Ultra-endurance cycling, or ‘bikepacking’ as it is often known, has exploded in popularity over the last decade, creating a brand-new market within the cycling industry. But what is it about this unique sport that makes it such a brilliant case study for creative communications?
From the annual 1700km race through the Krygyzstan wilderness, to Mark Beaumont’s ‘round the world in 80 days’ record attempt, bikepacking has been a steady source of inspiration within the cycling community. Its growing popularity over the last few years has created a brand-new type of cyclist – the adventure-savvy. In turn, this sparked some serious competition within the bicycle industry, with even the most old-school manufacturers releasing their own bikepacking setups.
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This unusual hobby has some brilliant examples of creative storytelling, which is why I believe it has become such so popular. Events, races and rides are all shared retrospectively – whether the day after or after the fact. Not only does this give the creators time to create great content, but it also makes it far easier to consume. Journal-like blog posts, social media updates, and beautiful image galleries are just some of the popular ways to share stories of adventures. One of the best examples of this is perhaps one of the most famous – or infamous – bikepacking races: The Transcontinental.
In 2013, the late Mike Hall founded the Transcontinental – a 4000km ride across Europe, one of the most popular bikepacking events. It is also one of the most difficult, with up to half of the riders ‘scratching’ out of the race before finishing. TCR’s website states:
“The Transcontinental is a single stage race in which the clock never stops. Riders plan, research and navigate their own course and choose when and where to rest. They will take only what they can carry and consume only what they can find. Four mandatory control points guide their route and ensure a healthy amount of climbing to reach some of cycling’s most beautiful and historic monuments. Each year our riders cover around 4000km to reach the finish line”
At this point in time, there is no practical way for bikepacking to be a spectator sport. So what is the draw for the thousands of people who tune in every year to watch it unfold on social media? Cars filled with photographers and videographers patrol between control points, taking photos, collecting stories and posting live updates to their Instagram. At the start of each day the organisers publish a ‘race report’ with the best highlights and stories from the last 24 hours. These short-form stories are what have made bikepacking such a transformative force in the cycling industry. By their very nature, they must be easily digestible and exciting to read.
During the two-week race period, the TCR team has a high turnover of content, publishing blogs, podcasts, and posting on their social accounts. What makes it unique, however, is that it is retrospective. Whereas the Tour de France holds their highlight reel at the end of the race, the TCR has only a highlight reel.
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With social media, blogs and a strong online presence being such an important part of a successful marketing strategy, understanding how to tell a good story has never been more important. While the bikepacking trend may not be the most obvious place to look, there is plenty we can learn from its storytelling techniques!
One of the main pulls of bikepacking – and I believe the reason it has become so influential within its industry – is the lure of adventure. It dangles the exciting unknown in front of you – just you, your bicycle, and an endless dirt road.
What can you use to promise your reader their own adventure? Every business, enterprise, or startup has an exciting pull – something that makes it unique and exciting. Figure out what that is and use it!
One thing I’ve noticed is that bikepacking content is brilliantly produced. Beautifully written pieces accompanied with stunning images (and sometimes hand-drawn notebooks!) Sometimes even the most throwaway post on Facebook has a perfectly captured photo accompanying it.
When you put pen to paper – or finger to screen – I believe it really is worth putting the extra effort in. Spending the time to make a plan – to consider what you are trying to say – before tackling it will help you create something special.
Remember: a beautifully written piece, a gorgeous video, or a well-thought-out Instagram story will be far more memorable – and shareable!
During race week, the TCR team is consistent in their publications – both in timing and in tone. They have very clear schedules for posting, which helps build audience loyalty. If your audience knows exactly when you will upload some new content, it’s more likely they’ll remember to view it.
The TCR team doesn’t just post on a consistent schedule. They make sure their content has the same tone and quality throughout. By making sure everything you put out there is the same quality you’re making sure people know what they’re going to get when they tune in.
And there you have it – storytelling lessons learnt from bikepacking. As a videographer, storytelling is a fundamental part of my job, and I have learnt that the best sources of inspiration are often the most unexpected. If you are looking to improve your create communication, look around for interesting examples of well told stories and ask yourself how you can apply the techniques to your own business.
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