We’ve all seen people bike-packing — they’re the people atop bikes that are loaded up with gear. Usually they have gear attached to the front tire, the back tire + everywhere in between. These are people out on the adventure of their lives, choosing to carry all their day-to-day essentials around on a bicycle that they then have to self-propel up [+ down] hills + along all sorts of roadways. It is an adventure…to say the least.
At first glance it may seem like they have way too much stuff stashed on their bike. Then you start thinking about it. If you’re out on a leisurely day ride you don’t need much, but chances are they’ve committed to at least a week, if not multiple months, on the road. This means they need to pack along a tent, a sleeping bag, a sleeping pad, a cook stove, basic food, a wide variety of clothing layers, first aid essentials, bike gear, hydration, and much more. What you see stacked on a bike is basically everything you’d stuff into a 70L pack, just distributed around the frame of a bicycle.
So, why would you want to do this?! That’s what I’m here to tell you.
Let’s establish a few things about me + my experience with bike-packing. I am not a cyclist. I am a trail runner who has gotten on a bike a handful of times over the past 10 years. The only times my adventures on a bike have gone further than 15 miles in a day have been with heaps of gear strapped to my bike. I’ve done two bike-packing trips. One with debatable success, one with surprising success. I do not generally bike for fun, but I do love my experiences while bike-packing…which makes me the perfect person to tell you why you’ll love it to!
The World Moves Slower
Well, technically you’re the one moving slower, but that makes the world feel like it has slowed down a bit. My most recent bike-packing trip was along the coast of Oregon. I rode north to south, then drove south to north. On the bike the miles stretched out in front of me. In the car the miles just disappeared. I was sharing the drive with my mom + I kept saying “oh, that spot back there…” because we’d drive by it before I had a chance to register where we were.
On the bike I had time to contemplate every road sign I approached + gawk through the trees to find the best lookout points. I also got to check out a lot more coffee shops + cafes with the bike. I only covered about 50 miles each day, giving me a chance to experience two whole handfuls of coffee shops on the bike. When we got in the car we covered too much ground…I would have been in a caffeine induced coma if I stopped to snag one last cup of all the best cappuccinos!
Distractions Melt Away
When you’re on a bike, especially when you’re sharing the highway with cars, you only get to focus on one thing — staying upright + out of the way!
There is no time to scroll through your phone. You can’t fiddle with the radio. Heck, you can’t even listen to anything but the world around you if you want to stay safe. I definitely used my headphones at camp, but while on the bike I wanted to hear every car approaching so I knew what to expect. Oh yes…I could tell when the driver didn’t slow down!
Without anything to distract me I was forced to think…about life, about what’s next, about the views, about the people I met. It was a nice breather from the overly connected world. That said, I definitely spent my coffee shop breaks with my phone in hand, getting back into the loop!
Setting Up Camp is Easy Peasy
Guess what you don’t have a lot of when you’re limited to what your bike can carry? Gear. You don’t have room for much so you make sure everything is essential. There is no room for all the comforts of car camping + no need for overpacking with just-in-case items [you usually ride thru town multiple times a day]. This makes setting up + tearing down camp extremely easy.
I would arrive at camp, call dibs on the best spot left in the hiker/biker area + then leisurely set up my tent. This meant I got to snack on a banana while I set up my tent + air out my sleeping bag while I settled everything else in. Even without a rush, everything was in place + ready for the night in less than thirty minutes. Mornings were no more rushed [unless it was misty/rainy…then there was some speed packing!].
Everything had a place + everything fit perfectly in its place…that was a huge perk of having so little along for the ride.
Food Has Never Tasted So Good
Oh yes, the food of bike-packing is amazing…especially if you’re on a route that takes you through a few towns each day. This gives you some creative freedom for your second breakfast, lunch, snacks + dinner.
Each morning I woke up + made 2-3 packets of oatmeal while I packed up camp then cycled to a coffee shop/cafe 15-20 miles away. This is where I got my coffee [I’m a bit of a coffee snob] + second breakfast.
My lunch or lunchtime snacks were often eaten at one or more viewpoints…although there’s no denying the fact I would occasionally splurge on local restaurant food to get me through the day.
For dinner I just needed to map out the grocery store/market that was closest to camp + determine how ambitious I was feeling before I got there. Sometimes dinner was a simple meal of mashed potatoes with melted cheese + sausage. Other times I went all out with bread bowl soup or southwestern dip for fresh bread. I was not about to rely on dehydrated meals when the real stuff was so close by + easy to pack into camp!
At the end of the day, bike-packing is not unlike backpacking, it is simply on a bike. Of course, there are a few extra things you need to keep in mind such as the route + road conditions, the fact you probably won’t get to sleep deep in the wilderness + the need for a least a little bike knowledge. Although it is worth noting you don’t need much experience atop the bike if you’re willing to suffer through the first few days…I gained confidence + strength on the bike as I went, more than I would have gained training [or so I tell myself].
If you have a bike or access to a bike that has room for pannier bags…pack up + head out. Even if you need to beg + borrow from friends [I definitely did!] it’ll be a worthy adventure. Just be careful, you may finish up the adventure with thoughts of your next + how you’re going to finance an updgraded bike!