Published by Lyn on 28 May 2015
Richard Peace has a first look at a new range of high-quality bikepacking gear from Wildcat.
Mountain Lion handlebar harness: £65
Tiger saddle harness: £70-£75
Lioness Handlebar pack: £45
Available from: wildcatgear.co.uk
As there is nothing new under the sun – so often in cycling the latest new fashions have actually been tried before. Bikepacking seems to be appearing everywhere in the cycling press recently and the idea looks great fun. It's basically offroad cycle camping that involves taking with you the minimum you need; load up a lightweight tent, sleeping gear, spares and repairs kit and food (and possibly cooking equipment), and you're off.
Of course cyclists have found this idea alluring before; the Rough Stuff Fellowship have been enjoying offroad escapes on wild tracks since 1955 and on steel frames with no suspension or disk/V brakes!
Modern bikepacking (more appealing to me at at least) has added extremely lightweight camping and carrying equipment to the mix, favouring lightweight mountain bikes with suspension and using a carrying system of straps and harnesses that make the extra weight of panniers and racks redundant.
Fitting the system to the bike
I trialled a handmade set of carrying gear from Wale's by Wildcat Gear.
The gear aims to utilise the space in front of the handlebars, within the bike's diamond frame and under the rear seat. Fitting is a little more complicated than you might imagine, as the system of straps and buckles is designed to give the maximum amount of contact points with the bike so the equipment stays firmly attached and doesn't swing about unduly when riding; a real risk you might think with just strapping things onto your bike.
After half an hour or so of careful fitting using Wildcat's clear and quick diagrammatic instructions, I was off on the test ride. While minimalist Alpinist-style gear might be the purist approach to bikepacking, as a creaky almost 50-year-old, I need some concession to comfort, so I loaded a roomy 3kg Vango tent into the front Mountain Lion harness before strapping on the Lioness handlebar pack to the front of this, containing my spares and repairs kit.
A 1kg, 3-season sleeping bag went into the Tiger saddle harness. My 2kg luxury sleeping mat went in a small backpack along with food, making a total 7kg or so payload; no doubt heavy by bikepacker standards but a very useful system for my own version of luxury bikepacking.
Fitted to my wonderful Focus Thron Impulse electric mountain bike, this set up should allow me lots of long weekends on a single charge of the battery (I should get around 70 miles riding at least per charge).
On my initial test ride, all the harnesses did their job very well and I was surprised by how little the 3kg tent affected the handling of the bike, being only slightly noticeable at lower speeds, making the steering feel a little heavier; no doubt something my brain would automatically adjust to after a while. Nor did I notice any swing or sway from the loaded harnesses, which I might have expected.
The harnesses and bags themselves look very well made with strongly sewn seams and secure buckles. Note that for my initial test ride I put the gear straight in the harnesses, but if there is the possibility of rain, dry bags would also be needed. There is also a handy looking universal frame fit bag that sits along the top tube, but the bike battery on my Focus didn't allow fitting.
And now to unload ...
Unloading the camping is as easy as undoing a few buckles, the harnesses staying attached to the bike for quick reloading next day. My only quibble is that for such expensive items, they only carry a 12-month guarantee; lots of the best outdoor gear has a lifetime guarantee.
I'm certainly a convert to the idea of bikepacking in its modern form and hope to put the idea to the test more thoroughly over the summer months.
Richard Peace is founder of Excellent Books, specialists in cycle publishing. He has made several tours of France and is author of Cycling Southern France (UK, US), Cycling Northern France (UK, US), and Electric Bicycles: The Complete Guide (UK, US). He is a regular contributor to A to B magazine, Bike Europe and writes for Eurobike Show Daily.