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  • Writer's pictureDan Cavallari

Pack and Play: A beginner goes bikepacking

With just about any bike and a minimum of planning, you too can fall in love with bikepacking, literally, overnight.


SCENE 1: In which I embarrass myself in the fall

Two years ago I found myself bar to bar with another racer on a cyclocross course. As we wove through a few tight tape-to-tape turns, I slammed on my front brake, went over the bars, and crashed. He rode on and I yelled some things I’m not proud of.

I derive a lot of pleasure from racing. But it also brings out aspects of my personality I’m not entirely comfortable with. That’s why this summer, I took a break from racing my bicycle. Instead, I sought out a completely different cycling experience, one that brought out completely opposing emotions.

I tried my hand at bikepacking.

SCENE 2: In which gravel doesn’t get my goat

When the gravel scene began its explosive growth, I simply wasn’t impressed. Why ride something that’s both slower than a road bike and less stable off-road than a mountain bike? There had to be a reason why so many people were embracing the gravel bike while I remained so bored by it. What was all the hoopla about?

Then I thought about Hippie Bob and The Gnome.

Bob Lombardo lived beneath Rose Bike Shop in Orono, Maine. His constant visits to the shop area where I was wrenching offered a serene, if slightly cranky, critique on why the industry’s pursuit of the newest and greatest was often hogwash. And Hippie Bob was right most of the time.

While I obsessed over the newest full suspension bikes and ever-expanding drivetrain options, Bob spent his time building up steel fixed-gear mountain bikes with rigid forks and mustache handlebars. Bob could, and did, truly go anywhere on these Frankenbikes. Camp in the woods? Sure, just strap on what you need. Mountain bike ride? Up for it. Road ride? Not a problem. It wasn’t a matter of getting the gear; it was a matter of pushing the pedals in whatever direction you wanted to go. Bob knew that well before I did.

David Herbold, known in certain circles as The Gnome, was similarly adventurous with a touch of curmudgeonly charm thrown in. I met him at Pay N’ Take in Flagstaff, Arizona. He wasn’t the first person to toss some flared drop bars onto a rigid mountain bike, but he was the first person I’d ever seen riding such a creation.

Memories of Hippie Bob and the Gnome popped into my head this past February when Trek released its Checkpoint gravel bike. I thought about both men as I listened to a presentation on the bike’s versatility. Then I got an idea.

By itself, the Checkpoint wasn’t much different from any other gravel bike I had ridden. But there was something about it that did catch my attention, something that made real the promise that I too could achieve gravel adventures. I’m talking, of course, about small bosses on the fork and top tube. They’re made to accommodate a rack and bag setup. You know, like, bikepacking bags.

I had a bike. I had a bag. And I was sure I could carve out a few free hours. Maybe I could make sense of gravel by bikepacking.

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