Five Bikepacking Fails That Every Novice Makes

These bikepacking and cycle touring fails are more common than you’d think

In this article, I outline the five bikepacking fails that I’ve personally experienced during my early years as a novice cycle tourist

I’ve been riding bicycles loaded with luggage since the heady days before it was called bikepacking. When I were a lad, it was just called ‘bicycle touring‘.

These days, the youth, and hip folks from California, like to call it bikepacking or adventure cycling or long-distance bicycle travel.

Whatever you like to call it, it’s a dang fun thing. And, all the better if you don’t make these rookie mistakes. So, let’s jump in

bikepacking fails

Think that its a new thing

It’s easy when you start out to believe that you’re the first to do a ‘big adventure’. When I started out cycle touring I figured I was the king of the hill and that my adventure was the bee’s knees. While that was true only in my mind, it was less real to other folks.

Just because bikepacking sounds like a new-fangled way of bicycle touring. Yes, bikepacking – even the single word is slick – looks cooler than cycle touring doesn’t mean it hasn’t been done before. It has. For hundreds of years*.

Gentlemen (and women*) have been strapping luggage to bicycles for at least 100 years. Learn from them to make your bikepacking trip or cycling adventure or bicycle tour go with a zing. I’d start with this book*, then this one*, and this one*. And maybe this one* if you like that sort of thing.

lycra cycling bibs are dangerous

Wear lycra like it’s a good thing

When I started out cycle touring I wore lycra like it was a badge of honour. I looked like a Power Ranger on acid. I thought I was the hot mix. I’m pretty sure regular people found it scary.

Lycra has its place in the bikepackers wardrobe. And that place is underneath a pair of baggy, hard-wearing, all-purpose mountain bike shorts.

Yes, lycra is practical in some respects – it’s stretchy and quick-drying – but you can get the same useful qualities from high-quality merino wool without traumatising passersby.

In the end, on my half-world cycle tour, I word a pair of Nike DryFIT* shorts most of the time coupled with a long-sleeved hiking shirt and collar. Better for everyone.

garmin gps for cycling

Rely completely on GPS

I’ve always loved maps. Paper maps are hard to beat. The joy of opening up a proper map is an act of worship to the great outdoors. It’s as close to heaven as navigation gets.

That said, GPS is a handy thing. Easy to use, foolproof almost. Just switch it on, type in your destination and away you go. Unless there’s no power. Which there often is not in the wilderness.

The other thing about GPS is its directness. It’s efficient yes, but what about the fun of asking strangers for directions? The confusion and hilarity of six passersby pointing in six different directions.

There’s something special about opening a large paper map in a foreign country in company with locals. I often did this with hosts (I was offered hospitality usually as a result of asking for directions) with children.

Many had never seen a map before. Not to mention a map of the country where they lived. True magic exists in these moments. Cherish them. Not available with GPS*. Just saying.

what is the right amount of cycle touring kit

Pack too much kit

Probably the most common bikepacking fail of all. It’s easy to pack more than your need. When you first set off you think of all the eventualities and pack (shop) accordingly.

In my experience, you don’t need half that amount of stuff. Usually, when packing for a long-distance bicycle journey there are three categories; every day, weekly, luxuries.

My first cycle tours were weighed down with the burden of things I didn’t need and would never use. I have a much more spartan kit list these days.  As Al Humphreys says in his handy little book Ten Lessons From The Road*, ‘shed a load, hit the road’.

ten lessons from the road

Spend a fortune on a new bike

I did this only after years of bootstrapping second-hand machines and borrowing kit from friends.

I’ve strapped luggage to all kinds of bicycles and even carried a backpack on a long bike tour. You don’t need to spend a fortune on a new gravel bike or a hand-built expedition bicycle.

You can just as easily get set up for less than the price of a round of drinks. People do it all the time. Tom Allen proved it on his No Budget Bike Tour Experiment.

The less you spend on kit, the more you have in your pocket to explore the world by bicycle. Consider his before you splurge on your cash on stuff and things.

Have you made bikepacking fails on your cycle touring adventures? We’d love to hear about them. Add them to the comments below. Promise we won’t laugh**

*At no cost to you, I earn a small commission when you make a purchase using these links which helps keep this content free to read

**Can’t promise anything