Vancouver-based cyclist and designer Mel Webb recently completed a bikepacking trip with her partner, Jake, starting and ending in the town of Fernie, British Columbia. The trip, which covered 626 kilometres, a variety of terrain and was Mel’s first longer bikepacking expedition, taught her about both the technical experience of bikepacking as well as her own resilience.
Whether it’s your first trip or you’re an experienced bikepacker, the below tips and tricks from Mel will make your next biking adventure a little easier.
Practice packing your bike
No matter what trip you’re getting ready for, Mel strongly recommends practicing packing up before heading out. This involves laying out your gear, considering the weather you might encounter and working out where to place gear on your bike strategically. “I practiced packing four or five times before leaving for my last trip,” Mel said, “if I had tried to strap my gear on my bike the morning of, it wouldn’t have gone well.”
Consider the size of your bike
Most bikepacking tutorials for beginners are geared (no pun intended) towards bikes with larger frames, as cycling tends to be a male-dominated sport. For women and non-binary people with smaller bodies, and therefore, smaller bike frames, it often takes a little creativity to pack up your bike.
“I’m 5’ 3”, and I learned quickly that the way most people pack their bike didn’t work for me, because my bike is smaller, and my gear doesn’t fit in the same places! Considering the size of your bike impacts the way that you attach your gear,” Mel said.
Plan for all conditions
It’s easy to forget that the conditions at the start of your trip aren't likely to remain the same day-to-day.
“One thing I didn’t take into consideration is that I’d be riding at a different elevation, so I didn’t pack warm enough gear,” Mel said. She also advises that riders bring a rain jacket they feel confident in.
Celebrate what the people you meet along the way are doing!
Although your bikepacking trip might feel limited to the group you’re riding with, the people you meet along the way are an important part of your experience.
“Giving each other kudos can be such a morale booster. I remember riding away from the people we met feeling excited because each person was doing something uniquely cool,” Mel said.
You don’t need the best gear to hit the road
A common misconception about bikepacking is that high-quality gear is needed. According to Mel, “If it gets you out the door and you’re going to be safe, that’s the best piece of gear for you. [Jake and I] met someone on the road literally using kitty litter buckets as panniers.”
Avoid creating deadlines for yourself
In Mel’s experience, setting deadlines (such as camping reservations) might seem helpful in the planning stages of your trip, but can lead to more stress on the road or trail.
“I find it harder to focus on the present moment with deadlines,” Mel said, “because it feels like the experience is geared towards getting somewhere instead of enjoying the journey.”
Connect with your creativity
As a designer, Mel often reflects on how art and bikepacking influence each other, as they’re both modes of self-exploration.
“On my most recent trip, I kept seeing things and thinking about how it could influence my art,” Mel said.
Not every journey has to be “epic”
The typical image of bikepacking as a sport often includes multi-day adventures covering distances that can be intimidating. However, Mel thinks about bikepacking a bit differently. "Whatever feels like a limit pusher to you is amazing," she said.
Pick a cycling partner who you can be vulnerable with
Choosing bikepacking partners, like anyone you spend a lot of time with, requires a certain amount of intention.
“No matter who you’re riding with, if you’re going on a ride that’s challenging, parts of you will show that wouldn’t otherwise. Picking a partner to ride with who you feel you can be vulnerable and safe with is important,” Mel said.
Seek out basic skills before starting
While you don’t have to be an expert mechanic to hit the road or trail, having a few basic bike skills can go a long way in building your confidence and comfort levels on the bike. Mel advises seeking out YouTube videos or local clinics to learn simple skills such as changing a flat tire or building a repair kit. She recommends seeking out your local bike shop as a resource as well.