What’s the ideal bikerafting bike? Yikes, how to answer that?! We get a lot of questions about what kind of bikes one should use for bikerafting. As always, the answer depends on a lot of things, which we highlight below. There’s really no right or wrong answer. But there are some guidelines you can consider. In this brief excerpt from The Bikeraft Guide, Doom talks about some of the options. And luckily, with the increased interest in this activity, there’s been a plethora of articles and videos published on the subject. Do your research!
Want more information about bikerafting? Check out the July 2023 The Radvaist article, “Now and the Future of Bikerafting: Unpacking the 2023 Bikerafting Guide Survey Results.”
THE PERFECT BIKERAFTING BIKE? hmmmmm....
If you’re reading this book, you’re probably already an avid cyclist or at least an aspiring cyclist, and you KNOW riding bicycles is fun. You may even have a quiver of bicycles. But, as an aspiring bikerafter, if you can only have one bike, what would you choose to optimize your bikerafting joy? A fat-tire bike (aka “fatbike”)? A hardtail mountain bike? A gravel bike? A full-suspension mountain bike? Really it depends so much on what sort of adventures you want to do, where you want to go, and so many other things. We hope these suggestions on bikes and cycling gear will give you a bit of guidance.
However, don’t just take our word for it. Many fine companies offer bikes and bike bags, and what you choose should be a reflection of your values, desires and finances, among other things. Use this as a starting point in your research adventures. And then find and talk with the knowledgeable people at your local bike shop or experienced friends.
Test, Borrow, Beg, Steal... (well maybe not the last one)
Also, test out a few different bicycles and bike bags (by renting, demoing or borrowing them). You can do this in various places, from mom and pop shops like Kokopelli Bike & Board out of Cortez, CO (the shop from which we rent bikes for our guide service), to various online websites, such as Rockgeist.com or OutdoorsGeek.com, which ship internationally. We also recommend you take a bikepacking workshop, single- or multi-day course with companies like Swift Industries, Seattle, Wash., or, of course, with Four Corners Guides in Colorado and Utah; the company specializes in bikerafting. A new company has started since we published the book. Packraft Maine runs bikerafting courses.
Finally, join Bikepacking Roots, the nonprofit that advocates for bikepackers. The organization connects bikepackers through its Go Bikepacking! events, forums, and in numerous other ways. Their goal is to “grow the bikepacking community by welcoming, engaging, and connecting people of all races, sexual orientations, backgrounds, and skill levels.” And they mean it. They have a bi-racial board of directors, a grant dedicated to BIPOC riders, and a strong desire to be one of the most inclusive outdoor nonprofits in America.
Now onto our regularly scheduled Q&A with Doom…
What are the advantages and disadvantages of hardtails bikes versus fatbikes versus full suspension bikes for bikerafting?
If you’re going to do a bikepacking or bikerafting trip on the Colorado Trail or more established, high-quality trails, in places that are conducive to riding fast, you may want a full suspension bike. However, you’re typically not going to be adding the rafting component in this situation. And, full-suspension bikes aren’t awesome for bikerafting. Consider what’s going to happen to all the mechanical parts when your bike gets wet repeatedly; water and suspension on most mountain bikes don’t get along.
Plus, full-suss bikes are expensive! You definitely don’t need a $5000 bike to go bikepacking or bikerafting. Nor do you need the suspension. On the other hand, if that’s all you’ve got, you can certainly make it work.
I do most of my trips on rough, slow terrain using a hardtail, fatbike or even rigid bike. They’re ideal for most exploratory bikerafting trips or semi or off-piste trips. Big tires can roll over things, especially sandy, cobbly, snowy or otherwise difficult to ride landscapes.
If you’re riding decent dirt roads, double track or single track, consider bringing your hardtail. For the sandiest, snowiest or most glaciated the terrain, bring a fatbike. The air volume of the five-inch tires of fatbikes gives you the suspension you need. On this type of terrain you’d be walking 90% of the time with the newest, best mountain bikes. With fat or plus-tired bikes you’ll be riding 60-80% of the time. There’s just a lot less that can go wrong with a rigid fatbike!
So if I was to get one bike, what do you recommend I get?
Well there isn’t one bike for everything. But, plus bikes fill a lot of needs. “Plus” refers to an intermediate tire width between a full fat bike and a typical mountain bike, generally around 3 inches. You can use them on pretty sandy, desert terrain, to ride fun single track or to ride in a few inches of snow on a trail or road. If you’re going on a real snow ride, however, they’re terrible. And you won’t get very far on a sandy beach. But it’s a great in-betweener. If you can only get one bike, I’d recommend getting a plus bike (with three-inch tires, 27.5” or 29” wheel diameter).
What should I have in my bike kit?
My long-distance kit is ready for everything. You need to be able to fix a broken spoke (a good solution is the FIBERFIX Emergency Spoke Replacement Kit). You also need to be able to fix a flat, even if you use a tubeless tire setup such as Stan’s. So bring multiple spare tubes and extra tire sealant. You also need spare parts, a piece of chain, a chain breaker tool, a multi-tool, a knife, and pliers. It’s good to know what speed drivetrain you have to make sure you have the right quicklink.
In Part 2 we answer a bunch of other random questions…
Want to learn more about what to pack for bikerafting or bikepacking? We’ve got a bunch of articles. Check out:
- Part 2 of this article 😉
- How to Pack Your Bike for Bikepacking, by Huw Oliver (not specific to bikerafting, but helpful nonetheless)
- Pack This: A Tajikistan Bikerafting Kit, by Steve “Doom” Fassbinder (packing for month-long international bikerafting adventures)
- Bikerafting Pack This Tip: What’s in Your 2-Day Bikeraft Kit? By Lizzy Scully