When the call came from Shimano that All Bodies on Bikes was greenlit, the hunt was on for a bike. I needed something that could run the sweet components they were providing us with, and that was ideally suited for bikepacking. Sure, I had my trusty Surly Straggler, but I wondered if there was something else that could do the job better. …
As a short, fat woman, finding a bike that fits and is strong enough has always been a challenge. Most of the mass-production bikes have weight limits that are prohibitively low, especially once I add my bikepacking gear.
I’ve underbiked on my Surly Straggler for as long as I’ve had it. Out of necessity (i.e. not having anything else) we’ve traveled thousands of miles together, often fully loaded on trails far beyond both mine and the bike’s capabilities. Single track? Sure! Gravel for miles and miles? Why not? Alley cats and charity road rides, no problem. Bikepacking the Corvallis to Coast (C to C) Trail with a film crew for a Shimano film?
Count my blessings and I didn’t have to find out, as a week before we started filming, a brand-new shiny Velo Orange Piolet came into my life. Thanks to connections on an obscure internet bike forum (which shall not be named), the wonderful, generous team at Velo Orange shipped one of their very last size small Piolets my way, complete with Voyager Rims, a Curvy Handlebar, and a Grand Cru stem and seat post. Coupled with a mix of XT and SLX mountain bike parts, some SuperYummy 2.22” tires and I was set.
For the first time in my bike riding life, I finally had a proper bikepacking bike, complete with a bike that could climb for days (check out that tiny ring in front), hydraulic disc brakes, tire clearance for days and a frame that could actually fit bikepacking bags. I fully acknowledge as I write this that my experience, especially in COVID times is not normal. For that, I am incredibly grateful and offer my sincerest thanks to everyone involved in making this dream bike come true, especially Igor at Velo Orange and Nick at Shimano.
Putting Her to the Test
Since the filming of All Bodies on Bikes in July 2020, I’ve been lucky to get to ride my Piolet in some really magical locations – The Deschutes River Canyon, The Cape Loop of the Baja Divide, Unbound Gravel, and most recently MidSouth Gravel.
This bike excels when I ride it loaded down with gear. With plenty of brazeons, I’m never at a lack for places to put gear. Years ago, I ordered a custom Revelate/Surly framebag for my Straggler, and thankfully that bag fits absolutely perfectly on the Velo Orange as well. The flat handlebars let me fully utilize the upfront space for gear, and the brazeons on the fork mean I can get all sorts of weird and creative with that space. I did struggle a bit to use the Swift Industries Zeitgeist bag on this build, but that was only because I’ve got short little legs and not enough clearance in the back of this setup.
If I never have to ride this bike again for a gravel race, I will be a happy lady. Even though it’s stupidly comfortable (especially with my current configuration), it’s a heavy bike and not necessarily ideal for when I’m trying to go fast. Thankfully, I rarely want to actually go fast and I have a new bike sponsor (hello Cannondale!) so my days of riding this beauty during events is likely over.
When it comes to climbing, I like to say that gravity and I have a complicated relationship. If you’ve watched the All Bodies on Bikes film or our Oregon Field Guide episode, you’ll probably notice that I walk up a lot of mountains. I have zero shame in walking – to get 250lbs up a 10% grade takes a lot of watts, and sometimes I just don’t want to do it.
But it’s not because the bike isn’t capable. With a 2×11 drivetrain and literally the smallest granny gear I’ve ever seen, it’s usually my legs that can’t handle the climb, not the bike. Going back down though, gravity and this bike are my best friends. I’ve hit 48mph fully loaded descending and this bike feels stable with zero wiggle. The hydraulic brakes with 180mm rotors (in front and back) mean I can stop on a dime, and maybe one day I’ll even learn how to skid.
She’s a Looker
Maybe the best thing about this bike is that she looks just as nice as she rides. With a deep purple frame and a few choice accessories, I feel like this bike actually reflects who I am as a cyclist. Serious components to get the job done, but also whimsical and ridiculous. I’ve never owned the bike that got compliments, but this one is different. For that, and a million other reasons, I’m so thankful that she’s mine.
If you’d like to read more of Marley’s writing, check out this Beginner’s Guide to Bikepacking article she penned for The Pro’s Closet!