Summer is the season for long-distance cycling: the days stretch out and miles ridden claim their hours. Ultra-endurance races are taking place around the globe. I've escaped the concrete of my city home with my partner – Joe, and my road bike Genny. We’re heading for a mini-adventure in the lush green expanses of south west Ireland - home to the TransAtlantic Way race.
Tailfin has joined the many brands trying to answer the question of how to make bikepacking a lighter, faster, more comfortable and more efficient experience. The result is the Aeropack, and we’ve brought one with us to test in the wild.
The AeroPack sits behind the saddle, in a similar position to a seat post bag. The bag attaches to two carbon stays positioned over the rear skewer, with one ski-boot style clip around the seat post, and a rigid frame inside the bag. This allows more of the length of the bike to be used for carrying capacity, and because it’s anchored in two places, it’s pretty hard to make the AeroPack wag or wiggle. It opens much like a dry bag and given the large surface area of the base, luggage is readily accessible. This is one of the areas where the AeroPack stands out, along with its capacity, aerodynamic design and stability.
Between us, we're carrying one AeroPack, containing a bivvy bag, sleeping bag, fleece liner, Thermarest, thermals, down jacket and a controversial luxury item – an inflatable pillow. Our other main luggage is an Apidura seatpack, containing roughly the same items, less the pillow, fleece liner and thermals, and with a Klymit half mat in lieu of the full-length Thermarest.
We can get everything in the seatpack, but there's some jiggling required, and Joe's Klymit is about half the size of my Thermarest. By comparison, the sausage shape of my combined sleeping equipment fits beautifully in the oval-shaped AeroPack, and thanks to the roll-top design there’s room to spare. If more space was needed, a dry bag can be strapped along the top of the AeroPack. We trialled this, and found it a stable way to store bulky items. It could also come in handy when you've just topped up with food and need a little more room.
Glandore, on the south coast of County Cork, is where we begin. From there we take in three peninsulas of rugged coast – the Beara, the Sheep's Head and the Mizen. Our plan is to cover 360km in two days with approximately 6,000m of climbing, and an overnight bivvy stop on an island. Being right next to the Atlantic, we're at the mercy of the weather, and rain blows in out of nowhere, disappearing as quickly as it came. This leads to a lot of faffing with layers - thankfully, the accessibility of the AeroPack makes it easy to put away anything we don't need.
Our first day saw us tackle 180km, including the Borlin Valley climb: eight kilometres of up, dipping in and out of mist and with beautiful views. The only interruption was when we encountered a roadblock of crossing sheep. I was interested to see how the bike would feel climbing with the load on the back. It felt pretty great: The bike was heavier, but the stability of the AeroPack meant I forgot it was there and could happily climb fast, out of the saddle, using my weight to wiggle up any steeper sections.
The lap of the Beara peninsula came with 35km of cycling into a fierce Atlantic headwind. In the final 50km of our ride, rushing to make our ferry to Bere Island, and with heavy legs it began to hurt. At this point, I was grateful that the design of the AeroPack minimises drag on the bike, making it a handy alternative to a barbag. Thankfully, and despite cutting it a little fine, we made the last boat.
Less thankfully, just as we reached the pier, the wind picked up and the heavens opened. Once stopped, we realised that the temperature had dropped significantly since lunchtime. Choosing to sleep on an island meant we were potentially going to be cold, wet and exposed overnight, with little option for starting the next day's route early. I was fretting.
We boarded the ferry regardless, with darkness and worsening weather greeting us on the other side. We resolved to settle our hunger first, and tackle the question of where to sleep second. Arriving at the Lookout café was great, with a warm welcome from a friendly, smelly, wet St Bernard called Murphy and the prospect of a hot dinner.
Preparing ourselves to leave, the owners asked where we were staying. We described the concept of bivvying. They were mildly horrified, and I didn’t mention that I’d been eyeing up the ferry-stop as a potential overnight shelter. Colm, who runs the ferry service, pointed up the hill to a faint boat shape. He explained they had a grounded boat cabin we could sleep in. Yes, I could have quite happily kissed his feet. An indoor cabin and a bed do not count as bivvying but I had happily let the bivvy idea go by this point: we had a warm, dry and comfortable night. When day two arrived, we were (mostly) blessed with sunshine, and we covered 175km of the Sheep's Head and Mizen peninsulas, which neither of us wanted to end.
In total, we did about 16 hours of cycling with the AeroPack. It offers capacity, flexibility, stability and a sleek design to those who want to cover big distances with no compromise on pace. Even as a prototype it's a thing of beauty, and I can't wait to see how the final version turns out.
Joe and Alice are enthusiastic amateur cyclists who like to get involved in all aspects of the sport. They particularly like hills, and have both competed in the national hill climb. They also like big-distance - Joe completed an Everest on Belmont Hill last November, Alice took this a step further - breaking the women's record for Everesting on Naish Hill in August. The next bike to join their growing collection will be a tandem, and they're keen to take on some records with it.
Alice's own blog: https://alicewritesaboutbikes.wordpress.com/