I’ve been casually interested in bikepacking for some time now. Earlier this year, I bought a new bike. Well, some of it was new, and some of it wasn’t. The frame is a 2017 Surly Karate Monkey. The Karate Monkey (KM), is a versatile and dependable bike that offers among other things, several places to attach gear for bikepacking. My purchase of the new bike triggered my inner gear nerd to begin stockpiling some “necessary” equipment.
Bikepacking is the marriage of mountain biking and wilderness backpacking. I had started collecting backpacking gear a couple years prior, and somewhere in that period discovered the Sintax 77 Youtube channel which introduced me to ultralight (UL) backpacking. Sintax 77’s videos present ultralight backpacking in a way that makes it look like great adventure and his detailed accounts and dry sense of humor make is seem approachable. After watching a few, I had more confidence to start collecting gear and plan some trips. And then I started thinking about bikepacking, which offers the same sense of adventure that backpacking provides, and adds the excitement and exhilaration, or radness, of singletrack mountain biking. Ultralight (UL) gear makes the metaphoric marriage of biking and backpacking more feasible, kind of like hiring a nanny in literal marriage.
It’s actually kind of ironic that the additional mounting hardware included on my new KM which helped me visualize my bikepacking rig is largely going unused in my current gear configuration. The brazed on bolts intended for additional cargo capacity along the bike’s fork and frame are barely used except to secure my pump. I began researching gear and configurations online using Google, Youtube, and forums to get information and see how others had their bikes set up.
In April I received my REI dividend and started buying. With my REI dividend, I bought a Salsa EXP Anything Cradle and Dry Bag to mount on my handlebars along with some clothing and Cliff Shots.
While interweb surfing, I came across the Ride Alongside Youtube Channel and website. I liked their Youtube MTB Tip of the week “Ditch your Camelbak”, and decided to buy a frame bag for my bike, which I could use for bikepacking trips but also as a storage solution to ditch my camelbak on everyday trail rides. I ended up getting the Blackburn Outpost Frame bag on Amazon as it is adjustable and way less expensive than comparable options, bundled with their Outpost Cargo Bottle Cage for around $70.
The frame bag went right on my bike and I began using it in its collapsed configuration to hold my hydration pack, a spare tire, my cell phone, keys, tools, and pump; basically replacing my hydration pack on my normal trail rides. Unfortunately, the bike rack on my car holds the bike by it’s top tube, which is also where the frame bag attaches to the bike, which means I need to remove the frame bag to load it onto the car. This got really annoying really fast.
I removed the frame bag and installed two water bottle cages. I use the bottle cages for everyday riding and will use the frame bag when I’m bikepacking. I also purchased a Revelate Jerry Can to store some small items between the seatpost and top tube and installed a small seat bag I’ve had forever to hold a spare tire and multitool. I also bolted my pump to the bottle cage mounts. I like this configuration much better for trail riding. The water bottles are just as convenient to drink from as the frame bag holstered camelbak bladder, and I like having my phone handy in the Jerry Can to snap a picture or take a look at GPS. I also bolted the Blackburn Cargo Bottle Cage to the downtube and strapped my water filter there.
My Surly Karate Monkey outfitted with Sales EXP Anything Cradle and Dry Bag, Blackburn Outpost Frame Bag, Revelate Jerry Can, saddle bag, etc.
The great state of Connecticut in which I live is comprised of about 58% forest, which is a respectable if not surprising proportion. However, much of it is privately owned, or state managed, with very few legal options for backcountry camping.
I’m not sure what the likelihood of being caught or severity of punishment would be if I decided to practice stealthful ignorance of these regulations. However, the population density in CT, in my mind, creates a potential for a middle of the night encounter with someone who also shouldn’t be in the woods with different reasons for being there, and makes me think twice about going that route. When I was a kid, my parents used to tell me that gypsies camped out in the woods by our house, which was probably just intended to scare me, and apparently still does. Thanks mom and dad.
Ride Alongside suggests that you target National Forests for Bikepacking, as they offer many options for backcountry camping without much restriction. My plan is to go do some bikepacking up in the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont this summer. I was hoping I would get a chance on Fourth of July weekend but that didn’t materialize. Instead, I assembled my bikepacking rig and did a “shake down” ride, which was suggested by Nick from Ride Alongside. A shake down ride is basically a practice ride with all your bikepacking gear in a controlled environment where you can work out some bugs before attempting to venture out into the wild, away from conveniences like stores to replace forgotten items. Nick and I have exchanged a few emails and he’s been really helpful. He said that for his shake down rides he packed up his bike and rode to a park and roasted coffee. That reminds me, I need to hit up Nick for some more coffee. It’s been some time since I finished the Fazenda Sao Carlos from Brazil he had sent me.
The Shake Down
I decided for my “shake down” ride, I was going to ride to a nearby State Park, pitch my tent, cook a meal, hang a bear bag, filter some water, pack back up, ride some single track, and then ride home. So, on Saturday of the holiday weekend, I set out and did just that.
Here’s my emptied handle bar bag with my sleeping pad, tent, and tent poles laid out on a picnic table.
Setting up the tent went pretty smoothly
Except that I didn’t have any tent stakes (that’s a stick in the picture). I guess the shake down ride was a good idea.
I rehydrated a Dehydrated Meal and sat down for some lunch.
After lunch I practiced hanging a bear bag. A bear bag is a way to keep bears away from you and out of your food. You pick a tree at least 100ft from your campsite, then throw a tethered rock up and over a tree branch, tie a bag holding all your food in it to the end where the rock was, and hoist it up to safety:
I’m also glad I practiced this during my shake down ride instead of trying to figure it out in the wild. As simple as it is, you have to be a bit careful not to get your food stuck up in a tree.
Next, I filtered some water from a nearby brook and filled my camelbak. I’m still here to tell about it, so that was a success. I then packed everything back up and went for a quick spin in the woods. I was at Wadsworth Falls State Park in Middlefield, CT. It is a small 267 acre park that has some fun but not very challenging single track. Wadsworth is known in the local mountain bike community as one of the top places to bring a beginner mountain biker and the local shop, Pedal Power offers a group ride for beginners there.
The extra gear was surprisingly easy to ride with, and though I could feel the extra weight on the climbs, I felt my drivetrain gearing was adequate to pedal on a variety of grades and levels of technical variety. One thing I did notice was that a dehydrated Curry dish is not a good choice for a meal when you have riding ahead of you. After my lunch and camping practice, I hit the trails. As I rode along, I could feel the Curry growing angrier and angrier in my gut and I kept hearing Bill Paxton’voice repining “Game Over Man”.
Nick from Ride Alongside suggests eating food that doesn’t require cooking. He says in winter it may be nice to have a hot meal, but otherwise it isn’t worth the hassle of preparing and cleaning or carrying the extra gear. Good “food for thought”. I discovered that Cliff Shots work well for me for fuel during rides, and will probably pack things like Cliff Shots, trail mix or PB&J for meals that will be followed by more cycling.
Anyway, this is all stuff I’m glad I learned on a shake down ride instead of out on the trail. From what I see online, one segment of bikepackers are all about covering long distances in a short amount of time in a new ultra endurance competitive death march sufferfest. At this point, that is not at all what I’m looking to do. I’m looking for a couple night to a long weekend trip, exploring the wilderness and having fun on my bike. Stan’s No Tubes’ commerical for their Hugo Wheels is an inspiration to me and pretty well sums up my bikepacking ride fantasy:
And I don’t know if my ride fantasy is quite complete without a good cup of coffee in the morning. I don’t know if instant is going to cut it either, even Starbucks. So, maybe I’ll swap out the cook set for a decent coffee press. Hmm. Maybe I need another shake down ride.