When friends tell me that they are taking their bikes camping, I generally find this means one of two different things. (1) That they will be taking their bike on their camping trip so that they can do some off-road biking, or (2) that they will be traveling to their camping destination by bike. While these might seem like similar propositions, they are actually quite different in terms of the gear you will need, and even the type of bike you should be using.
We’ve done both of these types of camping trips with our kids over the past few years. When camping close to home we’ve biked to our campsite, carrying all our gear with us on two wheels. When heading further afield to places where we know that there are good off-road biking trails, we’ll often take bikes with us. Let’s take a look at what you need to consider for both types of journeys.
Biking to Your Campsite
Using your bikes as your preferred form of transport to reach your campsite generally means a lot of miles on the road to reach your destination, while hauling quite a bit of weight! This means that you need the right bike for the job.
Use the Right Bike
If you’ll mostly be traveling on roads to reach your destination, in order to make your cycle as easy as possible you’ll want a good road bike or touring bike, with thin wheels that just eat up the tarmac. Unfortunately, bikes like this aren’t appropriate for off-road cycling, and if you try and use your road bike off-road you will do serious damage to your bike and your behind as you feel every stone and bump. If you’ll need to navigate a combination of main roads and dirt tracks to reach your destination, a hybrid may be your best choice to enable you to do both. However, a hybrid isn’t appropriate for proper off-road cycling, and certainly shouldn’t be used to tackle off-road bike trails at your destination, for which you need a proper mountain bike with thick, sticky wheels. If the purpose of your camping trip is to go off-roading, and therefore you are considering riding your off-road bike to reach your destination, be realistic about how far it is! Thirty miles on main roads on your mountain bike will be punishing!
Whatever type of bike you take, don’t forget your padded bike shorts, as well as a spare pair in case they get wet or just start to feel uncomfortable. Cycling gloves will also keep your hands happier when spending a full day gripping the handlebars.
Take a Practice Trip
Some of this advice may seem obvious for experienced cyclists who are accustomed to spending the day in the saddle. But that is the next thing to consider, do you have the experience you need for this kind of long cycle trip: long hours on the road with the additional challenge of hauling quite a bit of weight in terms of camping gear? If you aren’t a regular cyclist, but you are considering this kind of camping trip, think about taking a few practice days. Go for longer cycles around the area, and pack for a lunch break to give you an idea of both cycling with weight and how to pack. This is especially important if you are thinking about taking this kind of bike camping trip with kids. Taking them out for a few long day cycles will help them understand what to expect when you set out on your trip and will help you understand how long they can go and how often they may need a break. Remember that kids will need significantly more breaks than you, both to rest and refuel and just break up the journey.
Cycling With Kids
Depending on the age of any children you are traveling with, the distance of the journey, and their particular experience with cycling; it may be unreasonable to expect them to cycle the whole way. Think about whether you will need a trailer bike to haul them with you. For kids who are old enough to cycle on their own, but aren’t strong enough to cycle the entire distance, a co-pilot trailer bike is a good choice. I like the WeeRide Co-Pilot Bike Trailer; it is lightweight, easy to attach and detach, and feels stable when hauling. Although my oldest is currently pushing me to let her ride alone, using this type of trailer has always put my mind at ease, as I know there won’t be problems when she gets tired, since I am responsible for steering, braking and navigating traffic (maybe next trip).
For younger kids, a trailer like this Burley Design Bee Bike Trailer is good as I can haul both my child and gear, and it provides sun and rain protection, plus they can sleep on the journey.
Hauling Your Gear
As well as potentially hauling kids, cycling to your campsite means carrying all your gear with you. How challenging this will be depends a lot on how many cyclists you have to share the load. Regardless, you’ll want something that attaches to your bike securely and doesn’t disable you. A wide variety of trailers and panniers are available, though I have always preferred panniers as for me they just feel more stable when cycling. I am currently using this 70L Pellor Bag and Pannier set which includes a backpack and two panniers which fit together to hang over the back of the bike.
The key when hauling your gear like this is to travel as light as possible, minimizing on luxuries, and investing in lightweight and compact camping gear. It is surprising how much more difficult even a little extra weight can make these long cycles feel. For ideas on packing light, check out my previous post on minimalist camping.
A final thing to consider when cycling to your campsite is securing your bikes at your destination. How worried you should be about this depends on where you are camping. Some campsites have dedicated spaces for storing and securing bikes, or there may be some kind of gate or building that is appropriate for securing your bike. If there is nowhere else to lock your bikes, you can lock them to your tent, looping the lock between the tent pole and inner tent, which means that it would be unlikely that anyone could steal your bike without waking you up. Also, always make sure you thread the lock through your rear wheel, so if someone does manage to detach your bike from where it is locked, at least they won’t be able to ride it immediately. As your standard bike rack may not be available, your standard U-Lock probably also won’t be particularly appropriate, so make sure you have a chain lock, or at least an extension cable for your U-Lock.
Taking Your Bikes Camping
Taking your bikes camping with you, in order to do some off-road biking near your campsite, is a much more familiar prospect for most campers, with the main additional consideration being how you are going to transport this extra gear.
If you are an enthusiastic off-road cyclist, you’ll know that you’ll need a mountain bike for this kind of adventure, and the roadster that you use to cycle to work won’t cut it. You need thick wheels and excellent suspension to navigate the rises, bumps, and potholes that make off-road biking fun.
Once you have the right bikes, your biggest concern will be securing then to your vehicle. If you have a van, great, the bikes will be easy to transport and keep secure on site. If not, you’ll need some kind if bike rack for your car. I like the Saris Sentinel rack for 3 bikes. It attaches to a variety of different types of cars - we have tried it with both sedans and minivans - and it is lightweight and easy to store when we aren’t using it. You can also leave it attached to your car to lock your bikes to for security or consider the bike security advice given above.
If you are off-road biking, don’t forget your helmet, gloves, appropriate shoes, and eye protection so that you can zip along the paths and trails without dirt getting in your eyes, and with appropriate protection if you do fall off. For this reason, you should also make sure someone is carrying a first aid kit with them, for both your human travelers and your bike.
Bike First Aid
Whether you are cycling to your campsite or off-roading at your destination, flat tires, torn brake lines, and broken chains are all potential problems that can derail your trip. There are three things to do to ensure against these possibilities.
First, take your bike in to be serviced before your trip. This should pick up on anything that is just about to give out, so you can get it fixed before you find yourself stuck on the side of the road.
Second, invest in a multi-purpose bike emergency kit, so that when you do need to make repairs to your bike, you have everything you need. Something like Lezyne Caddy Sport Kit is easy to carry and has all the basics you need to deal with most problems.
Finally, if you aren’t familiar with bike maintenance, get some lessons on how to deal with the most common roadside cycling issues so that you feel confident in your ability to deal with problems out on the road.