Shredpacking Basics: Setup & Handling of a Loaded Bike on Trail

Part 1

Photos & story by Liz Sampey

Bikepacking on gravel, 4wd roads or doubletrack can be a lot of fun. You can load your bike as heavy as you’re willing to push on the climbs without having to worry too much about how it’s packed. You get away from traffic. And you can have deep conversations with your riding partner (or yourself) as you cycle merrily side-by-side, not having to pay too much attention to the terrain. After all, doubletrack is for lovers.

Shred packing with Liz Sampey, handling a loaded bike 1

Launch Your Shredpacking Career

Most people begin bikepacking on mellow terrain, and some are happy to stay on it. But at some point in your bikepacking life you may find yourself hungry to add a different kind of challenge: singletrack.

When this curiosity strikes you may be new to riding trails altogether. Or you may already be an avid mountain biker comfortable on most terrain. And you’re curious about what it might be like to ride your favorite rugged backcountry trails for days on end while sleeping under the stars… what I like to refer to as shredpacking.

Regardless of your trail riding experience, there are important things to consider when navigating singletrack, whether you’re on fast, flowy trails or rugged chunky ones.

This two-part article aims to give you a good start in launching (ha, ha) into your shredpacking career. Part 1 will focus on how to set your bike up for optimal shredpacking. Part 2 will focus on the bike handling skills you need to have the most fun and be safe on more technical terrain.

Shredpacking with Liz Sampey, handling a loaded bike 1
Shredpacking with Liz Sampey, handling a loaded bike 1
Shredpacking the Bones to Blue route in Lake Tahoe, Calif

Photo: Anthony Cupaiuolo

Note the custom split frame bag (by Rogue Panda Designs) on my bike here. This design works well for full-suspension bikes where the shock splits the triangle, such as this Revel Rascal. You’d be surprised at the storage capacity that still exists in a triangle like this one, even on a small frame.

Also, I am using a tiny seat post bag here, which my left leg is hiding in this photo, where I’ve packed my heaviest smallest items: bike tools and helmet/bar light batteries.

My handlebar roll was simply an ultralight quilt, pad, and bivy sack wrapped in a piece of Tyvek to protect it. We had mild nighttime temperatures, no rain in the forecast and frequent resupply opportunities. So I was able to get away with a very light and small load. This turned out to be great fun on this route, as it is known for its chunky, technical terrain and playful features.

Shredpacking with Liz Sampey, handling a loaded bike 1
Bikepacking the peruvian andes

Brenden James took this photo early in my bikepacking career while we bikepacked for 50 days across the Peruvian Andes. My load was heavy enough to withstand the rainy season in the Cordillera Blanca. He took this photo before I knew how to set my bike up and pack for a shreddy ride!

I had to not only forgo my dropper post but also lock my rear suspension out for many of the steep and technical singletrack descents. This significantly impacted my handling (and my type-1 fun). I made some other packing mistakes as well. I put bottles on both fork stanchions. And my bike was very front-end heavy. Although we rode plenty of wild singletrack, “shredpacking” it was not. My trail riding on this trip was, to put it bluntly, awkward and terrifying. I learned a lot from this experience.

First Things First: A Wee Bit of Terminology.

    1. Shredding: a common mountain biker “bro” slang term for riding fast, smooth, and with style on a singletrack trail.
    2. Shredpacking: shredding + bikepacking. I have no idea who first coined this term or how often it’s actually used. But it should probably be in the Urban Dictionary if it isn’t already.
    3. You don’t really have to know or use either of these terms as neither are actually real words, they’re just silly and fun.

The Nuts & bolts: Packing for Maximal Shred

While you’re looking at this section go read Huw Oliver’s article on packing your bike for a deeper dive into this topic. Before we discuss any bike handling skills, it’s important to know how to pack your bike well for trail riding so you can actually put those skills to work. The lighter your load and the more trail-specific you pack it, the more fun you’ll have riding singletrack the way you like to ride it on your unloaded bike.

Here are a few packing points I’ll highlight from Huw’s article that are especially important for handling a loaded bike, and some commentary from me on why.

Shred packing with Liz Sampey, handling a loaded bike 1 3
We can’t take ourselves too seriously here, we’re just a bunch of big kids playing on bikes!
The two main packing rules of thumb to keep in mind when you want to shredpack are these:
    1. Your bike should be as evenly weighted as possible front to rear. If you lift your bike straight up and level, fully loaded with your gear AND food/water, your bike should not tip significantly towards the front or the rear. If it is uneven, tipping slightly to the rear is better than tipping to the front, but a much heavier rear end impacts handling negatively as well.
    2. No top-heavy bikes: do your best to keep your heaviest items low on your bike (internal frame bag, down tube bag). To achieve the even weighting front to rear and make sure your bike isn’t top-heavy, read about how Huw packs his bike in the article, start there, and adapt your style according to your size, bike, and needs.

Other packing considerations:

1. Load lightweight, bulky items in the handlebar roll. Why is this important for shredpacking? If your front end is too heavy, this seriously impacts handling on the trail and especially makes it difficult to do a front wheel lift maneuver when you’re climbing or descending ledges, roots, or water bars.

        • Keep in mind the other items weighing down your front end as well: dense food and small personal items (sunscreen, camera, phone, etc) in your cockpit bags, and any fork-mounted bags or bottles. I don’t know the mechanism behind this, but many experienced bikepackers (including myself) have found that a water bottle or fork bag mounted on only one leg of the fork impacts handling much less than bottles/bags mounted on both legs.
        • Ideally you won’t need to mount anything on the fork, but when I need to do long water carries on desert bikepacking trips, I do run a bottle cage with a one-liter bike bottle in it. I did this while racing the rugged and technical 750 mile Arizona Trail, and didn’t feel it impacted my handling at all. That being said, I definitely make sure to keep the contents of my handlebar roll as light as possible when I’m using the fork bottle.

2. Load slightly heavier items in the seatpost bag; smaller/flatter ones if you’re a short rider. This is especially important for shorter riders who don’t have a lot of clearance between the seatpost bag and the rear tire, especially those who are on full suspension and also want to use a dropper seatpost. If you’re on a hardtail this isn’t as critical, but still a consideration when running a dropper post (which you will want for optimal handling on singletrack, on a hardtail or full suspension). 

        • A Skid Plate is Key: I am 5’2” with short legs, and I prefer to bikepack primarily on full-suspension bikes with dropper posts. Your harness *will* sometimes hit the tire on drops and features if you’re a short person running this configuration on technical terrain. There’s no way around it, so the best choice is to choose your seatpost harness accordingly to take those hits.
        • I use a seatpost bag harness that has a thick, robust, hard, and smooth skid plate on the bottom to protect my drybag from ripping when my harness hits the tire. It’s also designed to keep the load depth at a minimum, instead spreading it out wider and slightly longer. Heavier items should be packed closer to the post to decrease leverage on the mechanism. If you’re a taller person with a large seatpost bag, you may have buzz issues as well when you launch off ledges or drop into steep rocky descents, and a skid plate will do the trick nicely.

3. A Necessary Accessory: If you’re a shorty, or a taller person who’s using a larger seatpost bag, you’ll want to use a Wolf Tooth Valais dropper post adaptor to limit your travel. I run a 150mm dropper post and I’m able to use about ⅔ of it with my seatpost harness on board, which is a big shredpacking upgrade over not having a dropper. The Valais is also useful as a place to anchor the harness on the dropper post stanchion so it won’t scratch or rub it. 

Shredpacking with Liz Sampey, handling a loaded bike 1

A Shredpack Case Study:

The above photo is one of my full-suspension shredpacking setups. It can be looked at here as a great comparison to Huw’s bike in his article, rigged for a smaller rider to enjoy technical trail bikepacking.

This is the bike I use for ultra bikepack racing, and here it is loaded for the 2022 Colorado Trail Race. This route has long stretches between food resupplies, and I need to have the capacity to carry up to 16,000 calories at a time. The 2022 CTR was also particularly wet and cold, so I needed to carry full rain layers and a tarp in addition to my bivy, plus a dry layer to sleep in. In addition, my bike is smaller than Huw’s as I’m much shorter, and I have less clearance in the rear. 

So as you can see, in order to ride singletrack, I’ve loaded the bike a bit differently based on my height and clearance needs. Instead of overloading my handlebar roll and my seatpost bag with my extra items, negatively impacting handling and clearance, I’ve added a few more accessory bags as compared to Huw’s bike.

Extra Shredpacking Accessories

I’ve got an extra top tube bag under my seatpost and two handlebar feed bags, which house those extra calories.

 As well, I have a downtube bag which houses my bike tools and a small drybag containing my stash of helmet/bar light batteries for riding at night. For maximal shredpack potential, a down tube bag should house small, heavy things that can take a beating and don’t need to stay dry (or can be kept dry with an internal bag). 

Other than the extra food bags and the shifting of some items out of the seatpost bag and into the down tube bag to keep clearance issues at bay, my packing strategy is very similar to Huw’s.

This setup here is basically the same as I would use for a non-racing shredpacking tour, where I still prefer to pack light so the bike is more agile and handles better. The only difference is that I’d throw a small cooking kit in my backpack for a tour vs a race to enjoy some hot food and drinks at camp, and likely my Sony a6400 camera and lens.

Last but not least, Re-Set Suspension for Your Load

If you climb aboard your fully-loaded bike without resetting the suspension for a heavier load, you’re in for an unpleasant surprise.

Take the time to set your front and rear sag for your new weight once everything is in place. If you’re wearing a backpack, make sure it’s on when setting your sag. You may want to set your rear shock a little on the stiff side if you think you may be buzzing the tire frequently. But I personally find it’s best to try not to need that and use good packing techniques and a solid skid plate instead.

Now that you have your bikepacking rig shred-ready, it’s time to make sure your handling skills are dialed. We’ll cover that in Part Two.