Bike Camping Trip

This weekend I took my first official bike camping trip. I’ve camped plenty of times and taken my bike before, but I’d never biked to the campsite or carried my camping gear on my bike.  Rivendell has termed this kind of small adventure the S24O, for sub 24-hour overnight trip.

The basics:

  • Packed a change of clothes, essential toiletries and some food and dishes into panniers.  Zip tied sleeping bags to racks.
  • Biked to Union Station in downtown Chicago.
  • Took Metra train one hour out of the city.  Bikes are allowed on train for free.
  • Met Melissa at the destination station and the three of us biked together to the forest preserve campsite.
  • Met Chanh at the campsite in his car.  Good for people who are not comfortable riding the whole route and/or carrying bigger items like tents and coolers (although we could have fit a tent on our bikes).
  • Biked around, played with fire, drank beer and canoed.
  • Biked to the train station, took train back to Union Station, biked home.

The details:  Once we set up camp, all four of us set out for Two Brothers Brewery. The route was a nice mix of nature bike paths, quiet neighborhood streets and fast roads with wide shoulders, with some interesting sites along the way.

After super fresh beer, food and more bike riding, we returned to the campsite to watch the sunset.  Songs, fire and more beer drinking followed late into the night.

The next morning started with s’mores – the breakfast of champions! – and Melissa’s guitar.

A quick rain shower cleared up in time for us to hit the lake.  Mr. Dottie and I took a canoe, while Melissa and Chanh chose a tandem kayak.

After packing up, we biked to a diner for lunch and then biked to the train station.  Mr. Dottie and I took the train to downtown Chicago and biked home. In our neighborhood we stopped for frozen custard, and it’s amazing how well the turtle sundae recharged my batteries.

My Rivendell Betty Foy, which I bought for the versatility of commuting and light touring, handled everything perfectly and felt wonderful.

By the end of the whirlwind weekend, I was exhausted but happy.  I want to do this more often.  The next-to-nothing cost and planning make it easy to accomplish on any given weekend.  The opportunity to escape the city and enjoy life’s simple pleasures make me want to do it every weekend!

Who else has experience with bike camping, either S24O’s or longer tours?

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53 thoughts on “Bike Camping Trip

  1. Kate says:

    Wow – that looks like the most amazingly fun time in the history of amazingly fun times – I love it!

    Thanks for this post – it has really brightened my day :-) (now I can spend all day daydreaming about doing the same thing! :-D)

  2. Cherilyn says:

    Good for you! Very inspiring post and photos. You’re really doing amazing things with your camera!

    Nutella s’mores are pretty much divine, just for future reference. :)

  3. Maggie says:

    Wow, great pics! I actually took my first bike camping trip this weekend too! Loaded down my commuter bike and rode to a state park with friends. Fun!!!

  4. Nice post Dottie. You have not only done an S24O, but you dived right into a multi-modal S24O! You took transit, biked and canoed, the trifecta of S24O trips.

    The only thing left after that is the folding multi-modal S24O. Last year I got a nice folding kayak used. I then rode my folding bike to ride up the Milwaukee river, camped, then unfolded the kayak, put the folding bike inside and paddled back.

    I did not document my trips last year, but will do so this year at http://overthebarsinmilwaukee.wordpress.com/

    And great photos as usual.

    • Dottie says:

      Awesome! I was thinking that a folding bike would be a lot easier for the train, although then I would not be able to ride my beloved Rivendell. And I was also wondering how a canoe could be dragged by a bike, but this folding kayak idea sounds much more feasible :)

  5. Carolyn I. says:

    I alomost did a S240 on the Victoria Day Long weekend, but then it snowed! :(

    I will be doing a S240 on the July 3rd weekend though. Friend out in the country is having a graduation BBQ for her daughter and there’s camping available. I am definitely going to do that, I think it will be so much fun.

    Then, starting on July 14, I am joining Tour De Jasper, which is a luxury bike tour to from Prince George (where I live) to Jasper. It takes 4 days to get there and is a fully supported trip. They feed you gourmet breakfasts and dinners. There’s a mechanic on duty to assist if your bike breaks down. You return by train (they drive your bikes on a trailer back to PG) I am so stoked for it! :)

  6. Nicola says:

    We’ve been considering a camping trip, but can’t work out how to fix the tent to the bikes. It doesn’t help that our tent is really old, so it’s big and heavy. Hmm. I’m jealous of the fun you had though, it looks lovely!

  7. Melissa S. says:

    It was a lot of fun. And the pics turned out great.
    Nicola, it’s totally possible to attach a tent to a bike, but you do need a smaller tent. I think all the tents we had could have easily been attached to a bike because they pack up so small.

  8. Jami says:

    There’s a place to camp out by Two Brothers? I need to find more information about this!

    I’ve done several bike camping trips and dream of doing a long distance, cross-country bike ride in the future.

    In the near future, a group of us girls are going to do a weekend camping trip in July. I’m also planning a week-long ride for the first week of August.

    My bike is set up for doing self-supported touring…it’s an awesome feeling of independence to be able to bike into a site and set up camp. Rangers are often surprised.

  9. Lanie says:

    Beautiful pictures, and your trip looks so fun! I’ve done two 4-day bike camping trips, in Missouri and in Michigan/ Wisconsin. They were really fun, and I’m looking forward to planning another one for next summer.

    @Nicola- I put my sleeping bag and most of the tent in my panniers, and strap the tent poles and rainfly on top of my rack. Dividing up the components might give you a bit more flexibility for carrying your tent!

  10. Oh gosh, my boyfriend and I have wanted to go bike camping *forever*! But with my bike irreparably broken and him working 40+ hours every week, it’s looking like it won’t happen until next year :(

  11. bongobike says:

    Very nice! Looks like you all had a great time.

  12. Daniella says:

    Aw, how fun is that! Great photos!

  13. Dan says:

    Did you bring a small am/fm radio?

  14. BB says:

    It’s essential to be withing cycling distance of a brewery! Looks like a great couple of days.

  15. Holly says:

    Looks like you had a great time! This trip looks and sounds idyllic. And beer to boot–wahoo!

    Since you asked, my first real touring ride was a bike camping trip. I was a very inexperienced rider. I hadn’t ever ridden very far besides some city commuting, and especially not with a week’s worth of gear on a borrowed road bike. We met car campers at our a site, but we had to carry tents and all of our own gear because we had to have a couple of overnights @ sites en route.

    We took our time and rode 35 miles on day one, camped and then rode 40 miles on day two which was challenging as we were in the Kettle Moraine area of Wisconsin. ACTUAL HILLS!

    When we got to our destination, we hung out with the car campers at a lake for 3 days. We then rode home with one overnight which involved illegally camping at a Boy Scout camp. This was not our plan, but the site we expected to find didn’t exist and it was getting dark! We upheld the campsite rule and never got caught, fortunately. (Boy Scouts have really nice camping areas, by the way!)

    This trip was the single event that truly changed my life and made me become an avid cyclist. Sadly, I haven’t had time for a week long camping since then, but your account of this S24O makes me hopeful that I can do it this summer at least a few times. At this point, it takes quite a bit of planning just to ride the 50-70 miles I do on weekends.

    One really great part of that trip that I remember is how nice people were to us when we rode through smaller towns. Everyone would ask us where we were from and where we were going. They did seem genuinely interested if not a little surprised…oh, and no cars honking!

  16. Sungsu says:

    Years ago, a couple of friends and I drove up to Vermont, parked the car, and went on a two-night bike camping trip. The more campers you have, the easier it is to carry stuff because you divide up the shared gear.

  17. philippe says:

    For the record, on that group portrait, Mr Dottie looks like a young jean-Luc Anglade.

  18. Michael says:

    Awesome! I just did my first s24o this weekend too! We also had someone join us by car with beer and firewood (yay beer!), and like your trip, ours involved public transportation out of the Seattle area via ferry: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/37603185. Now all I need is an actual Riv to really be fully legit and retro-grouch certified!

  19. Dave says:

    Looks like it was a great trip! Glad you had such a great time!

  20. Zweiradler says:

    You obviously enjoyed the trip. Nice photos.
    I’ve done a lot of camping already in my life, but not by bike (unfortunately). When I was a child we used to spend the summer holidays (5 to 6 weeks) with camping on a Dutch island. But while we were there, we rented bikes to get around. :)

    Nico

  21. Julz says:

    Liveliness!… Inspiring! (are the words) :P

  22. Academichic says:

    This looks awesome! What a great post with really beautiful pictures. S.

  23. tschitschi says:

    There is something about riding a bike all day and then sleep in a tent – somehow you never sleep better!

  24. katie says:

    looks like a super fun time! i’m surprised that you were able to fit all that stuff into your panniers..!

  25. Doug says:

    Glad to hear all of you enjoyed the S24O.

    I spent a family weekend in Madison, Wi and Spring Green, Wi at the American Players Theatre. Saw two awesome Shakespeare productions. It was our 14th season we’ve attended.

    I took this week off so I could ride back from Madison to Duluth. About 375 miles. Unfortunately, I came down with a cold. I had to cancel the 7 day tour. But hope to be feeling good enough later in the week for a S24O.

  26. Jeff says:

    I did several week-long biking/camping trips and one of several weeks duration many, many years ago. I carried all my camping gear, and typically rode about 65 miles/day. The routine was normally pack up, ride about 6 hours to the next destination, find a camping spot, buy some food, cook dinner, clean up, and sleep the sleep of the just ;-)

    Unfortunately, as a “responsible” adult I’ve either never had the time or a willing companion to do it again. But I still hold out hope for the future…

  27. Nicolas says:

    This looks too cool for me not to try it. I even got my mind set on a brewery outside Paris – gotta find camping grounds there, or make it a day trip. One question – I only got a pretty big city bike, comparable to the Oma (Velorbis, internal gears, etc.) – is that a dealbreaker for such a trip?

    • Dottie says:

      I don’t think a big city bike is a deal breaker. Difficulties I would have had taking my Oma are: lifting it on and off the train, taking up a lot of room on the train, riding up hills (a lot more in the country than in the city). If you don’t have to take a train (or your trains have ramps) and there aren’t too many hills, a slow and steady ride could be quite nice.

      • Nicolas says:

        Oma has 8 gears, right? My fiancée’s bike has a SRAM 5 hub, and I got a good old Sturmey-Archer 3… so I’ll try to find a route that’s as flat as I hear Chicagoland is :D
        The rest of the drawbacks I can manage. Carrying the bikes on and off the night train to Berlin wasn’t the nicest part of the trip I made last spring, but MAN that was a great weekend. I would have documented it if the LGRAB Games had been open!

  28. Totally awesome little time you had, didn’t ya??!! :D

  29. How wonderful, and congratulations for doing this! How many miles would you say you cycled in total during the trip, including to and from the train station?

    Oh, and frozen custard? I have never had that, but I think that needs to change : )

    • Dottie says:

      Not that many miles – there are so many forest preserve camping spots close to train station and people don’t realize how easy it is to bike to them. Union Station and back was 12 miles total. About 10 miles total to and from the campsite and 8 miles to and from the brewery. So about 30 miles total.

      I highly recommend frozen custard! Like ice cream but so much better.

      • Cezar says:

        Where could I find these sites near the train lines for camping? Searches are giving me nothing. Also, I can’t find anywhere where you mention what campsite this post is about?

  30. Duncan H says:

    I’ve never heard of an S240 before, but I’m certainly glad I know about it now.

    Great photos, too!

  31. Richard says:

    Great story and very encouraging for those wishing to do a S24O. However I am curious as to where all of this camping fun took place. Can you share? Thank you.

    • Dottie says:

      At a forest preserve in DuPage County. A short bike ride from the Naperville train station.

    • meligrosa says:

      this is awesome! my bikey friends here in sf all have the camping bug. what a fatnastic set of pics dottie, esp. love the leaf one, the kayak one and the blurry tents with the plant. all tell the storie in a very poetic way :D
      ride on!! xxo.m <3

  32. Beautiful ride, lot of beer. I tried mixing cycling and beer in Ireland and got into trouble on the first climb. The Irish claim to have the world’s best beer but drinking it seemed to cancel the health benefits of cycling. It also made it hard to stay alive on narrow mountain roads.

  33. Maranda says:

    Okay…. Now I need a bike, and some time off from work to go camp again. I’m off in the morning. I might seriously hit the bike shop bright and early and get some ideas. I’ve been looking for excuses to get back on a bike and ride again after 10 years, and your blog may have pushed me over the edge. Thank you thank you thank you!!!!! I am
    a loyal reader from here on out!

    • Dottie says:

      This is the best news I’ve heard all day, Maranda! We’re so honored that we could help you decide to ride again :) Feel free to ask any questions you may have.

  34. Ann says:

    Looks like fun. Good for you. Thanks for sharing the photos. I miss camping. I gave it up after retiring to bear country and realizing they can break into anything, including stick built houses. (We have almost 80 grizzly bears and who-knows-how-many black bears in the two bear habitats near me. I never really want to have a personal encounter with one.)

  35. John says:

    Bike touring is certainly the cat’s meow. It’s obvious you had a blast.

    On another note, I picked up Anna Karenina after reading your recommendation on Russian Literature. I had avoided it for many years because of the talk of length. How many times have you heard a reference to War and Peace when discussing how long something will take?

    It really is a pleasure to read something by a great writer.

  36. Have you considered submitting this trip for the Adventure Cycling Association’s BikeOvernights.org website? I’m an intern at the organization right now and I know they’re looking for more overnight stories, especially with fabulous photos like these.
    (And: Love the Betty Foy! A friend of mine is getting one soon too!)

  37. [...] from top left: A Class; Music; A Trip; Perfume; [...]

  38. […] bikes were involved in this outing (unlike my 24-hour bike camping trip), but there was hiking, dog wrangling, and s’mores […]

  39. Amy says:

    Yay for Kayaks! I need to get mine out on the lake again soon. I’m only 4 miles from the water. You’d think I would be there all summer! Sheesh… maybe it’s b/c I haven’t found a way to carry it by bike! :)

  40. Karen says:

    What a fun trip and such lovely photos! The art world is screaming for you, Dottie.

  41. Frances says:

    Wow, thank you for sharing such a very good experience. The pictures really look great and it’s obvious that you really enjoyed the camping. What a beautiful sunrise. :)

  42. Wendy says:

    Oh, what a wonderful adventure trip. Sounds like you had a great time. What I can only say is thank you for sharing it here. Your pictures are wonderful!

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