With the rise in the popularity of cycling and bikepacking, many newer riders are wondering if they can use their road bikes for a bikepacking trip. As a keen bikepacker who has been on many trips with my road bike, I thought I would take the time to explain if you can do it, and the best tricks to make it easier. So, can you bikepack on a road bike?
In general, you can go bikepacking on a road bike, however, you will need to adjust your route to suit the bike you have. This requires you to stick to paved or smoother road surfaces and to pack much lighter, due to the lower weight restriction on road bikes.
So, now we know that you can go bikepacking on a road bike, but what is the best way to do it? I take a look at this, as well as take you through all my favourite tricks for using a road bike on your first bikepacking trip in the rest of the article.
Can you go bikepacking on a road bike?
Bikepacking is meant to be a minimalist hobby that is open to everyone, so the type of bike you have should not get in the way of whether or not you go bikepacking.
However, in reality, the type of bike you have will have a large impact on the type of bikepacking you can do. Whether or not you can go bikepacking on a road bike will depend on how extreme of a bikepacking trip you are planning and what type of road bike you have.
In general, while any road bike can be used for a biking adventure, the type of riding you end up doing on a road bike may be more akin to bike touring than bikepacking (if you want to understand the difference, take a look at my article here).
What type of road bike do you have?
Road bikes range from ultralight carbon fibre racing bikes to much more durable titanium road bikes. How well your bike is suited for bikepacking will depend on where on this spectrum it falls.
In general, the faster your road bike, the less suited to bike packing it will be. Faster road bikes are lightweight, made of less durable materials and have a more uncomfortable riding position, all of which make them worse for bikepacking.
What type of trip do you have planned?
As we’ve already established, whether or not you can use a road bike for a bikepacking trip depends on the type of road bike you have and also on the terrain you will be cycling on.
A road bike will work for a bikepacking trip provided you are staying on easy terrain, for example, paved roads, bike paths, and smooth unpaved surfaces (for example very smooth gravel paths).
If you are planning a trip on paths that are harder or more complex than this (for example on mountain bike paths, snow, ice or sand), then a road bike may not be suitable.
Why would you use a road bike for bikepacking?
|What are the disadvantages of a road bike for bikepacking?|
|Made from lightweight materials which are not durable|
|Can be uncomfortable on bumpy terrain|
|Not designed for multiple days in the saddle|
|Tires are thinner|
|Wheels have fewer spokes, making them more prone to breaking|
|Small tire clearance makes muddy cycling harder|
|Lower weight limit (Some road bikes have a weight limit of 100kg)|
|Gearing is designed for fast-paced riding, not uphill or technical cycling|
|Limits the terrain you can cycle on|
|The riding position is more aggressive which can become uncomfortable|
|Higher risk of accident and injury|
|What are the advantages of a road bike for bikepacking?|
|Road bikes can be faster on the right terrain|
|You can travel further on a road bike on the right type of path|
|You do not need to buy a second bike if you already have a road bike|
|Bikepacking bags can attach to almost any bike|
|The bike weighs less, so you can carry it if needed|
How to go bikepacking on a road bike?
Adjust your route
When planning a bikepacking trip with your road bike, it is important to adjust the route you are taking for the bike you have at hand. We’ve already established that road bikes only work well on flat and smooth surfaces, so make sure to include these in your route!
If you are planning your trip, I’d suggest using an app called Komoot, which allows you to plan a route, look at elevations, see other riders’ routes and even gives you turn-by-turn navigation when you set out.
Remember to look at all the stages of your route on Komoot, and use other apps like google street view to see what the terrain looks like. Be prepared to carry or push your bike through sections of your route if it’s required.
Once you’ve used Komoot to find somewhere that has the smooth road or gravel paths that you are looking for, I’d suggest you try and plan a route that goes through a town once or twice a day. Stopping at a town or village can be a good place to restock and refill, meaning that you have to carry less food and water than you might otherwise have to, which is important given the lower weight limit on a road bike.
Make your bike more comfortable
There are a few adjustments you can make to a road bike before your trip to make it more comfortable to ride. The first of these is to put on a pair of wider tires. Road bikes often come with 23mm or 25mm wide tires, however, they can often accommodate tires up to 28mm or even 32mm. The wider the tire you have, the more stable you will be as you cycle and the more the tire will be able to absorb the bump of the road.
As well as changing to wider tires, you can also look to run your tires at a lower pressure. This again helps to increase the grip of your tires and the comfort of your ride. Wider tires can be run at lower pressures so these two changes work well together.
Given road bikes are less good at handling the vibrations caused by bumps in the road, it can be helpful to double-wrap your handlebar tape for a bikepacking trip. On longer more technical rides, you will be gripping the handlebars for hours a day, and a second layer between you and the tough handlebar material can help to reduce aches, pains and numb fingers.
You can also look to adjust the position of your handlebars and saddle to help you feel more relaxed as you ride. Road bikes are shaped to put you into an aerodynamic “racing” position, and adjusting your saddle and handlebar height to let you sit in a more natural position can reduce back or shoulder aches on longer rides.
The final thing you can do to make your ride more comfortable is to adjust your bike gear. Swapping out your current gears for a lower gear set can make uphill sections of your ride much easier, especially if you are carrying lots of gear.
Prepare for bike maintenance issues
A road bike is less durable than other types of bikepacking bikes such as mountain bikes, and so is more prone to breaking down. The narrow tires of a road bike are much more prone to punctures than the wider fat tires of a mountain bike, and so it is essential to bring the gear required to change a flat tire. Also, make sure you actually know how to use it.
Another step you can take to help this is to consider swapping out for tubeless tires. These are much less likely to get a flat tire and can be easier to fix if you do have an issue, the only problem is how expensive they can be, and whether or not your bike is compatible with them. You can take a look in more detail at the advantages and disadvantages of tubeless tires for bikepacking in my bikepacking wheel upgrade guide.
Bikepacking on a road bike means you have to pack light. You have less packing space due to the bag options available, you have a lower weight limit on your bike, and your gears are not designed for uphill riding.
All of this means that any weight you can cut is significant. Consider if every item you are taking is essential, and cut anything that is not. Just take the necessities.
You can also consider planning a credit card bikepacking trip to reduce the weight requirements on you and your bike. This involves bikepacking during the day and then checking yourself into a hotel or Airbnb at night (instead of camping). This means you do not have to carry the extra weight of a shelter, sleeping bag or as much food, and can be a great way to reduce the amount of gear you need to carry.
Protect your bike
Road bikes are made from less durable materials such as carbon fibre. As such they are more at risk of being damaged on a bikepacking trip, and probably not in the way you expect.
If you are strapping items to your bike frame or using bikepacking bags, these will sway back and forward as you cycle. This swaying motion can rub away at the bike frame material and paintwork of the bike, damaging it and even completely breaking frames over a long enough period of time.
Before you set out on a long trip, you can use a frame tape (like this stuff on amazon) over the areas of the frame where bags and gear are likely to rub. You can also put it on the forks of your bike if your route is particularly rough and there is a chance of you knocking into stones or tree trunks which could also damage the paintwork.
Some riders suggest using painter’s tape in place of official frame tape to save on costs, however, I have not tried this and so can’t recommend it either way.
Get a cheap set of lights
Before you set out on a bikepacking trip, I would suggest investing in a cheap set of bike lights.
Normally on my road bike, I have quite an expensive pair of lights (the type you buy but probably don’t need). After losing too many bike lights on bikepacking trips, I now take these expensive lights off my bike, swapping them out for a cheaper pair.
The type of riding you do on a bikepacking trip is very different to your standard road cycling, and the bumps and vibrations of the road can knock bike lights and other bike accessories loose. Not only can this be costly, but it can also be dangerous if you are caught out late without any lights.
If I am planning to cycle late into the night or in a very unlit area, I keep my powerful and more expensive front light on my bike and only swap out the rear light (which is mainly there to alert other riders and cars to your presence).
Have a test ride
This is probably the most important step in this whole section. I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to do a test ride on your road bike before bikepacking. Bikepacking bags can knock your knees, your bike might be too heavy or even unstable. There are so many moving parts on your bike that you need to make sure they all work well together before you set out.
How to carry your gear on a road bike?
When going on a bikepacking trip, there’s a lot you need to carry, from your tent and sleeping bag all the way to spare clothes and toiletries.
On larger bikes designed for bikepacking, you have a lot of options, however, on a road bike, your choices are more limited.
Can you attach panniers to a road bike?
Often, road bikes do not have attachment points for panniers or racks. This means that you are unable to attach most pannier racks and bags to your road bike and cannot use these for a bikepacking trip.
Some “universal” pannier racks can attach to your bike frame using clips and screws directly to the frame. These do not require the attachment points of a typical pannier rack but I would advise against using them.
Having used these on my own bike in the past, I found that they caused scratches to the paint and were much heavier than a normal pannier rack. On top of this. they seemed less well positioned and so pannier bags bumped into my back wheels as I rode.
Can you attach bikepacking bags to a road bike?
Bikepacking bags are designed to be attached to any type of bike by velcro straps. The most common bikepacking bags used by bikepackers are frame bags, saddle bags and handlebar bags. You can take a more detailed look at the different types of bikepacking bags in my article here.
The only things to watch out for with bikepacking bags on a road bike are that the bags fit your particular bike frame and that they are not rubbing against the frame as your ride, particularly if you have a carbon fibre bike.
Road bikes have narrower handlebars than other types of bikes and so you may find that not all handlebar bags fit your specific bike. As well as this, you need to check that the gear you plan to store in your handlebar bag fits into this narrower space. To help you fit more gear in between your handlebars you can try using a compression bag (like this one found on amazon) to compress your gear enough to fit into the gap/bag.
How do bikepackers carry their gear on a road bike?
As the majority of road bikes will not work with panniers or racks, most bikepackers using road bikes will use a combination of bikepacking bags, strapping items directly to your bike and other types of bags such as a rucksack (although save this as a final option if you really need it) to carry their gear.
In general, while backpacks are an option, the more weight you can carry on your bike instead of yourself the better, as this will make the ride more comfortable and help you remain more stable.
I would also suggest you look to protect the underside of your saddle bag as road bikes do not have mudguards, and thus lots of mud, water and stones can be thrown up and at the bottom of your saddle bag. You can reinforce the bottom of the bag with more frame tape or invest in a mudguard if your bike is compatible with them.
What are the best bikepacking road bikes?
While the majority of people looking to use a road bike for bikepacking are those that already own a road bike, some cyclists want a road bike for the majority of their cycling that can also work for the occasional bikepacking trip. Below I recommend 2 different road bikes that are designed for bikepacking. They each sit on different ends of the spectrum, with the Salsa Warroad being designed to be more of a road bike and the Reilly Gradient designed to be more of a bikepacking bike.
The Salsa Warroad would make a good option for someone who wants a road bike for the majority of the year, but who wants the option to do very occasional bikepacking trips on very smooth terrain. It is made from carbon fibre, which makes it very lightweight and fast, and has some mounting points available.
|Carbon fibre frame|
|Up to 35mm wide tires|
|Some mounting points|
|Comfortable frame geometry|
The Reilly Gradient would make a good option for someone who wants to do both bikepacking and road cycling all year round, but who only wants one bike. This bike does compromise slightly on some road bike features and weighs 1kg more than the Salsa Warroad, however, it makes up for these with the ability to fit much wider tires, better gearing options for bikepacking and loads of mounting points for gear and bags.
|Up to 50mm wide tires|
|2X gear option available|
|Multiple mounting points|
As you can see, bikepacking on a road bike is definitely possible, it just needs a bit more planning and a few adjustments to your route.
If you are thinking about planning your first bikepacking trip, take a look at my trip planning guide here.