WTF Bristol Chapter: A Mendips Overnighter
Inspired by antics from over the pond, Katherine Moore reports from the UK’s first WTF Ride Series meetup; a friendly 60-mile loop around the Mendips. Read on for a report on how the weekend went, a map of the route, and tips for organising your own local WTF ride…
It’s easy to yearn for bigger and tougher. More miles and more rugged terrain, inspired by your idols of the sport; the Emily Chappells, the Lee Craigies, Lael Wilcoxs, and Rebecca Ruschs of bikepacking. These idolised riders sharing their incredible stories of discovery and suffering are great fodder for our adventure-seeking appetites, but what about those looking to take their first steps into the discipline?
One great thing that sets these riders apart is their devotion to encouraging and enabling more people – especially young women – into bikepacking. In what has traditionally been a male-dominated sport with rather high financial barriers to entry, these programmes are hugely important to improving the diversity and representation in adventure cycling.
I often think that the US is ahead of us here in the UK in those respects. The catchy #shredthepatriatchy bike stickers were how I initially discovered the WTF Bikexplorers – that’s women, trans, femme and non-binary riders based out of Portland, Oregon. Founded just a couple of years ago by a group of six friends who wanted to celebrate and promote more inclusivity in cycling, they’ve since curated an annual Summit, a riding Scholarship, and most recently the Grassroots Ride Series.
It was this Series that caught my eye, with fellow admirers of the movement all over the US getting involved to host bikepacking weekenders for novice or intermediate riders. After a quick enquiry we saw that there was absolutely no barrier to Adeline and I hosting a ride of our own in their name here in the UK. We didn’t have to cross the Atlantic to be part of it; the WTF Bikexplorers provided not only the inspiration but also the framework to put this good cause into action right here on our doorstep.
On the first weekend of June we hosted our Bristol edition of the Grassroots Series, joined by four riders of different backgrounds and experiences. Izzy is a seasoned randonneur on tarmac with a shiny new Trek Checkpoint for exploring off road, but had never bivvied before. Kylie joined us having crossed the pond in a career move from Sacramento, California, but admitted at the start that she’d never before ridden as far as planned. Both Canadian Michelle and local Beth are seasoned tourers, but Michelle was tackling dirt for one of the first times. The selection of nationalities from North American to Belgian was almost as diverse as our experience levels!
There are lots of reasons why you should consider hosting a bikepacking for beginners ride. I think back to my first year of road cycling and the award-worthy displays of patience from my fellow club mates. Everyone starts here, after all, and without the support, coaching, and encouragement of more experienced riders, it could be easy to become disenchanted or give up completely. Add in an overnighter and there’s a whole lot more to learn and experiment with aside from the riding itself!
Of course, there’s nothing quite like teaching someone a skill to assess whether you really understand and practice it yourself. I don’t claim to be an expert at all here – and of course there’s always more to learn, no matter how accomplished you are. Then there’s realising just how far you’ve come on your own skills journey, which is always reassuring when on a daily basis progress can sometimes seem slow!
Back to the ride. We totalled around 100 kilometres over two days, with a varied mix of sleepy country lanes, rutted forest doubletrack, and rocky limestone singletrack as we departed the city of Bristol heading south, aiming for the Mendip Hills. Sheltering in a forest on Burrington Common pre-arranged with a friendly local landowner, we set up camp in the darkening woods to the distant sound of the lively band playing in the pub down in the Combe.
After being spoilt with glorious early summer weather on the first day, the first few drops of rain splashed down as we were packing up camp after sharing coffee and porridge and it almost didn’t stop. Heading back into the city closely resembling a bunch of semi-drowned rats, nothing could stop the smiles of the girls’ faces. That’s why we do it.
Despite the (actually not that onerous) planning and fretting, there really was no better feeling than hearing how much the group enjoyed our night away whilst huddling in the warmth of cycling hub Business As Usual, cupping steaming mugs of warmed milk. In hindsight, the route wasn’t actually all that easy, but they all took it like total champions despite about half an hour of pushing heavily laden bikes up Cheddar Gorge (the off-road way) in the heat!
I hope it’s the first of many and I’d strongly recommend anyone who fancies it to give something like this a go on their local trails with friends or acquaintances who are daring enough to ride out of their comfort zones with you as a guide! A great thank you to WTF Bikexplorers for the inspiration.
Here’s my original post I shared with would-be companions, including a suggested list of what to bring along:
- An off-road bicycle; cyclocross, gravel, or MTB
- Helmet (100% compulsory)
- Overnight equipment
- Sleeping bag
- Bivvy or hammock or tent
- Roll mat
- Change of clothes if you like
- Usual riding tools & snacks
- Some way of attaching these to your bike
Tips for organising your own WTF bikepacking ride
- Think of an accessible meet up point; near rail links or cycleways, bike storage, and good coffee is a must!
- Keep it achievable; it’s better to spend an enjoyable day taking in a shorter route rather than struggling to tackle too much.
- Plan a campsite suited to the size of your group; check with a landowner if necessary and #leavenotrace.
- Create a place to chat before the ride; a Facebook group, WhatsApp chat, or forum for riders can help with any kit questions or pre-ride nerves.
- Seek non-riding highlights; plan in gems off the bike as well as on, like a beautiful wild-swimming spot or quaint cafe stop.
- Spread the word; ask your friends, local clubs, or bike shops to share your event to encourage more riders to get involved.
About Katherine Moore
Katherine Moore is a roadie turned gravel rider & bikepacker, working behind the scenes at Global Cycling Network. Fun, not fast, an advocate of bikes for all. Can be found making her own (brightly coloured) gear and encouraging otherwise to do the same. Visit her website and follow her on Instagram @katherinebikes.