Bikepacking is a rather new term for outdoor activities. It is, however, a very old concept. Probably ever since the bike was invented and people went on camping trips we have used the bike as a method of travel to and from the campsite. There are many benefits with bikepacking but also some downsides.
This might be considered slightly off topic for some, with regards to bushcraft. Yet, most bushcrafters have no problem at all taking the car to the forest to practice their skills. Bushcraft is about skill and relying to ones own ability to survive, thrive, and get around. The bicycle is probably the most effective technology humans have created to get around while still being 100% powered by ourselves.
The type of bike will determine the type of the adventure
You can go bikepacking on practically any bike, but some bikes are more suited for some adventures than others. I’ve tried out a couple different models during the years and drawn some conclusions presented here.
The racer – perhaps most known for its presence in races such as Tour de France, but also from numerous country road blockages by lycra clad middle aged men with drop shaped helmets in large groups hindering traffic for miles on end. Yes, racing cyclists are not that popular in the rural communities. This is, however more a problem of attitude and considerations in the cyclists and car drivers respectively.
A racing bike can actually be a very nice way to travel lightly, with a large emphasis on lightly. They don’t offer much of carrying capacity, not even fenders are normally able to be mounted on these bikes.
So, how should one go on adventures on a bike such as this? I know there are some people who leave all things at home and travel with the bike, the clothes they’re wearing and a wallet. They then ride their bikes all day, staying at coffee shops, restaurants and hotels along the way to get food, warmth and rest.
While it does sound like an incredible way to travel – fast and light – it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s not really a good choice for anyone wanting to practice some bushcraft during the ride.
Cyclocross is the Frankenchild of a racing bike and an MTB. It looks pretty much like a racer, behaves like a racer, but without the elitism of a racer. It is a bike made for taking on gravel roads and smoother forest trails in high speed. As such it has slightly wider tires than racers, with threads on them, like the MTBs. This makes sure the CX can take on mud and gravel more easily, comfortably and safer than racer counterparts.
For adventures and bikepacking the most benefit one gets from a CX compared to a racer is the numerous places to attach stuff to the bike. Normally you can attach everything from mud guards to a rack, both back and front. In addition to this, CX bikes normally have a slightly more upright riding position than racers, while not as upright as your average city bike it still offloads some weight from your hands and shoulders.
I truly love my CX and it’s my prefered bike for any adventures due to its ability to travel comfortably on roads as well as most normal trails.
A mountain bike is probably the first thing most people think of when they consider an adventure bike for bikepacking and trail riding. True to the rumours, it is probably the best bike for most adventures. It rides very comfortably on roads as well as on gravel and smaller forest trails, albeit slightly heavier to pedal than a CX. With an MTB you can get further into the woods than with any of the previous bikes mentioned and still get a lot of gear with you.
Some downsides of the MTB is that they can be kind of clumsy and loose a lot of their edge with gear attached to them. This goes for all bikes, of course, but will present itself clearer the rougher the terrain. Since this is a bike you’ll probably take on smaller game trails and similar you’ll need to consider weight distribution and how you pack your stuff. Too much in the front and you’ll get stuck in mud and too much in the back and you might do some stylish backflips instead of climbing uphill!
The MTB is, after all the king of trails. It’s great fun to ride and gets through almost everywhere, as long as you don’t mind looking like a mud wrestler in camp! Get yourself an MTB if you plan on doing very little road cycling but a lot of trails!
While the racer is one end of the spectrum of adventure bikes, the fatbike is the other extreme. With tires meassuring 4” or 10 cm wide it’s certainly not made for road hugging, but for the most extreme terrains. I have cycled along the beach on top of the sand on my fatbike, as if it was asphalt underneath. Not even an MTB would be able to stay on top of beach sand the way the fatbike did. As such, it’s the perfect bike for extreme adventures in places where a normal bike’s tires would just sink and be unmanageable.
I know there are people who go deep into the forests on their fatbikes and have a great adventure, and in my own experience it does handle off road-terrain very well. The large tires doesn’t sink in mud, snow or sand, but they’re heavy and bulky so make sure not to go places you might have to carry the bike for any extent of time.
The fatbike is like a sturdy, comfortable, and slightly slower version of an MTB. Kind of when you compare a Hummer to a smaller (and often faster) off road car. It simply keeps going.
Things to consider if you plan on getting a bike for bikepacking
Why go bikepacking at all, you might ask? Hiking and bushcraft does allow for a closer to nature-adventure and for more off road hiking, but is significantly slower. It all depends on what you want to get out of your adventure, but to get some inspiration and a feeling for bikepacking, have a look at this video. It’s made by a guy bikepacking the Wild West and travels past some incredibly beautiful places!
What bike you end up choosing really depends on what terrain you want to tackle and what kind of adventure you want to go on with your bike. Here are a few things you might want to consider!
Uses other than bikepacking?
If you’re like me and always bike to work you might have a great deal of use of a CX or even an MTB. I’ve used my CX for commuting in all types of weather, from snow and heavy rain to summertime. It’s a great commuter bike that is also fun to ride, especially if I take detour by the ocean or through some gravel roads on my way to- or from work.
I’ve taken the fatbike a few times to work as well, but it’s just miserably bad at riding on normal city bike lanes. The noise is terrible and I didn’t have large enough mud guards for it. It just sprays the water (a LOT of water) everywhere! The main (and only) use for the fatty lies in the forest!
I don’t own a racer but I can imagine it’s the same problems as with the fatty, it shines on the long roads on the country side and not on some bike lane in the city. Too cramped, no mud guards and generally not worth it, really. Unless perhaps if you have quite a distance to get to work a racer is not worth it for commuting or daily use.
The MTB is slightly better than the fatty for city use, but is still by far outshined by the CX. The tires are the main reason, for me, to not use an MTB in the city, they’re too heavy to peddle on asphalt and makes too much noise. They also wear quite a bit faster on asphalt than in their natural habitat – the forest. If you don’t have too far to peddle to get to work and perhaps some trails on the way, it could, however provide a fun commuter for you!
Repairability and spare parts
If you’re planning on going on multi-day adventures you need to bring tools and spare parts in addition to the knowledge to use them. some bikes are easier to repair than others and this might be something that you want to take into consideration when choosing an adventure bike.
The most common problem one has with a bike is flat tires. Naturally you need to be able to both repair a flat tire and change the tire or inner tube completely if needed. These extras should also be in every bikepacker’s emergency repair kit. Should you forgot a spare inner tube on your trip and manages to get to a store that sells those, your chances of success are far greater with a standardised tire size than a more unusual one.
Other things to keep in mind when it comes to repairing your bike is brakes, gears, chain and spokes. It’s vital that you’re able to replace broken parts to be able to continue the adventure. Make sure to check brake pads and adjust the gears before heading out.
KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid
Where do you plan on go bikepacking?
Are you going to use it in the backyard and local forest? Perhaps go for a bike that suits that environment? Perhaps you already have a commuter and just want something fun to go on adventures with. Go to one of the extremes if you’d like. People living in a very cold and remote area definitely would have a lot of fun with a fatbike and perhaps not as much with a racer. Do you live in England? Don’t go for a bike without mud guards!
There’s really no way of giving proper suggestions based on geography, but you can still get some pointers from it. Basically try to consider the areas the bike mostly will be used in and imagine what would be most fun to ride there!
How long will you stay out bikepacking?
What you want to bring with you on your bike kind of also decide what type of bike you can use. A racer won’t make a good bike even if you plan on taking a trip on the countryside where the roads are smooth and fast. If you can’t attach your gear properly to it, it doesn’t matter how nice it is.
The bikes with the best possibilities for attaching gear are probably the touring bikes. They are generally heavier, sturdier and have lots and lots of attachment points welded onto the frame for maximum stability when riding. Of the bike types we’ve discussed here, it’s probably a draw between CX, MTB and fatbike when it comes to attachment points.
If you’re planning on loading up quite a bit of gear for a weeklong trip into the wild, you might want to go with a sturdier fatbike, unless the adventure takes place on country roads. In my experience a light CX suffers more from heavier loads than fatbikes or MTBs. A heavier load combined with thin tires is also to be asking for flat tires and possible even damage to the wheel.
Also consider whether you want fixed fork or suspension!
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