- What is bikerafting and how to get started the sport
- Introduction to bikerafting gear and equipment
- Where to bikeraft in Missouri
Over the past several years, the sport of bikepacking (biking + backpacking) has gained a significant following among outdoor enthusiasts. Look no further than the rapidly expanding selection of specialty gear or the growing number of bikepacking tours as proof.
The ambitious activity appeals to mountain bikers and backcountry hikers alike because it provides a means to cover more ground than possible on foot and integrates the additional challenge of self-supported camping.
However, your route immediately becomes limited to bike-friendly and accessible trails. What if there’s a body of water obstructing your way with no bridge in sight?
The answer is bikerafting — yes, bikeRAFTING — the wild, paddle-oriented cousin of bikepacking that throws the means of crossing water into the mix.
Dreamt up by adventurers in Alaska, bikerafting can include interludes on a river, around a lake, across a marsh, or along the coastline. The sport’s pioneering inventors have developed special “packrafts” to conquer such obstacles — lightweight rafts that fold down to the size of a backpacking tent. They’re easily inflated/deflated and large enough to float a human being, their bike, and all their camping essentials.
And with the necessary gear becoming more widely available, the sport of bikerafting is expanding, even right here in Missouri. Just ask local outdoorsman Todd Finoch. A growing disenchantment with cross-country mountain biking led him down the bikerafting path.
“I was getting bored with the cross-country mountain bike racing scene,” said Finoch. “I was doing long-distance backpacking trips when a friend invited me on an overnight paddling trip along the Jack’s Fork River.”
Once he experienced the peace and tranquility of being on the water, he was hooked. He bought a canoe, started learning about Missouri’s waterways, and the rest is history.
As for getting into bikerafting, “I was already into bikepacking,” Finoch said. “I figured if I had the right gear, I could combine cycling, camping, and paddling.”
So, what, exactly, is the “right gear” for bikerafting?
“Think bikepacking and then add a raft,” joked Finoch.
Truth be told, if you already have the backpacking basics — lightweight tent, compact sleep system, small stove, and water filtration — it’s really not that involved.
Bike: According to bikepacking.com, the best bike for bikepacking is the one you already own. More than likely, your current whip can be rigged with sufficient bags and storage components to haul all the gear you’ll need. You’ll want your setup to be comfortable and user-friendly. If you are in the market for a new bike, fat bikes tend to be a bit sturdier when it comes to hauling the gear required for bikerafting.
Bags: A frame pack, handlebar bag, and some sort of seat pack or rack/gear cage behind the seat should provide ample storage for your gear. If you run out of space, wearing a backpack isn’t out of the question. “My raft fits in the bottom of my 36-liter backpack,” said Finoch.
Raft: The leading raft manufacturers are Kokopelli Raft Co. and Alpacka Raft, both based in Colorado. Size, weight, storage components, tie-down points — these are all features to consider when picking the right raft. Both companies rent packrafts, enabling you to try bikerafting before jumping in with both feet.
Where to Go
Now that you know the necessary gear, the next question becomes, “Where do I go?”
On his inaugural trip, Finoch used Bass’ River Resort in Steelville, which lies on the Courtois River, as a home base.
“I just mapped out a route along gravel roads and bike trails in the area, rode about 10 miles upstream, inflated my raft, and floated back to my campsite. It was great,” he said. “We’re fortunate to have a bunch of navigable streams and rivers with numerous access points spread all across the state.”
It’s true. Due to the proximity of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, Missouri is blessed with an extensive system of tributaries and offshoots, making it an ideal place for learning the basics of bikerafting.
“I’ve been looking at maps of waterways around the Ozark Trail, central Missouri, Council Bluffs,” said Finoch. “Plugging those maps into Google Earth makes it easy to start to visualize routes.”
The Meramec, Current, Huzzah. These waterways and many more like them are tailor-made for bikerafting. The challenge becomes connecting bike-accessible put-in and take-out points to complete the route.
“Start with an area you know and build from there,” Finoch advised.
Choose a bike route well within your physical limits, as you’ll be exerting yourself more than usual with heavier gear, inflating/deflating the raft, paddling, etc.
Before your first trip, it’s important to get familiar with your raft. Start without the bike and gear. Learn how to paddle and turn efficiently. Learn the ins-and-outs of your boat as well as boating safety and survival practices, including falling out of the boat and getting back in.
As with any outdoor endeavor, you’ll want to sort through your gear — pack, unpack, and repack again. Get familiar with inflating and deflating your raft. Make sure you know how to get it into its smallest shape and size.
Once you’re comfortable navigating your raft unloaded, put everything into it and practice some more. This will help you manage weighting of the raft, along with how to arrange your gear, bike, body, etc. Having enough room for a solid paddle stroke with a fully packed raft is key.
And, by the way, if you’ve never been bikepacking before, you should follow this same “shakedown” routine with your bike, bags, and equipment.
As for once you’re out there: “Have fun!” said Finoch. Bikerafting is an experience. Embrace the unknown, the adventure of doing something wild and almost certainly different than anything you’ve done before.
Author: Nick Tilley is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine.
Top Image: Bikerafting in process by Patrick Hendry.