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Pack Like a Pro: Mountain Biking with Payson McElveen

Written by: Payson McElveen

Riding a bike has been part of my life since age four, but it didn’t solidify as my life’s passion until it became one of my only options. Following several injuries in high school basketball, I turned my focus full-time to two wheels. Being a competitive person, I quickly gravitated towards racing. I was a good student but even so, found myself counting down the minutes until the final bell as fantasies of how hard I was going to push myself in my interval workout that afternoon tugged at my attention. Often times my school backpack was stuffed with my cycling kit and a post-school snack that would fuel that day’s training ride. Today those interval workouts are my profession, but I don’t know that I’ll ever match the pure fiery passion I had in those first few years of unbridled ambition.

Austin, Texas has an amazing in-town trail system that I often utilized for these after-school rides. Even on the hottest of Texas days, I’d rely on just two water bottles in cages on my bike, refilling them along the way wherever I could—gas stations, neighborhood spigots and public water fountains at public pools. Jersey pockets were stuffed with a tube, hand pump and some wadded up cash for a gas station Snickers bar if hunger struck. Then I graduated, moved to Colorado for college, and everything changed.

Man riding uphill on his mountain bike with a sunset in the background

After only a week in my new home of Durango, I was invited on my first “high country ride.” I showed up like I always did for a ride: short sleeve jersey, two bottles on my bike, tube and hand pump in my jersey pocket, and a couple of Snickers bars that I bought, preemptively assuming there wouldn’t be any gas stations on the Colorado Trail. My ride partners thought this was pretty funny knowing what a trial by fire I was about to receive. Sure enough, we got hailed on, I crashed a couple of times, got very, very hungry, and pretty much just got chewed up and spit out by the mountains. My fitness was good, but my preparation was not.

What is your pack of choice?

About seven years on, I’ve developed a slightly better system. Now when the mountains throw surprises, I’m ready. I rely on two Osprey bags in particular when riding in my backyard of the San Juan high-country (or any remote trail system). Often times these rides are shuttles, so the first bag I always pull out is the Trail Kit.(Opens in a new window) With thoughtful design throughout, it’s the perfect weekend ride or race trip bag. I used to play a game where I’d mentally dress myself from the feet up, gradually collecting all the necessary items and then stuffing them in to a duffel. Most of my gear has a specific place in the Trail Kit bag now, so I can easily keep track of what I’ve packed and double-check what I might be missing.

Man wearing a bike pack loaded with gear looking out over the mesa

For bigger days in the saddle, I ride with a hydration pack. For rides over 3 hours, I opt for the Raptor 10(Opens in a new window). During the late summer months, I use this pack almost weekly as we enjoy the best time of year in the high country of the San Juan mountains. Riding at 9,000-13,000 feet of elevation requires some unique gear and preparation.

10 Essentials for Mountain Biking

Here are the top ten things I pack in my TrailKit for race weekends or day trip:

Helmet: The TrailKit bag has a specifically designed mesh tuckaway compartment for my helmet!

Riding Shoes: I like to use the outer divided pocket for my shoes. Clothes gradually get siphoned over to that compartment too as they get dirty over the course of a weekend. Shoes are smelly anyway, right?!

1-4 chamois depending on the length of the trip

1-4 jerseys

Socks: I always pack one more pair than I think I’ll need. There’s nothing like clean, dry socks.

Man sitting on a rock rummaging through his gear bag

Oakleys, with spare lenses for changing weather conditions

Bike computer and HR strap

Bottle of Orange Seal tire sealant

GU energy gels, hydration mix, and chews, EnduroBites bars (quantity dependent on the length of my ride)

Post-ride snack/meal. Whether it’s a banana or decadent sandwich, there’s nothing like putting some real food in right after a bigger ride

Here’s what I bring in my Raptor 10(Opens in a new window) for those rides:

Full bladder of water: sometimes I’ll include a bottle of hydration mix in a bottle cage on my bike

Rain shell: This is a critical piece of equipment in the high country where 2 PM monsoons are like clockwork

Phone: Hopefully it won’t have to, but it might get you out of a bind

GU chews and EnduroBites bars. For longer days in the high country, I’ll take at least 1,000 calories with me.

PBJ: For the really long days, there’s nothing like a nice smashed up PBJ snack above treeline

Man riding a mountain bike downhill with the sun setting in the background

Extra Parts: Two tubes, tire plugs, hand pump and a multi-tool

Sawyer water filter for the longer days.

RedBull for the longer days. The high country is a bad place to have your energy tank. RedBull has gotten me through more than a few dark moments…

Man posing with his bike and bike gear

Pro Tip

One of the greatest little pieces of technology to take the mountain bike world by storm recently is the tire plug. They’ve been around for cars for some time, but only in the last handful of years has the bike-specific design really been perfected. Even with how great tubeless sealant is these days, sometimes you put a slice in your tire so big that it won’t seal. The next best thing is to plug it. It’s a much quicker process than a tube, is surprisingly durable, and most importantly, allows you to continue to enjoy the benefits of tubeless tires (lower pressure for greater traction, no pinch flats etc.). So, next time you’re at a bike shop, grab a set of tire plugs, toss them in your pack and be that little more prepared next time you’re out on a ride.

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