Packhorse on Wheels
April 8, 2011 12:25 PM   Subscribe

I ride my bike about 50-70 miles a day, but now I'd like to be able to carry a minimal amount of overnight camping gear and hiking boots with me. How can I do this while keeping the weight balanced and without breaking my back?
posted by HotPatatta to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Bikepacking is a subcategory of touring that emphasizes ultralightweight, minimal gear. A lot of these guys get their total loads down below 15 lb. See also this flickr group.

With loads like that, you can get away with an outsized seat bag, a handlebar bag, and a lightweight backpack. A lot of people use frame bags as well. There are small companies that specialize in bags for bikepackers in fact, like Revelate and Carousel Design It seems to be a point of pride with bikepackers that they avoid conventional racks and panniers (which add weight).
posted by adamrice at 12:35 PM on April 8, 2011

A rack with panniers (perhaps home-made) or a trailer.
posted by ChrisHartley at 12:36 PM on April 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Have you looked into towing the load with a trailer at all? Pride aside, yeah I know, it may hinder off-road discovery, but these guys went around the World and at the end of the days it's the journey that counts.
posted by jsavimbi at 12:38 PM on April 8, 2011

Yeah, this is what panniers are for. No reason whatsoever to carry that weight on your body.
posted by valkyryn at 12:52 PM on April 8, 2011

Response by poster: Looks like a pannier is exactly what I need. Any recommendations on brands, which features and fabric to look for, what to avoid?
posted by HotPatatta at 12:57 PM on April 8, 2011

Best answer: First you need to get all the gear OFF you and on the bike. You want front and rear racks if at all possible because the more you spread the weight over the bike frame the better the bike will handle. I have a new Axiom slim rack on my road bike and I love it; strong, sleek, adjustable to fit most standard road bikes with braze ons somewhere near the top of the seat tube and on the dropouts of the chain stays. Only weighs half a pound with nothing on it so I don't feel like it slows me down when I am not riding with gear.

You need panniers that clip securely to the racks. These get pricey. Think about how waterproof you need them to be, how much stuff you want to be able to carry, and what shape they need to be to fit your rack and stay out of the way so your heels don't hit them. Also think about what is going in them; do you need lots of pockets or do you just want one big compartment so that you can go grocery shop with them too?

Another thing I am personally looking for but haven't found yet is a cell phone mount for my bars. I use the navigation functions while I ride and it would be nice to have.

A possibly cheaper option is to just get wire baskets (Wald makes the classic ones) on each side and stuff those full of gear and strap it down with bungees. This is less durable and reliable and you can't just take the baskets off and go in a store with them. However, it would probably work okay on just an overnight tour. You wouldn't want to cross the country that way, so if you think you might go for longer tours eventually the panniers are a better investment.
posted by slow graffiti at 12:59 PM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Arkel and Ortlib are the big brands. Ortlib are waterproof "dry bags", Arkel are more traditional nylon. I've had a pair of inexpensive Axiom nylon panniers for 10+ years and they work fine. I don't think it really matters that much but of course people do like to agonize over these sorts of thing. Get a pair that fits the rack you buy. Probably a cheaper aluminum rack will be fine but Tubus makes the strongest racks if you want to spend $100.

If the chainstays on your bike are short (less than 45cm) you might run in to problems with your heels hitting the panniers. If your bike doesn't have rack eyelets you can still get a compatible seat tube rack but you won't be able to carry more than 20 pounds or so.
posted by ChrisHartley at 1:07 PM on April 8, 2011

I have ridden long distances with panniers and while they work, I'm not that fond of them. With a lot of gear, the bike is prone to falling over, and it becomes difficult to mount and dismount. There's also a noticeable effect on steering/braking. A trailer is supposed to be better than panniers for not affecting the stability of your bike. There's tons of different options; two wheel ones are reputedly better than one-wheeled.
posted by beerbajay at 1:16 PM on April 8, 2011

Best answer: I can't give you specific recommendations for touring panniers, as the ones that I have are over fifteen years old and I haven't done any touring for a while. (I am hoping to get into RAGBRAI this year, but they have vehicles for hauling luggage.) For in-town cargo hauling, I have a couple of grocery-bag-sized panniers from L.L. Bean (similar to these, but an older model--mine are separate units and can zip down to a thinner, sleeker size). You could probably use something like that for touring, but you'd have to make up some rain covers for them if you couldn't find separate add-on covers. It's better to look for panniers with integrated, stowable rain covers, preferably made of some bright yellow or green material, or with Scotchlite-type tape on it, or both. (Yes, even if you're not planning to ride in inclement weather; into every life a little rain must fall.)

Also, WRT the type and placement of racks: it's OK to have front racks (although you should really, really practice riding around town with a full load before doing any halfway-serious touring), but you should go with something like the Blackburn Lowrider on this page; you want to keep the load light and mostly below the axle to avoid throwing your steering off, and for the same reason you want to avoid the front racks that have the horizontal platforms that rear racks have. (I have a horizontal-platform front rack on my city bike, but that's because I use it for light loads, particularly for fragile things (like a new coffee-maker) that I'm nervous about strapping to the rear rack because I won't be able to see if it starts to slip).

Also also, even though you won't be carrying the weight on your back, remember that you're putting that weight on your bike instead, and adjust the inflation of your tires (and maybe even the types of tires and wheels that you use--ask your local bike shop pro about this) accordingly.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:46 PM on April 8, 2011

FYI, I used homemade panniers as described by ChrisHartley, they work fine, are nearly free and very easy to construct, and are waterproof. They are (obviously) less aerodynamic than cloth panniers, but I've never noticed any speed difference with them on or off the bike. YMMV.
posted by zug at 2:22 PM on April 8, 2011

Racks and panniers are the way to go. Balance is an issue, proper loading is important, as is practice with how they affect steering and the center of gravity. However, you need the braze-ons for this to be easy and secure. If you don't have these, there are solutions. What make, model, and year bike do own?

Trailers have some pros and cons as well, and there are some some interesting trailer options.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 5:08 PM on April 8, 2011

Any recommendations on brands, which features and fabric to look for, what to avoid?

My current favorites are Arkel panniers, which are not at all cheap. They've worked for me in New Zealand and Europe, though. My own tiff with them is that they are not waterproof and for any time of touring, you'll want that. They do have waterproof bags that go over them, but it's just one more thing to have, to lose, to break, etc.

I'm currently "training" to race the Tour Divide, which means a mountain bike and very minimal lightweight gear. There's two cottage companies that make absolutely gorgeous, well thought out bikepacking gear: Carousel and Revelate. They are not cheap and are usually backed up in orders for months (whoever receives their products usually says the wait was worth it and the products are a steal).

You can also (like I'm doing) source a custom made frame bag locally and take a try at making the handlebar rolls and saddle pack yourself.

But start with panniers :)
posted by alex_skazat at 5:14 PM on April 8, 2011

Also look at the backpacks made by Ergon (again, be willing to spend some money), which are designed to take the load off your shoulders and somewhat your back and put it on your hips.
If you need any more help, feel free to mefi-mail me or whatever it's called - cycling great distances is one of my life's passions.
posted by alex_skazat at 5:17 PM on April 8, 2011

I have Ortlieb panniers which I use on my daily commute rain or shine. I also use them to haul laundry and groceries to and from my house and have probably stuffed them way beyond their limit. They have not broken down yet and I highly recommend them.
posted by ruhroh at 9:37 AM on April 9, 2011

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