Could you live on the road, powered by nothing but your own two legs? When all of your belongings fit in a few bags, your office is a roadside diner, and your home is a meandering route from Canada to the southern tip of Argentina?
Two Years on a Bike photographer and travel writer Martijn Doolaard puts this to the test. Strapping on the necessities and venturing into desolate wastelands and sojourns in vast cities, Doolaard documents life on one of the world’s most breathtaking—and notorious— routes.
Using the wealth of knowledge provided by this experienced explorer in Two Years on a Bike, we have set out to answer some of the most important bikepacking questions. From worries about your bike, to finding the perfect camping spot, here’s what Doolaard has to say about the tools you will need in order to embark on an adventure of a lifetime.
Choosing The Bike
“It goes without saying that the bike itself deserves thorough contem-plation” Doolaard mentions. Yet, “it’s best not to get bogged down in fretting over the “right” setup. When I remember meeting local bicycle travellers in India or Bolivia, navigating long distances on cheap Chinese racing bikes with their belongings stuffed in cardboard boxes and strapped onto self-fabricated racks, I see that it ultimately doesn’t matter much. If there’s a will, there’s a way.”
With “more options than ever” finding the perfect set up is a “fun puzzle” the cyclist muses. So in a world of infinite choice, where does one start? In Doolaard’s words, “the first thing is, then, to learn what you like and need.” Seems straightforward enough…
But how do we find that out? “Obviously, there are a few bikes to rule out for the journey described here. That ultra-lightweight racing bike of yours would most likely snap under the weight of heavily loaded panniers. Your favorite fixie that looks so good with your coat and scarf won’t get you up steep climbs,” he states.
“Consider your riding posture, too: a sportive position might break your back in the long run…on the other hand, an upright position will be unbearable in a relentless headwind. You will probably end up somewhere in the middle.”
“With good bike geometry, you can spend a long day in the saddle without too many aches,” Doolaard comments. “A handlebar that offers multiple riding positions prevents strain in wrists and shoulders, and a strong frame will easily carry you and your belongings… And you will want gears: the more the better. You will use “gran-ny-gear” more often than you think, climbing those endless cordilleras.”
What to Pack and How?
When answering this question, Doolaard notes “climbing the first hills with the sheer weight of a fully loaded bike always makes me reconsider everything I am carrying. “Do I really need this bluetooth speaker? Should I lose the Bialetti and settle for instant coffee?” We know what we’d be holding onto…
But how do we pack our essentials efficiently on our bike? Let’s talk about storage. “Panniers fit a lot of luggage and you can quickly remove them for convenience when you check in to a hotel or visit a restaurant and don’t want to leave all of your belongings on the street” Doolaard comments.
“I went for a (combination) bikepacking set-up with racks and panniers on the back for more space. The handlebar bag on the front held my camera, so it would be easily accessible. I learned this from my previous trip: the more effort it takes to get the camera, the more valuable moments you miss capturing.”
When it comes to what to pack, Doolard tries “not to overpack on clothing and carry only what the season demands”, preferring to cycle in “casual outdoor clothing that dries fast but doesn't look too sporty” his aim is being able to go “out in the city without looking like I just got off my bike.”
With the right bike and the most important items packed, it looks like we are ready to get out on the road. The final thing on our list then, is knowing where and how to seek refuge after a long day’s cycle. This brings us to our final bikepacking essential…
How to Camp and Where?
“One of my favourite aspects of bike travel is being able to wild camp at any given moment.”
Making use of apps with such as “iOverlander and park4night” Doolard was able to find a spot to rest during his trip. But when reflecting on his camping experience, he mentioned that he “preferred to scroll the maps searching for a secluded spot in the forest, on the beach, or along a steep cliff. There, I pitched the tent, watched the sunset, and felt the freedom of sleeping outside.” Sounds ideal to us…
When it comes to camping then, Doolard comments that “for most, camping is a summer activity. Winter is often considered too cold, too dark, or too wet to sleep outside,” although “winter camping can be an (equally) enjoyable and beautiful experience.” So how can you prepare for colder camping climates?
“It’s important to dress well with the right technical garments,”Doolaard says. “For sleeping, a thick down bag is just the start. Most of the cold will come from direct contact with the ground. A reflective foam pad with an aluminium layer will help a lot, which you can combine with an insulated air mattress to help trap warm air between your body and the ground.” To heat your sleeping bag, he mentions to “add a bottle of hot water or some stones from the campfire.” Finally, “do a workout just before you go inside the tent. The blood flow makes sure all of your body parts are warm and instantly heats up the sleeping bag.”
So there you have it! All the essentials you would need in order to spend two years out on the road, from the perfect bike to the best camping tips (and everything in between). We only have one question remaining: when shall we go?
To read more about Doolard’s travels and discover the advice he has to share for an adventure of your own, explore his journey in further detail, in Two Years on a Bike.