Bikepacking Frameset Considerations
Searching for a bikepacking frameset can be a bit of a daunting task. There are so many options it’s easy to have some analysis paralysis. Questions such as “What material should I get, Do I need suspension,” or “Should I go 1x or 2x,” are ones we all ask ourselves when looking for a bikepacking frameset.
Hopefully after reading this you’ll be able to narrow your search down a bit more and have fewer questions left to answer. At the end of this post I’ll list a few very reputable bikepacking framesets you should consider for your next build.
One thing to keep in mind is that what works for someone else may not work for you. So when someone tells you that you should go with x material or z gearing because that’s what they use, remember that opinion is based off of their personal experiences and not of your own.
Some people love steel and others despise it, some feel that 1×12 is the answer to all your gearing needs and others might say its just a fad. Let’s break all that down here.
Materials to consider
Steel: “Steel is Real!” I’m sure you’ve heard it and its hard to argue with. It’s the most readily available material around and is simple for any welder to mend. If you happen to crack a weld in the middle of your Baja Divide ride you can be sure that you can probably find a back-alley shop not too far away that can fix it. Try that with carbon fiber or titanium and you won’t have much luck.
Steel also happens to be the most compliant of the materials which means that it’s more forgiving and offers a more supple ride quality.
One drawback of course is that it’s the heaviest material bikes are constructed of. But you can of course compensate for that by using ultra-light parts on the rest of the build and with the gear you strap to it. Another is that steel corrodes quite easily and can spread very quickly if not taken care of properly.
Aluminum: Aluminum is the second most popular material for a bikepacking frameset just behind steel, and it’s easy to understand why. It’s extremely cheap and available virtually everywhere. However, it’s a little harder to service any failures in the field. Sure, there are welders that have no problem mending aluminum, but there are far fewer of them.
One benefit aluminum has over steel though is that it is much lighter. Aluminum can also give into corrosion, but it happens at a far slower rate than steel. It is often believed that it has a harsh ride quality but with recent technology advancements aluminum can be just as compliant as steel.
A high-end aluminum frame can outshine a low-end carbon fiber frame on ride quality. This material is often overlooked but would be great if you plan to keep your bikepacking rides local and relatively short. I wouldn’t however choose it for any round the world expeditions.
Titanium: At half the weight of steel for a tube of the same tensile strength and twice as strong as aluminum, its no wonder why titanium is a great frame material. And much like carbon fiber, it doesn’t corrode.
So why isn’t titanium more widely used? It’s extremely hard to weld since the titanium reacts to oxygen and one weld seam can take hours to finish. But if you can log a few hours riding a frameset built from Ti you’ll find that it’s a much more compliant ride than any other material. Owners of titanium bikes will tell you it’s the best ride feel they’ve ever had. It’s just too bad it’s the most expensive to produce.
Carbon fiber: Carbon fiber is neither less safe nor safer than aluminum. If manufactured and cared for properly carbon fiber can be an excellent choice because it’s so lightweight and durable. But much like the case with aluminum, I personally wouldn’t use carbon for year long round the world trip. Unless I had the cash to resolve any issues including and up to having to buy a new frame.
A carbon frame will often give you a few warning noises such as cracking noises and visible signs before it fails catastrophically. Find the problem areas early and you can fix them, but it will lose some stiffness and gain a few grams, it can be done though. If you do happen to crack a carbon frame, I suggest taking it to a professional to have it carefully inspected.
Features of the frame
Braze ons: When looking for a bikepacking frameset you’ll need to keep in mind of how you plan to mount any racks, fenders, and water bottles you might need or want. Some framesets come with more mounting options than a Knex set while others will offer none.
Almost no suspension bike frame comes with any rack or fender mounts, so you have to get creative if you want to utilize them. Also, no suspension fork that I have seen comes with eyelets to mount cages for water bottles or small bags like the Salsa Anything Cages and Bags. But there are some creative ways to do so utilizing a variety of hose clamps and the like.
Tire clearance: Tire clearance will be dependent on the terrain you’re expecting to ride on. If you plan on riding in muddy or sandy conditions you should run a tire width of at least 2.1 inches, or 50mm with some aggressive tread patterns. However, if the terrain will primarily be gravel and dirt roads you can get away with running a tire width as small as 38mm and sometimes even less. But also bear in mind that larger volume tires will offer a bit of suspension when run with lower pressures.
Suspension: Your suspension needs will also be determined by the terrain you’ll be encountering. For cruising dirt and gravel roads with some pavement mixed in you can get away with just running a large volume tire at a low pressure. But if you plan on hitting some flowy single track with a bit of technical stuff a hardtail would be perfect.
Not too many bikepackers choose to go the full suspension route because of the limited options it leaves for bikepacking bags. It can be done by carrying minimal gear and some ingenuity though. That is why full suspension bikes, if used for bikepacking, are used for shorter weekend trips.
Drivetrain: This is a hugely debated topic among riders. You will inevitably come across diehard 1x enthusiasts as well as 2x enthusiasts. I personally feel that 3x drivetrains will soon be “old technology” since 2x drivetrains can offer a gear range similar to if not greater than 3x. With that said a 1×12 drivetrain can offer the same gear range as some 2×10 setups but you will have some larger jumps between gears since the 2×10 setup can have a closer range between each gear shift. A key benefit to using a 1x drivetrain is that you have one less mechanical part to worry about, the front derailleur.
In conclusion it’s best to make a list of features you personally would like to have in a bikepacking frameset. You and only you can ultimately decide on what will work best for your needs.
Below is a list of bikepacking framesets I would consider for my next build, from budget friendly to I just won the lottery.