Although the vast majority of riders within the bikepacking community have an interest in how much their chosen equipment weighs, there are those who swear that they have no idea, couldn’t care less or it’s of no concern … I do wonder how many of these people are (a) telling the truth, (b) have ever ridden a loaded bike more than 20 miles, (c) have a secret cuben / carbon / titanium habit they’re trying to hide through self denial?
You don’t have to be a lightweight fetishist or physics graduate to know that if everything else is equal, a heavier bike will require more effort to ride than a lighter one. The effects won’t be felt going downhill and they’ll be marginal on the flat but once gravity starts to pull at the back of your shorts, the extra weight will start to make its presence felt … maybe it’s a coincidence that those travelling with the lightest loads often tend to be the fastest, the most experienced or ride the longest, or perhaps it isn’t?
I’m not suggesting for a second that everyone should rush out and spend money they haven’t got on the lightest possible kit … the first step toward weightlessness isn’t spending more, it’s taking less. However, neither am I advocating leaving the warm security of your front room carrying nothing but a bin liner … ultralite and stupidlite are only separated by a very thin line.
I think the first thing we need to do is reacquaint ourselves with the general aim, which in my opinion, is to make ourselves as comfortable as possible while carrying as little as possible. Outside the sphere of ‘racing’, I like to think of bikepacking as something of two halves. There’s the daytime activity of riding, where carrying less produces a benefit and then there’s the night time activity of sleeping, where not carrying enough is often to blame for a long cold night … obviously a compromise is required, some balancing, a little Yin and Yang maybe? … Because packing too little is just as likely to make you miserable as packing too much.
Although we’re all different and peoples priorities won’t be the same, I’m going to stick my neck on the line here and suggest that outside of true winter conditions, you should be aiming for a combined bike / kit weight of less than 50lb. In most instances that will allow at least 15lb for luggage and gear, which should be enough to enable the average rider, on a run of the mill bike, a certain level of comfort without resorting to ‘kit exotica’. I should just add, that if multiple days food and particularly water is required, then that figure is unlikely to become a reality but generally in the UK, food is close to hand and water never far away.
If you’ve ever attended the Welsh Ride Thing you’ll be well aware of the ‘Weigh In’ that takes place at the start … if you haven’t had the pleasure, then the ‘Weigh In’ is exactly that, a weigh in where your bike and kit meet the scales of truth, it may just be a bit of fun but the results often come as a surprise. The heft doesn’t tend to shock those who’s bikes sit at the higher end of the scale, they already know they’re carrying some excess around the middle, no, the surprise tends to occur in the mid-pack. Those 50lb – 60lb bikes that were expected to weigh 10lbs less but have magically gained a few pounds while on their journey to Wales … that’s where you see the really confused expressions. So, why the mysterious weight gain? Well, unless the effects of gravity are greater in mid-Wales than the rest of the UK, there can only be one rational explanation … people have packed more than they thought and what they packed is heavier than they imagined. For the second time, I’m going to risk decapitation and say that the extra poundage was nothing to do with the ‘big’ items, not shelter or sleeping bag but the little things, the stuff that goes largely unnoticed but is easily ‘thrown in’ while packing … you know, just in case.
Individually, this selection of additional bits and bobs don’t weigh very much but once they’re all living aboard your bike, the combined weight can be rather surprising. If the extra weight is injury then the insult comes by way of the fact that 80% of these ‘just in case’ items won’t be used and the likelihood is that you could have easily done without the remaining 20% too. Leaving them at home wouldn’t have caused you to be colder, hungrier or less comfortable … in fact, leaving them behind would have generally increased your overall enjoyment.
The first thing I’d suggest in order to help combat this ‘creeping obescity’ is to invest in a pair of scales. I know that sounds wonderfully geeky but knowing what things weigh is very important when it comes to selecting what goes and what stays. Armed with your scales, go and weigh your big items – shelter, sleeping bag, mat, etc. These are the things that you’re nearly always going to pack. Now you know what they weigh, have a good look at them. Is there any simple, cost effective ways you could make them lighter? Do you need the stuff sack? Are the pegs steel? Could the guy lines be lighter? What you’re left with is your minimum weight and everything you pack over and above this, really needs to earn its keep. You should find that knowing your minimum weight and having a maximum ‘target’ weight, makes the process of leaving things behind much easier and will actually make you question whether you really need certain things or are just scared not to take them … you know, just in case.
We’ll be back soon to have a look at what real people are actually carrying out there in the real world.