Five tips to cover long distances and explore new roads.
Bikepacking is a great way to plan your next cycling vacation, but it’s intimidating to pack your bags and rely on yourself. I caught up with three riders, Amelie, Laura and Maria from German cycling team GRL PCK, after they had ridden from Lisbon, Portugal to Seville, Spain, covering over 600 km of road and dirt in six days. I asked what advice they’d give to someone looking to plan their own gravel bikepacking adventure and what they’d learned from their trip.
1. Plan your route… but prepare for changes
“The route we planned was a bit of Strava and a little bit of Google Maps,” they told me. “We used satellite maps so we could see the conditions of the roads, because you never know what you’ll find. It was good planning, but there was always something unexpected, which is part of the adventure I guess. We had days where we had to take a detour. We used our Garmins and maps on our phone so even if there was a road closed, we were always able to get around. Or if we decided at the end of the day, okay we’re running out of time, we should move a little bit faster, then we managed to re-plan the trip and went to the next street instead of using the gravel road.”
2. Pack light
The GRL PCK riders decided to stay in a hotel every night rather than camping. I asked them what motivated that decision.
“We decided we’d rather do more kilometers and spend all day on the bike instead of having to spend one hour in the morning and two hours in the afternoon to pack bags and do the cooking and set up camp and all of that,” they told me. “We would recommend it to anyone who hasn’t done any bike packing before!”
Staying in hotels let them pack light on their clothing as well, since they could wash their kits in the sink every evening.
“We brought two bibs, two jerseys, two pairs of socks and one evening outfit,” they said.
Of course it’s important to bring plenty of tubes, a pump and tools to fix any mechanics you’ll encounter, but I wondered if they had any other pieces of gear that had proved essential.
“A USB charger with multiple outlets!” they said. “You’ll need to charge your phone and your Garmin and your power bank and your lights at night.”
Having a charger with multiple USB outlets will let you plug all of those gadgets in at once. A USB power bank is handy as well to keep your phone topped up on the road!
3. Bring your best mates
“We never fight ever. We’re always of the same opinion,” Amelie, Laura and Maria told us sarcastically! While you’re unlikely to always agree, you’re going to be spending a lot of time on the road, so bring some friends you really get along with. Find people who you love to eat with, and who won’t bat an eye when you go up for seconds and thirds. The members of the GRL PCK all had (mostly!) glowing endorsements of one another.
“What I love about them is that you never have to worry about what you’re eating when you’re riding. We’re always hungry for the same thing at the same time. Sometimes we have fries and cake!” Maria said.
“Laura takes a bread roll and a banana from the hotel breakfast buffet to tide her over, much to Maria’s disgust! Maria hates bananas! If we eat a banana we have to go at least one meter away from her,” Amelie laughs.
Maria said, “I really like that Laura is always over-preparing. It’s really annoying. I like it and it’s useful but it is really annoying.”
A word of warning if you’re thinking of going bikepacking with your significant other: it can be a relationship accelerator. By the time you’re finished, you’ll know if you’ve found true love or you’ll be ready to call the whole thing off!
4. Ship your bike
The GRL PCK riders planned a point-to-point ride, so they flew with their bikes to the start and then flew home after they were finished.
“We took our bikes, bags, helmets and everything else we’d need in the large bike boxes and we checked them at the airport. We called ahead to the bike shop in Seville to make sure they set aside three boxes for our return.”
Flying with your bike can let you plan some epic routes, but it pays to plan ahead – not having a box to fly your bike home in would make for a rough ending to the trip!
5. Eat real food
“When you ride a long, slow distance pace, you are so hungry because you burn a lot of calories, like crazy. And literally every 20km one of us was like, ‘I’m actually hungry again. Are you?’ ‘Yeah, I could eat.’
“We always had backup bars with us, but if we would have eaten them everyday like 3 times, we’d get really bored so we stopped every time – or almost every time – we got hungry.”
Their favorite snacks? Fries, ice cream, crackers, chocolate bars, and bread and cheese! They’d also try to eat a big breakfast and dinner, although that wasn’t always as simple as it sounds! In Spain, most places wouldn’t open for breakfast until 9 or 10 in the morning, so they had to make sure to buy food the night before. And they said often times restaurants won’t open for dinner until 8, so you could get to a city and not have anywhere to eat!
“I would recommend to everyone doing a bike packing trip, save some food or make sure you buy some food in the last 20k so you don’t get to town and you’re super hungry. You’d rather get there and have enough power to go for a shower, do your washing, chill, walk around the city, and find the right restaurant. Instead of being like ‘just give me food, whatever it is, I don’t care!’”
That’s probably good advice for the last 20km of any bike ride, whether you’re bikepacking or not! So, are you excited to get out and plan a multi-day bikepacking trip?