Amsterdam is a cyclist-friendly city, with over 400km of biking paths. Photo: Alamy Summary
The sport—combining backpacking and biking—is attracting newbies with lighter bikes and shorter, easier trails
Johann Vanzyl’s idea of the perfect vacation involves strapping packs on his bike, pedaling 80 to 90 miles a day through remote wilderness and camping under the stars. The past four summers, he has ridden around the U.S. on trips ranging from about 500 to 1,400 miles.
Vanzyl is one of many outdoors enthusiasts who have embraced bikepacking, a relatively new sport that marries backpacking and off-road bike touring. Cyclists ride with packs on their bikes filled with food, clothes and camping equipment, mostly on dirt trails or gravel roads.
Bikepacking used to attract mostly endurance junkies who had the time, technical prowess and survival skills to ride narrow, so-called single-track, trails, and then camp in the backcountry. But lighter bikes and improved GPS technology have made long-distance trail rides less intimidating, and shorter, beginner-friendly trails have vastly broadened the sport’s appeal.
Vanzyl, 53, tackled the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, a trail of more than 2,600 miles that crisscrosses the Continental Divide, in two chunks between this summer and last summer. Considered by many the birthplace of bikepacking, the trail was established in 1997 by the Adventure Cycling Association, a Missoula, Mont.-based nonprofit devoted to developing biking routes, and is almost completely off pavement.
For some, this is a family pursuit. After watching YouTube videos of bikers on the Great Divide route during Covid, […]