The phenomena of backpacking on the back of a bike (ala bikepacking!) is growing in popularity all around the world. It’s easy to see why, it allows travellers full control over where and when they go, it’s ecological, it’s great for fitness and it’s truly exhilarating.
Bikepacking is not without its challenges though. Carrying all you need on a bike is not for the faint hearted and it’s absolutely essential that you bring the right gear with you from backpacks, to tents, to repair kits.
First and foremost though, bikepackers need to make sure they have the right bike for their trip. Choosing a bike that is too heavy can make peddling impossible yet choosing one that is too light may mean it can’t hold the weight of your gear.
This is why we have created this EPIC guide to choosing the right bike for your bikepacking trip.
Quick Answers – The Best Bikepacking Bikes
In a hurry? Too busy to read? Then click on these clicks to view the best bikepacking bikes in store.
#1 Best Bikepacking Bike – State Bicycle 4130 All Road
#2 Best Off Road Bikepacking Bike – Co-op Cycles ADV 2.3 Bike
#3 Best Short Term Bikepacking Bike – Salsa Warbird Carbon GRX
#4 Best Long Term Bikepacking Bike – Cannondale Trail SE 1
#5 Best Budget Bikepacking Bike – Cinelli Hobootleg
State Bicycle 4130 All Road
- Weight > 28 lbs
- Number of Gears > 11
- Price > $989
Cannondale Trail SE 1
- Weight > 31.1 lbs
- Number of Gears > 12
- Price > $2,200
Salsa Warbird Carbon GRX
- Weight > 20.09 lbs
- Number of Gears > 22
- Price > $3,299
Co-op Cycles ADV 2.3 Bike
- Weight > 23.2 lbs
- Number of Gears > 11
- Price > $2,199
Co-op Cycles ADV 1.1 Bike
- Weight > 30 lbs
- Number of Gears > 30
- Price > $1,599
What Is Bikepacking?
Ok so let’s start at the start. Bikepacking is a way of road touring across a country by bicycle. It allows travellers to just set out from the front doorstep and reach far-off destinations. It is a way to slow down travel and fully absorb the surrounding environment. Cycle touring has been on the rise since the 70s and 80s, and has gone nuts in recent years.
With the COVID pandemic forcing us to re-think travel, we can expect more people to choose bikepacking (and especially domestic bikepacking) as the way to do travel.
However, the term bikepacking is actually quite a reductive one, and incorporates a huge spectrum of very different travellers. Examples of bike-packing can range from the occasional weekend tour of your home county, to the cycling-nomad who has been living on his bicycle for the past 27 years!
Moreover, bikepackers themselves also come in all shapes and forms (although they are all fit!). Some of them rely completely on their own resources, sleeping in a tent and cooking their food outdoors. Others head to town for the night parking their bike at hotels, hostels or maybe even using bike packing specific accommodation options such as, “WarmShowers” and “Bike-hotels”.
Some bike powers go pedal to the metal and try to cover as much distance as fast as possible whereas others, sit back and enjoy the ride. In short, these tours on two wheels can come in different flavours, and are available to any budget.
The Basics of Bikepacking
Going right back to basics, all you really need to get started in bikepacking is free-time, a bicycle and the will to do it. In my last article “7 Reasons to go Cycle Touring” I did say that any old bike will do for your trip. I have travelled from the Chilean Patagonia up to Brazil with nothing but a second hand, cheap mountain bike.
Although it was a bit difficult in some parts, I still made it. So, if you don’t have the means to purchase a very technical bike, you don’t necessarily have to feel discouraged.
However, in reality most of us do need a little more comfort and assurance. Remember that you will feel the benefits of having the right bike for mile after mile after long mile.
In this article, we will look at some of the best bikepacking bikes which you could consider for your next trip. These are just some suggestions to inspire you on what elements to consider when looking for the best bikepacking bike for your trip.
Choosing The Right Bike For Your Trip
There is no such thing as the “best” bikepacking bike. It all really depends on your personal style and on the kind of trips(s) you intend on taking.
To choose the right bikepacking bike for your trip, you need to decide what kind of tour you are going to take, and what kind of environment you are going to cycle across. You also need to ask yourself how long will the trip take? What will the terrain be like? How much weight will you carry? How fast will you be going? All of these factors will help you to decide which bike is right for you.
Remember, even if you buy an expensive and highly technical racing bike, it will not do you much good pedaling across the snow! In these cases, you would be better off with a snowbike or failing that, with a cheape “regular” bike!
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Bikepacking Terrain – Where Are You Going?
First things first, what pavement will you be cycling on? Are you going to be travelling on mostly asphalt, or off road? If you are travelling long term, you are probably going to encounter a mixture of terrains, so keep that under consideration.
On the Road:
If your cycling route will mostly take place on asphalt/road, you should consider a road bike. The advantage of this kind of bike is that they have thinner tires, are fairly lightweight, and are easily manoeuvrable. All of this will help you travel faster.
However, note that this kind of bike is not really meant to carry weight. So, unless you take it to a bike mechanic, and customize it, they usually don’t even have space where to adjust a rack onto.
Road Bikes also have very thin tires so will not be able to cycle comfortably off road. Also because of the stiff frame, road bikes are less comfortable for longer rides, and have a limited suspension and bump absorption; in the long run might give you problems to your neck and shoulders.
Road Bikes are therefore better suited for short, weekend backpack trips or for trips in warm weather when you can travel light. Also note that you wont to be able to get camp gear on it, so either sleep under the stars or get a hostel.
A great alternative to road bikes are hybrid bikes. They sometimes have a suspension system and generally have a much more comfortable feel. Many of them have the capability to support a rack.
Stll, you do have to be mindful of how the bags sit on the rack relative to the wheels’ spokes and may still have to do some customizations to address this issue.
Hybrid bikes will allow you the flexibility to travel longer distances, whilst still being able to move comfortably around the city.
Still for longer trips, you will need to make some customisations to make them ready. For example,you may wish to change the handles to something like a ‘butterfly handle’ as these support your arms and neck into a more comfortable riding position, whilst still maintaining an equivalent position to the one of the sidebars typical for city bikes. However, if you are going to do this you might have to change your stem as well in order to fit this kind of handle.
On The Trails:
Trails are characterized by dirt paths, gravel roads, with some stretches of asphalted road.
For this type of mixed terrain, you will need a bike that will feel dynamic whilst allowing for amortisation. If you are considering travelling across longer trails, you will have to think about how to achieve both comfort and versatility across the terrain.
The bikes that are usually mostly chosen for these kinds of routes are mountain bikes. Mountain bikes have a soft amortization, a sturdier feel, larger and more comfortable tires (which are less vulnerable to punctures). Usually they also offer a more responsive braking system. MT bikes have the further advantage of being able to handle intense terrains and are also highly durable.
Although a Mountain Bike will feel heavy, (especially in a city context) my advice would be to put on a 29” wheel, which will allow you to push at your max on flat asphalt areas.
You can also consider hybrid bikes for trails. You can often find hybrid bikes with a frame and suspension more akin to the mountain bikes compared to the city bikes. One advantage that these bikes have is their lightness compared to MT bikes but they are not designed specifically for the terrains that a mountain bike can endure – you will need to upgrade the tires to ones that are more suitable for more extreme terrains.
If you are planning a particularly long-term mixed terrain bike tour you can also consider travel bikes or gravel bikes. They are both pretty similar but the travel bike is sturdier, and the gravel bike more suited to intense terrains.
Travel bikes usually also have more spokes than the gravel bike (i.e. 36 vs 32), making the wheels more durable, able to carry more weight, and requiring less maintenance. The advantage of gravel bikes is that they are usually lighter than travel bikes; the weight of a travel bike usually ranges between 13kg to 15kg, whilst a gravel bike typically ranges from 9kg to 13kg.
On easier trails, a hybrid bike will feel comfortable enough, whilst if you want to cycle steep hills on intense terrains you should consider a mountain bike. However, you should also make this decision based on how long you are thinking of touring with your bike. On longer tours, where more versatility is required, travel or gravel bikes may be a better investment. Again, weigh your options and what kind of challenges you may find.
If you are planning a more extreme bike-packing tour, when you go off the beaten path onto extreme trails such as heavy snow, desert, or swamps, a fat bike is what is most appropriate for this kind of extreme adventure. Fat bikes were first released in 1986 and were designed to ride over the Sahara Desert. They gained popularity via the Iditarod Frozen Late race in Alaska These bikes are characterized by huge and extremely grippy tires, which will allow more flotation than other bikes, and will prevent sinking into softer terrains.
However keep in mind that this bike is very heavy, and it will take more dynamic effort to reach speed, it will be able to make you explore hidden beaches and remote areas that no other bike would be able to reach. These heavy-duty bikes are particularly performative for this extreme kind of adventure, however, in flatter and asphalted terrains, they will hold you back.
Distance & Trip Length of Your Trip
Bike trips come in all flavours, some last for a day or two, others a lifetime. There are three elements to consider to choose among the best bikes for bikepacking your trip. We will look at three main styles of touring in terms of the distance you are going to make.
Short-term bikepacking tour:
If you are planning a weekend trip, you still need to consider the terrain that you are going to face. Most cyclists of this category will be taking an on-the-road detour in their destination of choice. For this kind of trip, any bike that you feel comfortable in will do.
If however you are looking to do your tour as fast as possible, you should consider a lighter bike. For most short trips, even if you are going to be camping, you can pack all the essentials plus a very light bike packing tent either in a saddlebag or alternatively on the frame.
Medium-term bikepacking tour:
A medium term bike backpacking tour generally lasts for a few weeks to a month maximum. In this case it’s unlikely you will need to worry about a change in weather (depending on the environment obviously). If you decide to travel this way, you are most likely going to encounter mixed terrain, and depending on the intensity of the trails you can choose between a mountain bike, gravel bike, or a travel bike.
Here you should think about what kind of weather you are going to encounter, and whether you will need to camp in some sections of your route or not. Depending on this, you may be able to travel light, or may need to carry more baggage. For example, if you are camping you will need a tent plus cooking utensils,
Even if you expect nothing but fine weather, you still need to think about water and in some cases may need to carry up to 6 liters.
Overall, for medium range tripos we would advise a hybrid or mountain bike, with a really well-fitted rack, or a travel bike, which is particularly adapted to take this kind of load.
Long-term bikepacking tour:
If you plan on travelling for over a month,, you will most likely encounter many different terrains, drastic variations in weather, and various sections where you will be forced to camp and carry your own food. In this setting, you will probably have a heavier bike than a weekend tourer, so you will have to definitely prepare your bike for heavier conditions. A travel bike, or a mountain bike with a very well-fitted rack will be excellent companions for this kind of odyssey.
The Anatomy Of a Bike
We have looked so far at the external conditions, and what kind of bike will best adapt to them. Now, we will be looking at the different components that make up a bicycle and what to consider when assembling it for your trip.
Whilst bikepacking, you are likely to be pedaling across different steepness levels. When carrying a packed backpack this will prove sometimes particularly difficult. Other conditions, like the wind going can also affect you When choosing a set of gears for bikepacking, the one of the mountain bikes is probably the best. This kind of setup has 3 chainrings on the front and 7 gears on the back. This will allow for a good gear range for you to cycle at different steepness and speed levels.
An alternative to this, which is becoming more and more used by bikepacker, but that is also pricier, is the gear hub (such as the Rohloff o lo Shimano Alfine). This sophisticated gear has the same or higher gear ratio (rapport) as the MT bike, and has another additional set of advantages.
First of all, being a closed system, it requires very little maintenance, it is more difficult to get dirt on, and you can also change the gear while standing still.
A travel bike will generally weigh between 26.5-to 33lbs. However, these numbers can rise up to 88-110lbs as you add all the gears and panniers for an all-round self-sufficient tour.
When choosing the best bike for bikepacking, choosing a more expensive 26.5lbs bicycle over a 33lbs bike will not make much difference, because carrying a 2 litres bottle of water will already make up for the kg you have subtracted from the bike at a very high price.
However, trying to travel as lightweight as possible (i.e. carrying only the strict necessities) will definitely make a difference. A lighter and less packed bike, will be more aerodynamic, which will be particularly helpful during strong wind conditions, and will make your pedalling uphill much less dramatic.
Have you ever heard about Teseo’s paradox? It is a philosophical exercise where one has to consider the permanence of individuality. If for example, you take under consideration a boat, and since the time it was built all her parts got damaged progressively and substituted with new parts, is the boat you have today the same boat that was originally built?
Many philosophers tried to solve this metaphysical dilemma, which can be applied to other things, such as modern-day vehicles. However, in the case of the bicycle, the frame is the only thing that you can never replace. You can detach everything else from a bike, but its skeleton will always remain intact. In this way, the frame can be considered the core of a bicycle, and it is the first element we will look at.
The key elements to look for in a frame for a travel bicycle are robustness, reliability, and comfort. Usually, you will find that travel bikes have a shorter top tube, a taller head tube, and the seat post will be more inclined backward. All these elements will guarantee a more upright and hence comfortable position to ride. Additionally, the chainstay (the part connecting the rear wheel to the pedals) will be more extended compared to a race bike. This will guarantee more space for luggage, and again a more comfortable driveability.
The materials that are considered the most suited for these trips are aluminium or steel (no carbon). Both of these materials make up for a very robust and durable frame. The main difference between these two is how they feel. Aluminium seems to be more rigid, while steel seems to be more elastic and amortize better.
Another thing to consider when choosing the material is its reliability. Although aluminium does not rust, in case of rupture it will not be able to be weld back together. On the other hand, steel will need to be covered with some heavy-duty anti-rust paint, but it will be possible to repair it by welding it.
Now looking at the front fork, which can either have suspension or be stiff. Here it all depends on what kind of routes you are planning to cycle. If you will be riding along many off-road stretches, suspension will increase comfort and will prevent you from developing arm or neck pains in the long run.
However, many bikepackers choose a rigid fork since it is simpler, more reliable, and easier to mount a rack on.
As is the case for the frame, when choosing the wheels for bikepacking, robustness is key, since they will have to carry yourself and your luggage. Whether you choose a 26” or a 29” size wheel, it is a decision that is mostly based on the frame you are working with. Generally speaking, a larger bike wheel will allow you to do more distance with less push, whilst a smaller one will feel more manoeuvrable.
You also need to consider what kind of country you are visiting. 29” are a diameter that is becoming increasingly popular, but in some developing countries, these kinds of wheels may be scarce. Hence, if you will need some professional repairing whilst travelling, somewhere where 29” wheels are not that common, you will have a hard time fixing your wheel, or finding replacement pieces such as spokes, inner tube, and tires.
Another element to consider to strengthen wheels for bikepacking is the number of spokes. Ideally, they would be at least 28 or 32 per wheel. Additionally, to have a comfortable feeling on both asphalt and dirt roads I recommend that your tires should be at least 32 mm for 28″ wheels, and 1.75 inches for 26″ wheels.
Our Top Picks For The Best Bikepacking Bike
Best Overall Bikepacking Bike – State Bicycle 4130 All Road Bike
This is a bicycle meant for people who are looking for a good presentation and a competitive price. The 4130 Joshua Tree edition has a very large feel due to the shape of the frame and the heavier duty wheels. The wheels are particularly effective to serve as amortisation, which makes up for the rigidity of the frame.
From a dynamic perspective, the aluminium large frame offers higher reliability even when it’s loaded with very heavy bags. The rear wheel also feels particularly stable, which guarantees a comfortable ride.
Number of Gears: 11
Wheel Size: 29”
Frame Material: Chromoly Steel
Break Types: Promox DSK 300-R
Shifters: Sram Rival
Bike Suspension: No suspension
Best Use: Backpacking, trail rides
Pro: Extremely comfortable ride at a competitive price It also comes with a variety of customisation options which will allow you to alter the bike in various ways depending on what feels most comfortable to you.
Con: Not a particularly reactive bicycle for more sport rides. The bicycle is fit for more athletic riders since the gear ratio might prove insufficient in some particularly difficult routes.
Best Long Term Bikepacking Bike – Cannondale Trail SE 1
This bike is designed for beginners who want to start exploring trails that are a bit more intense than the ones they are used to. The Cannondale Trail SE 1 diverges from a purely sports use and aims at a more aggressive type of ride for beginner trails.
For this reason, it is built with a “hardtail”, characterized by a single rear rigid fork and front suspensions. This characteristic makes it versatile and able to face a variety of terrains.
The frame is light, reactive, snappy and with a stiff feel to it.
Number of Gears: 12
Wheel Size: 29”
Frame Material: Aluminium
Brake Type: TRP Slate G4 4-piston hydraulic disc, 180/160 mm rotors
Bike Suspension: Front suspension
Best Use: Hard trail (low to medium intensity), trips characterised short distances/time-period, and sober packing.
Pro: Can take aggressive rides, and it is suitable for beginner riders.
Con: Although this bike is quite flexible in terms of terrains, it is quite problematic to fit a rack on this bike, which means that it is more suitable for shorter and sober trips, rather than medium to longer journeys.
Best Short Term Bikepacking Bike – Salsa Warbird Carbon GRX
This bike is considered one of the flagships for gravel bikes by Salsa. The frame is made of carbon. Some of the key elements are the Shimano Di2 electronic gearbox which allows for full control and great responsiveness.
The flexibility and the verticality of the saddle compartment allows for a responsive vibration absorption system. By adding the Salsa’s Rack Lock seat collar, you will also be able to fit a rear rack. You can also add extra cargo on the top tube and the down tube. With a light setup this bike can take fast and light bikepacking journeys. However, due to the carbon frame, you have to be more careful if you want this bike to last in the long-term.
Weight: 20.0 lbs
Number of Gears: 22
Wheel Size: 29”
Frame Material: Cardon
Bike Suspension: No suspensions
Shifters: Shimano GRX 600
Brake Type: Hydraulic Disc Brake
Best Use: Rad Cycling, Gravel Cycling, Lightweight Trips.
Pro: The bicycle is lightweight and can sustain a variety of terrains. Its wheels are particularly grippy and can adapt well to winder conditions such as wet gravel roads. It has also the advantage of being adaptable to serve backpacking trips.
Con: The carbon frame might not prove particularly durable if you are considering pushing the bike to extreme conditions where it may damage the frame.
Best Off Road Bikepacking Bike – Co-op Cycles ADV 2.3 Bike
Here we have another gravel bike, fit for bikepacking, and meant for more experienced riders. With its low weight the Co-op Cycles ADV 2.3 is in many ways also built for speed. Particularly unique of this bike, compared to other gravel riders, is the dropper post. This feature will give you a more controlled feel to your riding.
Further characteristics such as 1×11 Shimano GRX gears, which are particularly light and comfortable, and hydraulic brakes which perform really well in gravel conditions. This bicycle is well adapted for adventure travels, due to both its versatility on terrains, and strong aluminium frame.
Weight: 23.2 lbs
Number of Gears: 11
Wheel Size: 29”
Frame Material: Aluminium
Bike Suspension: No suspension
Shifters: Shimano GRX ST-810 with integrated dropper lever
Break Types: Shimano GRX 800 hydraulic disc with Shimano RT64 CenterLock rotors
Best Use: Road cycling, gravel riding, bikepacking
Pro: This bike is robust and particularly fitted for a comfortable yet fast type of bikepacking across different terrains.
Con: Although it is a robust gravel bike, it misses the front suspensions which in the long term might prove quite uncomfortable, especially across vast stretches of intense terrain. Additionally, the numbers of gears are inferior compared to other options, which means that when the bike is fitted with extra weight it will be particularly difficult to ride un uphill stretches.
Best Mixed Terrain Bikepacking Bike – Co-op Cycles ADV 1.1 Bike
The Co-op Cycles ADV 1.1 is designed for long-distance loaded touring, with a durable frame, and a spacious framing allowing to attach racks both on the back and front (which come included in the price).
Additionally, this bike is considered relatively affordable compared to other touring bikes. Another particularity is that it is set up with a granny gear of 26×34 (20.9 gear inches). Notably, the breaks are a mechanical-hydraulic hybrid giving reliable stopping power.
The tires are also particularly resistant, making the Co-op Cycles ADV 1.1 puncture proof across larger distances. This bike is a good compromise between comfort and efficiency. Being quite a heavy vehicle, with a strong steel frame the ride will feel steady and stable.
Weight: 30 lbs
Number of Gears: 30
Wheel Size: 29”
Frame Material: Double-butted chromoly steel
Bike Suspension: no suspension
Break Types: TRP HY/RD hydraulic disc
Shifters: Microshift bar end shifters
Best Use: Bikepacking
Pro: This bike is specifically designed for bikepacking. It comes integrated with rear and front racks which can be loaded with heavy weights. Because of the steel frame it is particularly durable and easy to repair.
Con: This bike seems a little heavy, which although will make the ride feel more stable, it will prove more difficult to reach acceleration, especially in up-hill sections.
Best Budget Bikepacking Bike – Cinelli Hobootleg
The Cinelly Hobootieg is one of the most refined travel bike models in the market, characterized by simplicity, robustness and versatility. This bicycle is particularly iconic because Paola Giannotti did with the Chinelly Hobootieg the world record of fastest crossing of the globe by bicycle.
The rack is made of Columbus Cromor steel with triple thickness, guaranteeing reliability, comfort and durability. Importantly, whilst maintaining this quality of robustness, it is still a light bicycle compared to others of the same category. It can transport 40 kg in the rear wheel, and 18 on the front. The double rake is particularly fit to calibrate handling and responsiveness to different types of load and terrain.
Weight: 27 lbs
Number of Gears: 27
Wheel Size: 29”
Frame Material: Columbus Cromor steel
Bike Suspension: No suspensions
Break Types: Standard Cantilever
Shifters: Rear derailleur shimano deore
Best Use: Backpacking, trail rides
Pro: The bicycle has a very simple and classic style which makes it very elegant and not too flashy, which is an important characteristic when travelling in areas where there is a higher risk of getting your bike stolen. This Cinelli is both lightweight and robust, and specifically designed for long-term bike trips.
Con: if you are looking for speed you will find that this bike puts it secondary to comfort and stability. Users also report that due to the compact geometry of this bike, when doing very rapid and abrupt turns, the tip of the foot may touch the wheel.
Final Thoughts on Bikepacking Bikes:
In conclusion, bikepacking comes to bikepacking, touring can come in many different forms. For this reason, when choosing among the best bikes for bikepacking it is important that you consider different elements of your route and your own style of touring in order to select the bike which will be the best companion for your trip.
Indeed, if you are more performance-oriented, and seeking adrenaline through intense terrain, a lightly packed mountain-bike is probably the best choice.
If instead you are planning of doing an all-around world trip, relying on your own resources, where you will be sitting on your bike every day for extended periods of times, then you will be looking for a more comfortable and robust travel bike, which will give you steady feel, and will be able to carry all the weight that you need. In any case, different types of bikes can be more or less performative given different settings, however, what makes a trip possible is the cyclist.
So, do not feel intimidated, the most important gear that will push you forward in your trip are your legs and your willingness to take on the adventure of your dreams.
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