The Clock is your toughest competitor. If you’re planning on racing any bikepacking route, know that Time will be your toughest competitor.  It doesn’t stop, need to eat, sleep or stop for bathroom breaks.  It doesn’t care about the weather, and it doesn’t have bad days.  It’s relentless and never stops.  In the end it beats us all, but there are some things you can do to limit your losses.

Take the time to plan the shit out of your race.  Some say that takes away from the experience but if you’re racing, your racing.  Time matters.

Here are four time saving areas to consider:

How to Save Time When Bikepacking

Proper Planning

There’s two areas to proper planning.  The first being information and the other gear.  There is a huge amount of time to be saved in just these two areas and both are done at home before the clock even starts.  We’ll call them “preventative time saving”.

Information

At home collect all the data you can (see guides below to help with this).  Find and know where the route is, resupply stops, alternate routes, bikes shops and any other useful information you deem important.  Have that data you collected organized and represented in such a way that it’s easy to digest when it’s the middle of the night and you’re exhausted.  Unlike gear, information doesn’t weigh anything.

Gear

Test the hell out of your set up.  Try different gear, put stuff in different places.  When you hit the trail, your race set up should be 100%, with ZERO question marks.  If you’re not sure about something figure it out before hand.

The last thing you want is for something to break, fall off, or to find out it doesn’t work on day one.  It’s much easier to fix gear issues at home on one of many shake down rides than in the middle of no where during a race.

Thoughts from the others:

Chris Plesko – “Things will go wrong on the trail. Take a moment to evaluate several possible options to improve the situation. Once you make a decision move forward with that decision decisively.”

Town

Going into town during a bikepacking race is both a blessing and curse at the same time.  The key is knowing how to get the most out of town but in the least amount of time possible.  It’s incredibly easy to get sucked into the convenience and comfort of town.

Have a Plan

One of the best things you can do before going into town is to have a list of what you need.  Going into town without a plan is a recipe for lost time.

Looking back at Proper Planning above, you might consider drawing a map of town or saving a screen shot of Google Maps.  Label where stuff is.  I personally lost time in town because I didn’t know where things were.  Avoid having to stop to ask where things are by knowing ahead of time.  You might even consider mapping out the fastest route to get everything you need before hand.  Don’t think you’ll be able to do it during the race you most likely won’t have the mental power.

Exit Time

Before going into town you should always have either a set amount of time you want to spend in town or an exit time in mind.  Not doing one of these will lead to losing time.  Be hard on yourself and stick to the plan!  Don’t give in to the inner voices or be swayed by what others are doing.  It’s your race, not theirs.

Pro-Tip

Have a list of towns and what each has in it.  Also have a list of the common items you should do and get in town.  

Thoughts from the others:

Garrett Alexander – “I’d say one of the main things is don’t get to comfortable. The more comfortable you get the harder it will be to get up and keep moving. You can even give yourself a time limit. “ok I have 15 minutes to go into the store and get stuff.”

Find places that make/serve food quickly. I got called out by Ben Parmen last year for spending two hours in Silverton. I had made up a lot of time that day and I wasted it all moping around looking for food when the gas station had everything I needed. I’ve practiced counting calories but it gets to be difficult for me. I grab food proportional to a light breakfast for 3 hours of riding. Like a couple fruit pastries every 3-4 hours.

Think of it as time made vs. time lost. You put in a solid effort. Don’t waste it trying to decide what to eat.

Efficiency

No matter who I’m hiking or bikepacking with, I always beat them out of camp.  The reason for this is efficiency.  Being efficient is an easy way to beat the clock.

Above I talked about being efficient while in town.  Another easy place to be efficient is in camp.  Some might call it being anal but I pack my clothes in my pillow (stuff sack) so that they come out in the order I’ll put them on.  It’s either this or having clothes strewn all over my tent.  Without fail it’s dark and you always loose that one black sock someplace in your tent or bivy.

When you stop, stop with purpose.  Don’t stop to just pee or to just take a picture.  If you do you’ll find yourself stopping all the time.  The better course of action is to stop once and knock out multiple things in one stop.

  • Pee
  • Take photo
  • Change clothes
  • Oil chain
  • Check GPS

Keep things simple, the less complex your set up and how you spend your time during the race the more efficient you’ll be and save time..

Bacon Award Save Time When Bikepacking

My grandfather’s “Bacon Award” from 1930 for efficiency in camp, from his time as a Lone Scout.

Thoughts from the others:

Kurt Refsnider – “Keep moving forward, but know when to stop. It’s obvious that the more moving time you rack up during waking hours, the more ground you’ll generally cover. Frequent stops to pull out food, extract your rain jacket, futz with your bike, etc. only interrupt focus and forward progress. Do everything you can to minimize stops, take care of as many tasks as possible when you do stop, and maintain your focus on moving forward the rest of the time. But when your forward progress slows as you get tired and start to bumble along, stopping to sleep sooner than later will be more efficient.”

Kurt Refsnider – “Have a specific place for all your gear, and be conscientious about keeping everything in its place. And store everything in a way that doesn’t require unpacking most everything just to pull out one item.”

Chris Plesko – “If you are a bivy user, pack your sleeping bag inside your bivy. This will give your bag an extra layer of waterproof protection, eliminate a stuff sack, save time in packing a bivy separately, and greatly speed up the process from stopping to crawling into your bag to sleep.”

The Mental Game

Knowing how to play the Mental Game and being mentally tough can be to your advantage and save you time during a race.

The little Voice

It doesn’t take long for that little voice to start, the one that tells us to sit a little longer, to have another beer or soda in town.  Learning how to tell this little voice to shut the hell up is key.  Doing so could save you a lot of time.  Keeping your focused on your goal is key.  If you counter the Little Voice with your goal it will be easier to ignore it.  You put in a lot of work to be able to be out there, don’t waste it listening to that Little Voice.

Knowing the Clock Doesn’t Stop

When you race the clock, there is the constant knowledge that the clock doesn’t stop when you do.  This can be a constant mental drain over the long run.  If you over analyze it, there’s a good chance you’ll get yourself down.  Worse yet, you might push yourself too far and bad things can happen when you do this.

If you can apply most or all the suggestions in this post, that feeling won’t be an issue, because you’ll know you’re doing everything you can to beat the clock.

Thoughts from the others:

Kurt Refsnider – “Be ok with slow miles. Hours and hours of moving along challenging trail at just a few miles per hour can be mentally taxing for some riders, but there’s often no way to speed up progress. Accept it and plod on.”

More Resources

Gear lists from the AZT, TD and CTR; Pros & Cons; Things I’d do different; and Tips for selecting the right gear.

Planning should include more than just where towns and water are.  From wills, to healthcare concerns, to electronics, this post covers them all and more.

You can learn everything possible about a trail before you go but it will still teach you plenty once you’re out there.

Navigation is probably the biggest concern for most newbie bikepackers.  The reality is it’s not that bad but the learning curve is tough.

Time is the little killer when bikepack racing.  There’s many ways to limit your losses, we cover some of them here.

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