A new book, ‘The Bikeraft Guide,’ offers a comprehensive rundown of tackling an adventure by pedal and paddle. So we asked the authors to answer the most-asked bikerafting question: How do you lash a bike to a packraft?
The following is an excerpt from “The Bikeraft Guide: The Ultimate How-To Guide, History Of & Wild Adventure Stories about Bikerafting,” written by Lizzy Scully and Steve “Doom” Fassbinder. Visit their IndieGoGo campaign and preorder your guide today!
More people ask this question than any other, as it’s still uncommon to see other bikerafters anywhere, and information on the web remains limited.
Peruse the internet, and you’ll see all sorts of configurations. You might see people lashing their bikes to the stern of their boats, either accidentally or on purpose (one company has designed a boat to carry a bike on its stern, something good exclusively for flatwater boating). Though incorrect, it makes sense because the stern is often more buoyant.
“If you’re going to take apart your bike, make sure every part of that bike is strapped down or accounted for because the last thing you want is to lose a wheel, pedal, saddle, or a skewer. If you’re taking your bike apart a lot, dedicate a place to put your gear, or develop a strapping system for everything you have on your bike. I lost a seat and a seat post on a trip once. I stood up a lot. It was a low consequence trip, but it still sucked.” — Eric Parsons, Owner of Revelate Designs & early adopter of bikes & packrafts.
With so many configurations available online, is there an actual right way to attach your bike on your boat? Yes and no. There are certainly some best practices you might want to consider.
Bjorn Olson’s informative article, “Bikerafting: Incorporating Packrafts into Bikepacking,” offers some excellent suggestions:
Bjorn Olson: How to Strap Your Bike to a Packraft
There are two main ways that I strap the bike to the raft when I am in paddle mode.
- One way is very fast and simple, but I only ever use this method when making short and calm crossings. This involves inflating the raft, removing the non-drive pedal (create good habits and always store pedals in the same place every time. I put mine in my frame bag. Always!), and laying the bike across the bow. I then use one strap to keep the bike from falling overboard. The front-wheel ends up being in the water with this configuration but if you only have a short distance to cover and the water is calm, this is okay. Once I am in the raft I place my pack on my lap and make the crossing.
- For longer crossings or crossings in moving water, it’s well worth the extra time and effort to secure your bike properly. While everyone’s method varies, this generally involves removing both pedals and at least the front wheel, placing the frame driveside up on your raft, and finding the balance point before loosely strapping down the frame and wheel(s). Once the load is equalized on your raft, tighten the straps to secure your load.
Of course, again, how you lash your bike on your packraft depends on many things, from the style of bikerafting you wish to do to where you are to what sort of water you are running, etc. As with all things bikerafting, the answer is, it depends. In this deep dive, Doom talks about his best practices. He admits his way isn’t definitive. But it’s a tried and true method he’s used all over the world. So we think it’s a good place to start.
How Do I Lash My Bike to My Boat?
First Things First: Get Your Bike and Straps Ready
Titan or Voile straps work great. If you have a boat with standard grab loops, thread the straps in with the pointed end first before you put your bike on. I usually save the long ones for where the drive side will lie. Then, take your non-drive side pedal off (if you have a pedal wrench). You don’t need to take the drive side pedal off since it stays up in the air. Some people leave their pedals on and wrap them with socks or other items to keep them from puncturing the raft. I don’t recommend this.
Always put your pedals and other important bike parts that you don’t want to lose in the frame bag. And, make sure that you don’t have anything valuable in your frame bag because that stuff will get wet.
Take the front wheel off. I always keep my axles either in the frame bag, or I re-install them on the fork or the bike. Whatever you do, don’t lose your axles. You won’t be riding very far if you do. Then deal with the rear wheel. There are pros and cons to keeping your rear wheel on. It really doesn’t matter one way or the other. Sometimes it’s better, sometimes it’s not. If you have a rack with a thru-axle, it’s typically really hard to get your wheel off because the rack isn’t stabilized anymore. So, if I have a rack on the bike, I normally leave the rear wheel on. But, if not, I usually take the rear wheel off.
Be sure to run your chain over the axle as it keeps the chain in a little bit of tension so it’s not flopping all around.
Next Step, Lash the Bike Frame to the Boat
I’ve seen a lot of people put their bikes on their boats with the fork and the derailleur forward. I don’t recommend this because if you run into anything, the first thing you’re going to hit and damage is your $250+ derailleur. The other problem with running your bike forward is if you run into a strainer, sticks, or roots while on moving water especially, they’ll catch on your bike and get stuck. So a much cleaner way to put your frame on is to run the seat and handlebars forward.
If you have a dropper post, be sure to put it in the down position to make a more compact package.
Then, position your bike on the front of the boat. There are lots of adjustments you can make, but generally, I have the chainstays right over the grab loop on the left-hand side of the boat. Strap that down nice and tight. If you start with that strap and then just move around, you’ll generally have an easier time strapping down your boat. You want all your straps to be super snug and tight. And when you stack your wheels on top of your bike, you want to create a good foundation for those wheels to rest on. So the more you have the frame strapped down properly, the better your wheels will rest on it.
There’s no one, perfect way to do this. And I generally do it slightly differently every time. It depends on the straps you have, how much gear you have, and many other things.
So now your frame is on your boat. Remember that the front might start to tip with the weight. So, put your backpack or some rocks in the back of the boat to weigh it down so it doesn’t flip. Then you don’t have to hold it. And if the wind is blowing, it keeps your boat from blowing away.
Next, Put Your Wheels on Your Boat
I do it differently every time, and it just depends on the situation. All bikes are different, all configurations are different. However, this is my average setup. I take both wheels off the frame (taking care to put any spare pieces in my frame bag for safekeeping, and I screw the axle back into the front fork). I put my rear wheel down first, making sure it doesn’t hit the frame and is not going to damage the frame when I place it. Then I put the front wheel on.
You want to think about weight distribution. You don’t want most of the weight on one side or the other, so visualize where the wheels go as you are strapping stuff down. Then, put it in the water and hold the back end. You’ll know right away if it’s too heavy on one side or the other. Take it out and rebalance it.
I like to use a bungee cord to strap the wheels down because it grabs more of the wheels. You can get one bungee cord to do everything, including securing both wheels. And then use a couple of ski straps to strap the rest of your bike down.
On the other hand, Swiftwater Safety Instructor and master packrafter/kayaker warns against using too many stretchy straps. He says you only want one part of your system to be flexible and the other part static. If you only use bungees, for example, the bike will move around a lot, it’s unstable, harder to get in the right place, and will be more difficult to deal with should you flip. Bungees in this case cause more instability because the packraft is an unstable structure on which you are putting your bike. Ski straps are far less stretchy, and so create a more stable attachment.
What If I Don’t Feel Like Taking My Rear Wheel Off?
That’s fine. You absolutely don’t have to. Lizzy prefers not to when she’s on flat water because her bike is such a pain to take apart. If you don’t want to take your rear wheel off because you have a rack or for whatever reason, then just be more careful in how you balance your boat. You’ll have one side of the bike sticking far out to the side if you’re not careful. Counterweight the heavy side with your pack by strapping on your water-resistant seat bag insert to the opposite side.
How Do I Pack My Other Gear on the Boat?
After you secure the frame and wheels, you’ll strap your other gear on or in the boat. If you’re on a multi-day trip, and you have a lot of stuff, you may have a large pack and/or other gear. You may not want to put all of it on top of your wheels and bike frame, as it will be hard to see. You can always deflate your seat or leave it at home and sit on your backpack. But, make sure that hard objects like fuel canisters don’t make contact with the floor; hard objects can cut your floor. Or, use it as a back rest (if your boat is big enough, leaving you enough room to take a paddle stroke without hitting your frame).
What Do I Take Off My Bike When I Pack It on My Boat?
Generally, I take my seat bag off the bike. You don’t want anything to dangle off the bike over the water or fall off and get lost. If you’ve got a GPS or Garmin on your bike, take that off. Put everything in your pack, preferably a water-resistant pack if you have one. Or, use small, lightweight dry bags to stash important stuff. Or, put it inside your cargo fly if you don’t need it for the day.
What Are Some Things That Can Puncture My Boat?
There are three main things that can puncture your boat. Watch out for frayed cable ends, such as if you’re running mechanical disc brakes. I’ve never seen it happen, but that’s because I’m aware that it could. Your pedals can also easily puncture your boat, especially pedals with spikes. That’s why I always take my non-drive side pedal off. Or, if you can’t get it off, be sure to pad the pedal. The other thing that can puncture your boat are the cut off ends of zip ties. So don’t use them, or put a bit of duct tape over the ends where it might contact the boat.
Should I Go Disaster Style?
There are many applications where you might put a bike on your boat “disaster style,” which means just throwing it on the end of your boat without taking the wheels off or even tying it down. Maybe the river is small and you just don’t want to get your feet wet, or the crossing is very short and the water calm, which makes it very unlikely I’ll flip my boat or that my bike will fall off. Or maybe you just have so many river crossings that it’s too time-consuming to lash your bike down each time. Those are situations where I might consider disaster style.
The major pitfalls of this are that if your wheels are sticking way out over the sides of the boat, the boat is not going to be stable. You’ll also have less room to make a full paddle stroke, thereby limiting your ability to actually paddle across whatever water body you are on. Finally, if there’s any chance you might flip your boat or your boat might fall off, then don’t do it. For example, if it’s windy, there are waves, or there’s any chance of going over a rapid, don’t go disaster style.
Should I Use the Cargo Fly or Not?
It depends. If you’re doing really short crossings and you can see the other side, where you are going, and you’re on a multi-day trip, it may start to be time-consuming and a pain to use the cargo fly every time you make that crossing. But, if the crossing is a bit further or if you’re running any sort of whitewater, then you need a tighter, more solid package. So, put everything in the boat. First and foremost, you want to make sure your stuff stays as dry as possible. So keep that in mind when deciding whether or not to use it.
Should I Use Tie Downs?
Yes. If you don’t have them, put them on yourself. However, most packrafts these days have tie downs that are compatible with bicycles. I like Alpacka’s Caribou Bikeraft because they have flat strap plates with two slits in them that you can run the ski straps through (instead of grab loops). They make for a nice, flat package. But grab loops (flat, welded discs with a loop of nylon webbing) work just fine. As long as you have something to thread your strap or bungee cord through, you’re good to go.
Want to learn more? Check out “The Bikeraft Guide: The Ultimate How-To Guide, History Of & Wild Adventure Stories about Bikerafting” on IndieGoGo and order your copy now!