Bikepacking on a Carbon Bike: Can you and should you


Carbon fiber is one of the most popular materials for road bikes, and has in recent years, found itself being used for a wider variety of bikes such as mountain bikes. Given the rise in the range of carbon fiber bikes available, more people are asking if bikepacking is possible on a carbon fiber bike.

Bikepacking on a carbon fiber bike is definitely possible. In fact, some bikes made from carbon fiber can be better for bikepacking than bikes made from aluminum or steel. However, road bikes made from carbon fiber are less suited for bikepacking as they prioritize weight over durability.

While you can use a carbon fiber bike for a bikepacking trip, there are some advantages and disadvantages to using a carbon fiber bike, below we go through them all in more detail to find out if using a carbon bike is right for you.

Can you go bikepacking on a carbon fiber bike?

When it comes to the question of bikepacking on a carbon fiber bike there are 2 main elements to clarify.

Firstly, you need to answer the question of whether common types of bikes used for bikepacking (for example gravel bikes or mountain bikes) can be made from carbon fiber. And if you can then use those carbon fiber bikes for bikepakcing.

Secondly, you need to establish if people are looking to use carbon fiber road bikes (the most common type of bike made from carbon fiber) that they already own for bikepacking.

The subtle difference between these two questions is important as they have significantly different answers.

Does carbon fiber make a good material for a bikepacking bike?

The first is an easy question to answer.

Bikes made from carbon fiber that has been designed with off-road riding in mind make great options for bikepacking. They are lightweight, strong, and have reinforcements in key areas to help them remain more durable.

It is as much about the build of the bike you are planning to use and the type of bike as it is the material itself.

These bikes have all the advantages of carbon fiber while minimizing many of the negatives that carbon fiber road bikes will bring.

While you will still have to make some specific adjustments to the way you plan your trip on a carbon bikepacking bike, these can make a great choice.

Can you go bikepacking on a carbon fiber road bike?

Carbon fiber is one of the strongest bike frame materials. However, the types of bikes traditionally made from carbon fiber (road or endurance bikes) tend to focus on a lighter weight and higher stiffness at the expense of durability,

If you are thinking of bikepakcing on a carbon fiber road bike, one with dropped handlebars and an aerodynamic frame, this is less suitable for bikepacking. These are typically designed to be more lightweight and make them more prone to breaking on a bikepacking trip.

This doesn’t mean you can’t use a carbon fiber road bike for a bikepacking trip, it just means you have to make more adjustments to your route and the way you set up your bike, or use alternative options may if you have these to hand.

Advantages of carbon bikes for bikepacking

Weight

Carbon fiber bikes tend to be more lightweight than their steel or aluminum alternatives. While we’ve already established that this often comes at the expense of durability, the benefits of a lightweight bike cannot be understated.

When you are bikepacking with 10-20 kilograms of gear attached to your bike, having a bike that can weigh almost half of the alternatives can be a great benefit.

Shape

Another advantage of carbon fiber bikes, in particular those carbon fiber road bikes, is their frame shape. Due to the aerodynamic shape of an endurance or road bike, the frame shape is well suited for attaching bikepacking bags such as a frame bag and allows you to use larger frame bags of these than other types of bikes such as mountain bikes.

Power transfer

Finally, carbon fiber bikes will give vastly improved power transfer when you compare them to alternatives. It is for this reason that these types of bikes are used for road or racing bikes so frequently.

Disadvantages of carbon bikes for bikepacking

Durability

While a carbon fiber bike would be suitable for the majority of bikepacking trips, some types of carbon fiber frames, specifically those thinner and more lightweight road bikes are more susceptible to breaking than alternatives such as steel or titanium.

Having a more fragile frame adds an extra element of risk to your trip, which some people would prefer not to take. This is especially true given the fact that when carbon fiber bikes become structurally compromised, the types of failure you can experience tend to be riskier than other types of bikes such as aluminum.

Any chip or scratch on carbon can separate the fibers, this can cause them to delaminate, and may eventually lead to a catastrophic failure. The ability for a small area of damage to quickly impact the structural integrity of a carbon fiber bike is one of the reasons people are hesitant to use them for bikepacking.

Bikepacking trips can be very tough on your bike. People get more clumsy as they get tired, I’ve knocked my bike over more times than I can remember on my bikepacking trips. Not only this but on longer cycling trips you are more likely to crash or slip with your bike, both of which could seriously damage a carbon frame.

Inability to attach bags directly to the frame

Another key disadvantage to carbon is that you are unable to attach bags or gear to a carbon bike as easily as you can with other alternative frame materials. Where you would normally just strap a pannier or bikepacking bag directly to an aluminum or steel frame, this is not possible with carbon fiber frames.

A bag attached to a carbon bike, especially bikepacking-specific bags, will contact the frame. In these cases, the movement of the bag can be enough to wear through the paint and the epoxy, over time resulting in the same level of damage that a crash could.

Owners of carbon fiber bikes will suggest that you don’t even clamp them into a bike stand, if this isn’t advisable, you can imagine the effect that attaching gear and bags to a bike such as this could have, especially in the long term.

My dad put a hole in his down tube from a mudguard rubbing on it during a 200km ride

This same wearing away can happen over time if mud deposits on your chainstays. Riding with too much mud stuck on your tires can lead to this area also wearing down and becoming weaker.

Not only can bikepacking-specific bags rub against the bike frame, but many carbon fiber bikes are incompatible with racks, making your choice of storage on your trip very limited.

Poor gearing or specifications for rough terrain

Finally, many carbon bikes are designed for speed and low weight. As a result, the gearing they come with may be too high for the type of riding you will be doing on your trip.

On top of this, a lot of carbon road bikes will have shorter chainstays, meaning your feet will be more likely to hit the wheels as you turn or any bags that you have placed near the wheels of the bike.

How to bikepack with a carbon fiber bike

Tape up your frame

When it comes to bikepacking with a carbon fiber bike, we’ve established there are a few key areas where they have disadvantages. This however doesn’t mean you can’t use a carbon fiber bike for a bikepacking trip, it just means you have to plan a little more carefully.

First of all, one of the main concerns with carbon fiber bikes for bikepakcing is if any bag rubbing could damage the frame. This can easily be overcome using frame protection tape or frame protectors.

Simply attach these to the same areas of the frame that will be in contact with your bags and this should help to limit any damage they could cause.

Change the tires

Another key change you can make to a carbon fiber bike before a bikepacking trip is to change the tires you have on the bike. Particularly on a carbon fiber road bike, the type of tires that will be on the bike will have poor grip and won’t be the best suited for off-road cycling. If you are looking to do a bikepakcing trip consider getting the widest tires you can fit on your bike, and look for some with more grip.

When it comes to wearing away as a result of mud from the tires, there are a few key steps you can also take.

Firstly, make sure to choose tires that have a decent amount of clearance from the bike (try not to pick tires that only just fit inside the area designed for the wheel). This allows any mud on the tire to travel around with the wheel rather than being rubbed against the frame of the bike.

If you can’t do this or in particularly muddy areas it can also be worth stopping to clean off your tires.

Pack light

A step we’d advise on any bikepakcing trip, but more so with a carbon fiber bike, is to pack light. We’ve established that carbon fiber frames aren’t always designed to carry lots of gear, and any extra weight on the bike, if you were to crash, is going to make any damage you sustain worse.

Adjust your route

Finally, if using a carbon fiber bike for a bikepacking trip, especially a carbon fiber road bike, you should try to pick a route or tour that will keep you on easier terrain. With road bikes being designed with high gear ratios, and tires that often aren’t best designed for grip, picking a slightly easier route can make a big difference.

Overall

In summary, carbon fiber bikes can definitely be suitable for a bikepakcing trip, as long as you are aware of the disadvantages they come with and prepare accordingly.

However, if I was looking to buy a bike specifically for bikepacking, I would prefer to look at alternative materials such as titanium or steel which don’t require as much forethought.

Mark Holmes

30-year-old doctor with an interest in cycling, bikepacking, and statistics.

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