I thought I’d put together a few thoughts on bikepacking and why I love the concept, but as a new genre of biking I think there needs to be some order so I created my own 5 rules of bikepacking…….
1. First rule of Bikepacking
No panniers allowed. This is a strict door policy because bikepacking is about rackless riding, panniers are brilliant if want to go cycle touring slowly on smooth surfaces and take the kitchen sink, but to me that’s not bikepacking. Bikepacking’s about packing or strapping kit onto your bike so it’s balanced, secure, lighter, faster and actually fun to ride on any surface from tarmac to rocks. Take a basket for some flowers and your baguette if needed but racks and panniers are a no go.
I don’t have a picture of me with a basket and flowers, but this is in Tenerife where I went with my lightest setup yet on a 3 day trip:
2. Second Rule of bikepacking
The kit you pack should weigh less than your bike (I’ll exclude water and food so the equation =k-f-w-b<0 ). Essentially I mean take less kit (or buy a heavy bike...). Just because you have that swanky new full size frame bag doesn't mean it needs to be filled or even taken on every trip. You can get away with a lot less than you think. For weekends I usually take a bar and saddle pack and have everything needed in Scotland. For short trips only take one set of spare clothing for the evening and make sure that it's the smallest most packable kit you can find or afford to buy. Less weight and bulk is what bikepacking is about, it lets you get on with just riding your bike and makes the whole experience so much more enjoyable.
3. Safety first
Don’t risk taking so little kit you’re likely to die if something goes wrong or the unexpected happens. If I have no tent or Bivvy bag because I’m staying in a hut, B&B or bothy but heading off into the mountains then I always take a foil bag and full waterproofs. Likewise if it’s dry you need to carry enough water. Look at bottle cages on forks or rear seat stays to expand what you can carry. Always ensure you will have totally dry clothing for the evening. Always carry a basic first aid kit, it’s easy not to – until you need it.
Overall it’s a balance of risk and probability based on where you’re riding so don’t take a rifle for the polar bears if you’re passing a Zoo but in Svalbard it might be a good shout. This rule is all about thinking through what could go wrong and ensuring you’re prepared.
This isn’t a Polar bear but here’s a Panda, equally as vicious to cyclists…well ones that resemble bamboo like me!
4. You have to actually leave your front door to classify as a bikepacking trip.
You can’t bike pack in your own home, so no turbo Zwifting or other nonsense. What I mean here is the hardest step is actually committing to a trip and physically setting off. It’s very easy to find excuses “I’m too tired this weekend” or “the weather forecast is mixed”. When you live in Scotland a mixed weather forecast is a positive thing! Just go and you’ll never regret it (unless there’s biblical rain/sleet forecast then maybe some doubts should creep into the equation…).
leaving the front door at night has its rewards….
5. There are no defined routes or minimum distance.
For me bike packing’s not a competition, any trip will be fun regardless of speed or distance it’s just great to go and explore somewhere new and be outside! If you’re nervous about planning then follow a defined route or even join a planned ride/event to have a sociable ride, but it’s way more interesting to just make up your own route and see what happens; however once completed don’t forget to upload it to the web and call it something like ‘Ed’s Epic 106 route ITT – First completion and fastest ever time’!
Bikepacking isn’t about the need to set ridiculous targets or epic mileage, while I am the first to admit I enjoy covering ground fast, I also like to explore areas or adapt the pace and distance to the conditions. An epic pre-planned route can ruin what could have been a perfectly good trip. The most common response from TransContinental riders I hear is “I wish we had time to explore X place more”.
If it all comes together and you cover 400km in 24 hours, under clear skies then great. However if you find a good cafe because it’s raining, find some great singletrack to detour on or even the perfect camp spot by a hot spring then chill out and enjoy. Basically when planning look for potential shortcuts or long cuts and ride a route according to what you find!
Hopefully some advice to think about and if you have any more ‘rules’ I missed add them below in comments!
I don’t understand the first rule. I don’t understand how you can go bikepacking (assuming it’s for a few days) without paniers and carry all you stuff with you. Surely I must be missing something.
Bikepacking is entirely about touring without panniers regardless of length of trip. Have a read of this http://welovemountains.net/my-apidura-bike-packing-kit-for-the-pamirs/ Others have ridden all around the world quite happily without panniers like Marcus here: http://markusstitz.com/
Pack a sense of humour. Weighs nothing but helps immensely if things don’t go exactly as you planned.
Review your gear after a trip and see if you didn’t use anything that could be left behind.
Take stuff with multiple uses. E.g. A buff is a nice pillow case for dry bag pillow case.
Very true a sense of humour or just a positive outlook on trips is essential when the inevitable ‘challenging’ day arrives.
I like the review point, the talk I am doing this year at a few festivals is about my ‘evolution of bikepacking’, essentially I explain how after each long tour I’ve looked at what I could have changed in kit or how I could’ve carried stuff better with input to/from Apidura and as a result my set up has improved hugely from even 2 years ago let alone what we were using 15 years ago!
And a merino buff is the first item to pack, that should probably be a rule!
you can easy do bike packing and have all the gear .. check out my video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDT8X-8dWMc&t=676s
just one question what happens if your riding a carbon bike Your kit should weigh less than your bike that rule still applies lol
Haha yes if your bike’s too light you just can’t go bikepacking! Although I’m mostly taking piss by making ‘rules’ here, I do think lighter bikes (I’m thinking light wheels, seatposts etc.) often shouldn’t take the weight of heavy kit so you’re forced into taking less kit, so there’s some logic behind the thinking!
i shared your post and some serous mad feed back out there next there be death threats lol .. lol enjoy thanks for the post https://www.facebook.com/groups/474293339288710/?multi_permalinks=1418994444818590¬if_t=like¬if_id=1493354096083415
Haha thanks, I think the irony of setting ‘rules’ in an activity that inherently has no rules was maybe missed on some!
next time in asia i.e. vietnam look me up we have a beer lol
Will do, likewise if in Scotland, thanks!
Your first two rules are kinda BS. Just get out there with whatever bike you have, and whatever way you have of carrying stuff on your bike and explore the countryside around you. Learn from your mistakes would be a better rule than no panniers, cos who cares what you carry your stuff in!
To be fair rule one is probably the only entirely serious one, if you use traditional rack and panniers that’s what we’ve always called cycle touring which is still a great way to travel. Bikepacking is the evolution from that taking in lessons learnt and going lighter and more streamlined without panniers, again it’s not new but we now have the kit to make it easier. It’s all about avoiding having to learn lessons the hard way! Also the flowers and bread stick in a basket reference is from a guy I met on Tajikistan Border, huge respect to this French guy!