What is Bikepacking?

It’s nothing new really, since bicycles were first ridden, people have been transporting luggage on their bikes. 

In the late 1800’s bicycle touring was all the rage and the ‘Cyclists Touring Club’ (CTC) was formed in the U.K.

People would travel far and wide around the country, carrying their luggage with them on their trusty 2 wheeled steed.

Bike touring has evolved ever since, with more modern bikes, methods to carry luggage, and plenty of other helpful gadgets coming at a steady pace. 

In recent years some people have moved slightly away from traditional touring, going towards more minimalist bike and luggage set ups. The reduced weight from not carrying those items,seen as luxuries, allowing riders to go farther, faster, lighter.. and so Bikepacking was born. 

Bike luggage, big enough to carry the essentials, but no more, came along. Bags that strap directly to the seat, frame or handlebars, were fitted to reduce the weight traditional panniers brought. 

Lightweight bivvy bags or tarps replaced bulky, heavy tents. Spare clothing and other luxuries were kept to an absolute minimum needed for the weather conditions. 

Food is bought on route at the road or trailside, rather than carrying bulky heavy food and cooking equipment. 

Even lighter, more minimalist set ups are achieved by those ‘credit card’ Bikepacking. With just clothing, spare parts, and emergency kit they stop in hotels along the way, their lightweight rigs allowing fast paces and great distances to be covered in a tour.

Who does this Bikepacking thing? 

Anyone and everyone can (and should!) 

People have been dabbling in it for over a decade.

But the Bikepacking scene really caught on due to extreme races such as The Transcontinental Race, The Tour Divide, The Trans Am Bike Race, The Transatlantic Way Race, and a myriad of new races which are springing up worldwide. 

In these races, riders travel great distances, typically thousands of miles/kilometres, in arduous and challenging terrain. All this in a race where, typically, they are unsupported in any way. They must carry with them everything they need, and can only resupply from ordinarily available commercial sources along their route. 

These Bikepacking races are amongst the toughest endurance challenges on the planet, and the riders that win them are typically very determined and very tough individuals. But unlike the superstars of other sports, most are quiet, modest and humble athletes. They race for the love of the challenge, not the glory. They truly are amazing amateur athletes. 

The real beauty of these races is that anyone can enter them. The ordinary rider who enjoys a challenge, and wants to try his luck can also enter. (If they are fortunate enough to get a place) 

In many of the races inclusiveness and diversity of entrants is actively encouraged. Gender and age are no bar in these races, some of the most consistently well placed competitors are female. It’s also not uncommon to find older cyclists racing at the pointy end of the pack.

At both the front and the back end of these races, incredible stories of adventure, endurance, suffering and joy emerge each time they are run.

With exposure growing due to social media, along with more traditional cycling media interest the popularity of Bikepacking has grown exponentially.  People from octogenarians to young children, and from all backgrounds are becoming interested in this ‘sport’, it really is an inclusive, welcoming, community of riders and supporters.

Known as ‘Dot Watchers’ these supporters avidly follow the progress of the popular races.

In lots of the Bikepacking races, riders are equipped with GPS satellite tracking devices. These devices allow the accurate reporting of each riders position along their route, and allow comparison with their competitors positions. These positions often being shown on tracking websites associated with the race in question. Each tracked riders current position and previous track are shown, with the individual riders current position being represented by a personalised ‘dot’. 

Dot watchers, the friends, family and supporters of the riders can see, in almost real, time how the riders are positioned. It makes for an exciting virtual spectator sport, with many online forums reporting a constant flow of information on the shape of the race and racers!