A few years ago, I was working on a multi-day stage race in France. Each day I was out on the hill, sweeping or time-keeping. For the first few days, one of the racers would come barrelling down yet another epic alpine descent, wearing the same outfit and with a baguette duct taped to his top tube. It turned out the airline had lost his luggage (although fortunately not his bike box), containing his riding pack, clothes and other kit. Desperate to race, he borrowed bits and pieces from other racers, and improvised elsewhere.
I’m not sure I’d recommend the “enduro baguette”... it was looking pretty sorry for itself by the time the rider got round to eating it, but it was a useful reminder that now, more than ever, we can get creative with how we carry our kit when out on the bike.
My first few “bikepacking” trips were done long before current bikepacking luggage was a thing. Keen to avoid panniers, I just minimised my kit and used a large rucksack. It bounced around a little, and I had a pretty sore bum by the end of the day, but it kind of did the job. A few years later and the now ubiquitous saddle pack, frame bag and bar bag completely revolutionised the way I was able to carry enough kit for a few weeks away on the bike. A decade or so later again, and there are so many more options available… so what are the main ones, and when do they come in handy?
In case you hadn’t noticed, we have just launched our Carry Cages. These are designed to fit anywhere on your bike that has bottle mounts. Loads of bikes now come with additional bosses for exactly that purpose; often on fork legs, but sometimes on seat stays, the underside of down tubes and just about anywhere else you can imagine.
The Carry Cage allows you to strap virtually anything you like to them. Some of our favourite options are: combining the Carry Cage with our Fork Bag and keeping your dry clothes in there, using the Carry Cage to hold a jet boil stove, or strapping a larger capacity bottle to the cage (this last one isn’t just for bikepacking. It works perfectly for a bottle of wine on the way home from the shops).
There are some real advantages to this approach. First up, it can be handy to separate out kit; whether that’s to keep it dry, or to simply reduce rummaging around. Secondly, carrying weight lower on the bike makes it more stable. One of the downsides to bikepacking bags is they are generally mounted high up on the bike. I’m sure all of us have noticed how “tippy” our bike feels when we first try to get on it fully loaded. Placing heavier items (like a stove) low on the bike brings down the centre of gravity.
Fast Straps have to be one of our favourite quick-and-easy methods of expanding the carrying capacity of our bikes. They take up virtually no room when not in use, but are perfect for attaching whatever you fancy to Carry Cage (see above!) or even directly to the frame, bars or another bag. We’ve used them to secure a lock to the frame, as well as strapping things like flipflops down. We often use a fast strap to secure a spare tube to a corner of the frame for example. Need a longer strap? You can even double them up by attaching one to another.
Top tube bags and stem bags are not only a useful way to increase your carrying capacity, they are great for anything that you want to keep at hand while riding. Snacks, phones, charging devices etc are then all in easy reach without needing to stop and root around to find them.
It’s always useful to plan some extra capacity when bikepacking. A set of perfectly stuffed bags looks neat when we set off, but doesn’t leave a lot of room for extra food etc; that makes things tricky if there are long sections between resupply. One way to quickly boost capacity is by carrying a small musette bag. It takes up minimal room when not being used, but can be loaded up and slung over your back. Perfect for stuffing with food (or beer) and riding a few miles down the road to somewhere scenic to enjoy it.
Just because it’s been done forever doesn’t make it any less relevant now. So, jersey pockets make for a great capacity booster, and keep kit at hand while riding. The downside is they can only carry so much… and if you try to overstuff them with anything too heavy you risk the back of your jersey tickling the back of your ankles while riding along. A small rucksack is often a useful addition, but can be a bit sweaty. And finally, panniers are probably the ultimate way of maximising your carrying capacity, but racks add weight and the panniers can get in the way when riding off road.
Hopefully some of the above gives you some creative ideas on alternative methods of carrying gear on your bike. It’s always worth remembering that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. We’ve talked about the benefits of lightweight approaches before; just be aware that every extra item you carry adds weight that will need to be pedalled up each and every hill along your route.
Creative carries aren’t just about lugging around more stuff though. Shorter riders will know that small frames sometimes make it hard to run large saddle and bar bags. A couple of Carry Cages offer a different solution. Equally, there are times when mixing things up might mean you can leave the rucksack at home and enjoy riding without a sweaty back.
We covered lightweight bikepacking in a youtube video not too long ago:
So, let’s hear your unconventional methods of maximising the carrying capacity of your bike; and long live getting creative.
Words by Tom Hill (@24tom)
Dan King (@breakawaydigital)
Adam Wright (@adam_a_wright)