What Is The Best Material For A Bikepacking Bike: Complete guide and how to pick flowchart


It is important to start with some basics. When choosing a bike for bikepacking, two of the key factors to look at, are the type of the bike and the material which that bike is made from. The type of bike (mountain bike, gravel bike, touring bike, etc) is not the same as the material that that bike is made from (Aluminium, Steel, Carbon fiber, etc), but they are related. Choosing which material is best for your bikepacking bike can be confusing, there are lots of possible options, and knowing which one meets your needs is tricky.

Titanium is the best overall bikepacking frame material provided that budget is not a concern. Titanium is almost the perfect choice for bikepacking due to its low weight, durability, and versatility. However, if you are looking to do any long-distance or transcontinental bikepacking trips, you may want to consider an alternative such as steel.

While titanium is our pick for the best overall frame material, there is no definitive answer for everyone. In this article, we’ll go over the weight, durability, cost, versatility, and popularity of the most common bike frames, and give you some advice to help you pick the one that will be best for you. Make sure to take a look at the flowchart at the end of the article for an easy way to work out which framer material is best for your needs. If you want more information on the type of bike to choose for bikepacking, take a look at our article on the best types of bikes for bikepacking.

What are your choices of material for a bikepacking bike frame?

There are 4 main types of material to choose from when considering which material is best for your bikepacking frame.

Aluminum

Aluminum bike frames are made from an aluminum alloy, the most common material for bike frames overall. The most expensive aluminum bike frames come with a fork made from carbon fiber (the fork is the piece of the bike that the front wheel is attached to), this helps to combine the benefits of both of these types of material.  Aluminum is seen as a very good “all-rounder” when it comes to bike frame materials.

Carbon fiber

Carbon fiber bike frames are made from a composite material made up of woven strands of carbon fiber bound together by a resin binder. This process makes a very strong but lightweight material. Carbon fiber bike frames are traditionally used on high-end road bikes, however, in recent years, carbon fiber frames have started to be used for mountain biking and other types of riding such as bikepacking.  

Titanium

Titanium bike frames are made from a titanium alloy, a very light but strong material.  It is resistant to corrosion, non-toxic, and has the highest strength-to-density ratio of all metals (which is one of the reasons it has been used in the aerospace industry for so many years). Titanium bike frames were first produced in the 1980s but quickly fell out of fashion due to the high price of producing them. In recent years though, new production techniques have been developed that make titanium bike parts more affordable than ever.

Steel

Steel bike frames are made from a steel alloy of iron and carbon, with small amounts of other elements added for strength and corrosion resistance. Steel is often categorized by its “alloying” elements, with the traditional type of steel used for bike frames being  “mild steel” (also known as low-carbon steel). In recent years, “Chromoly steel”, a different subtype of steel has become popular, as it is stronger and more durable, weight for weight, than the traditional mild carbon steel used for bike frames. Steel used to be the most common frame material for bikes generally, however, in recent years this has been overtaken by aluminum.

A very general summary

While all of these materials are good options for a bikepacking bike frame, there are advantages and disadvantages to each type. Below is a table summarising the main benefits of each material that bikepackers suggested when we asked them. These are very much broad generalizations about each material but do help to give you an idea of the positives and negatives.

Frame materialSuggested benefits
SteelTried & tested
Strong
Easy to repair
Cheap
AluminumLighter than steel but also weaker
Difficult to repair
Cheap
Carbon FiberThe lightest option
Very strong unless it cracks
Can be repaired by professionals
TitaniumThe strongest option
Lighter than steel but heavier than the others
Most expensive

How much do different bikepacking frames weigh?

Is a lightweight bike actually any better?

Before we look into the different weights of different bikepacking frames, it is important to understand why the weight of your frame is important. There are obvious advantages to a lighter bike, such as being able to more easily transport it, however, the main reason people look to buy a lighter bike, is that people assume a lighter bike will make you faster.

In our article looking into the weight of different bike frames, we explored Jim Gourley’s work on the impact of the weight of a bike on your speed, and found surprisingly, that it didn’t have as much of an impact as you we expected. While a lighter bike has its benefits, it’s important to understand that the actual advantages in terms of speed are minimal.

What are the lightest bikepacking frame materials?

A bike frame’s weight is linked to the density of the material it is made from. The lightest bike frame material is carbon fiber by a considerable margin. Carbon fiber road bikes weigh on average 7.9kg compared to 8.6kg for the next lowest weight material (aluminum). The heaviest bike frame material is steel which weighed an average of 9.4kg per bike in our review of the heaviest and lightest bike frame materials. These averages were based on a range of different road bikes rather than bikes designated for bikepacking, but the findings are still relevant.

A graph showing the average weight of bikes made form different frame materials

How much does the average bikepackers bike weigh?

We asked our bikepakcing community how much the bikes they took on their bikepacking trips weighed. The results varied depending on which type of bike they took on their trip, but you can see that the averages range between 10.1 and 14.2 kilograms. The lightest bike a cyclist took on their trip was 9kg and the heaviest bike was 16.6kg.

Type of bikeAverage bike weight (kg)
Gravel Bike10.1
Mountain Bike14.2
Touring Bike13.2
A table showing the average weights of bikepacking bikes

Which bikepacking frame materials are the strongest and most durable?

More so than other types of cycling, a bikepacking bike frame has to be able to withstand the stresses and forces put through it. Bikepacking frames have to carry more weight than other types of bike (all that unnecessary gear you carry with each trip), while withstanding rougher terrain and extended periods of time being kept outside.

When we looked at the most durable bike frame material, it was clear that titanium is the most durable bike frame material overall, it is resistant to rust, has the second-highest tensile strength of the materials that are used to make bike frames, and is the least prone to cracking of all bike frame materials. If you are looking for bike frame durability above all else, titanium should be the frame material you choose.

Steel is the next best alternative when it comes to durability, steel is the second most resistant to cracks, and has the added benefits of being easy to repair if you are planning a long-distance bikepacking trip, as well as being more flexible than titanium and so offering a more comfortable ride. The main disadvantage of steel over titanium is that steel is prone to rust, so you need to ensure you properly maintain your bike if you are taking it on a long bikepacking trip.

A graph showing the fracture toughness of the common bikepacking bike frame materials

Which bikepacking frame material is the most versatile?

We’ve already established that bikepacking is a very varied form of cycling, some trips can be predominately on tarmac and fire roads, while other trips can be more akin to mountain biking. With so many different types of terrain you might encounter, having a frame that is versatile and can tackle many different types of terrain is a huge benefit.

Overall, aluminum and steel bikes frames are the most versatile options, while they may not be best for all types of cycling, their ability to work for any type of bike trip is unmatched. This is likely one of the reasons why aluminum and steel bikes are the most popular types of bike frames. They can both be used for almost any type of bike, from mountain bikes to BMX bikes. This comes as a result of their material being so good at taking on many types of cycling challenges.

If you want a bike that can be used for more than one type of cycling (perhaps a bike for commuting during the week and bikepacking at the weekend), then aluminum or steel are the best choices. Take a look at our article on the most versatile bike frame materials if this is a key factor in your decision.

Type of cyclingAluminumSteelTitaniumCarbon Fiber
BikepackingAverageGreatGreatPoor
Road bikingAverageAverageAverageGreat
Bike touringAverageGreatGreatPoor
Gravel bikingAverageGreatGreatPoor
CommutingGreatGreatPoorPoor
Mountain bikingAverageAverageAverageAverage
A table showing the different types of cycling that different bike frame materials are best at

How much do bikepacking bike frames cost?

The cost of a bike frame can vary greatly depending on the material used. The most expensive bike frames are not always the best bike frames, however, the more expensive frames may offer features that cheaper frames do not have.

When we looked into the cheapest and most expensive bike frame materials, it was clear that titanium is the most expensive. Not only does titanium cost the most for the raw materials, but the bikes made from titanium cost more to manufacture at the factory. Carbon fiber (while having a high cost of raw materials), tends to cost less than equivalent titanium bike frames.

If we take look at the cheapest titanium bike offered by the popular UK bike manufacturer “Ribble”, we can see it costs almost twice the price of their cheapest carbon fiber bike.

Steel and aluminum are the cheapest bike frames. This is likely the reason they are such popular options for all types of bikes, and one of the reasons why aluminum and steel bikes were the most popular choice of bikepacking bikes in our survey.

How much does the average bikepacker spend on their bikepacking bike?

We surveyed a large bikepacking community to find out how much they spend on their bikepakcing bikes. It’s important to note that these bikepackers are all part of a bikepacking community and as such are likely to spend more on a bikepacking bike than the average person. You do not need to spend as much as this for a great bikepacking trip, and these results are only here to give you an idea of averages.

What are the most popular types of material used for bikepacking frames?

We’ve seen that bicycles are made of a wide range of materials, and we know that aluminum is the most popular overall, but which is the most popular for bikepacking? We surveyed a large bikepacking community to find out which material they would choose for their dream bikepacking bike, as well as asking which material they currently use.

A bar chart showing the most popular bikepacking bike frame material as well as the most sought after biek frame material

We can see from the results that as far as “dream bikes” go, Titanium was far and away the most popular choice, this is likely due to the price tag associated with titanium as much as it is due to the material itself.

When it comes to bikepacking, the frames people actually use tend to be quite varied, which is likely a result of bikepacking taking on many different forms. The routes people cycle while bikepacking are very varied, and as a result, so are the bikes they use.

On top of this, a large majority of bikepackers do not have a designated bike for bikepacking and use the bikes they already own, this is one of the reasons that aluminum bikes were so popular. in our survey The material you choose shouldn’t be the most popular, but the one that is best suited for the riding and terrain you plan to cycle on.

How to pick the right bikepacking frame material for you?

We’ve now looked over the key factors when it comes to deciding which bike frame material you should use when bikepacking. Below is a summary, ranking each of the materials for these criteria.

CategoryRank #1Rank #2Rank #3Rank #4
Weight Carbon Fiber Aluminum Titanium Steel
Durability Titanium Steel Aluminum Carbon Fiber
Versatility Aluminum Steel Titanium Carbon Fiber
Cost Steel Aluminum Carbon Fiber Titanium
Popularity Titanium Steel Aluminum Carbon Fiber
A table ranking the different bike frame materials for a variety of factors

To help you choose which bike is best for you, we’ve collated all of the information above into an easy-to-read flowchart. This will help give you a suggestion of the best bike frame material for you based on your priorities.

A flowchart helping you to decide which type of bike frame material to pick based on your needs

Overall

There are many factors that are important when deciding which bike frame material for your bikepakcing bike. We hope that all the information above has helped you to make a decision. It’s important to remember that bikepakcing isn’t about having the “best bike”, it’s about getting out there and enjoying cycling.

If you already own a bike, even if it’s not the perfect choice for bikepacking, then all you need to do is to adjust the route you pick for the bike you have. It’s much more important to get out there and enjoy yourself bikepacking than it is to worry about if you have the right bike.

Bear in mind that what’s just as important as the frame material, is who built it, how good they are at building frames, and how long they took to build it.

Mark Holmes

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

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