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What I learned at the Bikepacking 101 seminar

Posted by on February 28th, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Bikepacking 101 event at Chris King HQ-3
A big crowd absorbed knowledge from
a trio of experienced bike adventurers.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

A much larger than expected turnout at last night’s Bikepacking 101 Seminar confirmed that interest in backroads and adventure bicycling is at an all-time high. Either that, or people just jumped at the chance for some great free beer, catch up with friends (and make new ones) and a peek inside the headquarters of Chris King Precision Components.

In all seriousness, the 200+ people that packed the King Cafe was yet another reminder that we’ve hit a tipping point in this type of riding. From “gravel grinding” on beefed up road bikes to multi-day trips on fully decked-out fat-bikes, it seems like everyone is getting excited for two-wheeled adventures these days.

How big was the crowd? It took me a few shots with a wide angle to get it all…

Bikepacking 101 event at Chris King HQ-4
Bikepacking 101 event at Chris King HQ-5
Bikepacking 101 event at Chris King HQ-1

Both the interest in this type of riding and the big crowd last night was due in large part to the three guys who hosted the event: Nick Sande, Donnie Kolb, and Alan Gunn. Each one of them has explored an enviable amount of Oregon’s backroads by bike and they each share a sense of enthusiasm that manifests itself in a strong desire to share what they know and get more people out there with them.

Nick (a bike industry veteran with former stints at Surly and who know works for Cielo), Donnie (an attorney), and Alan (a mapping and GIS specialist for Metro) presented a lot of information last night on a huge array of topics. We heard advice and tips about gear, bike set-up, route planning, remote survival techniques, how to have good interactions with people you come across in remote areas, and more.

Below are a some of best tips I heard:

Bikes:

  • Almost any bike can be used for bikepacking. Road bike, mountain bike, cross bike, hybrid… Just ride what you have!
  • Put another way by Donnie: “Take what you have, strap some shit to it, and go ride.”

Here are a few of the bikes on display last night:

Bikepacking 101 event at Chris King HQ-10
Donnie’s custom DeSalvo road bike can be loaded up for 3-4 night trips.
Bikepacking 101 event at Chris King HQ-9
Brand new Salsa Fargo will set you back about $1,900.
Bikepacking 101 event at Chris King HQ-7
Nick’s Surly ECR with 29+ wheels.

Packing:

  • Keep all your gear “light and tight.”
  • The space an item takes up in your bag is more important than weight.
  • Ultralight backpacking gear won’t hold up to rigors of bike trips.
  • Frame/saddle/handlebar bags are preferred by these guys over the more traditional racks/panniers set up.
  • Buy extra straps for cinching things down.
  • Stuff sacks and dry bags can be cheaper alternatives to bike-specific bags.

Gear:

  • Two bag makers highly recommended by Nick are Revelate and Porcelain Rocket.
  • Don’t skimp on tire size. 2.0-inch and larger seemed to be the preferred set-up for loaded, multi-day off-road adventures.
  • In Portland, Andy & Bax was called a “superstore for bikecamping” by Alan.
Bikepacking 101 event at Chris King HQ-6
Nick giving the low-down. (MYOG stands for make your own gear.)

Routes, Mapping and Navigation:

  • Roads seen on Google Maps often don’t exist or don’t go through.
  • Make sure your maps are updated recently. Logging roads in the Pacific Northwest can grow over quickly, sometimes in 10 years or less.
  • Good sites to get routes: While Out Riding, Gypsy By Trade, and Swerving Excursions.
  • Buy and use real maps. Then print out the sections for your trip.
  • GPS devices can be unreliable.
  • Bike-specific GPS devices are not good for navigation. Use the models made for hiking.
  • Smartphone map apps by Gaia and Benchmark are excellent.
  • Printed maps from Benchmark are the best.
  • You can download free, updated maps from USGS.gov.
  • Make your route interesting by connecting things like epic roads, hot springs, geological formations, cool towns, and so on.

Planning:

  • Nick swears by using a spreadsheet to list all your gear and to make notes about how/if it works.
  • Keep a notebook during your ride and write down what works and what doesn’t (then add it to your spreadsheet).
  • Good average mileage on a loaded, off-road trip is 35-40 miles per day.
  • “Shakedown” rides are key. Test your set-up by riding through the neighborhood.

Water:

  • Camp near a water source.
  • Filter or purify everything before drinking.
  • Know your route: One portion of the Oregon Outback goes 80 miles without any water.
  • Do research before your trip to find where the services are, then print out the information and take it with you.

Human interaction:

  • Wave and say hi to everyone you come across.
  • People will be surprised to see you.
  • Most importantly, don’t wear spandex! Especially in remote and rural areas. “No one wants to talk to you if you’re dressed like that,” Donnie warned.

Random:

  • There’s no shame in walking.
  • Make sure your bike shoes are comfortable because you never know when you’ll get stranded and/or have to walk several miles.
  • To be ready for anything, don’t just train by riding, keep your core and arms strong too.
  • Learn to repair flats, tire gashes, broken spokes, derailleur adjustments, and broken chains.
  • “Knowledge weighs nothing.”
  • Strap a pair of Crocs to your bike.
  • Don’t wear a backpack.
  • Solar power isn’t effective for recharging devices.
  • The cool bikepackers these days are using dynamo hubs with USB outlets built in like the Luxos U.

Three recommended routes:

  • Nick: Scappoose to Vernonia via the Crown Zellerbach Trail.
  • Alan: The Deschutes Rail Trail
  • Donnie: Around Mt. Hood

I’m excited to see what this adventure riding enthusiasm leads to next. And I’ve also got to start packing for the Oregon Outback in May!

For more info, check out the gorgeous Bunyan Velo magazine and stay tuned to Donnie’s website, VeloDirt, for more resources and great local routes.

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Comments
  • adventure! February 28, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    Wow! What a turnout! Bummed I missed this, but I had to work. Jonathan, thanks for the concise notes. Did they have any type of printed handout for the workshop?

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  • adventure! February 28, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    And just a reminder, we’ll be doing back-to-back Bike Touring and Bike Camping workshops next week at Velo Cult. Tuesday March 4 will be Bike Touring and Wednesday March 5 will be Bike Camping. Both will start at 7pm. More details here:
    http://www.cyclewild.org/2014/02/bike-touring-101bike-camping-101-march-4-5/

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  • 9watts February 28, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    Couldn’t agree more with the ride whatever bike you have, but I was surprised to note that two of the three bikes profiled had neithern racks or fenders. Is there some bias against these accessories I’m unaware of? Do new bikes not come with threaded eyelets anymore?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 28, 2014 at 1:00 pm

      bikes still have plenty of eyelets and braze-ons 9watts; but I think there’s been a big shift away from racks/pannier for a lot of people doing overnighters — especially off-road.

      Frame-mounted bags have some big advantages over racks/panniers. They are lighter, they force you to pack less (because they have less capacity), they make your bike easier to portage, they make it easier to pack a balanced load, racks/panniers are more complicated and likely to come loose.

      Racks/panniers are still very good to use and definitely work fine.. Just different options out there these days.

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      • Alan 1.0 February 28, 2014 at 1:38 pm

        It reminds me of the change in backpacking from external to internal frame packs. (which pretty much dates me! :)

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      • dwainedibbly February 28, 2014 at 5:32 pm

        Options are good, but I’m with 9watts. Combine a frame bag with a greatly sloping top tube, and you need to find somewhere else for water bottles. What’s the fix for that, hydration packs? (I’m not slamming something I haven’t tried, I’m just curious.)

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      • Champs March 3, 2014 at 12:36 pm

        Good thing nobody’s using those junky Old Man Mountain racks, right Jonathan?

        I kid, I kid.

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    • matt f February 28, 2014 at 2:25 pm

      Metal racks can break fairly easily on off road tours…plus they’re heavy…and if your route contains singletrack, a metal rack plus panniers is too wide/bulky to enjoy riding on singletrack…

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  • Donna February 28, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    Don’t forget to share your trip with everyone on http://www.crazyguyonabike.com! Lots of great advice and recs for cycle trips all over the world

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  • Peter R February 28, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    I missed it so I could pack for Echo Red 2 Red this weekend, however I am jonesing to get some bike packing done this summer. I’m leaning towards some very basic Hillsboro to Stubb, S24O as a primer.

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  • Jane February 28, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    Great coverage!

    I don’t entirely agree about solar chargers being ineffective. As long as you can count on sunny weather they’re doable. They’re not as dependable in the pacific northwest of course (trees and clouds will cause problems) but I rode four (gorgeous cloudless) days in Washington and Oregon mostly off road this summer and kept an iphone going on solar, using it as a gps and taking photos the whole way. I never got fully charged using it like that but it did work. Open farm roads were way better than, for example, the Banks Vernonia trail! And in all fairness I have upgraded to a luxos u since then as it’s clearly the better option, but when price is a factor solar is way cheaper than upgrading an existing setup to a generator hub and light.

    Regarding rack/panniers versus bikepack style, weight is the biggest consideration I’ve found. It is very difficult to portage a bike with full camp and food/water in panniers. But it is also much easier to unload and transport panniers independently of a bike. Choose your fate.

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  • Chris I February 28, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    It was a pretty good event. I’m not sure if it was the free beer, but apparently quite a few people just showed up to BS and/or network with each other. Dozens of people in the back of the room were talking basically the entire time, making it difficult for a good portion of us to hear the presentation. That said, the information was great, and it was cool to see the bikes they brought along.

    - If you are presenting at something like this, be mindful of the room noise, and don’t be afraid to challenge those that rudely disrupt your event
    - If you are attending a workshop or presentation and feel compelled to hold a conversation, leave the room or shut up. You obviously aren’t listening, so why are you here?

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  • VeloDirt February 28, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    Great coverage Jonathan and glad you could make it out. We had a lot of fun putting this on and learned a lot for the next time around. For those that couldn’t make it, we plan on posting a revised version of our outline on the velodirt.com site in the next couple weeks, hopefully adding a lot of links to outside resources, how-to videos, etc.

    My plan is also to start adding gear lists for routes we do for informational purposes and also to get back to adding new routes to the site. We’ve got a lot of great routes we’ve ridden, it’s just been hard to find the time to dedicate to posting them.

    Big thanks to everyone that came out, and also Chris King and 21st Avenue Bikes for making this possible.

    Donnie
    velodirt.com

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    • adventure! February 28, 2014 at 8:28 pm

      Thanks for doing this, Donnie! Look forward to the outline, gear lists, etc on the website.

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  • GlowBoy February 28, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    Pretty cool to see all these trends coming together: the explosion of “gravel grinding” rides (which is really just a relabeling of the “adventure biking” concept that’s been out there for many years), Grant Petersen’s promotion of the S24O concept, (locally) CycleWild’s invaluable work to document and promote all the places you can camp within the Portland “bikeshed”, and just general growing awareness of the touring possibilities in our region.

    I’ve followed the Tour Divide (formerly Great Divide Race) on and off for a lot of years, and it seems to me that rack failures are among the most common mechanical problems experienced by the racers. On extensive tours carrying a load over rough terrain, structural elements of an aluminum rack can themselves fatigue and break (this has happened to me), or the fiddly attachment parts can loosen, break or fall off and get lost (this has also happened to me). Sometimes the failure is catastrophic, or requires kludgy field repairs that put a big cramp in your touring ability. IMO that’s probably the biggest reason so many people now eschew racks in favor of frame bags. Frame bags also carry big aerodynamic benefits, but that probably matters to racers more than casual tourers.

    That said, if you have a decent quality rack and just want to try out bike camping, just strap on your gear and run what you brung. Chances are it won’t fail on your first few outings.

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  • GlowBoy February 28, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    BTW, the Deschutes Rail-Trail really is one of the best places to get started. It’s just 95 miles or so up the Columbia from here, and then you ride an old graveled railbed up the Deschutes Canyon – 17 miles up, if you want. Cost is $5 to park your vehicle overnight at the trailhead. There are cool rail artifacts and the historic site of the Oregon Trail crossing along the way, as well as a couple of campgrounds (with decent concrete pit toilets) designed for river rafters. Click “GlowBoy” above to link to a writeup I did of a trip there quite a few years ago.

    Ride there outside the rafting season and you’ll likely have the place mostly to yourself — and also less chance of dealing with rattlesnakes or goat heads. Off-season challenges can include occasional high winds in the canyon and often subfreezing nights, even in the shoulder months.

    Also be prepared to wake up a couple times in the middle of the night as trains rumble along the other side of the canyon (which unlike the east bank is still an active line). The great thing is there aren’t any rail crossings so you won’t hear horns. You’ll just hear the distant roar of the train and watch its headlight sweep the canyon wall. IMO it is one of the coolest places in the world to spend a night camping.

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    • Alan 1.0 February 28, 2014 at 6:54 pm

      Cool, thanks, and just in case you haven’t heard of it, careful with dogs and salmon poisoning – http://www.petwave.com/Dogs/Health/Salmon-Poisoning.aspx

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      • GlowBoy March 1, 2014 at 11:25 pm

        Good point, and not everyone knows about this. To be clear, when I mentioned the dog doing a salmon imitation, I just meant in terms of splashing around in the river. I do know never to let him consume raw salmon.

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  • Nick Sande February 28, 2014 at 8:58 pm

    Thanks to everybody who showed up for this event. We were overwhelmed by the turnout and your excitement about bikepacking and hope we can share more information with you about getting out there.

    Get lost and find yourself.

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  • Dan Kaufman March 3, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    Thank you all for putting this event together and the report. This very helpful and inspirational!

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  • Hiker Dude March 4, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    Yeah. def a good point, not everyone knows about it. Surely I Ride there outside the rafting season, I’ll likely have the place mostly to myself

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