Bike riding and Airstreaming go together like Starsky & Hutch. “The iconic photograph of an Airstream towed by a bicycle forever established a connection between these two types of transportation,” said cyclist and Airstreamer Ralph Emerson. “Bicycles are a staple at rallies, with many Airstreams or their tow vehicles fitted with bike racks. The new ads for the Basecamp feature bicycles.”
If you like to cycle as well as camp, consider this relatively new way to take your outdoor adventures a step further: bikepacking.
“You can tow your Airstream to a great jumping-off place, and then use a big-tired bike to continue on where you usually wouldn’t go, like unpaved service roads or trails,” said Emerson. “You can take a one- or two-night adventure on your bike, and then come back to the comfort of your Airstream.”
A combination of mountain biking and backpacking, bikepacking allows greater distances beyond the campground than day or overnight hiking on foot. Though almost any mountain bike outfitted with storage bags can be used, Emerson offers the following tips for choosing the best bike with bikepacking adventures in mind.
“Over the past few years, a select group of bicycle manufacturers have developed ‘Plus Bikes’,” he said. “This recent development in bicycle technology presents new opportunities for Airstream adventurers. Plus Bikes have large and wide tires designed to travel over difficult roads and terrain.
These special tires, along with a robust frame, make them different from the mountain bikes many Airstreamers enjoy. Not as nimble as a mountain bike, but still capable on single-track routes, Plus Bikes excel on gravel roads, sandy surfaces, and even snow.
These bicycles are not built for speed, but for the journey. With friendly gearing and larger tires, riding on terrain or roads you always wished you could ride is now possible. Many Plus Bikes have only eleven gears, each suited for the bike’s use, taking a lot of the complexity out of riding. The large, low pressure 29.0 inch or 29+ tires reduce much of jarring from potholes, bumps and washboards. The wide tire footprint and frame design also create a stable ride, even in rougher going.
Tire widths range from 3.0 to 5.0 inches. The smaller tires are great for paved and gravel road travel. They also provide access to more forbidding terrain. These tougher environments are the speciality of the 4.0 to 5.0 inch tire bikes. These bikes, and their tires, are know as “Fat Bikes”, or “Fatties”. Their ability to go almost anywhere has led one manufacturer to characterize them as “OmniTerra” machines.
One favorite use of “Fatties” is beach-riding. Many cyclists use them as day-touring bikes, cruising along stretches of sand, stopping at points of interest, restaurants and shops. Others use them to extend their bicycle season. “Fatties” plow through snow, and with studs can navigate icy conditions both on and off road. Several winter recreational areas now offer trails and routes groomed especially for “Fat Bikes”.
Yes, shopping is possible on a “Plus Bike”, as is touring. An entire industry has emerged specializing in bags that attach to the bicycles. These bags providing a variety of carrying options, and can be fixed to frame, seat post, and handlebars. The bikes have plenty of attachment points for water bottles, large special carrying cages, as well as the more traditional bicycle racks for panniers.
The attraction of “Plus Bikes” is their versatility. They are at home in routes you always wanted to ride, but couldn’t. While not built for extended road rides, they are perfectly fine for shorter distances. You can’t “shred” single-track with a “Plus Bike” but you can certainly ride and enjoy it. They are fantastic machines for mixed gravel and dirt road touring. For Airstreamers that have to make a choice about which bike to bring on an adventure, “Plus Bikes” provide a new and exciting option.”