Get started with bike packing

So you’re joining the trend of bike packing, hopping on your steed, strapping up some bags and riding to where the long winding roads take you. Bike packing can be very joyful yet also quite a daunting discipline of cycling. It will take you on the best roads around some of the most beautiful places in the world. Welcome aboard, CycleAus is proud to present some of our most valued advice and experience that we have gathered over multiple years of riding and traveling with our bikes.

A question we often get asked is whether you need to purchase a gravel adventure specific bike, or whether you can hit the gravel on your current bike.  When first starting out in the huge world of bike packing, many people make the mistake of buying a bike packing, specific bike with all the equipment, not even knowing whether they are going to enjoy it. It’s much more efficient to gather some experience first, using your current bike and see if you like it. Then you will have a much better idea about what you need and want. Remember the equipment that should be taken on your ride can be different from person to person. Some may like to pack light and travel faster, whereas some like to pack a bit heavier, take everything they might need, and travel a bit slower. So our advice would be to grab your current bike whether it be road mountain or gravel and head down to your local bike shop to get it checked over or even serviced. While you’re at it, your local bike shop can help set you up with some basic bags and other vital equipment needed. Be sure to check out our “equipment needed for your first bike packing adventure” to check out what you will need for your first overnight adventure.

 How you’re going to carry your gear

There are a few different ways to carry your gear on your adventure. The best way is to use bike packing bags such as the sturdy and roomy pannier racks or the easy to use strap on bags that securely carry heavier loads making the pannier racks a thing of the past. Pannier racks are heavy, create more wind resistance, and look a little dated in comparison. Not to mention the negative impact they can have on carbon frames. In our experience, we would recommend bags over racks.  

You don’t need to spend hundreds on bags, but it is best not to skimp on space either. If you have the money, you could fully kit your bike up with Apidura bags. You’ll love it. But from our experience, we recommend you go out for a bike-packing adventure to truly understand what you’re going to need.

In most cases you will want to set your bike up with the following bags:

Seat packs:

The seat pack may seem a bit over the top to the untrained bike packer, but in fact, it’s one of the most important pieces of kit you’ll need. This is where you can store things like cooking equipment, clothing, and larger equipment. In most cases, a large rear saddlebag will be wedged under the saddle rails and then strapped to the seat post. Seat packs can range in size anywhere from around five liters up to 14 liters in more extreme cases.

Some variables to take into consideration:

       Waterproof isn’t always better – it is heavier, can be cumbersome and harder to maneuver.  Water-resistant products will do perfectly well. If riding in extremely wet conditions, you can even add in some dry bags to ensure the water doesn’t seep into your gear.

       The ease of removal is important because you will often need quick and easy access to your gear. If the removal process is complicated, it can be frustrating to use during wet or cold conditions.

Handlebar packs

Handlebar Packs are the most common and easy way to store your gear. Higher quality brands have innovative designs that feature mounting options that do not rattle and move when riding on difficult terrain. Some brands have also introduced additional accessory pockets for grabbing tools or food quickly. as it sits up quite high on the handlebars, therefore, has a big effect on the steering and balance of the bike.

Some variables to take into consideration:

       The size of your handlebar pack has to fit within the geometry of your bike. For example, if you have a drop-bar bike, avoid buying long handlebar packs as they won’t fit the geometry of your bike.

       Remember that the handlebar packs are often positioned quite high up on the handlebars,  so they should stay relatively light. They can have a massive impact on the steering capability of your bike.

Frame packs

Frame packs are probably the most useable of all the packs. Frame packs come in multiple sizes, some are half-frame packs, sitting snug under the top tube and allow for your water bottles to still be used. Frame packs also come in full-size frame bags. These full-sized frame packs can store a variety of essential items. Depending on the accessibility of water on your route, it may be beneficial to take a hydration bladder within your frame bag.

Some things to take into consideration with frame bags:

       Watch the quality and strength of the zips. If the frame bag is stuffed tightly, it will create excess pressure on the side zips. If these zips break during your ride, the frame pack will essentially be useless but you will also lose your load.

       Detect the waterproofing of your chosen bag, make sure it is waterproof or water-resistant for those unfortunate rainy days.

       Make sure that the frame bag you purchase is the right size for the geometry for your bike.

       If you decide to use a full-frame bag, be aware that additional hydration methods will need to be used.

 

I know, it sounds daunting, but once everything is set up, you will be able to wrap your head around it all. Essentially you just need to decide what you’re bringing and how you’re going to pack it within your multiple bags. Once that is sorted, all you need next is some training and a challenging route to ride.

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