Written by @lulu.on.tour, cyclist and triathlete
Bikepacking has become incredibly popular in recent years. The reason for this trend is easy to explain for me: Cycling, travelling, being outside with friends. Three things that I love blend into one. Now the time had finally come: I dared my first tour. A little adventure in nature with a great feeling of freedom.
The bike: flexibility and comfort.
So often I wish I had less traffic when I'm on a roadbike. With a gravel bike you get the flexibility to ride on roads, paths and gravel tracks far away from the traffic, to feel more of nature and still be able to ride comfortably. That's why the gravel bike was my choice for the tour.
Equipment: the essentials.
In the run-up to the tour I was agonizing about all the special material you need for a bike packing tour. But eventually there was no need for concern. The absolute must-haves are good, waterproof (!) bike bags. I borrowed a great setup from an experienced bike packer: two handlebar packs (4,5 and 9 liter), a frame pack (3 liter), and a saddle pack (17 liter). The space I had at my disposal was perfectly fine for my six-day trip.
It is also an advantage if the camping equipment has a small pack size. I could even afford the luxury of a roll-up pillow that took up most of my luggage space - but I'm not 20 anymore, so you have to set priorities ;-)
Additional bottle holders are usually required when using frame packs. Alternatively, there are bottle holders that can be accessed sideways.
My essential packing list included camping equipment (tent, camping mat, sleeping bag), a GPS device, rain gear (jacket, trousers, shoe covers), a multitool, spare tubes, a lock, compact pump, toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, sun cream, soap, comb), first aid kit, streetwear, some bars, headlamp, mobile phone, camera, power bank, cash and credit card.
A gravel bike, a few bags, a rider: all set for bikepacking.
Packing: it’s all about minimalism.
Minimalism is key when it comes to bike packing: you’re travelling without ballast. Only what you really need is packed. After we created our packing list, things that everyone uses, such as the tent, toothpaste, camera, sunscreen… were split among us. You don't need much clothes for the few days anyway. Beauty treatment is limited to brushing your teeth and sun protection. What I would never do without is proper rainwear, which we were also happy about on our tour!
The route: off to Paris.
Paris was the desired destination of the tour. My first thought was that I had been there before, and I wasn’t sure why I should go there again. But as often in my life, it is all about the journey, not the destination, and the adventure will arise along the way. So, let's go to Paris.
I rode the first stage alone from Schaffhausen to Basel, where I picked up three friends from my hometown area - from there we rode together to France.
There was no real stage planning, only a rough overview of the whole route. Every night we reconsidered what the destination for the next day would be and then blindly followed the routes on the GPS device.
The route led us through Alsace, Lorraine, Champagne-Ardenne, Burgundy, through forests, vineyards, fields, small villages to the finish at the Eiffel Tower in Paris. We mostly camped at beautiful, quiet lakes - all amazed how much beautiful nature and hills lie between our home and Paris.
Cycling through French villages
I was in charge of navigation. The routes were mostly great, even if we sometimes came close to the limits of passable roads - or paths suddenly came to an end and we had to turn back. A little human failure on my part once led to a little astray: Because of all the chatting during the ride I forgot to look at the GPS… we drove in the completely wrong direction for quite a while. I wanted to cover up this faux pas casually - but could not hide it later that night when we analyzed the tour of the day. Well, my friends took it with great humor. From then on their confidence in my navigation skills was obviously destroyed, suspiciously often ensuring whether we were still on the right track as soon as the road got a little bumpy ;-)
Roads can get bumpy. Are we still on track?
By the way, don't worry about the extra weight on the bike with the equipment. Because the bags are mounted close to the frame, the riding does not suffer. If you regularly do roadcycling, you are fit enough to master a bike packing tour over several days.
As far as safety is concerned, you have little to worry about in Europe if you don't switch off common sense. We had two high-quality folding locks for the bikes and we wore our few valuables on our bodies when we set up our camp in the evening to explore the area.
The only attack on the tour was actually by a horse. We had set up our camp for the night at a paddock, the wheels leaned against the fence. When we returned from dinner, the horse gnawed at the handlebars. It was probably keen on the salt residues of the sweat on the tape. That was by far the most “dangerous” situation for the bikes on this trip.
Horse attack: the struggle is real.
The experiences along the way were simply unique. One day we had already been riding 50 kilometers through pouring rain in the Champagne. We didn't feel our feet anymore because of the cold, and every drop of water that pelted from the sky on our skin simply hurt. In that kind of situations, you do ask yourself whether this is really fun. After two hours we finally found an open pub in the village – probably the only one right in the middle of nowhere. The bar owner invited us to Champagne and Quiche Lorraine, while the other guests celebrated these crazy, soaking wet cyclists from Germany as if they had just won the Tour de France.
Yes, I love it although the going gets tough sometimes – or maybe I love it all just because of that. The next cycling trip will certainly come.
Lulu at her final destination: the Eiffel Tower in Paris.