As I lay my head down on my camping pillow at the end of night one, my mind was buzzing. On what was officially my first ever off-road trip, I already had lots to share about bikepacking for beginners.
That first day was… eventful. I plugged my phone into my portable charger and made notes so I’d remember everything.
I’ve pretty much grouped together all my thoughts, opinions and learnings as follows:
- Before Your Bikepacking Adventure
- During Your Bikepacking Trip
- Camping & Campsite Tips
Bikepacking For Beginners – Planning Your Adventure
Don’t Underestimate How Tough Off-Road Is
Having bikepacked my way to Paris from London (L2P) in previous years, I figured I could do it again. But off-road riding is to road riding, what trail running is to road running. It’s gnarlier, it’s slow going, the terrain is mixed and changeable, it’s bumpier / hillier. It’s tough.
Basically, you need to leave your ego at home. Especially if you’re not an experienced off-road rider.
The Added Weight Of Luggage Is No Joke
Having watched others prepare for their own multi-day adventures and seeing discussions around weight on the bike, I always knew this was gonna be a big one. For L2P, I specifically trained with the added weight of luggage, but that wasn’t something I had time for this time round.
It’s important to remember too that with off road being so bumpy, your choice of luggage needs to be secure. I lost a pair of wet bib shorts on day two and didn’t even notice. Not until one of my ride mates caught up and waved them asking if they belonged to any of us.
Some sections of our ride involved lifting the bike over gates, fences, and even up stairs to cross railway line bridges. So make sure you can lift your bike if your trip ends up with hike-a-bike interludes too.
The increased weight of your bike also contributes to hills being harder, and downhills being faster. Personally, my least favourite combination of elevation and speed!
Packing Perfectly Is A Skill
Once you’ve picked out your bikepacking kit and laid it out, you might end up wondering how you’ll fit it on your bike. I did have to re-evaluate what I had planned on packing, a couple of times, in the end reducing the copious amount of snacks I had purchased.
There is definitely an art to packing your kit – and don’t forget you’ll need to repack it in the morning if you’re moving campsites. My tip would be to pack things together in groups – e.g clothing – in dry bags or ziplock bags, so they’re easy to find. That’ll also provide some extra protection from the elements.
Josie (who organised our trip) shared this video from the GCN YouTube Channel with us. It was pretty useful, mostly for confirming all the advice that had already been shared with me:
Plan & Virtually Recce Food Stops In Advance
I’m sure everyone is different but personally, I need at least one hearty meal a day, to keep me going. Josie did a great job researching potential places to stop for food on our trip which was handy to know.
When I rode L2P, we had pre-agreed before we left that we would aim for an average speed of 12mph to ensure we arrived at our base for the night with the entire evening free. This meant we were able to enjoy the route at a leisurely pace and also had plenty of time to enjoy a sit down meal together in the towns we stayed in.
So in my head, that’s what I had expected. So after day one was nothing like this, I was hyped for a nice meal on day two, which was meant to be a highly recommend Deli, 25km into our route for the day. However, when we arrived there, the Deli no longer existed. So we had to eat in the nearest place which turned out to be an Esso petrol station – which, in all fairness had some decent options for a petrol station.
Our next stop – 40km in – was a pub and I believe we got there too late for food, but hot drinks and snacks were thankfully available.
So in hindsight, I think personally, I should have done my own due diligence and done a virtual recce of the food stops to discover these facts.
Know Your Limits
It was after the pub stop with no food that I actually tapped out of the trip. In all fairness, I should’ve known my limits after riding part of King Alfreds Way a few months before. On that bikepacking day trip, I rode just under 40km, 550m elevation with no packs, in around 3.25 hours moving time.
So add on luggage, and other factors I should have been able to judge what kind of days we would have based on the need to add stops etc. On day two, it was evident we weren’t going to reach the campsite before dark, and I wanted to leave before the trip wasn’t fun anymore.
In regards to my own limits, I knew that I needed to take the route at my own pace. From the start of day one, it was clear the majority of riders were super fast (in comparison to myself) so I spent much of the ride on my own or with the few riders who were a similar speed to me.
It kinda reminded me of Zwift, when you join a group ride and get dropped straight out of the starting pen! When you’re in a group, it’s easier to ride, so needing the group but having to ride alone was tough work. So really, that could possibly be a lesson of it’s own – discuss and agree on pace before you set off.
During Your Bikepacking Adventure
Set Off Early To Give Yourself Plenty Of Time
On our first day, we met around 830am but ended up setting off around 1030am. The route we had planned was pretty hilly in the first half, and quite technical in places which of course slows you (or at least me, lol) down.
We also encountered bridleways with locked gates (apparently this is illegal), bridges with 3 flights of stairs each side, gates to get through and over and this beauty pictured below…. that’s me just about getting to the top of this mound only to encounter just as steep a descent on the other side.
These hike-a-bike sections will reduce your average pace over the day, in addition to any other sections you might need to, or choose to walk.
So in hindsight, if I were to tackle such a daily distance again, especially in such a big group (there were 15+ of us) I’d defo make sure I left as bright and as early as possible.
Build Time Into Your Schedule For Unforeseen Circumstances
You can never predict punctures, mechanicals or falls… and we had a fair few. Less than 20km into day one we had a puncture that set us back well over an hour. I lost count after that.
Also, a bike falling off that climb above actually ended up with a loose cassette and a detour via road for a couple of riders to the nearest bikeshop to get fixed after it was clear we couldn’t sort it ourselves.
So in hindsight, a route that Komoot says takes 7+hours, doesn’t really leave much time for food / rest stops or the things that you can’t predict.
Keep Hydrated & Topped Up
The weather wasn’t even all that great, or warm for our trip, but I managed to drink a lot more water than I anticipated. At one point, on our second day, I realised my hydration bladder had run dry! Thankfully members of the crew chipped in to top me up, which got me to the petrol station where I bought a 1.5L bottle to keep me going.
It’s potentially much easier to see water levels when using bottles so if you’re also using hydration packs, make sure you check your water levels regularly.
“Do It On Your Own Terms” – Sheona
When Sheona shared this little nugget with me, it was what I needed to hear right at that moment. Rather than being gutted about not being able to keep up with others, or about needing a decent meal, I realised like Sheona said, I needed to make the trip my own, make it enjoyable and do it on my own terms.
By this point, I was clear on my limits, I was self sufficient in a sense with the route on my Wahoo ELEMNT Roam, and I had some awesome people to chat to while we rode party pace and chatted the kms away.
Tips & Lessons For Camping
Practice Pitching Your Tent
Knowing how impatient I am – especially when tired or hungry – I knew it was vital to practice pitching my tent before our bikepacking weekend. I rolled down to my local park before our trip and had a go at pitching it.
The tent uses a bike pump to inflate it so I wanted to check that the pump I was taking was sufficient.
Virtually Recce Your Campsite in Advance
If you can check out Google reviews and the campsite website before you arrive then make sure you do. Our campsite on the first night was decent enough. We at least knew ahead of our arrival they had no showers.
They had two female toilets (1 was blocked for most of our time there), cold running water in the toilets, drinking water tap and a water tap in the field. There were also no facilities for leaving behind rubbish, which is worth considering when you’ve just got your bike to carry everything.
Oh, and I urge you to pack your own toilet paper! I’d seen this tip somewhere and packed some which came in handy for the campsite and public toilets on route.
The second campsite we had booked (that I didn’t stay at) ended up not having any amenities. Just portaloos, but no running water. I thought the first nights campsite was as ‘basic’ as it got but apparently not.
Get To The Campsite Well Before Dark
As a bikepacking beginner, my tent was new to me. I’ve got the Alpkit Aeronaut bikepacking tent and whilst I did practice pitching it before the trip, it still didn’t make me an expert. For this reason, I was super keen to get to the campsite before dark to give myself enough time to pitch the tent properly.
I did manage to pitch it well enough for the night but looking at it in the morning, I definitely could have done better. Pitching the outer more taut would have reduced the condensation that had made it into the inner.
Although there was nothing to do at the campsite, that was exactly what I wanted to do – nothing. Getting there well before dark allows time to set up, cook (if needed) and eat, without rushing.
I’m super grateful for the two days and night I spent with the Velociposse folks and I left at the right time for me. I always say, “if it’s not fun, what’s the point?” so I thoroughly enjoyed myself and that’s all that matters. I’m super excited to squeeze in at least one more bikepacking trip before Autumn / Winter properly descends!
If you’re a bikepacking beginner and have a question, drop it in the comments.
Experienced bikepacker? Leave any tips you’ve got in the comments too!
And maybe catch y’all out there?!
Couldn’t finish this post without an Oscar speech btw. Firstly, a MASSIVE Thank You to Josie for sorting the entire trip. All I had to do was follow the instructions and turn up at times given. To Lily, Sheona and Mildred -for the company, the chats, the pep talks and the vibes. The rest of the Velociposse crew for being their epic selves. Apidura for the loan of packs and the very helpful advice. Liv Cycling UK for loaning me the beautiful Devote gravel bike. RAB, Alpkit and Decathlon too for some awesome equipment which made my first trip so successful.