Author Topic: Thinking outside the panniers  (Read 2042 times)

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Offline davidbonn

Thinking outside the panniers
« on: December 17, 2023, 09:13:56 pm »
After last summer with a few bike tours under my belt, I am rethinking how I carry stuff.

The current system uses a large front Rando Bag, two large rear panniers, and a small top tube bag:



Now this system has basically worked okay, but has a few downsides from a weight distribution standpoint.  I'd like to figure out how to get a bit more weight forward and also go to smaller panniers in the rear.

So what I'm thinking about:

  • Use cage mount racks on the front fork and 5L dry bags, probably the ones from tailfin.cc
  • Use smaller (10L) panniers on the rear, with different panniers on the drive side and on the road side
  • Use a 12L dry bag as an overflow bag that can be mounted on top of the rear rack.  The overflow bag will mostly carry groceries.

My idea about using different panniers on each side of the rear rack is that I can have a drive side pannier that emphasizes weatherproofness for things I will less frequently need on the road, and the road side pannier can have things that might well be wet anyway (e.g. raingear, tarp, &c) or things like layers that I might need during the day (that raingear again).

I'm thinking the REI Link Pannier for the drive side and the SimWorks EX Loader for the road side.  The SimWorks EX Loader has an enormous mesh pocket which would be great for a soggy tarp or wet socks.  If I could find a lightweight pannier in the 10L-12L range with a roll top and enormous external mesh pockets that would be perfect, though.

For some trips and lighter carries I might use Mountain Laurel Designs 2.5L dry bags on the front cage mounts.

So does this make sense?  Will other bike tourists think I'm weird for having asymmetric panniers? 
« Last Edit: December 17, 2023, 09:19:20 pm by davidbonn »

Offline John Nettles

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Re: Thinking outside the panniers
« Reply #1 on: December 17, 2023, 09:49:35 pm »
I love how you are thinking outside the "panniers". Most just "follow the pack".

I have toured for over 45+ years and have tried a lot of the traditional touring configurations (no backpacking setups, yet) and have decided there is no one-size fits all setup for all tours.

For me I have found that I pack for each tour's needs so some tours will be full-blown 4 panniers with accessory packs hanging off them, large rack duffle bag, stuff strapped on, etc.  Other tours I only use small "front" panniers and a HB bag.  BTW, I almost always carry a HB bag as it is my "purse" and all my valuables go in it but use what is best for you.  I personally strongly dislike a fanny pack or anything on my body.  I wished I could tolerate a camelbak but it just irritates me too much.

For a tour that most assuredly will be dry on gravel roads, I use my non-water proof vintage Robert Beckman packs as they are by FAR the most secure packs I have ever used.  If I am touring where a fairly high chance of rain exists, I use some Ortliebs.  If I am unsure, I will pack at least my sleeping bag setup, in an Ortlieb and have gone asymmetrical as a result.  Sure it looks a bit dorky but so what. I am too old and have toured too long to care whether I have asymmetrical packs (including clashing colors). 

I do tend to do a weight distribution of at minimum 40/60 front/rear packs but frequently load more on the front and yes I weigh. The reason is a typical bike already has something like 60% on the back wheel and I have found I can do high speed descents easier with more weight on the front.  For overnighters, I frequently just use front panniers & a HB bag and strap only the tent on the rear rack. That said, I always try to use the smallest packs I can because if I have extra space, I will invariably pack an extra shirt or short "just in case" and pretty soon the larger pannier is packed full also so the way I prevent carrying too much "just in case" stuff is to use smaller packs, even "front" packs all the way around.

I am not overly concerned with lightweight gear as I figure if I want to shed a couple of pounds of gear, it is much easier (and better) for me to shed a couple of pounds off my body. I prefer durability over lightweight but will definitely take lightweight if durability already exists.

In a nut shell, I am saying do what works best for YOU. 

Tailwinds, John

Offline davidbonn

Re: Thinking outside the panniers
« Reply #2 on: December 18, 2023, 02:07:25 pm »
Thanks for the reply.

On the lightweight gear, I find the biggest weight savings come from not carrying things at all, especially things that you don't need.  My own personal observation is that most cycle tourists carry far too much stuff anyway.  At some point it isn't so much about the weight as it is the hassle of dealing and organizing all that stuff.

Most of the weight savings from lightweight gear will come from one or two items, usually the sleeping system and the tent.  And usually the ultralight options aren't substantially different in price (and might be less expensive) than the more or less pedestrian lightweight versions.  You can easily get into a Tarp + Bivy setup that is about $250 and weighs about a pound and a half.  A comparable popular tent like the Big Agnes Seedhouse is about $300.  That Tarp + Bivy is also arguably more durable because it doesn't have poles and might not have any zippers, the two big failure points in any shelter.  You can make similar arguments about sleeping bags versus sleeping quilts, although synthetic bags are always heavier and cheaper than down bags, but down bags can last much longer with basic care.

I'm biased because I've had years to learn how to set up a tarp properly and keep myself dry and warm, and that is an acquired skill that isn't so much taught as learned through hard experience.  On the other hand I've managed to ride out some just plain lousy miserable weather and kept myself comfortable and safe, and more importantly kept my morale and enthusiasm up at the same time.

My other observation is packing for bicycle travel is as much about minimizing volume as weight, and packing stuff into smaller spaces rather than into one relatively larger space.  This is true for touring and is squared or cubed for bikepacking.

One thing that I need to go down the learning curve on is just what is appropriate and not appropriate from the standpoint of spare parts and repair items for the bike itself.  My current rule of thumb is that if I don't know how to fix it in the field with cold fingers in the rain then I'm not carrying it.

Oh yeah, another angle on my bike with the Link Pannier:


Offline neilbrew

Re: Thinking outside the panniers
« Reply #3 on: January 18, 2024, 05:24:16 pm »
Luckily for you, your Pinion gearbox drivetrain greatly minimizes the potential mechanical issues you have to deal with out on the road. This is an intriguing concept that addresses many common issues of standard drivetrains, although I have yet to see or try one in person.

Offline John Nettles

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Re: Thinking outside the panniers
« Reply #4 on: January 18, 2024, 05:51:55 pm »
I am lucky enough to have (and had) lots of bikes over my 45+ years of touring.  The Pinion is definitely nice if you do off-pavement touring and/or hate maintenance.  However, if you rarely if ever do off-pavement touring, then a traditional derailleur system is a better way to go.  It is cheaper, much easier to repair, and parts are fairly readily available.  I prefer the Pinion over the Rohloff but again, the Pinion shines for off-road touring, especially with a belt drive.

Tailwinds, John

Offline davidbonn

Re: Thinking outside the panniers
« Reply #5 on: January 19, 2024, 11:11:51 pm »
It seems about half of cyclists who try alternative drivetrains (e.g. Pinion or Rohloff) don't really like them.

If you ride in a very dirty environment or somewhere where you can't otherwise keep your chain decent they are awesome.  And you can shift when you are stopped.



Offline John Nettles

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Re: Thinking outside the panniers
« Reply #6 on: January 20, 2024, 07:04:47 am »
It seems about half of cyclists who try alternative drivetrains (e.g. Pinion or Rohloff) don't really like them.

If you ride in a very dirty environment or somewhere where you can't otherwise keep your chain decent they are awesome.  And you can shift when you are stopped.
I do not see why they would not like them other than the upfront cost and the potential to be left stranded.

For me, one of the huge advantages is little maintenance is required especially if you use a belt drive. I really am not a maintenance guy so this is wonderful.  The biggest PIA with a Rohloff is when you need to change the shifting cables you have to cut them to within something like 2mm or it won't work properly.  While the Pinion is a bit harder than a traditional setup, it is not that difficult.  Changing the oil on a Pinion is about the same as a Rohloff, a 10-minute ordeal every 5k miles or once a year (whichever comes first).  Luckily, the cables last something like 10k-20k depending on how much you shift so a lot of off road riding in hilly areas would wear them out more, just like a traditional setup.

Another benefit to a belt is it is much cleaner on my legs.  I have tendency to brush my calf along the chain/belt and while the belt does have some dirt/oil (where it comes from on a Pinion I have no idea), it is magnitudes less than a traditional chain but maybe if I did maintenance on a traditional chain, it wouldn't be as bad. 

Depending on the tour, I either carry a spare belt (they weigh less than a pound easily) or have a prepackaged spare ready to go in an express package that my wife can just address and pop in the mail. Luckily, I have not had a belt break in over 15k of touring with them, again with no maintenance.

Overall, I am pleased with internal geared drivetrains for touring.  But as indicated previously, if you tour exclusively on paved surfaces, the advantages start to decrease so only you can decide which system is best for you.

Offline davidbonn

Re: Thinking outside the panniers
« Reply #7 on: January 22, 2024, 09:36:15 am »
...
I do not see why they would not like them other than the upfront cost and the potential to be left stranded.
...

I agree and rather like alt drivetrains.

The people I've known who had Rohloffs and Pinions who went back to a regular derailleur largely because they couldn't deal with the fact that they could not shift while there was torque on the pedals.  For me that took about two minutes to get used to and in my mind that's how bicycles work, but for a lot of people they can't really get comfortable with that feature.  That's just my observation.

Also, while drive belts are very durable and under normal circumstances rarely break, if they are abused or improperly handled they don't last very long at all.

Offline davidbonn

Re: Thinking outside the panniers
« Reply #8 on: January 22, 2024, 09:44:57 am »
Oh, and back on topic, I got a North Street Adventure Micro Pannier for the other pannier.

https://northstbags.com/collections/bike-panniers/products/micro-pannier-14l-adventure-hook-and-loop

This pannier will end up on the drive side and the REI Pannier will end up on the road side.  Largely because the REI Pannier has a horizontal strap that is a good place to mount a blinky and I want the blinky on the road side.

The two panniers are approximately the same size, though the REI Pannier is slightly bigger.

The drive side pannier is more protected so I usually carry things there I absolutely want to keep dry (e.g. my sleeping bag) and things I absolutely won't need during the day's ride.  I also avoid storing things that are wet in the drive side pannier under any conditions, as no matter how waterproof the bag is if you put wet stuff in it that wetness will end up equally distributed over the course of time.
« Last Edit: January 22, 2024, 05:16:13 pm by davidbonn »

Offline zerodish

Re: Thinking outside the panniers
« Reply #9 on: February 01, 2024, 08:16:15 am »
My computer goes in the pannier on the right side and is protected by 2 pieces of Lexan I made from a sneeze guard. I park the bike leaning against a wall which protects the compute from a quick grab.

Offline davidbonn

Re: Thinking outside the panniers
« Reply #10 on: February 01, 2024, 10:58:51 am »
My computer goes in the pannier on the right side ...

I put my computer in the drive (right) pannier, on the inside closest to the wheel.  I've got a padded case that the laptop rides in (when I carry it) and I usually put the whole case in a plastic bag as well.

Offline davidbonn

Re: Thinking outside the panniers
« Reply #11 on: April 27, 2024, 01:38:42 pm »
Well, after an eight-day shakedown I am pretty happy with the new carry and am confident I could live out of my bike for long periods with the new configuration.

The new configuration:

Front bag:  Swift Industries Rando Bag (10L).  I carry tools, lunch, extra gloves, phone, wallet, and the like here.  I can stuff a layer in there or more food there if necessary as well.

Fork bags:  Blackburn 7L dry bags right and left.  These are very waterproof and reasonably lightweight.  These carry clothing and my sleeping mat.

Drive side rear pannier:  North Street Bikepacking Pannier.  I carry my sleeping quilt and other items that I won't need during the day's ride here, like toiletries, battery packs, cables, and the like.  Some food is usually put in here to help balance with the left side pannier.  About 10L.

Left side rear pannier:  REI Link II Pannier.  Here I carry my tarp and bivy, my cook kit, fuel, layers I might need during the ride (e.g. raingear), and overflow bags and straps.  There is usually a bit of food here that is redistributed to balance the weight between R and L.  10L-12L.

Overflow bags (on top of the rear rack):  either a small mesh stuff sack that can carry the wet tarp, wet raingear, or otherwise wet and dirty clothes, or a larger overflow bag (Mountain Laurel Designs 12L dry bag) that mostly is used to carry groceries. 

Other:  a small top tube bag and small feedbag.  The top tube bag usually carries small items like hand sanitizer, sunscreen, lip balm, and the like.  The feedbag holds a water bottle on top of the two I can carry in the cages.

Two things kind of need improvement.  The feedbag is too small and I'd like a larger one to more stably carry a bottle, and there is poor provision for storing snacks.  The slash pockets on the rando bag are pretty good but if you are riding bumpy you can easily eject RX Bars and string cheese.  So I'm killing two birds with one stone:  I'm upgrading the feed bag to an Oveja Negara Chuckbucket and will use the existing MOLLE straps to attach the old feedbag to the rando bag.  So I can then comfortably carry a larger water bottle on the bars and can use the older feedbag as a snack pocket.  As a bonus the Oveja Negara feedbag has a nice pocket with a velcro closure, so more places to carry snacks!

This is a fairly good Dirt Touring configuration.  I have smaller (2.5L) dry bags that I can use for a fast-and-light trip.  Total carry weight less food and water is about 25lbs.

Offline dminden1

Re: Thinking outside the panniers
« Reply #12 on: April 28, 2024, 06:15:55 pm »
Just a quick opinion on weight on the front. I went with all front panniers, no rear, on a tour over 9000 foot passes in Colorado. The front load made the steering very weighty, and I was managing the load all the time. After a day and a half my shoulders were blown out and I had to change the tour. The next year I went with the more traditional most of the weight in the rear and some in the front. Rear bags Vaude, waterproof, well made, have small outside pouches work well for wallet, snacks, etc. Front Ortlieb City panniers, waterproof, small and light. No issues, bike rode very well, even up and down some big hills.

Offline davidbonn

Re: Thinking outside the panniers
« Reply #13 on: April 29, 2024, 09:40:47 am »
Front load bias depends a lot on the bike and the rider.  Everybody's different.  Some bikes and some cyclists do really well in such a configuration .

For my current touring rig having most everything in large rear panniers and a front rando bag there was too much weight on the rear wheel and the bike handled poorly, being most notable on downhill unpaved surfaces.

By using relatively smaller bikepacking-style fork bags and just moving 4-5 pounds clothing items forward it made a huge difference in handling.  On the average between the fork bags and the rando bags I'm carrying a little more than half the dry weight (less food and water) on the front wheel.

About the only downside, so far, to the newer scheme is that the small rear panniers mount to the rear rack with velcro.  That's fine but it is easier to mount the panniers empty and load them while they are on the bike.  This means I need to be extra-careful while loading the bike in poor weather and also I need to be careful to not cause the bike to tip over while packing up in the morning.

Offline davidbonn

Re: Thinking outside the panniers
« Reply #14 on: May 01, 2024, 10:02:54 am »
Just a quick opinion on weight on the front.

How much weight were you carrying?

For my purposes I'm talking 10-15lbs on the front and 8-12lbs on the rear.  Maybe a bit more on the back if I'm carrying food for several days.