How to Build a Bikepacking Gear Library, by RAR ATL
In this detailed article, the folks from the Atlanta chapter of Radical Adventure Riders (RAR ATL) share an in-depth look at how they built a bikepacking gear library so that other communities might be inspired and empowered to do the same. Read their informative rundown here…
Mission + Principles
We all know that bikepacking* is expensive. To get started with the bags, the gear, the bike—it can all add up to hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. It’s also hard to know what exactly you need when you’re first starting out. The sheer upfront cost of getting out there with a bike and camping gear is a huge barrier to entry for many people who are interested in trying it out but aren’t sure they would want to make the financial commitment to do so. While it’s possible to bikepack with what you have, riding with proper equipment specifically made for loading your bike with camping gear makes for a much easier, more enjoyable, and safer experience. *We will be using the terms bikepacking and bike camping interchangeably.
We are members of the leadership team for the Atlanta chapter of Radical Adventure Riders (@rar.atlanta), and we have endeavored to make bikepacking even more accessible to our own community by opening the RAR ATL Gear Library. Members of our community can borrow gear for their bikepacking and bike camping adventures without having to purchase anything at all. The seed of the idea for a gear library was born out of a number of conversations that Devin Cowens, RAR ATL’s chapter lead, had with folks in the community. She credits the beginning of this journey to conversations she had with friends and fellow black women organizers, Nedra Deadwyler of Civil Bikes and Zahra Alabanza of Red Bike and Green ATL.
Radical Adventure Riders (RAR) was founded on the principle of “moving towards enhancing gender inclusivity and racial equity in the bicycle and outdoor adventure scene.” As part of the leadership team for the Atlanta chapter of RAR, we strive to create more inclusive spaces in our own cycling community here in ATL, particularly centering the experiences of BIPOC, queer, trans, and nonbinary riders. We host bi-monthly happy hours, organize community rides, and offer skill-sharing classes. In addition to these community-building events, we also lead semi-regular bikepacking trips.
We created the gear library to specifically address the inaccessibility of bikepacking. It has been an immense labor of love and excitement, nearly a year in the making. The gear library is an extension of this community-based ethos, to center people in our community who have historically not been welcome in cycling or outdoor adventure sports. Members of the RAR ATL community can borrow bikepacking bags and camping gear from the gear library without any cost to them. To build out the gear library, we had to figure out a few core things. We needed:
- 1. Bikepacking bags and camping gear to lend out;
- 2. A way of cataloging the gear;
- 3. A place to house the gear.
This article explains how we planned, organized, and built the RAR ATL Gear Library from the ground up so that other communities might be inspired and empowered to do the same.
Acquiring and Cataloging Gear
Because our funds are relatively limited, we have largely relied on community donations to fill the library inventory. Currently, we have plenty of saddle bags, handlebar rolls, top tube bags, and feed bags to lend out. We have a limited supply of camping gear, like sleeping pads, tents, and sleeping bags, but those items have been harder to come by because of the cost and supply chain issues. We’ve also received a few bike computers for GPS navigation, which we are excited to lend out considering navigation is so crucial on bikepacking adventures.
While we’re starting small, we eventually hope to lend out fully kitted-out bikes so that anyone—with or without a bike—can join our bikepacking trips. Diamondback has committed to donating a fleet of bikes, so this part of this goal will soon be a reality.
In order to organize and catalog our inventory, we tapped the expertise of Sarah Cruz, one of the members of our leadership team who is trained as a librarian and has done cataloging work at Georgia Tech and SCAD libraries. When Sarah began researching what other gear libraries have used to organize their inventory (like Bay Area Wilderness Training, The Mountaineers, and Families in Nature), she found that the platforms and policies varied. We needed a catalog system that was not only affordable but had a good user interface, with the ability to circulate items, create patron accounts, customize loan periods, and run reports for statistical data that could show the library’s use over time.
We decided to use Tiny Cat, a catalog interface hosted by LibraryThing, a site for cataloging books that costs us $3 per month. Even though it is designed for books, the interface still allows for non-book object descriptions and it does not have a fee or payment aspect integrated into the system. An alternative to Tiny Cat is MyTurn, though the cost is significantly higher.
The cataloging process gets a little technical, but we wanted to explain it thoroughly because we hope that this system will be reproducible and scalable for others who might want to open a similar library. Once we selected the catalog, we spent many evenings taking photos of the gear and cataloging the inventory. Sarah then formatted and described each item’s features in more detail in a spreadsheet. Since there were so many items, she mapped the columns of the spreadsheet to corresponding fields coded in MARC21, then compiled a readable file in a software program called MarcEditor to then import into LibraryThing.
Even with this process, there was a lot of clean-up and manual entry, so cataloging items one by one would have still been time-consuming. Included in the description was the use of tags within a simple taxonomy, so items are likely to show up in a search, even if it was not part of the name or description. For instance, quilts are tagged under “sleep system,” so one would be able to click on a tag and see all related items. The last step was uploading the photos to the corresponding items. You can check out our full catalog here.
Sarah also created the borrowing policies for our gear library. In order to borrow gear from the Library, you must attend at least one RAR ATL event. We also decided on a 14-day borrowing policy, with the option to renew on a case-by-case basis. You can read the full list here, but below are a few other key policies:
- We prioritize non-binary, trans, and BIPOC folks, but are otherwise on a first-booked, first-serve basis. Holds are allowed and we encourage them to be made through the gear library catalog (up to seven days in advance). If you already have a borrower’s account, feel free to place a hold on an item and we will respond to your request within 48-72 hours to set up a time for pick-up.
- The RAR ATL Gear Library serves as a resource to make bike camping accessible to our community. If you do not identify as non-binary, femme, trans, or as a woman (NB FTW) and are a CIS-gendered man, we will politely ask you to seek other avenues as a resource. We prioritize non-binary, trans, and BIPOC folks for all requests.
- The gear library is made possible by generous donations by fellow cyclists, grants, and/or partnerships, which makes much of our inventory financially difficult or impossible to replace. Please take care of and return item(s) in the condition that it was borrowed. In the event of loss or damage, borrowers agree to pay for the loss equal to the value of the item or damage accrued, per the discretion of RAR ATL leadership.
We also ask our community members to provide ample time for gear pick up before the trip. Because we’re a small operation run by few volunteers, it may take anywhere from 48-72 hours to respond.
Finding a Space
Once the gear was accrued and organized, we had to find a space to house everything. We had initially planned to house the gear library in the basement of one of the members of our leadership team, but we ultimately decided that it would be easier and safer to store everything in a space that the entire leadership team had access to. We were fortunate enough to secure a studio at Pittsburgh Yards, a Black-owned community space in the historically Black Pittsburgh neighborhood of Atlanta. Pittsburgh Yards is located right next to Atlanta’s Westside Beltline, a multi-use pedestrian trail that will eventually loop around the entire city. For us, this means that many of our community members can easily bike or walk to the space.
The studio has a large garage-style door that leads to an outdoor deck space. Not only can we house the entire gear library inventory in a climate-controlled space, we are also able to hold community and skillshare events here. Getting a space in this location has been a complete game-changer for RAR ATL. It would not have been possible without partnerships and sponsor support, and we continue to work to establish avenues for its funding.
The Future of the Gear Library
Our gear library is made possible by community donations. In 2022, we are grateful to Diamondback Bikes for providing bikes to the gear library and a cash donation to support our open shop space and skillshare workshops. We are also particularly grateful to the following people for donating bags, bikes, gear, and other financial support:
- Ezz-Eldin Hassan of The Spindle ATL
- Jay Ritchey of Bags by Bird
- Pat Patterson of Loose Nuts Cycles
- Logan Watts and Virginia Krabill of BIKEPACKING.com
- Andy Lovell
- Meghan Powers of Wahoo Fitness
- Ayesha McGowan
- Libby Brown and Charlotte Sprague
While the gear library hopes to lend everything from bikes to camping equipment, we are currently focused on supplying camping gear and bike bags. If you are interested in donating new or lightly used camping gear, please take a look at our Gear Library Wish List here and send us an email. If you are interested in contributing financially to the gear library, you can do so via Paypal here.
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