Content by Neil Beltchenko
Backpacking has long been an excellent way to explore the great outdoors. All around the world, this popular activity has gotten people over huge mountain passes in India, from country to country in Europe, along the famous Appalachian Trail, as well as many other trails in the Western United States. Backpacking has turned into a lifestyle, which has brought brands to notoriety, publications to recognition, and popularity to trails. Backpacking has opened a door for the outdoor industry, which has truly turned into a gigantic money maker. John Muir once said, “The power of imagination makes us infinite.” Enter, Bikepacking.
Apparently backpacking wasn’t good enough any more, or someone was bored and decided to bike long distances with a backpack. Well, however it evolved, we’re very happy it did. Bikepacking gets you further, faster. You can stick to your route, or decided to go off trail and sleep in a hotel when the rain starts to pour. The sense of riding on a bike with everything you need and a little cash gives you a true feeling of freedom, no worries, just you and the road ahead. Oh, and one the the best parts is you don’t have to worry about a car zooming by you – well, maybe sometimes, but not like touring on major highways.
Bikepacking has become a world wide epidemic. I use that word because quite frankly, it is infectious. More and more people have started to gain interest in bikepacking. I have recently walked into bike shops noticing bike bags for sale hung up like a pair of shorts. More shops, like 21 Ave Cycles and Pedal of Littleton, have hosted bikepacking seminars to further the knowledge of this adolescent activity. Books like “The Cordillera” and “Durango to Denver” have been published to share trials and tribulations on the popular American bikepacking routes.
Technology has played a huge part in the evolution of bikepacking. For example, Trackleaders.com makes for a pretty entertaining time watching the blue, and now red, green, and yellow dots travel on or off a line from one point to another. It may be the tipping point in convincing your significant other to let you participate yourself. If nothing else it’s to keep tabs on Jefe Branham and Jessy Jakomait crushing each other on the front end of the Colorado Trail Race. Trackleaders and Spot messengers have made bikepacking a spectator sport. Bikepacking.net hosts the best bikepacking forum on the web, where someone is guaranteed to answer the questions you have regarding your rookie Tour Divide run. MTBR now has a bikepackers category in their forums as well.
Social media… Wow. #bikepacking #mtb #rideon – yep its annoying to some and super helpful for others. Facebook groups like Bikepacking Austraila, Bikepack Isreal, and Endurance Rides and Bikepacking are all fantastic resources to ask questions, share stories, and talk gear. Social media is also a great resource to find small blog articles on DIY bag system, or a weekend trip that is kindly packed with great photos. Twitter and Instagram are also great ways of finding bikepacking photos and news.
One of the most important pieces of the puzzle is trail volunteers. The Arizona Trail Association and The Colorado Trail Foundation are both fantastic organizations that do all the dirty work it takes to maintain two amazing trails, giving us the ability to ride across a state on bike. We have to thank all the volunteers that help build, and maintain those trails. If you can’t get out on the front lines working on the trails, then do yourself a favor and donate some money, I guarantee it will give you good karma. While there is still work to be done with other trail organizations and wilderness areas – without IMBA, trail foundations, and the volunteers, riding legal singletrack would not be what it is today.
One of the most exciting aspects about the growth of bikepacking is the bikepacks themselves. There are pack manufactures across the world – from the Bike Bag Dude in Australia, Alpkit in the UK, to Colorado, Alaska, and the Midwest, your bikepack options are truly endless. The more interest there is, the more manufactures there will be, resulting in more unique and creatively crafted bags.
Sleeping bags, pads, bivys or tents are usually a must when going into the backcountry. Same goes with stoves, pots, pans, maybe even a french press if you do so choose. A huge indication of where bikepacking is going is with Q-Outdoors, QBP’s parent company that focuses on distributing camping and bikepacking gear to bike shops. It makes it easy on shop owners as well as manufactures.
Usually any bike will do for bikepacking, but recently companies have solicited their bikes specifically to bikepacking. One of those companies is Salsa Cycles. Salsa, who is owned by QBP, has a pretty cool slogan: “Adventure by Bike.” not to mention they also make some perfect bikes for the sport, such as the Salsa Fargo, which owns the current Tour Divide record, and the Salsa Spearfish, the new ultra endurance full suspension machine.
Planning and preparing is half the fun, but its not bikepacking until you hop over the saddle and get on your weighed down bike. Some of the most fun you may have is riding in a bikepacking race. More routes have been drawn out into races like the Southern Brevet, Kiwi Brevet, Huracan 300, and Stagecoach 400 – all successful races that were held in the early part of the year. The Arizona Trail Race, which is part of the triple crown of bikepacking, starts on Friday of this week. Friday is also the start of the Tour De Los Padres, a new race North of Los Angeles. The Tour Divide, Colorado Trail race, and new routes in Moab generate a lot of interest, and are guaranteed to provide a lifetime of memories.
If you’re not interested in racing but would like to take up bikepacking, any of these routes are great options for a causal tour. Even the Adventure Cycling Association has recently come up with a mapped out route that connects hot springs in Idaho. If that doesn’t sound good, I’m not sure what does. Other popular destinations such as the coasts of California and Oregon have been high up on the list. The Virgina Mountain Trail was recently built to fill the void in the northeast.
We have to thank the backpacking industry and a bit of creativity for the evolution of bikepacking. This sport would not be possible without race directors and route creators and the bike and bag companies that risked the idea of a new market. Trails that approve the use of mountain bikes, and encouraged bikepacking have allowed us to go far and open our eyes to a whole new world of mountain biking. Lastly the online resources that provide useful information on what you need to get yourself on the trail. So strap that velcro together, snap those clips, and get on the trail.