Okay, I have a bike. Now what?
Preparing your bike can be easy or challenging depending on the type of bike you ride. Long story short, you’ll need a bike rack with pannier bags, touring tires, and bungee cords. We have found that bungee cords become currency on the trip because no one seems to bring enough of them!
Depending on the mountain bike, your assembly can be easy or difficult. If you have a rear suspension (coil spring in the middle of your bike) mounting a rear rack is near impossible. A child carrier or cargo trailer may be a solution for you. There are “seat post mounted racks available but they are only rated at about 25lbs. Not a smart idea. However, if you dont have the rear suspension (hard tail) you should be able to buy a standard rack for the rear of your bike to mount.
Personally, I don’t think mountain bikes are the wisest choice for most BikePacking trips, however, we’ve seen them work in certain situations. Also, be mindful of bicycles that are cheaply made. Many mountain bikes are of the $100 dollar WalMart bicycles and can break down after extended use. Don’t be afraid to spend over $300 on a bike. You’ll be thankful you did. Some repairs on cheap bicycles can cost more than that.
Commuter or Touring Bikes
Commuter or “Touring” bikes make the best choice for BikePacking. These bikes are made for carrying panniers and extra cargo. In most cases the tires are treaded to handle most terrain that we will encounter. Quality Commuter bikes start at around $250 unless you can find a quality used one. Try your local bike shop for used bikes if your budget is low. Some touring bicycles also come with racks on the FRONT of the bicycle, adding more possibilities for carrying cargo.
Converted Road Bikes
Road bikes are also a good choice for bikepacking. However, most road bikes come with “Slick” tires that have little or no tread. Most of the trails we ride will require some sort of touring tire. Continental TourRide tires are perfect and will work for most situations. Be sure to find the right size for your bike! Also, be mindful if your bike is made for hard-core racing. Most of these bikes will not work, due to the absence of mounting pegs for the racks themselves. Most low-to-midrange roadbikes will have mounting pegs on the seat stay. If you’re uncomfortable installing the racks yourself, you can take it to your local bike shop.
Bicycle Trailers / Cargo Trailers
This is the easiest way to prepare for a bike trip. They are easy to mount, hold a lot of cargo, and will make your trip easy. They simply mount to any rear-axle on your bike and away you go. No need for panniers or racks at all. Most trailers start at about $100 USD, but you may be able to find a child-carrier at a yard sale that works just as well. Look around, you might find a deal!
Packing It All Up
If you’re using a rack and panniers, you’ll find that after packing the panniers on the bike, you’ll stack tents, sleeping bags, and sleeping mats on top of them with bungees. Watch your height because the bike can become unstable if you have too much stacked up. If you find that you can’t make it with what you have, consider a trailer or front panniers as well. Also, you may want to take your tent out of it’s bag and “Smoosh” it all the way at the bottom of your panniers to make more room. You’ll find that sometimes all it takes is a little creativity to make it all work.
One of our BikePackers found a bungee cargo-net at a motorcycle store. This net held all her gear really well on the rear panniers. Also, don’t be afraid to mount a handlebar basket for easy to reach items such as your phone, etc. Be sure that you have quick access to your water bottles as well. It is important to hydrate during your trips even if you don’t think you’re thirsty.
Recumebents, Trikes and Other Weird Bikes.
If you’re like me, you’re riding a trike pulling a trailer or a stack of gear behind my head. Trikes and recumbents make for a really fun trip. Albeit expensive, these cruisers are much easier on the back and other body parts. Trust me when I say, I’ll never get back on an upright bike again. No thank you!
A Word About Tires
Bikes come with all sorts of different tires. The best rule of thumb is to use a hybrid or touring tire. In a pinch you can use mountain bike tires, but they really slow you down quite a bit. What you want is a strong tire with “a little” tread to get over those bumps and rough surfaces. Road slicks (road tires with no tread) are really not recommended. Most bike shops can put touring tires on your mountain bike with little effort. You shouldn’t really be paying more than $30 per tire – installed. Also, be sure that you have extra tubes (at least 3) that you carry with you in the event of a flat. This is a MUST.