Now that you’ve got your bike and gear set up ready to roll - it’s time to think about you! Bikepacking is an activity that can be personalized to fit a wide range of cyclists, from the novice mountain biker to the ulta racer. What type of rider are you? Be honest with yourself about your abilities, celebrate your strengths and honor areas where you stand to improve. Set yourself up for success by acknowledging where you are and set goals to get where you want to go.
How to go Bikepacking
If you’re new to off-road riding, starting with a shorter day ride to test out your legs on unfamiliar terrain is a great place to start. Recognize that a bike with wider tires is able to more easily roll over mixed surface structures - a rock that would require a redirect when riding a road bike is no problem for a mountain bike to handle. Regardless of the terrain, keep your body calm and loose - a tense rider is a rider waiting to crash. Relax, allow your body to absorb the bumps and trust your bike to do the job it was designed and built to do. If you feel out of control, slow down until you’re back in control of your bike and yourself. Be mindful about where you’re focusing your vision and how you’re choosing a line for your bike to follow. You will ride into what you look at - it’s how our brains work! Instead, identify obstacles that you want to avoid, make a change in your bike’s trajectory (if needed) and then allow the obstacle to pass by in your periphery. Keep your eyes soft and look at the trail ahead, not right in front of you. There is absolutely no shame in dismounting your bike to walk over anything you’re uncomfortable riding. Remember, your bikepacking trip will come to a quick end if you push it too hard!
Riding a fully loaded bike off road adds in a few additional challenges for the rider. Yes, your bike will feel heavier. Yes, riding and climbing may be at a slower pace. Yes, your bike has bags all over it that you’re not used to riding with. Still, the transition to riding with loads of gear should be relatively smooth. Pack up your bike and take it out for a test ride. Does anything feel unbalanced? If so, rethink your packing strategy. The beauty of the in-line design of modern bikepacking bags is that it removes the side-to-side tippiness that panniers cause, that is, if they’re packed well. Make sure your seat bag isn’t rubbing on your rear wheel and try to compress it tighter if it is. After each time you stop and open a bag, be sure to close it back up securely. At the start of each day bikepacking, do a quick once over of your whole bike, checking the security of velcro and compression straps, cage bolts and anything else that could possible loosen up over a long day of off-road riding.
Bikepacking may also require more technical navigating than what you’re used to - there are far fewer road and trail signs out in the backcountry! Before you take off, spend time studying your route and look at it both on digital and good old fashioned paper maps. Take note of when you expect to climb, descend or make turns along your route. Keep your navigation tools easy to access - will you be using your cell phone, a GPS unit, paper maps, or some combination of all (you can never have too few maps, in my opinion!). If you ever find yourself wondering if you’re going the right way - STOP and check your maps. It takes only a second to confirm you’re on the right track. It takes only a few seconds longer to potentially get yourself uncomfortably lost in the backcountry.
Bikepacking is not a risk-free activity. In addition to getting lost, you may also have to face mechanicals or handling injuries. When there’s trouble, stay calm and assess the damage before taking acting. Know basic trailside bike repair, including fixing flats and chains as well as how to adjust your derailleurs and brakes. If you bonk, stop, sit down, rehydrate and refuel yourself. If you crash, take your time getting up, check yourself over carefully for any injuries - know how to use your first aid kit (and pack it somewhere easily accessible!). Be sure to check your bike for any issues before you start riding again too.
Even with its challenges, bikepacking is a beautiful, rewarding way to experience the world. Being totally self-sufficient with such few things helps bring perspective to our busy lives. Stress levels seem to fade away with cell phone reception. You’ll see, smell and feel the backcountry better than you could from a vehicle and cross distances greater than you could hiking. Take a few trips over the spring and summer and you’ll witness native plans sprout, grow, and bloom and the different birds and animals that feed on them. Bikepacking allows you to enjoy a relaxed, easy routine of ride, eat, sleep, repeat. Have fun out there!