One of the most exciting things I think you can do on a bike is camp out. Whether this be overnight, a few days, weeks, whatever. It’s a fantastic way of going back to basics and taking in the surroundings. One of my personal favourites was falling asleep in a bivvy bag on a British beach, middle of October with the wind howling across my face. However, I’ve had my fair share of bad trips and lessons learnt, information I wish to pass onto you.
The Dahon in the image above was my first folding bike. About 7 years ago I was on eBay (Drunk…) and put a very low bid in on this Dahon that was in my town. The next morning I woke up to notifications from eBay that I had won, and needed to pay up the £40. Yes, £40! Whilst still hungover, I walked over to the other side of town, to be greeted by a gentleman who was not happy about handing the bike over. (I think his exact words were “You got that bloody cheap didn’t you” before throwing it out the door) It had flat tyres, wheels were filthy and the chain was rusted. I walked it back home and started cleaning it up. What laid before me was actually a nice bike that needed some TLC. Luckily at the time I worked in a bike shop so the next day I took it in and did what I needed to do. Whilst changing the tyres my colleague said “Ha, imagine going for a full on tour on that!”
Hmmm. Imagine indeed…
I grabbed the biggest and cheapest pannier bag we had, and rode home with the biggest smile on my face. I dug about through my supplies and found an old sleeping bag, one of those roll up foam sleeping mats, a cheap one man tent and my even cheaper gas stove. As a fellow Download Festival enthusiast, cheap camping supplies were fairly commonplace in my shed. A few days later I had the bike packed up and ready to go. I had no idea where I was going, or how far I’d get. I was on my laptop minutes before I left the house looking at what campsites were nearby and trying to memorise roughly where they all were.
I set off, and soon learnt that the sheer weight on the back made the bike lift if you wasn’t leaning forward enough. But I didn’t care, this was brilliant. Out on the open road, no plan, no route, just riding. I eventually ended up around 40 miles away from home, and found a caravan site that would let me set up for free. Downside, there was no toilet block. Upside, there was a pub straight across the road. I got my tent set up, everything inside (including the bike, folded up and slipped in, no one would know it was there!) and nipped across the road. Beer, pub dinner and I was beaming from ear to ear. It was great, I felt free and content.
The next morning I spent an hour packing up and getting everything back on the bike. I plodded home, constantly thinking about where I would go next. An adventure really frees the mind.
I did a lot of things wrong and learnt so much from that first overnighter. So here is my advice to you if you’re thinking of doing anything like this –
- Learn some basic bicycle mechanics.
Now I’m not expecting you to know how to change a headset at the side of the road here, but a general understanding of your bike is a must. If you can’t change your inner tube, tighten up a loose bolt, or make adjustments to a brake catching the wheels then you really ought to. Nothing worse than having to walk a bike 10+ miles to the nearest bike shop because you’ve got a flatty. Have all that extra weight on a bike puts extra strain on your wheels, chain and brakes, so be somewhat prepared with a quality multi-tool, hand pump and puncture repair kit in your setup.
2. Take what you need, not what you think you’ll need.
Sounds a bit odd, but hear me out. I took a stool, tent, sleeping bag, mat, stove, food, bottles of beer, two spare tubes, tools, clothes for two days, and various other items. I could’ve left the bottles of beer, a tube, half the tools, most of the clothes, the stool and still would’ve survived. As I mentioned before, the weight was VERY noticeable. You won’t get it right on your first go, but you’ll learn from that as to what you use and don’t use. Fun fact, a friend of mine cut a toothbrush down so he had an inch of handle, to save space and weight…
3. Plan your route, and make sure you have plenty of options for stopping somewhere.
I had no idea where I was going on my first overnighter, but I had a rough idea of where I could go no matter which direction I took. Plan ahead and be sure that if you are unfortunate to break down or not make the required distance for your destination, you have other options available along route.
4. You don’t need fancy gear!
Don’t get me wrong, I have much better equipment now. But everything I had at the start worked, and was proper budget-friendly. The tent was £20 and lasted me a few trips out before it started getting holes. The gas stove worked the entire time I had it, I ended up replacing it with a Alpkit Brukit just to save space. The sleeping bag eventually got upgraded to one half the size when packed up. But I didn’t need the expensive stuff. I’d be surprised if everything in that pannier bag on the first trip cost more than £70, including the bag. Just get it bought, use and abuse it, then replace it when you have the cash. Last thing you want to do is splash out on all the gear and then realise that actually – you hate camping.
And that’s it. I hope you’re inspired to get out and explore the world around you. And remember, once you have the equipment, doing these trips can be as cheap as the food you’ll need to take. I’ve camped out in forests and fields for nothing. Literally had a full weekend away for the price of some fish and chips and a few pots of instant noodles.
AND REMEMBER – Leave where ever you camp as you found it. Don’t leave litter, and get the landowners permission to camp where possible.