6 questions for the man behind Oregon’s bikepacking revolution

6 questions for the man behind Oregon’s bikepacking revolution

Donnie Kolb’s new site, OregonBikepacking.com
is sooo good.

People have been sleeping in the woods with their bikes for over a century. It’s nothing new. But in just the past year or so, doing off-road overnighters — a.k.a. “bikepacking” — with a few frame bags attached to a mountain-bike (or a beefy road bike) has skyrocketed in popularity. Especially here in Oregon.

There are a number of things to explain this phenomenon; but one inarguable catalyst has been VeloDirt.com. Now Donnie Kolb, the man behind the site the has done so much to help popularize gravel riding and camping-by-bike, has launched OregonBikepacking.com.

Kolb launched VeloDirt in 2010 with his friends Suzanne Marcoe and Aaron Schmidt. It began humbly as a blog to catalog rides on “those lonely dirt roads you pass on your regular road rides.” That same year, Kolb organized an unsanctioned, 123 mile race on one of his signature backroad routes called the Oregon Stampede. It was a huge success, so Kolb added a few more events the next year and he hasn’t looked back since.

His latest and greatest route is the Oregon Outback — 360 miles (mostly dirt and gravel) of pure backroad goodness from Klamath Falls to Deschutes State Park near the Columbia River. That route, and the event he organized on it back in May, catapulted Kolb and VeloDirt even further.

Suddenly he was making news and being asked to give bikepacking seminars to the eager masses.

Kolb’s latest endeavor is OregonBikePacking.com, a fantastic resource that’s rich with photos and details of great adventure rides throughout the state. The site feels like a natural progression of his Kolb’s work and the design is top-notch. It’s a site that’s guaranteed to stoke your wanderlust for wild places.

I recently asked him to share more about the new site and where he thinks this bikepacking craze is headed next…

Donnie Kolb-1

Kolb in his natural environment, alongside his friend (and supporter) Harth Huffman of Wabi Woolens. (August 2013)
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Why OregonBikepacking.com? What the heck is it?

In short, it’s an online guidebook to bikepacking in Oregon. We currently have 6 full routes spread around the state ranging from 2 to 7 days. Most of the routes are intermediate level, a few are advanced. We ultimately plan to expand the offerings to around 20-25 routes, encompassing the entire spectrum of routes from weekenders to several weeks, from beginner to very advanced.

I’ve always been frustrated with the VeloDirt.com website… I’ve always hated our inability to present detailed information about routes. Even something as simple as a day ride was limited to a few photos and a GPS link, which really isn’t enough information if the idea is to encourage folks to get out and ride. My frustration came to a head during the Oregon Outback preparation; I had information spread around multiple places on the website, with no easy way to link them all together. I decided that if I was going to do this, I needed to do it right. So I hired a friend of mine to develop the new website.

How is it different from VeloDirt.com?

VeloDirt.com will continue to hold most of our day-to-day content – day routes, organized rides, blogging, gear reviews, etc. It’s also a good place for sharing photos and details from bikepacking trips that may not be ready for primetime on OregonBikepacking.com. It allows us to maintain a presence beyond bikepacking since that’s not all we do: fatbiking, gravel, even some road riding and touring, we do it all.

Some people like to keep their best wild spots secret, or at least on the down-low, so they don’t get overrun by a bunch of newbies. You’re like the opposite of that. The Pied Piper of bikepacking. Why do you get such a stoke out of sharing your best routes and getting other people out into the backcountry?

At this point I approach how I do this more like bike advocacy than anything else – but instead of encouraging people to get out of their cars and commute to work (as an example), I’m encouraging them to get out of the city altogether and go experience Oregon. I am continually amazed travelling around this state just how diverse it is and how many unique, interesting places there are.

The absolute best part about doing this and helping organize rides is when people tell me during or after their ride how excited they are and how much fun they are having. Providing an avenue to have that kind of experience is extremely rewarding in its own right. When someone tells you afterward that they just had the best day they’d ever had on a bike before – it makes all the hard work worth it.

Bullshit 100 ride-45

You still have a full time job that has nothing to do with bikes? As you launch more projects and existing ones gain popularity, do you ever think you’ll be able to make “bikepacking guru” into a career? Would you even want that?

Yes, while it might not look like it, I’m a working stiff just like everyone else. I actually work a lot – way too much. It’s not always easy to find time to ride or do longer trips. It takes a lot of advance planning to make time for the bike.

I have no idea what will happen with all of this, but I get that question more and more these days. It’d be sweet to figure out a way to make a living out of this – though I don’t know quite what that would look like. For now at least I’ll just keep doing this because I love doing it and if it eventually leads to something interesting, I’m certainly open to it. It sure would be beat my day job…

Bikepacking and gravel riding have really blown up this year. Why do you think this type of riding has struck a chord with so many people?

There’s a little bit of a “fad” aspect to it right now, especially with all of the outdoor companies suddenly promoting it and trying to grab a slice of the potential market (REI, Blackburn, etc.). Once companies like that start promoting something, it jumps beyond the hardcore niche users and suddenly everyone and their grandma wants to try it. That’s not a bad thing per se, as long as people understand what they’re getting themselves into. Getting people outside participating in physical activity is generally a positive overall.

Really, bikepacking is just backpacking on a bike. Because just about everyone in Oregon has been backpacking at least once they can relate to the idea of bikepacking. And really it’s a pretty simple transition. If you are a competent backpacker, you’ll be a competent bikepacker – just trade your moleskin and boots for a tire pump and a bike. So I get why it’s folks are getting so excited about it and its catching on pretty quickly.

What do you think is next? Will bikepacking just keep getting bigger? Or is the bubble set to burst and we’ll soon all be talking about bikescubadiving or some other twist on the sport we all love?

Bikepacking is here to stay. Much like when backpacking exploded in the 90’s and then leveled off, I think bikepacking will do the same. The biggest difference is you can outfit yourself for backpacking on a much smaller budget, so if only for that reason bikepacking will always be a smaller market. But now that outdoor companies and outdoor retailers have discovered bikepacking, we’ll never stop seeing it.

I personally love combining bikes with other things. Packrafting, hunting, fishing – you name it. Bikes give you access to so many new places that it’s a natural fit. And bikepacking gear facilitates combining some of these traditionally more remote activities with bikes. It’s awesome. As an example, I recently traded emails with a guy who flies his bush plane out into remote parts of Oregon, takes his bike along, and goes riding in new places all the time. I was blown away by the possibilities. Plus I’ve always wanted to get my pilots license. So yeah, the next big thing will be bikeflying and I already bought the web domain – OregonBikeFlying.com – just in case.


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