While you’re reading this, chances are high you’ve been thinking of participating in a bike packing event yourself or you know some crazy person who does. We had a chat with some of the CYCLITE athletes to find out what those bike packing races are about, why riders seek this experience and how to prepare. Here’s everything you need to know:
What is ultracycling?
Ultra-cycling is about covering long distances by bike as quickly as possible. Compared to road races like the Tour de France, ultra-races are not split into stages - time is running, no matter if it gets dark or riders stop for breaks. Distances are typically from 600 kilometres to over 5000 kilometres. There are styles of how a start is organised in these events. First, it’s a mass start (most common) like in traditional road races or second a time trail start with start intervals. The winner is the one who completes the distance the fastest. In ultra-distance cycling there are two main categories - supported and unsupported. In supported races, each rider has a team that accompanies and supports them. In these competitions, the start is an individual start. The rider’s team accompanies them with a car to motivate and feed them. In contrast, in an unsupported race, the athletes are completely on their own and has to take care of themselves exclusively.
What bikepacking events are there?
Bikepacking races or events fall into the unsupported category. Participants must take their own equipment and cater for themselves without outside assistance. Riders decide for themselves what to take with them, what equipment to pack, where or if to sleep and take a sleeping setup with them. Bikepacking events/races exist on the road, gravel or off-road MTB. Meanwhile there are these races all over the world. Just to name a few well known ones in each category:
Street: Transcontinental Race, Three Peaks Bike Race, Trans-Siberian, Two Volcano Sprint
Gravel: Badlands, Further Events, Italy Divide, Transiberica Basajaun, Bohemia Divide, Rhino Run
Terrain: Silk Mountain Race, Atlas Mountain Race, Tour Divide,
Here are some really cool websites to find your next potential race:
Why do people do bikepacking?
Bikepacking is about riding longer distances, unpaved roads and exploring. Over the last few years, cyclists have acquired a taste for bike packing. What is it that makes it so interesting? Here’s what our riders say:
"To me bike packing means adventure & freedom! Discovering new places, just riding my bike without a preconceived route or fixed plan. Escaping from day-to-day stresses and experiencing the world via the path less travelled."
"Bikepacking is an adventure. An adventure full of uncertainty. You face surprising situations and then you need to find a solution for it. You might not know where you'll be staying the night - you are prepared for everything and nothing - you have a packing list that prepares you for sleeping in a road ditch so to speak. Then it’s the encounters you make - meeting people, getting into conversations, getting to know them, finding out about different characters,.. these are the images I have in mind when I think of bike packing."
"It’s the ideal combination of sports and travelling. It gives me this feeling of freedom and independence and all I need for this sensation is my bike. And then I realise once again, that it doesn’t take much to be happy."
"Bikepacking is about having a great experience in nature with friends, the bikes and the essentials you need. No matter if it’s a multi-day bike trip, the bags allow you to get to remote areas well equipped and at the same time have a good time."
How to prepare for a bikepacking race?
A rule of thumb says for a 1000km race you should have done about 10 000 kilometres within a year. Of course, it also depends on how long you have been cycling and how many kilometres you already rode in your life. For your first race it is definitely worthwhile to talk to a coach and create a training plan. This should be well adapted to your everyday life to include recovery times. Before the event it is advisable to ride one or two big laps, to test your equipment and to try out your nutrition strategy. When doing longer laps, about 10 hours or more, it's important to train your body in situations like that. It can take a few rides for your body to get used to those long rides.
Unsupported bike races are by nature much harder than supported races. While professional road cyclists who participate in supported bike races all work with a mental coach, there is less coverage on how riders in unsupported bike races prepare for the mental game. Riders told us the clearer their head is at the start, the easier and more fun it is to torture oneself and push oneself to the limit. Typical preparation can be mediation, Yoga or Coaching.
The right material (clothing, bikepacking bags, essentials) can make a big difference. The less weight your setup has the easier you have it uphill. However, you should not do without important things like a rescue blanket, first aid kit, spare material and warm clothing. Especially for your first event, we would always take a little too much rather than too little, unless you are looking for a borderline experience.
What are our riders' favorite bags?
We asked our riders about their favourite bags. Luisa’s all time favourite is the FRAME BAG. “ I nearly never leave for a ride without my FRAME BAG. It’s just super practical for warm clothes and food.” However, the clear winner is the AERO BAG. Riders love its aerodynamics. And aero is everything.
Depending on the type of race, the days on the road, the infrastructure along the road and the climate, your packing list will look different.
Here’s an example of CYCLITE rider Jan Koller participating in Further East in the UK in 2022. A 680 KM long race around the area of Cambridge. In which he came in 3rd place by the way ;).
"These races are not about fame or glory, much more about testing your own limits. Spending hours or days just being yourself. Discovering new countries and places. Discovering other cultures, meeting new people. Imagine arriving at your destination after hours or days of effort, which before seemed completely unrealistic - an indescribable feeling. To get to places you probably would never have discovered otherwise, to learn things about yourself that would never have been possible in everyday life. An ultra race or event is by no means only a sporting challenge, rather it is a journey through ups and downs. To have made it evokes this extraordinary feeling, that you will live with for a long time afterwards.” " - Jan Koller
Bikepacking is a lot about planning for the unplanned. A lot of stories are written along those rides - stories about unexpected surprises along the way, success stories as well as huge learnings. In the last couple of weeks we sat down with our riders and tried to bring some of those stories to paper. The next weekends we’re going to release new rider profiles on our homepage. Stay tuned as there’s a lot to learn.
Photo Credits (except the product image): Rupert Hartley Photographs. Product image credits: Nils Laengner
Cycling Kit by Albion