I loved the ride to Switzerland but since that ride I’ve been curious about how to do things lighter. Less weight means less stuff and less faff. A simpler life and the ability to cover more ground with less effort.
Cass Gilbert’s blog, While Out Riding offers the ongoing story of a guy riding dirt roads through the Americas over a few years who slowly made the transition from a fully loaded touring bike with racks, panniers and too much gear, to a streamlined, efficient, flexible and lightweight bikepacking setup. Its also a lovely, insightful read with wonderful photography. I might admit to having a slight man-crush on Cass.
The term ‘bikepacking’ seems to be a fairly recent moniker and essentially means to cycle touring what ultralight backpacking means to hiking. Instead of using heavy racks and a full complement of panniers, people are strapping small drybags to their bikes and heading off without a change of socks, never mind the kitchen sink. They are taking just what they need, and making sure that it is lightweight, good quality gear. Over the past few years a small cottage industry has appeared making specialist bags to strap to your bike to make this a little more refined. Companies such as Revelate Designs, Porcelain Rocket, BikePack.eu and Wildcat here in the UK are all doing a roaring trade. The bags weigh less that a traditional setup, don’t affect the handling of the bike as much, and force you to carry less.
If I could have changed one thing about my Swiss ride it would have been to have less stuff, and less weight with me. Weight meant I couldn’t do the Black Forest Mountain Bike Trail. Packing up camp some mornings I would wonder what all this stuff was. What on earth was I carrying in that front right pannier? And I’d originally been worried about missing essentials.
There is a heap of information out there on this stuff once you start looking. A whole virtual world of actual adventure cyclists heading off over the hills. One of the most useful resources I’ve come across is the Bear Bones site and forum run by Stu over in Wales. The forum is full of people asking the same questions as I was… “So, how exactly do I carry water on my bike without space for any bottle mounts?“, “Can I really survive on a hill in Wales without a tent? Really?“. And its a nice forum, full of helpful folk with a lot of experience and no snobbery or disdain.
So last year I slowly equipped my mountain bike – my real mountain bike, not the On-One that has featured here previously – with a lightweight bikepacking setup. She’s been tested a few times now, including a couple of overnight rides. There is a lot of tweaking to do, and I suspect that will never end, but I think its a pretty good setup for now.
Here she is…
For the geeks out, the bike is a Canyon Nerve XC 8.0. I tried one for size in Canyon’s factory in Koblenz in 2011 and bought it later that year as a replacement for my previous bike. The bikepacking setup includes a Wildcat Mountain Lion harness and a Revelate Pocket on the bars, a Wildcat Clouded Leopard frame bag built to fit around the rear shock, a Revelate Gas Tank on the top tube, and a Revelate Viscacha seat bag.
Bring on the bikepacking.