Looking for a new challenge in 2023? Bikepacking is great way to not only challenge yourself physically by taking on an ultra-distance ride… it also gives you the opportunity to really take some time to explore, enjoy being out in nature and ultimately: Adventure More.

But taking on your first bikepacking challenge might feel a bit intimidating. What kit do you need? What skills should you have nailed before you set off? And, logistics aside, how can you make sure you’re physically ready to tick off all those miles? We caught up with Tom Townsend – a cycling coach who rides for the Stolen Goat Race Team who’s no stranger to racking up some epic miles on the bike – to get some top tips that will set you up for a successful first foray into the world of bikepacking…

FIVE TOP TIPS FOR YOUR FIRST BIKEPACKING ADVENTURE

Hi, I’m Tom Townsend. I ride for the Stolen Goat Race Team and I’m a cycling coach for Downing Cycling. After two serious crashes (most recently in summer 2021), I was advised to stop road racing and as result, in 2022, I turned my attention to “ultra-distance” rides and bike-packing adventures! I did a lot of epic one-day rides (check them out on my Strava) but my main goal for the year was bikepacking the Great British Divide (Lands’ End to John-o-Groats, off road). I had never done anything like this before, so it was a steep learning curve. In this blog, I will share some top tips to help you avoid some of the mistakes I made when bikepacking for the first time and hopefully they will help you to enjoy it that little bit more!

Test your setup

You need to know that your bike and kit is up to the adventure you’re heading out on. You want to make sure your bike is mechanically sound and the clothing you choose is both comfortable, and suitable for the weather conditions you’re likely to encounter. You also want to get ruthless with what you actually need to take with you. Packing as little as possible helps with both weight-saving gains and also the efficiency of packing and unpacking bags every day. Practicing packing and attaching bike luggage is also a must, so you can do it quickly during your trip (rather than spending an hour trying to fit everything in your panniers the first morning which may have happened to us…). When you’re tired and it’s raining, you don’t want to be spending ages trying to remember which order everything goes into bags and which clip goes where!

Know your route

Know what terrain you’re getting yourself into. When you’re planning how long each day riding is going to be (which will be more fixed if you’re staying in hotels and more flexible if you’re camping/bivvying), 200km of mountainous off-road terrain is going to take much, much longer than 200km flat road so make sure you take this into account. Prevailing wind is also something you might want to consider if you’re riding a point to point. When I rode from London to Durham, I had a massive tailwind which helped me to average 20mph for 440km (but don’t tell anyone about the taily!). Knowing where potential resupply points and nearest bike shops on your route is also important, especially if you’re riding somewhere like the Scottish Highlands where you can go a whole day without passing through any towns.

Don’t let the low points phase you. Bikepacking is an adventure more than it is a bike ride. When things get tough, just keep moving forward – things will probably get better.

It’s raining, windy and cold. Your legs have given up. Maybe you’ve had a puncture somewhere along the way. The track you’re on is currently unrideable so you’re lugging your bike on your shoulder and you’re still a long way from where you’re stopping for the night. Everyone at some point hits a low on a long ride/multi-day event! But all you have to worry about is moving forward and eventually, the sun will come out, your legs will get a second wind, and you will hit rideable gravel/road again.

My low point while I was riding the Great British Divide was being faced with the unrideable GAP pass in Wales at 6pm. If the pass had been rideable, I would have rolled into my B&B at 6:30 and been showered and changed by 7:15. Instead, we spent 90 minutes hiking over the pass with our 20kg loaded bikes and didn’t get there until 8pm. My dad’s lowest point was probably falling into river while hiking off the back of Great Dun Fell (yet another unrideable section of GBD!).

Not being phased by these uncontrollable changes to your plans is a real skill and something that is crucial if you are to stick with and enjoy your bikepacking. If you’re familiar with the Velominati rules, this is an example of rule 5…

Have some basic mechanical knowledge (I should probably follow my own advice…)

Having the confidence to fix a puncture, re-link a chain, index gears, change brake pads etc. just gives you more peace of mind that you’re not going to have an ‘adventure ending’ mechanical failure.

At the moment, I’m just about good on fixing a puncture… The rest my dad can do, so I relied on him during the Great British Divide to fix anything that went wrong. This only happened to be a flat Di2 battery and a need to change brake pads after the abuse they were getting on the challenging terrain thanks to the amazing build by John Bailey of VeloWorx. John was also a lifesaver in that he helped us re-index my Dad’s Di2 after he broke his rear mech hanger by calling us and talking us through it over the phone. Such incredible help is not always available, and we would have been in real trouble without it. This is a very good example as to why being able to fix your own mechanical problems (or at least having someone you can call) is a must when you’re on an epic bikepacking adventure!

(SG top tip: your local bike shop or cycling club may offer workshops on basic bike mechanics, so it’s worth checking them out. If some in-person tuition isn’t an option, Global Cycling Network have some helpful ‘how to’ videos over on their YouTube channel.)

Train for your event- it will be more enjoyable!

Before you set off, make sure you have done some rides that prepare you for the type of days you’ll expect during the event. For example, training for GBD I did lots of big (>10hr) rides and also included some big (>6hr) rides back-to-back to really develop my endurance and my ability to ‘go all day’.  This in turn will mean you have more fitness and will be more capable of completing the days with a smile on your face, rather than feeling completely exhausted and wanting to throw your bike in the bin once you return home!

 

I hope you find my tips useful. If you want more insight to our equipment and planning that went into GBD, check out my dad’s in-depth account of the trip.

If you want any help training for an upcoming event, or just further advice on how to tackle your own bike-packing adventure, drop me a DM on Instagram or email tomtownsend@downingcycling.com.

Thanks for reading and happy cycling!

 

ESSENTIAL KIT FOR BIKEPACKING ADVENTURES

Changeable weather, long days in the saddle… and not much room to carry an entire suitcase full of gear! When it comes to bikepacking, you’ll want adventure-ready versatile layers that offer ride all day comfort and are easy to pack down. Check out some of our top picks below:

 

BIKEPACKING BAGS AND STORAGE

You’ve got your kit sorted. You’ve been racking up the miles in the saddle so your legs are ready. You’re basically the resident bike mechanic at your club now… time to quite literally get it all in the bag and get your storage sorted!

We’ve recently added bikepacking bag specialists Wildcat to our Herd. Proudly made in Britain, these awesome high quality bags are perfect for keeping all your kit safe and sound on your next adventure.

Head over to the Wildcat website to learn more >>