I had to try it out for myself to decide!
It’s 8:30 on a beautiful April morning and I’m happily rolling down the Blue Ridge Parkway on a rather unique bike with 3 inch wide tires and that weighed over 50 lbs with all of my camping gear strapped to the frame and handlebars. The two days before had involved over 10,000 feet of climbing back and forth across the Parkway on a mix of singletrack, dirt, and pavement. There were a few times I was pretty sure Chad was trying to kill me… We kept pedaling our monster bikes up and down these Virginia mountains over and over again. This morning on the third and final day of our trip, with sore legs and sun crisped skin, I smiled looking at the amazing views around me just enjoying the moment. I realized what all the fuss was about. That was my first taste of Bikepacking.
What is Bikepacking exactly?….
Bikepacking is a relatively new segment of mountain biking that has evolved from traditional bicycle touring. The concept of strapping a bunch of camping gear to your bike and heading off into the woods has been around for awhile now, but only in recent years has it entered into mainstream mountain bike culture.
Boosted by the rise in popularity self-supported long distance bikepacking races, such as the Tour Divide, more large companies are getting into the bikepacking business. For example, Salsa and Surly have a number of bikes specifically designed around the unique needs of bikepacking. These frames often have extra water bottle bosses, large front triangles to accommodate frame bags, and often plus size tires (such as the 29×3.0 Maxxis tires on the Chumba Ursa I had for the trip). However, specific frames are not required to get out and try bikepacking. There are a number of bag manufacturers that have designed bags to fit a wide range of “normal” mountain bikes.
Like many people, I have been consuming bikepacking articles and videos across the internet for a few years now jealous of the adventures of other people. I’ve dreamed up routes and thought about different bike setups. Rigid forks with eyelets for water bottles and clearance for massive tires began to make sense to me. I did all of this without ever actually doing any real bikepacking. That is really sad to admit. The worst part is that I really don’t even have a good excuse other than it wasn’t my normal trail riding that I do day in and day out.
Get out and go for it!
So I have finally broken out of my trail riding bubble and done a real bikepacking trip! Granted, having the opportunity to review a bike that is designed around the rigors of bikepacking made it a little easier to motivate myself to get out there. But that being said, I encourage you to get on the mountain bike you already own and try it! Even if all you do is strap a drybag to your handlebars and load up your Camelbak with the rest of your gear, just get out there! It counts. There are plenty of resources out there to help you get started. If you want to get a few purpose built bags then check out Wanderlust Gear or one of the other companies that make awesome bags that will make packing easy.
Here are a few tips I learned on my trip:
- Pack light. Every pound of extra gear you bring makes pedaling up those hills harder. Think like a lightweight backpacker and pare down your kit to the essentials.
- Take something to clean your “personal areas”, especially if you’re doing big days. I used some backpacking wipes from REI that worked well. They even had aloe in them to sooth any irritation.
- If you’re riding with a partner, divide up your gear. You only need one tent and one stove. So share the load! No need to double up on things you can share.
- Take time to enjoy the sights. Take pictures. Blow up Instagram. Jump in the river. Drink the beer. Whatever makes the trip awesome to you, do it!
- Plan to end your ride somewhere cool! We finished at a brewery and it was the perfect way to end a 125 mile trip.
Rolling those last few miles into town was a really unique feeling. It reminded me of when I first started mountain biking, the feeling of accomplishment that you get when complete something that you were honestly not sure you could finish! While I was sitting in the shade drinking the well-earned Virginia brewed IPA, I really began to think back over the past 2.5 days. It seemed like so much longer. I couldn’t think of one time that I was stressed about what I had to do when I got home. It really was an escape unlike any other I’ve had in a long time.