Bike Packing: How To Prepare For A Multi-Day Trip
A long-distance journey by bicycle slows the hyperactive human experience, allowing you time to investigate the places and cultures that surround you. It demands a certain level of fitness, but keeps you active, energized, and refreshingly alive. And when planned well, a multi-day bicycle trip even provides a good deal of leisure time. So what’s it take to get started?
Get on the bike
Bikes specifically made for long-distance touring are designed to provide a comfortable riding position for hours at a time. They feature a long wheel base, long chain stays, and plenty of rack mounts for attaching gear. They are engineered to offer stability even when fully loaded, which can dramatically affect how a bike handles. Expect to spend around $900 for a good entry-level model.
Many mountain bikes will work as well. They’re sturdy and well-suited for off-pavement travel, though not usually designed for carrying a full complement of gear. They also have slightly smaller wheels than touring bikes, which means the tires need to rotate more often; hence, more pedaling. Mountain bikes have straight handlebars, but you can add different bar ends to change hand positions and keep fingers from going numb. You can’t tuck on a mountain bike, however, and will suffer when cycling in a headwind. Replacing the standard knobby tires with thinner slicks helps by lessening roll resistance.
Classic road bikes are ill equipped for bike packing. Their compact geometry (shorter wheel base and chain stays) makes them unstable under a full load. They are designed to be fast, nimble, and responsive-not laden with gear.
Pack it up
The classic way to haul gear is to attach specially-made racks to the front and rear of the bike. (Make sure your bike has rack mounts, otherwise you won’t be able to attach racks in the first place.) Basic racks sell for around $50.
Specialized packs called panniers then mount to the racks. Typically constructed of heavy-duty Cordura nylon with a stiffener on the backside, panniers come as either top-loaders with a wide opening and a drawstring to close it, or feature a long zipper that provides easier access (but less durability). Regardless of which style you select, look for a model with external pockets to stash quick-access gear. Most panniers are not waterproof, though some versions are constructed of the same material used for white-water drybags and will stay dry even in a downpour. You can purchase a quality set of front panniers for $75-$100 and a rear set for $110-$175.
The other way to haul gear is with a trailer. Popular single-wheel models like the BOB Yak ($329) have gained wide acceptance and can be used effectively with bikes not specifically designed for loaded touring.
How much, how far?
If you’re just taking a weekend trip, you can get by using only rear panniers with a combined capacity of around 2,100 cubic inches. For a tour of a week or more, upgrade to rear panniers of 2,800 cubic inches with fronts in the 1,500-1,800 cubic inch range. (Riding with both rear and front panniers also provides the greatest stability.) Pack 40 percent of the weight in the front, 60 percent in the rear, and keep heavier objects near the bottom. Even if you’re using a trailer, your total gear weight, including the bicycle, should not exceed 50 pounds.
When planning your trip, a good rule of thumb is to ride about 80 percent of the farthest distance you’ve ever gone. If your longest ride to date is 75 miles, plan on going about 60 miles per day to start. As you get stronger, you can always go farther. Happy travels!
Courtesy of the Appalachian Mountain Club