Bike set-ups for riding rail trails, single track or overnight trips off road
Overnight bike and tramping trips are similar: the same self reliance and safety principles apply and weight should be kept to a minimum; the bike bears the weight, but you still have to pedal it uphill.
Here are two possible bike set-ups for non-technical (easy terrain) and technical (rugged terrain) overnight trips. They apply to cycle touring trips such as a rail trail and more rugged bikepacking trips such as the Heaphy Track or The Old Ghost Road. There is a degree of interchangeability between the two systems and you can use bike packing equipment on the touring bike for a lightweight setup.
A five- to six-inch travel full suspension on a bike is best for rough single track and technical terrain, while also improving climbing traction and being easier on your body. Bigger 29-inch wheels are now giving way to 27.5-inch wheels for technical riding. Twenty-six-inch (the standard for many years) is also ideal.
The ‘norm’ for tyre width has increased steadily over the years and these days 2.5-inch (and upwards) tyres are not unusual. For rugged, loaded riding, 2.2- to 2.5-inch tyres are common. Wider tyres could be considered if your bike has the frame clearance. A tubeless system allows lower tyre pressures and eliminates the risk of snake bite punctures.
Hydraulic disc brakes give the most power and modulation, but are hard to repair in a remote place. Consider up-sizing the rotors for more braking power under load or if you are a heavier rider.
Luggage that attaches to the bike without racks is the optimal system for weight savings and load distribution.
A typical go-to bike for an overnight tour on sealed and gravel roads, rail trail surfaces and non-technical riding is a rigid 29er mountain bike with flat bars. An adventurous rider may tackle tougher riding on these bikes if they’re suitably equipped. Twenty-six-inch wheels are also suitable, but 29-inch wheels roll more efficiently on moderate ground.
Look for a frame with rear-rack mounts. A suspension fork will give the bike a wider range of use, and adds comfort for rougher roads, but it’ll increase weight, reduce efficiency and require more servicing.
Tyres in the 1.95- to 2.2-inch range will give plenty of traction on loose surfaces, but roll faster and be lighter than a fatter tyre. Pressure can be varied depending on the surface: hard for sealed roads, softer when riding gravel or sandy surfaces. Look for a tread with low profile, closely-spaced knobs; they’ll have less rolling resistance and be quieter on the seal.
Look for a bike with disc brakes. While hydraulic disc brakes are more commonly available (and more powerful), mechanical disc brakes are simpler and easier to service in the field.
An aluminium or steel rear rack is standard for carrying panniers. A large pair of rear panniers and a small bundle on the top of the rack should be sufficient for a weekend trip. For longer trips, a pair of front panniers might be required. These have the advantage of spreading the weight over your bike, improving the handling.
A handlebar bag is a convenient way to keep your camera, map and snacks handy.
Kit to get you started
Surly Ogre $2749
| Revelate Designs Sweetroll $169.90
Stand-alone bikepacking handlebar bag. Waterproof with dual roll down closures, and optional add-on front pockets.