Bikepackers are a finicky customer to cater too. In addition to having all the wants and desires of traditional mountain bike consumers, we have additional needs that can sometimes overwhelm the neophyte demo tech or hungover pitch man. But as more and more cyclists decide to strap on bags and hit the trail, forward thinking companies with an eye on capturing their share of the market have attempted to up their game. We first noted this trend when Bikepackers Magazine reported from Interbike in Las Vegas last fall. We observed a growing number of bike manufacturers specifically marketing to bikepackers. We checked out custom bikes and bags being sold together and we got to briefly demo some 2015 rides. pcTgl But that experience left us wondering “how accurately do the sales presentations and slick marketing schemes correlate with a bike’s real ride and actual potential for bikepacking adventures? What’s the truth with these rigs and what really works for a bikepacker looking to buy a new bike? Interested in exploring more, we traveled to Moab to shred as many demos as we could. In between laps at the Brand Trails, we spoke with company reps and tipped back frosty beverages with a plethora of folks. After many conversations, bike rides, product testing, and yes, more beer, we’re not sure we’ve answered our initial question – but three days of camping, riding and laughing in the Utah desert made for some fun evaluations.

Bikes

Ibis Tranny 29

Without a doubt, riding this bike was a major highlight of the weekend. The Ibis Tranny is a work of art that hides behind a utilitarian, “I can do anything” identity. Clean lines, lightweight and an “oh so playful” ride define this carbon 29er. We pedaled the Tranny, set up as a single speed with a Gates Carbon belt drive, and we didn’t want to give it back. The Tranny’s versatility and applications for bikepacking are clear. Ample frame space, internal cable routing, geared or fixed and the ability to break the bike down into a suitcase are all major positives for bikepackers. But when the bags come off and you get a day to shred singletrack, this bike will transport you back to your days of neighborhood dirt jumping on your childhood bmx. Reluctantly, we handed this champion back over to the Ibis team but the high fun factor found on this first date will definitely have us coming back for more Tranny love.

Yeti SB5

a8SWb I trad climb, paddle a bucket boat and pedal a steel hartail. So how does a curmudgeon like me end up on this bad ass piece of futuristic bicycle technology? Answer, I’m a greedy fun hog. After testing bikes with an eye on bikepacking applications, it was time to rally some squish. The Yeti tent didn’t have a Large ASR Carbon for us to spin (their oft recommended bikepacking rig) So we decided it’d be acceptable to take this stallion out for a gallop. And holy wow cakes, I think I’m quitting cross country and taking up enduro! You don’t need to think on this bike. It feels like cheating as you quickly adopt a “point it and pedal” approach to riding this bike. It crushes everything it encounters and is squishier than your average Wal-Mart patron. At just over 5 pounds with 27.5 wheels, Yeti’s new Switch Infinity system and 5” of travel, it was hero time. Although Yeti claims the SB5  is equally competent climbing and descending, I found it difficult to see this bike being used in a ultra racing/bikepacking context. But I put those practical thoughts aside and went looking for more ledges to huck. Undoubtedly, the SB5 is emblematic of the performance and quality that defines the Yeti legacy.

Pivot Les

The Pivot Les is a race machine in every aspect. The bike has a 69.30* head tube angle and 100mm of fork travel, and the combination of longer chain stays. The Les was stable, particularly that front wheel, and it set me up in an ideal race position. This all proved to be important, as the HT climbed like it should, but it also spun through descents and corners with ease. While Pivot’s size chart had me on a medium (5″11/32″ inseam), I felt a bit scrunched. While some say no to carbon for the bikepacking application, this would be a perfect Tour Divide bike, as well as every day rig. Nevertheless, I had a blast on this bike, and would not mind taking one home.

Pivot Les Fat

When BPM demoed the Salsa Beargrease last fall, we thought we’d found our big, beautiful mistress of fat. But a dog will hunt and now there’s another secret beauty that’s stolen our heart. The Pivot Les Fat is a trail gobbling monster that saw a lot of demo action at Outerbike. If the smile generating ride isn’t enough to convince you this bike is rad, then its tech specs are sure to seal the deal. The Les Fat fits all fat/plus wheelsizes (26 X 3.8, 26 X 4.8, 27.5+ and 29+) via Pivot’s visionary, Swinger II dropout system. The bike comes stock with internal cable routing, a carbon front fork and beefy, 4” Maxxis tires. If you want a multi-season fatty that can shred the gnar with ease, the Les Fat is a smart investment. Bikepacking considerations include multiple cage mounting options, rear rack mounts and moderate frame space for bags.

Pivot Mach 429 SL

pD2Og We put both male and female testers on the Pivot Mach 429 SL and generated consistent feedback between our riders. This carbon 29er definitely rides like race bike. It’s fast on straightaways, holds tight in the corners and is an absolute savage on steep climbs. Pivot has designed this bike to “dominate any event.” Our testing team agreed that this was one of the better, full suspension, cross country-esqe options we tried. We unanimously felt the descending capabilities were just average but we like how Pivot’s achieved a blend of race and huck with this rig. The inner triangle offers moderate room for custom frame bags and bikepackers will appreciate the quality workmanship and attentive customer care that comes with an investment in a Pivot bicycle.

 Durango Bike Co. Blackjack

4pECL The most unique bike of the weekend was the Blackjack from Durango Bike Co. While it may not look like your traditional bikepacking rig, this bike has much more to offer then what the eye may see. The Blackjack is of the 29er platform variety, but it comes with a 148 rear spacing, which Sram just announced components for today. This feature allows you to swap your 27.5 plus wheels and will accommodate a 3.25″ tire. It essentially makes it a one bike quiver, for some. As I hopped over the bike, I was drawn to the drops and rough of the trail ahead, it simply ate up everything in my path. Where the bike did not excel as much was the climbs, but this is a trail bike, not a XC bike, so keep that in mind. Overall, this bike is ahead of its time, and should be very popular once it is in production later this year.    

Yeti ASR

Hdzd1 The ASR Carbon does everything extremely well. This bike climbs like a beast, feels super in control on descents and is a monster when opening it up on the buff. We were all blown away by the stability and balance provided over variable trail conditions and the bike handles the ugliest of chunk like it’s no big thing. Unquestionably, this is the perfect all around bike for full suspension bikepacking applications. Remarkably, the ASR carbon instilled confidence and inspired higher speeds than any other bike ridden at Outerbike. “This bike has changed my perception about gender specific bikes. As a smaller female, I’ve always looked to ride woman’s specific models. The ASR Carbon has definitely proved me wrong!” A big price tag is the one challenge for this big time bike.   uQzlE  

Ibis Ripley

IMG_6109 The Ibis Ripley was a powerhouse for Moab XC riding. The Ripley may seem like “a lot of bike” for the average cross country rider, but when you are on it, it does not feel that way. It has speed and pop, and handles extremely well on varying singletrack. The interesting thing about the Ripley coming from a small frame rider, was that although it is a 29er, you feel as though you are riding in the bike, instead of feeling like you are on top of it. The downside to this bike for bikepacking would be the lack of solid frame space for a bag. 5QaKG

Scott Spark

fqJIu The Spark is a full suspension bike that rides more like a hard tail. It was stiff and a tad too skittery on the Moab chunder for our liking. It took too much to muscle to feel in control on this rig. Needless to say, the tricky handling and lack of beef was downright scary at some points. BPM did like the lightweight carbon build and the 27.5 wheels ensured the bike “climbed okay.” It also has descent triangle space. (maybe some loaded bags would give us the missing mass we felt was needed?) The race ready stock build featuring Scott’s suspension technology and elegantly tapered head tubes was nice. But the confidence and control this bike claimed to provide were definitely absent for our team.

Rocky Mountain AltitudeIMG_6093_2

Rocky Mountain Bicycles describes the Altitude as an all-day long, do anything bike. This is true if the bike’s geometry works for you. An average, male rider will have no issue with the Altitude’s steep top tube and stand over height. However our female testers, fit by RM techs, found the Altitude’s dimensions challenging. “Ladies, watch your bits!” We liked the internal cable routing, 150 mm of travel and 27.5 wheelset on this carbon beauty but agree bikepackers would be better served exploring other RM models like the Instinct, Element or Thunderbolt. A descent ride but definitely a must try before you buy!

GT Helion Carbon

NM9O3 The Helion Carbon by GT was another cross country style ride that was offered for demo at Outerbike this year. Although this bike was on the heavy side, the geo was on point for a small frame (rider size 5′ 5.5”). The biggest upside to this ride for bikepacking would be the sheer amount of frame space that the small frame offers for a full suspension bike. Typically as a small frame rider, it is extremely difficult to find a full suspension bike that can accommodate a custom frame bag worth carrying. With the design of the Helion and the low center of gravity rear suspension, you end up with a huge amount of frame space. The unique rear suspension design also gave the ride a smooth flow, killing two birds with one stone. KUE4a More to come on the sights of Outerbike, stay tuned.

8 Comments

  1. Hey Gabriel, do you have any opinion on larger than ‘fit’ frames for bikepacking? I acquired a 21″ Salsa El Mariachi in barter but I’m 5’9″ with 33″ inseam. I can standover the bike & I put a shorter stem on. I am comfy but have been getting a lot of negative feedback about the bike being too big.

  2. With such little main triangle space in most of the bikes you rode, do you feel they still can be quality bikepacking candidates?

    • Neil Beltchenko
      Neil Beltchenko

      Rick, There are so many different people out there, with different riding styles and skill sets. While these bike designs take away from frame space, they excel in other areas. Chatting with some of these manufactures, they really did not know what bikepacking was, but we explained that a saddle and handlebar bag would suffice when lack of frame space was present. I started on a Trek Fuel Ex 6, worked for me. While the yeti SB5 was a bit too much, it is a fun bike. The Pivot Mach 429 was an ideal Bikepacking rig, just not that much frame space. Ride what ya got!

  3. Salsa Spearfish Carbon (RS-1 or 1)! I’d love to read that review.

    • Neil Beltchenko
      Neil Beltchenko

      Walter, have yet to ride that bad boy. I have been on the spearfish 2 for a full year. Interested in that review? Same frame get, just an aluminum frame.

  4. To bad you didn’t like the scott spark, I was looking into one Maybe the Scott Genius would be more fitting, since the spark is more cross country and the genius is more trail/am.

    • I have a spark and love it…I put a beefier tire on the front and once suspension is dialed its a great bike. I have used it with gear loaded and feel like the twin lock is an amazing feature when the trail or road get smooth. In my bike experience of owned/ridden i think the spark is great. Predictable, stable, fast, forgiving. I demoed a genius and its super fun, but prob not best for bikepacking.

      • Hi LJ, I have been looking at the Scott Spark for ages now. Do you do any longer trip bikepacking? I’m starting to think that the Spark might not be ideal for long trips, due to the weight, as well as the small triangle. Preferably I would ride without a backpack. Cheers Evert

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