Bikepacking cycle touring: a new travel philosophy

Stuff for tattoo-covered weirdos or a new travel philosophy?

During a conference on cycle touring, we happened to hear that bikepacking is “stuff for tattoo-covered weirdos” and this made us reflect a lot.

What exactly is bikepacking?

Let's clarify a couple of important concepts that are often misunderstood.

In English, “bikepacking” refers to a type of cycling trip that combines cycling with minimalist camping. Bikepackers travel long distances, often on rough terrain or dirt trails, carrying everything they need for the trip (camping gear, food, water, etc.) in special bags attached to the bicycle.

Bikepacking is different from traditional cycle touring, which usually involves the use of touring bicycles with racks and larger panniers. Bikepacking is lighter and more agile, allowing cyclists to explore more challenging and remote routes.

Other concepts you may find associated with the word bikepacking are:

Bikepacking bags: Special bags designed for bikepacking, which attach to the frame, handlebars, and seat post of the bicycle, such as those produced by Kicking Donkey or the famous Miss Grape.
Bikepacking gear: Essential equipment for bikepacking, such as a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, camping stove, etc.
Bikepacking routes: Routes specifically designed for bikepacking, often on dirt roads, trails, or singletrack.
The key to it all is minimalism, therefore the ability to reduce bulk and weight so as to ensure greater pedaling efficiency, especially uphill and on rough terrain.

Something, however, makes us think that it’s not just a technical matter, but that there’s also a strong aesthetic and emotional component that makes people choose this type of luggage. For us, who grew up on bread and manga, it almost feels like riding with a robot under the saddle and we like it, we like it a lot.

Bikepacking is not just a way of loading your bike but also a true travel philosophy that involves being very spartan in choosing what to bring on the trip, but also being ready to face any type of itinerary and adventure. Bikepacking means feeling a bit more nomadic than usual to experience an adventure outside the comfort zone that coddles us in everyday life. Also, it’s important to consider that in some cases, for example with a road bike or a carbon gravel bike, there is often no alternative to bikepacking because it’s impossible to mount a rack.

What is the difference with traditional cycle touring?

If it really exists

Cycle touring, whether in bikepacking or its traditional form, is a wonderful way to explore the world on two wheels, allowing the cyclist to fully immerse themselves in the nature and culture of the places visited. There is no dogmatic distinction between the two travel styles, as both stem from the same desire for adventure and discovery, pushing the cyclist out of their comfort zone and offering unique and unforgettable experiences.

Some say that bikepacking makes you feel a bit cooler and a bit more like a randonneur, with that extra hint of adventure that distinguishes it from traditional cycle touring. It’s undeniable that bikepacking offers technical advantages, such as better weight distribution on the bike, greater agility, and the ability to tackle more challenging terrain. However, it also has its downsides, as removing and reattaching bags from the frame takes longer than traditional panniers, which can be removed in seconds. Furthermore, in the event of a broken bracket, it’s easier to fix a traditional bag to the rack in an emergency than it is with bikepacking bags.

Ultimately, whether you choose traditional cycle touring or bikepacking, what matters is the experience and the journey itself, meeting new people, discovering new landscapes, and the feeling of freedom that only a bicycle trip can offer.

Both ways of traveling respond to the same call for adventure, allowing you to experience the world from a unique and engaging perspective.

Then there are those who prefer hybrid forms of loading between bikepacking and traditional bags. In this case, you get the best of both worlds: the ease of loading of panniers and their capacity, along with the practicality of bikepacking dry bags.

So, is bikepacking cycle touring just for tattooed weirdos?

Absolutely not! As with everything, there are excesses, but in general, those who choose bikepacking do so because they have no alternative (carbon frames where it’s not possible to mount a rack) or because they love the essentiality of this type of luggage or because they derive an emotional and aesthetic advantage from it. In any case, we also absolve those who have many tattoos and put lots of hearts in their social media posts because, after all, everyone is free to live their life as they prefer as long as it doesn’t harm the rights of others.

Don't have a bike and want to ride in Sicily on the Sicily Divide?

Whether you prefer bikepacking or the traditional loading method with a rack and panniers, and you decide to take a trip in Sicily, you can rent one of our bikes either with a traditional rack and Ortlieb Backroller bags or in bikepacking setup with our Kicking Donkey bags and the Coso by Miss Grape. Don’t risk damaging your bike during transport, take advantage of our bike rental service that has already satisfied over 9000 cyclists a year.

What are the best bikepacking routes in Sicily?

Sicily, contrary to the beliefs of many cyclists, is entirely bikeable. Additionally, many provincial roads and even most state roads are lightly trafficked, making them suitable for a solo bikepacking trip or possibly in a group. However, not all roads are the same, and some routes are more passable than others. Some belong to the network of routes of the Sicily Divide Tour Experience, while others are managed by different organizations, associations, or companies. In most cases, these routes are suitable for bikepacking, whether you want to sleep in wild camping (tent) or prefer to stay in B&Bs, hotels, or bike hotels. So, what are the most famous cycle tourism itineraries in Sicily?

1) Sicily Divide Tour Experiences

Over 3000 kilometers of routes with an extraordinary support network that includes bike hotels, bike rentals, luggage transport, downloadable tracks, and completely different experiences. The possible routes are the Sicily Divide Classic, the most famous of all, traveled by over 9000 cyclists every year; the Sicily Divide West Loop, which runs entirely in western Sicily and covers both coastal and inland areas; the Sicily Divide East Loop, which embraces the entire southeastern cusp of Sicily in the areas that were the cradle of Sicilian Baroque; the Sicily Divide North, a variant of the Sicily Divide that crosses all of northern Sicily and the regional parks of the Madonie, Nebrodi, Peloritani, and Etna Park; the Sicily Divide South, which detaches from the original track at Borgo Cascino and heads towards Syracuse, the homeland of the great Archimedes; the Sicily Divide Cliffs and Castles, which retraces the paths that connected the Chiaramontani castles of Sicily; the three Sicily Divide Mini Loops for short weekend bike trips. This is currently one of the most extensive and complex cycle tourism networks in Italy.

Some of these itineraries are already structured with all the services and checkpoints, while others will be structured shortly. However, all will be ready by the end of 2024, both on mixed dirt/asphalt routes and 100% asphalt routes for road bikes. It will, therefore, be possible to explore all of Sicily in bikepacking or with traditional cycle touring bags, on gravel, mountain bikes, road bikes, and e-bikes.

2) Periplo della Sicilia - Grand Cycling Tour of Sicily

An epic 1200-kilometer journey along the Sicilian coasts that travels, as much as possible, on secondary roads or old abandoned provincial roads, and only joins state roads when absolutely necessary. The route is divided into 3 ‘semi-circumnavigations’ of about 400 kilometers each: the ‘Via dei Tramonti,’ the ‘Via del Nord,’ and the ‘Via della Liberazione.’ The official website contains all the useful information for organizing the trip, and there is also a printed guide by the publisher ‘Terre di Mezzo’ titled ‘Periplo della Sicilia in bicicletta.

3) Magna Via Francigena by bike

A pilgrimage that crosses the western part of Sicily from Palermo to Agrigento. A very challenging itinerary, the Magna Via is more suitable for those on foot than for cyclists, so it is advisable to use a mountain bike, preferably electric. On the website, there is various information for completing the itinerary, as well as the possibility of joining existing groups for tours, luggage transport, and bike rental. Several villages are crossed, and in each, it is possible to stamp the relative credential.

4) Favignana, Lipari and Salina on bike

They are only a few kilometers each (about 30 kilometers for each of the two islands), but they are worth it. These are two unmissable itineraries in Sicily. The two islands are located in the two main archipelagos: Favignana in the Egadi archipelago and Lipari in the Aeolian archipelago. They have totally different characteristics and histories, but both have the irresistible charm of small islands. The fact that they are so small makes their circumnavigation a small and easy conquest, suitable for all legs and all types of cyclists. There are two links to visit: for the circumnavigation of Favignana Island, you need to visit the Ciclabili Siciliane website with the tracks and all the useful information, while for the circumnavigation of Lipari, you need to visit the Graveloo website where you can find directions for cycling both Lipari and Salina.