Bikepacking and gravel bikes: new ideas in off-road biking, or advertising and marketing fad? | Biking

The world of leisure biking is nothing if not ingenious with regards to methods to promote bikes and related bits of package, and two of the most well-liked new – or theoretically new – ideas are bikepacking and gravel bikes.

As with all such concepts there may be the inevitable advertising and marketing guff, however each are nonetheless attention-grabbing, if typically misunderstood. Earlier this week, on development as ever, I managed each, with a four-day experience across the King Alfred’s Method, a 218-mile primarily off-road loop by way of the lanes, tracks, woods and ridges of Hampshire, Wiltshire, Berkshire, Surrey and West Sussex.

The path, put collectively by Biking UK and taking in elements of the Ridgeway and South Downs Method, is very really helpful, however what I wish to recount right here is extra the mechanics of how I and a buddy did it – and to explain the concepts behind such journeys.

What’s bikepacking? Is it simply touring rebranded?

Sure and no. Touring historically sticks to roads and includes a sturdy, road-type machine, usually with a baggage rack, even racks, and panniers. Bikepacking is equally self-supported however tends to imply lighter hundreds, with baggage related extra on to the bike, permitting quicker speeds and higher ease on off-road routes. In fact, this isn’t a brand new concept, however it’s more and more common.

What bike do you utilize? And what is a gravel bike, anyway?

Warning signs along the route on Salisbury Plain.
Warning indicators on the route by way of Salisbury Plain. {Photograph}: Peter Walker

You may bikepack on any bike you need, together with a street machine for high-speed tarmac touring. However straying too lengthy on to tough, slippery surfaces calls out for wider, grippy tyres and doubtless disc brakes. Mountain bikes have, after all, had this space coated for many years. A gravel bike is maybe the love little one of a street bike and a mountain bike, thus a detailed cousin of the cyclocross bike. As usually marketed, a gravel bike is a drop-handlebar machine with disc brakes, clearance for wider tyres, no suspension and a comparatively forgiving experience geometry. In actuality, this may differ. For instance, the bike I rode had straight handlebars. Why? As a result of I want them.

However what’s the purpose of gravel bikes?

King Alfred’s Way cycling map
Illustration: Guardian Design

The purpose is to mix a few of the greatest parts of street driving (a light-weight, agile, speedy bike) and mountain biking (taking to grime paths, muddy tracks, or no matter turns up). Some fashionable mountain bikes, with light-weight frames and 27in wheels, cowl loads of the identical floor, metaphorically and actually. However gravel bikes are enjoyable for a purpose. Mine feels very practically as quick and agile on tarmac as a street bike, however will confidently bounce down a rocky hillside.

What tools do you want for bikepacking?

The brief and simplistic reply is: it relies upon what you’re planning to take and the way you wish to do it. On the King Alfred’s Method you see all types of options (some additionally involving mountain bikes and electric-assist mountain bikes), together with one man whose most important baggage was a water-resistant bag merely lashed to the seatpost of his bike. We had been tenting for a few of the journey, and so took tents, sleeping baggage and mats, together with every part else. For me this concerned a large-ish handlebar bag and an unlimited pack hooked up to the saddle, each with roll-end closing which made them – they usually had been very a lot examined on this – solely waterproof. I additionally had a small bag hooked up to the body triangle.

Can’t you simply use panniers?

In fact. And we did see some individuals with them on the route. However the bikepacking baggage idea brings a few benefits. First, it makes the assembled bike no wider than your handlebars, helpful for squeezing down hedge-fringed single-track routes. Additionally, the baggage are so tightly lashed there may be virtually no wobble, and just about no likelihood of something detaching from the bike amid a teeth-chattering, faster-than-strictly-planned descent down a rocky valley. I may really feel the load on the bike throughout climbs, however for essentially the most half it felt as balanced and nimble as if it had been unladen. I’ve ridden so much with panniers, and it’s not fairly the identical.

Cycling along the Ridgeway, part of the King Alfred’s Way.
Biking on the Ridgeway, a part of the King Alfred’s Method. {Photograph}: Peter Walker

Can we now have some specifics on what you used?

My bike was a reasonably outdated carbon-framed On One cyclocross bike I beforehand used for commuting. Turning it right into a usable gravel bike simply required a longer-cage rear derailleur and a dinner-plate-sized cassette. My buddy rode a ready-made Planet X gravel bike (Planet X and On One are literally the identical South Yorkshire-based firm). My bike was £1,000 new, which for many individuals could appear an absurd sum, however within the realm of extraordinarily versatile hobbyist bikes is fairly good. We each used Panaracer GravelKing tyres, which had been glorious.

Lastly, any suggestions for the King Alfred’s Method?

I’d primarily say: permit sufficient time. Some individuals dash spherical it in three and even two days, and when you’re pleased to try this, it might be thrilling. However keep in mind that there are loads of hills, and that a few of the tracks – notably alongside the Ridgeway and South Downs Method – can get very slippery if it rains, necessitating a slower tempo. If I experience the route once more, and I’d like to, I’d be tempted to take 5 days, permitting extra time to cease correctly at locations alongside the way in which, resembling Stonehenge and Avebury.


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