In our final chapter, we elevate our bikepacking skills, exploring advanced techniques and wisdom for those ready to take their adventure further.
Bikepacking, as an activity performed in nature, requires certain survival skills and the ability to solve various problems. Here are some tips on gear, mechanics, and riding that you should consider.
Depending on your bike, you might prefer a handlebar bag that is elongated rather than compact, so it doesn't need a large diameter. Consider the space from the handlebar to the fork neck, as well as the handlebar width, and get creative in finding space if you have a curved handlebar.
For your safety and the longevity of your handlebar and saddle bags, regularly check the distance between your bags and the respective wheels to avoid physical contact during jumps, bumps, or steep descents. Your safety and the durability of your bags are paramount.
I emphasize watertightness, not just waterproofness. Good bags should be absolutely waterproof (though nylon covers can always be added). More importantly, they should be watertight, meaning water can't penetrate the fabric, even by immersion, nor enter through the closure. Remember, water doesn’t just fall from the sky; passing cars or your own wheels might splash it, and crossing rivers in mountain or remote areas could fully submerge your bags. With waterproof and watertight bags, you can cross with the assurance that everything will stay dry.
In situations where you need to carry your bike over non-cyclable terrain or during air transport, the best solution is to carry the bike on your back.
For short carries, lift the bike over your shoulders, enduro-style. For longer treks, use adjustable straps, like those for attaching mats to a backpack, to separately attach each component.
I prefer to remove the pedals and wheel closures to prevent them from poking your back. First, attach the frame to the backpack. The handlebars can be positioned up or down, depending on your height and the size of the load. Personally, I like the handlebars down to protect the gearshift box from accidental bumps.
Secure the handlebar position with a strap to prevent it from moving and hitting your calves or touching the ground on large steps. Place the front wheel at the top of the frame and the rear wheel below, utilizing the space at the kidney area. Be careful not to scratch the frame with the cassette. Once each element is attached separately, you’ll find the setup quite compact if you used mountain backpack straps. You’ll be comfortable and hands-free, ready to pass through exposed areas or non-cyclable sections like an Italian 'Bersaglieri'. Of course, protect your frame with AMS frame guards to maintain the color and condition of your paint stylishly.
A plumber's clamp, like those used for attaching racks to the fork, can perfectly attach a curved handlebar lever (from gravel/adventure bikes). It's improbable, but lever attachments on gravel bikes undergo a lot of stress. Also, carrying several cable ties in your emergency tool kit is useful, as they can fix almost anything.
Even with tubeless tires, you can get a puncture, but one advantage is adjusting tire pressure based on the load and terrain. If you often encounter thorns on trails, tubeless tires are a must to avoid frequent stops. However, always carry a spare tube to get out of a jam (after thoroughly checking that no thorns remain in the tire).
With a box of patches (4) and proper use, you might not need a spare tube (1), but changing a tube is usually faster than repairing a puncture. Don't forget tire levers (2); sometimes we buy the cheapest ones, which can bend or be ineffective at removing the tire. Cheap can be expensive.
Not replacing a chain (approximately 15-30 euros, depending on the model) can lead to wear on the cassette and chainring teeth, resulting in more expensive repairs. Regularly measure the chain (it stretches with use) and be diligent about replacing it. Conduct daily (lubrication) and weekly general maintenance, checking tightening torques and cable conditions.
An essential part of your survival kit for a trip with panniers is carrying a multitool and, of course, knowing how to use it. If you're inexperienced, consider taking a basic mechanics course, making it easier to tackle problems. Keep it accessible, not at the bottom of an inaccessible bag, as you'll often use it for bike adjustments. Place it in the handlebar or top tube bag for daily micro-adjustments.
Gradually test your bike's reactions as you load different bags to understand necessary corrections or potential 'surprises'. Don't rush and learn slowly how your bike behaves with various bags and eventually with all of them fully loaded.
Just because you have bags on your bike doesn’t mean you can’t jump. In fact, one of the advantages over panniers is that the dynamic experience is incredibly better than if you were carrying racks and bulky panniers.
Mounting and Dismounting
With bags on, mounting a bikepacking bike can be tricky due to the saddle bag and/or a bag on the top tube. Practice mounting and dismounting to get comfortable with the new constraints. It may seem trivial, but stationary falls often cause typical wrist fractures from falling directly onto a specific area, while rolling falls dissipate some energy against the ground.
Don't be embarrassed; practice as many times as necessary to be mindful of it.
With these advanced insights, your bikepacking journey has no limits. Embrace the trails ahead with confidence and curiosity.
And to sum up, here you have the full AMS (by Javi Baiz) 101 guide to bikepacking: