Sunday, February 1, 2015

A Talk Packed With Good Information (See What I Did There?)

At long last, here's my report on Pal Steve's chat on bikepacking at last weekend's Iowa Bike Expo. Proof that if you're coming to these pages for breaking news, you're definitely in the wrong place.

The day of the Expo was gorgeous... sunny, light-jacket weather that shamed me out of driving to the event. Of course, I live just a couple miles from the location. By the time I got there, the presenter had already proven his bona fides with a 60-something mile gravel/B-road ride that morning -- evidence of which was still on the bike he showcased during his talk.

There's Steve setting up for the event with the love of his life. And his wife Kathy's helping, too. (rimshot) I kid! I kid! It is a nice bike, though: a titanium Salsa Fargo, kitted to the hilt with Steve's favorite gear.

Which leads me -- paradoxically -- to my favorite takeaway from Steve's talk, namely that the real key to bikepacking isn't the stuff of bikepacking. Bikepacking is not (as some snarky blogger once said) just loaded touring with a new set of bags. It's backpacking by bike, touring off the beaten path: gravel, dirt, sand, snow, you name it. Did folks do loaded touring like that in the heyday of loaded touring without giving it a new name? Probably. But (in my opinion) we really needed to be in a post-mountain-bike world (and an ultralight backpacking/hiking world) for it to become a thing.

Steve (wisely) introduced the crowd to the idea of the Sub-24-hour Overnight, or S24O. This is just what it sounds like: An overnight trip that you do in less than 24 hours. Load up your bike after work, ride dirt or gravel out to a campsite within your mileage range (whatever that might be), sleep under the stars, and ride home the next day. This is the gateway drug of bikepacking: very low barrier to entry, very low risk to your health and well-being if you forget something, easy-peasy.

(I should pause to say -- and Steve would probably say the same -- that the S24O was not his original idea. I first learned about it from the writings of Grant Petersen from Rivendell Bicycle Works, and I'm guessing he didn't invent it either. Regardless, it's a great way into camping by bike. For S24Os with an entirely different feel -- hammocks and coffee! -- check out fellow blogger Pondero.)

Steve also wisely emphasized that there's no right or wrong way to bikepack. Ride what you have: MTB, 'cross bike, touring bike, fat bike, whatever will hold your gear and hold up to the terrain you're traversing. He happily answered equipment questions from the audience about wheel size and brake type (he rides 29er MTB wheels and disc brakes, for the record) but jokingly referred to them as "religious wars" to emphasize (again) that lots of things work and a lot of choices come down to the rider's preferences.

Being a gear nerd, though, I can't help but share a better photo of Steve's bike I snapped later at the Expo as it leaned jauntily against the Rasmussen's Bike Shop booth: 

I like this thing a lot. Part road, part mountain, muck-encrusted, and ready for anything. Tri-bars with a dynamo-powered headlight clamped to the end? Sure! Bags crammed into every crevasse? Why not? I'm even going to give him a pass for the helmet hanging on the handlebars (one of my pet peeves) because I know he doesn't actually ride like that... right, Steve?

So, bikepacking: It's not made-up marketing hooey. And it kind of looks like fun. Consider your never-humble narrator officially schooled. Now where did I put my tent?

(Steve will really be putting his mileage where his mouth is this year by making an attempt on the 2015 Tour Divide, an adventure that I'll definitely be following and reporting on in these pages. Wish him luck!)


S.Fuller said...

You're too kind Jason. :)

You are correct, I complete stole (appropriated?) S24O from Grant. It's a great term, and while I don't see eye to eye with all of Grant's viewpoints, we're on the same team WRT these short overnight trips. Once you've done one or two, the are So easy to do, especially around here, I don't know why you wouldn't do one of them at least once a month, even if you took one of the many trails in this area to a campground for a day or two.

People should be using their bikes for more than riding to bars and coffee shops (although there is CERTAINLY nothing wrong with that. :) ) There are too many people that ride the same routes and trails all the time, and only load up a bag or two for the Great RAGBY of . I'd love to see the area parks have a bike or two in them every weekend.

For the record, I DID ride with my helmet on my aero bars on just about every long climb we did in Montana this summer. At 4 - 6 MPH, I needed all of my scalp exposed to the air just to stay cool. Always back on my noggin for the descents tho. :)

Pondero said...

I wish I could have been there and able to pick up some tips. You are right...what I do is entirely different from Tour Divide stuff. All my best to Steve this year!

Anonymous said...

Very nice! Always good to see another way to get out and have fun on the bike.
Will there be a follow-up to explain how to pack for bike packing? I've seen discussions of how to pack minimally (I think Grant P even covered this in the Riv Reader in the past), but it continues to amaze and mystify me. :-)

The Other Steve (in Peoria, of course)

S.Fuller said...

As the event gets a touch closer, I'll be putting some posts up on my blog regarding my bike and equipment I'm taking with me on TD. I touched on how to pack very briefly during the talk, because some of the "how" is going to depend on how you carry your stuff and the trip length. Packing with soft sided frame bags will be a bit different than if you're using a Bob.

If you have the time, Jay Petervary goes through what he took and how he packed for his record TD ride from a few years back.