I cycled the Torino Nice Rally in September 2022.
I took ten days to complete my ride, which was deliberately slow, as no one ever returned from such an amazing adventure saying "I wish I'd gone faster", it was always the reverse.
This is the third blog post outlining stuff I wish I'd known before heading off to ride this thing; about the route, about travelling to the start and from the finish, and the kit I used along the way.
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Bike - Sonder Camino Ti V1
‘Ride what you brung’, is the attitude of the TNR. The bike must be comfortable, and ideally, it would have clearances to allow tyres greater than 45mm in width. The new Camino does have such clearances, but the first generation maxed out at 43mm in the front forks. Wider tyres would be more comfortable and faster. But don’t go with heavy tread or they’ll drag on the frequent road sections.
Wheels: Hunt 4 Season Gravel Disc. Good but I could never get the rear wheel to stay up tubeless.
Tyres: Panracer Gravel King SK TLC Folding 27.5” / 1.75” Black/Black. I find Gravel Kings to be the best all-around tyre I’ve used, rolling well on road and off in everything except the deepest mud. I switched from tan side walls to rubber (black/black) which is heavier but gave better protection against tyre cuts on the flinty rock.
Tubes: Most TNR riders run tubeless, but I didn’t for three reasons. Firstly, I had issues keeping the rear wheel inflated regardless of the tyre. Secondly, I felt flying with latex sealant in the tyres risked splashing that gunk all over the extra kit in my bike box. Thirdly, the blogs and stories I read indicated even tubeless riders suffered punctures which necessitated the use of a tube.
I started with a butyl tube front and a Tubolito MTB tube rear - and ended the same way too with no punctures, having inflated both to just under 40psi. Anticipating a host of punctures, I carried 2 spare butyl and 4 spare Tubolito (given to me for the TNR) which are superb because they’re so much lighter and take up less space. Where I carried the butyl tubes was a mistake because on the one occasion I removed a tube to help another rider, I found the valve had torn from the rubber (see video). In future, I’d take only Tubolito which are excellent.
Pump: anticipating lots of punctures I wanted a good pump and the Lezyne Micro Floor Drive track pump with gauge was the best, although mounted on the bottle cages it occasionally slipped down and caught the crank. In hindsight, having had no punctures, I didn’t need such a weighty pump and feel a Pocket Rocket would have done the job.
Gearing: My Camino is set up 1by and I dropped from a 42T to 34T chainring, then boosted the cassette from 11-42 to 11-46. I hoped to get 11-50 but the gears didn’t shift smoothly. I had been warned that, on the TNR, you’re either cranking slowly uphill or freewheeling down, so you can’t gear low enough. This is correct, and in hindsight, a 30T chainring would have been better.
Handlebars: Redshift Sports have sent me a lot of their products to review on my channel, but that doesn’t influence my opinion. Their Kitchen Sink bars are excellent, especially with the cruise control drops. Those drops are not as low as normal bars and I often used them for climbing and descending to give a different hand position. Paired with their Shock-stop stem Pro, which does an amazing job at cutting trail buzz (I have something like arthritis in my thumbs), it was the perfect combination for the Torino Nice Rally. Now Redshift has released a small bag (Kitchen Sink Handlebar Bag) that sits inside the front loop of the bars (see video) with a computer mount, the ‘cockpit’ is pretty much the ultimate bike packing rig. Storing my snacks in this bag meant I could, in hindsight, have done away with both stem bags.
Pedals: Sonder Jekyll by AlpKit. SPD on one side, flat but with some grip points on the other, these are great touring pedals. Flip to the non-SPD side when the trail gets a bit dodgy to avoid a prat-fall.
Lights: Much as I like Exposure Lights at home, I went with Cateye for this because, unlike Exposure, they charge with a simple USB 2 lead that I used for other items. One front light, helmet mounted so I could direct the beam where I needed to see, and two rear lights, one rechargeable one using regular AAA batteries as a spare. Rear lights are a legal requirement in tunnels and a safety aid on road climbs where the bright sun and deep shade from trees can make it hard for drivers to see us. Almost every local cyclist in the mountains had a flashing rear taillight.
Mudguards: Many TNR riders didn’t have them but I used these. In my video/podcast with TNR creator James Olsen he stressed their importance when riding in cold, Alpine rain. We were very lucky with the weather, which is a point to which I’ll keep returning.
Bottle cages: Zefal Pulse Z2 side entry cages allowed me to carry two 750ml bottles tucked under the Apidura frame bag. These were great finds.
Saddle: Specialized Riva. Just before the ride my existing saddle failed so I swapped this one from my road bike. Somewhere on the TNR, something nibbled it, so once home I tried to replace it. I range Specialized who told me "It's such old technology, there's nothing like it in our range". So I've replaced it with an SDG Bel-Air RL Cro-mo Rail Saddle in Black.
Rear pack - Apidura Expedition 17L
Probably the most popular rear pack on the TNR, I reinforced mine with gaffe tape and plastic (from a milk bottle) to stop the saddle blots from wearing a hole. Here’s what was inside:
Foil emergency bivi bag: I took this in case temperatures were lower than expected. After my two nights camped I planned to ditch it, but gave it to Laurens (he’s in the video) who forgot his sleeping mat, on the basis he could ly on the foil and it might reflect body heat away from the ground.
Sleeping mat: AlpKit Cloudbase. Few inflatable sleeping pads are comfortable unless you can sleep flat on your back, spreading the weight. Side-sleepers like me will find their hips dig into the ground. The Cloudbase was a good compromise of weight, size and price although the R rating is poor.
Tent: Terra-Nova Laser Compact 1. A superb mountain tent for one person, the ‘compact’ element reflects the shorter pole length which makes it perfect for backpacking. I’ve used Terra Nova kit for decades and know I can trust their tents. I was highly impressed with the vents on either end which allowed airflow and cut internal condensation to almost zero. It takes a few tries to pitch tightly, but it’s a fantastic modern tent. I was a little sad when I had to send it back. In hindsight, I could have managed with a simple bivi bag. AlpKit Hunka bags were popular, as were OR Helium hooped bivi. I had a Terra Nova Jupiter Light Bivi. But as I’ve said, we were exceptionally lucky with the weather. Had we experienced any torrential afternoon storms, camping high would have been a cold, soggy experience.
Sleeping Bag: Rab Neutrino 200. Loaned to me for the TNR, I initially asked for the 400 because I expected valley temperatures to be freezing, so much colder at altitude. Watching the forecasts in advance, it was clear we’d have much warmer nights, so I switched to the Rab 200 and it was ideal. I slept out with no tent at 1000m, while at 2500m I just added my down jacket and hat. The bag compressed much more than its stuff-sack suggests.
Warm Clothes: My dry bag of warm clothes contained the following items; warm running tights, a Torm merino long sleeve cycling jersey, a hat and some sealskin socks.
Waterproof jacket: The OMM Aether won a host of awards and was then discontinued. Not specifically for cycling, but with a long enough tail, the hood, cut and weight of this jacket felt tough enough for bad Alpine weather. I added an extra reflective patch on the back.
Spare bibs: I made the mistake of taking only one pair of cycling bibs which I planned to wash and dry each night I wasn’t camped. This proved too difficult in (or outside) refuges so I bought a second pair en route.
Reflector: A few riders had ‘safety pizzas’ - high viz triangles that looked (a bit) like pizzas, dangling from their rear packs. I couldn’t find one so I made a rear, flappy reflector from some fabric, tape and elastic.
Frame pack - Apidura Expedition 5.3L
A good compromise which gave plenty of space and still allowed me to carry two large water bottles in the side-entry cages.
The left side had the tent poles and pegs plus electrolyte tabs, extra straps in case stuff snapped, and a Personal Locator Beacon for emergencies.
The right side had all I’d need while riding, including; GoLite waterproof trousers; Decathlon shell over-mitts; a tiny packable rucksack (not really needed); a Monkeysee high-vis harness; windproof Gillet; snood; knee and arm warmers plus thin gloves and track-mitts for descending. I tucked in anti-bacterial wipes (for cleaning myself) hand sanitiser, a face mask (still required in some places) and skin-repair cream I bought en route.
Stem bags - Alpkit
I didn’t use them well and they probably weren’t needed. The left one contained a 500ml bottle (my third bottle) into which I decanted Coke or Orangina for a cold sugar hit on long climbs. Curled around the bottom were two Hip-lok Z loks. The right stem back was packed with energy bars, many of which I brought back home having carried through the Alps! There’s almost always somewhere to buy food. The Redshift Kitchen Sink Handlebar Bag was a much better snack solution, albeit smaller.
Front bag - Alpkit
I can’t remember the name of this bag but it’s discontinued, replaced (I think) by the Deluge. It’s flatter than many front bags and, once lightly stuffed and covered with a jersey, makes a decent pillow.
Warm jacket: PHD Vertex down. PHD made a limited run of these a few years ago and I treated myself. The size of an orange and less than the weight of a plum, it lofts amazingly and keeps me very warm. I know down isn’t useful when wet, but that’s why I have a larger rain jacket to fit over the top. This boosts a sleeping bag by at least 5 degrees.
Hotel clothes bag: a dHb merino t-shirt and incredibly light tracksuit bottoms, plus a pair of socks. Toiletries and dietary supplements (iron complex, glucosamine/chondroitin, marine collagen).
First aid bag: plasters, dressings, Compeed, electrical tape, painkillers. I carried toilet paper and toothbrush/paste in here because it was handy.
Electronics bag: batteries and micro SD cards, charging cables, USB wall plug.
Top tube bag: AlpKit, again discontinued. Powerbanks, phone and Garmin cables, second USB wall plug, all in a plastic bag. Chamois cream.
Rear top-tube bag: Apidura expedition top tube pack 1L. Multi-tool, small Leatherman, tyre boots, tyre patches, Tubolito inner tubes (1 MTB, 3x CX), brake pads (I changed one set), spare SPD cleats, tiny lube bottle
Worn/carried on the person most days
Rapha lightweight Brevet jersey - chosen because it's lightweight merino with plenty of pockets including a big zipped one separate from the rear 3.
Craft lightweight base layer - easy to wash and quick to dry, soaked up all my sweat
Passport and wallet in big rear zipped pocket (which is why I like this jersey)
Sony Z1 camera plus mini tripod - for stills and backup video camera
iPhone 13 Pro plus compact for filming - brilliant phone for filming
Headphones (not used)
GoPro Hero 10 Black with Windslayer and Joby tripod - was struggling towards the end of the ride and has been sent back to GoPro for replacement
Pactimo cap - overpriced
Giro Helios Spherical helmet - with MIPS. Giro helmets fit me and, while expensive, they're worth it.
Darn Tough lightweight merino socks - I was given some of these and they were fantastic. Hard-wearing, fast drying, a thin pair for during the day and a warm pair to sleep in were a great combo. Given to me for this ride.
Giro Rumble MTB Touring shoes - it took me a while to find the right shoes. I wanted SPDs but with good Vibram soles for hiking. We had to take shoes off to go upstairs in the Gardetta Refuge and I noticed several pairs of these. I approached Giro's importers and they sent me a pair for the TNR. Worked well with the Jekyll pedals.
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