The bikepacking learning curve can be as steep as a hike-a-bike climb, which is both maddening and exciting. In my early days of bikepacking I felt amazed by the simple resourcefulness that bike travel brings out in us all. How is it possible to ride so far while carrying so little and dealing with so much?
This post is a sampler of bite-sized bikepacking tips and tricks for riding, camping, and dealing with the unexpected. Some I learned from others, some I learned the hard way, and all involve deep personal experience on the road and trail. Perhaps you already know a few of these, and perhaps a few are new. I hope at least one of them will save your day the next time you really need it!
These bikepacking tips and tricks are all included in the Bikepacker’s Companion eBook. If you like them, consider purchasing the eBook for 140 pages of bikepacking-specific knowledge, instructions, and hard-earned experience to reference during your next ride.
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Bikepacking Tips and Tricks
If you overpacked, stop at any post office and mail a few extra pounds home. It can be hard to pack light until you have some experience, and sometimes that experience comes when you’re already on the road. Post offices have flat rate boxes and tape strips for sale, so you don’t need any packing materials. Just cram as much as you can into the smallest box possible and pedal away a few pounds lighter.
Consider emergency chamois cream substitutes. For some of us, chamois cream is so essential for preventing saddle sores that running out can be disastrous. If you have an urgent need for chamois cream and can’t find it at the small town convenience store, try one of these alternatives: coconut oil, aloe vera gel, udder cream, diaper cream, Vaseline.
Ask for a first floor room when bringing your bike into a motel. Many roadside motels in the US don’t have elevators, and the last thing you want to do at the end of a long day is wrestle your loaded bike up the stairs. At the risk of sounding preachy, I also suggest taking care to not damage the room. In the rare cases when I’ve been told the bike can’t come inside, it’s always because some past cyclist left handlebar marks on the walls or too much mud on the carpet.
Plug in while shopping or eating at gas stations, restaurants, and grocery stores. If battery power is limited and it’s a struggle to keep your electronics charged, top up whenever you’re shopping for a resupply or eating a meal in town. You can often find power outlets near the soda machines or refrigerators. If you don’t feel comfortable leaving your phone out of your sight (it’s probably fine though) charge a power bank instead. In a small establishment I’ll usually ask first, and I’ve never been told no.
When stealth camping, choose sites outside of drivers’ headlight path. This is usually on the insides of curves and/or uphill from the road. Some of my sneakiest campsites have been quite close to the road but completely hidden atop a tall embankment, or in a patch of trees to the inside of a turn.
To unstick a stubborn tire bead, step on it with your foot. With the wheel laying flat on the ground and the tube / tire deflated, press down on the tire with your shoe as close to the rim as you can get. It’s hard to change a tube if you can’t remove the tire, and this technique has saved me in a few sticky situations. (Or, just run tubeless if you can!)
Carry a Schrader to Presta valve adapter for emergencies. Have you ever thought about how screwed you’d be if your pump failed on a solo ride? Schrader valves are found on car tires and lower end bikes, so you’re more likely to find a Schrader pump than a Presta pump in many areas. Carrying one of these cheap and tiny gizmos will give you more options.
To deter bike theft during a quick stop, instead of or in addition to a lock, try one of these subtle tricks: clip your helmet around the wheel, leave your bike in its highest gear, or slip the chain off the chainring. By making the bike harder to ride away quickly, you make it much harder to steal.
Need to order gear along the way? Contact a small business on your route and ask if they’ll receive it and hold it for you. Retailers like Amazon and REI often use non-USPS carriers so you can’t necessarily use General Delivery (mailing to yourself at a post office). Your best bet is to contact the most friendly-seeming general store, diner, or RV park you can find and as for their help. Be sure to stay the night or buy some food when you pass through to say thanks.
A strip of old bike tube is super handy for shimming handlebar mounts and protecting your frame from bike bags. I always carry a few inches of old tube in my tools and spares kit in case a mount or bag needs to be improved while on the road.
Use Google Street View to check if a road is too narrow and busy to safely ride. Traffic safety can be an issue even on rural roads, especially if designing your own route. You’ll be able to see how big the shoulder is and how many cars were there when the picture was taken, which can at least tell you if it’s too busy (but can’t guarantee it’ll be quiet).
Double-tether anything strapped to your bike bags or racks. It’s surprisingly easy to lose your jacket / tool kit / microwave burrito / sleeping pad if it bounces off and you don’t notice. Rough gravel and dirt roads are impressively good at separating gear from your bike, so make sure everything you care about is double-attached with a redundant strap or knot.
Simple easy (and cheap) resupply meal: ramen + peanut butter + a hot sauce packet from the convenience store. Though I’ve experimented with many types of bikepacking food, this is still one of my favorites. It’s delicious, filling, and available almost anywhere.
An empty dry bag, pannier, or gallon ziplock makes a handy laundry basin. This works in hotels if the sink doesn’t have a stopper, and also out in the wild. Just be sure, in the latter case, to carry your wash water 200+ feet from the source so it can filter through dirt before returning to the water supply. Also, go light on the soap to avoid disturbing delicate ecosystems.
In unexpected cold or wet weather, keep your toes warm by layering plastic bags over your socks. They won’t keep your shoes dry like a rain bootie would, but they’ll prevent the wind from chilling your feet as it evaporates the moisture.
Google Maps has an offline feature on both iOS and Android where you can cache specified regions to use without a network connection. This is especially handy for detours and bail-out routes (because you can see major roads) and resupply planning (because business names and hours are included in the offline data).
Need to make drivetrain adjustments? Hook your saddle nose over a tree branch so you can spin the pedals while you work. This is especially handy for derailleur adjustments and other DIY bike repair in the middle of nowhere.
Carry a small tube of threadlocker for bolts that vibrate loose, and check bolts on your frame and rack periodically. I never bikepack without a tiny 0.2oz tube of Loctite Threadlocker Blue in my tool kit, and I have used it many times.
My fellow bikepackers, what did I miss? Do you have a favorite clever trick that saved your butt that one time on that one trip? Please share in the comments below!
There’s lots more bikepacking knowledge where this came from! These tips barely scratch the surface of the 140-page Bikepacker’s Companion eBook, designed to be your reference guide and experienced riding buddy in digital form.
More Bikepacking Resources
If you found this helpful, you might also like these:
- Bikepacking Bikes: How to Choose the Best for Your Riding Goals
- The Legendary Great Divide Mountain Bike Route
- 9 Ways to Carry More Water on Your Bike
Or visit the bikepacking section for lots more.
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6 thoughts on “18 Bikepacking Tips and Tricks For a Smoother Ride”
I pack some cotton balls to run inside a tire, the cotton threads pick up thorns and fine wires my eyes didn’t see when I get a mystery flat on a tube.
I take a small section of silver insulation to use as a sit upon. Find at hardware stores in rolls and buy 12” or so.
Nice, I’ve used that stuff for a DIY pot cozy in the past, seems like it would make a good ultralight sit pad.
To avoid over or under packing food, know how many calories you need per hour of riding. When you reach a convenience or grocery store, calculate the hours of riding until the next food source. Multiply by calories needed and put that number in your phone calculator. Subtract number of calories as you pull off the shelf until you reach zero.
I love this! I’ve run out of food enough times to appreciate the value of such a disciplined approach. It always feels like I’m buying more calories than I actually am.