29 March, 2023

Southern Peaks Bike Tour: A Journey of Self-Discovery - part 1

A guest post by Nic Morales 

Day 1- Atlanta to Rockmart

With a frigid start not necessarily encouraging movement, I took the opportunity to meet with local cycling persona and filmmaker Hannah Griggs (QueerCyclist) at a favorite coffee shop of mine. A friend recommended Chrome Yellow some years ago, and I've always made a point to stop in whenever in town. What better place to meet someone that inspires me? We had a lovely conversation about cycling, Atlanta, and their goals within it. 

Velo Orange Pass Hunter Volition Cycles Nic Morales Southern Peaks Tour

The first challenge was getting from central Atlanta to the Silver Comet Trail– a bike-specific super-highway that starts in Smyrna, Georgia, and ends in Anniston, Alabama. Though Atlanta's cycling infrastructure is largely similar to that of other metropoli in this country– robust in high-income sections, virtually non-existent in portions of lesser economic means– the route I took happened to pass through one of my favorite suburbs. Buckhead's rising roads and ripping descents are second to none and are really only spoiled by how close Range Rovers tend to fly by. Maybe it's just because I'm a Floridian, but the extreme and sudden change in elevation is always fascinating. A few ripping descents and less than stellar 'bicycle-friendly' roads later, and I was on the Silver Comet connector. 

An extremely welcome sight for sore eyes, the Silver Comet was a much better experience than I'd ever expected. Having been introduced to the trail a little over a year ago via an 'Ed Cycles The World' video– a youtube series made by a young British kid who unicycled(!!!) around the globe– I hadn't ridden it last time I visited. At the very same Chrome yellow, another cyclist, one lycra-clad with an SL7 in tow, said the comet was boring and recommended another route. Though the recommendation was pretty spectacular, it was road heavy. However, I'm thankful I had lowered expectations for The Comet because it's everything a bike-specific trail should be. It wasn't just an afterthought someone made paralleling a highway. It's a beautiful, expansive throughline that takes advantage of the brilliance of bikes. Rolling through nature, unrelenting scenic views, and places forgotten by modern society. 

Velo Orange Pass Hunter Volition Cycles Nic Morales Southern Peaks Tour

Velo Orange Pass Hunter Volition Cycles Nic Morales Southern Peaks Tour

With my eventual end drawing ever closer, I tried to push less pleasant thoughts about the numerous freeze warnings the county had issued. I happened to be traveling amid a near historic 'polar vortex' of sorts. Deciding to pull the trigger on the trip was a mix of not wanting to wait for a rainy April to get any closer and the acceptance that life waits for no one. Quickly closing in on my destination, I searched for a 'stealthy' spot to set up my bivvy. 

I tried to position myself as close to the border as possible to get a good start on the proceeding day, shivering as I set up camp. Before sunset, a truck rolled by and politely inquired about my presence. With honesty as my guiding policy, even in situations where you're in the wrong, I told of my travels and plans. They happened to be the owners of a local BnB– one that often took to cyclists, given their proximity to the trail. With a cold sweat creeping up my heavily layered back, I took the opportunity to stay indoors that evening without much hesitation. Better safe than sorry, I figured.

As it happened, other cyclists were staying that night. A group of middle-aged folks on their first ever 'bike vacation,' using 'ancient Schwinns' to traverse the trail. We talked about cycling, the South, their kids, and what I did for work over a conversation spanning generations, perspectives, and ideologies. Despite our differences, we shared a respect and kindness through shared experience. Wanting to get a relatively early start, I shuffled off to bed long before they did, but not before sharing a meal—one they bought me, despite only knowing the extent of my travels. Southern hospitality delivered me to a warm bed and dinner on night one. 

Velo Orange Pass Hunter Southern Peaks Tour Volition

Day 2- Rockmart to Oxford

The coldest day was in front of me, and despite a warm, lovingly made breakfast, my lack of gear-related preparedness started to set in. I had enough layers and such, but I'd hesitated to camp because my sleep system was rated closer to the 40s and 50s than it was for the 20s and 30s. Though I own a 0-degree sleeping bag, the amount of space it takes up is simply impractical for a mile-heavy trip. Moreover, February in Florida had been unseasonably warm, so I assumed that the 500 or so miles north would provide a perfectly mild temperature to bikepack through. Men make plans, and God laughs, though, as a concerned employee of the Christian coffee shop I meandered outside of informed me March would be historically cold. C'est la vie.

At the Alabama/ Georgia border, I had a decision to take the remote forest service roads south until I either camped or hit some form of civilization or continue on the trail and loop said roads back in when I was headed back north. Given I had no opportunity to meaningfully resupply prior to the fork, I decided on the latter. 

Velo Orange Pass Hunter with Spork Fork Volition Cycles Nic Morales Souther Peaks Tour

Velo Orange Pass Hunter with Spork Fork Volition Cycles Nic Morales Souther Peaks Tour

After the border, the trail morphs seamlessly into the Chief Ladiga trail. Passing through farmland and open field, the terrain was a bit tame. Fears about whether I was doing 'enough' on the trip began to creep in as I approached the town of Weaver. Stopping in a local coffee shop to escape the unrelenting cold, a kindly older gentleman remarked on the brutal temperatures through an interaction that evoked the old west. He asked about my travels and where I was headed. After telling of my end goal of Anniston / Oxford, he quickly frowned and said that he'd lived near there for some years and that 'folk down there just ain't right.' While I wasn't quite sure what he meant, I experienced something of a vibe shift upon entering the small town of Anniston. 

Triple wide 'sroads' with no shoulder, and cars, or more aptly, massive trucks, flying by. I did my best to navigate through backroads until I found some reasonable infrastructure, but it was few and far between. After a close call with a Lincoln, I decided to take a second and gather myself. Alone, without much guidance, I thought, 'If this is the rest of the trip, I'm not sure I'm going to make it.' To exacerbate matters, the night's temperatures were set to be even lower than the night prior.

All that said, I'm usually not one to freak out. I can make decisions in pressure situations and be secure in how I move about the world when the time calls for it. If there's anything the bicycle has taught me, it's that there's little use in worrying or over-complicating. Make the best decision and do so with confidence. After booking a room at a local motel, I called it for the day. I felt tired, a bit defeated, and somewhat fraudulent. I'd lugged around all this gear I hadn't been using. I was barrelled off the road by cars, there was no trail left to speak for, and I was primarily fueled by things that can't be called food. This was my first solo bikepacking trip and one that differed pretty significantly from Florida's flat, temperate landscape. It represented a low point set by false expectations. I had to be kinder to myself– if anything, to ensure I made it out of the Red Roof Inn in Oxford, Alabama. 

Day 3 Part 1- Oxford to FSR 500

Determined to have a better day than the last, I set out for both the first dirt and peaks of the trip. Cheaha Mountain, the highest point in Alabama, was a mere 16 miles away– how hard could that possibly be? With a stomach full of Waffle House, I set out on back country roads that were slightly less disconcerting given the time of day. Eventually, pavement turned to dirt, and the car-driven anxiety faded. Despite the cold, the dirt climbs put a massive smile on my face. Using the full range of my cassette felt incredible as I chugged my way up gorgeous, crisp mountain switchbacks. Things were starting to turn around. 

Velo Orange Pass Hunter with Spork Fork Volition Cycles Nic Morales Souther Peaks Tour

After some wayfinding, I got back on the pavement. This time, on a road that was respectful of other living things. Though I'm usually one to try and sprint up a climb, I knew I had a long day ahead. Happy to sit back and crank away; the climb just kept coming. Despite the thinning air and biting cold, every moment of that morning was incredible. Watching the canopy recede as I drew closer to the summit, I felt galvanized knowing I was starting to accomplish what I came here for. 

Arriving at the pseudo-summit, I purchased an entry pass to the peak and a few other snacks. The attendant and I spoke about how the spot was a local haunt for cyclists. After a moon pie and some Body Armor, she allowed me to shirk my bags at the store and ascend the peak with roughly fifteen fewer pounds. I took to the paved loop and hit the peak in no time. The summit was a classic southern view, and something I felt summed up my feelings about the area. Those who grow up in the South and appreciate the outdoors often compare ascents like Cheaha to those farther west. While they don't necessarily maintain the same immediate photogenic quality, something intangible fills my soul when I see a classic southern peak. The rolling hills are packed with trees. There's something hidden. There's something old. There's something beautiful. Take your sheer rock faces– you can have them. The mind explodes with wonder and possibility in the endless sea of orange, brown, and green. Much like the South itself, it hides a beauty that requires a more discerning eye to recognize.

Velo Orange Pass Hunter with Spork Fork Volition Cycles Nic Morales Souther Peaks Tour

Velo Orange Pass Hunter with Spork Fork Volition Cycles Nic Morales Souther Peaks Tour

I was grateful for the change in tides as I re-strapped my bike's front and rear bags, taking to the descents with a big, dumb smile. One that only got bigger as I flew down my hard-earned peak faster than most would be willing to in a car. A few of my best Tom Piddcock impressions later, and I was back to relatively flat land. I stopped at a gas station and scarfed down a slice of pizza as I gazed at the upcoming elevation. One step at a time, I assured myself. 

Atop Horseblock mountain, I met the first and only group of 'cyclists' I'd encounter on the trip. I asked them for some advice about which roads to steer clear of and then took to the descent, thinking I'd be alone again. To my surprise, they chugged along beside me for some time. We spoke about cycling in the area, the beauty of the terrain, and the club they were a part of. The split in the day came after some of the best road riding I'd ever done. The Talladega scenic drive is truly one of the best roads I've ever experienced. I don't think I saw a car for about an hour, the views are incredible, and the riding is rewarding. 

During the earlier conversation, their 'leader' informed me that the next big resupply was in Heflin and that I'd best stay on the scenic drive for as long as I could and power through a stretch of highway 78 if I was intent on staying near the town for the night. Eventually, I came to the split– a section where the scenic drive meets Forest Service road 500. Once more, I had a decision to make– play it safe and head for the town of Heflin or take the gravel path that passed through some four peaks on its way back to the border town of Piedmont. Having already done 40-odd miles with a hefty amount of elevation for a Floridian, there was definitely a physical motivation to take the safe route to Heflin. Moreover, the Garmin inReach mini I'd acquired at the behest of my very concerned mother fell off at Cheaha, so I'd be without emergency tracking for the most remote and ostensibly dangerous section. But, a little voice in my head edged me toward the gravel path. Again, I felt the trip hadn't panned out how I'd planned it. I'd come all this way for a journey of self-discovery and motivation– had I accomplished that yet? Had I done much at all? 

In retrospect, it's a stupid question. Embarking on a 300+ mile solo bikepacking trip encompassing more climbing than these flatland legs have ever taken on was task enough, let alone during an unseasonably cold section at the foothills of Appalachia. But, like I am known to do, I often say the most fun you can have is putting yourself in a situation and figuring it out. It is the premiere form of self-actualization, and I'd venture to say it would help anyone's struggles with mental health, as it shows you what you're capable of, what you're not, and how much you can blur those lines. 

So, not knowing what the path had in store for me, I took to it, secure in my ability to handle the challenge before me.

Velo Orange Pass Hunter with Spork Fork Volition Cycles Nic Morales Souther Peaks Tour

Keep your eyes peeled for Part 2!

17 March, 2023

Independence Pass Hunting Pt 2 - The Gear

by Clint


If you missed it, Part 1 of Pass Hunting was the story of our trip. In this part, I’d like to talk about the gear we used for our tour. 

The Bike

In my view, the Pass Hunter is the most versatile bike in our lineup and the bike I find myself spending the most time on. Modern component standards and geometry equally suited for riding uphill and downhill make it a great all rounder. 

You can dress it up with a carbon fork to turn it into a fast gravel bike (check out Clint’s at Blue Lug’s carbon spork Pass Hunter) or upright bars for a fun townie build (check out Blue Lug Yoyogi Park’s upright townie build). On this ride, I wanted to show that it is equally capable as a light(ish) touring bike. The ride required elevation gains and descents, traveling over mountain passes, and mixed/dirt roads - the Pass Hunter seemed like the obvious choice!


Loading up a touring bike is more difficult than I remember! It’s been a while since I’ve packed this much stuff. 

Where does it all go?

Packing for a 5 day trip felt similar to packing for a much longer trip. Once you have enough stuff for that amount of time, I think you can just refuel and keep riding…indefinitely. Our supply requirements for the trip were preparing for: 

  • Temperatures between 34 degrees and 90 degrees
  • Harsh sun and rain
  • Enough food for 48hrs between refuels
  • Camping gear
  • Spare parts for being up to a day’s ride away from a gear shop

Luckily we were next to water for the majority of the ride so we were able to bring a water filter and stay hydrated without lugging around a lot of water weight at any given time. Other than that, I brought drawing supplies and camera gear for entertainment. Rico brought fishing gear (again next to water the whole time, and gold medal fishing waters at that!)

Gold metal fishing waters, baby.

Handling Preferences

Some of my handling preferences aren’t completely practical for touring, but I’d describe my riding style as maybe more “spirited” than your traditional sit-and-spin tourist. I like a little more maneuverability on the bike for some silly stuff. I’ll split up my handling preferences into two categories - weight distribution and fit. 

On weight distribution - I like weight to be tight to the frame. Shaky, swaying weight on a bike drives me a little nuts. While it may be easier to dump everything in panniers and call it a day, I appreciate the compression on modern bike packing baggage (like the Road Runner Jammer), that keeps things from swaying back and forth on a bike. 

On fit - I ride flat bars on all my bikes. I like the control they give me - especially to throw around weight on a touring bike. While not always practical, I have a few different hand positions I rotate between to keep my wrists happy and ultimately I have the most fun when I’m riding flat bars. The flat bars we used on tour are special and they deserve their own section of the blogpost.

The Bars

Since the secret is out, I’ll talk a little bit about the upcoming Utility Bars. They were a pretty key component in loading for both my touring setup and Rico’s. I’m really excited for these to hit the market (hopefully Spring 2023). 

Rico's Rig ft. Utility Bars

Figuring out where to store gear on a bike can be a little tricky so I hope this rack system can simplify things for folks. It’s meant to work on just about any bicycle. All you need is a standard 31.8mm diameter stem!

This rack is super height adjustable. Sometimes it’s difficult to have a handlebar mounted bag on a smaller sized frame without the bag sagging into the tire. This provides a solution for shorter riders, with no compromises for taller folks. The rack can be lowered for taller riders with bigger headtubes to keep the weight low. In our instance we used this adjustability for something kind of weird. I stored my tent and sleeping back on the underside of the rack - check it out!

Double decker storage on Utility Rack.

Lashing stuff to the underside of the rack left things accessible and took advantage of all of the mounting points of the Utility rack. 

Outside of the tour, I use the Utility Bar around town as a quick lashing point for a variety of bags - a messenger bag, our Transporteur Bag, and our Biggish Bag. Strap it on with a bungee cord and you’re good to go. My biggest beef with bikepacking bags is that they swing around a lot or they’re difficult to put on/take off the bike - which if you ride near a city and occasionally have to leave the bike unattended you’ll know why this is important. This rack system solves both of those problems for me. I look forward to seeing all the creative ways folks use this rack in the future. 

No rack mounts? No problem!

For some even geekier analysis of weight distribution, my preferences are to keep the weight tighter to the frame vs keeping the weight low. A traditional pannier setup is going to keep your weight lower, but further out from the steering axis. Personally, I find weight distributed closer to the steering axis to be more maneuverable. It feels lighter in the steering. It’s similar to how folks load up mountain bikes for touring with handlebar rolls or similar bags. By the way, this handlebar is MTB rated if you want to take it on singletrack. 

The Brakes

Rico and I both sported the new Growtac Brakes we offer and I’ve gotta say, it was one of the best decisions we made. Obviously I’m biased, but I think they’re the best mechanical brakes at their price. Not the cheapest on the market for sure, but I think they offer good value. I’ve been riding a pair of these since we started talking to Growtac and I feel like I have enough miles to speak knowledgeably. So here’s my little product review. 

A younger, cleaner Pass Hunter with new brakes from last winter.

Power is the first thing everyone talks about with these brakes. They have so much power. I think they compete with a lot of hydraulic brakes at that, but I would like to emphasize a different point about these brakes. To me, the thing that sets them apart from the rest is that they’re easy to install and maintain. I think serviceability is a point that draws a lot of folks to mechanical disc brakes in the first place (vs hydraulic disc brakes), and these exemplify that quality for me. 

Just a little background on my experience, I am ready to admit to the public that I am a VERY OK mechanic. I’m proficient and I get by. I’ve wrenched on just about everything on a bicycle, but I’m not the fastest, nor am I the best at “dialing it in,” but I think that perspective is important. The adjustments are simple on these brakes and I get more than enough performance at my mechanic ability. Sure a professional mechanic can get more performance out of these, but I want to emphasize how user friendly these brakes are for the at-home mechanic such as myself. 

I’d like to tie both of these points - power and user friendliness, into how important they were on tour. The power was great on long wet descents. It rained a lot and the bikes were heavy. The user friendliness allowed us to make any adjustments as needed while out of the shop and on the road. 

The Bags

Last but not least, I’ve gotta talk about the bags. Road Runner has been a pleasure to work with for the past 5 years or so and their bags are incredible. 

As mentioned before, it rained A LOT on our tour. We were constantly changing in and out of rain gear and drying off clothes. I don’t know how they do it, but those folks from the dry city of Los Angeles certainly know how to make waterproof bags. I didn’t have to worry once about our important gear and electronics getting wet. Here are the bags I used: 

VO x RRB Porteur Bag. My sleeping bag and puffy jacket were in here. Both remained completely dry until I put our water filter in there. User error. 

VO x RRB Biggish Bag. I kept this on the saddle for bulky, but quick access things. A quick change of clothes, food, etc. Again - very dry in there!

RRB Wedge Half Frame Bag. I kept all of the tools and spare tubes in here. I keep my multitool in the non-drive side quick access pouch for adjustments on the fly. Nothing in here needed to stay dry, but it did!

RRB Bluff Bag. I kept quick access snacks in here. It has a generous snack capacity but still doesn’t flop around when mounted to the top tube. The zipper is easy to operate with one hand while riding. Also as with the frame bag - nothing in here really had to be dry but it also stayed dry. 

RRB Little Guy Hip Pack. I kept space camera batteries and a 2nd lens in here along with a few other quick access things. Very convenient. Very dry.

RRB Co-Pilot. I kept my phone and sunglasses in here. Easy to access. Very pleased with the cockpit setup. 

Blue Lug Stem Bag. Great bag! Cute colors and great capacity. Big enough to toss my compact camera in there for when I didn’t want to ride with it on my back. 

Various dry bags. Two 5L bags on the fork and a larger one under my Biggish bag. All held my clothes. ‘Nuff said. 

Also worth mentioning - my RRB Camera strap! Easy to ride with. Has a quick cinch that secures it to your chest to keep it from bouncing around and easy to undo for a quick photo! 


I hope this post has some vaguely useful information to get you going on your next tour. Touring takes a lot of planning and equipment. I’m happy to answer any other questions about the stuff we brought along. There’s a lot more stuff I didn’t mention here. 

Equipment-wise, next time I’m interested to use some of the rack stuff we’ve got in the works. If we plan ahead more, I’d like to try my hand at dehydrating some meals. While those premade dehydrated meals are convenient and taste amazing when you’re really hungry, I wouldn’t mind using less disposable packaging. If anyone has recipe recommendations, hit me up. My sleeping equipment could use a little work. I’d be interested in experimenting with a tarp setup. Also send that info my way if you have a good (and affordable) tarp system. I also need to patch my inflatable sleeping pad. The foam accordion pad I used during this trip wasn’t quite enough padding for my 🍑. Other than that, we used just about everything we brought and there was very little else we wished we had packed. Except for Rico’s rain jacket. It was missed. 

Happy Riding!