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Laguna Hedionda, Bolivia

Mir-i-Arab Medressa in Bukhara, Usbekistan

Jiariren-an 5471m, Tibet

rice paddy in Tam Duong, Vietnam

after Omorate, Ethiopia

Ethiopia

For some time now they have been appearing more and more often: touring cyclists with very little luggage, which they carry in frame bags on mountain bikes, cyling routes where you would normally go trekking.

Bikepacking... what is it all about? Simply a new trend?

The cycle touring scene is certainly not known for being particularly innovative with new trends every year. In contrast to mountain biking, for example.

That's actually a good thing. Certain things have proven themselves over the years. A touring bike is primarily about longevity and definitely not about short-lived trends. In the last few years I have built several almost identical bicycles for my long journeys, which have changed little over the years. I was very satisfied with them in every respect and would rebuild them almost identically today.

For a while now, the term bikepacking has been appearing more and more frequently. What's that all about? Also one of these temporary trends and what's the point?

What is Bikepacking

Bikepacking arose from the need to go on multi-day tours with a mountain bike where you have everything (accommodation, food, clothes) with you. That means that the routes you ride are often mountain bike trails. It was therefore necessary to look for a way to transport luggage with the mountain bike without its handling deteriorating too much.

Of course there are different possibilities for this, but in the meantime a kind of 'standard' has developed which works and is called Bikepacking.

Bikepacking differs mainly by the following two things from general cycle touring:

  • Luggage: The luggage is probably the biggest difference. Generally we try to have less luggage and this is not carried in classic panniers (2 front, 2 rear) but in different frame bags. 
  • The bike is designed for gravel roads and similar to a mountain bike. Typically, for example, wide tyres, suspension fork and disc brakes.

Of course, there are also mixed styles that combine road bikes with bikepacking bags.

What is Bikepacking suitable for? Bikepacking for long term cycle touring?

Bikepacking will not replace the classic bicycle trips, but rather it has become a kind of independent discipline. Bikepacking opens up completely new possibilities. Technically demanding tracks where you reach the limits with a classic touring bike, simply are more fun with bikepacking.

In my opinion, Bikepacking is especially suitable for shorter tours (weeks - months). Here you can choose your destination in such a way that you are on such remote routes where bikepacking really makes sense. Being on the move with less luggage (e. g. a smaller tent or just a bivouac bag) is certainly better suitable for shorter tours.

The bike itself is not as easy to maintain as a touring bike because of its equipment (e. g. suspension fork, tyres). But no problem on short trips.

For really long journeys (multi-year) where you cross continents it is still the case that the sections which correspond to the above terrain (distant mountain bike trails) are unfortunately in the minority. There are hardly any continents that can be crossed completely on such routes. On such journeys you will still mostly be on asphalted roads where the classic touring bike is superior to bikepacking.

Nevertheless, there are also people who do long tours in bikepacking style. Here, everyone has to decide for himself whether to optimize his bike for off-road or road sections. 

What I think about it

On my travels I have always been looking for the remotest possible routes and was on gravel roads as much as possible.

I have travelled with my touring bike on many mountain bike routes all over the world and have often reached its limits. That was actually quite good, but I have often wished to have another bike with me. 

In 2016 I went on tour for the first time in bikepacking style. I have to say, I was thrilled. The possibilities that open up are great and of course they are exactly my kind of thing. The handling of the much lighter bike almost comes close to that of a mountain bike. When riding downhill, I can really let it go without worrying about my luggage, thanks to the suspension fork and disc brakes. No panniers fall off, everything sits tights. It's quite simply fun.

What a bike I will take on a future trip is difficult to say, both have their justification. This will depend primarily on the destination.

I always build my touring bikes based on the maxim: simple, robust technology for which I can find spare parts everywhere.

Here I wanted to build a bike for shorter tours. Many of the decisions I made on a classic touring bike because of its longevity do not apply here anymore. Which is why a completely different result has emerged.

The idea was to create a mountain bike for multi week tours, a bike with the riding characteristics of a mountain bike that is robust and carefree enough for a longer tour.

There are already quite some manufacturers who offer special bikepacking frames. I chose the RAW from MTB Cycletech.

I also deliberately chose a steel frame for this bike. Steel tolerates a somewhat rough treatment (e. g. during transport by bus or plane) better and forgives even if there is a dent in the frame.

The frame is designed in such a way that it can be assembled with derailleur or hub gears. The wheels have a size of 27½" and the headset is a tapered 1? -1.5". Dimensions that have proven themselves in mountain biking.

For the suspension fork I opted for a Magura T8.

For this bike I chose a Rohloff Speedhub gear hub. Why? For a tour of several years I would still prefer a derailleur, because spare parts are easier to find and I can repair almost everything myself. However, the Rohloff has definitely proved its worth on long tours, but you should make regular oil changes and service it. Not all that easy on the road. But no problem for this type of travel and I can enjoy the advantages of the hub gearshift: Dirt-resistant, less wear and tear....

The frame of the RAW has a eccentric bottom bracket for chain tension. In my opinion, not quite the best solution, it being so exposed to dirt and moisture. A simple chain tensioner would probably be more reliable. We'll see about that.

As a chainring I chose one made of steel by Surly (36 teeth).

Since I want to ride my bike with wide tires, I have chosen the Inferno 31 from SUNringle rim, 32 spokes DT Alpine III and the 2.3" SmartSam from Schwalbe as tires.

The front fork has a through axle and as front wheel hub I chose the Son hub dynamo in the through axle version.

Disc brakes have long since established themselves on mountain bikes. For a long tour I would probably still use a V-Brake, because it is very easy to maintain and spare parts are no problem.

Such arguments are less important on short tours and I don't want to do without disc brakes on mountain bike trails. In any case, however, take one with cable pull and no hydraulics. They're much easier to maintain. With Avid's BB7s, you can adjust the distance to the disc from both sides individually - perfect.

I chose a Brooks leather saddle here as well.

With a mountain bike, it still makes the most sense to have a more or less straight handlebars, which is why I chose one of them. In combination with the bar ends it is still quite suitable for touring.

The idea is having a bike with the riding characteristics of a mountain bike. Therefore, the traditional 4 panniers (2 front, 2 back) are no option. Instead, the following setup has proved successful

Frame bag

The frame bag makes up the heart of a bikepacking setup. I try to store all heavy stuff here. That's more than you might think. I fill it with stove/pan, water filter and food for 3-4 days. Since each bicycle frame has a different size, this bag is typically a custom-made product.

Handlebar Harness

A device to attach a dry bag (20l) across the handlebars. Here I transport my tent, sleeping bag and sleeping mat.

Above it is a small bag with camera, maps, money etc. in it.

Seat pack

A kind of conical drybag that can be fixed under the saddle with just a few grips. This is where I carry all my clothes.

Of course, the whole setup is expandable. For example, I have a small pocket on the top tube which I need for tools.

Below the down tube I have a holder for a 2l water bottle and a small bag directly on the handlebars for a drinking bottle.

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