Cycle Touring – Panniers and Trailers
Panniers and trailers are both excellent tools for long distance touring, each suited for different needs. Generally panniers are better suited for lightweight to mid-weight cargo carrying and trailers are better suited for heavy lugging. Below the pros and cons are listed for both.
An array of panniers can be carried on the front and back of the bicycle allowing for a substantial amount of gear to be carried. Panniers are the light-weight option for cargo carrying, and are easy to transport in buses and planes (having a trailer can be very unwieldy in these situations). Several companies, including Axiom, Serratus and Ortlieb manufacturer 100% waterproof bags. Non-waterproof panniers along with accompanying plastic rain covers are usually lighter; however leakage is often a problem. Riding a bicycle with heavily-laden panniers is surprisingly easy.
Additional equipment such as sleeping mats or tents can be bungee strapped onto the back rack between the two back panniers.
Handlebar bags are also very useful for packing quick access items such as sun block, glasses, maps and snacks.
Front and rear racks are required to affix panniers to your bicycle. Generally they are made from aluminum, and come in a variety of designs. Axiom makes a stainless steel model which is bullet-proof and ideal for expedition touring. Stainless steel is significantly heavier and more expensive than aluminum, making it unnecessary for general touring.
For those carrying a full-on load, a trailer might be for you. Too much weight on a bicycle can cause damage (popping spokes, premature bearing wear, and tire pinching). It can also make the bicycle unstable and dangerous to ride. The solution is to move some or all of the gear onto a trailer. Trailers create slightly more friction due to the extra wheel(s), although some claim wind resistance is reduced (by keeping the baggage in line with your body). Trailers do increase the total number of wheels, and therefore, the number of flat tires.