My first overnight bike trip was inspired by wanting to take some time off before starting a new job in 2014. As a recent San Francisco transplant and city cyclist, using my bike to get around, I was eager to explore the coastline and biking seemed like an ideal way to do it. I had been camping for several years and was becoming more confident on my bike, so I was excited to combine the two activities.
I started out on the 120-mile journey from San Francisco to Monterey with little understanding of what, exactly, I was getting into, but if I’m being honest, that’s my typical approach. I had two panniers filled with the camping gear, clothing, bike tools, and a lot of curiosity.
My first taste of bikepacking.
So I set off, giggling as I sailed down the slopes of Highway 1 after powering through the uphills; stopping for pie when the signs told me to; and feeling powerful in knowing that I had all that I needed. I camped out one night of the trip and stayed in a yurt owned by a generous host from Warm Showers.
From there, I was hooked on pedaling adventures. I started to explore more of the San Francisco Bay area by just lashing my belongings to my bike and going.
The open road, always calling.
When it comes to bicycles and using them as a tool for overnight or multi-day adventures, there are two terms that crop up and are sometimes used interchangeably: bikepacking and bike touring. For serious cyclists, the two are actually different activities.
Bikepacking is a fully self-sustainable endeavor on a bicycle in a remote backcountry setting. You carry everything you need to eat, sleep, and fully repair your bike.
I think of bike touring as more of a choose-your-own-adventure. You often have all you need to eat, sleep, and repair your bike, but you aren’t in a backcountry setting. You might go through cities and towns, adding sightseeing and food destinations as stops along the way. (The flexibility of biking really shines here.)
However you choose to use your bike as a tool to explore and adventure, the most important thing is to be clear with your own goals and desires — the nuances of the terms and definitions are just minor details.
All I needed for this trip was my shelter and sleep stuff. Easy!
A few weekends ago, some friends of mine booked a campsite on Angel Island and invited me to camp with them. They were handling all the meals, so I packed all I needed to sleep comfortably and biked the 40 miles to the ferry that would bring me to the island.
Whenever I prepare for an overnight trip, the first thing I do is look at the route on a map – either Ride with GPS or Google Maps, depending on the trip. As a Black woman who travels alone often, it’s important for me to know where I will take breaks, the communities I’ll be traveling through, and how long many miles I’ll be traveling. (Ed. note: The Inclusive Guide from Inclusive Journeys is a small but growing resource for this!)
Before I start loading it up, I make sure to do a full check of my bike. When was the last time it was tuned? Are the tires full of air? How are the brakes? Taking the time to do this before loading it up saves a lot of time and shuffling.
Something that I started early on was creating a spreadsheet for my bike adventures — it’s a great way to streamline packing and capture any changes that you need to make for your trip to be more comfortable. Once I have a grasp on that, I like to lay out all the gear I plan on bringing. As a visual person, it's helpful for me to see everything and check it against my list before packing it away.
By laying everything out, I can easily see if anything crucial is missing.
Generally speaking, I think about gear in a few buckets.
- What do I want to wear? (On the bike, off the bike, at night.)
- What do I need to eat and drink?
- What do I need to sleep?
- What do I need to fix my bike?
As I pack my bike, I keep in mind accessibility and balance. Some items I might want quick and easy access to are a rain layer, bike tools, and — if you're like me — snacks! Having a well-balanced bike also makes your trip infinitely better. Make sure you’re distributing the weight you need to carry as evenly as possible along the frame of your bike.
The more you pack your bike and take trips, the better you’ll get at it. You’ll also start to learn what really works for you. The most important thing to remember is that you get to choose how you want to explore via bike.
Here are some more resources to get you started:
Grace Anderson (she/her) is a writer, network weaver, dreamer, and strategist working at the intersection of racial, healing, and environmental justice. Grace works in several different capacities to uplift and center Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in the outdoor and environmental fields. Grace enjoys building community over food, riding bicycles, and reading books.