Ted King: Combining gravel racing and bikepacking

Last weekend former Tour de France rider Ted King packed his bike, loaded up the family van, and brought his wife and young daughter on their latest bikepacking adventure. 

Ahead of them lay a daunting 17-hour drive from Vermont to South Carolina for the 177-mile, and 11 pm start time for the Swamp Gravel Fondo that King was scheduled to race. The trip combined King’s profession and passion for gravel racing with a newfound love for bikepacking, and while the voyage resulted in a resounding win, the King family as a whole enjoyed everything that comes with the beauty and attraction of off-road life.

“I’m a very rookie bikepacker, and if I were ever to say that it would be at a whisper,” King told Bike Perfect while traveling back to Vermont.

“I did one trip in Canada last year that was at minus-40 and felt more like an expedition and then I did an Arkansas race that was about 1000 miles but like all disciplines within cycling, I think there’s a spectrum when it comes to bikepacking. I class myself as a cyclist and bikepacking is cool and I want to do it more. One of the best parts of bikepacking is it doesn’t even need to be focused on a race. You can have an adventure without having a number pinned on your back. It’s just about having a blast.”

Part of the bikepacking that King has enjoyed has come from a level of necessity, or at least common sense and practicality. COVID-19 had a huge effect on his 2020 race plans and with travel restrictions in place and several major events either canceled or postponed, having a van to travel and a supportive family to share the experience with ensured that while some doors closed there was still plenty that remained open.

The family purchased the van last year and given that both King and his wife could work remotely they used the new mode of transport as a way of also bringing their newborn along for the ride.

“At that point, we wanted to bring our four-month-old daughter out to the west coast and meet family and where we are in Vermont. Winter has been awesome here but as spring starts to spring we’ve looked at traveling. We have a friend down in Charlestown who has been trying to get me to visit for a long time. We’ve been planning some trips in the van in order to capitalize on the weather but the lynchpin to bring us here was the fact that there was a big bike race.”

Last weekend’s race certainly wasn’t the biggest race King will tackle this year but its charm provided a welcome reason to take part and while he competed in the ridiculousness of a 177-miler that started at 11 pm there were more bite-size versions that consisted of 50 or 100 miles. 

“This race fits the bill and it’s an interesting era that we find ourselves in with gravel races mid-pandemic. It’s a small race, it’s only in its second year but there were only about 48 people in my category. There were 50 and 100-mile races and there was more competition in those events but I liked the fact that my field was small because it meant that we were socially distancing from the gun. It’s cool that these bikepacking-friendly events are inherently geared towards social distancing.”

Coming away with a win obviously added a nice bonus to the trip (9 hours, 44 minutes if you're interested in his time) but it also broadened King’s knowledge of the bikepacking experience.

“I successfully pedaled faster than anyone else,” he said rather modestly.

“There was another guy who was a fast local and within 45 minutes it was just the two of us. We rode together for maybe three to four hours before he eased up. It was fun and amicable. We talked a lot, about his kids, and mine, and it was a great experience. For me, it was also great to get in the 177-mile ride as preparation for future races.”

For King, the future looks bright. He’ll have a competitive race calendar that will stretch through the spring and into the autumn, and while there’s a degree of uncertainty around a handful of events, the bikepacking life provides him with a huge opportunity to try new things and broaden his eclectic career even further. He also has his own family-run race in Vermont to look forward to but with bikepacking on the rise and its cross-over with gravel, the expectancy is that both entities will grow over the coming months and years.

"It’s easier to get into gravel riding than bikepacking, especially the multiple-day stuff because there’s just much more equipment for bikepacking but that said, there are plenty of people who have dipped their toes into gravel and bikepacking and they’re going to do a lot more of it in the future."

Stayed tuned later this week for a complete spec on the Cannondale bike King used in the race.

Daniel Benson

Daniel Benson is a former Editor-in-Chief of both Cyclingnews and Bike Perfect. Based in Oxfordshire, he has covered the Tour de France 13 times and also reported from the 2012 Olympic Games in London. His career as a journalist has taken him to the Tour Down Under in Australia, major world championships, and races in every continent since he began on Cyclingnews all the way back in 2008. Daniel runs the editorial teams across Cyclingnews and Bike Perfect and plans race coverage across road, track, cyclo-cross, mountain biking, and now gravel. A recreational cyclist at best he has dragged himself through several marathons and two Ironman competitions.

Rides: Pinarello, Cinelli, and Cannondale