It’s Not About the Bike
Cycling has an ‘N+1’ obsession. There are bikes specifically designed for every imaginable type of riding and it’s easy to forget that usually, the best bike for the job is the one you already own. This is particularly true for bikepacking. You can bikepack on any bike and using the bike you already own means you have more to spend on experiences and enjoying where that bike can take you. Here we look at how to make any bike a perfect bikepacking machine.
For a long time, cycling a long way, carrying all your gear with you, meant you needed a bike with rack mounts but modern bikepacking bags mean that, truthfully, any bike can be a bikepacking bike. By making some small tweaks to the bike you already own, you can focus on the adventure and forget about the bike:
Plenty of people go bikepacking on single speed and fixed gear bikes and, if you don’t mind occasionally having to walk, there’s no need to change your gearing. However, if you want to make life a bit easier for yourself, it’s easy to add lower gearing to most bikes. Fitting the biggest cassette you can, combined with smaller front rings will make climbing much easier. You can even buy adapters that allow road derailleurs to accommodate mountain bike cassettes for even easier gearing. Wolftooth‘s RoadLink and Garbaruk‘s extended rear derailleur cages are popular choices.
Depending on the type of bike you have, changing the tires can make a real difference to the types of terrain you can handle. If you have a mountain bike, but want to travel mostly by road, simply fitting slick tires will make a world of difference. Equally, if your road bike normally has 25mm tires, but has space for 28mm tires, choosing a wider tire will offer more comfort.
Many modern road bikes allow even wider tires, meaning you can choose something bigger and more durable or even something with extra grip for a bit of gravel riding. Every year, the Transcontinental Race includes gravel sectors, despite most competitors choosing to ride road bikes. You’d be surprised how much more capable a change of tires can make your bike.
There’s also generally no need to worry about investing in sturdier wheels. Bikepacking means embracing a more minimalist approach and plenty of riders have covered thousands of miles with a lightly loaded bike on race weight wheels without incident. That said, the fewer spokes your wheels have, the more sense it makes to carry some spares and a spoke wrench.
If you do want to get a set of wheels specifically for bikepacking, think creatively about what would work best. Plenty of frames will allow a larger tire size if you size down… but do check that it will definitely fit and won’t adversely affect your bottom bracket height before committing!
Along with fitting bigger tires, there are a number of simple changes you can make to your bike to make it more comfortable for long days in the saddle and rough terrain. Double wrapping your bar tape is a simple way to reduce the fatigue in your hands and attaching some aerobars will provide extra positions to help reduce strain. On a road bike, switching to a flared handlebar will make the drops more accessible and put less strain on your wrists. Similarly, on flat bars, some extra bar end grips mounted inside the levers will provide some extra hand positions and comfort.
If your bike is set up with a large drop between the saddle and handlebars, you can also flip your stem to easily raise the bars and provide a bit more comfort. Similarly, if you have a lay-back seatpost, you might find that reversing it brings you closer to the bars for a more upright position and easier access to aerobars, if you’ve happen to have some fitted.
Another big area to consider is saddle comfort. Hopefully your usual saddle is comfortable for longer rides, but it’s worth making sure that the saddle you’re comfortable on for a couple of hours at a time doesn’t become unbearable if you ride farther before you undertake your first long bikepacking adventure. There are also a range of seatpost options available with built in compliance, either through suspension, elastic polymers or increased flex that can help take the sting out of rougher terrain and keep you riding comfortably for longer. Redshift and Cane Creek both offer popular options with a bit of suspension built in.
Bikepacking often means travelling long distances between resupply points – whether that’s a lonely stretch of road between towns or a remote trail in the backcountry. With frame packs and water bottles occupying the same space, a bit of reconfiguring can be required to make space; either using side entry cages or a bottle relocator.
But what if your bike only has one bottle mount, or even none? There are plenty of products that will allow you to mount a bottle cage pretty much anywhere you can imagine on your bike. You can even use zip ties, electrical tape or jubilee clips to lash a bottle cage directly to your frame. Alternatively, a Downtube Pack will allow you to carry another bottle and can be mounted just about anywhere you have space.
You might even want to do away with bottles entirely and use a water bladder in a frame pack. This is a very efficient way to use space and allows you to carry more water without needing to find a way to secure more bottle cages to your bike.
Keeping everything charged
Dynamos are an obvious choice for bikepacking – they can charge your batteries during the day and power your lights at night. They’re also, conveniently, available in varieties that fit pretty much every wheel size and type on the market. They are, however, a relatively expensive choice and quite often a rechargeable battery pack will give you enough extra power to keep everything running until you get to the next power source.
There are also solar charging options that can help supplement your battery reserves, commonly either attached to the handlebars/handlebar pack or top of the seat pack. These can be quite slow to charge, however, particularly in countries with wetter climates.
You can bikepack with any pedal variety you want, but it’s worth considering comfort. Stiff road shoes with cleats are efficient when cycling, but tricky to walk on and you might want to carry a pair of flip flops or lightweight shoes for when you’re not on the bike. Alternatively, using mountain bike cleats and shoes means you can carry just one pair of shoes… and flat pedals are the easiest option of all. Think carefully about how much time you’re likely to spend off the bike and adjust your footwear choice accordingly!
Zip Ties and Electrical Tape
There are plenty of products available for attaching just about anything you can imagine to your frame, but equally, you can usually get by with electrical tape and zip ties in a pinch. It’s not uncommon to see tent poles taped to a bicycle frame and spares (particularly tricky to pack things like spokes) can easily be zip tied securely out of the way. When not being used to attach things to your bike, both are also extremely useful for roadside repairs.
Frame protector tape is another worthwhile investment. Anything that attaches to or brushes against a bike will, over a long enough period of time, mark the paint and has the potential to cause scratches. Taping any contact points before you go will help preserve your paint and keep you pride and joy looking newer for longer.
Spread the Load
Gone are the days where all the weight had to be centred over the rear wheel in a pair of panniers! Try to keep heavy items as close to the centre of gravity of your bike as possible and spread the load between the saddle, main triangle and handlebars. This will make your bike handle more naturally and make it far more pleasant to ride.
While thinking about where to mount bags to your bike, remember to reverse the seat post clamp so it doesn’t rub on your saddle pack and check the length and layout of your gear cables to make sure there’s no interference or excessive rubbing.
Whilst most bikepacking bags are designed with a specific application in mind, don’t be afraid to experiment. Get creative and consider whether you can create more (/more accessible) space by mounting bags backwards or in different locations – we’ve seen plenty of Fork Packs mounted under aerobars, for starters!