Welcome to camping by bicycle.
First things first, for an overnight excursion chances are any old bike will do, but there are a few things that will make your outing a little easier. We recommend a bicycle with gears because your camping supplies will slow you down a bit. The most common setup is a rear rack to carry bike bags full of food, camping supplies and shelter. Let your bicycle do the heavy lifting so you can enjoy the rhythm of the open road.
Try to pack as minimally as possible. Stripping down to the daily essentials is one of the most liberating things about traveling by bicycle because you pay closer attention to the landscape and people along the way. This doesn’t mean you’re signing up for sufferfest. On the contrary, when we simplify our belongings, we can amplify the little pleasures that make life so satisfying like brewing coffee as the light hits camp on a summer morning, or chillin’ cross-legged next to a glowing fire sharing a nip with travel buddies. Soak in the moment.
For a single night out, you should bring along a mat, sleeping bag and shelter. Gear designed for backpacking is perfect for bicycle travel. Backcountry gear is lighter and more compact than ever, which makes bike camping pretty luxurious without a ton of weight. We like to bring an inflatable pillow along, and even grind our coffee beans fresh each morning. There’s no need to rough it unless that’s your calling.
Every tour is as unique as your travel style. The pace and distance is wholeheartedly up to you. It’s a retreat, a time to relish the open road, and we all do that a little differently. The allure of bike camping is that there’s no prescribed way to do it. Start with low mileage to get a sense for riding with a loaded bicycle. If you’re road touring and the terrain isn’t crazy hilly, we think 50 miles a day is the perfect distance and allows for a laid back pace. 50 miles sounds ridiculous? You’d rather tool around and smell the roses? Great! As long as you are living the dream, it’s all good. Make sure to eat often and drink water. It takes work to pedal along and the landscape can be challenging, so stay fueled by snacking tons.
If you’re an outdoor chef at heart, the most satisfying part of the day is cooking over the open campfire. We suggest stopping at farm stands along the way to gather supplies for grilled veggies or making fruit salad. Relish the evening sounds in your open-air kitchen and daydream while you turn hot dogs at a ritual pace to the hum of the river.
Before you head out of town by bike, you should know how to fix a flat and have the tools you need to make a repair on the side of the road. You’ll feel tough and capable knowing you’re self-sufficient and can maintain your bicycle. As for other tools, bring only what you know how to use, and don’t overthink what to take along. A patch kit, extra tube, tire irons, a multi-tool, some additional bolts in case your racks come loose, and zip ties are key.
Be safe in traffic. Ride on the shoulder where possible, and try to stay steady and linear as you forge ahead. Some drivers will give you lots of space and others will be jerks. The reality is that traffic is the biggest risk of bicycle touring. Some folks choose to wear more visible clothing on high traffic roads, and seriously, a helmet is a requirement.
Finding quiet roads can be an art. Switching Google Maps to “bicycle” mode is a great start, but it doesn’t always reveal the killer routes that make your heart sing. When you’re planning, be curious. Maximize that map to scour for farm roads and country lanes running parallel to highways. Ridewithgps.com, Strava’s heat map and Gaia GPS are also good resources. Individual counties often publish bike-route maps, so check for local resources wherever you can.
Inquisitive travellers jump in whole hog. If it looks like Sturgis at that dive bar in the middle of nowhere, chances are there are some awesome characters to crack open a cold one with. Everyone loves talking to people they meet on a bike tour. Don’t think twice about stepping into that little museum along the road, or strolling a boardwalk with the blue hairs at the Audubon Center. Bike camping is equal parts going there and getting there. A good overnight brings you closer to the sights and sounds of the places you’re exploring. The cadence is perfect for letting go of the daily grind and taking it all in from the helm of your bicycle. We roll home from each adventure jonesing for the next great escape.
Fool Proof Packing Tips:
Mini everything. Shrink your stuff. Put sunscreen in a smaller tube, take pasta out of the bag and put it in a ziplock, and don’t take the whole salt shaker if you can put a little seasoning in film cannister-sized containers. Take a 1-liter pot and cook in cycles instead of lugging three pots along.
Fill the dead space. Put your fuel bottle, some food and even a pair of socks into your cooking pot. That way you can utilize the dead space created by your cookware. The same applies inside your panniers. Stuff small things into the nooks and crannies so your bags don’t overflow.
Balance your weight. Make sure the weight in your two bags is even so your steering is stable. I like to put my tent on top of the rear rack with a bungee because it leaves more space inside the bags for my sleep setup, clothes and kitchen.
Camp Kitchen Essentials:
– Food grade HGPE cutting board (Tap Plastics or REI)
– Sharp knife
– Small spice kit (salt, pepper, cumin, chili, etc.)
– Small squeeze bottle of cooking oil
– Small pot and pan
– Backpacking stove and fuel
– Coffee kit
– Cup or enamel mug for eating and drinking
This article was originally published in RANGE Magazine Issue Three.
Illustrations by Seth Neilson.