Thierry Crouzet

Automatic translation from french

Since when does bikepacking exist? I am so happy to have converted that I wonder why I have been so late? I did not even know the word a few months ago.

In a mocking comment posted on Bikepacking.net (site created in 2008), we read "We, members of Adventure Cycling Association, use the word (bikepacking) since the first Bikecentennial (...) Its use goes back at least to May 1973, when Bikecentennial co-founder Dan Burden's article is published in National Geographic. "

National Geographic, mai 1973, photo simplicityvintagecycles.com
National Geographic, mai 1973, photo simplicityvintagecycles.com

In this article, Bickepacking Across Alaska and Canada, Dan recounts his journey, that of his wife Lys, and their friends Greg and June Siple, between Anchorage, Alaska, and Missoula, Montana. Our ATVs, FatBike or other gravel have not yet been invented. Dan uses the word bikepacking as a synonym for a touring bicycle touring in spite of more than 20 kg of gear. Dan writes: "We felt that the landscape belonged to us, as it belonged to the first trappers and mountaineers. I feel this sensation when I ride a mountain bike, and more intensely when I carry my survival gear with me.

Lys et Dan Burden, Greg et June Siple
Lys et Dan Burden, Greg et June Siple

Proof of the popularity of the word bikepacking in the American cycling community, William Sanders published Backcountry Bikepacking in 1980, where he explains the art of cycling long distances.

Before going further in the history, we must agree on a definition of bikepacking? Bikepacking.net offers a short answer: "It's bike backpaking. And a longer answer: "An outing with at least one night. It can range from a raid on singles with ultralight equipment to a long journey off asphalt roads, bicycles super equipped, for example during the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (opened in 1997 by the Adventure Cycling Association). "

The first definition is too short to differentiate bikepacking and cycle tourism, the second, more precise, it would be off-road cycling, regardless of the equipment.

On the popular Bikepacking.com site opened in 2012, it says: "The bikepacking is the synthesis of mountain biking and minimalist camping. It combines multi-day hikes in nature and the pleasure of riding an ATV. It's exploring little traveled places, both near and far, via singles, paths, abandoned roads, carrying only the necessary. "

What's going on foot? With his heavy backpack, the backpacker or globe-trotter can simply go from city to city, taking the train, the plane, hitchhiking. In contrast, the hiker goes out into the wild, he walks, he climbs, he sleeps outside, he avoids the roads. The cyclist would then be the bike version of the backpacker while bikepacker would be the bike version of the hiker.

Tom Allen offers a nice distinction: cyclists want to travel, bikepackers want to ride a bike. I like this nuance. Some would be travelers (foremost), other cyclists (foremost). I think we're leaning on one side or the other, while being a bit of both. For my part, I am a cyclist who wants to have fun with his bike, away from cars, discover new playgrounds. The trip is an important part of the bikepacking, but the bikepacking is not reduced to him (I'm will come back in a next post).

I doubt that a definition is consensual. I tend to think that the cyclotourist remains more heavily equipped than the bikepacker who goes on the road during a Transcontinental Race (lightness essential for speed) or borrows the technical paths of a French Divide (lightness essential to overcome obstacles ). So we can be bikepacker on all terrains, with all bikes. This is the bikepacking equipment that would do the bikepackers.

The bikepacker gives up the bags that symbolize cycling. It often rolls with a frame bag, a fairly characteristic attribute, as it positions the load at the center of gravity of the bike to maintain agility. When does the first frame bag appear?

Un bikepacker australien en 1895
Un bikepacker australien en 1895

For starters, cycle tourism is as old as cycling, even before. Originally, the cyclist is also called a rider. On his horse, he hangs saddlebags as on his horse, and as on horseback he is not afraid to travel. In 1884, English journalist Thomas Stevens flew from California for a world tour with a velocipede. As early as 1890, bicycle travelers defined themselves as cycle tourists. When we look at the archive photos, we discover that they were all bikepakers, such, in 1895, this Australian with frame bag and backpack or, in 1896, the journalist Maurice Martin, one of the founders in 1891 of the Bordeaux-Paris race, which goes into investigation with his bike, with a beautiful leather frame bag. That year, bike infantry units were created. The men of the 25th Infantry Regiment of the United States Army also have a frame bag. The following year, also equipped, Arthur Richardson embarks on a tour of Australia. A little later, in 1911, Francis Birtles pedaled with a frame bag during a journey from Perth to Sydney. Yet, as far as I can remember, every time I met cyclists they did not look like the original bikepackers, let alone Australian shepherds.

Hommes du 25e régiment d'infanterie, 1896
Hommes du 25e régiment d'infanterie, 1896
Maurice Martin en 1896
Maurice Martin en 1896
Arthur Richardson, lors de son tour d'Australie en 1897
Arthur Richardson, lors de son tour d'Australie en 1897

At the turn of the 20th century, the first luggage racks and side panniers appeared, when cyclotourists turned into campers, seeking autonomy, while their equipment was too bulky for the bikepacking configurations of the time (the bag as a metaphor of the suitcase). For almost a century, this configuration will not be questioned until in 1986 there is a pivotal event in the history of cycling: in the United States, sales of ATVs surpass those of road bikes. In 1987, to encourage mountain bikers in Anchorage, Joe Redington invited them to make a return trip on Iditarod, a 100-mile race hitherto reserved for sled dogs. She becomes the Iditabike. To better ride the snow, Alaskan mountain bikers juxtapose two rims, then in 1994, Simon Rakower begins to manufacture 44 mm rims, allowing to put on larger tires. In 1999, again in Alaska, Mark Groneweld and John Evingson made the first fat tires, with tires from 3 to 3.5 inches. During the Iditabike and its variants, like Alaska Ultra-Sport 350 miles, some competitors sew frame bags, including the famous John Stamstad, the first mountain biker to embark on ultramathons.

Why make frame bags at this time? Simply because ultra-light hiking equipment is becoming more efficient, which makes the saddlebags useless. The development of bikepacking goes hand in hand with that of ultralight backpacking, thru-hiking and MUL (ultra-light walking), disciplines popularized in 1992 by Ray Jardine's The PCT Hiker's Handbook, reissued in 1999 under the Beyond Backpacking title.

Eric Parsons lors de l'Alaska Ultra-Sport, 2005
Eric Parsons lors de l'Alaska Ultra-Sport, 2005

We change continent, but we stay with Alaskans. In 2001, Eric Parsons and his friend Dan Bailey cross the Himalayas by mountain bike, trailing behind them with their gear. It is clear that this is not an ideal configuration. Eric remembers seeing frames on Iditarod and asks one of his friends, Fort Collins, to sew one for a three-month trip to Patagonia. In 2005, Eric performs Alaska Ultra-Sport with handlebars and seat bags sewn by himself. In October 2007, he launched Revelate Design, the first manufacturer of bikepacking equipment, followed the following year by Jeff Boatman who launched Carousel Design.

At the same time, following John Stamstad in 1999, mountain bikers like Matthew Lee and Mary Collier decided to race on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, and in 2008 the Divide Tower was born. has little connection with cycle tourism. In 2010, MiKe Dion pays tribute to these extreme mountain bikers in his documentary Ride the Divide, since a source of inspiration for many bikepakers (I will reproach this film for showing us only roads). Speed ​​means lightness and new materials. Many mark appear, including Apidura in 2013, after its founder, Tori Fahey, completed a Divide Tour the previous year. "It was during my trip from Canada to Mexico that I discovered baskets and luggage racks and decided never to use them again. "His philosophy:" Simplify cycle tourism for cyclists to spend more time enjoying their ride. In 2016, Ortlieb, the German leader in saddlebags, eventually launched its bikepacking range, followed by Shimano in late 2018.

We discover in this story the deep link between bikepacking and ATV / fat bikes, we see how important it is for most bikepackers to pass everywhere, hence the concern for lightness. This draws a robot ride from the ideal bikepacking bike, somewhere between the gravel and the ATV.

Google trends du mot bikepacking au USA
Google trends du mot bikepacking au USA
Région de popularité du bikepacking
Région de popularité du bikepacking

In the United States, the word bikepacking begins to be used from 2009-2010 and has been popular ever since, this popularity being more marked in Alaska and along the route the Divide Tower, which is in line with the story told above.

Popularité croissante en France
Popularité croissante en France
Disparité régionale en France
Disparité régionale en France

In France, after a few ups and downs in 2012-2013, perhaps because Highmobilitygear.com opens a bikepacking section and markets Revelate Design products, the word bikepacking has moved into the digital landscape and has followed since the American evolution. In April 2019, three regions stand out, Rhône-Alpes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur and Île-de-France. We are at the beginning of a phenomenon.

Février 2019, Crouzet devient bikepacker
Février 2019, Crouzet devient bikepacker

Is Bikepacking a fashionable way to ask Logan Watts in his 2017 manifesto? Does the arrival of industrialists sign the end of bikepacking? Of course not, no more than the ATV was killed by its success. Simply, we must expect to be more numerous on the roads, which I think is a good thing for society in general. Values ​​such as solidarity, friendship, fraternity, respect for oneself, others and nature are experimented with, which is sometimes quite rare. Bikepacking is good for the body and the mind. It can also do good to the collective, even to the planet.

Popularités comparées
Popularités comparées

If hiking (red) and mountain biking (orange) see their popularity gradually converge. The bikepacking (blue) remains a niche phenomenon. Case to follow.

PS: This is a sketch of history to complete over the discoveries.