The Apidura Guide To Bikepacking Setups For Small Bike Frames
As a general rule, the bigger a bike, the more luggage you can attach to it and shorter riders often struggle to find packs that fit their bike and allow them to carry everything they need. This guide will show you how to make the most of the space you have available, no matter how small your bike is.
Bags rubbing on wheels, no space for water bottles and a frame pack, and simply not being able to carry everything you need. Bikepacking on a small bike can feel like an uphill struggle – but it doesn’t have to. We’re here to help you master bikepacking bag Tetris and discover how you can carry everything you need and make the most of every last inch of space on your bike.
The bike we have used to illustrate this guide is a Canyon Ultimate CF SL 7 WMN Disc in size XS and the tips and tricks below can be applied to bikes of almost any size. Every bike, every rider and every trip is different but by adopting a modular approach to bikepacking luggage, you’ll be able to create a setup that works for you.
SADDLE BAGS AND TIRE CLEARANCE
Saddle bags are the quintessential bikepacking bag and are the first bags most riders invest in. But for riders on smaller bikes, there often isn’t enough space between the saddle and the top of the tire for a large saddle pack. Sure, you can use something like a Voile Strap to help raise the back of the bag higher, but tire rub is still likely and your bag will be much harder to access and remove/attach to your bike.
Adopting a modular approach and considering your saddle bag as just one part of your bikepacking setup can help. Even when there is space for a large saddle pack, we rarely need to use all of that space and it’s better for bike handling to balance weight between the front and rear of the bike. While the 17L Expedition Saddle Pack might sound like the best option because it’s the biggest, it’s unlikely to fit the space you have available and most of the time you won’t be using the full capacity anyway.
I had a 17L seat pack for Trans Pyrenees 2018 and lost a lot of time because it took me so long to pack my bag each morning and each time I stopped or heard it rubbing."
Choosing a smaller saddle pack, like the 5 or 7L Racing Series Saddle Pack, gives far more clearance between the bottom of the bag and the rear tire.
Where space is even more limited, the 4.5 or 6L Backcountry Saddle Pack (originally designed to allow mountain bikers to use dropper posts while bikepacking) lifts the bag as far as possible from the tire and will fit bikes with even the most limited clearance. The 6L Backcountry Saddle Pack has the added bonus of a bungee cord, adding that little bit of extra storage.
Of course, you can also add your own bungee, velcro or Voile strap to a Racing Saddle Pack (using the light loops) to create your own additional storage on the top of your pack.
FINDING SPACE IN YOUR FRAME
Fitting water bottles in small bike frames can be challenging even before you add a frame pack, so many riders discount it. But the centre of your bike is one of the best places to add weight as it’s near the centre of gravity and so has less impact on handling and bike feel. Depending on the size of your bike and your personal preferences, there are several tricks you can use to avoid choosing between water or belongings.
The Apidura Innovation Lab Bottle Cage Adapter is a nifty device that allows you to move your bottle cages up or down to make better use of the space available. It simply attaches to the bottle cage mounts already on your frame and allows you to move the bottle cage higher or lower. You can even adapt a standard two-bolt mount into a three-bolt mount for cargo cages, increasing your carrying capacity and adding versatility to any setup.
Side-loading bottle cages also help when there isn’t much room between your frame pack and your bottle by allowing you to remove the bottle to the side rather than lifting it up and out of the bottle cage.
Another option is simply doing away with bottles completely. A Full Frame Pack used with a hydration bladder can be a better use of the limited space available. The Frame Pack Hydration Bladder makes use of the space at the base of the Full Frame Pack, efficiently carrying the equivalent of two bottles of water (1.5L) while leaving plenty of space at the top of the pack for belongings and supplies. The 6L Expedition Full Frame Pack (pictured) is a perfect fit for the XS Canyon and the Backcountry 2.5 and 4L Full Frame Packs are great options for even smaller frames.
FITTING BETWEEN NARROW BARS
Small bikes typically have narrower handlebars, which can cause issues when trying to fit handlebar bags – particularly on road bikes with drop bars and mechanical shifters. Even if the pack fits, it can interfere with your gear levers and make it harder to shift into easier gears.
The 9L Expedition Handlebar Pack rolled to its minimum capacity will fit even narrow drop bars without making it harder to change gears. This means being strict about how full you fill it, but even rolled to its smallest capacity, you’ll find it holds a surprising amount. Adding an Accessory Pocket will give another 4.5L of space if you need it and the bungee on the front can carry waterproofs or compressible items, freeing up valuable internal space.
With my handlebar bag, I clip the roll-up ends of the bag over the handlebar as well as the attachment straps, which helps compress the bag down to a size that fits in the limited space I have there.
For quick overnight trips, or if you’re just planning on packing light, our Racing Handlebar Mini Pack will fit between most road handlebars, with more than enough space for your gear levers.
I use the Expedition Downtube Bag to put all of my repair kit. It's easy to use but it remains out of the way without taking any needed space on the bike itself. The fact that it remains at the centre of the frame also helps make sure the weight is well organized.
Top Tube Packs also fit almost all bikes and can be a great way to make up for less space being available elsewhere on the bike. The Racing Long Top Tube Pack, perhaps surprisingly, is very popular for use on small bikes, filling the entire top tube and adding significant extra space back into a more limited setup. For mountain bikers, there is also the Backcountry Long Top Tube Pack.
Food pouches also become a handy way to store water bottles should mounting them in your main triangle still be an issue (or if you don’t want to use a full frame pack and hydration bladder). You can also mount bottle cages behind the saddle, with products like the Woho Stabilizer making it possible to attach two bottle cages alongside a saddle bag. It’s worth considering that water bottles mounted behind the saddle can easily be ejected over rough terrain, however. We recommend using the most secure cages you have and considering adding a Voile strap or similar attachment for added security.
Depending on the event or trip you are packing for, it’s also worth considering on-body storage. With more cycling apparel featuring pockets (think cargo shorts) and extra storage, it’s easier than ever to comfortably carry some extra supplies on your person. You can look to augment this with a Packable Backpack or Musette – bags that take up little space on your bike while not in use but create a large amount of supplemental storage where you need it (picking up supplies on the way to camp, for example). You might also want to consider a Racing Hydration Vest. On top of an extra 2L of water carrying capacity, possibly freeing up further space in your frame, this adds plenty of storage and easy access for carrying snacks, supplies and spares. While hydration vests are most popular at gravel events, they can be worn for any style of riding and the Racing Hydration Vest is designed to be comfortable enough to wear over the longest rides.
MODULAR APPROACH EXAMPLES
I do most of my bikepacking on a Sonder Camino (all-terrain drop-handlebar bike) size small with 650B wheels, or a Sonder Signal (MTB) also size small with 29″ wheels. I’m 1.57m “tall” and the bottom bracket to saddle height on most of my bikes is 0.62m. I’ve always simply ridden the smallest frame I can find.
My preferred bikepacking setup is the Apidura Expedition Saddle Pack 14L (I put most of my clothing, sleeping kit, and essential toiletries here), the Apidura Expedition Handlebar Pack 9L (for bike repair tools & spares plus wet weather clothing), and the Apidura Racing Top Tube Pack 1L (for snacks and quick-access tubeless tyre repair kit). I find it helps to balance the bike having some weight in the handlebar bag, but not too much bulk (as I don’t have much space there).
I ride a 49cm Specialized Diverge Carbon most of the time. Depending on the type of bikepacking (proper trip or ultra race), I use different handlebar bags. For bikepacking, I use the Expedition Handlebar 9L and an Accessory Pocket. There, I put all of my sleeping gear (bivvy bag, sleeping bat, mattress etc.) and easy-to-access gear. Since I struggle to put a frame bag on my bike because of its size, I heavily rely on accessory packs and pouches so that I can still be efficient and so I don’t have to stop every 5 minutes to remove or add a layer. If I need to carry a tent in the handlebar bag, I put my sleeping gear on my fork thanks to the fork packs. I use Voile Straps, methodical organization, lighter packing, food pouches and Downtube bags to save space as much as possible.
I ride a 48cm Specialized Diverge. I would love to travel light, but I’m relatively new to bikepacking and so probably carry too much ‘just in case’ kit, and get very cold so carry quite a few layers and extra gloves. Therefore for my upcoming ultra, I am planning on using the Apidura Backcountry Saddle Pack, an Apidura Top Tube Pack (for the few essentials I might want while riding), some food pouches and an Expedition Handlebar Pack. I’ll also have a tool keg under the down tube which will save space in the saddle pack and can just stay there even when I’m not using it.
Hopefully, you’ve found this guide helpful but we would love to know if you think we’ve missed anything or have any tips you would like to add to the guide. Click here to send us an email with your best tips and hacks and we’ll add the best ones to our guide.