Our Best Bikepacking Tips & A Stunning Custom Gravel Bike
Few people are as passionate about all forms of cycling as much as our ambassador, Maria Wilke. Based in Germany, Maria is a prolific star on social media—especially on Instagram under the handle, @maryywilke—where she shares a ton of creative and inspiring content that always wants to make us head out for a bike ride. A fan of big rides and epic cycling adventures, Maria has discovered a new love in the form of bikepacking. She’s customized her Breed gravel bike—which she lovingly calls “Bertha”—with a host of components and accessories to optimize her bike’s utility and maximize her fun. Read on to learn a bit more about Maria, what she enjoys most of big rides, and some tips for getting the most out of your very own bikepacking setup.
DON'T MISS OUR PHOTO GALLERY OF MARIA'S CUSTOM AR AERO ROAD BIKE.
THE JOY OF BIKEPACKING
“Here’s what I love most about bikepacking,” says Maria. “I love nature, and I love to be outside, so that's the main reason why I am passionate about cycling. The most special things about long bikepacking trips are the changing landscapes and environments. You're riding through big cities and small villages, maybe you're crossing mountains or riding over fields, and you always get to view a changing, dynamic horizon. You discover breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, as well as completely new places that you've never been before. That's my kind of freedom, and absolutely nothing can stop you! I know I can go wherever I want on my bike, because I have everything with me. Ultimately, here’s what I would recommend to every cyclist: Try out a long trip—you'll love it!”
ALL ABOUT BAGS
“The number of bags I will have on my bike depends on the length of the trip,” says Maria. “On a recent trip in the cold weather of December, and which totaled 700 kilometers and included one overight stay, here’s what I used: a 10-liter seat bag from Topeak; a 7-liter handlebar roll from Lezyne; and a top tube bag from Zéfal.
“In the seat bag I carried my cycling clothes and some spare parts like tubes, Co2 cartridges, a big multitool, and a few cable ties. The top tube bag was for electronics and important devices like a power bank, credit cards and ID, keys, a little lock, my camera and a GoPro, a small multitool for quick fixes if needed, and some food in the form of energy gels and bars. In the handlebar roll, I had all the stuff I needed for the overnight stay. This included some small items like a toothbrush, a little bit of shampoo and shower gel, a foldable hairbrush, and some comfy clothes like a t-shirt and pants. For longer trips, I use pretty much the same setup, except I’ll use my bigger seat bag (15-liter), and possibly a frame bag (which fits inside the front triangle) to handle some heavy stuff or just the extra items.”
LIGHT IT UP
“Safety is always key, but especially at night or in low light conditions,” says Maria. “I always mount two front and two rear lights, so that I’ll always have a spare one ready to go in case one runs out of battery or malfunctions. Reliable and bright lights are the most important things for me while doing long trips. All of my lights are by Lezyne. I love the many different modes each has for every situation, including during the daytime for extra visibility. They also run up to a whole night in a comfortably bright mode. This is extremely important, especially when you're doing a big trip during winter time with a long night. Oftentimes, I’ll start a long ride at 5:00am and end the day around 9:00pm, which could mean up to 7 or 8 total hours of darkness! They are easily chargeable with my power bank, so I don't need to carry an extra battery with me. The rear lights work with an alert technology while braking, and they have a very wide angle to be seen in every situation.”
You don’t need to plan a grueling, multi-day route to enjoy the wonders of bikepacking. But whether you’re just riding a few kilometers to pitch a tent in the countryside or you’re traversing hundreds of kilometers, you’ll want to be comfortable. Make sure your riding position is set up to be as comfortable as possible for your body. We always recommend working with an experienced and reputable bike fitter to ensure you’re both efficient and comfortable on your bike. Pay especially close attention to things like saddles, handlebar shape, and even bar tape—all of which can have a big impact on your overall comfort level. One accessory that is becoming increasingly popular in gravel riding and bikepacking circles is a set of aerobars. Originally intended for achieving a more aerodynamic position for time trials and triathlons, a set of aerobars that can be easily affixed to your existing road or gravel bike handlebar offers you one extra position for your hands and arms. Mixing up your hand positions (from the hoods to the tops to the drops to the aerobars) can alleviate strain and take some pressure off certain muscle groups over the course of a long ride. Maria is a big fan of her aerobars.
“Before I had this type of aerobars, I used one with a low mount,” she says. “The position was extremely uncomfortable to ride for several hours. While riding distances of 300 kilometers or more, the most important thing is to be free of pain and be as comfortable as you can. So I was searching for aerobars that I could mount with spacers to find the most comfortable position for me. This type of setup now works great for me. In addition to offering a new position and additional comfort, it's also a little more aerodynamic, which means I can save a bit of energy over the whole ride.”
ROLLING ALL DAY LONG
More than any other component, wheels make the biggest difference to your riding experience. If you’re planning to do some long-distance bikepacking, you’ll need a sturdy and reliable set. If your trip will take place over the course of several days, then you’ll probably be packing a lot of gear to take with you—this means a lot of extra weight on your bike. Make sure both your frame and your wheels are rated to handle whatever total weight (rider and all gear) ends up on them. Contact your frame or wheel manufacturer to confirm weight limitations, if needed. Also, if your bikepacking adventure calls for getting off the beaten path and enjoying some rougher roads, you’ll definitely want to make sure your wheels have a robust build. And no matter what style of riding you’re into, never be afraid to add a bit of personality to your bike and gear—Maria often seeks out custom decals and colors.
“Since the end of last year, I’ve been working with Radsporttechnik Müller,” says Maria. “This German company specializes in building amazing custom wheels for all types of riding. They created this awesome looking wheelset according to my wishes and needs, along with some great custom decals! This wheelset is completely built for its purpose: ride it for many (and sometimes, extremely dirty) kilometers both on- and off-road, with a rim size and shape optimized for 32mm- to 38mm-wide tires.”
There are so many plans and trips I want to ride this year! Crossing Germany from South to Nord (around 1.000 km), crossing France from East to West (also around 1.000 km), riding along the complete Rhine from Switzerland to the Netherlands (around 1.300 km), ride to the top of the Mont Ventoux by bike (around 700 km) and many many more! Last year we've bought an ultralight tent to make it even more adventurous, can't wait to test it during some trips this year.
MARIA’S EXTRA SPECIAL BIKEPACKING TIPS
In addition to the advice above, Maria offers up a few more tips for everyone interested in bikepacking:
“Before your trip, get organized,” she says. “Make a list of what you'll need during each day of your ride. But always remember the weight! Extra gear means extra weight, which you’ll have to carry on your bike, and which could make the trip that much harder or alter your bike’s handling. Think minimalistic. Two sets of cycling clothes and one set of a t-shirt and pants should be enough for up to eight days on the bike. And when you’re packing, only take what you need. So when it comes to small items, buy things like toothpaste, deodorant, and shower gels in travel sizes. Always carry only what you really need.”
“Plan your route, and be prepared with navigation. Before starting a big ride, I plan my route with the service, Komoot, to know the exact length and elevation gain of my proposed ride. For me, that's nearly the most important thing, because during longer rides I need to cut the distance into many shorter pieces. There are some psychological tricks to stay motivated when you’re spending up to 24 hours on the bike, but I think that everyone needs to find the best technique for themselves.”
“Consider your sleeping options. In case I am planning an overnight stay in a hotel, I prefer to book it during the ride. Sometimes you're faster, sometimes you're slower, so I spontaneously decide where I'll stop.”
“Enjoy your ride and the wonderful landscape around you as much as possible, and keep your mind positive! Bikepacking is a special experience, so make the most of it.”