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Get Into Bikepacking

Words by Team Cycles on 02/11/2021 13:05:31

GET INTO BIKEPACKING

A BLOG POST BY RICH ROTHWELL

Bikepacking; a few years ago, it was a dark art practiced by a mysterious few and was definitely ‘niche’ to say the least! However, bikepacking is now talked about in all the bike magazines and on all the bike websites. The range of equipment has exploded as more and more people are trying it. Bikepacking has got big! Riders from all different cycling backgrounds are getting into it and for good reason; it’s great fun and so easy to do!

SO WHAT IS BIKEPACKING?

Think backpacking but on a bike. Like backpacking, you can go as local or as far away as you like. A simple ride out for an overnighter, or a multi-day trip and beyond. You may choose to ride to a friend’s place, or to warm and cosy accommodation, simply using your bikepacking bags to carry a comfortable change of clothes. On the other hand, you may decide to be more adventurous and carry sleeping bags, bivvy bags, or a tent and sleep out in the wilds! There is even an expanding calendar of races and events, in the UK and overseas. Bikepacking can be what you want it to be.

WHAT ARE THOSE FUNNY BAGS?

Strapped to handlebars, on the seatpost, the top tube, or in the bike’s front triangle; Bikepacking bags come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and there are all kinds of solutions for different type of bikes and different loads. Sleeping bags, tents, spare clothes, tools, and food can all be packed away and carried in a stable and secure fashion that has an unbelievably low impact on the bikes handling characteristics.

Top tip: try to evenly distribute the weight across your bike to keep it balanced and stable.

Bike packing bags even allow you to ride rough ground and technical mountain bike trails with absolute confidence and control. Whilst old style panniers have their place, bikepacking bags have opened up a whole new world of possibilities both on and off-road. They are also very easy to put on and take off your bike. Check out the ranges from Bontrager, Ortleib and Madison, and have a chat with the staff in Team Cycles about how these fit on your bike.

Top tip: make sure you tape up any points where bikepacking bags touch your frame or forks to prevent wear.

WHAT KIND OF BIKE CAN YOU USE?

Pretty much anything! (Short of a BMX or a Downhill bike, though you could if you really wanted to!). Road Bikes, Gravel Bikes, XC Bikes, and Trail Bikes are all ideally suited to bikepacking. Bikes without rear suspension can be easier to fit bags too because the front triangle can take a full frame bag. However, full suspension frames can be bikepacked too; a front roll and a saddle pack can carry a lot of kit. Consider using a small backpack, and a top tube bag for easily accessible snacks, and you will have plenty of capacity for an overnight trip. Some small frame bags will fit a full suspension frame, but for the really dedicated, custom frame bags can be made to fit around different suspension configurations.

A Gravel bike like this Trek Checkpoint makes an ideal bikepacking bike, with loads of packing options and the ability to ride on and off-road.

WHAT SHOULD I CARRY?

Keep it nice and simple! Try not to overpack to stay organised keep that bike weight down!

SPARE CLOTHES

If you are bivvying out, camping, or staying in a bothy, a warm dry set of clothes makes everything better. Carry your change of clothes in a dry bag; even a standard plastic bag will do.

Top tip; thick warm dry socks for the night are an essential luxury.

SLEEPING GEAR

An inflatable sleeping mat is a good idea no matter what your sleeping plans. If you are sleeping outside, you may wish to carry a tent. Ride with a friend and split the tent between you to share the weight. If the weather is particularly good, you may fancy using a bivvy bag and falling asleep under the stars! However, if you are sleeping in a bothy or another indoor setting, you may just want to carry a sleeping bag.

Top tip; an inflatable pillow takes up no space but will hold your head up and really help you stay comfortable.

FOOD

Whatever you fancy! You’ve burned it and earned it! If you do want to prepare hot food or drink, carry a small gas burner. Small stove kits pack away easily, and a small gas canister will provide enough fuel for a few drinks and meals. Go for dehydrated foods, like noodles and porridge pots to keep weight down. Freeze dried meals are more expensive, but there are some great tasty high calorie options out there; perfect to warm you up after a long ride. Or keep it really simple; find a nice café, pub, or shop and have a meal there, before heading out into wilds. Then pop back in the morning for coffee and breakfast stop! This way you may opt to not carry cooking equipment.

Top tip; if you are sleeping out in the wilds, eat plenty of high calorie food before you sleep; it will help to keep you warm in the night. Dark chocolate is perfect and a real treat!

Image Credit: @richrothwellcycling

SOUNDS GREAT! WHERE SHOULD I GO?

Wherever you fancy! That’s the beauty of it! It’s a good idea to start small and local and build your experience. You don’t need to ride a million miles away to find a camping or a bivvy spot. A ride out on a Friday or Saturday night to return the next day and you will learn a lot about what you should carry and what you don’t need, without getting stuck too far out in the wilderness! It is also a good idea to set a bothy as destination; there are several in the north of the UK, but make sure you are familiar with the bothy code of conduct if you are new to it. Check out the Mountain Bothy Association for more information.

We are fortunate in the UK to have some incredible and well established long distance mountain bike bikepacking routes; look up the Yorskshire Dales 300, The Capital Trail, (starting in Edinburgh) or for the truly hardcore, the Lakeland 200 or the mighty Cairngorms Loop!

(Take note: these routes must be approached with experience and caution and require navigational skills).

Image Credit: @reizkultur

For a more gentle introduction to off-road bikepacking, how about taking on the Sandstone Way, ideal for a Gravel Bike, or an XC Bike, with some overnight stays in some beautiful Northumbrian villages? Berwick to Hexham; it’s right on our doorstep!

When many of us are making the most of our local area, there is no better time to start bikepacking. It’s a simple pleasure that opens your eyes to adventure from your front door.

If you have any questions about bikepacking, speak to Team Cycles staff or feel free to contact our Team Cycles bikepacking enthusiast and cycle coach @richrothwellcycling and he will point you in the right direction!