What I learned from my first bikepacking trip

What I learned from my first bikepacking trip

The summer of 2019 marked my first bikepacking trip. I cycled approximately 935 kilometres from Edinburgh to London. In this post, I’ll tell you all about my experiences and the planning of this multiple-day bikeride. Scroll down for my most important take-aways from this trip.

Cycling on the other side of the road

Being from continental Europe, cycling on the left side was new for me. But I can assure you: you’ll get used to it within 5 minutes. Crossings can be slightly confusing in the beginning, though the road markings in the UK are generally a lot clearer then they are in The Netherlands. Especially roundabouts have very clear markers and arrows, so it’s only natural to take them the other way around.

The beginner’s gear

When you hold the belief that you need all kinds of fancy gear to go bikepacking, you’re definitely mistaken! At the time, I had a โ‚ฌ200,- second-hand road bike from some obscure brand. It didn’t have clip-in padels, so I wore running shoes. And because I was sleeping in B&B’s and hostels, I didn’t bring much luggage. I didn’t need a tent and washed my clothes on rest days. This meant I only brought a small 22L backpack for the 2 weeks spent in the UK. Even then, I didn’t use all of the clothing items I packed. Spending most of the time on my bike, I chose to wear my favourite and most comfortable sports clothes and one casual dress on rest days. Extra t-shirts were left unused. In terms of raingear, I had a thin rainjacket knotted around the frame of my bike when I wasn’t wearing it. Based on these experiences, I would recommend to be very picky on what you’re bringing. You really don’t want any access weight (especially when wearing a backpack).

Getting to and from Edinburgh & London

The person I was cycling with only had 2 weeks in between graduating and starting a new job, so the whole trip was a bit rushed. Unfortunately, there are no ferries from The Netherlands directly to Scotland. We also didn’t have time to travel to Edinburgh for multiple days, as that wouldn’t leave enough time for cycling. So we ended up flying to Edinburgh… To make things even worse, there wasn’t even a direct flight! Instead we took two short ones: Amsterdam to London and London to Edinburgh – something I would never do again today. Bringing bikes on airplanes turned out to be quite easy, however: get yourself a cardboard bike box from a bike shop and simply hand it off at the airport at the special luggage area.

Due to some delays on the first flight, the bikes didn’t make the connecting flight to Edinburgh. I anticipated this possibility and wanted to see Edinburgh anyways, so we had scheduled a few days in the city. Thankfully, the bikes arrived before the first planned day of cycling and were delivered to the hostel (after multiple calls with the airport and airline company, which was a little stressful). If you have more time, it’s worth taking the ferry from IJmuiden to Newcastle and ride the train up to Edinburgh.

The journey from London back to The Netherlands was also not ideal. Booking bikes on the Eurostar train is not possible online and also not available on all trajectories. Back in 2019, it was still possible to take bikes between Amsterdam from London, but since COVID you can only ship bikes to Paris or Brussels, unfortunately. Another downside was having to deliver the bikes to St. Pancras International station the night before actually taking the train, which added to the logistic puzzle of using our own bikes abroad. On the day itself, everything went smoothly, thankfully! I was able to pick up my bike in Amsterdam immediately upon arrival.

Planning the route

Before departing, I had a general idea of the route we’d take and booked accommodation for the first few nights in the UK. We didn’t plan our ‘resting days’ in advance, nor the accommodation for the second half the trip. This turned out to be a good decision, as a ruptured outer tire forced us to stay in Newcastle for an extra night. It also allowed some for flexibility towards the end of the trip. It was nice to be able to adjust the distance based on our level of tiredness.

To navigate, I mostly used Maps.me. This app allows you to download maps on WiFi beforehand, so you can use them without data when cycling. I didn’t think this app was great for navigating. It’s better suited for tracking places you’ve been to or still want to visit. Google Maps is also quite terrible for cycling on a road bike, as it will direct you to gravel roads quite often. As a result, I ended up on off-road paths multiple times, ran into roadblocks and cycled next to the motorway a lot. In England, you really have to know your way around to find nice cycle paths and avoid the motorways at the same time. Nowadays, I use Strava for planning my routes.

The best parts of the route

Since I wouldn’t recommend most parts of the route I took, I didn’t write it out entirely. I will still highlight some of the areas that are good for cycling here. Starting off with: the southeast coast of Scotland. Between Dunbar and Berwick-upon-Tweed, you get some lovely views of the sea. The hilly area south of Dunbar that is more inland is also worth cycling through. In summer, you can find routes past meadows full of flowers. If you’re up for more serious hills, I’d suggest the North York Moors for good climbs and beautiful views. Similarly, the Peak District is worth visiting for scenic hillside panaroma’s, as well as cute villages. In all of these areas, you will be cycling on car roads. This does mean that car drivers are used to sharing the road with cyclists, so it’s fairly safe. The only times I was a bit scared was when racing downhill whilst being passed by cars. This taught me to better research into the type of roads I’ll be cycling on before starting the trip.

Most important tips

  • You don’t need fancy gear or an amazing bike for your first bikepacking trip.
  • Make sure not to overpack, because you’ll probably only want to wear your most comfortable outfit over and over again (so do bring some soap to wash it!).
  • If you take your bike on a plane (especially when you have multiple connecting flights), take into consideration that your bike might arrive a few days later. To avoid this kind of stress and a lot of CO2 emmissions, please opt for a train or ferry instead of flying!
  • The easiest way of transporting your bike on a plane is by getting a cardboad bike box from your local bike shop. They will usually let you take the box for free.
  • Make sure you have enough time for your cycling trip, so you don’t feel rushed and/or struggle to make it back home in time for work or other responsibilities.
  • Maps.me and Google Maps tend to suggest routes that include gravel roads, so I wouldn’t recommend them. I now make my routes on Strava and export them to BikeGPX for navigation.
  • Be prepared to cycle on car roads throughout the UK. Finding nice cycle paths in England requires thorough planning. If possible, try asking some English cyclists for advice or stick to the Eurovelo routes.

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