The Amazing Sport of Bikerafting
July 25th 2019
Years ago, my father-in-law speculated about the possibility of using his compact folding bike to carry a folding kayak, then the boat to carry the folded kayak. He could go anywhere…except… I’ve hefted his ‘high tensile steel’ folding bike. I could use it for weight-training. It would sink a boat!
So I was excited to hear from prospective customer Ron that this activity is a thing now, called ‘bikerafting’. And–so far–it doesn’t use folding bikes for ruggedness reasons, although there’s an obvious opening for the only folding bikes that are certified for ruggedness (ISO-4210, EN-14766). Ron said it best:
“I was surprised to find no references to bikerafting on your website. That being said, I have no hands on experience with either packrafting or folding bikes but the outdoor activity it would make possible is very attractive. After researching on the internet the Change 611 Hybrid is calling my name. The compact folded dimensions (35″ x 30″ x 10″) and light weight seem to make it an ideal marriage for the packraft.
Have you had any other bikerafting inquiries? Does the 611 weigh 10.5 kg (23.1 lbs) as listed on changebike.com or the 26 lbs as listed on yours? How do you think the bike would hold up under occasional, very wet conditions? I am assuming the carrying bag is water resistant but not waterproof.”
These are fabulous starter questions, but first, let’s catch up to where Ron was when he asked this. What is this activity?
(Photos courtesy of bikepacking.com)
A quick intro to bikerafting.
First, this is about personal rafting. Not a river raft that seats six, and certainly not a folding kayak, but a one-person raft that will be stable in the water, even when loaded down. It could probably even carry one of my father-in-law’s folding bikes, but a compact folding bike is completely unsuited to carrying weight through off-road terrain.
The ideal raft for bikepacking is rugged enough to withstand puncture, a bit longer than you would use without equipment to allow for a bike, and has tie-downs for all your equipment–a very critical purchase choice, as not all personal rafts have these. You will also want paddles that dissemble to fit in various places.
An important concept here is that the transition point from land to water and back is not like a triathlon. It’s a major operation! Each time, your raft will need to be deflated, folded, and repacked into a tight bag. And unless you have some type of rugged, full-size folding bike that fits in a convenient bag, your bike will need to have both wheels removed and more.
As for the bike, there are no predefined standards, but you’ll want something that can handle both a lot of pack weight and a lot of varied terrain. Mountain bikes are common. A photo from the bikepacking.com website defines the challenges quite well.
At first glance, it looks like a mountain bike, with very low gearing, super-wide ‘fat bike’ tires, and a lot of stuff to carry. Upon closer examination, it’s a non-MTB built on an MTB frame, with a loose, rusted chain and…inexplicably…no derailleur for getting into that low gearing. Was the derailleur removed on purpose, in the interest of stripping out complexity, or out of necessity after a problem? A mystery…
But what isn’t a mystery is the appeal of this sport. It gets you as close to nature as possible, with adventures that few others get the chance to experience. Like Lewis & Clark, who explored the early west by land and canoe adventures–and some misadventures–you are exploring life to the fullest.
What bike do you need for bikerafting?
First, you’ll want a bike that can handle a packed raft, a personal flotation device (PFD), tent, etc–something you can load down with heaps of equipment and still power through hills. Does a CHANGE bike work for that?
Second, you’ll want a bike that can handle being on a raft, without sharp parts sticking out and puncturing the raft or getting bent and broken. We wouldn’t want to end up losing our rear derailleur!
Think about the implications of that for a moment. When you can fit four full-size bikes in the bottom of a small closet, you can fit four of them in the center of a six-person raft. As long as you can pack up that raft and carry it somehow when deflated, you just expanded your bikerafting options to four paddlers in the same raft with all their equipment. Paddle downriver as a team then cycle to a pub together. Carry bigger stuff, like a spacious six-person tent. Or just spend less time taking on water, loaded up solo with too much equipment in a small boat.
Which brings us to water. How well do CHANGE bikes handle it?
In high-water conditions, anything steel needs to be inspected periodically and maintained (or you end up with a loose, rusted chain). CHANGE frames are aluminum, so that’s not a problem, but steel items include chain, sprockets, cables, bearings, bottom bracket, and an assortment of screws.
I personally cycle-commute year-round in Seattle, including the rainy season, and my only wet-related maintenance on a CHANGE 611 rugged hybrid is to periodically lube my chain and sprockets with something like Pedro’s Wet Chain Lube, adding a bit to the exposed cables. So far, nothing else is an issue, and the update to this bike, the CHANGE 811, has internal cabling to reduce even water on the cables. All CHANGE bikes come with a water-resistant (although not waterproof) bag.
All that leaves is Ron’s question about weight. CHANGE bike frames are manufactured by Changebike, LTD., and typically come in three sizes for different heights of riders. Changebike, LTD (the manufacturer) and Flatbike, Inc. (the North American reseller) measure bike weight in different ways:
- The manufacturer’s official weight uses the smallest frame, without pedals–just the bike, as light as possible. This gives a minimum weight for the CHANGE 611 of 23.1 lbs.
- Flatbike’s method uses the largest frame, with flat pedals and the Flatbike seat bag (for pedals) that ships with the bike. This gives a maximum weight for the CHANGE 611 of 26 lbs.
Which is correct? They both are. But we feel that anything included standard with the bike for customer usage should be part of the bike’s ‘real life’ weight. No surprises!
What adventures have you had with a CHANGE bike?
Ron is now the proud owner of a CHANGE 611, ready for bikerafting as soon as he matches it with the right raft.
But for all we know, other CHANGE bike owners have already had bikerafting experiences. We’ve heard about bike touring and private plane adventures. Where has your CHANGE bike taken you?
Bob Forgrave is president of Flatbike, an
ecommerce company offering full-size folding bikes
and kits to make any bike take up half the space.