It was October 2018, and Devin Cowens—now the founder of Atlanta nonprofit Radical Adventure Riders—was crying on the side of the road. Her bike lay on the shoulder next to her, wheels spinning. She was in Alabama, miles from home, completely exhausted.
Cowens (she/her) had recently ended a long-term relationship and decided to process her heartbreak by going bike camping for the first time. Her friends had told her the distance, but she had no way of knowing just how grueling the 128-mile trip would be. It was the hardest thing she’d ever done.
“Afterward I was like, ‘Oh, that was insane, but I want to do it again,’” she laughs. The physical difficulty had helped her realize how much she was truly capable of. And the emotional difficulty had allowed her to access a deeper kind of camaraderie with the friends she’d been with.
After the trip, Cowens couldn’t stop thinking about bikepacking. But she didn’t just want to bike-pack. She also wanted to make it more accessible for others.
Though she’d grown up cycling around her home in Dallas, Texas, and later gotten into bike commuting as an adult in Washington, D.C., Cowens hadn’t realized that bike camping was an option until much later. Now, she wanted to raise awareness about the magic of bikepacking. She also wanted to help others realize just how possible it was to do in Atlanta.
“I saw Atlanta as a bike city in many ways, even though it was built for cars,” she says. Upon moving there, she’d caught a glimpse of the city’s potential—a glimmer that would take many other Atlantans years to notice. Famous for its traffic, multi-lane highways, and urban sprawl, Atlanta doesn’t exactly top lists of commuter-friendly cities. But through her work at a local bike advocacy group, Cowens stumbled into a local cycling community that was small, tight-knit, and full of energy. Meanwhile, the city’s first bike-share program had taken off, and the number of bike paths and bike lanes was slowly beginning to grow. Amid all this change, she wanted to do something to galvanize the bike community and help others take advantage.
“If you have a bike and a backpack, you can bikepack,” she says. “You can ride some bike you already have, go to Stone Mountain and back, all on trails, and you don’t have to take off work to do it.”
To spread that message, Cowens launched an organization called WTF Bikexplorers. Today, that group is the Atlanta chapter of Radical Adventure Riders (RAR ATL). It exists to provide a safe space for women, people of color, trans, femme, and nonbinary folks to try bikepacking, learn about bikes, and meet like-minded folks.
“The cycling and outdoor industry usually ignore women, people of color, trans, femme, and nonbinary folks,” Devin says. “But folks want to bikepack, and I wanted people to have a safe space to develop community and have access to bikepacking resources.”
To that end, RAR ATL plans and organizes group rides and beginner-friendly bikepacking trips entirely for free.