The Maah Daah Hey Trail, a remote track in western North Dakota, runs 97 miles between two isolated units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. As mountain-biking trails go, the Badlands-traversing route is about as remote as you can get in the Lower 48s, including vast desert stretches with no water and no inhabitants or roads for miles and miles around.
Last month, over two unseasonably hot days in late April, I clipped in and pedaled the Maah Daah Hey with six friends to film an episode for our “Off The Map” video series. We rode about 50 miles each day, with bike breakdowns and hot sun serving as hallmarks of the trip. By the end, only five of the friends remained, one surrendering at a camp miles from the finish when his bike basically fell apart. (We cover the trip in the article “Back From ‘Maah Daah Hey’ Trail.”)
The trail is famously tough on gear. It takes a solid bike tuned to its best shape to negotiate the continuous ruts and bumps, sand, mud, clay, and endless ups and downs of the Maah Daah Hey.
Gear lets you make it through, though just barely. On our trip, we toted sleeping bags, food, water, a bike-repair kit, and little else. We were going “fast and light” style, pedaling hard, sleeping just a little, and trying to make it to the end before the sun set on our second day.
Loaded backpacks are a pain (literally) in the butt on a long trail like the Maah Daah Hey. As such, we tried to get as much gear packed on the bike as possible.
Two stand-out products, both bike-frame packs, saved the day. We Velcro’d on the rectangular Tangle Frame Bag from Revelate Designs and the Frame Pack from Jandd to ditch weight from our backpacks and add it to the bike frame.
Both products attach inside the bike frame triangle, offering big pockets to stuff gear. You cannot fit a sleeping bag inside, but instead smaller, heavier items like bike tools and a stock of energy bars fit nicely in the slim, deep pockets.
On the hot, dry trip I had water in a hydration pack as well as in two bike bottles. Between fill-ups at the rare streams in the region I also carried a liter-size SoftBottle from Platypus to bring extra water along.
In all, about half my weight was stashed in the frame pack, which was the Tangle model from Relevate on my bike. The nylon pack costs $70 and has long zipper pockets on either side.
The Relevate bags come in three sizes for different bike types. They weigh about 9 ounces empty yet give about 275 cubic inches of capacity inside, which is comparable to a small backpack for space.
They are made of a ballistic nylon and they attach tight on a frame with Velcro and straps. On the Maah Daah Hey, the Relevate bag on my bike was exceedingly solid — it never moved an inch, and even when loaded I hardly noticed it was there.
Two riding partners on the trip used the Frame Pack model from Jandd with similar success. These packs, also made of a thick nylon, offer about 190 cubic inches of storage area, which is about the same amount of room as in a large purse. They are a bit smaller than the Relevate model, but they are well built and roomy enough for a load of small supplies.
The Jandd bags, at $35, are half the price of the Relevates. A great value for anyone looking to pedal the Maah Daah Hey or another long trail, and carry a load of gear, too, the whole way.