When I started this site, I wanted to focus on the type of bicycle touring that appealed to me the most. If you haven’t already figure that out, that type of touring is self-contained or self-supported bicycle touring trips. I want to dive into the world of hauling all of your life’s possessions over an extended amount of time and distance and travel under your own power. Even though I have experience in the fully supported trips where everything is provided to you, that doesn’t seem to interest me at all. However, there is a type of bike touring that has grown in popularity, and I may even consider doing it once I’ve exhausted all the possibilities of your road bicycle touring, and that type of touring is offroading bikepacking or just simply bikepacking.
Let’s see what the appeal of bikepacking is, as well as the different considerations you will need to go on your own bikepacking trip in the future. Perhaps this is something you might want to consider doing if you have already done all you could on the road.
There are certainly many different reasons why bikepacking should be seriously considered. If you’re talking about making the best of your adventure, bikepacking is something to think about as you are traversing paved and unpaved road in remote areas that are not allowed for cars to travel on at times. You’ll definitely stretch your riding level a bit if you haven’t done any mountain biking before because bikepacking will require you to know how to ride on packed and loose dirt. You will certainly get to ride all sorts of different terrain and road conditions, which may include crossing rivers or sand. You will get to explore places that are not easily accessible to the regular tourist on foot or by automobile. You will be away from vehicle traffic for the most part, so you don’t have to worry about safety concerns. Your camping accommodations are easier as you can pretty much pitch a tent in areas that are so far away from civilization and from the prying eyes. Isn’t all this magical?
Not so fast! Let’s see some things to think about before jumping over to bikepacking.
Before you can get started on bikepacking you have a few things to consider. Do you have the right bike for it? Does your bike allow you to install mountain bike tires and is designed to be taken offroad? One of the reason why I picked the Salsa Vaya was that you can pop on mountain bike tires and be able to ride the dirt like any other bikes. But if your touring bike does not allow you to have these diverse tire options or is not designed for such riding, you’re going to need to get a dedicated bike for bikepacking. There’s a whole adventure bike category now these days like the Salsa Fargo, which is designed for you to go on off-road adventures.
In addition to your bike, you’re going to need special equipment to carry your gear. Panniers and racks are just too heavy and bulky to navigate within narrow trails. You will need to buy bags for your handlebar, frame, forks, and seat. You may also need to evaluate your camping gear as well. You’re not going to have as much capacity to carry all the gear you used to bring in your panniers. That means you’ll need to look for some lighter or options that packs a lot smaller. This means getting rid of your 2-person tent in favor of a bivvy sack or swapping out your Jetboil for a lighter camping stove.
Being out bikepacking in remote areas gives you the solitude that you may crave but this also means that services like food, water, or other accommodations are not easily available. If you fall ill in the middle of the forest with no way for an ambulance to come by to pick you up, it is certainly more risky. Cell phone services may not work if you’re in remote areas so don’t even count on your smart phone to help out.
If you haven’t done much mountain biking, you’re going to have a tough time. The road can get pretty treacherous if you’re not familiar with handling your bike in such conditions. Go out and get in your time around the local mountains to get used to riding in dirt.
I first discovered bikepacking was when Ride the Divide was just released and I was intrigued by the way these guys were racing down the Great Divide. What looked like mountain bikes wrapped in bags after bags captured my imagination as well as the rest of the country. Although I wish I could bikepack but I know my limits and my limit is that I don’t have enough experience riding off-road to even attempt a longer trip. I’m not saying I won’t ever do it but there is just so many places where I want to go right now that I am not going to turn to off-road options just yet.
If the appeal of bikepacking is greater than all the considerations I’ve listed here, then perhaps bikepacking is something you should look into doing. If you’re still on the fence about perhaps getting a bike capable to allow you to do it now or the future might be the key here. Then you don’t have such huge investments just to transition over.
Let me know what you think: offroad bikepacking or on road bike touring? What’s your choice?