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Bikepacking and gravel bikes: new ideas in off-road biking, or advertising and marketing fad? | Biking

The world of leisure biking is nothing if not creative in terms of methods to promote bikes and related bits of equipment, and two of the preferred new – or theoretically new – ideas are bikepacking and gravel bikes.

As with all such concepts there’s the inevitable advertising and marketing guff, however each are nonetheless attention-grabbing, if generally misunderstood. Earlier this week, on pattern as ever, I managed each, with a four-day trip across the King Alfred’s Manner, a 218-mile primarily off-road loop by means of the lanes, tracks, woods and ridges of Hampshire, Wiltshire, Berkshire, Surrey and West Sussex.

The path, put collectively by Biking UK and taking in components of the Ridgeway and South Downs Manner, is very really useful, however what I wish to recount right here is extra the mechanics of how I and a good friend did it – and to explain the concepts behind such journeys.

What’s bikepacking? Is it simply touring rebranded?

Sure and no. Touring historically sticks to roads and entails a sturdy, road-type machine, usually with a baggage rack, even racks, and panniers. Bikepacking is equally self-supported however tends to imply lighter masses, with luggage related extra on to the bike, permitting sooner speeds and higher ease on off-road routes. In fact, this isn’t a brand new concept, however it’s more and more fashionable.

What bike do you employ? And what is a gravel bike, anyway?

Warning signs along the route on Salisbury Plain.
Warning indicators on the route by means of Salisbury Plain. {Photograph}: Peter Walker

You may bikepack on any bike you need, together with a highway machine for high-speed tarmac touring. However straying too lengthy on to tough, slippery surfaces calls out for wider, grippy tyres and possibly disc brakes. Mountain bikes have, in fact, had this space coated for many years. A gravel bike is probably the love youngster of a highway bike and a mountain bike, thus an in depth cousin of the cyclocross bike. As usually marketed, a gravel bike is a drop-handlebar machine with disc brakes, clearance for wider tyres, no suspension and a comparatively forgiving trip geometry. In actuality, this will fluctuate. For instance, the bike I rode had straight handlebars. Why? As a result of I favor them.

However what’s the purpose of gravel bikes?

King Alfred’s Way cycling map
Illustration: Guardian Design

The purpose is to mix a few of the greatest components of highway using (a light-weight, agile, speedy bike) and mountain biking (taking to filth paths, muddy tracks, or no matter turns up). Some fashionable mountain bikes, with light-weight frames and 27in wheels, cowl plenty of the identical floor, metaphorically and actually. However gravel bikes are enjoyable for a motive. Mine feels very almost as quick and agile on tarmac as a highway bike, however will confidently bounce down a rocky hillside.

What gear do you want for bikepacking?

The brief and simplistic reply is: it relies upon what you’re planning to take and the way you wish to do it. On the King Alfred’s Manner you see all kinds of options (some additionally involving mountain bikes and electric-assist mountain bikes), together with one man whose essential baggage was a water-resistant bag merely lashed to the seatpost of his bike. We had been tenting for a few of the journey, and so took tents, sleeping luggage and mats, together with every little thing else. For me this concerned a large-ish handlebar bag and an enormous pack hooked up to the saddle, each with roll-end closing which made them – they usually had been very a lot examined on this – fully waterproof. I additionally had a small bag hooked up to the body triangle.

Can’t you simply use panniers?

In fact. And we did see some folks with them on the route. However the bikepacking baggage idea brings a few benefits. First, it makes the assembled bike no wider than your handlebars, helpful for squeezing down hedge-fringed single-track routes. Additionally, the baggage are so tightly lashed there’s virtually no wobble, and just about no likelihood of something detaching from the bike amid a teeth-chattering, faster-than-strictly-planned descent down a rocky valley. I might really feel the load on the bike throughout climbs, however for probably the most half it felt as balanced and nimble as if it had been unladen. I’ve ridden rather a lot with panniers, and it’s not fairly the identical.

Cycling along the Ridgeway, part of the King Alfred’s Way.
Biking on the Ridgeway, a part of the King Alfred’s Manner. {Photograph}: Peter Walker

Can we’ve some specifics on what you used?

My bike was a reasonably outdated carbon-framed On One cyclocross bike I beforehand used for commuting. Turning it right into a usable gravel bike simply required a longer-cage rear derailleur and a dinner-plate-sized cassette. My good friend rode a ready-made Planet X gravel bike (Planet X and On One are literally the identical South Yorkshire-based firm). My bike was £1,000 new, which for many individuals could seem an absurd sum, however within the realm of extraordinarily versatile hobbyist bikes is fairly good. We each used Panaracer GravelKing tyres, which had been wonderful.

Lastly, any ideas for the King Alfred’s Manner?

I’d primarily say: permit sufficient time. Some folks dash spherical it in three and even two days, and for those who’re pleased to do this, it might be thrilling. However keep in mind that there are plenty of hills, and that a few of the tracks – notably alongside the Ridgeway and South Downs Manner – can get very slippery if it rains, necessitating a slower tempo. If I trip the route once more, and I’d like to, I’d be tempted to take 5 days, permitting extra time to cease correctly at locations alongside the best way, comparable to Stonehenge and Avebury.

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