Since off-pavement roads and trails are explored in the purest form of bikepacking, many riders find that a mountain bike is the best option. However, there isn’t actually a single bike that is ideal for bikepacking; on their expeditions, bikepackers utilize everything from touring bikes to full-suspension setups. It is frequently necessary to compromise and balance your priorities in order to get the perfect bike for you.
How to Choose a Bike for Bikepacking
- Think about the terrain: Your riding environment may be the most crucial element in choosing the right bike.
- Choose stiff or suspended: Although suspension softens rocky trails, it also makes your bike heavier and more complicated. Fully rigid (no suspension), hardtail (front suspension), and full suspension are your options.
- Consider gearing: Generally speaking, you want more easy gears than hard gears so that your laden bike can climb hills.
- Choose a tire and wheel size: The efficiency, comfort, and performance of a ride on a trail can all be impacted by wheel and tire size. Larger wheels and tires typically offer a smoother, faster ride, but they are also heavier.
- Think about the type of frame: The feel of various materials varies. For a smooth ride, bikepackers frequently pick for chromoly steel or carbon, while aluminum is also a choice. Titanium is an option if you’re willing to spend a lot of money.
Do not assume that in order to participate in bikepacking, you must purchase an abundance of brand-new, expensive equipment. The likelihood is that the bike you already own will get you where you need to go. Consider your current equipment while you read this article and evaluate if it will be suitable for the kinds of adventures you wish to go on.
A bike designed for pavement is obviously not the ideal option for rough singletrack terrain. It’s very beneficial to consider the kind of terrain you’d like to ride when selecting a bike for bikepacking and let it determine the type of bike you require.
Common bikepacking terrain types and tips on bike selection
- Riding on mixed surfaces (pavement, dirt roads) is possible on touring bikes, cyclocross bikes, gravel bikes, and stiff mountain bikes. A touring bike may be appropriate if all of your travel will be on paved surfaces, but if you begin to travel on dirt roads, a cyclocross bike, gravel bike, or rigid mountain bike will feel more safe. The softer ride and better traction that knobby tires deliver will be welcome. Compared to touring cycles, gravel bikes are more stable on quick descents and loose, chunky gravel. If you’ll be riding mostly on dirt roads, a completely rigid mountain bike can be a decent option despite being heavier and slower.
- Gravel bikes, stiff mountain bikes, and hardtail mountain bikes are ideal choices for gravel roads, forest roads, and doubletrack. Although heavier than a gravel bike, a rigid or hardtail mountain bike offers better comfort and stability on rapid, slick, or rocky descents.
- Singletrack: For bikepacking excursions that occasionally take you on singletrack, rigid mountain bikes and hardtail mountain bikes are popular choices. Your ride will be more comfortable and it will be simpler to climb up and over rocks and roots if your mountain bike has front suspension. A full-suspension mountain bike is a fantastic option if you want to ride mostly technical terrain. Another choice is a bike with fat tires. The large tires will contribute to a smoother ride without adding to the suspension’s complexity.
Although suspension is excellent for smoothing out bumpy trails, it also makes your bike heavier and more complex to build. The majority of bikepackers make an effort to match the type and level of suspension to the terrain they will be riding on for this reason.
Here are some suspension options for bikepacking:
- Fully rigid: Bicycles without suspension have fewer parts that need to be maintained and are frequently lighter than hardtail and full-suspension models. However, they are not as adept at navigating difficult, technical terrain as bikes with suspension. Rigid bikes are preferred by many bikepackers for journeys that include tarmac, dirt roads, and smooth trails.
- Hardtail (front suspension fork): Having a front suspension fork makes it easier to ride gravel roads at high speeds and helps you handle trails with some roots and rocks. They are quite straightforward and lightweight, similar to a fully rigid bike, and as there is no rear shock, there is enough of room for hauling cargo in a frame pack.
- Full suspension: To counteract the effects of technical terrain, these motorcycles have front and rear shocks. A full-suspension ride might be appropriate for you if you frequently ride challenging single track. Be aware that the room for a frame bag for carrying stuff will be reduced on the majority of full-suspension bikes due to the rear shock.
Some people enjoy obsessing over gearing in an effort to discover the ideal configuration for their purposes. If this isn’t you, you may keep things simple by riding a bike with the gears that come with it; a bike made with bikepacking in mind, as well as the majority of mountain bikes and gravel cycles, will almost probably have the right gearing to get you where you want to go.
There is a vast array of gearing options available to you if you want to go a little farther. There are many possibilities, ranging from internal geared hubs to the newest 12-speed powertrain. It’s advisable to err on the side of having more easy ratios than hard gears when planning your bikepacking gearing, in general. This implies having a few gears that are simpler than anything you would typically use for the majority of bikepackers. When hauling a heavy bike up hills and through uneven ground, these simple gears will be useful.
Many bikepackers opt to ride a 1x setup, which consists of a wide-range rear cassette and one chainring up front. This setup does away with the need for a front derailleur, resulting in a straightforward system that needs less upkeep and is also a little bit lighter.
Possible gearing for bikepacking based on terrain:
(Note: How well a particular gearing will function for you depends largely on the type of terrain, your level of fitness, and the weight of your loaded bike.)
- A 2x crankset with an 11-32 cassette or a 1x crankset with a 36- or 38-tooth chainring with a 10–42 cassette are best for mixed conditions (pavement, dirt roads) (choose the smaller chainring for easier gearing).
- Forest roads, doubletrack, and gravel roads 1x crankset with a 32 or 34 teeth chainring and either an 11 or 42 tooth rear cassette (choose the smaller chainring and larger cassette for easier gearing).
- Single track: 10 – 42 or 10 – 50 cassette and a 1x crankset with a 28-tooth chainring (choose the 10 – 50 cassette for easier gearing).
Wheel and Tire Size
The size of your bike’s wheels and tires can impact how it handles the terrain you’re riding on.
Wheel size: The typical road wheel size, or 700c, is used on touring bikes, cyclocross bikes, and gravel bikes. Recently, some bike manufacturers started producing bikes with “road plus” 650b wheels. When you’re not on paved surfaces, it can be good to have a more pleasant ride on these smaller wheels that allow you to use fatter tires. You have two options when riding a mountain bike: Wheel sizes of 27.5 and 29 inches (29ers). Due to their efficiency in rolling, many mountain bikers maintain that 29er wheels are better for long-distance excursions, while others like 27.5 in. wheels for their responsiveness and nimbleness. Each size has advantages and disadvantages, and a lot of it depends on personal preference.
Tire size: Wider tires are preferred by many bikepackers since they generally offer more comfort. Though bigger tires may add weight and sometimes feel slower than narrower ones, keep this in mind. Additionally, you might need to do some research to make sure your bike has enough space for the bigger tires to fit without irritating the frame before mounting them on your bike.
Some mountain bikes can accommodate larger tires (those that range from about 2.5 to 3 inches wide). These can be especially useful on surfaces like sandy, muddy, or highly rough roads and trails that you could encounter while bikepacking. A singletrack route can be smoothed out so nicely by the tires alone that front or rear suspension may not be necessary. Fat-tire bikes have enormous tires that measure 3.7 to 5+ inches in diameter that offer them great grip in sand or snow.
Consider if tubeless tires are appropriate for you while deciding on the size of your wheels and tires. Although tubeless tires are more expensive and take a little longer to install, they are lighter and frequently less prone to flats. They are popular among bikepackers due to their reduced weight and resilience to punctures. Read more about tubeless tires in this article.
The type of material used to construct your bike can have a significant impact on how it rides. Bikepackers typically aim to reduce weight while preserving strength and ride quality.
Here are some common bike frame materials and what you can expect from them:
- Chromoly steel: The material itself absorbs some of the vibrations of riding, making chrome steel bicycles sturdy and smooth to ride. Steel is frequently used by bikepackers due to its durability, particularly when traveling long distances in remote areas. Steel is unlikely to break, but if it does, welding can occasionally fix the damage.
- Carbon fiber: Bikepackers looking to lighten their loads are drawn to carbon fiber frames because of how light they are. Additionally, carbon can be built in a way to offer a comfortable ride. However, some bikepackers steer clear of carbon fiber due to worries that it might not be repairable if it were to sustain serious damage in an accident.
- Aluminum: Aluminum frames are lightweight and inexpensive, but they also have a tendency to be very stiff, which can lead to a jarring, unpleasant ride. An aluminum frame can be made more comfortable by using a carbon fork or a suspension fork.
- Only the most expensive bikes are constructed with titanium. Titanium frames are a great option for bikepacking because they are strong, lightweight, and provide a great ride. However, since titanium is so pricey, many bikepackers look to alternatives.
Learn more: Here’s How to Build Cycling Endurance When You’re Short on Time