If you are a member of the RATS Cycling Club, which you obviously need to be to be reading this, you are no doubt serious enough about the sport of mountain biking to have heard of some of the mtb disciplines such as Cross Country(xc), DownHill(dh) and the newer Gravity Enduro format.
There is another niche’ of mountain biking that you may not have heard about though. It is rather obscure and it is called BikePacking.
What the hell is BikePacking, I hear you ask?
Well, the short answer: it’s backpacking with a bike.
Longer answer: any ride that includes an overnight stay. This could be anything from ultralight single track tours to fully loaded dirt road touring. Bikepacking focuses on off-road touring, away from cars, and especially on single track touring. But the concepts and gear transfer equally well to all types of rides that stretch overnight.
Bikepacking can be as simple as taking a credit card and a change of clothes and staying in pubs (think Brisbane Valley Rail Trail) to challenging multi day, fully
The natural extension of bikepacking is, of course, bikepacking racing. This is style of racing is usually for the purists. It is an “underground” form of racing where riders take on a long route, typically 3 to 20+ days in duration and race to some simple rules.
- Race participants are intended to be solo / self-supported and observed as one stage, i.e. the clock runs non-stop. (First person to the finish wins).
- A rider may resupply food / equipment, rent a room, launder clothing, even service their bike at commercial shops along the way. The intent is to ride unsupported between towns, and function self-supported when in towns. Any services utilized must always be commercially available to all challengers and not pre-arranged. No private resupply, no private lodging.
- Riders must always ride 100% of the route as denoted by the most current gps file the race “promoter” distributes.
- Advancing (forward) on the route by any means other than one’s own pedal power is strictly prohibited. No drafting.
- Riders alone are responsible for their safety.
- Riders alone must police their conduct (i.e. have personal integrity).
These six simple rules of bikepacking racing are what make it attractive to me. I have to use my integrity to follow the route and not deviate, although most bikepacking races these days encourage the use of a Spot tracker which uploads your location every 10 minutes. A handy safety device, a subtle “route enforcer” and a great distraction for everyone watching from home!
As with most things mtb, racing started in the US with the three grand-daddy events being The Tour Divide Race, The Arizona Trail Race and The Colorado Trail Race. In the last few years there has been a proliferation of bikepacking races around the world with The Race To The Rock and the Monaro Cloudride being the main races in Australia.
I personally got hooked on this strange niche’ of mountainbiking when I stumbled across the Tour Divide Race in about 2011. The Tour Divide Race starts in Banff, Canada and finishes at Antelope Wells, on the Mexican border some 2,745 miles (4,418km) away! All the while it follows the Continental Divide along the Rockies with an average elevation of ~7,000ft (minimum 2,500ft/maximum 12,000ft) and total climbing of over 200,000ft (60,000m)!
For several years I followed the race via the Topofusion race tracker page and each year I became more and more enthralled by the sheer enormity of the undertaking. To ride your mountain bike, alone and unsupported through high mountain passes, in bear infested< woods day in, day out until you reached the Mexican border was just mind blowing! I knew I had to do it!
You can follow the link to my 2015 attempt here. It begins the day before the race, in Banff, British Columbia and you can follow the race through by clicking “newer post”. To see how I prepared, click “older post” at the bottom of each post. I hope you enjoy the read.
Now, why am I bringing this up I hear you ask? Good question! I am trying to highlight that there is much more to this sport that we all love. Much more than a 20km single track jolly or going around in circles in an XC race (as much fun as that is!). You can take this mountain biking passion, that we all share, much, much further and have some great adventures along the way.
I will be attempting the Arizona Trail Race 750 in just a few short weeks. I thought there might be some interest in following the preparation of an ordinary, middle-aged working Dad from suburban Brisbane, who possesses no particular abundance of skill, in taking on a fully self-supported race consisting of 1,172km of singletrack through the Arizona desert AND a 35km bike-carrying hike across the Grand Canyon.
Cheers and thanks for reading.