Gravel bikes are bikes specially designed to be used off-pavement. This means that, yes, they can be ideal for bikepacking! There are only some instances in which another kind of bike, such as a mountain bike, might be better.
So, what should you consider in a bikepacking bike? How do you know when a gravel bike is best? Learn more below!
Ostensibly, you can use almost any bike, even a road or cross country bike, for bikepacking. Compared to using a specially-designed gravel bike or mountain bike, however, it will trickier. You may have trouble on excessively rough terrain, as well as struggle to find places to store your gear.
You see, bike types vary largely in their traction, suspension, frame material, and other key aspects. This makes some of them better-suited bikepacking than others, particularly off-pavement. So, it’s important to know what to look for (learn more below).
Your standard road bike is designed for sidewalks and pavement. Gravel bikes, on the other hand, are designed for off-pavement, tackling gravel and dirt.
Gravel bikes are made with bikepacking in mind. They come with special mounts and racks, which can hold water bottles and other gear.
While many bikes have suspension, most notably mountain bikes, gravel bikes usually have very little or none at all. Bikes without suspension are known as ‘rigid’ bikes, and they’re built for speed rather than comfort.
When you’re bikepacking, you’re unlikely to find the roads paved on the entirety of your journey. While a road bike could feasibly handle a trip on paved roads, it would be unreliable on gravel and dirt (not to mention rocks). Gravel bikes are specially designed to handle off-road terrain and to eat up miles fast.
They also provide multiple mounts and racks to hold gear. They’re an excellent choice for your average bikepacker.
If you intend to bike in extraordinarily rough terrain, like root-covered, rocky trails, a mountain bike is another type to consider. Their suspension and traction are even better!
The most important thing to consider when it comes to the right bike for backpacking (or anything, really) is the terrain. Different bikes will handle different terrains very differently. For example, mountain bikes are built with wide, super-grip tires, to tackle roots, rocks, etc.
If you were to expose a road bike to this sort of terrain, it would be significantly more difficult. Cross-country bikes and road bikes are best left to the sidewalk and pavement.
Are you deciding between a mountain bike or a gravel bike for your bikepacking trip? That’s understandable - both kinds of bikes have a lot to offer. They’re also mutually ideal for bikepacking. This leaves only one question: which is better?
On medium to rough terrain, a gravel bike can do the trick. Though it sacrifices suspension, it will move faster. On extraordinarily rough terrain, you’ll want a heavy-duty mountain bike, however.
So, how rough will your terrain be? What’s more important to you, speed or comfort? There’s your answer!
When it comes to your bike’s wheels, there are two things you’ll want to consider: their width, and their size in diameter. Wider tires tend to handle rougher terrain better. Thinner tires are built for speed, and will most likely handle rough terrain poorly. This means that, as a bikepacker, you’ll probably want medium-thick to thick wheels. Leave thin bike wheels to the short-distance racer!
The bigger your bike’s wheels are, the more traction they will have. The smaller they are, the more agile they will be. So, which sounds best for your biking needs and style?
More suspension means a bike ride that’s both smoother and easier. Unfortunately, it can also make the bike bulkier.
While bikes with low suspension, also known as rigid bikes, offer a somewhat rougher ride, they’re and faster and more streamlined as a trade-off. So, where the ideal suspension for a bikepacking bike is concerned, it really depends on what you prefer!
When it comes to off-pavement biking, the best frame materials are Chromoly steel, carbon, or, if you’ve got a buck to spend, Titanium. These metals are extremely durable, but not entirely rigid, giving bikes some flexibility over rough terrain. Aluminum is better-suited to short, quick rides on the pavement, as it is comparatively more brittle and lightweight.
If you’re a hardcore biker, it may be tempting to get only hard gears. Actually, even if you wouldn’t normally use easier gears, they can come in very handy when you bikepack.
With easier gears, you can make light work of hills and especially rough terrain. This being said, feel free to also include a few gears that are a bit harder!
So, what is the best bike for bikepacking, then? The top choices are the mountain bike and the gravel bike. Just scope out your terrain and consider speed vs comfort to decide which of the two kinds will work. Road bikes are best left to the road, and racing bikes are best left to the racetrack.
We can recommend the Tommaso Siena Shimano Tourney Gravel Adventure Bike available on Amazon here.
No matter the bike you choose, you’ll need to maintain it in order for it to function optimally. This means cleaning it every once in a while so that dirt and grit don’t eat away at it. You’ll also want to keep the gears properly lubricated, so they’re not exposed to unnecessary wear.
Check the brakes and bolts frequently, to make sure all is in order. Finally, make sure your tires have enough pressure/air. This should help keep your bike running smoothly.
As you can see, gravel bikes can make not just good, but great bikepacking bikes. They’re designed specifically for this purpose and are excellent off-pavement. They’re super fast, and they’ve got room for your gear. If you’re thinking of getting a gravel bike for your bikepacking trip, it just might do the trick!