Travel Carbon-Free with Bikepacking

By Kathryn Wisniewski | Photo courtesy Madeline Valentine

“Here in Wisconsin, you can ride an hour any direction of Madison and be out in the woods, away from people, and you can get yourself there by your own power. All you need is a bike to get you where you need to go,” says Katie Shaw, co-founder of Rad Bags and an avid bikepacker.

Bikepacking combines camping, backpacking and cycling into a multi-day trek where your bike carries all the equipment. “You’re working really hard but being rewarded every moment,” Shaw says of the experience.

Unlike other trips using cars, trains or planes, cycling leaves behind no carbon emissions. Bikepacking limits the logistics to you, your bike and the road ahead.

“I think a lot of folks think that they can’t do something if they don’t have the right gear or might be intimidated,” Shaw says. But places like the Cargo Bike Shop, Revolution Cycle or Madison’s REI are resources for new bikepackers to discover the activity and connect with others.

Besides the bicycle, the rest of the equipment depends on the individual and the trip.

“The best gear is the gear you already own,” Shaw says. Camping gear just needs to be compact enough to pack onto a bike.

Karl Galko, outdoor programs and outreach market coordinator at REI Madison, explains that after the bike, a frame bag is one of the first pieces of equipment someone new to the sport will want. These, like the ones handmade by Rad Bags in Madison, attach to the bike frame, allowing bikepackers to bring their gear along without having to carry it in a backpack. Different types of bags can be attached to different parts of the bike, such as the handlebars or behind the seat. For long or overnight trips, you’ll need a sleeping bag, food and water, and a bike repair kit.

“How you deck out your bike rig is really going to depend on where you plan to head with it and how long you might be out,” Galko says.

A fully-prepped rig opens the door to the byways of Wisconsin, from Lake Kegonsa to Blue Mounds or Governor Dodge state parks. Looping together stops like these is one of RC Anderson’s favorite routes in Wisconsin. Anderson is a mechanic at the Cargo Bike shop and the other half of the Rad Bags duo. She immersed herself in the world of self-supported travel after hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2012 and later doing a road bike tour.

Tools like the Dane County Bicycle Map app make planning trips a breeze. The map, available online via computer or smartphone web browser, produces bike-friendly routes between locations, calculates distances and cycling times and can include camping or food stops.

“You don’t have to have a super-fancy bike or legs of steel to do this,” says Anderson. “I really believe that anybody can go bikepacking and you can go as fast or slow as you want and just make it your trip.”

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