Gravel Culture: I see your gravel bikepacking setup and I raise you…
Gravel Union On
10 November 2021
Gravel bikepacking adventure in the mountains of South Wales with a 2.5m long cargo bike? That sounds ideal said Rob Byrne.
“Can you take a Bullitt off-road in the Welsh mountains? You can, but my knees are still deciding whether you should. 3800m of accent in 160 kms. I walked about 50km and at midnight on the way out, in the pitch black after covering 2 kms in 2 hours, I ditched the bike and walked to find the place I was staying. Stunning place! It certainly held up well on the technical downhill though”
That was the text that Rob Byrne posted in a Facebook group for Harry v Larry cargo bike owners. He accompanied the text with a selection of images, most of which would have made any red-blooded gravel rider or aspiring bikepacker hop up and down with excitement, so we got in touch to find out the details.
The tiny building, barely visible in the image on the right was Rob’s destination – the Grwyne Fawr bothy. Built in the late 1920s during the construction of the adjacent Grwyne Fawr reservoir, the bothy is tiny (it sleeps 3 at a push, apparently) and is not the easiest to access, seeing as it is located at the far end of a steep sided valley and can be reached only via a narrow path with a steep slope on one side.
Given the bothy’s slightly precarious location, if you were thinking about heading there as the destination for a bike-shaped adventure, you would probably consider taking a gravel bike or an MTB, fitted with appropriate bike packing equipment and which was light/agile enough to be carried when/if necessary.
Aside from its obvious ability to carry all your stuff, you probably wouldn’t choose to take a 2.5m long, 30kg cargo bike on the adventure with you. But then who said everything in life should be easy!
Rob decided that his Bullitt was the perfect bike for his adventure. He had assembled it from a frameset and had even built the wheels himself, so he knew it was dependable and durable. When we asked whether he had made any modifications to the bike for the ride, he said that he frequently rode the manmade MTB trails near his home in Bristol on his Bullitt, so he knew it could cope. His one concession was to fit slightly fatter tyres (right up to the 26x2.0” maximum size that you can squeeze into a Bullitt frame) and had let the tyre pressures down slightly to make the ride more comfortable.
Rob uses his Bullitt as his daily transport as he doesn’t own a car. He uses it as a way to spend time with his family as he frequently takes his son with him on his adventures. But he also uses it as a means of escape and a way of seeing more of the world - he’s chosen not to travel anywhere by plane for the past 10 years. So, it makes perfect sense that he used his cargo bike on an off-road bikepacking trip. He packed everything he needed for the overnight stay into a weatherproof holdall and a large plastic crate, strapped securely to the loading area at the front of the bike and set off from his front door on the 90kms ride into the Black Mountains of South Wales.
“What made you choose this bothy as your destination and why take a cargo bike?” were the obvious questions that we put to Rob. “It was an impulse decision, after a short period of illness and it seemed to offer a good challenge” was Rob’s nonchalant reply. Rob’s route was mainly on paved surfaces, but he used the UK’s National Cycle Network trails wherever he could. The last part of his journey was on anything but a paved surface though.
“It was nearly 2am when I got near the bothy. It was pitch dark. The battery on my GPS unit was nearly dead and the map wasn’t much use anyway as it didn’t show enough detail. I managed to miss the path at a key junction. I knew I was close, but I couldn’t quite find it due to the chest high bracken” said Rob, when describing his journey. “I slipped into the reservoir at one point”, he casually dropped into the conversation “and eventually decided to abandon the Bullitt and do the last bit on foot”.
After his adventure to the mountains of South Wales, we asked Rob what was next on his non-standard gravelly adventure list “I really fancy returning to the Grwyne Fawr bothy in the middle of winter. I’ll probably take my ‘proper’ gravel bike next time though. Then next year, I’d like to use the Bullitt to visit the five southernmost bothies in Wales. Plus, some family ‘nearly wild’ camping trips to Dartmoor.”
When we asked Rob to sum up his Bullitt gravel adventure he said “I probably wouldn’t recommend doing it quite in the way that I did, but actually the bike was pretty good on the rough stuff. It handles incredibly well going downhill, although it did bottom-out once or twice and I ended up like a see-saw at one spot. My Bullitt gets taken on lots of adventures where it probably shouldn’t be able to go, but it’s worth experimenting isn’t it!.”
We’re not expecting cargo bikes to take over the world of gravel riding and adventure bikepacking anytime soon, but if you fancy trying Bullitt-gravel for yourself, you can find more information about them here