The North Country Trail
Way back in the mid-80’s I was born about 30 minutes outside of Detroit, Michigan. The area I was in did not exactly lend itself to cycling becoming a hobby at the time, so I really never became interested in bikes and the outdoors until I moved to California and found the mountains as an adult. Fast forward to 2020 when my plans to ride through far-flung mountains in Asia all summer came grinding to a halt along with everyone else’s lives, I found myself back in Michigan for an unknown period of time.
Months of lockdowns ticked by and in June, things started to slowly open back up. I got word that “dispersed camping” would soon be allowed again, so I immediately scoured maps, looking to find places that I could spend a few days in for some mental cleansing in the outdoors. The first place that jumped out to me was the Huron-Manistee National Forest. With wild camping permitted and plenty of hiking, biking, and snowmobile trails, it wouldn’t be difficult to find a place to pedal away the quarantine cobwebs. In Michigan, we never really lost the ability to go out and recreate on trails, but it had been a long time since I set out for a few days of pedaling from sun up to sundown.
To make things even easier, I stumbled on some trail-beta for the North Country route over at Bikepacking.com which would give me a good base for a route to turn it into a big loop. I’d set out from White Cloud, Michigan, and mostly stick to the North Country trail heading north and then use a mix of snowmobile tracks and dirt roads on the way back south.
It was a weird time to be on the trail. After heavier-than-normal rains in the weeks leading up to the trip, many sections were flooded-out, or giant trees were downed, forcing quite a bit of backtracking to find alternate ways through. On top of that, the developed campgrounds along the trail were still closed, so it was essentially abandoned outside of one small section in the northern part of the route.
After living in Michigan for 18 years of my life, it was great to finally get out into places I had nearby for so long but never had a good excuse to pay a visit. To see a side of the state that I really knew nothing about. It was great to get covered in dust again. To get my shoes muddy again. To cook up food in my little pot. To sleep in the forest and peer through the trees at the stars. To get swarmed by blood-sucking mosquitos… OK maybe not that part.
Bombtrack Beyond+ ADV
With my Tumbleweed Prospector getting stuck in “quarantine” halfway around the world and with no other bikes at my disposal in Michigan, I was looking for a bike that could tackle any range of terrain I might want to ride. Something that had the necessary odds and ends for multi-day trips, but also a bike that would be fun to just rip around local trails with unloaded. Enter the Bombtrack Beyond+ ADV.
Slowly but surely a steady stream of bikes have emerged to fill the “chunky-tire expedition bike” niche with a nice range of options. Your classic Surly’s, Tumbleweed, Crust, Salsa, and so on. The German brand Bombtrack has a broad range of bikes with quite a few that appeal to my touring/bikepacking sensibilities, but one that stood out to me immediately was the Beyond+ ADV. A steel-framed 29+ steed that comes stock with Jones handlebars, bikepacking-friendly gearing, a carbon fork, and plenty of mounting points to attach your camping kit and head out for a quick overnighter or even to take a jaunt down the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.
After riding 27.5+ bikes exclusively for the last 4 years, this was my first time throwing a leg over a 29+ rig, and I can say that I definitely see the appeal! There is an undeniable truth to the boost in rolling momentum that comes with that large diameter tire, and it comes with only a very small cost in handling on more technical trail sections that require tight maneuvers on switchbacks, etc. The stock WTB Rangers are a tried-and-true option that suit the often sandy roads and hard-packed dirt of the North Country Trail well.
The geometry on the Beyond+ ADV tries to find a sweet-spot between stability while loaded up with gear, while still actually being “fun” to ride. That is easier said than done, but I think that Bombtrack definitely found a nice middle-ground. I was pleasantly surprised at how suited toward unloaded trail riding it was considering its dirt-touring leanings!
To me, one of the best aspects of this bike is how trail-ready it is straight out of the box. Outside of a saddle swap to my beloved Brooks, there’s nothing that feels like it falls short or needs upgrading. Usually, I find myself with the urge to immediately swap a few things like the bars, chainring, or tires to get a new bike feeling “right”, but I think Bombtrack really nailed it with the components here. While I missed the bombproof aspects of my precious Rohloff in Michigan’s sea of loose sticks waiting to fling their way up into the derailleur, I appreciated the lighter weight rear-end and the tactile feel of the shifting on the SRAM Eagle GX. The Magura Hydraulic brakes also performed really well in any weather conditions thrown at them, with plenty of stopping power to tame a loaded bike.
Small touches like the bolt-on top tube bag mounts or the 3-bolt mounts on each seat stays are nice to see. For the size XL with my size US13 feet, I should say that I could not actually mount anything like a water bottle (or Clorox wipes) without striking my heel against them. This will likely be different for each individual depending on your frame, shoe size, and riding position. Still, I could see them being useful for mounting a light or maybe a pump even if something like a water bottle doesn’t work for you. Either way, I’m happy to see companies giving people more options.
It’s worth noting that Bombtrack also makes a steel-fork, 27.5+ version of this bike called simply the “Beyond+”. The build on it is a bit more stripped down with some slightly less fancy componentry, however, I think it would be an interesting option for someone looking for an international dirt-road tourer. The steel fork provides some additional options for front racks, and I still believe that 27.5+ is a bit better platform for overseas travel. Big wheels often mean having to source larger bike boxes for transport, which can definitely complicate things and add cost. In my experience, you’re also more likely to find a suitable tire for a 27.5 rim in countries where mountain biking is still just starting to catch on.
When considering tire sizes it’s also important to factor in bag clearances. Particularly if you require one of the smaller frames, a 29+ tire is going to lead to more potential rubbing issues when you’re strapping larger bags to the front and rear. For shorter trips or ultra-distance racing, you’ll likely have no problems, but it’s something worth considering if you’re looking at bikes to take across continents and aren’t buying the size XL.
If you’re looking for a low-maintenance mountain bike that can handle some longer trips thrown in and you dig the upgraded components, lighter weight, and larger diameter tires, the ADV version seems to be worth the investment.
The model I rode is the 2020 version, though the 2021 model of the Beyond+ ADV has an updated SRAM GX system (including a 10-52 cassette), new Bombtrack GRAD hubs, and an updated paint scheme. The Beyond+ ADV comes in at $3,099 USD while the steel-fork 27.5 Beyond+ comes in at $2,199 USD. These new models should be hitting dealers in the US shortly! Head over to Bombtrack for more info.
For future versions, I’d love to see a dropout equipped to handle a single-speed or internal-gear hub, eh Bombtrack?
Gear Breakdown for the North Country Trail
Bombtrack Beyond+ ADV Steel Frame- Size XL
Bombtrack BPC Carbon fork with 3-bolt mounts
Jones H-Bar Loop SG handlebars
SRAM Eagle GX 12 Speed group
SRAM Eagle 10-50 Cassette
30t SRAM GX Chainring
Magura Trail Sport Hydraulic brakes (4 Pistons Front, 2 Piston Rear), 180mm rotors
WTB i45 front and i40 rear Rims with Bombtrack’s sealed hubs
WTB Ranger Tough 29×3.0” Tires
Bombtrack YEW 30.9mm Seatpost
Brooks C17 All Weather Saddle (swapped from the stock Bombtrack saddle)
OneUp Composite Pedals
Porcelain Rocket OG Orbiter Frame bag– Buried in the bottom I keep my basic first aid kit, a spare 29er tube, and a minimal repair kit consisting mostly of a few chain links, zip ties, tire boots, Gorilla tape, etc. Also in here is my 10L MSR Gravity water filter, a bag of trail mix, 20000mah power bank, a rain jacket, and my Sea-to-Summit sleeping pad.
Porcelain Rocket Mr. Fusion XL Seat Bag– At about 15L this thing is cavernous. Here I packed my diminutive Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo tent, a 30°F Western Mountaineering MegaLite Sleeping bag, inflatable pillow, and any spare clothes for sleeping, etc.
Bags by Bird Goldback Handlebar Bag– Here I kept my BearVault 11.5L bear canister loaded up with basically all of my food, toiletries, and cooking gear inside. The side pockets on the bag were for the usual bug spray, sunscreen, snacks, and a Sea-to-Summit head net (the mosquitos and flies up here are no joke!)
LowePro Zoom AW 45 II– This is just a normal camera “holster” type of bag I found at the last minute that already had some loops along the side that made it easy to mount straight to the handlebars with a few mini Voile Straps. It’s a tad bulky, but it gets the job done. Here I had my Sony A7RII and a Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 lens along with a few spare batteries and memory cards.
REI Top Tube bag– Another last-second addition, this housed my multi-tool, knife, a smaller battery bank, and yes… more snacks.
Outer Shell Stem Caddy– 1L Nalgene
Water can be a bit tricky along this route during a pandemic when you don’t want to just go up to someone’s house and ask if you can fill up. Most of the rivers are extremely swampy along the perimeter areas that can be reasonably accessed. It can be filtered, but it’s less than ideal, so I’d rather carry a bit more water and fill at better sources. That means I try to carry around 6 liters at all times, which is good for a little more than a full day (including cooking) for me on a humid summer day in Michigan. For this I had:
Klean Kanteen 1.9L insulated bottle (mounted to a Widefoot CargoMount)
Nalgene 1.5L bottles (2)
Nalgene 1L bottle (1)