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6 questions for the man behind Oregon’s bikepacking revolution

Posted by on July 11th, 2014 at 10:14 am

Donnie Kolb’s new site, OregonBikepacking.com
is sooo good.

People have been sleeping in the woods with their bikes for over a century. It’s nothing new. But in just the past year or so, doing off-road overnighters — a.k.a. “bikepacking” — with a few frame bags attached to a mountain-bike (or a beefy road bike) has skyrocketed in popularity. Especially here in Oregon.

There are a number of things to explain this phenomenon; but one inarguable catalyst has been VeloDirt.com. Now Donnie Kolb, the man behind the site the has done so much to help popularize gravel riding and camping-by-bike, has launched OregonBikepacking.com.

Kolb launched VeloDirt in 2010 with his friends Suzanne Marcoe and Aaron Schmidt. It began humbly as a blog to catalog rides on “those lonely dirt roads you pass on your regular road rides.” That same year, Kolb organized an unsanctioned, 123 mile race on one of his signature backroad routes called the Oregon Stampede. It was a huge success, so Kolb added a few more events the next year and he hasn’t looked back since.

His latest and greatest route is the Oregon Outback — 360 miles (mostly dirt and gravel) of pure backroad goodness from Klamath Falls to Deschutes State Park near the Columbia River. That route, and the event he organized on it back in May, catapulted Kolb and VeloDirt even further.

Suddenly he was making news and being asked to give bikepacking seminars to the eager masses.

Kolb’s latest endeavor is OregonBikePacking.com, a fantastic resource that’s rich with photos and details of great adventure rides throughout the state. The site feels like a natural progression of his Kolb’s work and the design is top-notch. It’s a site that’s guaranteed to stoke your wanderlust for wild places.

I recently asked him to share more about the new site and where he thinks this bikepacking craze is headed next…

Donnie Kolb-1

Kolb in his natural environment, alongside his friend (and supporter) Harth Huffman of Wabi Woolens. (August 2013)
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)


Why OregonBikepacking.com? What the heck is it?

In short, it’s an online guidebook to bikepacking in Oregon. We currently have 6 full routes spread around the state ranging from 2 to 7 days. Most of the routes are intermediate level, a few are advanced. We ultimately plan to expand the offerings to around 20-25 routes, encompassing the entire spectrum of routes from weekenders to several weeks, from beginner to very advanced.

I’ve always been frustrated with the VeloDirt.com website… I’ve always hated our inability to present detailed information about routes. Even something as simple as a day ride was limited to a few photos and a GPS link, which really isn’t enough information if the idea is to encourage folks to get out and ride. My frustration came to a head during the Oregon Outback preparation; I had information spread around multiple places on the website, with no easy way to link them all together. I decided that if I was going to do this, I needed to do it right. So I hired a friend of mine to develop the new website.



How is it different from VeloDirt.com?

VeloDirt.com will continue to hold most of our day-to-day content – day routes, organized rides, blogging, gear reviews, etc. It’s also a good place for sharing photos and details from bikepacking trips that may not be ready for primetime on OregonBikepacking.com. It allows us to maintain a presence beyond bikepacking since that’s not all we do: fatbiking, gravel, even some road riding and touring, we do it all.

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Some people like to keep their best wild spots secret, or at least on the down-low, so they don’t get overrun by a bunch of newbies. You’re like the opposite of that. The Pied Piper of bikepacking. Why do you get such a stoke out of sharing your best routes and getting other people out into the backcountry?

At this point I approach how I do this more like bike advocacy than anything else – but instead of encouraging people to get out of their cars and commute to work (as an example), I’m encouraging them to get out of the city altogether and go experience Oregon. I am continually amazed travelling around this state just how diverse it is and how many unique, interesting places there are.

The absolute best part about doing this and helping organize rides is when people tell me during or after their ride how excited they are and how much fun they are having. Providing an avenue to have that kind of experience is extremely rewarding in its own right. When someone tells you afterward that they just had the best day they’d ever had on a bike before – it makes all the hard work worth it.

Bullshit 100 ride-45



You still have a full time job that has nothing to do with bikes? As you launch more projects and existing ones gain popularity, do you ever think you’ll be able to make “bikepacking guru” into a career? Would you even want that?

Yes, while it might not look like it, I’m a working stiff just like everyone else. I actually work a lot – way too much. It’s not always easy to find time to ride or do longer trips. It takes a lot of advance planning to make time for the bike.

I have no idea what will happen with all of this, but I get that question more and more these days. It’d be sweet to figure out a way to make a living out of this – though I don’t know quite what that would look like. For now at least I’ll just keep doing this because I love doing it and if it eventually leads to something interesting, I’m certainly open to it. It sure would be beat my day job…

Bikepacking and gravel riding have really blown up this year. Why do you think this type of riding has struck a chord with so many people?

There’s a little bit of a “fad” aspect to it right now, especially with all of the outdoor companies suddenly promoting it and trying to grab a slice of the potential market (REI, Blackburn, etc.). Once companies like that start promoting something, it jumps beyond the hardcore niche users and suddenly everyone and their grandma wants to try it. That’s not a bad thing per se, as long as people understand what they’re getting themselves into. Getting people outside participating in physical activity is generally a positive overall.

Really, bikepacking is just backpacking on a bike. Because just about everyone in Oregon has been backpacking at least once they can relate to the idea of bikepacking. And really it’s a pretty simple transition. If you are a competent backpacker, you’ll be a competent bikepacker – just trade your moleskin and boots for a tire pump and a bike. So I get why it’s folks are getting so excited about it and its catching on pretty quickly.



What do you think is next? Will bikepacking just keep getting bigger? Or is the bubble set to burst and we’ll soon all be talking about bikescubadiving or some other twist on the sport we all love?

Bikepacking is here to stay. Much like when backpacking exploded in the 90’s and then leveled off, I think bikepacking will do the same. The biggest difference is you can outfit yourself for backpacking on a much smaller budget, so if only for that reason bikepacking will always be a smaller market. But now that outdoor companies and outdoor retailers have discovered bikepacking, we’ll never stop seeing it.

I personally love combining bikes with other things. Packrafting, hunting, fishing – you name it. Bikes give you access to so many new places that it’s a natural fit. And bikepacking gear facilitates combining some of these traditionally more remote activities with bikes. It’s awesome. As an example, I recently traded emails with a guy who flies his bush plane out into remote parts of Oregon, takes his bike along, and goes riding in new places all the time. I was blown away by the possibilities. Plus I’ve always wanted to get my pilots license. So yeah, the next big thing will be bikeflying and I already bought the web domain – OregonBikeFlying.com – just in case.

OregonBikepacking.com

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Rob Chapman
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Rob Chapman

The Oregon Outback is magical. I highly recommend the 6 day rolling party plan. Great job on the new site Donnie!

john
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john

Loved the article and am interested in doing this route. May I ask, is there a reason it’s mapped out in counterclockwise fashion? Seems like the 4 miles section of dirt road would be better tacked going uphill? Thanks for your response. jv

jfiliohr
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jfiliohr

The new website looks great — love it. I have discovered so many absolutely amazing routes here in Oregon due to Donnie. The guy is the best.

SilkySlim
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SilkySlim

Wow, what a well put together site! I’m heading out to do a version of the Steens Mtn. route in two weeks.

And to just add a quick perspective on the secret spots vs. popular fad side of things… The sheer amount of dirt roads, forest roads, and trails in Oregon will surely keep this from being a “no parking spots at the trailhead” type situation.

GlowBoy
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GlowBoy

I’ve been bikepacking (as opposed to pavement touring) ever since I got my panniers back in the late 90s. The fact that it’s now become a “thing” has reminded me how fun it is, and inspires me to get out and do it more often.

I’m still envisioning a north-south route paralleling the Cascades from the California border to the Canadian border – analogous to the Great Divide Route along the Rockies. Like the GDR it would have to have some paved stretches here and there, but would be more gravel and dirt than pavement. It wouldn’t be able to follow the actual crest very much due to extensive areas of designated Wilderness and Indian reservations, but it could still take in tons of spectacular country along alternating sides of the range.

SilkySlim
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SilkySlim

I’ve got a 90% road route that basically does this, staying within National Forest boundaries for just about the entire N/S length of Oregon at least. Mostly road riding though, not a ton of gravel. That corridor is absolutely the perfect scale for touring… You can parse out days to be about 70 miles each (my sweet spot), with a big morning climb, long afternoon downhill, and often a hot spring or brew pub near camping. Lots of shade, low traffic, awesome.

Josh G
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SilkySlim, care to share your route? Enquiring minds…

SilkySlim
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Pete
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Pete

Seems to work for me; here’s the “short URL” option: https://goo.gl/maps/Q73aL

Note that is only shortens the URL and not any of the actual climbs… 😉

SilkySlim
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SilkySlim

Ha! There are some serious ones in the route, especially that very first climb out of Ashland on Dead Indian road (I assume he forgot to bring a third chainring and perished).

GlowBoy
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GlowBoy

Thanks for the link. My route would go up Greensprings hwy from Ashland (yes, a brutal climb to start but at least you get the climb up into the mountains out of the way at the beginning), then merges with yours near Lake of the Woods. From there it’s pretty much the same route as yours up to Lemolo Lake, then diverges again.

After Lemolo I’d stay mostly east of the crest and go through the Cascade Lakes area, then over Road 370 to Sisters and Santiam Wagon Road over the north end of the McKenzie River Trail. From there, roads 2067 and Scar Mountain Road to Detroit, staying the hell off Highway 22 (except for about a ~1 mile stretch) as far as Idanha. Then the same route as yours past Breitenbush, but continuing up to Olallie Lake and along Oregon Skyline Road to where it meets Hwy 26, then the Bonnie Meadows area up to Gunsight Ridge. From there I’d descend to The Dalles, which is a better crossing of the river for anyone wanting to continue on the Washington side, though Surveyors down to Hood River could be an alternate route.

My idea is, again, to keep it more gravel than pavement when possible, with a little singletrack thrown in – much like the GDR – and provide for lots of developed and dispersed USFS camping along the way. I think this route allows for resupply of food items or other necessities at Ashland, Crater Lake NP, possibly the Crescent store, Sisters, Detroit and The Dalles.

Zaphod
Guest

Thank you!

Janet Lafleur
Guest

This all sounded interesting until I how aggressive the rides were. The shortest was two days for 124 miles and close to 10,000 feet of climbing on 60% gravel? Ouch. I’m a veteran century rider and former cyclocross racer but like so many guides I’ve seen, he’s planning for stronger, faster riders than me. Too bad, I’d love something that mere mortals could do.

SilkySlim
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SilkySlim

124 miles / 4 = 31 miles a day. Easy, and perfect for a long weekend. While there are a couple slightly more organized group events, these routes are open to all year round to enjoy at their own pace.

Janet Lafleur
Guest

But are there good places to camp at those two new overnight locations? Ones with access to water, permission to camp, etc? That can be an issue with breaking down longer routes. Also, seeing only routes with paces that seem aggressive that are rated as medium difficulty leads me to wonder if they’ll take me on terrain that’s too hard for me to be fun.

Like many others, I’ve gone out with friends who are stronger and more skilled riders that assured me the trail wasn’t that technical and/or the climb wasn’t that long or steep, only to find it was suitable only for a select group of riders. With skiing we have trail rating that at least give us an idea of what we’re getting into. I wish that were more common in bicycling. I don’t want to end up on a double black diamond when I’m a blue intermediate rider.

Ben
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Ben

Kudos Donnie on the new site and all the great information you’ve been making available for years. After many years of road tour, VeloDirt persuaded me to get on the gravel and tackle the Outback a few months back. It was unforgettable. Thanks for sharing your passion with so many.

Mike Quiglery
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Mike Quiglery

Bikepacking may sound fun but just try it multi day over anything but maintained roads. I suspect it will be a short-lived fad.

GlowBoy
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GlowBoy

One of the greatest experiences of my life was a 4-day bikepacking tour (mostly on unmaintained jeep roads) in the Owyhee Canyonlands of SE Oregon.

Of course I did have a BOB trailer, which I find to be a necessity on a tour of that length in country with limited water and food resupply options. Would have been a lot trickier to pull off with just panniers and/or frame bags.

Janet Lafleur
Guest

But are there good places to camp at those two new overnight locations? Ones with access to water, permission to camp, etc? That can be an issue with breaking down longer routes. Also, seeing only routes with paces that seem aggressive that are rated as medium difficulty leads me to wonder if they’ll take me on terrain that’s too hard for me to be fun.

Like many others, I’ve gone out with friends who are stronger and more skilled riders that assured me the trail wasn’t that technical and/or the climb wasn’t that long or steep, only to find it was suitable only for a select group of riders. With skiing we have trail ratings that at least give us an idea of what we’re getting into. I wish that were more common in bicycling. I don’t want to end up on a double black diamond when I’m a blue intermediate rider.

Rob Chapman
Guest
Rob Chapman

I’ve always found the Velo Dirt/ Oregon Bikepacking ride descriptions to be pretty much perfect, in fact they may even be on the conservative side.
Funny enough, there was a group of people who started the Outback a week early who whined about there being MORE water on the route than what was in the description. Some peoples’ kids…

In any event, half of the enjoyment of these types of rides is from the challenge of being self-sufficient and working out your own logistics. There’s always Cycle Oregon for people who want pampering and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I literally did the Outback off the couch. I went my own (slow) pace and had the time of my life. These rides were meant to be a challenge but they certainly aren’t impossible for regular people to do.

Huey Lewis
Guest
Huey Lewis

Are you talking about Jrdn, Mike M, Joseph A., myself, etc? We were surprised by the amount of water but I don’t think any of us were whining. No more whining than usual anyway.

Rob Chapman
Guest
Rob Chapman

No way, you guys are cool. Hell Kristina didn’t complain about a torn tendon. I’m talking about the guys that were giving Donnie a hard time who if I’m not mistaken, were the same crew who tried to discourage Maria S. from going. The same badass lady who just completed StP in one day on a single speed.

Rob Chapman
Guest
Rob Chapman

I’ve always found the Velo Dirt/ Oregon Bikepacking ride descriptions to be pretty much perfect, in fact they may even be on the conservative side.
Funny enough, there was a group of people who started the Outback a week early who whined about there being MORE water on the route than what was in the description. Some peoples’ kids…

In any event, half of the enjoyment of these types of rides is from the challenge of being self-sufficient and working out your own logistics. There’s always Cycle Oregon for people who want pampering and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I literally did the Outback off the couch. I went my own (slow) pace and had the time of my life. These rides were meant to be a challenge but they certainly aren’t impossible for regular people to do.

john
Guest
john

Just curious about pro’s and con’s of doing route clockwise versus counter-clockwise?