Taking on Your First Bikepacking Rally

By Charlotte Murray

If you like riding your bike in adventurous locations for a long time surrounded by like-minded folks, then a bikepacking rally might be the thing for you. But what is a bikepacking rally I hear you say?

Imagine a race where you have to carry all your own kit, except it isn’t a race and you get to enjoy a great route, whilst taking in the local culture, the people, and the riding, at a pace which is almost entirely set by you. There is usually a start date and a finish date, and other than following a defined route, what you do within those dates is up to you. In some ways, it’s an off-road audax.

It is usually challenging, but not a race, more a supportive environment within which you can push yourself amongst others doing the same thing. In short, it’s GREAT.

How do I know I’m ready to take part in a bikepacking rally?

To be honest, you might not. Unless you’ve done a lot of long-distance, multi-day bikepacking of course. Then you may well cruise through it. But often there will be other people at the start line of a bikepacking rally having never done such a thing before. That is the beauty of a rally, the vast breadth of experience. From other first-timers to keep you company, to lifelong dirtbags who live for life on the bike and can offer great insight.

Within reason, you will have done an overnighter or some long back-to-back days on your bike before, so at the very least, you know you won’t hate it. You don’t want to get halfway through your trip, decide it’s not for you and instead decide that as soon as you get home you’re selling your bike to the nearest bike shop and taking up crocheting. There may indeed be moments you feel that way, but they never last.

I’m not sure I am ready…

There are loads of expedition organisations out there whos bikepacking trips you could join. You’ll have the opportunity to test gear, and share knowledge, and feel better able to embark on a self-supported challenge afterwards. Companies like Pannier.CC, Sisters in the Wild or TDA Global Cyclin offer guided bikepacking trips where the logistics are taken care of, you just have to show up!

Women Bikepacking
Sisters in the Wild is a community working to create an environment where people other than men can feel empowered to expand their comfort zones in a safe and supportive environment.

How do I choose which rally to take part in?

Your location, or desired destination may make this choice easy for you. But it may also depend on your personal riding preference as well as current ability. Research which events are out there, considering factors such as distance, terrain, and type of services along the route – whether you’re hoping for 5* hotels with lots of cafes along the route, or a remote mountain refuge and dinner under the stars.

If you’re keen to push yourself beyond your comfort zone in a new and exciting location, then there will be plenty on offer. The beauty of bikepacking is in the exciting unknowns – and the beautiful places you see on route.

So, here are some examples of bikepacking rallies:

The Tuscany Trail, Italy

This one is good if you like company, since Taking on your first bikepacking rally is one of the most popular bikepacking events around. It’s not a race, and you’ll get to enjoy the stunning views, food, and drink that Tuscany offers.

How far? 550 km

What’s the terrain like? Expect dirt, gravel, grass and paths in this rolling route.

When is it? May

The Calder Divide Trail, UK

If you’re UK or would like to visit this less-touristy part of northern England, the Calder Divide Trail offers a welcoming experience in bikepacking. You can opt to be self-supported or stay at their camping village with luggage transfer option.Pla

How far? 4 route choices from 160 – 260 km

What’s the terrain like? 70% off-road crossing 12 valleys, 6 moors and 1 floodplain in West Yorkshire, England.

When is it? September

The Gran Guanche, Spain

If you want epic landscapes, then the Canary Islands offers exploration of an ever-changing landscape, traversing the archipelago using local knowledge, the GR131 walking path and established race trails. There’s something for everyone.

How far? Three options from 600 – 800 km, and from 14,000 m to 20,000 m of climbing

What’s the terrain like? Each route covers slightly different terrain for different preferences and technical abilities.

When is it? That depends, you can join an ‘audax’ for more of a challenge, or join one of the group rides throughout the year.

Midnight Sun, Finland

Ride the Midnight Sun in Finland to explore the exceptional gravel roads and forests of a wild area, especially if you want a lot of daylight to see it all!

How far? Choose from the Mille route: over 1000 km and 8500 m climbing, or the Explorer route: 690 km and over 5000 m climbing.

What’s the terrain like? Both routes are roughly 50/50 off-road/asphalt.

When is it? June

Carso Trail, Italy & Slovenia

The Carso Trail gives you 4 days to cover the entire route, with three versions: a classic, fast and adventure, you can choose your own trip. But with all three you explore the historic and naturally beautiful area that borders Italy and Slovenia, offering a rich experience in more ways than one.

How far? 340 km with over 6000 m of climbing

What’s the terrain like? You’ll be off-road around 70% of the time, and can expect to ride almost 100% of it – depending on which route you take.

When is it? May

How can I prepare for a bikepacking rally?

You can check out our ‘Bikepacking Tips’ series to figure everything out, from which bags to take to how to properly fuel your adventure.

Taking part in a rally is a shared experience before it even begins, so why not reach out to your fellow riders and see if they have any insight to offer. If you’re joining an expedition, the organisers will no doubt help you to prepare as well.

Whatever route you take, know that it is the right one for you. Bikepacking doesn’t have to be a competition, as long as you enjoy the ride. And who knows, maybe one day you will feel like pushing yourself further again, and join a bikepacking race.