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TA Countdown 8: It's All About the Bike

30 October 2021

By Ollie Whalley, Anja McDonald, Tristan Rawlence & Scott Emmens

The Tour Aotearoa invites endless requirement, excuse and opportunity to research, anguish and indulge in a new bike plus screeds of hi-tech gear and clothing to enhance your tip-to-tail adventure.

The pragmatic reality is that the best TA bike may well be the one you already own - accessorised with aerobars, a fixed-height seat post and suitable tyres to handle long days, mixed terrain and bikepacking payloads.

Cash Therapy

If however you’re overdue Santa-like affirmation for good behaviour over the past year then your purpose-purchased TA bike is likely to be a 29er hardtail. Front shocks offer up off-road comfort and tolerance to survive tricky terrain. If you're counting the grams and have sufficient technical skills then go fully rigid.

Those who identify as "fit, technically strong and competitive" - might consider a CX or gravel bike. They are fast and beautiful - but quite a handful on singletrack. Ensure there's space for at least 2" tyres (plus mud clearance), and check there is no toe overlap with the front wheel - a deal breaker on tight corners.

29+, fat bikes and singlespeeds all have their place - with advantages of simplicity and reliability, but are considerably harder to pedal. Not for the faint hearted.


29 inch wheels roll faster and handle mixed terrain better. However big hoops and smaller frames present challenges with reduced real estate to fit bike baggage. One option is the Revelate Terrapin 8 underseat bag with increased rear tyre clearance. Otherwise riders of smaller stature may opt for 27.5”/650B rims to gain more cargo space.


Carbon is light, stiff laterally, and (depending on the laminate design) somewhat compliant over rough terrain. However, good quality (read reliable) carbon frames are expensive and often frugal with ‘braze-ons’ for attaching multiple water bottles. Hose clamps and old inner tube packing can compensate for any short fall in that department. Ensure scuff tape is judiciously applied to protect the wear zones.

Mid range models are typically built from aluminium. Historically alloy got a bad rap for a harsh ride - but modern frames have got that better sorted. Older frames are prone to metal fatigue.

Modern chromoly steel resonates with hi-tech retro chic. It's good value with only a slight weight penalty. Titanium frame sets share the classic narrow diameter aesthetic of steel. They are light and expensive, but oh so elegant. Both metals deliver a ‘soft’ ride, are repairable by clever artisan craftsmen and will live almost forever. Plus they can be recycled at the end of their days. There are plenty of bikepacking-specific deigns from specialised brands - with braze-ons for bottles, mud guards and racks.

Gear Up

1x drive trains are the clear winner for mountain biking but for bikepacking their range is a bit narrow and the jump between gears a bit wide.

2 x11 is a better starting point. Being able to select the right gear is important when you’re knackered and grinding uphill on a fully laden bike. 3 x 10 a great option with even more gear choice, but is increasingly hard to track down.

Ollie is a fan of the Rohloff internal geared rear hub. It is robust, allows for a straight chain line and requires less maintenance than a derailleur setup. But it's expensive, the hub is heavy and sometimes difficult to obtain parts for in the field if it does fail.

Rubber Side Down
A veritable candy store of tyre choice awaits. Expect to end up with a mid-volume mtb tyre (2.1 -2.3 inches wide) with a low profile tread. Less tread rolls faster, but is more of a handful off-road - so seek a trade-off tread pattern that matches your skills. Inflation pressure helps - run 25-30 psi off-road and around 40 psi on the tarmac.

If you’re fully rigid then stay at the 2.3" end of the spectrum to provide a little extra pneumatic shock absorption. Front shocks let you keep the weight down with a slightly narrower 2.1". Tubeless lessens incursion punctures and gives you latitude to run lower pressures in slippery conditions. Remember to pack spare tube, tyre boot, plugger kit and top-up sealant.

Bike Fit

Hunt down a local expert to set up your bike for the correct pedalling alignment and cockpit length. The main bikepacking specific challenge is balancing the weight distribution between your bum and hands. Specifying a less aggressive ‘touring’ stance to your bike fitter is a good conservative starting point.

Too far back and handlebars too high smashes your bootie, leading to saddle sores. Too far forward and handlebars too low loads your hands, causing numb claws (Tristan and Ollie both suffered from this). It’s a fine balance so test ride the set up (including on at least one multi-day ride). Include a few multi-day rides - often issues only become apparent after a couple of days. Experiment with different saddles and grips until you’re 100% happy.

Raising the Bar

You can toy with a multitude of handlebar designs, however standard riser or flat bars work well for most. Add aerobars for long sessions spinning into a headwind. The change in position also provides some relief to your ulnar nerve (numb hands) and gives your bum a welcome break with less weight on the saddle.

Ergon-style anatomical grips and/or bar ends let you chop and change your position to also lessen numb hands and nerve damage. An alternative is ESI-type oversize silicon grips to soften vibration and nerve pressure on your palms.

Giddy Up

A happy bum is vital. The right shorts, fastidious personal hygiene and a comfy saddle are key ingredients. Traditional Brooks-style leather saddles are favoured by many long distance cyclists, but they don’t suit everyone. Whatever your choice, make sure it's well worn in (but not worn out) and moulded to your bum.

Next time: Training Tips