How to Choose a Bike for Bikepacking

For some, Bikepacking explores off-pavement roads and trails, which makes a mountain bike an ideal.

But in reality,, there’s no one bike right for bikepacking.  You can literally use everything from road bikes to full-suspension rigs, and everything in between, for your explorations.

With that, finding the best bike for you requires knowing what you’re most likely to do, your priorities, accepting that certain tradeoffs are par for the course.

And Keep in mind that getting into bikepacking does not mean you have to buy a bunch of new expensive gear.

The bike you already have could very well get you riding today!

So as you’re moving through this, keep in mind the gear you already own.  From there, decide whether or not it will work for the types of adventures you want to take.

Key’s for Choosing a Bike for Bikepacking

  1. What type of riding?: This is most important.  Do you see yourself riding mostly on road or offroad?  And how technical?
  2. Choose suspension or rigid: This is 100% personal preference.  The longer and more varied the riding, the less suspension you’ll probably want.
  3. Select a tire size: You can ride anything here too, and it’s mostly a preference thing.  But keep in mind that larger wheels and tires provide a faster, smoother ride. So if you think more road is in your future, go bigger..

Terrain

Naturally, a bike that’s built for pavement is not the best choice for rugged singletrack trails. But gravel bikes do remarkably well.  

So when, choosing a bike for bikepacking, it’s super important to think about the type of terrain you’d like to ride on and let that define the kind of bike you need.

  • Mixed surfaces (pavement, dirt roads): If your terrain is likely to include it all, and included long stretches on each you’re likely going to be best served with either a gravel bike, or a rigid mountain bike.
  • Gravel roads, forest roads and doubletrack: If you’re more dirt and gravel than pavement, a rigid mountain bike is likely your best best.  They’re a little slow, but the wide tires offer a pretty big pick up in comfort. And the other option here is a wide tired gravel bike.
  • Technical Singletrack: If you’re finding yourself on technical single track, you’re likely not going to be there for long stretches.  But if you really think you will, a full suspension cross country bike will be a great option for you.

Suspension

Suspension is great for smoothing out rough trails, but it also adds weight and design complexity to your bike. For this reason, most bikepackers try to match the type and amount of suspension to the terrain they’ll be riding.

Typically, the more varied terrain and the longer distances the less suspension you’ll want or need.

Here are some suspension options for bikepacking:

  • Fully rigid (no suspension): Without any suspension, rigid bikes have less that can break.  But, they require a higher degree of patience and skill for technical terrain. Many bikepackers find rigid bikes to be the right choice.
  • Hardtail (front suspension fork):  The addition of a suspension fork will help you navigate trails with some roots and rocks, and will make riding gravel roads at high speeds more pleasant.  But it will also complicate your gear storage.
  • Full suspension: If you’ll be frequenting technical single track, a full-suspension ride might be for you. Be aware that the rear shock on most full-suspension bikes will reduce the space available for a frame bag for hauling gear.

Wheel Size

Most touring bikes, cyclocross bikes and gravel bikes come with the standard road wheel size, which is 700c, and some can run as wide as 2 inches.  Some too, run mountain bike wheels that are 27.5”. These smaller wheels allow you to use fatter tires for a more comfortable ride, which can be nice when you’re not on pavement.

If you’re thinkink you want a mountain bike, you have a couple choices: 27.5 in. and 29 in. (29er) wheels.


Many mountain bikers insist that 29er wheels are best for long-distance trips because of their rolling efficiency, while others prefer 27.5 in. wheels for their responsiveness and nimbleness. There are pros and cons to each size and a lot of it comes down to what you like or which one gets you riding soonest.

Tire Size

You’ll want to check the clearance in you frame and fork, and decide what type of terrain you want to be prepared for, but when you’re carrying extra weight, extra width  will be your friend.

They’ll help smooth the ride, and provide extra traction.  This coupled with varying your tire pressure, you’ll likely find the perfect setup

As you can imagine, there’s a lot that goes into choosing the bike that’s best for you.  Take your time, and think it through. And, if you want some expert guidance, give one of our stores a call and we can help you choose the best bike for you next adventure!

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