Bikepacking bike: Hardtail vs plus-size vs dropbar mtb- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
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    Bikepacking bike: Hardtail vs plus-size vs dropbar mtb

    Hi,

    I plan to buy a new bike in order to bikepack and I'm a bit lost between the different categories of bikes. I would like to get a bike than can manage really different trails as I would like to experience different adventures without having to buy different bikes. Therefore I have plenty of questions:

    1) I read bikepacking.com for hours, spent plenty of hours looking to the different kind of rigs and routes. A lot of people seem to recommend drop-bar MTB with 2.1" such as the kona sutra LTD. However when I read the description of the different route (e.g. navad 1000, altraversur, Atlas moutain race..), it seems that this kind of bike isn't adapted. Therefore do I correctly understand that this kind of bike is limited to gravel-riding?

    2) On the other hand, I don't really get the advantages/ disadvantages of Plus-size bikes with rigid forks (e.g. Bombtrack beyond adv) vs suspension forks mountain bikes. Why going for plus size rather than for an suspension fork? Is it just a question of maintenance? Do plus-size tires replace a fork? Does a 3" bike with a rigid fork go nearly everywhere? What about more technical trails?

    3) Regarding hardtail bike, how to choose a bike with a right geometry for bikepacking? Can all the hardtail bike do the job or should I pay attention to specific points?

    4) What are the advantages of small brands which specialized in bikepacking such as Bombtrack or Salsa? How their bikes differ?

    Could you help me to understand this a little better?
    Many thanks in advance!

  2. #2
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    Full Disclosure - At best I get a Bikepacking trip or 2 a year. I had Steel Hardtail with ability for rigid also and now have a Salsa Fargo. Based on varying use you are describing I would recommend a Hardtail, you could find one that takes 27.5+ or 29. I just think it is the more versatile option, especially if new to sport.

    To answer your other question, I do think drop bar 29ers are definitely capable of technical singletrack, however if it was technical rocky trails for hours on end I would jsut take one of my mountain bikes other than the rigid fargo. If it was a lot of gravel with some trail sections I would take my fargo. I am amozed how comfortable the fargo can be, it doesnt where you out on gravel, it does where you out on singletrack especially steep stuff.
    XC, Road, XXC, Endurance, Mtn, All-Mtn, Cross, Gravel, just go have fun on 2 wheels!

  3. #3
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    I'd say go hardtail as well, but all of it really depends on what you plan to ride. A 3.0 tire does not "replace" suspension but it will absolutely get you anywhere you want to go. You can ride anything, anywhere without suspension, but you will sacrifice comfort, which matters more the longer you are in the saddle, and the more rough a trail is.

    I ride singletrack exclusively on a rigid bike with 29x3.0 tires, but part of that is because I can only ride once a week at best. I can afford the beating. If your routs are smoothish singletrack and/or gravel/fire roads fully rigid is great. Much easier to strap stuff to as well.

    If you're riding rocky, technical singletrack for the long haul a full suspension would be quite nice. There isn't a blanket answer for this one.

    How much are you willing to spend? How much maintenance are you willing to put up with? How do you take your coffee?

  4. #4
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    With regards to tire size vs suspension:

    + Wider tires average out your "line", so you don't need to aim as carefully over chunky rocks and stuff.

    - Wider tires weigh more, can be harder to replace in remote locations, and tend to roll a little more slowly.

    +/- Wide tires add some vertical compliance, but no dampening, so has a tendancy to bounce you around.

    + Suspension smooths out whatever chunk you do actually hit.

    - Suspension adds weight and requires frequent maintenance (forks often say to re-oil every 500 miles) and are another part to fail.


    The "best bike" for any route will depend on a million different factors, but generally you'll find at times you wish you had a different bike, and at times you're grad you brought the one you did.

  5. #5
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    +1 to HEMIjer; I also have a hardtail (27.5+) and a Fargo (Gen 1), and bikepack with both.

    Mostly singletrack? Hardtail. Mostly gravel? Fargo.

  6. #6
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    My current bikepacking bike is Steel frame Vassago Verhauen. I used to ride and race it singlespeed and is quite versatile. I have had it set up 27.5x3.0, 29x2.3, 29x2.6 with 100mm fork, 29x3.0 rigid. My bikepack configuration is 29x2.6 with a 100mm fork and 1x10 drivetrain with 26t chainring and 11-42 cassette. Not much on top end, but good for long climbs and technical single track. The 2.6 allow lower pressures and compare to 2.3 in the rear it feels like 1" of travel. Up front I don't run a 3.0 since that won't fit under my fork. The 2.6 does. The 3.0 Rigid is better when you don't have as much downhill rock. Uphill is not bad as traction is massive. Now this is bike that works on everything from paved roads to black diamond single track. It is not fast on the pavement, but for most of my bikepacking rides pavement is just a connector. On washboard roads the lower tire pressures you can get from bigger tires helps take the edge off. If your bikepacking is pavement and smooth dirt roads this set-up is not idea. However if your bikepacking includes proper single track this works pretty good. I could easily swap the fork for my rigid one if I have route that is mostly smooth stuff and even go 2.0 on my narrower set of wheels. No way to go drop bar without a big redo.

    Bikepacking bike: Hardtail vs plus-size vs dropbar mtb-bikepacking.jpg
    Joe
    '18 Specialized Epic 29", 19' Vassago Optimus Ti SS 29", '19 Ibis Ripmo, XC, AM, blah blah blah.. I just ride.

  7. #7
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    The Salsa Fargo can do 29+ tires & 100mm of travel max, plus it's a drop bar. It could be a fun choice as it can do a litlle of everything. I have a drop bar Soma Wolverine(29x2.0 tires setup) & a Bombtrack Beyond+(flat bar 27.5+ version of the Beyond+ ADV). On flats & long rides multiple hand positions is great. Never really tried the Jones bars but people tell me the love theirs & the hand positions are great. Both the Beyond+ & ADV models can do a max of 130mm of travel(which slackens the hta). I also seen that the 2020 models have more moutain points in the back. Down hills I prefer my Beyond+ & it's probably because of the 27.5x2.8 tires(& maybe geo?). I had a Bombtrack rep tell me the Beyond+ & ADV can be converted to a drop bars & I've looked at the geo & it's similar to the Fargo.

    Personally, I'd suggest going to a local bike shop that carrys bike packing bikes, like Salsa, Surly & the like & see what you like. If you have one in you area REI also carries Salsa & some stores may have a Fargo in store to test out, same with their house brand( Co-Op's bike packing bike with the Jones bar & rack option.

  8. #8
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    Many thanks to all of you for your answers!

    The Fargo was on my list but it is quite expensive here in Europe. That's the reason why I was looking to similar european brands such as Bombtrack. I had the Bombtrack Beyond 1 (drop-bar with 2.2" tires), Beyond+ (2.8") and Beyond ADV (3") in mind. If I do correctly understand what you said, at least the Beyond+ and Beyond ADV would be able to go anywhere, even if they won't be as confortable as a hardtail on technical trails. The Beyond 1 would be quicker than the two others. How much quicker? I really like the Beyond+/ADV, I'm just a bit afraid that they would be really slow, specially for climbing. (As I'm currently a road and XC cyclist, the change will be big).
    Another option, similar to Beyond 1, is the Rondo Bogan.

    Regarding hardtail bikes, how to choose a bike with a right geometry for bikepacking? I assume that this is a question of geometry which makes some bikes more confortable once loaded during long trips. For hardtail, I had the specialized epic hardtail or the fuse in mind (and maybe put a drop-bar on it for comfort). I also had a look to he Marin Pine mountain 2 which is specially built for bikepacking but it seems to be quite heavy.

  9. #9
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    I built up a drop bar Borealis Crestone to do some gravel races in the fat bike category. I also have a Salsa Cutthroat already equipped with everything i need for bikepacking. Had i built the drop bar fatty before i had the Cutthroat it would be my bikepacking rig. It is awesome everywhere, trails, gravel, whatever. Just cant justify the expense of another frame bag when I already have the do everything bike in the Cutthroat.

  10. #10
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    Have you considered kitting out your current XC bike with packs and getting a sense for what you like or don't like about the setup?

  11. #11
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    What kind of bike do you currently have? Have you tried bikepacking with it? I'd start there.

    My first bikepacking trip was on a Ragley Big Big that has the long low and slack geometry and is fitted with 150mm forks and a Minion up front. Nothing about that is set up for a bikepacking trip that was 75% gravel, 20% road and a tiny bit of singletrack. And you know what I loved it anyway. I will say a bar with multiple hand positions would be nice whether that is a dropbar or an alternative bar like a Jones bar or Surly Moloko bar and I wish I had of had 28t chainring rather then a 32t paired with my 11-42 cassette.

    Also to the OP regarding this "For hardtail, I had the specialized epic hardtail or the fuse in mind (and maybe put a drop-bar on it for comfort)". You will more then likely feel way to stretched out if you had a drop-bar to hardtail so if dropbars are a requirement for you, you are going to want something like the Fargo or a Bombtrack. If just multiple hand positions are a requirement, for those bikes I consider alternate bars like the Jones loop, Surly Moloko or Velo Orange Crazy bar or using aero clip-ons on the flat bars.
    Ragley Big Wig, Sunday Soundwave (BMX), 91 Schwinn High Plain (single speed "gravel" bike), Nashbar CXSS (on trainer)

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gaius! View Post
    Many thanks to all of you for your answers!

    The Fargo was on my list but it is quite expensive here in Europe. That's the reason why I was looking to similar european brands such as Bombtrack. I had the Bombtrack Beyond 1 (drop-bar with 2.2" tires), Beyond+ (2.8") and Beyond ADV (3") in mind. If I do correctly understand what you said, at least the Beyond+ and Beyond ADV would be able to go anywhere, even if they won't be as confortable as a hardtail on technical trails. The Beyond 1 would be quicker than the two others. How much quicker? I really like the Beyond+/ADV, I'm just a bit afraid that they would be really slow, specially for climbing. (As I'm currently a road and XC cyclist, the change will be big).
    Another option, similar to Beyond 1, is the Rondo Bogan.

    Regarding hardtail bikes, how to choose a bike with a right geometry for bikepacking? I assume that this is a question of geometry which makes some bikes more confortable once loaded during long trips. For hardtail, I had the specialized epic hardtail or the fuse in mind (and maybe put a drop-bar on it for comfort). I also had a look to he Marin Pine mountain 2 which is specially built for bikepacking but it seems to be quite heavy.
    The Beyond+ & ADV can take up to a 130mm, maybe 140mm fork. So it can become a HT, but then you don't get all the mounts on the fork but could have both a rigid & sus fork for different trails. In fact I am thinking about getting a 130mm suspension fork(which @130 slackens the HTA .5* if the info I read was correct, 120mm keeps it about same) for my Beyond+ to make it into a HT.

  13. #13
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    My bike is a full suspended Scott Spark 940. There is little space on the frame to put a bag, full suspension adds risks of failure and let me think that in remote locations, it would be difficult to repair it.
    But beyond that point, I was convinced that the bikes specially built for bikepacking (e.g. Salsa, Bombtrack) had two big advantages:
    1) Being easier/funnier to ride once loaded.
    2) Being (much) more comfortable on long rides.
    Is it the case or not at all?

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gaius! View Post
    My bike is a full suspended Scott Spark 940. There is little space on the frame to put a bag, full suspension adds risks of failure and let me think that in remote locations, it would be difficult to repair it.
    But beyond that point, I was convinced that the bikes specially built for bikepacking (e.g. Salsa, Bombtrack) had two big advantages:
    1) Being easier/funnier to ride once loaded.
    2) Being (much) more comfortable on long rides.
    Is it the case or not at all?
    I am not sure they will be more comfortable if you are comparing to a full suspension. The full suspension does add complexity and reduces your frame space. I also won't have all the mounts of a bikepacking bike.

    Have you done an overnight bike packing trip before? I'd recommend at least doing one see what you like and what you don't like before jumping in on buying a bike and gear and everything as that can get super expensive. It would be expensive to buy a bike and all the gear and figure out that it really isn't for you. Like this. https://bikepacking.com/plog/impromp...ing-overnight/

    I guess what I am saying is try it out and be honest with yourself. I enjoy it but I also know I am not going to probably ever do more then a week at a time. So I personally probably don't need a dedicated bikepacking bike. I'd think about the places you want to bikepack as well and the terrain that is and pick the bike that make sense for that (i.e. lots of technical sections something flat bar vs minor amounts of that drop bar).

    Now if you have money to burn and just want a new bike then ignore all of what I just said. N+1 and all that.
    Ragley Big Wig, Sunday Soundwave (BMX), 91 Schwinn High Plain (single speed "gravel" bike), Nashbar CXSS (on trainer)

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gaius! View Post
    My bike is a full suspended Scott Spark 940. There is little space on the frame to put a bag, full suspension adds risks of failure and let me think that in remote locations, it would be difficult to repair it.
    But beyond that point, I was convinced that the bikes specially built for bikepacking (e.g. Salsa, Bombtrack) had two big advantages:
    1) Being easier/funnier to ride once loaded.
    2) Being (much) more comfortable on long rides.
    Is it the case or not at all?
    I know plenty of guys doing bikepacking on FS bikes. There are some challenges, but lack of frame bag space is not the biggest. Often seatbag to rear tire clearance is the bigger issue. Still you can give it a try first before you invest a different bike. And no bike is "easy" to ride loaded. At least not in the first 10-20 miles. They always feed "off and sluggish" until you get used to them. My last trip I had issues getting my bike to feel natural on single track on the first day. Felt pretty good on day 2 even on tough single track and by day 4 and 220 miles under my belt I had back off on some single track as I popping around like an unloaded bike. Not ideal ride like you are thrashing and short 10 mile sufferfest/XC race.
    Joe
    '18 Specialized Epic 29", 19' Vassago Optimus Ti SS 29", '19 Ibis Ripmo, XC, AM, blah blah blah.. I just ride.

  16. #16
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    Whether your current bike will be more fun or comfortable than a hardtail-framed bike completely depends on the terrain, style, setup, gear.

    Dispense with the stale idea of a “bikepacking” bike. Think more about the routes and terrain you’re interested in. Hit some overnighters with your current bike and go from there. Bikes and gear are solutions to problems. Figure out more about the problems then make whatever moves.

    FWIW, I use a 29er mountain bike, full suspension and hardtail, for everything. They’re both my everyday trail bikes that I use for bikepacking, because they work best on the terrain I like. If I want to grind gravel for weeks I’ll set my hardtail up for it. Otherwise, trail riding is most fun on trail bikes, even with a light load strapped on. If you want to have a stable of bikes, power to you. I don’t want a bike that gets used a few times a year only.
    Last edited by She&I; 2 Weeks Ago at 12:50 PM. Reason: My left nut itched

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