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|Your introduction to Bikepacking|
"Is it just touring with a different name? Are panniers allowed? Is it bikepacking, or bike packing, or bike-packing?"
So, what is bikepacking?
We love bikepacking! The freedom of getting out and riding your bike and seeing the world. But we often get asked what exactly bikepacking is.
Well when we sat down to it, we realised that we didn't have much of an answer to these questions. Generally, we try not to burden ourselves with rules when it comes to riding bikes. Get out, ride often and ride far. That being said, we get asked these questions often enough that we thought we should consult an expert. So we did.
Tom Allen in his own words is a self-unemployed creative explorer, and has been on cycling adventures all across the world. Here are his thoughts on the question; what is bikepacking?
"Over the not so recent years we have seen the rise of a new sub-discipline of bicycle travel. It’s called ‘bikepacking’.
Some context. I'm a mountain biker first and foremost. Back in 2006, when I was 22, me and my mates bought 1-berth ultralight tents from Lidl, threw them in army-surplus backpacks and set off on full-suspension mountain bikes to ride across the Scottish Highlands. After a couple of days we strapped our luggage to the bike frames to lighten the load. So we were mountain biking with stuff strapped to our bikes. But we weren’t bikepacking. It hadn't been invented yet.
It's funny how similar the photos from 12 years ago looks to what bikepackers are doing today. Today, my social media feeds are awash with images of happy, tired, mud-splattered faces astride lightly-loaded off-road bikes with big, knobbly tyres, with yearning mountain vistas or forest singletrack in the (slightly out of focus) distance.. The running theme I have seen over more than a decade of being involved in all this stuff is that people who choose the bicycle as a means of seeing the world tend to do so because of the many advantages it confers upon the traveller. It is a tool, and a very good one at that. It is a mode of transport. And the world these people imagine travelling through tends to be that of people and the roads that connect them and the cultures that spring forth when they meet, settle and grow into that thing we call human civilisation.
Bikepacking is for bikers – bikers who want to get away from busy roads and the man-made world and ride their bikes in nature, or something approximating it. They always have wanted this. Now they can ride further, for longer and with less fuss. The community’s prime obsessions are bikes, gear to attach to bikes, and riding bikes. There is a point to all this obsessiveness. It is to tailor and to optimise the ‘rig’ to deliver the best possible ride under conditions often far more challenging than those encountered on a regular cycle tour. Off-road biking requires skill, and just as in other specialist discipline requiring skill, the tools involved must be designed and honed to allow those skills to be maximised.
I love bikepacking. I was a mountain biker long before I was a traveller. I spent years hucking bikes off-road through woods and muddy fields before I did anything more interesting on a bike.
I think at least some of the recent interest in bikepacking – at least in the UK – can be attributed to the rise of the microadventure in combination with that of cycling in general. Bikepacking neatly merges both. These two trends express the yearning of an overworked, overstressed society (with plenty of cash) not to think, say or post on Facebook but to do something to disconnect from so-called ‘reality’ and rediscover what had always been there: a world we can see, hear, taste and smell, and a body that can sweat and strain in order to change its environment from one of dull, nagging discomfort to one which at least satisfies our romantic vision of being at one with nature.
The focus on gear makes bikepacking a hobby that can be practiced online during lunch breaks and through tinkering in the garage after work. This can be fun.
The extremely active community – not just discussing gear ad infinitum but proactively developing and sharing new routes – imparts the sense of tribal belonging that so often underscores people’s life choices.
So there you are, bikepacking as considered by Tom Allen. Hopefully, that answers some of your questions when it comes to what bikepacking is. And if it doesn't, then that's ok! The best way to define it is just to get out there and try it for yourself. For more bikepacking inspiration, be sure to check out Tom's website tomsbiketrip.com.
I think the bikepacking obsession with whittling the experience ever closer back towards ‘pure’ biking is also what pushes cyclists over to bikepacking. Bikepacking is a natural step forward from what cyclists already do into something slightly more adventure-tinged."
PS. It's definitely bikepacking, not bike-packing or bike packing. We're putting our foot down on that.
Your first Bikepacking adventure!
Bikepacking adventures can come in all shapes and sizes. That's part of the fun of them! A couple of years ago, with Easter break giving me a few work free days, and Spring having allegedly sprung, I thought I should get out on my bike. So with the bike fully packed, I caught the train up to Edinburgh with the intention of riding down to Durham. I learned a few things along the way..
Everything is slightly bigger and slightly heavier than you thought
The multi tool, extra Allen keys and two bike locks you packed? They all add up to a fair bit of dead weight. That one pair of jeans you were going to take for when you're off the bike? That filled half your handlebar bag. The best remedy
Your bike will feel different when fully packed
This probably won't be of much surprise, but adding 5kg of luggage to a 10kg bike makes a noticeable difference. Braking and steering can feel a little sluggish at first, so it's definitely worth a quick test ride before you set off on your journey. Having your bike serviced before a long trip is a good idea in general, but when you factor in the extra weight you'll definitely want to make sure everything is pointing in the right direction and well lubed.
Your bike can take more punishment than you think (probably)
Through some creative navigating, I found myself on several gravel tracks and forest bridleways on my way across Northumbria. This was not the terrain I would have recommended for a road bike with very slick tyres. The bike however handled it with little fuss, and managed to stay puncture free for the entire trip! Stay vigilant on your route, and take things steady if you feel the need and you should find most bikes can tackle most things.
Keep weight off your shoulders and back where you can
Once you've adjusted to the extra weight on your frame, you'll probably find that the sensations of riding a fully laden bike are much the same as any other type of riding. Your legs will ache going up hills, and feel as free as the wind on your back going down the hills. However, I found that what really ached at the end of the day were my shoulders and neck having ridden with a backpack on all day. You may find, as I did, a backpack is an essential 'overflow' storage option, but your ride will be much more comfortable if you limit the amount of weight you carry on your back.
Maps are great!
I spent most of my trip relying on a route I'd manipulated Google Maps to follow. For the most part, this worked absolutely fine. However, urban areas proved a particular challenge and getting lost in one North-eastern fishing town in the middle of a hail storm proved rather stressful. My phone screen was incomprehensible and my fingers had gone completely numb. My only saving grace was the traditional Ordnance Survey foldout. Static, constant and clear, maps keep things simple.
So there you have it, learn from my mistakes, make a couple of your own, and you should have an amazing first bikepacking experience. - Joe Locke
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