FORCE OF NATURE - A BIKEPACKING ADVENTURE
Bikepacking is a beautifully simple concept. Take one of the ever-growing numbers of high-performance gravel bikes on the market and kit it out with everything you need. If you’re going for the day, that might be no more than a rain jacket and a credit card; if you’re going for longer, it could be a tent, camping stove and everything else you’ll need to create a rolling home on two wheels. Once you’re ready, a bikepacking adventure becomes something that is, without question, more than the sum of its parts.
Ultimately, it can be a lifestyle choice, one that affords you amazing freedom, distances limited only by the time you can take off work, the willingness of your legs, and your own self-reliance. Off-road cycling options in the UK are increasing in number every year, a consequence of both dedicated routes from cycling friendly local authorities, and those posted on Strava. Beyond that, if you point your bike east or west and ride for long enough, you’ll end up back where you started. What circumnavigational types euphemistically refer to as ‘The Lap’.
Frankly, there’s no time to start like the present. As we continue to emerge from the pandemic – one step forward, one step back – riding off road is arguably the very best form of cycling for improving both physical and mental health. Hard on the lungs, easy on the eye and mind. And what you’ll discover, as you pass through tranquil landscape untroubled by cars, is a whole new sense of the world. “I travel not to go anywhere,” Robert Louis Stevenson famously wrote, “but to go… the great affair is to move”.
To mark the launch of Pearson’s new Around the Outside (ATO) titanium gravel bike, we decided to do a bit of going ourselves. Specifically, to the South Downs Way, dispatching two riders, Kate and Alex, along with a pair of freshly minted ATOs. The 100-mile ancient road (now, technically, off-road) runs from Eastbourne to Winchester, wending its way through wheatfields and across chalk downland. Off-road headbangers like to complete the route in a day – and sometimes twice – but our riders, having kitted out their bikes with Apidura’s excellent bikepacking luggage, chose to break their route by camping overnight.
One of the beauties of the South Downs Way is the feeling you are cycling through time; Kate and Alex, for example, took in the famous Chanctonbury Ring, an Iron Age hill fort, followed by the Old Man of Wilmington, a giant chalk carving dating back to the early 18th century. At the top of the popular Truleigh Hill climb they came bang up to date, at Cadence Cycle Club, a cyclist-friendly barn conversion offering coffee and pastries as well as spectacular views across the English Channel.
Upon arrival in Winchester, they took in the famous statue of Alfred the Great, the medieval king who first repelled the Vikings and whose grandson, Athelstan, would later unify England. (The city is also the starting point for King Alfred’s Way, a newly created, 217-mile off-road loop.)
The new ATO is designed for maximum cargo. Multiple mounting bosses enabled Kate and Alex to load plentiful supplies; just for the weekend in their case but with more than enough capacity for the aforementioned ‘lap’. ATO’s high-spec titanium proved the perfect steed, with its heavyweight shock absorption weighing in more like a carbon featherweight. The new ATO uses hand-drawn 3AL titanium for its main three tubes, triple-butted to ensure strength and agility when riding.
The distinctive curved down tube allows extra clearance for both the front wheel and luggage, as well as larger tyre sizes (up 700x 48 or 650 x 2.5). The frame features triple bottle mounts on both seat tube and down tube to accommodate yet more frame luggage. Additional bosses on the top tube at the base of the down tube offer sturdy mounting points for bottles and bags. Cast-titanium rear wheel dropouts take their inspiration from the world of mountain biking, while the chain stay and seat tube ports can accommodate either mechanical or electric mechs. Direct disc mounts ensure the utmost braking power and 12mm through-axles minimise flex further.