Peddling the practice of bikepacking

Growing sport of backcountry biking in the Valley

While far less famous than its ancient relative backpacking, bikepacking is gaining a dedicated roster of groupies, including within the Columbia Valley.

According to bikepack.ca, bikepacking is the union of mountain biking and backpacking.

“Compared to asphalt touring, bikepackers traditionally operate within the backcountry realm, carry lighter loads, and find solace in a more wholistic approach to two wheel travel…scouting our own routes, DIY gear projects, and taking part in underground events like the Tour Divide,” it reads.

Invermere resident Steve O’Shaughnessy started bikepacking about four years ago. He opted to test his mettle against other bikepackers, signing up for his first race in 2017 – a 700 km route from Coleman to Hinton, Alberta, 80 per cent of it on gravel. He made it as far as Canmore before throwing in the towel, thinking, he said as he stopped, that he would never do it again. That first race was a huge learning curve for him, with the unknowns including not knowing how long he would be able to sit in the saddle, what to eat, how his body would cope – it was all foreign. But the Alberta 700 hooked him into the endurance bikepacking world.

“Literally the next day, I signed up for another race,” he says.

Last year he entered and finished the BC Epic 1000, a Merritt to Fernie route that gains 11,600 metres in elevation, about 80 per cent off road and mostly on old decommissioned railgrades. He was one of only 68 riders to undertake the insanity, finishing in four days, four hours. He plans to face the Alberta Rockies 700 again in August, this time far better prepared than his 2017 run.

“It’s one of those ways to push your personal limits. We’re capable of so much,” remarks Mr. O’Shaughnessy.

It is a fairly small community of riders that compete in bikepacking, if its most ‘popular’ races are any indication. Among the more famous is the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, running from Banff to the US / Mexico border, a 4,417 km ultra-endurance race. According to bikepacking.com, this is “the most recognized and important off-pavement cycling route in the United States.” Its last race saw a grand total of 164 riders take part, many ‘scratching’ – not finishing – the gruelling route.

The Alberta Rockies 700 had 24 racers in 2017; 11 in 2018. The BC Epic 1000 saw 44 riders take on the task this year, with many not completing it and some, as of this story’s writing, still undertaking the route on their own more leisurely-timelines than the official race start of June 29th. Races typically have a ‘grand depart’ day, but there is also the opportunity to start whenever suits you, and take as long as you would like to take. They are not races in the traditional sense, and do not include monitored pitstops, support systems, or even an official cheering squad at the completion of the route.

Mr. O’Shaughnessy urges anyone considering bikepacking to give it a try.

“On a bike you can go so much further, and you can see so much more. It’s just a great way to see the country,” he says.

If you are interested in trying out bikepack racing, there is an area bikepacking race called the Lost Elephant, with two route options. Lost Elephant Dumbo is about 300 km, running through the Purcells south of Cranbrook to the headwaters of the Yahk and Moyie Rivers. Lost Elephant Jumbo ride takes bikers on a 500+ km ride leaving from Cranbrook, into the Purcells up to Brewer Creek, along a single track descent into the bike park at Panorama, through rural Windermere roads to get to the Spirit Trail and into the Rocky Mountains, then back to Cranbrook. The Lost Elephant race begins on July 27th. For more information, see https://lostelephant.ca.

While bikepacking flies under the radar for many people, there is a growing resource of information out there, including a podcast hosted by Mr. O’Shaughnessy dedicated to backpacking’s curious cousin. He has nine podcasts recorded so far. The podcasts have been well-received, he reports. His goal is to put out a new podcast once a month.

The podcast was started by a man named Ryan Correy back in 2016, along with a website dedicated to this tight-knit world.

“He founded it in order to bring the community together, chat about biking gear – the whole philosophy of it,” shares Mr. O’Shaughnessy. But the 35-year old athlete was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in May 2018 and passed away nine months later.

After Mr. Correy’s death, the website went dormant. Mr. O’Shaughnessy asked Mr. Correy’s wife if he could take over to help support the site, and he has been making podcasts to add to the dozens done by Mr. Correy since.

To learn more about bikepacking, or to listen to Mr. O’Shaughnessy’s podcast, visit www.bikepack.ca.

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