Tips for your first bikepacking adventure

Bikepacking adventures can come in all shapes and sizes. That’s part of the fun of them! With the Easter break giving me a few work free days, and Spring having allegedly sprung, I thought I should get out on my bike.

So with the bike fully packed, I caught the train up to Edinburgh with the intention of riding down to Durham. I learned a few things along the way…

Everything is slightly bigger and slightly heavier than you thought

The multi tool, extra Allen keys and two bike locks you packed? They all add up to a fair bit of dead weight. That one pair of jeans you were going to take for when you’re off the bike? That filled half your handlebar bag. The best remedy for this is probably to accept that your first bikepacking adventure will lead to you carrying a lot of things you don’t need, and forgetting at least one thing you desperately needed. It’s all a learning experience.

Your bike will feel different when fully packed

This probably won’t be of much surprise, but adding 5kg of luggage to a 10kg bike makes a noticeable difference. Braking and steering can feel a little sluggish at first, so it’s definitely worth a quick test ride before you set off on your journey. Having your bike serviced before a long trip is a good idea in general, but when you factor in the extra weight you’ll definitely want to make sure everything is pointing in the right direction and well lubed.

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Your bike can take more punishment than you think (probably)

Through some creative navigating, I found myself on several gravel tracks and forest bridleways on my way across Northumbria. This was not the terrain I would have recommended for a road bike with very slick tyres. The bike however handled it with little fuss, and managed to stay puncture free for the entire trip!  Stay vigilant on your route, and take things steady if you feel the need and you should find most bikes can tackle most things.

Keep weight off your shoulders and back where you can

Once you’ve adjusted to the extra weight on your frame, you’ll probably find that the sensations of riding a fully laden bike are much the same as any other type of riding. Your legs will ache going up hills, and feel as free as the wind on your back going down the hills. However, I found that what really ached at the end of the day were my shoulders and neck having ridden with a backpack on all day. You may find, as I did, a backpack is an essential ‘overflow’ storage option, but your ride will be much more comfortable if you limit the amount of weight you carry on your back.

Maps are great

I spent most of my trip relying on a route I’d manipulated Google Maps to follow. For the most part, this worked absolutely fine. However, urban areas proved a particular challenge and getting lost in one North-eastern fishing town in the middle of a hail storm proved rather stressful. My phone screen was incomprehensible and my fingers had gone completely numb. My only saving grace was the traditional Ordnance Survey foldout. Static, constant and clear, maps keep things simple.

So there you have it, learn from my mistakes, make a couple of your own, and you should have an amazing first bikepacking experience.