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Bespoke Camping
Customize your bike camping trip and enjoy a smooth ride

Photos by Sam Dodge

June 2016

With the weather warming up and Wisconsin Bike Week this June 6 to 11, the trails are beckoning. Whether youíre a canoe camper who commutes by bike or a recreational rider hoping to explore more of the landscape, consider a new adventure: bike camping. Itís exactly what it sounds like: You carry your camping equipment with you on your bicycle. The lighter the load, the easier on you.

My husband is an avid bike camper and loves combining his favorite mode of travel with a good nightís sleep under the stars. Over the years, heís planned quite a few solo and group trips from the Milwaukee area. In fact, bike camping with his sisterís family has become an annual family tradition, with the next outing taking them to Michigan.

If you havenít tried bike camping yet and the idea intrigues you, you donít have to be nearly so ambitious. You can hop on your bike and head to one of several local campgrounds for a quick, active getaway.

That said, do your research, advise Carolyn Weber and Tristan Klein, owners of Coast In Bikes in the Walkerís Point neighborhood. The two have planned their own bike camping excursions and started offering group trips last year. They like to follow blogs of the Adventure Cycling Association, Brew City Biker and The Path Less Pedaled, all of which include tips from experienced bike campers.

Map the route before you go, they add. "Check out amenities along the way," Klein says. "You can pick up what you need as you go."

If youíre a newbie, they recommend starting with a one-day trip on a paved trail and maybe even forgoing a tent, opting instead for a room with a comfortable bed. After a test run, get ready to pack your camping gear, but donít feel like you need to buy a lot up front. "Find a friend to go with," Weber says, adding that you can share supplies. Bike shops can connect you with other bike campers, she says, and you can rent equipment from the Urban Ecology Center.

"It helps to pick a campground near a gas station or grocery store, so you can buy food rather than carry it," says Dave Schlabowske, deputy director of the Wisconsin Bike Fed and a fan of one-night bike-camping trips that he can do in less than 24 hours. "After you do it a while, you may want to invest in a lighter, packable down sleeping bag, compression bags and a fancy stove, but you donít need that stuff to have a great time," he says.

At minimum, Weber and Klein suggest packing the following on your bike: rack, panniers, sleeping bag, tent, camp stove, water bottle, lights, money, map, zip ties, flat kit, multi-tool and lock. People tend to overpack, so try to keep your bags light.

"Youíll figure out what doesnít work," Klein says, adding that the least prepared bike campers from a group trip last year were the first to sign up for another overnighter this year.

And donít feel like you need to turn your trip into a race. "Build in stops every 10 to 15 miles," Klein says. Youíll enjoy the experience more if you slow down, and youíll probably make a friend along the way because bike camping brings people together. "Even if you go alone, youíll meet people," Weber says.

Check, the website of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), to find out if youíll need a trail pass.

For example, bicyclists on the Glacial Drumlin State Trail need one, but you donít need a pass to ride the Oak Leaf Trail or Ozaukee Interurban Trail. The DNR encourages making campsite reservations, especially if you know when youíll arrive, but state parks will accommodate bike campers without reservations. You can pitch your tent at one of these bike-camper-approved sites:

Harrington Beach State Park, Belgium. The paved Ozaukee Interurban Trail and newish campgrounds make Harrington an ideal trip for first-time bike campers. Stretch your legs on hiking trails, dip your toes in Lake Michigan, or stargaze at the Jim and Gwen Plunkett Observatory.The fish fry on Friday nights at nearby Cedar

Beach Inn is top-notch. Coast In Bikes will lead a group overnight trip June 4; see for details.

Waubedonia Park, Fredonia. Wisconsin Bike Fed Deputy Director Dave Schlabowske recommends this Ozaukee County park, which is west of Harrington and close to the Interurban Trail. "There is a great butcher nearby to get something to grill, the park ranger will bring you firewood if you call ahead, and it is right on the river," he says. "There is even a nice play area for kids."

Ottawa Lake or Pinewoods campgrounds in Kettle Moraine State Forest, Eagle. When my husband planned a trip here, the DNR recommended camping at the quieter Pinewoods for the kidsí safety. If you donít mind dealing with cars on narrow roads to Ottawa Lake, campgrounds there are livelier. Either way, jump on the Glacial Drumlin State Trail in Waukesha and stop at bike-friendly Mama Dís Coffee in Wales en route to camp. M



This story ran in the June 2016 issue of: