I’ve been fortunate enough to have met many bikepackers and general two wheeled vagrants over the years. Some I’ve ridden with, others I’ve simply chatted to while plying them with tea. In that time, I’ve begun to notice that aside from the obvious personal hygiene issues, there’s two things that 70% have in common … they’re all blokes of a certain age. Perhaps that statistic doesn’t come as a surprise? Maybe you’ve never thought about it or just never noticed? It’s something that I used to simply take for granted. I never really paid much attention but lately, I’ve started to wonder why it is that paunch and grey hair rather youthful exuberance, are the features most often displayed by the bikepacking population.
Cycling is a broad Church, a Church that’s sub-divided into many distinct disciplines; If you were asked to list them in order of how ‘extreme’ they were, then I’d guess downhill and slope-style would be somewhere near the top of most lists? How about track or cycle speedway? Obviously, your answer will largely be determined by your own preferences, interests and persuasions. However, I don’t believe many people would consider bikepacking deserving of a place at the top table of extreme cycling. Be honest, generally bikepacking is a fairly mundane activity. Most of us never get rad or gnarly outside of our own imaginations and while amazing feats of physical endurance do take place, they’re not a reality for most people and most trips. The truth is usually far gentler – steady miles at a steady pace on easy terrain. Sure, you might have to walk and push occasionally but how hard can that be? You’ve been doing it since you were two, so it’s not like you haven’t had the opportunity to practise.
|Please do not adjust your sets … we really are that grey.|
If I’m right and bikepackers are generally male and over the age of thirty five, what is it that attracts them, yet discourages the more youthful element of cycling society? My initial thoughts were that bikepacking isn’t deemed exciting enough to inspire ‘yoof’ into the hills but given that reality and perception are often two different things, I quickly dismissed that notion; The media portray bikepacking quite differently from my description above. Adventurous, exciting and even spiritual are the messages more commonly delivered – with the right soundtrack, you can even make someone riding slowly along a flat fire-road, look mildly inspirational. I then wondered whether it might be the exact opposite and maybe it was seen as something hard or difficult. My personal experiences involving extended death-marches initially gave that theory a little credence but I quickly realised that my thesis didn’t hold water. While trudging across some bleak, trackless moor at midnight in the pouring rain might be a challenge, it’s in no way as hard as texting or setting up a 52″ plasma with surround sound. I needed to think again, so I settled down with a Horlicks and my rose tinted spectacles and had another ponder until eventually, it dawned on me.
As a member of the three TV channel generation, computers were something only Dr Spock had access to, digital watches a new fangled invention and arcade games required you to put a 2p piece in a slot and pull a lever. With nothing to keep me inside, I, like many of you, grew up outside. Dens, dams, Choppers and Grifters provided after school entertainment and going home covered in shit and blood or soaked to the skin, was an accepted part of life and considered perfectly normal. “Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man”, if Aristotle was right when he said that, then perhaps it’s no great surprise that I often return home from a bikepacking trip astride my modern-day Grifter, muddy, bloody and piss wet through. Since early childhood outside aways felt safe and welcoming, it’s my natural environment. I’m not going to try and suggest that those from the ‘computer generation’ didn’t venture beyond their front doors during their formative years, of course they did … how else did they get to the shops to buy the latest Playstation game or get a BigMac?
If your after-school ritual involved putting on your ‘playing-out’ clothes before heading for the canal / tip / woods armed with your favourite stick and a penknife, chances are bikepacking and all it entails won’t feel alien or intimidating. You’re hard-wired to accept the ups and downs because it’s your default setting. Subsequent generations haven’t been quite so fortunate. They’ve had the hurdles of distraction, temptation and opportunity placed in their way. With one hand, society has given them new experiences with which to fill their time but with the other, it’s closed the door on the sticks and stones, bath once a week, dirt eating world those of a certain age grew up in … perhaps it’s no wonder bikepacking appears to be a middle aged pursuit? Oh, one last thing before I go for my afternoon nap, if you’re wondering why there’s so few woman bikepackers, I reckon that’s to do with them not wanting to associate with balding middle-aged men with the aforementioned personal hygiene issues …. so think on!