Bike packing is catching on in the cycling world and it seems that all of a sudden everyone is talking about – and attaching – bike packs to their bicycles. Bike packing is similar to cycle touring in that it is a form of self-supported travel by bicycle. You pack all the kit you might need for your journey and then set off. If you plan to camp overnight this kit will include a tent or bivvy bag, sleeping bag and mat and any cooking items you might require. If you plan to stay in B&Bs, hostels or another type of brick built accommodation, the kit will extend to clothing, mechanical items and food and water only. Where bike packing differs from the most common form of cycle touring is that it takes the shape of bike bags attached closely to the frame of the bike, rather than panniers attached to bike racks.
You can see from this photo that the packs are designed to fit neatly in and around the bike. You can add a bike bag to the handlebars, one beneath and along the length of the top tube, a smaller one on top of the top tube and another larger bag attached to the rear of the seat post. The aim of these packs is to minimise the breadth of a bike with the bags attached and also to keep the weight of the bags as close to the centre and frame of the bike. When riding on rough trails, or on busy roads, these neater system of bags make it easier and less jangling to ride your bike. Panniers attached to a rear rack, for example, often bounce around when cycling on rough terrain. Another advantage of the bike packs is that you do not need to fit pannier racks to your bike or add the weight of the racks plus the pannier bags. The size and shape of the bike packs also makes you think long and hard about what you need to take and what you can do without. Mark Beaumont recently broke the world record for cycling the length of Africa in 41 days carrying all his kit in Apidura bike packs.
Finish line of Mark Beaumont's epic Solo Africa record-breaking ride.
What is it like to ride with bike packs?
People who use bike packs speak enthusiastically of lightweight and aerodynamic qualities. Apidura, a company that makes and sells bikepacking gear, reports the advantages of bikepacking:
Light: For equivalent carrying capacity, Apidura’s packing system is 60% lighter than traditional rack and pannier systems.
Improved handling: Apidura’s packing systems distribute the weight more evenly over the bike, creating a more natural and enjoyable riding experience.
Greater flexibility: Apidura’s packing systems attach directly to the bicycle frame, making it possible to carry gear on almost any type of bicycle without the need for tools.
Why go bike packing?
Keen bikepacker Markus Stitz, of Edinburgh, says: “Bikepacking for me is the ultimate freedom to literally cycle anywhere and be self-sufficient. That might be off-road, on the road or wherever the journey takes you. “It usually involves at least one overnight stay, which is best enjoyed in a bothy or under the stars.” Another bikepacker, Hilary Oliver, describes backpacking as “running away from home for grown-ups”. A spokesperson for Apidura states: “Bicycles are the ultimate symbol of freedom. All at once, a means of transportation, fitness and pleasure. Bikepacking is about taking that everyday cycling experience further.”
How to get into bikepacking
To start with, you require a bike suitable for the terrain , whether it’s a mountain bike, road bike, cyclocross, hybrid or tourer. You’ll also need to buy the bike bags. Start with a couple and work up to owning a full set. Bikepacking gear companies include:
You can buy through these sites and also at Scottish bike shops, such as Edinburgh Bicycle. It helps if the kit and clothing that you carry with you is also lightweight because that will make the bike easier to pedal.
Your minimalist bike packing kit list:
Basic bike maintenance items, such as spare inner tubes, tyre levels and pump. A map, compass and GPS navigation gadget are vital, too, if you are going out into the wilds. If you are travelling on a self-guided cycle tour with Macs Adventure, don’t forget your guide notes. The number of clothing changes – and your toiletries – that you take with you is personal but I usually pack what I think I’ll need, unpack and then pack only half of the kit. A tent or bivvy bag, sleeping bag, sleeping mattress, stove, cooking equipment and food will be vital if you plan to camp overnight.
The bike packing conclusion
If you have enjoyed cycle touring before, bikepacking is along the same lines but makes cycling easier, lighter and more aero-dynamic. Now where do you fancy going for your next cycle tour?