Since a few years building travel bikes became my big passion. I´m not really a mechanic, but I maintain bikes since ever, build travel bikes since 10 years and meet and host bike travellers frequently. I saw people cycling the world on folding bikes, tandems and over-aged 6-gear bikes. but also on freeride fullys, carbon road bikes, laying bikes, with trailers, dogs and kids: there is no limit in price and diversity.
I love that diversity of individuality of ideas everybody got for his/her bike. I love to see them raising to turn from sport equipment to a true world conqueror. When ever I put hand on a travel bike, I feel myself going with her to new adventures where never a bike went before.
While travelling by bike, you got a unique relationship with your vehicle. Sometimes a brave warrior, sometimes she´s a pretentious diva! But if you and your bike fit together and take care of each other this relationships brings you safe, healthy and individual where ever you want to go!
Which packing system is the best for you? Suspension or not? What type of tires to use and what equipment to carry? So many factors play a role while finding the best bike for your needs! It´s not necessarily about high-end components, but about finding a faithful partner for big adventures.
By the time I got some experiences in travel bike building and developed my own style with some individual budget solutions. And figured out the difference between the diva and the warrior.
My experience tells me that it’s not necessary to get a high-end bike to travel, but you shouldn’t spare on the wrong ends. Following my idea you should get a solid allround travel bike for a total price of 400 – 700 Euro.
The first and maybe most important decision while designing your bike is the frame. It takes decision over your riding position and your wheel size and got influence on your loading capacity and wheel profil. It depends and decides a lot about the character of your trip. So be conscious in your decision.
Normally I would always go for a mountainbike, unless you frequently suffer back pains or you search your luck only in doing kilometers. A moutainbike gives you the freedom to leave the literally beaten track. You got more control on dirt roads and more security on slippery streets. A classic touring bike meanwhile is more comfortable, speeds you up and spares energy as long as you are on asphalt.
If you take care on the frame geometry you can find a quite good middle way matching with your requirements.
Once this general decision is taken you can consider the components and equipment and than…
Enjoy your journey in good and bad times till (hopefully the bikes) death parts you!
The idea of bikepacking is to be lightweight and to be able to enjoy the rails as good as possible without the handycap of the luggage.
The choice of the frame is strongly related to the terrain you want to do. The most common choice are crosscountry hardtail bikes. I, myself, prefer a full suspension. No compromises!
Choose a frame with as many standard parts as possible. Brand-specific parts afterwards will be difficult to find. The more aggressive mountainbiking you want to do, the smaller you can choose the frame size. For long distance travelling I would suggest half a size bigger as your bike at home.
Keep the mount of the back suspension in mind, to consider how to use the middle part of your frame for any luggage.
Luggage back wheel
As on touring bikes the main weight is on the back wheel. To avoid the sedated response of a travel bike, you hae to bring your luggage and your bike in an aerodynamic line. The best solution are backpacking specific seat bags, which carry up to 15L.
A cheaper solution, but with a more rugged handling, are seatpost racks. With an appropriate bag on top or at least two classical panniers.
Classic touring handlebar bags as ORLTLIEB ULTIMATE are quite inflexible. For bumpy mountainbike rides, this might cause some demages, but at least a big mass inside the bag. Also with time the bags will also suffer the terrain what they are not made for.. Ideal are longer but thinner handlebar bags along the handle bars as ORTLIEB HANDLEBAR-PACK.
I used my Ortlieb ULTIMATE. During the rougher parts I supported the bag with an additional EXPANDER, and was mostly happy with this solution
Most bikebackers use the inner part of their frame for another bag. I decided to leave it open and use it to have a quick access to my locker, air pump and water. Nevertheless, the space you have here is quite narrow and receives all punches the bike suffers.
Bikepacking bikes shouldn’t be that heavy as touring mountainbikes, but they should go much more heavy trails. Therefore they suffer at least the same. Try to carry always a few extra spokes!
The rider, the luggage and the bike easily exceed a 100 kg. To enjoy the trails and riding save you need traction. 2,2” tires should be the minimum. I used Schwalb Hans Dampf, heavy mountainbike tires with 2,4” and stronger KASKADE. Indeed a perfect tire for my mountainbike tours. If you do that I would suggest to carry a second pair, super slim tires with you, if you also want touring for longer distances.
A good suspension makes the biggest difference between a travel mountainbike and a bikepacking bike. Suspensions on bikepacking bikes got a real hard job to do! You want to go mountainbiking and they have to support all the weight. Steal is surly the best option, because it’s less maintaining intensive and more reliable, but hard to find in a mid-class price ranch. If you have an air suspension keep it clean and control the air pressure frequently. A slow rebound makes the bike more comfortable to ride.
Go for a seat you feel comfortable with. Of course a harder seat offers you a better power transmission, but this is not a one days race, it’s a stage challenge. You have to enjoy riding for days and days and days…..
We are building a mountainbike. There is no limit now. Sparing weight here is competitively expensive, so that we don’t need to go for high end material. As this are expendable parts you might keep in mind replacement parts that exists in your destination. Shimano Deore 3×9 might look a bit old fashioned to some of you, but have you ever tried to find an 11-gear cassette in Bolivia or Albania?
Even if you want to travel light, you will always carry a lot of water with you. On a bikepacking bike this is a bigger challenge as on normal touring bikes. Many riders got bottles on the front suspension. To me that seems to challenging for the material and uncomfortable to handle in narrow or bumpy trails. I placed my water on the top tube instead, what also improved the weight balance over the entire bike.