Following on from the success of my Rhino Run adventure, I wasted no time in planning for The Next Big Thing; the Tour Divide. Such a well trodden course made decision making about bike set-up shockingly easy. There was no doubt in my mind that a rigid fork, 29er running something like a 2.1-2.25 tyres was the weapon of choice for efficiency and fun on the largely GRoad route that makes up the 4300km long Tour Divide.
The Tour Divide is so long that it requires maximum rider comfort to finish the ride; it demands a bike that will maintain speed for the long flowing gravel roads, a bike that climbs well and can roll over all the rocks and ruts that the descents serve up. The right bike for the job must also be able to accommodate robust (mountain bike!) tyres that can mow through sand, skate through the mud, stick when there’s snow and be durable enough to last the distance. As chance would have it, as my preparations took shape, Curve had just released the Big Kev. A bike designed specifically for adventures such as the Tour Divide. Naturally (because they’re amazing), Curve was able to hook me up with an April size (XS!) Big Kev in record time. It was decided I should definitely take THAT bike on this next big RADventure.
Excited but apprehensive about making such a big change in set up; 27.5 to 29-inch wheels, flat bars to drop bars, fat tyres to skinny, mechanical shifting to electronic…. I took a deep breath and put my faith in Curve. Such a move had never led me astray before; those crazy cats know what they’re doing, after all. And they even connected me with bike fitter extraordinaire Stew from Riderfit Melbourne to make 100% sure that I could get comfy for the long haul.
It’s no secret that I am all about over-preparing. It’s important to me that I have absolute confidence in my equipment so that I can truly relax and enjoy Middle of Nowhere time. This means I spend a lot of time before the long adventures testing my bikes in all sorts of scenarios to ensure they’re up for the task.
Within moments of Big Kev arriving on my doorstep, I wasted no time in cranking out the kilometres. I tested all sorts of bag and bottle cage configurations, stashing different sleep kits in different places on the bike, finding fast routes, hilly ones, smooth, rough, looooong and short, wet and dry. Having a very good excuse to experiment so heavily was incredibly fun!
It’s hard to describe the ride qualities of this particular bike without referencing the evolution of bikes made by Curve. Big Kev (presumably as intended), feels like he sits squarely between the hugely popular GXR ‘Kevin’ and the off-road touring beast that is the GMX+.
Where my Kevin had felt a bit lean at times (running 700 x 45) on longer rough rides, Big Kev feels like he’s itching to keep going; the beefier, gnarlier tyre size soaks up more chunky trail chatter and the ability to roll over all roots and rocks more comfortably is noticeable as the miles accumulate. Most notable for me, after thousands of bikepacking kilometres on a more upright, flat bar bike, is the benefit of the riding position on the Big Kevin. I wouldn’t describe the position as aggressive at all (it’s as comfy as my old ‘armchair’, in fact), but when climbing all the steep stuff, I am not having to shift my weight around so carefully to keep the rear wheel weighted for traction and the front wheel down. This is a delicate dance that I’ve been rehearsing every ride and I’ve been adapting the way I pack my bike at times to help me to get this right. Big Kevin is so well balanced and stable it begs me to find all the verts.
In case it doesn’t ‘go without saying’ these days, a drivetrain with a huge range of gears and a single chainring is an absolute no-brainer for bikepacking in general, but for the long rides in variable weather (MUD) it makes even more sense. It eliminates the front derailleur; I don’t know many people with a front derailleur that shifts well in the filth, but I do know plenty of people who have front derailleur problems when bikepacking, leading to dropped chains and endless frustration. The gear combo for this event was perfect; the only change to the stock RIVAL/ EAGLE AXS set-up was a 34T oval chainring (from Csixx). Out back, the good ol’ SRAM cheese platter; the 10/52 cassette is gold. This combo made everything rideable, I could manage my effort easily, and spinning is grinning for the long days hauling! When travelling with electronic shifting, I take no chances; the batteries and charger weigh next to nothing and if either of them fails, you’re up for a long walk and a solid amount of time wasted trying to track down replacements. I took 2 chargers and 5 batteries. I kept one charger and a battery in a dry bag separate from the rest of the AXS bits I had with me. Insurance I didn’t need but was glad I had.
Overall, Big Kev, for me, is a very tiny frame with what looks like very big wheels, but together it rides more than the sum of the parts. Big Kev has spirit and importantly, feels solid, stable and FUN. That last bit (the FUN) isn’t something I say about every bike I’ve ridden (my friends can tell you about the revolving door on my bike shed); many, many bikes have failed the crucial fun test. Checking boxes on paper should never be what New Bike Day is all about.
Miles (my Big Kev) and I took some time (and a lot of up and down) to get to know each other. I discovered that we have a lot in common. We both are about as durable as they come (neither of us had any mechanicals on the Tour Divide) and we shamelessly ooze delight out there in the great outdoors, with all the fun and filth that goes with it.
Words by April Drage