Amid the flashy sizzle reels touting the newest gravel eBike and the big corporations gobbling up and/or shutting down beloved small brands, heart and soul are still alive and well in the bicycle industry. Underneath chasing the hot trends of consumers, real human beings truly want the warm fuzzies of feeling like part of a niche, a caring community of fanatics who get excited about small details and intentional products. I may have come to the party about 30 years late, but I’ve found such company in Bike Friday based in Eugene, Oregon.
Last year, I was honored to test the 2023 All-Packa (Adventure Cyclist, March/April 2023), Bike Friday’s first bikepacking/mountain bike. I had such a blast finding creative ways to utilize its packability that I ended up buying my test bike for my household. I just couldn’t part with it. When Willie Hatfield, the incomparably thoughtful designer of the All-Packa, reached out to see if I’d be interested in testing his updated 2024 version before it hit the market, my response was an immediate “duh.” Who could turn down such an injection of whimsy?
Typically we at Adventure Cyclist receive test bikes in big cardboard boxes, shipped from wherever they’re assembled straight to our HQ in Missoula. We unbox them and build them up and save the boxes to be shipped back when we’re finished testing. Willie had a different delivery method in mind for my new and improved glittery-purple All-Packa.
Early in the morning on October 6, my partner Joel and I loaded up the 2023 All-Packa in the backseat of our truck and headed due north for three hours to Whitefish, Montana. At the same time we were driving, Joe Cruz of Bikepacking.com pedaled a pair of 20in. wheels northwest from Kalispell (14 miles from Whitefish), where he’d flown in the night before and stayed at the airport hotel. Joel and I pulled up to the Depot Park in the sleepy downtown of Whitefish and immediately spotted a yard sale of bike gear scattered around the sidewalk in front of the Amtrak station: Willie. Among his gear was an open suitcase bestowing my folded-up 20in. wheeled dream bicycle.
Our route was a variation of one Joel and I had done a few years before, the Red Meadow Pass Loop, scouted by Whitefish local Zach Miller for bikepacking.com. The champion of all 100-ish-mile loops, this route sticks mostly to forested dirt roads and winds past lakes, a couple quaint tourist villages, and follows the North Fork of the Flathead River through Glacier National Park — all through grizzly bear territory.
To really put the new All-Packa through the ringer, I modified the third day of the loop to climb a seemingly endless Forest Service road up the backside of the local ski resort. Closed for the summer season, the glorious ribbons of flowy singletrack were left unoccupied by the usual hoard of mountain bikers who utilize the lift to minimize uphill traffic when the resort isn’t covered in snow.
I had never met Willie or Joe in person (although I’m a superfan of both), and aside from phone calls about little-bike design and features, Joe and Willie hadn’t met face to face, either. Joel, admittedly, is not entrenched in Bike World and was tagging along for a good time. As we loaded up our All-Packas that morning and started up the paved bike path out of town, we acknowledged our shared bout of nerves that bubbled up in anticipation of riding with each other. We very quickly fell into a comfortable pace and conversation as the pavement turned to dirt and our cell service dwindled to none.
After 30 miles of churning uphill to Red Meadow Lake, we were rewarded with sweet, sweet solitude and a handful of empty campsites. We spent all night laughing around the campfire, sharing stories of adventure, nerding out about bike technology, and recapping our first day atop All-Packas together.
The 2024 version of the bike accommodates tires of an astonishing and downright comical width: 2.8in. Even with such beefy tires, the bicycle still packs up easily in a suitcase (as Joe demonstrated by flying with his for this trip). Willie really did think of everything.
Other notable improvements of the updated All-Packa include a higher bottom bracket so you can run squishy tire pressure without bottoming out over rocks, compatibility with an externally routed dropper post (!), and some really spectacular drivetrain options. While I opted for a 2x9 drivetrain for maximum range, you can now order your All-Packa spec’d with 1x9, 1x11 SRAM, 12-speed Apex AXS XPLR, or even a Rohloff internally geared hub. The super nifty Bike Friday Packalope bars also got a little upgrade with improved ergonomics, increased grip length, and more backsweep and upsweep.
While the improvements to the All-Packa are really exciting, the bike didn’t handle much differently than the 2023 model. It is, after all, essentially the same bike. During this bikepacking trip, I tested both 2.4in. and 2.8in. tires, compared to the 2.35in. of the previous model. Unsurprisingly, the 2.4in. tires didn’t really feel different from the 2.35in.. The 2.8in., however, had me cheering “2.8! 2.8!” any time I smashed over chunky rock surfaces. You may sacrifice a small amount of speed for that tire width, but in my very educated opinion, it’s so worth it. I took the 2.8in. tires home with me.
Packing gear onto the All-Packa is surprisingly easy considering what you might think would be frame cargo limitations. I already had an Oveja Negra ½ Pack on hand, which fits super well in the tiny internal frame triangle — Bike Friday also partners with Take a Trip Bags to offer custom All-Packa framebags starting at $85. A traditional bikepacking bag setup totally works on the All-Packa, but we all agreed the bike is much less noodly when weighted lower to the ground. Joe’s micro panniers made me a bit envious compared to my bulky seatpost bag and handlebar roll. Braze-ons aplenty allow you to attach cargo cages essentially anywhere along the frame (fork, back of seat mast, downtube, top tube, etc.) so that smaller/longer drybags can be strapped out of the way. The Best Packing Idea Award by far goes to Willie, who ski-strapped a plastic bear canister straight on top of a mini front rack and stuffed it with all of his food. I am definitely taking note of that stroke of genius.
I loved learning all about how Willie sources the odds and ends that go into building his bikes. “Off-road performance is so dependent on having the right tire,” he shared. “Five years ago, the All-Packa couldn’t exist because decently wide knobbies for 20in. wheels didn’t exist. Luckily, a bunch of mountain bikers became parents and wanted their kids to have awesome mountain bikes. Larger brands got the tire manufacturers to release supple tubeless knobbies, and Bike Friday gets to ride their coattails and release a travel bikepacking bike.”
Willie bought up all the tubeless-compatible pairs of 20 x 2.8in. tires he could get his hands on for the All-Packa once the pandemic bike boom waned and manufacturers started canceling their more niche bikes. He negotiates regularly with different companies to see if they’d be interested in producing parts that work for his designs. “[Bike Friday] is still too small to shape the market, so we are seeing manufacturers doing limited runs and frequently discontinuing great tires,” he said. Despite these challenges, Willie is confident that other folding bike brands will eventually follow suit with bikepacking models, which will improve the supply/demand situation for everyone.
All in all, I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t riding a standard bicycle the whole weekend — it was very easy to forget. Aside from being able to step through the frame to dismount instead of swinging a leg over the saddle, the All-Packa rides more or less like a standard mountain bike and it’s quite comfortable, in my opinion, especially with 2.8in. knobby tires. And when you’re surrounded by clever minds spouting incredible stories, teaching each other constellations, and bonding over camp recipes, it’s a challenge to think too hard about the bike you’re riding, regardless of how unique it is.
The undeniable highlight of all the riding we did through western Montana was ripping down Whitefish Mountain’s singletrack on our loaded All-Packas as the sun set over town, where we’d soon toast beers over a taco dinner in the glow of our fabulous weekend. We were transformed into giggly little kids flying around berms on our fully loaded little bikes. The first trail we took was accidentally a black diamond and boy, was that wild. Though I was relieved when we caught up to the blue “cross-country” trail, I was amazed by how capable I felt on the All-Packa — truly only limited by my own lack of shreddy mountain bike confidence. I’ll never forget how otherworldly it was to be surrounded by such thoughtful, compassionate weirdos zooming down a desolate mountain bike park, connected by the curiosity and creativity sparked by Bike Friday’s All-Packa.