How to lash a bike to a packraft

How to Safely Load a Bike Onto Your Packraft​

An excerpt from the safety chapter of The Bikeraft Guide, by Luc Mehl

Loading a bike on a packraft dramatically affects handling and recoverability. The best way to compensate for this increased vulnerability is to choose destinations with fewer hazards and limit your exposure by staying close to shore or portaging around hazards. Personally, I feel comfortable in Class IV water with an unloaded boat and Class II with a bike on my bow.

Test your bike attachment system on a lake or other controlled setting before venturing out. Intentionally capsize to determine if you can turn the boat upright and attempt a wet re-entry. If not, make a plan for how to manage equipment during a swim. It will be beneficial if your partners can bump or tow your boat to shore.

Bike-loading best-practices include:
  •   Attach the bike in a way that minimizes entrapment hazards.
  •   Practice maneuvering the loaded boat in a controlled setting.
  •   Determine if a wet re-entry is possible, and if not, make a plan for boat recovery.

How do I lash a bicycle To my packraft?

By Lizzy Scully, Steve “Doom” Fassbinder and Luc Mehl, from various excerpts of The Bikeraft Guide. This is part of a series of articles we are running in May on bikerafting safety. Read the first two articles at Four Corners Guides: “Creating a Bikerafting Culture of Safety,” and “Bikerafting Safety & Risk Assessment.”

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 inadvisable (you don’t want to put your bike anywhere near your zipper and best practices with current bikes are to put your bike on the bow of your boat), it seems like it might make sense because the stern is often more buoyant. 

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.  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 excerpt from The Bikeraft Guide, Doom does a deep dive into 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.

Looking for more bikerafting tips? Buy the book from Kokopelli Packraft, or head over to to read this chapter unabridged.

How to lash a bike to a packraft
How to lash a bike to a packraft

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. 

What’s one of the most random, yet essential pieces of gear I might lose?

My friend Brett once lost an essential piece of his wheel while we were transporting our bikes via llamas across a wilderness section. As we were derigging the llamas and building our bikes up at the end of that segment and preparing for the next leg of the journey (several days of bike riding and packrafting), Brett says: “Fellas, I’ve got a problem.” Jon and I looked over and he had just attempted to put his front wheel on his bike and the driveside dust cap had been lost from his wheel unbeknownst to us. 

Dust Cap

Now a dust cap doesn’t sound like much, and it really is a very basic and benign part (think of it as a spacer that comes off your hub and interacts with your fork), but without it, you cannot ride your bike. The wheel will not spin when you put it in the fork.

These little dust caps are normally held in place in the hub with a small rubber gasket in the inside. They click in. you would never think twice about losing one. Most people think they’re just part of the hub that is mechanically attached, and some are. But, many modern day hubs have dust caps that are not mechanically attached, just simply pressed in and held in place by a light duty rubber gasket (or O ring). They don’t normally fall off ever, but if on the off chance that one does and you lose it, your bike is effectively inoperable. 

So, every wheel scenario and hub is different. Some hubs may or may not be more prone to this. But it’s something you should look closely at when you take your wheels off, particularly if you’re working on your bike at home, you should pull on your end caps to see if they will come off. Typically they will not come off by hand. But if you take your wheels off and the dust caps with a very light tug come off or fall out into your hand without any trouble, this is something you should be concerned about.

A Simple Solution

A quick and easy way to secure your wheels while boating to ensure no loss of dust caps is to simply run a very long or a couple of zip ties put together through the hub where the axle would normally be, closing the loop so that even if the dust cap falls off it will still be attached (via the zip ties). I have never done this, but I have considered doing it for safety’s sake, especially in lieu of Brett’s scenario. His wife had to drive 300 miles to get him a whole new wheel.

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’s 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 the 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 over.

Next step in lashing your bike to your packraft... put your wheels on the 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 bike (taking care to put any spare pieces in my frame bag for safe keeping, and I screw the axle back into the front fork). I put my rear wheel down first, making sure it is not going to damage the frame when I place it. Then I place the front wheel also on top of the frame, but with a slight offset from the other wheel. They will overlay, but not stack directly on top of one another.

Think about the 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. 

Bungees & Other tie Downs

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 ski straps to strap the rest of your bike down.

On the other hand, Swiftwater Safety Instructor and master packrafter/kayaker Dan Thurber 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. 

Want to read the whole series? Check out Parts 1 & 2 on this blog: “Bikerafting Safety & Risk Assessment” and  “Creating a Bikerafting Culture of Safety,” and Part 3, “How to Safely Lash Your Bike to your Packraft,” on The Bikeraft Guide website.

Also check out other excerpts from The Bikeraft Guide, including our “Route Planning Checklist.” Follow us on Instagram!