Bikepacking: Here’s what we learned.
As a digital nomad one doesn’t need much. Bikepacking is a new level of minimalism. Here’s what we learned on our first trip.
Sunday, June 15. We arrived at our destination: Mount Olympus, Cyprus. In the village of Troodos (5km from the peak). We departed on this journey to escape the melting heat down at the beach, but also to get fit and explore a new lifestyle: bikepacking.
- Lapierre PRORACE329 29" cross-country bike
- Restrap 14L Saddle Bag (for clothes)
- Restrap Large Frame Bag (for bike utensils and food)
- Vaude Uphill 16L ultralight backpack for laptop and electronics
- Mavic Air with 1 battery & charger, no remote, no extras (for WiFi use only)
- 12" MacBook for work, iPhone, Watch
- Anker PowerPort 5-Port USB C, 2 lightning cables, 1 Watch charging cable, 1 USB-C cable
- Clothes (casual): 2 t-shirts, 1 button shirt, 1 pair of shorts, flip-flops, underwear
- Clothes (sport): Endura bike shorts and shirt, socks, crossfit shoes
- toothpaste, toothbrush
- Bike parts: spare tube, tube patch set, multi-tool
- Lapierre EDGE 127 W 2017 27" mountain bike
- Restrap Small Frame Bag
- Restrap Top Bag
- 12" MacBook for work, iPhone, Watch
- Clothes (casual): 2 pairs of shorts, 1 shirt, undergarments
- Clothes (sport): Endura bike pants, long bike pants, sports bra, 2 long shirts
- toothbrush, body moisturiser, aloe vera cream
- Bike parts: spare tube
That’s it. We’re 10 days on the road now with nothing else. We get the clothes washed every few days while we’re working during the day and wash the sports stuff right after use. Luckily our laptop batteries have different charge cycles, so we don’t need to charge the same time (as we only have one charger/cable).
Making it “work”
Timing is everything. Getting up and out before 5am allows 3–4 hours of riding before the 9–5ers go to work. In Cyprus we are ahead of Central Europe by 1 hour and most of the time we had arrived and checked in before 10am. We’re not required to be available 9am CEST, but it’s good to maintain a schedule and communicate that with the team. If something were to go wrong on the road or if we misjudge the distance, there is still leeway to fix things. Flexibility is crucial.
Up before 5am, breakfast on the road, lunch at mid-day, dinner around 6pm and to bed before 9pm gives “9–5” a whole new meaning.
Our MacBooks usually last 3-4 hours on a charge, lunch break was usually forced, as we barely found accessible power plugs around. Another 3–4 hours after lunch and then finish the day with a good Cypriot red wine and dinner. I can’t complain.
Internet was usually available, yet speeds varied a lot. As levels.io once said, the more stars a hotel, the lower the internet bandwidth, this was also true for our trips. The 4-star hotel we wanted to treat and pamper ourselves a little bit had barely enough bandwidth for a wifi call. Although we are in the possession of a Huawei E5885 4G Mobile WiFi Hotspot and a 60GB LTE plan, the device rests happily in our apartment at the charger, forgotten. This is the device I miss most on the road, since LTE coverage is usually pretty good.
Every day is a surprise
Unknown roads. Unknown terrain. Unknown weather conditions. Unknown work conditions. New hosts. New bed. New surroundings. Every day is a surprise, treat it that way and you won’t be disappointed. Be prepared for total exhaustion, bad wifi, uncomfortable sleeping conditions and bad food. In most cases you’ll be happily surprised how well everything goes and how nice people are. Even the most unpredictable things can and will happen, for example, as “Rains are almost unheard of in July” (weather report) we didn’t pack the rain covers for our backpacks. And of course we caught a few drops just before our arrival in Troodos. For more serious conditions, I would have moved laptops and chargers in the waterproof Restrap bag in exchange for the clothes. Or asked the close-by friendly neighbourhood British Military Forces Base for shelter (don’t know how that would have gone!). There’s a solution to every problem, get creative.
Get Breakfast on arrival, not departure
This is one of the somehow obvious things we discovered. In most cases, having booked bed & breakfast, we got the breakfast to go. Sandwiches and boiled eggs prepared the evening before. Breakfast for champions? I don’t think so.
Arriving at a place at or before 10am means two things:
- your room isn’t ready
- breakfast is still being served
Just tell the host you’d prefer to have breakfast on arrival instead of departure and get a full breakfast on arrival. Afterwards get some work done and surely the room will be ready soon.
Flexibility is more important than Fitness
On a good day, we made roughly 30km. The longest was 47km and the shortest but hardest an 8km “mountain hike” (pushing the bikes up the mountain trail). Distance can’t be measured just in range, altitude makes all the difference. For most tours, we set a rough goal, but didn’t book accommodation in advance. In case we couln’t make it there. Being flexible is very important, both financially and in time. We tried to have our tours done by 9am, but then sometimes we were still on the bike at 11am. We had initially scheduled to also ride in the evening, but never actually done that. To be able to work on a flexible schedule is crucial for a bikepacking trip.
In most villages, we found good value accommodation. But the closer we got to Mount Olympus, the more touristic, less available and more expensive the rooms became. Low-budget is definitely harder on this kind of a trip, since we ill-equipped for self-catering accommodation. Bookings through BnB sites aren’t fast enough to get something reserved at 9am to move in 10am in the morning.
We booked hotels for 3 days twice. Both times we had a hard time getting out and doing something. Guess what, getting up at 4.30am is hard. Given July is the hottest month of the year in Cyprus and it was already bright at 5am, it was important to get out of the sun as early as possible. But also we wanted to keep a strict work schedule, so the “workout” should be completed by 9am. When we booked the room for one night only, the bags were already packed, bikes prepared and before sunrise we were already out of town.
The Little Things
- We didn’t pack chargers for our electric toothbrushes, usually the battery lasts about 2 weeks. Needless to say after a week the first one gave up and we had to find manual toothbrushes in a kiosk. Unfortunately The Wooden Toothbrush Shop didn’t offer same-day delivery in the mountains of Cyprus.
- Pack sunscreen.
- We have 0.75l reusable water bottles on the bikes. After ~15-20km on the mountain road up through nirvana without villages, those were empty of course and we were dehydrated. We found a deserted house with a working water pipe and refilled. Be creative. Break rules.
- The Vaude 16L backpacks are just 2–3cm too small to comfortable fit a 12" MacBook. We made it work, but I wish the product specs would have been correct when I ordered them.
The hardest part is done, we arrived in Troodos Hotel and we’ll stay here for the week. There are plenty of famous bike tracks, which we’ll attempt in the next few days. It’s not a cheap vacation for sure, but a work trip and we’re getting a lot done here in the nature with low temperatures, and fresh air.