Here at Live The World, we don’t just like to explore parts of the world that deserve to be on your travel list. We also like to talk about the best ways you can truly appreciate every destination and what they have to offer. Similar to YouTubers and digital nomads travelling around the world in campervans, you might also be familiar with bike touring channels - my personal favourite of these is 1bike1world, in which Scotsman Dean Nicholson travels around the world with a cat he rescued in Bosnia.
But the fact of the matter is that you don’t have to go on an international adventure to enjoy the best of what travelling on a bike has to offer. You can easily spend a couple of days cycling abroad, whether you are training for that monumental task of travelling around the globe or you’re just doing a weekend away from the old 9 to 5. There are plenty of places that you can go to for a short holiday away from everything else and there are companies that can accommodate your trip. One place you can check out is the Champagne-Ardennes, a region of France that borders Belgium, and our friends at Bikepacktrail can help you in completing your trip. Here are a few reasons why you should bikepacking in this region.
1. Bikepacking is a new and popular way of holidaying
First of all, let’s explain what bikepacking is. You may be familiar with bike touring, in which a cyclist will load up as much as they can on their bicycle to travel for extended periods of time over long distances. Bicycle touring has existed for decades, with Thomas Stevens being the first man to travel around the world on a bike from April of 1884 to December of 1886. As previously mentioned, this has blown up into something of a bucket list item for adventurers - myself included.
Bikepacking on the other hand is quite a different beast. Upon first glance, they might seem similar - using a bicycle to go on an adventure from point A to point B. But bikepacking differs a bit more in the fact that there is minimalist equipment on hand and it is typically a lot shorter than traditional cycle touring. It is a trend which has blown up within the past few years, and makes for a nice way to enjoy an extended bicycle trip without too much time commitment. Bikepacking is also more suited for countryside cycling. Essentially, bikepacking is a form of cycle touring, but not all cycle tours are bikepacking to simplify it.
2. You can travel at your own pace
The beauty of any form of cycle touring is that you are at one with the world around you and it is just at a fast enough speed for you to appreciate everything. Sure, you could rent a car, which would protect you from the elements, but you don’t feel the wind in your hair or the sun on your skin the same way being on a bicycle does.
Also, depending on their specifications, you might not be able to take a rented car off the road, lest you get charged for damages, even one with specialised four-wheel drive. With bikepacking, you have that extra degree of freedom: you can choose to stick to a particular trail and appreciate what many other adventurers like you have enjoyed. Maybe there is a sharp hill that you want to climb just to see if you can do it or you’d like to take the opportunity for a photo of the Champagne-Ardennes’ many vineyards. The choice is yours!
3. You can travel independently or as part of a group
Bikepacking is a form of holidaying that can be enjoyed with friends or by yourself. On the one hand, it can give you all a chance to try something new. As someone who has been on a couple of cycle trips before, it’s nice having someone to motivate you and help keep you going. If you’re doing this, I would suggest having some sort of a game plan of where you’re going and trying to organise your journey for the slower members of your group. Bikepacktrail, for example, has routes which are both suited for newbies and more experienced riders.
Alternatively, you can just go by yourself. Just as travelling with friends is a strong motivator, so too is travelling independently. Whether it’s the drive to push yourself and not have to worry about others, or maybe you just want to see and do something that none of your other mates do (though in the case of the latter, there are groups of fellow bikepackers you could easily look up), bikepacking alone is a great way to get out and about, plus you’ll come home with a good story.
4. You can go off the road and explore the countryside
With bikepacking, it’s almost encouraged for you to go off-road. When you’re bike touring in the long terms, the equipment weighing down the bike means that’ll you’ll more than likely have to go on the road shared with cars and trucks. While most drivers are considerate towards cyclists, it can still be intimidating having a vehicle pull up on your side. When you go bikepacking, you can avoid this issue entirely.
You’ll also have to decide which bike is perfect for the job. You could easily pick up your old mountain bike and start going just now, but you also don’t need to go out and buy a new bike immediately. With companies like Bikepacktrail, you can rent a bicycle and see how it feels. Bikepacktrail lets you borrow a Van Nicholas Rowtag bike, an adventure bike worth thousands and perfectly suited for going off-road.
5. You can enjoy some Champagne in Champagne
As previously mentioned, one of the advantages of travelling at your own pace is that you can enjoy what the region has to offer. France is well known for its production of wine, with each region having their own specific wine, and Champagne is one of the most famous regions. Ten points if you can guess why.
Well, with bikepacking, depending on your schedule, you can easily chain up your bike or set up camp nearby and visit one of these many Champagne producers yourself, with permission from the owners, of course. Some of them even have tours organised, so while you’re out and about in the countryside of Champagne-Ardennes, you can learn something about the thriving industry of this area.
6. From rolling hills to vineyards
The Ardennes is an area of forests, rolling hills and steep landscapes which stretch from Belgium, Luxembourg, and regions of Germany and France, while the Champagne region is one of the most famous wine-producing regions in the world. This makes it absolutely perfect for bikepacking.
Though a bikepack set-up can allow for speed, that isn’t particularly necessary for this area. The thickly wooded trails and gravel tracks lead you towards many different attractions, from historical castles with centuries of local history to camping out in an area mostly untouched by light pollution, Champagne-Ardennes is an ideal location for any form of adventure.
7. It’s a cost-effective way to travel
Now, there’s usually one big factor when it comes to any form of holidaying - money. You need to worry about your accommodation, how you’re going to get about, where you’re going to eat etc. With bikepacking, most of this is already sorted out with you with a tent or bivy bag to sleep in, your bicycle to get around, and food that you can store in your sleeping bag. If you go with a travel company, they might have the option to sort out the food for you.
Also, by relying on your own physical abilities instead of a car, bikepacking is an extremely eco-friendly way of travelling. If you care about the environment and reducing your carbon footprint, it’s an extremely effective manner of travel compared to a car. The only other way which might be more effective would be backpacking, but the money that you would have saved on cycling would probably go towards public transport costs.
8. There is a wide range of cycle routes
Another reason why Champagne-Ardennes is such a perfect place for a bikepacking holiday is that there are plenty of different cycle routes to enjoy here. In the Champagne region alone, there are over 450km of trails for cyclists to enjoy. Ardennes also has some remarkable trails for you to follow, like the Trans-Ardennes Bike Path which follows the Meuse river.
Depending on what you decide to do, there are infinite possibilities for your bikepacking adventure. You can wing it and see where the trail leads you, some travel companies have their own routes for you to follow, or you don’t even have to follow the trail - you can see what the wilderness has to offer (though in that case, I’d recommend downloading some GPS apps on your phone).
9. There are companies which will be able to help you on your adventure
Ok, so the idea of bikepacking has been sold to you. Now what? You may not be sure as to what equipment you’ll need, what specific bike you’ll be after, that sort of thing. For my personal bike set-up, I usually go for a saddle bag, a bike frame bag and a handlebar bag. There are YouTube videos and guides on how best to organise your equipment, but at the end of the day, it’s up to you what to decide.
Still not sure…? Well, then I recommend that you do a test run with companies like the Bikepacktrail. As well as providing a bike for travelling, they let you borrow all the equipment you need. You can bring your own camping gear, or you can rent it cheaply for convenience. They also have a fixed route of where you can go, which shows off some of the highlights of the region. If all that tickles your fancy, then the Champagne-Ardennes is waiting for you.