Okay first off I beter say that the frame bag you see here is from my Surly Pugsley and doesn’t really fit the Scandal properly. So don’t think if you get a framebag from Scott at Porcelain Rocket that it will fit so poorly. I just jammed the bag into this bike while I wait for Scott to build me a custom bag that will fit this frame perfectly.
The key to a great bikepacking setup is the ability to carry the gear you need on your bike with as little impediment to how it rides off pavement. You can fit panniers and racks to most mountain bikes, but they end up being the weak spot in the bike so you have to slow way down and ride cautiously lest you break something. Your handling is also compromised so that technical riding becomes hard to impossible. When Kurt and I rode our Pugsleys on the CDN GDR with racks and panniers we had fun, but I vowed never to bike tour on dirt with that setup again – unless there was some overwhelming reason to carry that much gear.
You can see the same bags on my Surly Pugsley above and appreciate how well the frame bag fits the bike it was custom built for. This is a typical bikepacking setup and is designed to keep the weight securely attached to the bike as close to the center of mass as possible. The bags have a limited carrying capacity which forces you to load them with only what you need and the bike remains “thin” which aids in sneaking between obstacles and facilities the seemly inevitable pushing you have to do. If you are fast enough it also keeps wind resistance to a minimum.
So a word about why soft bags are such a great idea for a dirt road or mountain bike trail tour. Standard panniers and racks are stiff and heavy. They hard mount to your bike which means every bump gets transmitted very efficiently from your bike to the racks and then to the panniers. Eventually that will break something. Even if you are lucky and don’t break your gear you will spend your whole trip babying it always taking the easiest/smoothest path to reduce the beating your bike takes. With soft bags the attachment points to your bike are secure, but they can give a little which absorbs the shocks they see without stressing out and breaking them. The upside is that you can ride your mountain bike like a mountain bike while carrying food, water and shelter.
- thermarest sleeping pad
- bivy sack/tent [no poles]/hammock
- jacket when not being worn
- this bag acts like a fender when riding in wet conditions
- bike tools
- spare tube
- mini first aid kit
Top Tube Bag:
- bike light battery
Front Roll Bag:
- sleeping bag & spare camp clothes inside 10L OR dry bag
- tent poles outside bag if you got ‘em
Front Bag Pocket:
Front End Bike Stuff:
- Dinotte XML-3 900 lumen light [waterproof enough power for full night at low/high power for fast downhill runs]
- Ergon grips for hand comfort
- bar ends for extra hand positions
- 180mm disc brake to slow down on steep hills with a load
- 100mm suspension fork to allow for faster speeds on rough surfaces
- BMX platform pedals for lots of grip in whatever shoes I want to wear
Rear End Bike Stuff:
- red blinky for nighttime visibility on the trail and road
- Alfine 11 IGH for wide range weatherproof drivetrain and strong undished rear wheel
- wide supple 29er tires with enough tread for loose conditions climbing
- wide strong rims
- 160mm disc brake [more than enough braking at this end]
- comfortable leather saddle
Stuff I need to add:
- water bottle cages on fork [w/ hose clamps]
- fuel bottle cage under downtube [w/ hose clamps] for longer trips only
- GPS [w/bar mount] when needed
I ride my mountain bike with a hydration pack when on the trails. I used a slightly larger daypack for the ride out to the Sooke Potholes to carry water and some spare clothes. In general I think it’s better to keep the gear off your back and on the bike. Firstly it forces you to be ruthless with what you are carrying and secondly it’s much more comfortable. Plus it means that for specific trips where you need to carry a lot of food, water or clothing you have an option that isn’t already full of stuff.
I’ll be adding water bottle cages to my fork legs so I don’t need a hydration pack for fluids. I’ll be a bit more efficient about the clothes I bring and carry any spare clothes I am not wearing on my bike – either in the front roll bag or the seat bag. That will mean I can skip a backpack for most trips and if I really do need some extra cargo capacity I can add in a pack at that point.
It’s hard to be too specific about clothing since so much depends on where you ride, what time of the year it is and what the forecast is for. Here is a sample of what I might bring on a ride here on Vancouver Island:
- toque [never leave home without it]
- buff neck warmer
- fleece gloves
- rain jacket [as breathable as possible means less sweat and you can wear it most of the time]
- wool top [maybe 2 if it’s cool so I can layer]
- synthetic capris
- wool 3/4 tights
- wool leg warmers
- wool socks
- rain chaps and rain glove covers