Bicycle weight distribution: comparing two bikepacking setups
How do you organize the distribution of weights and volumes in bikepacking for a bicycle trip? In this article you will be able to compare two bikepacking setups and, if you are approaching the varied world of bikepacking or if you want to compare your experience as a traveler with mine and that of Alessio founder of Cicloslavisti, you are in the right place.
About how he started travelling by bike or how he switched from bicycle touring to bikepacking and his journeys, Alessio talked with us during our live streams on Facebook or Youtube, now episodes on our Italian podcast.
In addition to Alessio's stories, I was fascinated by the technical aspect, the choice of equipment, the distribution of weights and volumes on a bicycle trip with bikepacking bags. As a short-time bikepacker that I am, I thought you might be interested in the comparison between our two bicycles dressed for travel, both adventure bikes, both Salsa Fargo, one from 2016 and one from 2018.
Weight distribution on a bike: two Fargos, two journeys, two different bikepacking setups
The very famous adventure bike manufacturer Salsa rarely changes its flagship product Fargo, so I don't want to get lost in the slightest differences between these two models, Alessio's one from 2016 in flaming red and mine from 2018 in bright purple. The only discrepancy in the components are the rims and tires we mount, more gravelly Alessio's bike, slightly more MTB mine. Let's move on to the focal point of the comparison, which lies in the arsenal of "trinkets" and that is all the bags we use to dress our vehicles and to carry the equipment useful for our travels and above all the distribution of weights and volumes on the bikes in the two bikepacking trips. The two adventures considered in the comparison are:
- for Alessio's bikepacking set-up: the very last ride tackled together at the end of September in the Peloponnese, lasting 12 days in the second half of September, with departure and arrival in Patras in a ring mainly on a paved road, touching some of the most interesting locations of the Greek peninsula clockwise;
- for my set-up: my 15-day trip in 2019 in Latvia in July together with the inseparable colleagues of La Compagnia del Pignone Matteo, Davide and Emanuele, with departure and arrival in Riga in a loop, touching almost all the main locations of the Baltic country, eating tons of gravel and spending nights camping.
Already this first distinction between different periods of the year, climatic bands and type of terrain and accommodation suggests some basic differences in the choice of materials and in the distribution of weights on the vehicle.
For a climate that was supposed to be cooler (but alas it hasn't been), heavier material was provided in Latvia, for sleeping in camping (or in case of wild camping) the tent-mattress-sleeping bag triad had been considered and for aggressive terrain I had to stabilize and distribute my weight better. On the other hand, for a trip in Greece, with a hot climate (except for the second half of September), mainly on asphalt and forced to sleep exclusively in B&Bs or hostels, Alessio gained weight and volume, leaving the camping distraction at home, and avoiding backpacks. We both forced our hands on the water, carrying at least 3 liters on our heads, trying to stay hydrated. We can now enter the comparison, passing through each area of the bicycle where our equipment was stored.
First let's see the simplest, the saddle area. Here there are no major differences: both possessing capacious bags (Alessio a 17-liter Alpkit Big Papa and myself a 20-liter Miss Grape Cluster), usually in this bag we cram spare clothes, cycling clothing, microfiber towel and in my case a small beauty case with the bathroom set. The eccentric Alessio also added the Kryptonite U-Lock and, loving to double his pair of shoes, left one in the saddlebag and the other... we'll find out! The same Alpkit bag, equipped with some elastic bands at the top, housed the slippers for the home (or for the beach if you encounter one). Instead, I used the external loops to tie one of the most basic Decathlon padlocks (trusting on the one hand in the honesty of the Latvian people and on the other in the possibility of tying all the bicycles together to make any possible theft attempt very difficult).
In the frame area Alessio chose to insert 3 of the 4 water bottles (two internal and one external to the frame triangle), in addition to the essential 3.5 L Alpkit Possum Medium frame bag which housed some wrenches, energy bars and a kit for repairs. My 4-liter Miss Grape Tendril bikepacking frame bag was dedicated to the spare air chamber, a multitool, the tent poles, a k-way, a windproof jacket, leggings, arm warmers and one of the power banks.
Top tube bag(s) and cockpit
This area usually houses very compact objects or clothing of primary importance for quick use. Alessio's Alpkit Fuel Pod top tube bag housed a spare inner tube, spare disc brake pads and a multitool, while his Alpkit Stem Cell (comfortable 3-liter vertical bags fixed to the headset, to the handlebar and fork with three Velcro straps) allowed him to take the compact camera, wallet and bluetooth case with him. Also in my case I used all the available space with the two vertical bags (a large Alpkit like Alessio's and a smaller Acepac Bike Bottle Bag) and using the same Alpkit Fuel Pod toptube as the founder of the Cicloslavisti. I don't remember exactly in which of the three I placed the transported material but I can tell you that with me I had the second power bank, the compact camera, the energy bars and some portions of dried fruit, a few SD cards in their case, the wallet, handkerchiefs and charging cables of some technological devices.
After a failed experience in Sardinia with the Alpkit Kanga handlebar harness system, which unfortunately ruined part of the fork and handlebar of his precious pedal travel companion, Alessio followed my choice to place the VAP Cycling bracket system on the handlebar, called VAP Cycling Butterfly, capable of stabilizing a waterproof bag (in his case a 13-liter Alpkit Airlok Dual) that contained the drone bag with chargers and remote control, the glasses case and the steel cable of his Kryptonite lock. On the other hand, in my case, having organized a trip with overnight camping, the handlebar area with the same Butterfly mounted on it housed the 5-liter Naturehike dry bag with the sleeping bag inside. This bracket system allows you to carry other objects on top of them: a bell, a front light, a Garmin GPS, a bluetooth speaker, a support for the Go-Pro and a bottle cage in my case, to have quick access to water and control of the soundtrack of the trip.
Since these are two Salsa Firestarter Carbon forks, we both had no problems mounting two pairs of "luggage racks for fork bikepacking", otherwise known as Anything Cage, Alessio in the V1 aluminum version and I in the new HD nylon version. To these cages Alessio attached two watertight bags purchased at Decathlon of the Itiwit brand for kayaks (the only two non-Alpkit bags in his set!), 5 liters each, which contained the famous second shoe of which we had left the research unfinished, the cables and various chargers, the beauty case, the sunscreen and the cereal bars for moments of crisis on the climbs of the Peloponnese. Instead in my set-up, always thinking of the perspective of the trip with overnight camping or wild camping in the Latvian woods, the two 4-liter Alpkit Dry Bag Airlok dry bags housed the two sheets of my Naturehike Cloud Up 2 tent, Marseille soap for washing clothes, a hanging rope, pegs and a mat.
A brief parenthesis on this legalized modern torture: thinking of having to face a harsh climate (or at least not the 35° C experienced on the Latvian gravel), I had considered and purchased the 10-liter Quechua backpack to keep the back covered and to carry the drone and related chargers, batteries and remote control. I have to publicly admit my mistake and never think about it again: a mistake that made me sweat too much, consequently drink a lot and smell pretty bad.
Unfortunately, we reversed the choice with water: while in Greece Alessio almost never had supply problems despite carrying almost 3 liters with him, in Latvia we faced sparsely urbanized areas without drinking fountains, bringing with us about 2.5 liters each and risking to be left without. One of my dreams in the drawer is the purchase of an activated carbon filter (for example the expensive Katadyn) for water sterilization, to bring less water and filter it as I need it (obviously if the type of travel allows me).
Weight distribution: comparing two bikepacking setups
After having reviewed all the zones and bikepacking setups of our Salsa Fargo, below you will find a comparison of the main differences in the distribution of weights and volumes in these two trips, different but still quite close conceptually and also geographically. The situation would radically change if we faced extreme climates or thinking of remaining self-sufficient for days or knowing that we would not encounter any hospitable places for many kilometers, in different areas of the planet. As you can see in the table, with the same volume the two weights transported are quite distant: this is certainly due to the presence of the aforementioned triad sleeping bag-mat-tent with relative pegs and poles, the presence of the backpack, the number and type of clothing carried, lighter and fewer in one case and heavier and more numerous in the other.
Certainly, as we have often repeated, it is a matter of trial and error to find the perfect distribution of weights and volumes in a trip, bikepacking or classic cycle touring. What about you, have you already faced a bikepacking trip? Do you have questions or suggestions to better distribute weights and volumes? Do you want to know more about bikepacking setups? Write us in the comments!
ITA - Ho 32 anni e sono piemontese, anche se da qualche anno vivo e lavoro in Lombardia. Dopo un inizio da totale inesperto in questo campo, mi sono avvicinato al mondo dei cicloviaggi e della bicicletta sempre più. Oggi posso definirmi "cicloviaggiatore", e assieme all'altra mia passione - il videomaking - non mi fermerei mai! Cyclo ergo sum, pedalo quindi sono, per cercare di capire perché andare in bici sia così bello, terapeutico, ricco... E ogni volta che provo a capirlo, non ce la faccio, e sono costretto a ripartire sui pedali!