Bikepacking May Not Be for Everyone

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

The Three Most Influential People in Bike Travel

L to R: Ryan Van Duzer, Alee Denham, Russ Roca

Ryan Van Duzer, Alee Denham and Russ Roca have a lot in common: they are absolute bicycle nerds – and that’s a good thing. They also share a love of bike travel – bike touring and bikepacking – and they all make a living riding a bike. They make superb videos of their travels and informational videos on bikes and accessories. They are total gear junkies. They shun racing bikes, spandex outfits and clip-in pedals. In short, they’re a lot like me. Individually and as a group, they have inspired me to explore the world on a bike, and they will inspire you as well.

Ryan Van Duzer is the most inspirational bike traveler in the world. Period. I first discovered Ryan perusing videos about RAGBRAI, the annual bike ride event in Iowa. I was planning to participate in my first RAGBRAI and learned there were a lot of helpful videos on YouTube, and there were. There was also a video from Ryan Van Duzer, where he rode his bike from Boulder CO and across Nebraska to get to the starting town of RAGBRAI in Iowa and stealth camped along the way!

Fun facts about Ryan:

  • He once rode a bicycle from Honduras to his home in Boulder CO, hauling a trailer with all his gear
  • He doesn’t own a car – he rides his bike everywhere – to the grocery store, the airport, the gym
  • He once rode a 3-speed bike across the country and finished the last 50 miles with only one pedal
  • He loves beans, especially when they’re in a burrito
  • When he rides through a tunnel he sings “Ole, ole, ole, ole!”
  • His mantra: “No whammies, no flatties, no crashies!”
  • His mission statement: “Get out there!”

The “Get out there!” mission statement seeks to inspire everyone to ride a bike. Ride one for fun, ride one to work, ride one across town, across the state, across the country. You don’t need a fancy bike – almost any bike will do (remember, he rode a 3-speed across the country) – just get out there. Fully energized from this message, I decided to “Get out there” and start doing a little adventure cycling and create my own videos.

If you’ve seen any of Ryan’s videos, you know what a great storyteller he is. Basically, “I’m going on a bike ride and I’m going to show you everything I’m seeing.” His drone shots are incredible. He puts a lot of thought, effort and time into framing his shots. He speaks directly to you, sharing his thoughts and emotions.

Van Duzer’s videos often don’t pull any punches. Anyone who’s done any bike travel knows there are good days and bad. Ryan shows them both. Riding in rain, sleet or wind? Check. Booting a tire after a nail puncture? Check. Hike-a-bike up steep hills, straining at every foot? Check. Busting a carbon belt drive? Check. Navigating his bike down a narrow stairway in his condo? Check. Pushing his bike-in-a-box through an airport? Check. There are really no behind-the-scenes in his video, because he’s telling the whole story – not just the glamor shots (plenty of those, he has a good eye).

Van Duzer generally rides solo on some pretty intimidating routes. He’s done most of the Great Divide, the Baja Divide, the Colorado Trail and more by himself. Frequently his is joined by Canadian John Freeman, who bikes the world with his dog Mira, who has her own Instagram page.

Ryan is also an athlete, competing in marathons and just recently in the Leadville 100. Ran 100 miles and videoed the whole thing – the pain and the gain.

Van Duzer doesn’t hawk any merchandise, although I expect he will eventually. He promotes Priority Bicycles and helped design the off-road beast called the Priority 600X Adventure (I want one!) and rides the heck out of it. He favors certain bikepacking equipment brands – tents, panniers, frame bags. Some of the manufacturers are local Boulder companies. He’ll talk tires, rims, brakes, handlebars, racks, pedals with the best of them.

He also promotes local businesses. Recently he published a video of his trip to a market called Nude Foods where food is unpackaged, and shoppers use returnable glass jars to load up on the goods. Of course, he rode his bike outfitted with rear pannier bags, got his groceries, loaded them into the bags and pedaled his way back home.

Van Duzer has managed to create an enviable life based on a very simple lifestyle. In his own way, he’s made the world a better place. You cannot help but feel better after watching one of his videos. You can follow Ryan on Patreon, YouTube and Instagram.

Alee Denham is the world’s most prolific bike traveler. He has ridden across at least 5 continents and pedaled hundreds of thousands of miles. He is, in my opinion, the ultimate bikepacking expert on both bicycles and gear. Alee publishes an annual guide to the best bikepacking bikes, maybe the most thorough and objective of its kind. He’s Australian, so his analyses are more international in scope, so many of the bike brands he evaluates may be unknown to U.S. riders. He also does bikepacking reviews on YouTube and watching these inspired me to find and acquire a Surly Long Haul Trucker for my bike travel adventures.

In addition to the Bikepacker’s Buying Guide, Alee also publishes The Touring Buyer’s Guide and the How-to Travel By Bike. Order here.

Alee quit his job after socking away savings for over a year and selling unneeded possessions. He then combined his two greatest passions – cycling and traveling – and began to navigate the world by bike. He appears to earn a modest living from his content.

I would characterize Alee as more of an explorer than traveler. He goes wherever 7 or 8 hours of pedaling will take him. While I am super, super obsessive about turn-by-turn, Alee appears to focus more on the ride than the route, although he does use his smartphone for navigation.

What is most endearing about Alee is the mountain of knowledge he’s built up and his willingness to share with others so they too can have the same experience. You can follow Alee on Patreon, Instagram, YouTube and his website.

The Path Less Pedaled. Russ Roca and Laura Crawford, like Alee Denham, sold all their possessions to travel by bike and chronicle their adventures. Together they’ve logged about 15,000 miles in two countries and the mileage and list of countries is growing.

I discovered the Path Less Pedaled when I was researching cycling routes from San Luis Obispo to Paso Robles. One article featured a description of the route I eventually built in RideWithGPS and used, and the article credited PLP.

I identify with Russ and Laura because they dress and ride like me – no spandex – just regular outdoor clothing. Russ often wears Crocs or sneakers, maybe even sandals sometimes. PLP has come up with solid branding for their community of followers. First, there’s Party Pace, which champions riding for fun at a pace that suits you, and the Un-Serious Cyclist, which I definitely am.

In fact, you should watch Russ’ “un-serious” YouTube on five things he loves that serious cyclists hate. I identified with all five.

Russ and Laura are solid merchandisers, offering a variety of products such as stickers, patches, bandanas and hats. As you can see, I’m a consumer of their goods.

A selection of my personal Path Less Pedaled Merchandise

Projects of the Path Less Pedaled includes the Bicycle Tourism Advisor, which was started after seeing the positive impact bicycle touring has on small-town America. The BTA is intended to help guide communities and public agencies on how best to take advantage of bicycle touring. You can follow Russ and Laura on Patreon, YouTube, Instagram and on The Path Less Pedaled.

Summary. I’ve given my readers just a snapshot of the people I believe are the top influencers in bike travel. They have inspired me individually but also as a group. At the heart of all their messages is simple: your bike can take you around the block or around the world. Start your cycling adventure today, and we’re here to help you do it.