It’s a “ 24/0 overnight out-camp-back, all in 24 hours.”
This is Tony Ross’s brand of bike camping. Ross is an avid biker and a mechanic at the Hub Bike Co-op in Minneapolis. Ross has been bike camping for five years, “I got rid of the car but missed camping.”
Ross offers tips on the type of gear one needs - and how to pack it - to be a self-contained bike camper.
Ross’s philosophy is simple, direct: “Go with what you are used to.” His camping equipment is similar to that of a solo backpacker’s weekend campout. He suggests a two-person tent, and either its footprint or other ground tarp. Both are stowed over the rear axel with the weight centered to control shimmy.
His sleeping system is an air mattress and a 30F-rated sleeping bag, a pairing he says works for most conditions. Ross also affords himself the luxury of an Army wool blanket - “great for sitting around the campfire - warm and cozy,” he says. For sleeping, he includes a pair of long johns.
For cooking, Ross brings a small mess kit and stove. “No means of eating anything hot is really depressing,” he confesses. He complements his stash of energy bars and jerky along the route with stops to pick up fruit and instant drinks. He may also pick up groceries just prior to the night stop.
Other camping items include a small shovel/trowel - for latrines and digging rocks for staking the tent. A clothes line, hatchet and folding saw and light round out his basic needs. He also brings along a small tool kit for fixing flats (spare tube but not a spare tire), and a multi-purpose tool.
All this gear is stored in panniers on racks. A handlebar bag contains items easily within reach while riding. Rear racks such as those used for basic commuting will hold about 25 pounds of gear. Weight capacities up to 60 pounds are also available. “The more expensive ones tend to be sturdier”, says Ross. He suggests getting a rack with fewer joints used to fabricate it - more joints means it create more wobble on the frame. A front rack can hold up to 40 pounds, and tend to be more sturdy and wobble less.
Regarding panniers, Ross recommends water resistant bags that breath over waterproof bags that trap any enclosed moisture.
Ross says steel bike frames are more repairable, take more weight and lasts longer than aluminum, which corrodes and snaps more quickly. Titanium frames are also available but are very expensive. “How it is put together is more important than the material it’s made from,” Ross stresses.
Ross encourages the use of leather seats. “Like a pair of leather boots, once you break ‘em in, it fits!”
Most frames come with several water bottle clip points; a rider should always have access to a couple when riding. Water reservoir bags make you hot and sweating in warm weather but keep you warm when it’s cold.
For safety, Ross uses a Dyno-Hub bike light with a generator built right into the hub of the front wheel.
A favorite overnight for Ross is taking the North Star Line from Target Field out to Big Lake and spending the day in Rum River State Forest. As a bike camper, Ross enjoys camping in state forests with their dispersed campsites that enable him to camp anywhere; plenty of firewood. “Just leave it better than you found it,” he says. Ross also enjoys state parks because they are bike camper friendly and will let you camp even if the campground is full.
“Start small,” says Ross, “do what you feel comfortable doing in a day. figure out what your limits are. He says its also important to take a rest day to enjoy the area around you. Finding a place to go is part of the bike camping adventure, to which Ross offers the ultimate advice: “ Anything you can do to stay on pavement is the best way to go”.