The Tour Divide is the race event that follows the Great Divide MTB route from Canada down to Mexico. It’s a huge challenge for the entrants, and not just in terms of scope, scale and the constant worry about refilling the pepper spray bottle! For the intrepid riders that roll wheels out of Banff this summer, crossing bear-itory without catching the eye, nose or left hook of Yogi’s more dangerous cousin is only one of the daily challenges they will have to face before upending the first of many margaritas in Mexico....
This year, our friend Will from Brother Cycles is tweaking the nose of danger at the Tour, and, as natural cowards (have you seen the Revenant???) we opted to kit him out rather than accompany him on his brave endeavour. Read on for our kit list and suggestions!
Kit Thoughts & Prep
Any Tour Divide kit list will almost certainly vary from rider to rider. Starting in Banff, Canada and riding to the Mexican border takes some serious planning, especially if you hope to do it within a certain number of days. Whether racing or just hoping to complete with all limbs accounted for, initial prep and plans should start with your bike, bags, time scale and willingness to "rough it". Taking three months, camping and cooking properly each night will require a very different set of kit to the racers who ride it in fewer than 20 days. However, at the core of these pack lists, there are constants.
Shelter, warmth, weather protection, food, cookware and spares are overarching must-haves, and resilience, weight and flexibility should be assessed before items are packed. The Tour Divide race is perhaps unique as an endurance MTB event due to the challenge that weather variation plays. On high mountain passes, such as the Boreas Pass in Colarado, temperatures can get very low, whilst the sun-scorched plains or short sector in the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico provide an altogether different challenge. Throw in the usual likelihood of rain, night-riding and early starts and a kit wish list can easily grow to an unmanageable level. Let's not even talk about the bears...
When Brother Cycles approached us asking for a few apparel tips, we jumped at the opportunity to help out, and, after a few cups of tea, we decided to sponsor Will (one of the brothers) in his attempt. Serving as both an adventure, physical and personal challenge, and a test for their forthcoming Big Bro 29er bike, we’re excited to see how Will gets on with our kit choices.
Scanning other Tour Divide kit lists, talking to riders who had ridden the route both as a race and as a tour, and taking our personal touring experiences on board, we focused on the areas that were not to be compromised, plus a general overview of what else to take.
They are the least exciting part of your ride but perhaps the most personal. The right pair of bib shorts (or pairs in this case) will go completely unnoticed - that's a good thing! Most riders carry what's jokingly referred to as a "bum bag" - chamois cream, saddle sore cream antiseptic and Vaseline in an easy access dry sack towards the top of their kit - most hope it’ll never be opened. The right bibs offer the best chance of a successful journey.
We opted for Sugoi bibs for a few reasons. Will currently rides a Sugoi chamois, and changing this important item right before a big event is pretty widely acknowledged to be a bad idea. Sugoi also have form in these sort of adventures: former professional rider Cameron Wurf noticeably wore Sugoi kit in the most recent Thereabouts film, as did 2015 Tour Divide winner and record holder Josh Kato. Clearly then, when it comes to off-road epics, Sugoi know how to bring it on home.
Smith Optics piqued our interest. Their trail and road helmets are designed for all road adventures. Rather than looking at pure aerodynamics or light weight Smith helmets offer a great balance of comfort and performance, packing in all the ventilation and protection needed for the varied terrains ahead.
We supplied Will with 7Mesh’s revelation jacket. Unashamedly high-end, the Revelation uses a Gore-Tex Pro fabric. Usually the preserve of outdoor and ski markets, this fabric is fully waterproof and about as breathable as it gets for a hard shell, and so will hopefully prove a great option for this sort of mixed terrain / weather riding. A detachable hood should come in handy when off the bike, whilst during the hotter stages of the race, the Revelation will pack down surprisingly well. Waterproof trousers from Showers Pass - packable, dependable, also great in emergencies - were also included.
Quality gloves, warmers and socks can make a difference much greater than their pack weight or cost. We supplied Brother Cycles with matching Sugoi RS Arm and Leg Warmers plus a set of Arm Coolers. In the hotter states, these both help to keep the sun off and keep skin temperature cool (a lifesaver for those with sensitive skin). A minor advantage maybe but in the Great Basin in Wyoming, there's nothing but heat and dust for days (stunning vistas aside);for their tiny pack weight, they're well worth including.
Short finger gloves from Lizard Skins, the hardest wearing mitts out there, and warm, weatherproof gloves from Hestra - cold weather pros - will help prevent sore or numb hands, and even blisters or sunburn.
A light wind vest comes in surprisingly handy, functioning as a valuable extra layer in the cold or protection in hot or windy conditions. The Diablo from Cadence made our shortlist, and not only because a bit of extra visibility can help scare off bears (no proof to this whatsoever as pretty much nothing scares bears - other than bear spray!!). Also, it's red, windproof and packs ridiculously small, so really, what's not to like?
The PEdAL Ed Okabe Jersey comes recommended to us by another of our feature writers, Gavin, (the Cycling Monk). On his Scotland to Athens trip, he found it invaluable due to its suitability in most weathers. For the Great Divide, it's neither too light nor too thick and the half zip also helps to minimise wear from the backpack that many riders carry for extra hydration.
Giro Terraduros paired with Proof Winter MTB covers perform well in pretty much all conditions. Terraduros are grippy, robust and comfy, and while no overshoe is completely waterproof, the Proof Winter Cover fits over the Terraduro exactly, keeping the bulk of the weather out and warmth in. Add into the mix the Defeet Woolie Boolie and that’s one warm trio! There are socks that pack smaller with comparable warmth (Defeet’s Thermator for example) but these merino beauties just feel great after a day on the bike.
Of course, all of the above is only a small snapshot of Will's overall Tour Divide kit. On top of this, he'll have shelter & navigation requirements, plus a few other pieces of clothing and personal items.