Exploring the Future of Bikepacking Bike Design
There’s never been a better time to be a bikepacker. Adventure cycling has never been more popular; gravel is booming and bikes are becoming more capable and versatile. We spoke to our friends at Bombtrack, J.Laverack and Marin about modern bikepacking bikes and the trends defining the genre to find out more about what we can expect from future bike designs.
Bikepacking means something different to everyone, but for bike manufacturers the key is versatility. Both Bombtrack Bikes and J.Laverack told us that while some bikes favour certain terrains, their goal is to create bikes that are fun to ride both loaded and unloaded on the types of terrain they are likely to encounter.
“A bikepacking bike should be able to handle a load while giving a safe and stable feeling even on a long day in the saddle. Of course, it should also be fun to ride loaded and unloaded. As bikepacking includes everything between a single overnight camping trip to yearlong expeditions to the remotest areas in the world there is no one perfect bikepacking bike.”
Marcellus Putschli, Product Engineer, Bombtrack Bikes
“A well-designed bikepacking bike is similar in many ways to a swiss army knife. In its simplest form it’s just a bike or knife that is great at doing one thing but like a swiss army knife it also has to be much more. In our range the GRiT is the perfect drop handlebar off-road bikepacking adventure bike as it offers super comfortable ‘all-day’ geometry, stable and confidence-inspiring handling, clearance for wide tyres and wide gear ratios. Our J.ACK is a popular choice for riders doing the TCR which is predominantly on road with a few off-road / gravel sections and our Contour hardtail mountain bike is a great option if you riding really gnarly terrain or you just prefer some suspension and flat handlebars.
Titanium is arguably the perfect frame material, being both light and incredibly strong. Strong wheels that are super durable are a must when you’re riding in remote areas and a set of wide flared drop bars offer good leverage on rougher trails which is more important when your bike is fully loaded. Aero bars are also a popular choice and come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, great for offering your hands and body a different position on the bike.”
Oliver Laverack, Co Founder, J.Laverack
For our recent collaboration with Marin for the Pine Mountain E, we experimented with direct-mount frame pack designs and exploring where the trend for more accessory mounts on a bike is heading. Marin has been at the forefront of adding more bottle bosses to bikes and believe this will only get more common in coming years.
“We took it pretty far with our new Pine Mountain and Pine Mountain Electric models. We looked at the trend of putting more and more bottle bosses on a bike, but noticing that even with a few more mounts you are still relatively limited in the placement of your gear. This can be anything from your bottles, to your pump, to your directly mounted frame bag. We threw a load of mounts at the bike on a prototype, and we were amazed at just how much flexibility it added on the frame overall. Basically, in about 5 minutes you can set up the bike in so many different ways that we found ourselves adding and subtracting things before each ride. That really impressed us, and the features made it all the way into production. We’re super excited to see how people will use these bikes, and we absolutely love to see how people are already making their own bags, retrofitting their old bags to direct mount, and doing all kinds of kooky and fun stuff with the added mounts! So, to answer this question, we’re still looking at that and seeing what’s great and what may be overkill…” Aaron Abrams, Director of Product, Marin Bikes
Bombtrack agree and have a similarly liberal approach to bolts but suggest caution in going overboard, depending on the likely usage of the bike.
“Personally, I would rather have too many bolt-on bosses on my bike than too few. On the other side, every mount is a potential moisture and dirt entry and will increase the weight and cost of the bike. We try to find a good balance and use a various number of mounts depending on the model. We use 31 mounts on our dedicated bikepacking rig (Beyond+), 22 mounts on our steel gravel bike (Hook) and 2 mounts on our cyclocross race bike (Tension C) for when the bike being taken out for training.”
J.Laverack takes a more bespoke approach but has found customers are increasingly asking for more accessory mounts on their frames.
“Those that request them have often done plenty of research as they have a specific ride or race in mind. Standard bags are still very popular but custom bolt-on frame bags are becoming more popular as gravel and adventure riding continues to grow and people look to create the perfect bike to match their adventures.
Typically, we work with customers to determine the best locations for any extra lugs. Sometimes this can mean working with bag makers directly to determine the best locations for extra lugs. The ideal is to create the frame first and then measure the frame to double-check the dimensions, but this isn’t always possible if customers are on a tight deadline.”
The theme of integration extends beyond direct mount frame packs, with many manufacturers looking for ways to simplify dynamo set ups and make it easier for riders to streamline their cockpits.
Bombtrack tell us “We have experimented with the use of cache batteries inside the fork steerer and the necessary cable routing options. On some of our production bikes we use anything cage mounts on the seat stays and have had great feedback so far. Also, we are discussing an accessory direct mount system for our stems and attachment points underneath our saddles. I would also love to do something with the dead space right above the bottom bracket inside the front frame triangle. I like the Specialized SWAT system (especially if it would be a bit cheaper and available for non-specialized bikes) and the CrankTank4, this is definitely an area to get creative.”.
J.Laverack have seen an increasing number of customers requesting similar features. “Trends that we have seen from bikepacking customers include adding an integrated USB charging device to their dynamo setup. Wide ratio groupsets such as Shimano’s new GRX combined with Wolftooth Roadlinks allowing for amazing climbing ratios – perfect for the steepest climbs when fully loaded.
We have experimented with a few other ideas such as a frame mounted and internally routed automatic chain oiler to help keep your chain perfectly lubed on long distance races and small custom bags to fill the various voids on a bike frame that you can find if you look hard enough.”
For Marin, it’s about rider comfort and making it easier to attach packs, while maintaining precise handling and streamlining the bike.
“The innovations we’re seeing today, like more mounting points, frames built around the ability to add the bags and gear in a clean and sensical way, riding positions for all-day comfort, etc. are going to be evolving and getting better as long as people are interested in bikepacking. It’s really just thinking about a bike in a bit different way than just a couple hour ride…
“One of our best features we’ve implemented on our Pine Mountain and Pine Mountain Electric bikes is what we call the “Bedroll Bar”. This is a handlebar with 50mm of rise and a nice back sweep for upright comfort, but also a secondary bar going across the top for mounting your bedroll, or other accessories you want to put on to be easily visible. The bar helps us keep the bedroll away from cable housings also, and eliminates the interference with the stem that can limit your options on a good riser bar with 31.8mm clamp.”
While these themes are common across all varieties of adventure bikes, Bombtrack and Marin were keen to explain that there are some differences between road, gravel and mountain bikes that will lead to different design choices and considerations.
Marcellus from Bombtrack told us that “Mountain bikes get ridden in rough terrain and any mounted luggage will experience lots of heavy vibrations. Also, you need to take into account that any luggage that is wider than the bike frontal area will get hit by branches or rocks sooner or later. Gravel bikes still experience vibration, but they also need to be aerodynamic. Most gravel races cover long distances, so everything that reduces drag will help. Road bikes need to be aerodynamic and lightweight, so anything that helps with airflow might actually make the bike perform better. I am thinking especially about top tube and half-sized frame bags.”.
Aaron from Marin shared a similar sentiment. “We look at bosses and consider a wide variety of details. Everything from the added weight of bosses, the beefing up of the frame to accommodate the expected weight of more bottles or loaded direct-mount bags, and most importantly how we feel people are really going to use the bikes.
With our MTB Bikepacking bikes we feel like there’s a real “whatever you’re willing to pedal” approach. On our Headlands carbon gravel bike we opted for 3 bottle mounts on most sizes and enough eyelets for a nice direct-mount frame bag option. Our feeling on the lighter carbon gravel bike is you may want some extra water for a long ride, or you’d put a frame bag in for ultralight longer adventures, but no need to load a bike like this with as much backcountry gear as our MTB setups, so fewer eyelets overall.”
At Apidura, we’ve experimented with bolt-on packs with both our concept pack for the Marin Pine Mountain E and the Innovation Lab Magnetic Top Tube Pack and direct-mount options are increasingly featuring in our research and prototyping for future packs. The Racing Bolt-On Top Tube Pack is the first full production pack we have developed and is unlikely to be the last.