Have Bike, Will Travel
by Hanna Prince
Wondering how to entertain the family this weekend? Hanna Prince says have a go at bikepacking – the new trend sweeping Britain
Imagine all the excitement and thrill of backpacking without a heavy rucksack to worry about. That, in a nutshell, is bikepacking – a fusion of bike touring and backpacking currently taking the UK by storm. The wonderful thing about this brand new sport is that anybody can take part. All you need is a pair of wheels, panniers packed with lightweight camping gear and a sense of adventure.
OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
The secret to a good bikepacking adventure is to go wild. Avoid big roads and plan a route that follows bridleways, dirt tracks and country lanes. The South Downs Way is perfect bikepacking territory, but if you’re feeling intrepid then you can head further afield to explore the pebble beaches of East Devon, the forested shores of Lake Windermere or even the old estate paths on Scotland’s Isle of Mull.
Hard-core bikepackers insist that wild camping (pitching your tent in a remote, free-of-charge spot) is essential to the experience – but wild camping has the disadvantage of being illegal everywhere in England apart from Dartmoor. There’s nothing wrong with cheating a little and cycling between campsites, particularly if you have the kids in tow and fancy a spot of overnight luxury. From coastal havens to secluded forest glens, there are plenty of sites in Sussex and beyond that will give you that ‘off the beaten track’ feeling.
You don’t have to invest in specific bikepacking gear, but there are a few things that will make your life more comfortable on an overnight trip. Take a couple of dry bags strapped to your bike, packed with essential equipment such as a lightweight tent or bivvy bag, sleeping bag, bike tools, sleeping mat and cooking kit. Warm, waterproof outdoor clothing is a must, even if you’re planning a summer adventure – and don’t forget to take plenty of water. Try a practice ride with your kit strapped to your bike to check the balance and see how the extra weight affects the carrying of the bike.
With the right planning, bikepacking can be an adventure for the entire family. A child seat will be incompatible with the extra load on your bike, so younger kids will need a trailer. Make sure older children are comfortable with riding the distances you plan to cover, and pack plenty of extra warm gear and snacks to keep everyone happy. Keep your first adventure on the short side and incorporate plenty of play breaks. Fill that first trip with fun, and it could be the beginning of a hobby that will last a lifetime.