Everything you need to know to maximise your gravel adventure.
“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.” So said the incomparable and intrepid writer Ernest Hemingway.
And there’s no better way of learning and enjoying Mother Nature than bikepacking.
Load up your bike with everything you need and the world is your oyster.
But where do you start? Well, it goes without saying that your bike and accompanying sleeping equipment’s rendered useless if your bike breaks down within view of your family. So a suitable, durable and reliable drivetrain is essential. That’s where Campagnolo’s 13-speed 1x Ekar groupset comes in.
Smooth shifting and derailleurs that handle the rough and tumble of gravel are assured, alongside an aesthetic that’s like nothing else on the market.
So, your ability to travel from A to B in the most effortless fashion is guaranteed.
Now what? Well, to start with, we’d recommend a mini route close to home. It’s a backpacking dress rehearsal where you pack your adventure kit, ride to your destination, camp out and then ride home the next day.
It’ll show you bits that worked, bits that need tweaking and will give you confidence over your longer backpacking adventure.
Your bigger adventure depends on a multitude of factors though the motivation to bikepack often stems from wanting to ride a certain part of the world. If you don’t have a bucket list destination, then think about your budget, available time, difficulty (sadistic mountains or more sedate plains?!) and, certainly at the current juncture, whether Covid restrictions mean you can actually reach your intended country.
Depending on available time, your bikepacking adventure can be a set route over set days or a little more open ended. But however detailed (or not) a route you plan, ensure you know where you’ll sleep and where you’ll source food from.
One of the biggest anxieties about bikepacking is where to camp. In some parts of the world, wild camping’s not allowed so pin down specific camping sites.
In other places, like Scotland, wild camping’s permitted and popular.
Apps like Komoot are a good starting point when it comes to route and campsite searching. Often there’ll be reader comments about terrain and tips to ensure your adventure’s a safe, enjoyable one.
THE CORRECT KIT
When it comes to kit, key is that you keep things light. Which might not be as difficult as you’d envisage. Think back to your holidays and how many of your suitcase-packed clothes remained unworn.
So first tip: don’t overdo the apparel. A decent waterproof’s a must, especially if you’re racking up the mountainous metres or riding in Northern Europe, while two pairs of bib shorts are worthwhile, so you can wear a fresh pair everyday (meaning washing a pair each day, which is well worth the effort). Then there’s your mobile home; in other words, camping equipment.
This will comprise either a small tent or bivvy, a sleeping bag and sleeping mat. If space allows, you can squeeze in a small camping stove. As for carrying your clothes and accommodation, there are various luggage options to choose from.
Frame bags are the largest, especially if you choose a full-frame over half-frame model. A seatpack’s useful for clothing and a cup, while a handlebar bag’s great for your camping gear.
This is where a gravel-specific bike comes into its own as the, in general, 44cm- or 46cm-wide bars provide greater space to fit your tent or bivvy compared to 42cm-wide road bars.
A top-tube bag’s also useful for bike tools, wallet and mobile phone.
There’s a lot of choice on the market but you can’t go wrong with Campagnolo’s Ekar Cluster 7 Gravel Bag, Ekar Internode 2 Gravel Bag and Ekar Node R Gravel Bag.
They’re durable, reflective, lightweight and voluminous. Also, though this adventure’s about reconnecting with the world around you, technology will play a part. A GPS bike computer’s clearly a good way to follow a route and don’t forget bike lights.
A solar power bank’s another useful purchase to recharge your tech.
Finally, if you’re bikepacking alone, always give your nearest and dearest details of where you’re riding from and to.
Bikepacking is a brilliant adventure but can test you and your gear to its limits.
Take safety seriously and you can enjoy a long, life-affirming riding adventure.