On tour, every day is a school day! And nearly 3 months in, I’ve learned some lessons the hard way, some the slow way, and some…I’m still in denial about having learned. 

Beginning my tour in the north of Colombia, where it’s very hot, but also very flat, I realised fairly quickly I had packed too much stuff and the weight of my bike was unmanageable. More than that, all the superfluous stuff, was also packed inefficiently! I had an excess of luggage capacity across too many bags which, combined with the weight, led to some very average handling, even on the tarmac. No chance I was hauling that over a proper 3000m dirt road pass.

See the MASON Raw here

Wise heads had warned me about taking too much stuff, but I guess it’s a rite of passage for every arrogant newbie tourer to go through... Halfway up the first proper climb, I did indeed start to consider whether the portable coffee grinder was truly necessary. Or the second microfibre towel to dry my luscious ponytail locks. The Andes are nothing if not humbling for the ego…

Now I’m willing to admit I’m a bit of an overthinker, paralysis-by-analysis kinda guy…it’s something I’m working on…as well as being an absolute nerd for all things bike/kit/equipment. So you can imagine my predicament wasn’t through lack of planning (indeed my kit matrix ran to 150+ line items), more lack of experience!

The first priority was to bin off anything I knew I really didn’t need. RIP the coffee grinder, the “lightweight” camping chair, and the sleeping eye mask...The next was a serious rethink of how I could cut capacity / be smarter with how I pack the still large amount of indispensable stuff. The 22L rear panniers from Tailfin and the 10L front “microwave” panniers from Rockgeist are both great pieces of kit and I would recommend them to anyone in a heartbeat. But they were all overkill for my needs.

Already carrying a modified Tailfin “aeropack” rear rack (the rack without the “pack”), I switched out the 22L rear panniers for the 10L versions. And with Tailfin cargo cages already on the fork to carry water bottles, I was able to jettison the front panniers completely, in lieu of a pair of 5L cage packs***. I still use a big 35L capacity drybag rucksack from Arcteryx, lashed sideways across the top of the Tailfin rack using Rokstraps, but actually use more of its cavernous capacity now. Less aggregate weight, less lateral weight at the back, and less rotational weight around the forks = better handling, and easier climbs! Not rocket science.

With the lack of front panniers in the mix, did I really need a front rack? A beautiful, custom-made steel rack by Clandestine.cc, fabricated especially to complement the custom forks designed to convert my personalised first-batch MASON RAW from Hardtail to dirt-mule. With a heavy heart, the rack will be shipped back to the UK and will live another life somehow in the future.

As I’ve progressed through the journey I’ve also noticed a general mindset shift. 

Do I really need to be prepared for every eventuality, just on the off-chance? Gone are the mosquito net, half the traveller’s apothecary, and the second (and third, and fourth) replacement nut/bolt for every random thing on my bike…. I have resolved to just figure it out, as and when these things become necessary. 

I’ve also lost/left behind a ridiculous amount of stuff in the daily unpack/re-pack melee. Pour out some Aguardiente (the questionable Colombian liqueur distilled from sugar cane) for some fallen soldiers along the road. A premium leatherman multitool, (now 2) titanium sporks, a set of Shimano SPD riding sandals (since replaced - they are so good I don’t care how they look), a tubeless tyre repair kit…the list goes on. My pre-tour self would have cared more about all of this. Worrying about the eventualities where I would be abandoned on the side of the road, slowly dying because I couldn’t fix a faulty gear cable without my leatherman pliers. Or the monetary value of replacements. I’m now somewhat more circumspect. Even if I am still filled with deep rage every time I leave behind my shower gel in a hostel shower (5 times and counting).

And the ones I’m still in denial about? I am still carrying a camera tripod, 3 lenses, and a full neutral-density filter kit (if you know, you know). I’ve used the latter maybe twice, and the tripod maybe 5 times. And I could surely just use one zoom lens on my camera. Buuuut…. And I’m still carrying my sea-to-summit collapsible coffee drip filter. One must still try to make a good brew, even if the beans are not freshly ground…

Being true to my kit-nerd self, I’m sure I’ll be tinkering with my setup throughout the duration of the trip, never fully happy but always learning. So as I am approaching the Ecuador border after nearly 3 months on the road, behind the anticipated schedule, I am considering the values which make the MASON Cycles brand so aligned with my own touring philosophy.

My MASON RAW is certainly #madeformiles…I’m having a blast riding it through the varied terrain of this wonderful country, it’s #ridedrivendesign making it so capable. For this adventure, I am preferring my own motto #farnotfast rather than Dom’s one of #fastfar. But for sure I’m happy to report that my favourite one - #makeprogress - certainly applies in every sense. Onwards.

Massive shoutout again to Bristol-based Tailfin, for helping me out with some extra kit. ​

Shop RAW

Photography - Pascal Gosselin and Joe Sasada