Bikepacking is one of the newest outdoors trends in Scotland. Why is it so popular?
The activity of bikepacking has featured increasingly in articles, blogs and social media conversations of recent months, but I wondered if it is was really any different from cycle touring.
I have enjoyed many cycle tours in which I carried my own kit on my bike in panniers and on my back in a rucksack. Yet the bikepacking bikes I have spotted are rack and pannier-less and the bikepacking cyclists are free of personal loads.
A bikepacking bike looks like this:
The packs have been designed to fit neatly into the frame of the bike, cleverly making use of the space beneathÂ the top tube, the front of the handlebars and the area behind the seat and above the back wheel.
They do not require racks for fitting and can be attached to all types of bikes.
People who use the packs speak of lightweight and aerodynamic qualities. And, certainly, I have experienced the negatives of panniers on a number of occasions. Panniers can make a bike unbalanced, they also add a lot of weight to a bike and when riding on bumpy roads they sometimes jump off their attachments.
I have endured one experience of off-road biking with panniers and will never bother again because the bike was far too unwieldy for the terrain.
In contrast to a rack and pannier, Apidura, a company that makes and sells bikepacking gear, states:
- For equivalent carrying capacity, Apiduraâ€™s packing system is 60% lighter than traditional rack and pannier systems.
- Apiduraâ€™s packing systems distribute the weight more evenly over the bike, creating a more natural and enjoyable riding experience so the bike is easier to handle.
- Apiduraâ€™s packing systems attach directly to the bicycle frame, making it possible to carry gear on almost any type of bicycle without the need for tools.
- Apidura produces ultra-light packing systems to enhance the bikepacking experience to enable cyclists to travel farther, faster and more comfortably.
The ethos of backpacking
Most bikepackers seem evangelistic about their chosen activity. One keen bikepacker Markus Stitz, of Edinburgh, says: â€œBikepacking for me is the ultimate freedom to literally cycle anywhere and be self-sufficient.
That might be off-road, on the road or wherever the journey takes me.
â€œIt usually involves at least one overnight stay, which is best enjoyed in a bothy or under the stars.â€
He adds: â€œBikepacking is about enjoying the journey and roaming free in the outdoors wilderness.â€
Another keen bikepacker, Hilary Oliver, describes backpacking as â€œrunning away from home for grown-ups.”
And, referring again to Apidura, bikepacking is about â€œtaking the cycling experience furtherâ€.
It states: â€œBicycles are the ultimate symbol of freedom. All at once, a means of transportation, fitness and pleasure. Bikepacking is about taking that everyday cycling experience further.
â€œItâ€™s about turning the day ride into a multi-day experience and embracing the freedom that a bicycle can offer. Itâ€™s about the freedom to explore landscapes, and to connect with nature and people.
See, I said that bikepackers often seem evangelistic! Yet, there is huge appeal to heading off for a cycling adventure with all your kit and supplies packed neatly and lightly on to your bike.
How to get started with bikepacking
Bikepacking is a form of lightweight cycle touring. It is without racks and panniers.Â To start with, you need a bike suitable for the terrain â€“ so mountain bike, road bike, cyclocross, hybrid or tourer.
Youâ€™ll also require to splash out a bit on some new kit. For example, as a minimum, a bike seat bag. Markus says: â€œA top-tube bag is also useful and after that you can add bags if you need them for longer multi-day trips.â€
It helps if the kit and clothing that you carry with you is also lightweight because that will make the bike easier to pedal.
Minimalist packing is the best way to approach bikepacking trips. Youâ€™ll need the basic bike maintenance kit, such as spare inner tubes, tyre levers and pump.Â A map, compass and GPS navigation gadget are vital, too, if you are going out into the wilds.
The number of clothing changes â€“ and your toiletry choices â€“ that you take with you is for you to decide, although it is worth considering Scotlandâ€™s fickle weather and how whiffy you are prepared to be after a few days in the saddle.
A tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mattress, stove, cooking equipment and food will be vital if you plan to camp in the wilds. To cut down on some of these items you could take a bivvy bag instead of a tent or sleep in bothies and hostels.
A more luxurious way to bikepack is to book into B&Bs along your route, although this will limit the opportunities to truly get away from it all.
Go solo or take part in an event
Bikepacking can be enjoyed as your own self-made adventure. Markus says: â€œThere are plenty of places to escape to in Scotland including such amazing locations as the Cairngorms and also the western Highlands.â€
In essence, bikepacking can take you to wherever you fancy on roads, trails and rugged uncharted territory depending on your experience, lust for adventure and aspirations.
Some cyclists turn bikepacking into once-in-a-lifetime experiences, such as Nick Tracey, who is originally from Helensburgh.
His bike is fitted with Apidura packs. He says: â€œI love the sense of adventure that bikepacking brings and I am sure this will be one of my toughest yet most exciting adventures to date.
â€œThere is a fantastic sense of freedom to leave one place with only your bike and basic clothes and kit and to spend days and weeks on the road.â€ Find out more about Cycle NZ to UK.
You might also have spotted acclaimed adventurer and filmmaker Mark Beaumont on his Africa Solo Bike tour. Again, it features Apidura packs.
Bikepackers also take part in a growing number of bikepacking events worldwide.
In Scotland, the Highland Trail 550, which took place for the first time last year and is back again on May 23.
A new event, the Capital Trail, starting from Edinburgh, launches this year on June 13, as part of the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling. Markus is the organiser.
He says: â€œSelf-supported, multi-day point-to-point bikepacking events are growing in popularity. Scotland has the perfect terrain and countryside to host these type of events.â€
For other worldwide events see Bikepacking Calendar.
In conclusion, if you have enjoyed cycle touring before, and even if you haven’t, bikepacking is along the same lines but utilises the more modern and fit-for-purpose bikepacking bags. Itâ€™s a lighter weight and a more streamlined way to tour by bike.
Tell us about any bikepacking adventures you have enjoyed and look out for my future report of an off-roadÂ bikepacking trip that I haveÂ planned for May.