Bikepacking, adventure racing, ultra racing, touring, riding a bike for an extremely long distance… whatever you want to call it, the meaning is not definitive. Each person has their own answer to what bikepacking is to them, and each answer is correct. The universal concept behind bikepacking is getting out into nature with a bike and everything you need to live outdoors for an X amount of time, in whatever climate, enjoying camaraderie with those around you, and having an overall life-altering experience. The idea is very similar to backpacking, however, avid backpackers haven’t figured out a way to make it a race. Let me tell you, if they had, they would be having the exact same debates we are now about bikepacking. I sit in my house late on a Thursday night thinking about the sport in general. I’m not one that forces an opinionated piece, but when the thought does arise, I quickly try to put it into words. A lot has happened this year for the bikepacking industry, and for cycling as a whole. I think to myself each day, what the hell was I doing without bikes for over 22 years of my life? I wake up every day with obsessions and thoughts about a bike, a part, or a route. A lot of people have recently expressed that they have similar feelings… so whats next? Bikepacking is my main passion, if I had no choice but to do one activity for the rest of my life it would be biking around the world with everything I needed attached to my bike. Most of you know the feeling, to me its euforia. Last week a post was submitted to Endurance Rides and Bike Packing Facebook page. It was by a friend of mine, Erik Mathy, who recently finished the Oregon Outback route a week before the main group start. He watched the finishers on trackleaders, some finished in an absurdly fast time like Ira Ryan in 28 hours. Erik said “I am starting to think that if a race is less than 500 miles, it’s no longer a bikepacking race. There are too many people who can just pound the things out without sleeping or really stopping for more than a few hours. Which makes it…not really bikepacking.” With over 50 replies, the comment has created quite the stir. I love this comment Erik made, I love the responses and the opinions people have, and I love how crazy fast some of these riders are going. For some people bikepacking is a recreational activity, they go out on weekends with everything loaded to their bike and enjoy a leisure pace of traveling on a route. Those same people sign up for a race/group ride and ride at their own leisurely pace.  It is fun to know there are riders in front and behind you doing the same thing, whether its 2,745 miles or 300 miles.
Bikepacking is
John Schilling knows what bikepacking is all about.
Other riders like to go out and finish a route as fast as they can. People either go into a ride knowing they are going to hammer, or they know their goal is to finish. Thats the beauty of bikepacking, you can take it however fast or slow your heart desires. The difference here is that some rides are on technical singletrack, the others are on gravel road. I’m not taking anything away from road heavy bikepacking races, but to me its hard to compare it to a singletrack heavy route. With bikepacking, no two routes are the same. While the Arizona Trail may be a sprint for some, the Tour Divide is an entirely different type of ride. In both instances you need to do your homework – route research, testing gear, figure out your level of fitness, and most importantly staying mentally strong. Yes, its easier to comprehend that your ride will be over in a few days for shorter races, but regardless of the distance your planning and preparation while bikepacking is still necessary or else you will ultimately fail. I think Rich Wolf said it perfectly “Who cares what others do? Don’t like it, don’t show up! Then to try to get everyone to conform to what your idea of what bikepack racing is all about?? One event can accommodate various people looking for different experiences. Want sleep deprivation and body abuse? Check! Want to smell the flowers and hang with like minded people? Check! Want to make up rules? Then put together your own event, but don’t try to be like others who want to regulate the crap out of someone else’s party!” Maybe the Oregon Outback is more of a gravel grinder for some, but for others it is a reason to get out with a bunch of like-minded folks for a bike ride across the state of Oregon. If you don’t like the idea of a specific route, don’t do it. Do your own thing, make bikepacking what you want it to be. There is no need to follow in other people’s foot steps. In today’s World many of us are so narrowly focused on efficiency and getting things done quickly, and maybe that is translating into the bikepacking community. However, if we all take a step back and look at the bigger picture, finishing a 300 mile ride quickly and with no sleep doesn’t necessarily create a negative outlook on bikepacking as a whole, nor does riding slowly and enjoying each vista along the way. Regardless of the route distance, rules or records, I am thankful that people like Scott, Matt, Donnie, Stefan, Nathan, Brendan, Karlos (and countless others) put in their time and effort to dial in a route, deal with logistics, and answer your questions. It is because of them that we are all able to get out there and enjoy the trails! Thanks for the dialog, Erik!

5 Comments

  1. redrockchica

    Well-said!

  2. Sue Rawley

    Great post! I’m constantly amazed how so many bicyclists want to own and dictate whatever the latest bicycling fad is (fat bikes, bikepacking, gravel grinding, etc.). As if they invented it and as if it’s the only “cool” way of bicycling. Bicycling has been around for a long time and not much is really new. As someone who’s spent over 46 years riding bikes, I respect all types of riding and racing. In my mind, no matter what you do with your 2 wheels, it’s cool!

  3. John Augustine

    Good article

  4. I’m no where near being part of the extreme bike riding/racing cadre, but my own preferences in ‘bike packing’, is to do some single track, some gravel, and some ‘bush whacking’ where necessary or desirable. One of my favorite things to do (especially in late winter and early spring when the shore lines of certain area lakes are exposed to a considerable degree, and the ticks are still in shock) is track along the edges on my Salsa Mukluk, and stopping where something attracts my attention (flower, shrub, a bird, a rock formation I’ve never noticed before, maybe a fossil, and even just to soak up the silence surrounding me, having a snack. Maybe getting my cheap beer can stove out and brew up a cup of tea with a snack of some sort.

    I know that’s not any sort of race, but I’m primarily out for the sights and sounds, the natural history around me, and the exercise, too. “Reconnoitering.” “Exploring.” Immersing myself in that particular environment, by bike, is what draws me to the fat bike technology more than any thing else.

    I admire the racers, and what they accomplish! Everybody rides for different reasons, and that’s great. Hiking has, for me, been transformed into “bike-hiking.” Oh, thank you fat bikes!!! I guess I’m a ‘recon-rider’, more than anything. To each his, or her, own.

    • Neil Beltchenko
      Neil Beltchenko

      Well said Edwardo, I think it’s important to understand why “you” bikepackepack. We are all so different hand have such a different drive, that makes this activity so unique…Endless options.

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