The author of this article , Patrick Bulger, paints a much different picture of bikepacking based on his one-time experience.
Like Patrick, I experimented with bikepacking when I recently rode with a Meetup group, cycling from Oceanside to Encinitas CA and back, about 34 miles each way. While it took me a little while to adjust to the additional weight, I was empowered by the fact I was carrying everything I needed to enjoy the weekend comfortably. Soon I was cruising along, oblivious to the added weight.
My configuration was front and rear pannier racks, front and rear pannier bags, and a small top tube frame bag. One rear pannier held my sleeping bag and pad; the other camp clothes, toiletries, and next day’s riding gear. One front pannier carried my tech, including my GoPro plus accessories, power blocks and assorted cables. The other held my Jet Boil, coffee press and coffee. I wore a CamelBak hydration pack for water.
My ride is a 2010 Surly Long Haul Trucker, built for bikepacking and bike touring, with plenty of places to attach racks. Drop bars, friction shifters, 3 X 9 gearset, rim brakes, Terry Liberator X saddle (replaced the Brooks B-17 that it came with). My Surly weighs over 20 pounds stripped down to the basics. Since I’m not racing, it doesn’t matter.
I read through Patrick’s article and made a few observations about his observations about his first (and maybe only), bikepacking experience.
- Destination and route. The author scoped out a 45-mile ride to a scenic spot in Idaho, Lake Benewah. What he discovered, as many bikepackers have, is that a route is a route until you actually start riding. There are so many variables you can’t plan for. In Patick’s case, 98-degree weather and a leaky rear tire. And yes, this kind of experience can negatively impact your attitude about bikepacking. That’s why planning and anticipating as many variables as you may encounter is crucial. That’s why I liked riding with an experienced bikepacking group. All the planning was handled by the group leader and I had a built-in support group.
- The weight. It’s true – bikepacking, even on just an overnight, means you will add significant weight to your bike. In Patrick’s case, 50 pounds, which seems like a lot to me for a bikepacking overnight. I calculated 30 pounds additional when I did my bikepacking overnight. I actually weighed my bike fully loaded and hit the 50-pound mark. Add my 200 human pounds and we’re talking a big load.
The tendency of riders doing their initial bikepacking trips is to bring too much stuff, but I discovered it’s hard not to. My heaviest items included my tent, which weighs six pounds, and also my tech, consisting of my GoPro and accessories, power block and assorted cables, all of which probably weighed another five pounds. I also included my Jet Boil stove, coffee press and coffee, but those items didn’t really weigh that much but I can’t ride without coffee.
My sleeping bag and pad probably weighed in at around four pounds, and camp clothing and next day’s riding kit another couple of pounds. I’m probably forgetting some stuff, but those were the essentials. The pannier racks add weight as well.
One way to manage the weight is to distribute it strategically on your bike. I put a lot of my weight on the back, but I could have moved some of that to the front panniers. Others use a full frame bag to move weight to the middle of the bike, which I may consider in the future. Handlebar packs can offload some of the front weight, or front fork cages instead of panniers.
Yet there’s no getting around the added weight that comes with bikepacking.
- Comfort. Look, I’ve done two RAGBRAI’s and there were mornings when I knew I had to roll out of my tent and get on my bike for another 50–80-mile ride after a tough night of sleep on the ground. I did a bike tour through Death Valley and suffered from a leaky sleeping pad, necessitating me to keep adding air to it throughout the night. If you’re used to sleeping on the ground, you may do alright. Otherwise, like the author, you may feel battered and bruised, and wishing for a hotel.
- Provisions. Depending on the location, you may need to self-provision. On my overnight bikepacking trip, the ride included stops at cafes. Our campground was across the street from multiple restaurants. Pretty cushy if you think about it. Otherwise, you’ll need to carry food, and I would suggest the Ryan Van Duzer approach – flour tortillas, Nutella and/or peanut butter for breakfast, and refried beans for an evening burrito. I would still need coffee, whether gifted by the coffee Gods or brewed on my Jet Boil.
Finally, I agree with Patrick that bikepacking is not for everyone. But with careful planning and acknowledgement of the challenges, everyone can give it a try.