Bikepacking: Way more fun than expected

New Belgium Ramble Ride Asheville serves up fun, laid back adventure

Gear Travel
Ramble Ride Asheville

When the objective is more about the friends you meet along the way, and less about the finish line, you’re on to something. Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Robin Sansom

Often the true measure of a cycling event, or any bike ride, is what happens when pedaling is done. How shattered, stoked, bonked, or blissed out you feel is frequently the best gauge for what happened out on the road or trail. Sometimes it’s meh, and you head home. Other times, the two-wheeled adrenaline high carries deep into the night. It’s a huge part of why we all ride, no matter if it’s mountain, road, or something in between.

The New Belgium Ramble Ride Asheville fits into the latter category in both cases. Most of the bikes piloted on this 3-day supported bikepacking tour had drop bars, disc brakes, and toothy 700c tires, while the terrain was a mix of buttery smooth rural pavement and nasty, loose, and often precipitously steep gravel road. Total distance for the three days was about 178 miles, with roughly 17,500 feet of climbing, much of it through the stunning Pisgah National Forrest in western North Carolina. (Here are the GPS files for Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3. You can see we were never in much of a rush.)

Ramble Ride Asheville

The three-day New Belgium Ramble Ride Asheville started at the craft brewer’s east coast HQ. Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Logan VonBokel

But while the curly bar crowd is often associated with Type A uptight Strava-obsessivenesss, this 56-person peloton was anything but. Instead of shaved legs, compression socks, recovery drinks, and legs up the hotel wall, it was flannel shirts, copious beers, and people hanging out around the campfire deep into the night, having a good time in each other’s company. Nobody cared who finished first or last, or even if you finished at all. It was just a group of bike lovers loving bikes and the places they can take you.

“In a lot of ways the rides are secondary at these events,” explained Ramble Ride creator and director Peter Discoe, former owner of Swobo bikes, who lives in Fort Collins, Colorado. “The experience of everyone sitting around at the end of day getting to know each other, laughing, having a good time, that’s what these rides are about.”

Ramble Ride Asheville

The author’s rig: a Niner RLT 9 RDO gravel bike draped with a host of bikepacking bags from Blackburn.

The organic nature of it all traces back to how the event got started in the first place. Discoe’s first Ramble Ride two summers ago didn’t even have a name. It was just a crew of mostly Colorado-based cyclists pedaling from the Front Range up into the Rocky Mountains, finishing in Steamboat Springs. Among the guinea pigs on that first adventure were some higher ups from New Belgium, which has its headquarters in Fort Collins. “They saw the potential and said, let’s do this, let’s make this into something,’” recalled Discoe.

In 2017, that something became a three-event series with Ramble Rides in Oregon, Colorado, and North Carolina with New Belgium as title sponsor and bikepacking gear maker Blackburn No. 2 on the marquee. Next year, if all goes to plan, the series will expand to five Ramble Rides with a second Colorado event, plus a stop in and around Ventura, California. Discoe plans to limit events to no more than 80 riders. That way, he says, he can remember everyone’s name. He also predicts demand to be high.

Ramble Ride Asheville

On course aid was more about ABV than electrolyte replacement.

I expect he’s right. From my vantage, it’s a concept that resonates with a lot of people who’re are passionate about riding bikes, but have no interest in pinning on a race number. Rambles are laid back, approachable, achievable, fun. Yes, it’s bikepacking. And yes, the days are challenging. But in 2017 your $300 registration fee (which is jumping to $400 next year) meant Discoe and his staff marked the course, arranged camping accommodations, took care of all meals (including an on-course lunch stop), and hauled a gear bag from camp to camp.

The reality is that if you packed carefully (and your gear bag was at the upper end of the loosely enforced “carry-on” size limit) you could get away with keeping your bike pretty light. As it was, most participants embraced the bikepacking ethos, hauling at least some of their gear onboard. My personal rig (a loaner Niner RLT 9 RDO gravel bike) came in right around 30 pounds when fully loaded, though I’ll freely admit to jettisoning a few items into my gear bag as the event wore on. Why ride a heavy bike if you don’t have to?

Ramble Ride Asheville

The right way to recover from a big day on the bike. Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Logan VonBokel

Whatever you carried, the end of day reward was all the beer (and I do mean all the beer) you could pour down your throat. Along with being title sponsor, staffers from New Belgium were along for the ride, manning on-course aid stations, and making sure coolers were kept stocked at camp each night. The support vehicle was the appropriately named Winnebeergo; it’s driver was nicknamed Crafty. Enough said.

To learn more about the 2018 Ramble Rides, head to newbelgiumramble.com. For more from Asheville 2017, including a rundown on the gear Mtbr used, scroll down to check out an expansive photo gallery.

Ramble Ride Asheville

Aside from the insane morning dew, weather was perfect start to finish. Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Logan VonBokel

Ramble Ride Asheville

Event director Peter Discoe delivers a final safety speech before pedaling out of Asheville commenced. Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Logan VonBokel

Ramble Ride Asheville

Critical gear included tent, pad, and sleeping bag from Big Agnes, which collectively weighed 5.5 pounds. Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Logan VonBokel

Ramble Ride Asheville

Bikes ready to Ramble. Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Logan VonBokel

Ramble Ride Asheville

The 3-day route wound its way south from Asheville (top right), passed through MTB Mecca Brevard, then looped back to Ashville.

Ramble Ride Asheville

The majority on time was spent on quiet, tree-lined gravel roads. Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Matt Riley

Ramble Ride Asheville

The Mtbr rig utilized four Blackburn bikepacking bags: frame bag, top tube bag, seat pack + dry bag, and a handlebar roll + dry bag. We did not wear a hydration pack.

Ramble Ride Asheville

The Blackburn Outpost top tube bag was reserved for sunscreen, snacks, and a multi-tool, all things you wanted to be easily accessible.

Ramble Ride Asheville

Our tent and sleeping pad were stashed in the Outpost seat pack.

Ramble Ride Asheville

A Big Agnes Hitchens UL sleeping bag got stashed in the handlebar roll. The sleeping bag itself weighed just 2 pounds.

Ramble Ride Asheville

The Outpost frame bag housed a hydration bladder (with the hose routed up to the handlebars for easy access), and more food, warm riding clothes, and rain gear, which thankfully were not needed. Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Matt Riley

Ramble Ride Asheville

Most of the pavement time was on sublime swoopy roads such as this. Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Robin Sansom

Ramble Ride Asheville

Turns out western North Carolina has a lot of hills — and mountains, including Mount Mitchell, which at 6684 feet is the highest point in the eastern United States.

Ramble Ride Asheville

The right gearing is critical when you’re slogging around on a 30-plus-pound gravel bike. This 46/36 crankset was smartly paired with an 11-32 cassette, meaning we rarely were overgeared.

Ramble Ride Asheville

Night one was spent at The Bike Farm just outside Brevard. Along with a host of campsites and yurts, they have a bevy of trails, teach skills clinics, and offer guiding on the expansive Pisgah National Forest MTB trail network.

Ramble Ride Asheville

Here’s our home on night one, a cozy spot at The Bike Farm spent inside the Big Agnes 2-person Fly Creek HV Ultralight tent, which weighs 2.3 pounds including tent pole, stakes, and rain fly, and takes about 5 minutes to set up solo.

Ramble Ride Asheville

Shoe choice for the Ramble Ride were these bombproof Specialized Recons. You can read the full Mtbr review here.

Ramble Ride Asheville

Most riders choose some version of a gravel/adventure bike. But Scott from Atlanta rolled this Specialized Epic for a little more comfort and had no trouble staying near the front end of the pack. Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Matt Riley

Ramble Ride Asheville

For the most part, course markings were well placed and easy to spot. The event also provided full GPS files for download if you preferred to leave nothing to chance.

Ramble Ride Asheville

The fall colors were just starting to pop. Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Logan VonBokel

Ramble Ride Asheville

This custom-painted Salsa definitely won the most colorful award. Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Robin Sansom

Ramble Ride Asheville

Here’s an Ibis Hakkalugi outfitted with the camo version of Blackburn’s bikepacking bags. Very sexy. Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Robin Sansom

Ramble Ride Asheville

Nothing but blue sky all three days. Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Logan VonBokel

Ramble Ride Asheville

On-bike clothing was definitely slanted to the causal side of the closet. Pearl Izumi’s Versa Polo and Shorts fit right in.

Ramble Ride Asheville

These Pearl Izumi Elite thermal knee warmers were also indispensable on the cool mornings, and then easily stashed in our frame bag.

Ramble Ride Asheville

You gotta have a good cycling hat. The short bill and wicking material of the Pearl Izumi Barrier Lite cap has long made it a go-to choice.

Ramble Ride Asheville

The pink flamingo is also a great idea.

Ramble Ride Asheville

There was a touch of trail here and there to keep things interesting. Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Robin Sansom

Ramble Ride Asheville

Mostly, though, it was one extended back roads adventure. Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Logan VonBokel

Ramble Ride Asheville

And some amazing scenery here and there. Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Robin Sansom

Ramble Ride Asheville

Ritchey’s WCS Mountain Pedal has long been a favorite for off-road adventuring. It’s SPD compatible, has a wide and stable body, and is easy to get in and out of while still being plenty secure.

Ramble Ride Asheville

This was the closest thing to recovery drink we saw all three days.

Ramble Ride Asheville

Home on night No. 2 somewhere deep in the backwoods of North Carolina. Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Matt Riley

Ramble Ride Asheville

Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Matt Riley

Ramble Ride Asheville

Ramble Ride Asheville

Campsite food was top notch.

Ramble Ride Asheville

Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Logan VonBokel

Ramble Ride Asheville

Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Logan VonBokel

Ramble Ride Asheville

Zoom, zoom, zoom! Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Matt Riley

Ramble Ride Asheville

There was plenty of bucolic countryside along the way.

Ramble Ride Asheville

Morning tire inflation was courtesy of the Blackburn Chamber tubeless floor pump, which has bar none one of the best handles around.

Ramble Ride Asheville

The pump’s gauge is well-positioned and very easy to read.

Ramble Ride Asheville

Blackburn has also started making this handy Plugger tubeless tire repair kit.

Ramble Ride Asheville

Fortunately this was just a demonstration of the Plugger in use. Photo courtesy Blackburn

Ramble Ride Asheville

Post-ride memento creation in process — a silkscreened bandana. Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Logan VonBokel

Ramble Ride Asheville

Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Robin Sansom

Ramble Ride Asheville

Ramble Ride Asheville

How can you go wrong when a three-day ride ends at a huge craft brewery. Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Logan VonBokel

Ramble Ride Asheville

Let the fun begin. Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Logan VonBokel

Ramble Ride Asheville

Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Logan VonBokel

Ramble Ride Asheville

One final salute from the event director. Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Logan VonBokel

Ramble Ride Asheville

Where the magic happens.

Ramble Ride Asheville

Beer making is a complex process. Photo courtesy Ramble Ride/Logan VonBokel

Ramble Ride Asheville

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)

About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Tour de France, the Olympics, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner, who joined the Mtbr staff in 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying life with his wife Lisa and daughter Cora in and around their home in the MTB Mecca of Crested Butte.


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