There’s an old adage: “The traveler with the most experience carries the least.” This can be applied to everything from car camping, to bike touring, and backpacking. Matt learned this along the way, resulting in his current Elephant NFE setup. Let’s check it out below!
“A Lighter Elephant”: lessons learned from touring with too much crap!
Remember your first bike tour? If it was anything like mine, you probably packed too much. Like, WAY too much. In late 2012, I met a couple buddies riding down the California coast to San Francisco. I rode my Marin hybrid that got me through college, loaded up with my five person tent, a cast iron pan and comically full panniers hanging off the back of the bike.
We had a blast. But my bike felt like a sail in the strong coastal crosswinds and my knees were killing me from all the extra weight by the time I got home. A couple of years later, I scored my first proper touring rig: a Salsa Vaya. The Vaya served me well on many camping trips, with a 550 mile ride down to the Mexico border as the highlight.
But at the end of every trip on the Vaya, I noticed I was packing less and less stuff. I didn’t need to bring every tool I own. And I slowly accumulated lighter, more modern camping gear. I eventually discovered bikepacking setups, getting to the point where a pair of small panniers and some lashed soft bags could last me a week. The Vaya’s stout frame started to feel too long and too stiff with these loads.
Enter the Elephant National Forest Explorer, or NFE: a modern rando bike with thin .8.5.8 tubing and room for 650b X 2.2″ rubber. I knew my quest for a lightweight touring bike was over when John featured Cari’s Elephant build back in 2020.
The NFE is made in Spokane, Washington by longtime framebuilder Glen Copus. It’s got a randonneuring DNA with a low-trail steel fork, but with gobs of tire clearance and more dirt-oriented nods to Glen’s cyclocross background, like the top-pull front derailer and disc brakes. (Glen stopped making that gorgeous bi-plane fork that Cari’s bike has and does a simple unicrown these days.)
The bike is perfect for light-weight touring and long distance riding. Think: bikepacking ethos rather than Adventure Cycling Association style trips. I’m constantly amazed by how much room the boxy rando bag, half frame bag and four RoadRunner “Buoy Bags” offer me compared to panniers. The key to keeping the overall weight down is the Buoy Bags, which as far as I know are the largest ‘anything cage’ roll top bags on the market. The four of them offer the same capacity (~30L) as a pair of traditional Ortlieb front rollers, but at a fraction of the weight!
I’m sure some low-trail purists will wince at my rear Tumbleweed rack, but I find the bike handles MUCH better with the weight distributed 70/30, front to rear like this. I put food and heavier gear in the rando bag and frame bag. I sometimes run a small saddle bag for only my sleeping bag, and the Buoy Bags hold clothes and other soft gear. I love having the rear rack platform to quickly lash some firewood or a big takeout dinner on my way to camp; usually it’s just my sandals.
Don’t get me wrong: I’ll never get rid of my trusty German panniers. Heck, they’re so durable they will likely outlive us all! But they’re now relegated to bulky grocery store runs around town or when I need to carry someone else’s gear on an overnighter. For long rides and tours, I’ll never look back. Anyone need a 5-person tent?
-Matt, in California
- Elephant NFE in Forest Service Green
- Oakland A’s inspired Jen Green custom headbadge
- Light Bicycle carbon rims with 650bX48mm Compass tires
- White Industries rear hub with SONDelux dynamo front hub
- Sinewave Beacon headlight with SON taillight (shout-out to Karl at Perennial Cycles for the custom coax wiring that detaches in a snap!)
- Rogue Panda ‘Sunset topo’ frame bag with Rockgeist Gondola saddle bag
- Velo Orange flat-pack front rack
- Zipp XLPR handlebars wrapped in Tanglefoot bar tape from Analog Cycles
- White Industries headset with PathLessPedaled stem cap
- Swift rando bag (Where The Wild Things Are watercolor courtesy of my amazing wife!)
- Paul Klampers with Yokozuna housing
- King stainless bottle cages
- IRD ‘sub compact’ front derailer (best 2X shifting I’ve ever experienced — get yours from the folks at Rivendell)
- Shimano Deerhead triple crankset converted to 2X, 40/24t
- SKF square taper BB (I don’t agree with Jan Heine on everything, but he’s right about these bottom brackets being the bees knees)
- XTR short-spindle pedals for an effective ~154mm q factor
- SRAM 2X10 shifters with clutch derailer
- Wolftooth B-rad bases holding Tailfin cargo cages on the fork
- Tumbleweed rear rack
- RoadRunner 7L roll-top “Buoy bags” front and rear
- Spurcycle bell + Wahoo ROAM gps unit
*For any hardcore long-distance tourists wondering: the bike offers ~45 liters of storage capacity plus 3 liters of water & overflow space on the rear rack. So it’s similar volume to your typical backpacking load.
We’d like to thank all of you who submitted Readers Rides builds to be shared here at The Radavist. The response has been incredible and we have so many to share over the next few months. Feel free to submit your bike, listing details, components, and other information. You can also include a portrait of yourself with your bike and your Instagram account! Please, shoot landscape-orientation photos, not portrait. Thanks!