Ulrich Bartholmoes: Putting the ‘Bikepacking’ in Bikepacking Races

Apidura Ambassador Ulrich Bartholmoes is well known for winning races the world over, even in the face of adversity, but he’s also a keen explorer and enjoys getting to know the places he races through by bikepacking to or from races. Here he tells us how the contrast between pushing oneself whilst racing hard enough to win Across Andes and bikepacking to a more relaxed schedule creates the perfect bikepacking race experience.

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Ulrich rides his gravel bike toward the camera on a coastal road in Chile, wearing an Apidura Racing Hydration Vest


When I travel to races, particularly far away races, it’s very important to me to do something more than “just” race. Even long ultra races feel like they’re over so quickly if you really race them at your personal limits, that you can come away feeling like you’ve not really experienced the regions you rode through. Sometimes it’s nice to slow down before or after a race, for a more complete experience.

Racing is uncompromising for me. I reduce breaks to a minimum and do everything I can on the bike, usually riding through the nights or sleeping just a few hours in the coldest part of the day. All without much comfort.

Racing always has something to do with going beyond oneself. Before a race, I set myself ambitious goals that I chase. In the race, situations arise where you are being chased by other participants or chasing others. That motivates you, that spurs you on, that makes you rise above yourself and achieve incredible feats. For me, that’s a great and worthwhile thing – that’s what makes racing unique. On the other hand, it’s also a compromise – you often miss beautiful opportunities and places.

A side on profile view of Ulrich riding his gravel bike, in the aerobars, wearing an Apidura Racing Hydration Vest

To balance the 14-hour journey to Chile, I decided to bikepack the 900km from Santiago de Chile to Melipeuco, where the race starts. On the way, I would visit distributors for my partners and sponsors and build some community rides around Across Andes and the Chilean adventure cycling community.

For me, bikepacking is the opposite of racing. No stress, simply enjoying the time on the bike. Most people will probably say “Dude, this easy pace is still pretty fast” – but for me, it’s not the speed that makes the difference, but the freedom to stop whenever I want and ride only during the day. As soon as it gets dark in the evening, I look for a guesthouse or something similar for the night – a simple place to shower, eat and sleep. I allow myself the luxury of doing my whole trip in daylight simply for the reason of being able to see and enjoy the whole landscape.

If there is a nice restaurant somewhere, I can stop without a guilty conscience. If I meet interesting people on the way, I can drift with them, have a coffee, deviate from the route or even change my plans and route to experience something together. That’s what makes bikepacking richer for me – in the race, deviating from the plan is rarely conceivable or feasible for me.

The journey is the goal and time is much more stretchable. Whether I arrive at my destination this evening or tomorrow makes no difference – if I fill the time in between with great experiences, it’s worth a lot to me. During my trip in Chile, for example, I also covered part of the distance from Conception to Temuco by bus – simply because I wanted to spend more time on the coast. But in order to get to Temuco “on time”, I simply shortened the journey a little.

Ulrich refills a bottle with orange drink in the foreground. Behind him is a sign reading 'Tsunami Ruta de Evacuation'

Ulrich rides his bike along a gravel road with mountains in the background. Viewed side on on his red BMC gravel bike.

Paulina and Mariano, the organisers of Across Andes helped me with the route, providing local knowledge to help me fit as much as possible into the few days I had available. The result was a beautiful route that linked the metropolis of Santiago, the Pacific Ocean and the area around Melipeuco. Chile is a country whose size and length (4,500 km) the average European can hardly imagine. It’s an incredibly diverse and multifaceted country and the landscape changes every few hundred kilometres – sometimes even faster. So every day is a completely new, different and varied experience.

With so much still to see, I absolutely have to come back. Chile is massive; the Atacama Desert in the north, the Carretera Austral in the south. There are so many fascinating places I still want to see. I have taken the country into my heart, not only because the landscapes are breathtakingly beautiful, but above all because of the people. I was able to meet so many friendly, helpful, and accommodating people like probably nowhere else on my travels. This really enriched my whole Chile experience.

The cycling community in Santiago in particular is supported by really good bike shops – all with more than friendly and helpful people. For the Apidura Community Ride, we got 30-40 participants together – far more than I expected. During and after the ride I had the opportunity to talk to and get to know many of the participants – many of whom I would see again a week later at the start of Across Andes.

I really recommend mixing racing and bikepacking for anyone who wants to immerse themselves more in the culture surrounding the landscapes we usually pass through a little too quickly to fully immerse ourselves in. If you stick to “credit card touring”, there’s no need to pack more than you would race with and the experience is well worth the time invested. You never know, you might fall in love with a new part of the world and find a place like Chile that demands a return trip.