about the curse of All The Gear And No Idea… and reframing it as having the right gear at the right time. I’m a kit freak – I love having exactly the right piece of equipment for the right situation. There’s something amazingly satisfying about rummaging in the kit box/drawer/room/shed to find that piece that would come in handy some day. What is even more satisfying though, is discovering that bit of kit that is so good it almost becomes ubiquitous whatever the scenario. Once again though, this isn’t about the gear, it’s about what it lets you do…
Now, I love my stembag for long bikepacking trips, and even the occasional big day-ride, but it’s overkill on the commute and is never going to grace my enduro mountain bike… Equally a saddlebag is perfect for fitting a sleeping bag and overnight kit into, but I’ve never used it on anything that hasn’t involved an overnighter.
It’s mid-summer. I get home from work, and am virtually stripping as I walk through the house. Less than five minutes later, I’m re-dressed in a t-shirt and shorts and wheeling my mountain bike out of the door. I pause before locking up, run back to the fridge and grab a cold can of beer, slotting it into my framebag. An hour later, I’m a sweaty mess, dust stuck to my legs and smile as wide as the evening is long. Propping the bike up in a clearing, I sit down and pop the ring pull of the condensation-covered can, ready to catch the inevitable spray. I enjoy fifteen minutes of quiet in the golden light of a late dusk, before re-saddling and breathlessly heading home.
The true hero for me in the Restrap range is the Small Frame bag. I had a little flick back through my photos of the last twelve months or so, and have counted at least seven bikes that it’s been strapped to. I’ve used it for anything from winter commuting through to long gravel rides to a way of keeping weight off my back when heading out on the mountain bike for quick blasts. It’s one of those items of kit that I would replace in an instant if I were to ever lose it. I thought I’d list the various different scenarios I’ve used that little black triangle in recently:
Commuter mode: tool wrap, spare tube, pump, keys, wallet, phone… oh, and an old Buff to calm the rattle, plus probably something that used to resemble a cereal bar, but has once again been crushed back to cereal.
Winter ride mode: Spare clothes, mostly; a waterproof, maybe a small insulated gilet; those spare gloves; a tiny bike lock for any café stops. The pump and spares are strapped to the frame, because lets face it, a bike with mudguards looks pretty ugly as it is.
Bikepacking mode/big ass long MTB ride mode (the kind of ride where I’ll likely be riding through the night, likely trying to go fast and light): USB charger for electrics; whatever snacks I fancy when I pass a Spar or petrol station – probably sausage rolls and Tunnocks
Gravel mode: similar to commuter mode, but with a bigger spare tube, and probably a spare layer like a windproof gilet
Quick evening blast on the MTB: tube; tubeless repair; CO2; multitool; folding saw to tidy up any errant foliage; can of beer for mid-ride refreshment. It’s the kind of stuff that I might have used a riding pack for a few years ago. It’s great to avoid a sweaty back now.
It’s nearing midnight. I’ve been riding since early morning. A hot day became a mild evening and is now a cool night. I have ridden this way in daylight before, and can picture the hills and valleys around me, but for now I can only see the next few metres in any detail. Beyond that is simply silhouette and shadow. I focus on my little pool of light and reach down – instinctively knowing where the zip pull is, repeating a process I’ve been doing all ride – and blindly feel out a petrol station mini pork pie. I eat it with my mouth open, it’s not like there’s anyone around to point out my lack of manners. The savouriness of it is a welcome contrast to my tastebuds, which have been numbed by hours of jelly babies. I keep pedalling, blinking back a wave tiredness, enjoying having my little world to myself for a bit longer.
Why the small frame bag rather than its larger siblings though? Well, its size means that it fits all of my bikes, regardless of suspension, weird tubing or anything else. For most I can also use it with at least one bottle cage as well. Finally, it forces me to think about what I need to pack, rather than what I can pack. There are definitely times when more is more, but I like only having the necessary. The small frame bag is my riding philosophy embodied in a single pocket and some straps.
Small is mighty – all hail the Small Frame bag.