December 3, 2009
Have you been thinking about taking a bicycle tour, but don't yet know how to pack your panniers? With more than nine years of bicycle travel experience under my belt, these are the seven things I recommend you keep in mind when packing your panniers for your next big bicycle touring adventure.
1. Center Your Weight
Not only do you need to keep your weight as low as possible, but you need to keep it centered on your bicycle. There shouldn't be too much weight in the front of your bike or too much weight in the back. On the same note, there shouldn't be more weight on one side of the bike than on the other. Keeping your weight centered will not only help you keep control of your bicycle, but it will help prevent mechanical breakdowns, broken spokes, and stress to your body's back, neck, shoulders, and arms.
2. Leave Some Extra Space
When you are packing for your trip, be sure to leave some extra space in your panniers for items you might need/want to pick up along the way. If you leave home and your panniers are already stuffed to the gills, you have too much stuff!
3. Everything Has Its Place
Living out of your panniers requires that you pack and unpack your gear on a daily basis. To make sure you don't lose anything in the packing process... and to save yourself huge amounts of time, make it a practice to put everything back in the same spot each time you pack. This will prevent you from having to unpack every single pannier when you need to find a particular item.
4. If You Need To Get It While You're Riding, It Should Be Up Front
While you're riding, there are going to be a few items that you will want to access regularly. Packing these items inside your handlebar bag (or at the very least, inside your front panniers) will make reaching them much easier. Having your water, map, sunglasses, camera, and snacks for the day all within arm's reach ensures that won't have to get off your bike every time you want to check the map, take a photo, or get a quick snack.
5. Practice Packing Before You Leave Home
Before you ever leave your home, practice packing your panniers. Practicing will help you figure out what items you really need for your tour, and help you figure out how to distribute your weight evenly (see secret #1). I recommend living out of your panniers for at least two weeks before you leave home as this will make your first several days of bicycle touring that much easier.
6. Protect Your Gear And Secure Your Valuables
More and more cyclists these days are traveling with high end cameras, GPS devices, and pricey laptop computers. To make sure these valuable items are secure, I recommend packing them in your rear panniers and placing them on the non-traffic side of your bike. Front panniers are often less stable than rear panniers and more likely to bounce off their racks. Placing your expensive gear on the non-traffic side of your bike will ensure that if, for some horrible reason, you are clipped by a passing vehicle, the only bags affected by the accident are ones that contain dirty clothes and easy to replace food items.
7. Consider The Elements
Finally, consider the weather you might experience while on your travels. Waterproof (or water resistant) panniers help to keep rain and snow from soaking your clothes and computer. The sun and heat also need to be taken into consideration -- especially if you are planning to travel with expensive electronics. If you are carrying a computer or camera, do what you can to place them on the shady side of your bicycle and consider packing especially important items inside additional padding, covers, or waterproof sacks.
Photo by Darren Alff. Bike Friday New World Tourist with Ortlieb panniers. Northern Greece - 2009
DARREN ALFF conducted his first long-distance bicycle tour in 2001 at the age of 17. He's been traveling by bike ever since and just recently returned from a 9-month tour of central and eastern Europe. Darren now runs the website at www.BicycleTouringPro.com and is working to inspire a new generation of bicycle travelers to get out and explore the world.