Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bikepacking: first attempts

Out on the road

I've been thinking of doing some cycle touring for years. I like camping and like cycling, so why not do the two together? I'm thinking of cycling the King's Road from Helsinki to Turku - I know the areas it passes through and they are lovely, but you see so much when cycling than in a car. I think I could do it in two or three days - so needed to find a way to put gear for that time on my bike.

Early morning in northern Nuuksio

There seems to be a newish movement/fashion(?) for "bikepacking" - which is mixing traditional cycle touring and ideas from ultralight backpacking. I don't know if its a rule but bikepackers tend to seem to aim at not using full racks and panniers as is traditional in cycle touring. If you are aiming at off road riding I can see the attraction of having all your gear clear of the wheels. For me it just seemed a sensible approach as then I wouldn't have to invest in panniers and full racks.

Arriving at my campsite in Nuuksio, just before sun down on a chilly, grey evening.

I did buy a couple of things, but decided I would make do with what was available from Biltema (for Brits think Halfords, B&Q and Wilkinsons rolled into one giant warehouse shop). Firstly a bolt on seatpost rack, and secondly a handlebar bag - as much as to have some sort of fitting for the bars as for the bag itself.  Despite neither of these being perfect for my bike, they did the job and formed the basis for my packing. Everything else would be camping and biking kit I already had. Under the seatpost rack I could attach my rolled up sleeping mat and a ground sheet. In a dry-bag strapped on top of the rack I had a sleeping bag, tarp and a few bits of spare clothing.

Kettle's on - tea in bed

I had a stove, fuel, food, a pot, food, waterproofs and various other odds and sods in the handlebar bag and in another dry-bag strapped underneath it.

This water at the edge of the lake had been open when I went to bed the night before.

I was aiming at not carrying a rucksack at all. I don't like cycling with a pack on - a camelbak is OK for mountain biking but on my road bike or hybrid it just doesn't feel right and starts making my back ache on longer rides. My improvised packing system seem to work quite well, I want a few more things for a multiday ride, but there was still space available in my system so it should work ok.

The sun came out in the morning, but the end of winter on the lakes still looks dull

I decided my commuting bike - a Felt Hybrid - would be perfect. It's got no heavy suspension and goes pretty fast on smooth road, but its wheels and tyres are good for footpaths, dirt tracks, and other moderate non-surfaced riding. It's also super reliable, and the Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres on it have proven to be puncture proof in something like 5000 kms of riding.

All the gear off the bike.

I didn't get to leave until the evening on the first day due to family commitments. But the evenings are long already and I got in just short of 30 kms, on a mix of road and unsurfaced roads, westwards from home ending up at the northern end of Nuuksio national park. I opted for one of the official camp grounds as there is wood ready for an open fire - which is always nice. Being a weekday there was no one else there. To save weight I had taken just a tarp rather than a tent. It was raining around midnight, not hard, but enough to know the tarp was doing its job. It cleared overnight and there was a frost by morning. Thanks to the great sleeping bag that I got as a review from Marmot, I slept like a log, although I was reminded that a Ridgerest on its own isn't as comfy as even my normal 3/4 length ultralight thermarest. I like the Ridgerest for its unpunctureable simplicity - mine is coming on 15 years old and is still perfect, but maybe I will consider taking the thermarest for multiple nights out.

defeated by snow still on the path

After breakfast I headed off for the best bit of the day's riding, south through Nuuksio - generally following Reitti 2000. The day started with a great 10 or 15 kms on tracks and forest roads, nothing technical, but quiet riding with no one else around through the forest waking both from the night and from winter more generally. There were plentiful birds and butterflies about, and I saw hares and toads on the tracks. Down at Solvalla the route heads off eastwards but turned out to be impassable due to snow still on the track. Most of the snow in the forest had thawed, but because the path is a major ski route in winter, the snow there had been packed down. I headed back for the tarmac road and the longer way around. I ate lunch by the thawing lake Bodom, then head the last 30 kms or so home.

Overall I only rode a bit less than 90 kms in an evening and then the short-ish following day, but really it was more about camping out and figuring if I could strap the gear I need onto my bike and whether it would all stay there. And indeed it seemed to work - I was worried that vibrations would work my packing loose but this didn't seem to happen.

I would want a few more spare clothes for a multiday trip, as much as to avoid being too stinky as anything else - but otherwise it seemed I had about the right amount of stuff. Importantly, even when fully load, the bike didn't feel too heavy. Could I go lighter? Possibly if I bought more specialist stuff than I was using. My tarp is just the one I happen to have bought some years ago; if I had a shit load of money I could get a lighter sleeping bag; etc. I experimented with making a beer can meths stove before the trip - it wasn't a huge success, so didn't take it but I might give that another go. My MSR pocket rocket is ridiculously light, but the gas cartridge isn't. Swings and roundabouts. With frost still around I wasn't bothered at all by insects but this become more of an issue as summer comes on - some sort of mozzie net that goes under the tarp is probably the answer although of course it is something else to try and pack. Nevertheless, not a bad start at bikepacking I think. Something I will do again.


JuhaM said...

You should check out this blog http://yetirides.blogspot.com/

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

Juha - thanks. I do read Peter and Toni's blog and have got lots of ideas from them.

Yeti said...

Nice post. I also still use my old MSR PocketRocket. For a single overnighter the gas canister is a little big, but otherwise the stove is great and nice to use.

Toni Lund said...

Very nice Toby! Clever use of the seatpost rack. I have plans to do some overnighters with my cyclocross bike and I will use similar rack with it.

I don't have a tarp, only a bivvy bag, but that kind of tarp and a mozzie net could be really nice in the summer time.