How To Plan A Bikepacking Trip
The bikepacking season is well & truly here in Europe. Hot summer weather means packing light & an opportunity to expand your horizons and keep costs to a minimum (or splurge on some luxury hotels of course!). Planning a bike tour is great fun but also requires a bit of thought & planning – skip this phase and you could end up having a miserable time. Here’s our top tips on what to consider when planning your trip – these are the same steps we work through when planning a custom cycling tour for our guests.
Choosing Your Route
Have a quick think about what your motivations are for the trip – do you want to get away from it all & head out on a spontaneous adventure? Maybe you want to log quality miles, or opt for a more relaxed break with a focus on great food & beautiful places to stay. The answers to these questions will start to give you an idea about some potential destinations for your bikepacking trip.
What Terrain & What Bike?
Next up is to decide what type of terrain you’d like to ride – do you want to enjoy smooth tarmac, gravel trails, bike paths or single track? Do you fancy some climbing or do you prefer to keep things flat? Do you want to stick to terrain you’re comfortable with or are you looking to push your comfort zone?
With this info you can then select the perfect bike – a high performance road machine, gravel bike, touring bike or mountain bike! Check out our 2020 Bike Rental Fleet Review for an overview of different bike options for different styles of riding.
How far do you want to ride?
The most important thing here is to be realistic. There’s nothing worse than committing to huge daily distances & realising halfway through day 1 that you’re not quite as fit as you thought you were! Remember the miles will be slower as you’ll be carrying all your gear & don’t forget to consider the fatigue building up over the duration of the trip. When choosing your stopover points keep things comfortable – it’s never a problem to extend a ride with an extra loop or extra climb but it’s difficult to shorten. The worst case is you end up hopping on to main roads to cover distance more easily – fine if the aim or your trip is to cover as many kms as possible, but pretty miserable if you were hoping to explore backroads & villages.
How long do you have?
Are you looking for a quick weekend break, a week long cruise or an epic multi-stage adventure? Having a rough idea of dates should be a factor in deciding where you’re going to ride – in the peak of summer it’s great to head north to a cooler climates, in Spring & Autumn everywhere is ace & in winter southern destinations are king. If you’re bikepacking on the road make sure you find out about traffic conditions in your chosen region – shifting a trip to the coast in summer to mid-week dates can make a huge difference to traffic levels.
Where to Sleep?
Bikepackers generally fall into 3 categories depending on their budget for the trip & motivation for riding:
Hands down the bivvy-bag is most economical way to travel. It’s also the most adventurous and gives you the most flexiblity whilst on the tour. It’s pretty great to make it to the top of a climb & decide to call it a day, make camp & watch the sun go down. Be aware you’ll have to invest in a bit more gear to be able to sleep outdoors in comfort so this option only makes sense if you’re planning on a longer trip or multiple trips in this style!
Staying in local guesthouses along the route is a great way to meet people who live in the area & get some insights into the local way of life. Things to consider when choosing a guesthouse are whether or not they offer evening meals as well as breakfast. If not, is there a place you can get some food within walking distance – when you arrive after a long day on the bike the worst thing is to have to get back on the bike in search of sustenance.
It’s nice to mix up different types of guesthouses to give your trip some variety. Spend a night or two somewhere rural, then head to enjoy an evening in a buzzing town centre. It’s generally best to avoid big cities when bike packing – getting in & out can be super stressful in traffic, especially if you’re not sure of the route. However, if you have time for detailled route research & want to get a hit of city culture most cities have one or two more bike-friendly routes in & out – check train route & rivers on the map, often there’s a bike path alongside them.
If you’re looking to treat yourself then go for the best hotels in the region. Benefits include post-ride recovery in the hotel spa, massages on demand, a very comfortable, clean bed, unlimited toiletries, laundry service & great food & wine! Make sure you have the mental strength to check-out in time to make your next planned ride & make sure the food choices cater for cyclists – gourmet food is delicious but often lacks carbs – a bikepackers best friend on a multi-day trip. A nice way to plan a trip is to build towards a spectacular hotel for your final night or two. As the miles rack up, often the need for quality recovery increases too!
Back to Choosing Your Route!
Once you’ve established all of the above it’s time to decide where to ride & put some hours into planning your route. Different regions lend themselves to different styles of trip:
Mallorca Beach Hop
- Motivation: a nice mix of exploring by bike & relaxation on the beach, with options for great food & sightseeing for those who are keen
- Terrain: best for road cycling, gravel also an option
- Sleep: Best for guesthouses or luxury hotels – there are loads to choose from & distances between places are small.
- Distances: Mallorca is an island so this is not a location to rack up huge point to point miles. Perfect for 50km – 100km days!
- Duration: Anything from a weekend to a week. If you go over 2 weeks you’ll run out of road or go around in circles
- Time of year: All year around, at it’s very best for cycling in Spring & Autumn.
- Motivation: best for a get-away-from it all epic ride!
- Terrain: road, mtb or gravel, it’s all awesome. Andalucia is home to the Sierra Nevada mountains
- Sleep: Luxury hotels are few & far between, there are great guesthouses & camping wild is also doable
- Distances: Andalucia is the land that keeps on giving. Best for long days on the bike, but there are plently of villages dotted around
- Duration: At least a week to get a taste of the region.
- Time of year: All year around but avoid July & August unless you don’t mind the heat
Sahara Desert & Atlas Mountains
- Motivation: total escape & new horizons
- Terrain: road, mtb & gravel – Morocco has it all. Avoid main roads & big cities – the traffic is chaotic.
- Sleep: local guesthouses – rustic & welcoming, good to have the option ot bivvy if you don’t make the distance. There are some luxury hotels dotted around, they are few & far between & very disconnected from local life.
- Distances: Huge & at altitude. This is tough, beautiful, remote riding!
- Duration: The more time you have the better to experience the full variety of riding
- Time of year: Avoid June, July & August, the heat is extreme. If you’re heading into the high mountians avoid January & Feburary as you’ll be climbing into ice & snow.
Once you’ve selected your region it’s time to start hunting down the best roads, places to stay & unmissable food stops. Are there climbs you want to aim for? Are there mountain ranges you’d prefer to avoid? Where are the two or three locations you really want to stay the night? With these bits of information you can start to piece toegether the outline of a trip.
Make sure you consider how you’ll get to the start of the trip & how you’ll get home. A few adjustments at the planning stage can save you hours of pre & post trip travel hell.
How to Carry Your Gear
There’s a huge amount of bike-packing gear on the market & it’s wise to do some homework & work out what works best for both your bike & the amount of gear you want to carry.
Weight distribution is key for a smooth, stable & enjoyable ride. Load too much on the back of the bike and your front end will feel like it’s lifting off the ground, climbing out the saddle will be super wobbly and corners will have to be low-speed to stay upright.
Opt for smaller packs, but more of them. If you’re travelling super light go for a saddle pack & a bar bag to get some weight off the back, if you need more gear, add a frame bag & then a fork bag. If you’re going heavy-weight and heading off on an epic ride a traditional touring set up with a rack and panniers might be the best way to go.
If you’re in the market for new bike luggage we highly recommend Restrap & Ortileb. Both companies make fantastic, reliable products & are well worth the investment.
Packing For Your Bikepacking Trip
Your packing list is up to you and will be shaped by both how long you plan to be on the road, the time of year you’ll be riding & your hygiene standards! Remember, everything you pack is something you’ll have to carry & unpack & repack throughout the trip – simplicity & lightweight, multi-purpose items are key.
Check out our Bare Essentails packing list on our Bikepacking the Pirinexus blog. If you can’t cope with travelling this light, consider getting your luggage transfered to each new location – you’ll have less freedom in terms of altering your route & more to plan but hey, it’s your dream bike trip after all!
Thinking about a Bikepacking Trip & Need Some Help?
We’d love to hear from you! We’re experts in planning bike adventures & would love to hear about your dream trip. We offer flexible services from route planning, accommodation reservations, bike hire, bike luggage hire, luggage transfers & more. Get in touch for a no-comittment chat!
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