Bikepacking: Two Wheels and a Tent
August 22, 2022Aug 22, 2022
7 MIN READ hike living outside
Somewhere between backpacking and road tripping falls another kind of adventure. One that takes place on two wheels instead of two feet and keeps you cruising with the top down. You know where we’re going with this, right? Yep, bikepacking! We love this mode of travel. There’s nothing quite like the freedom of pedaling down the open road with the wind in your hair and a cold beer waiting at your destination.
Ready to plan a weekend bike tour? Here are some easy steps to get you started.
Already have a bike? Great! Whether it's a yard sale bike or your tried-and-true daily commuter, chances are it can take you on an overnight trip. There’s no need to punch a hole in your wallet getting that internet-says-you’ve-gotta-have-it touring bike when a perfectly trusty touring steed is already sitting in your garage. However, it is important to make sure your bike works well, fits right, and that it can carry your gear (see step 4). We strongly recommend going on some test rides to ensure everything feels the way it should.
For proper bike fit, make sure your knees are not scrunched up and your toes are not stretching for the pedals. Adjust the height of the saddle so that your leg is almost, but not fully, extended at the bottom of the pedal stroke. This will save you from feeling any knee or Achilles’ pain down the road.
Don’t have a bike? No problem! Hit up your local bike shop to ask about rentals. Many shops rent out bikes and touring gear, and some even organize group tours. Plus, bike-shop mechanics often have helpful touring recommendations.
KEEN tip: Once you’ve found your bike, get a tune-up. No one wants to break down on the side of the road, something that is totally preventable with a visit to your local bike shop.
So where should you go? The great thing about bikepacking is all the epic possibilities. You can visit small towns, bustling cities, solitary forests, sandy beaches, or mountain passes. You can leave right from your front door, or you can load up the bikes in your car and head to rural roads. But with all the options, it can be overwhelming deciding where to go first. Ask yourself the following questions to help pick your ideal bike-tour destination:
Do I want solitude, or do I need amenities?
If you’re looking for quiet roads and time to commune with nature, you might want to pick a national forest or a state park. If you’re looking for ice cream shops and local eats, consider a nearby town for your destination. Or why not plan your tour around a music festival or a family trip to an amusement park?
What is my fitness level?
You don’t need to be a pro athlete to go bikepacking, but you do need to plan around your fitness level. If you’ve never biked more than 20 miles in a day, start there and see how it feels. If you love pedaling fast and making miles, we’ll cheer you all the way to the end of your century ride.
What type of bike am I riding?
The bike you ride determines where you can go. Road bikes with skinny tires are great for smooth roads, while wide, knobby tires are made to take on gravel and dirt.
Planning your accommodations
Should you book a hotel or pitch a tent? That’s totally up to you! If you love sleeping under the stars, consider reserving a campsite, or give dispersed camping a try. If you don’t own a tent or if comfort is your top priority, opt for a hotel room instead. Either way, knowing where you are going to lay your head at the end of the day offers peace of mind while you ride.
Plotting out your directions
Plot out your directions before you ride to avoid ending up on freeways or impassable roads. Roads with wide shoulders and light traffic, dedicated bike lanes, and bike paths are what we’re aiming for here. Good resources for bike routes include: Google Maps' bike directions, the Adventure Cycling Association, and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. You can also ask your local bike shop for city- and state-specific bike maps.
KEEN tip: If you think you might lose cell service along your ride, be sure to print out your directions, bring physical maps, or download offline maps on your phone.
Time to pack! It's up to you how much stuff you bring. You can go ultra-minimalist and live off trail mix and tuna for the weekend, or you can bring along the stove and the camp guitar. Another option? A credit card tour. This means you won’t need to carry meals or camping gear at all because you’ll rely on restaurants and hotels along the way.
Here’s a quick list of the absolute necessities you’ll need when you’re out on the road:
• Racks/bike bags - You’ll need some way to carry your stuff. The most commonly used options are saddle bags paired with a bike rack (make sure your bike has eyelets for mounting a rack), frame bags, and seat packs. In a pinch, a backpack will also work.
• Bike maintenance kit - Make sure to carry spare tubes or a patch kit, an Allen wrench set, tire levers, and a portable bike pump.
• Hydration - If you plan to be near amenities, just a couple of water bottles will do. If you’re heading away from services, consider bringing a water treatment or filtration option.
• First aid kit - Grab a first aid kit from your local outdoor store, or pack some gauze, bandages, and pain meds.
• Helmet - Safety is key. Always wear a helmet while bikepacking.
• Riding clothes - Wear something you can move in. Padded shorts and a jersey are the classic look, but any comfortable fitness clothes will do.
• Clothes for the elements - Spring weather can be fickle. Check the weather forecast, and bring anything you might need to stay comfortable out in the cold, wind, or wet. A rain jacket or down jacket, perhaps?
• Comfortable shoes - Time to talk about our favorite subject here at KEEN: shoes! If you’re riding with flat pedals (the ones that don’t work with cleats), you’ll want a pair of sturdy shoes with good grip. We’d recommend our Jasper sneakers, which have strong bottom support plus sticky rubber. If you DO ride with clipless pedals and cleats, we recommend strapping a pair of lightweight sandals to your bike for hanging out at camp and walking around town. Our Yogui slip-on clogs will feel like comfy clouds after a long day of pedaling.
Cycling on roads with cars can be intimidating for riders, both new and seasoned. Before you get out there, we have a few tips to ensure that you feel comfortable during the journey:
• Wear bright colors. This helps with visibility. Also, who doesn’t love neon green?
• Invest in a rearview mirror. These small mirrors attach to either your helmet or handlebars and offer great peace of mind by letting you see the cars behind you.
• Avoid biking after dark. Try to plan your daily mileage so that you’re out when the sun is up. If biking in the dark is unavoidable, bike lights make a huge difference.
• Stay aware of your surroundings. It’s just as important to see as to be seen. Keep your eyes and ears tuned to the sights and sounds around you.
Now that your bike is tuned, your saddle bags are packed, and your destination is in sight, there’s only one thing left to do: enjoy the ride!
Have fun out there and let us know how it went when you’re back. Tag @KEEN to share your stories and pictures with us.