Fall has arrived and brought with it cooler temps and beautiful autumn colors. If you’ve ever been interested in bike camping or trying out bike packing, now is the perfect time to take advantage of the lower humidity, fewer bugs, and better riding weather Tennessee has to offer and get out for a bike adventure. Bike packing offers a great way to see the state and can also be used to prepare oneself for loftier goals such as a longer cross country bike tour without the massive time commitment. An easy introduction into bike packing is to do a short overnight camping trip via bike, or a Sub-24 hour overnight. Basically load up after work and pedal 20 or so miles to a quiet place out of town and set up camp. Wake up and ride back home in time for work the next morning. It’s an ideal way to add adventure to a week without losing the weekend or requiring time off of work.
Bike packing has been around for myriad years, but the recent advent of bike specific frame bags has opened the door to how easily and where you can adventure. Gone are the days of heavy racks and bulky panniers rattling and bouncing around while trying to traverse off-road trails and gravel roads. Frame bags allow for a much lighter and singletrack friendly pack, the bike stays nimble and lighter, and gear is less likely to bounce around as much as in bags strapped to racks.
There isn’t a right or wrong way to pack, just different options for different needs. Some prefer a full frame bag, handlebar roll, rear saddle pack and no backpack. Others may just utilized a backpack and a handlebar roll. Others might be limited by frame design and have to think outside the box. However you decide to accomplish the pack is free for interpretation, don’t be afraid to think outside the box and get creative. Just remember to make sure nothing can get tangled into the wheels, rub or fall against the tires, or inhibit your ability to steer, shift, and brake. Other than that, your imagination is the limit.
If I’m just going for a quick overnight trip such as a sub-24 hour overnight (s24o) in moderate temps, I’ll tend to sleep in a hammock. I’ll pack my hammock, sleeping pad, and bug fly into a compression bag and use a handlebar roll to secure it to the front of my bike. This way the weight stays to a minimum since there’s no tent or sleeping bag required, and the added weight doesn’t affect the bike’s nimble feel when climbing, descending, or riding trail. I’ll also utilize a small backpack to carry cooking and dinnerware items to limit their jostling and noise. I’ll pack camp clothes/sleep wear in the backpack as well to help insulate the cookware from rattling around.
For longer trips the pack I choose will be dictated by the bike and roads/routes. For a mostly road trip, rack and panniers are handy and offer the ability to pack a lot of items conveniently. A porteur style front rack and bag combined with a large saddle pack also offers a nimble yet functional setup. Backpacks work well too but just remember to not pack a lot of weight in them if possible. It will change how your saddle feels (due to added body weight on your sit bones) and affect your neck and shoulders on long days. It will also add to your hydration needs in hotter weather as it will trap heat against the body causing you to sweat more. For more predominantly off-road routes, frame bags and packs are my go to setups.
In any event, don’t be afraid to try different options and don’t feel specific bags are required. If you’re new and just want to try it out before buying a specific bag setup, a short 20 mile jaunt to a camp spot for your first s24o can be perfectly executed with a simple backpack. So don’t let the gear limit your adventure. Also, don’t hesitate to come in and ask questions. Many of our staff are experienced and avid bike packers and are willing to offer any assistance they can. And several of us often have upcoming trips planned monthly and there is always room for one more adventurer.
Some helpful links for further information and inspiration: