Gravel riding, adventure riding, cyclocross, riding road bikes on dirt. Whatever you call it, it's a lot of fun and taking the cycling industry by storm. What began as a unorthodox style of riding dirt and gravel roads, often on a bike without suspension, has spun out into the world of cyclocross racing and gravel biking. Riding on the country roads provides an escape from the cars and pedestrians of the roadways, Rugged farm roads across the plains, steep fire roads into the mountains, and backyard canyons are all ripe for the picking with the right gear and a sense for adventure!
The Best Gravel Riding Gear
When venturing into the realm of adventure and gravel riding the right gear can make the road ahead much more enjoyable. The demands of gravel riding are harsher than road riding, as the route's are rougher and support is harder to come by. The bike is the most important tool for a fun and efficient time off roading, and gravel bikes come in different flavors. While the benefits of riding a full suspension or hardtail featuring a front suspension fork would help with the varied terrain and technical riding, most gravel riders opt for a road bike featuring adaptations for off road efficiency. Both drop bars and flat bars are common in gravel riding, every rider has their own style and preference. The benefits of riding a rigid bicycle when gravel grinding include the lightweight performance and efficiency of an endurance inspired road frame. Common gravel specific bicycles will feature 700c wheels with added clearance for wider tires to help with rough roads. With the ability to run wider tires, riders can also run a lower PSI (pounds per square inch) in their tires which helps absorb impact and offers a better contact patch with the trail. Respectively, most road tires are run at 100 PSI, whereas gravel tires will run somewhere around 45 PSI for improved performance and less flat tires.
Clothing selection is crucial to provide the most comfortable gravel ride possible. With the increased level of road vibrations as well as the technical aspects of off roading one can benefit greatly from high performance apparel. Padded gloves and shorts with a chamois will offer a relief from the bumps in the road, and provide less fatigue to the rider. In addition carrying supplies including nutrition, hydration, tools, and a flat kit are mandatory depending on how far your ride takes you from civilization.
Your craving for adventure can be overwhelming. Sometimes the roads, trails, and pathways we frequent are just not enough.The union of ultralight backpacking and cycle touring has given us bike packing. Bike packing let's you explore further than ever before, and combines the athleticism of cycling with the skills of camping. A bike packing trip, if for a weekend or a month, will help quell your wanderlust needs.
But before you grab your bike and head out, you’ll enjoy the trip a little more with some up front planning. Failing to plan, is planning to fail. Of course you can skip this step, but your trip will probably include more stress than you were hoping for. So if you want to make the most of your time, and avoid the pain of an unenjoyable trip, you’ll love this guide.
Decide the Where and When
If you’ve started looking into rides already, you know how many routes and route options there are. It’s easy to get overwhelmed.
To make sure you avoid this, do yourself a favor and limit your options. Decide when and where, or where and when, you’d like to ride. Where you want to ride will often dictate when you can ride somewhere (think Pisgah Maine in the winter… burr). And if your schedule is limited, that will likely dicate where you ride (only a weekend to go, where can you get nearby?).
From there, keep in mind that you’ll be riding with a lot more gear and weight than your used to. That’s going to be a direct impact on how far you can ride. And if you’re going to be venturing off into trails and roads unknown, there’s a good chance you’ll be riding slower than you would normally.
A good rule of thumb, for your first bike packing trip, a daily mileage of 20-40 miles is a good place to start. And if you’re feeling froggy at the end of the day, keep riding!
Grab Some Bags!
Frame bag style, panniers, huge backpack there's no wrong way to accomplish a bike packing trip, however strategy can make things a lot more enjoyable. Check out the selection of bikepacking bags at the link below. We have a great selection and there's a bag sure to fit your soon to be bike packing rig available today! Many riders use pannier style cargo loading, while others prefer frame/seat/handlebar bags and forego any metal racks for a nimble ride and the ability to ditch the weight while at basecamp.
Design the Route
Now that you’ve got the when and where figured out, it’s onto picking the roads and trails. This is where it gets fun!
Keep it Easy with a Pre-Planned Route
Sometimes you can find a route that has already been developed for bikepacking. This can take a lot of the hard work out of planning a trip since you’ll likely be able to find info about trail conditions, distance, elevation gain/loss, camping, water sources and more.
Want a cool resource? Check out Bikepacking.com
Create Your Own Route
If no established bikepacking route exists in your area or your up to the challenge of riding something new, see if you can come up with your own route.
Here’s are some ways to do it:
Check out the maps, guidebooks and websites. These are all great resources for planning a bikepacking trip. You can use any one or all of them to find paved roads, forest roads, singletrack trails and double-track trails than can possibly be linked together to create a route.
Keep in mind that not all trails and roads allow bikes. For instance, you’re not allowed to bike in federally protected wilderness areas.
If you’re planning to hit the trails, guidebooks and websites specific to mountain biking are particularly helpful for gathering the stats you’ll likely need. They’ll usually give you trail difficulty, distance, elevation gain, directions, water resources and trail features.
For more information, here are some sites we find particularly helpful when planning bikepacking routes:
- MTB Project is great for discovering current singletrack and doubletrack trails.
- Bikepacking.com has a ton of great route info that can provide inspiration for your next adventure.
- Google Maps and Google Earth are helpful for finding roads, calculating distances and viewing satellite images of the terrain you plan to ride.
- The National Forest Service Interactive Travel Map can help you find forest roads to ride on.
Talk to locals and other bikepackers: Talking to people familiar with the area or other folks who bikepack can be a good way to get route suggestions.
Also, try contacting local ranger districts in the area where you want to travel. Rangers will have the most up-to-date information about trail/road conditions and closures.
The Logistics of Eating, Drinking and Sleeping
While you’re doing your research, it’s a good call to spend some time figuring out logistics for sleeping, eating and drinking.
Having a plan in place, even just a rough one, for where you’re going to sleep each night is a good idea.
This can be as simple as spotting a flat area on a map near a creek or as formal as making reservations at a campground, hostel or hotel. If you plan to camp somewhere other than a designated campground, know the land-use rules before pitching your tent and starting a fire.
You may have heard bikepackers talk about stealth camping; this typically means finding an out-of-view spot and being hush-hush about your presence. If you choose to do this, don’t do anything illegal and ask for permission before camping on someone’s private property (such as in a farmer’s field).
Wherever you end up camping, pack out EVERYTHING you pack in, and leave no trace.
Eating & Drinking
If you’re heading out for a couple days, you can probably pack all the food and water you need on your bike. But, once a trip reaches three or more days, you’ll need to consider how you can refill your bottles and get more food.
You may have to plan your route so that every few days you travel through a town with a convenience store, supermarket or restaurant.
If you’ll be out in the boonies, take note of streams, rivers and lakes on your map and pack a water filter. You can plan to carry lightweight, compact freeze-dried meals or possibly coordinate with a friend to meet you with more food.
No matter what you do, having a plan for where you’re going to eat, drink, and sleep will give you peace of mind while you’re on the trail.
After that, there’s only one thing left for you to do.
Ride! Have fun. Take lots of pictures.
Top 5 Bike Packing Destinations in the U.S.
Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, Canada and U.S.
The mac daddy of all domestic bikepacking routes the Great Divide Trail is a whopping 2,745 mile trail. The route runs from Banff, Canada south towards New Mexico at the Mexican/U.S. border. This is a journey most break up into segments, however there are the die hard riders who make it in one push. The Tour Divide is a race honoring the Great Divide trail as being the longest standing established bike packing route in the states.
Kokopelli Trail, Colorado and Utah
The Kokopelli Trail is an 139.2 mile multi use recreational trail that goes from Fruita, CO to Moab, UT. Since it was first designed the Porcupine Rim Trail has been built which means you have the option of making it 158 miles.
The Kokopelli Trail is part of the larger Grand Loop.
The best time to thru-bike the trail is from March/April to the end of October. The summer months can be extremely hot so plan to tackle it during the shoulder months for a more enjoyable trip.
The Kokopelli Trail connects two of the nation's mountain biking meccas – Fruita, Colorado and Moab, Utah – via a 150-mile trek through breathtaking Southwestern scenery. Most riders break this trip up into three 50-mile days and often have support meet them at campsites. The annual Bikerpelli Tour provides gear transportation, food and beer at camp stops.
Oregon Timber Trail
Spanning across Oregon from north to south this 670 mile route is popular amongst bike packers and the normal section length is anywhere from 150-200 miles. The Pacific North West hosts some of the nations best riding, their bike packing opportunities are out of this world as well.
Ojito BLM Area, New Mexico
The Ojito Wilderness encompasses 11,000 acres in New Mexico's desert. Known for geological formations and extinct volcanoes. The BLM land is open to free camping and this bike packing arena allows riders to set up camp nearly anywhere and choose their own routes amongst the fireroad system.
Denali National Park, Alaska
Denali National Park boasts a 92-mile park road, off limits to most private vehicles. However cyclists may access this roadway with a backcountry camping permit. Denali hosts some of the most pristine and rugged landscape in our Nation, what better way to enjoy the scenery than from two wheels.
Post Adventure Bliss
When you get back, spend some time thinking about your trip. Ask yourself: What did you like? What did you dislike? Did you plan your daily mileage and/or elevation gain appropriately? Did you pack appropriately? What would you do differently next time?
I like to look at all the gear I packed, and sort it by gear I used or didn’t use. For the next trip, I try to leave what didn’t use at home. Always refining and shrinking the weight I’m carrying.
No matter what you do, thinking about your trip can help you when it comes time to planning your next bike-packing adventure. With each trip, you’ll get better and better and planning routes that cater to your interests and desires.
We'll leave off with a list of our best selling gravel bikes. Tour tested and ready for whatever adventure you can throw at them!
Best Selling Adventure Bikes!
The concept of “gravel riding” means different things to different people. But whether you ride dirt roads, trails, gravel, or a mix of everything, the challenges are the same. You want a bike that floats right through it, keeps you in control, and is comfortable for long days in the saddle. The new Revolt delivers on all accounts. It features a lightweight ALUXX aluminum frame and composite fork, each engineered to balance stiffness (for efficiency) and compliance (for comfort and control). It comes with integrated components including the D-Fuse seatpost and Contact XR D-Fuse handlebar to further absorb road shocks and vibrations. The frame is integrated for disc brakes and it has clearance for larger tires up to 45c. Lastly, Revolt comes with a number of built-in features including the X-Defender downtube protector and smart-mount system for racks and accessories to help you make the most of your gravel-riding adventures.
Go ahead, take the road less traveled The RLT 9 Apex rules the domain between work and play When a bunch of mountain bikers built the RLT, our first drop bar gravel bike, it was only a matter of time before people started throwing flat bars on it. And just like that, it became another office favorite. After seeing so many Ninerds turning our drop bar bike into a flat bar, do it all bike, we thought it was only right to make this build available to everyone.
Thanks for reading our article on gravel and adventure riding. Hopefully your next gravel ride or bike packing trip is off the charts! If you have any questions or want gravel gear recommendations drop us a line and we'll get you rolling!
Thanks for reading our BLOG article on bike packing, gravel biking, and everything adventure! Check out our BLOG articles for great information and inside tips!
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