• (Steve Thomas)
Two wheels, a few essential belongings and a double shot of the open road and trail to garnish; there’s nothing quite like bike packing – or should we say touring?
Steve Thomas

Cycling Central
8 Nov 2016 - 9:22 AM  UPDATED 8 Nov 2016 - 9:28 AM

Since way before the saddlebag was even invented the lure of the open road has had cyclists of every denomination in blissful rapture.

Lets face it; unless you’re 100 per cent Strava fired or don’t care too much for actual joys of riding a bike then its that freedom and clarity that goes with a great bike ride that hooked, and keeps most of us hooked for life.

The wind in your wheels, the sweat in your eyes, the soul of the journey and even maybe the arrival at a destination; its pure iron horse bucking magic. This is what riding a bike is (in many an opinion) all about.

Touring has long since had something of a bad rap on the image front and was long seen as something of a strange thing that insular bearded older cyclists did at a snail pace while carrying everything but the kitchen sink on their ancient steed. It just lacked cycling sex appeal.

But, hey – what goes around comes around. I mean, 20-years ago who the heck would have figured that woolly jerseys and fixed wheel bikes would become de rigueur prime time articles of desire? But, they have – and now touring has a wunder-grandkid out here that is doing exactly the same thing; it’s called bike packing. Plus, do you know what – it’s still often done by guys with beards in woolly jerseys, but somehow it’s a whole lot hipper than its predecessor.

Yes, I have to admit it; I too was a reluctant pannier barer. For decades I have ridden in a superlight style around the world, usually for short periods of time and carrying nothing but my essentials in a small backpack. On occasion (when fittings permitted), I add a rack and strap on a dry bag packed with my gear. I never had a name for this, as I wouldn’t dare to call it touring. Now I know that it was beta stage bike packing.

As a concept bike packing is the absolute epitome of a bicycle dream. It simplifies things, brings everything down to basics. You can take whatever bike you have, there’s no need to fit racks, and given the very limited space available in your bags you are forced to travel light. This means at greater speed and with a dash more freedom - perfect?

Last week I finally got around to doing what I’ve been meaning to for years – a short bike packing tour around the mountains, roads and dirt trails of Northern Thailand. A few months earlier I’d bought some bike packing kit, and so put it to the test in semi-serious use.

Realising that there were not a million miles between good old lightweight touring and bike packing I also decided to continue my ride on a different bike with a rack – and yes, panniers, or rather a pannier, which I’d bought years back and never actually got around to using. So, what was my conclusion?

First off I headed out with the Blackburn Outpost seat pack. I had also bought a bar roll to go with this, but really did not need the extra stash space on this trip, plus I felt really uncomfortable not being able to see my front wheel. The system is basically a strapped harness with a roll top dry bag stashed inside, meaning that access to your gear on the move is a pain – so keep essentials handy.

As I also carry cameras and a tripod, and so I always carry a small backpack too. At first I thought it was just me – but having seen other set ups (plus the recent BMC videos of Daniel Oss bike packing) it’s clear that the seat packs can be cumbersome and can rock around a whole lot; a couple of old skool toe straps limited this sway factor – but that stabilisation could tougher to manage with a short seat post.

If you need to carry more gear then the bar roll could work – but to be honest, a standard bar bag seems much more practical, and of course it’s easy to access too. There are numerous frame bags on the market too – but when you’re carrying that much kit it’s a whole different ball game when compared to a fast and cheeky weekend ride out without a tent in sight.

The panniers, I was kind of dreading this – and I do still suffer from those hazy and dull images that linger from in my teenage era. However, I have to say that setting the panniers up, packing, and even access was a breeze, and they somehow felt a whole lot less restricting and more stable in use – probably due to their lower centre of gravity. The panniers did rumble some on rough dirt roads – but a little rubber padding and a toe strap solved that issue – and they were a whole lot easier to pull off and unpack too.

Overall, the bike packing kit is great for short haul super light road bike trips – or mountain biking, or where you don’t have rack mounts and could do without the extra potential side bush snares.

As for the panniers - if you have the mounts (you can buy external mounts but they can be a little cumbersome) and can resist cramming them full of non-essentials then you really could have something of a freedom revelation ahead.

The bottom line was that I wished I’d done this years ago – even in 2-3 days you can have an epic mini-adventure and ride to places way out of range on a single day ride. Keep it light, simple and move fast; it’s guaranteed to re-invigorate your riding.

And while you’re at it, remember that there is a really thin tyre width between how you chose to term these micro adventures (or even mammoth adventures), and that applies to the gear you use too. Don’t dismiss the good old backpack, bar bags and saddle bags – they work just as well as they ever did, and you could well be seen as a retro-inspired trend setter.

Don’t delay; even an overnighter can be a fantastic change of pace.