Bike packing can be a great way to unlock the truest sense of adventure. We take on New Zealand's Craigieburn area and find out the benefits of heading into the unknown.
Words: Ryan Walsch Images: Tim Bardsley Smith
Bikepacking has been a thing far longer than its trendy name has been around and we are starting to see more and more “bikepackers” on the trails and open roads alike. If you haven’t seen a bikepacker before, the best image I can paint you is this; a steel hardtail, possible drop style bar, beard, sandals, cut off jean shorts, flannelette shirt or merino jersey, heaps of camping equipment and rolls lashed to the bike and frame with leather straps and cord. And a titanium dangle mug on the rear bag.
To be fair, that’s really the most comfortable and relaxed way of doing it as a two wheeled gypsy floating on the wind. What has become more popular and common place is the shorter there and back trips over one or two nights.
Some riders will be asking themselves why on earth one would want to rough it in the wild alpine areas with minimal gear sacrificing creature comforts to make the journey possible. By staying overnight in a hut, tent, bivvy or just under the stars for one night, riders can find themselves in new areas and terrain that may be inaccessible to vehicles or day trips by bike.
With an endless choice of bikepacking specific or branded apparel and gear available, it can be confusing or potentially off putting to new or inexperienced adventure seekers. We took the opportunity early this year to showcase some ultra lightweight products from Sea to Summit and far from bikepacking spec trail bikes in the South Island of New Zealand earlier this year. The aim was to get above the tree line scouting out new areas to ride, watch the sunrise over a new landscape and have a rowdy time on the trails back home.
Late last summer Tim and I headed over to the adventure hotspot that is New Zealand’s South Island, flying into Christchurch to pick up a van before going on a Haka MTB Tour. This would be a short trip, having only an afternoon and morning before the tour get into the hills, build our bikes, load up and make the ascent and set up camp before railing back down and getting back to town for the tour. Strangely enough, it is this type of short overnight trip I do most as I can leave work/home to get some fresh mountain air and return smelling like campfire in the morning and get ready for the day ahead.
Hatch a plan and be prepared
Even these short trips require planning, especially when you’re heading into high alpine areas such as our destination in Craigieburn, which for a good portion of the year is a club ski field. Craigieburn’s stunning beech forest and scree slopes can be a hostile place to spend the night if unprepared so with a little local knowledge, some reading and Googling we had a temperature range and long range weather forecast that gave us an idea of what we would be in for. I like to pack my gear up, mount it on the bike beforehand and just make sure it’s going to be stable while riding before I leave the house or country or whatever. It is hard to jimmy up a solution on the trail, so get your setup sorted before you leave.
Find out if there is water, emergency shelters or huts near by. This may seem simple or pessimistic but being stuck if something happens or the weather turns knowing where these are could save your life if you end up in the alps for an extra day or worse. On the topic of safety, take a first aid kit that’s packed with things that are appropriate to the activity. A few favourites that live in mine are a cigarette lighter wrapped in approximately one metre of gaffer tape which can be used for both medical or mechanical issues. Super glue which has saved me for both medical and mechanical and lastly glad wrap. Glad wrap may seem even stranger than super glue but if you buy a 30m x 30cm roll of gladwrap, cut it into 3 x 10cm width sections and squish it flat for packing and you now have the ultimate waterproof bandage.