“Bags, Racks, and Trailers.”
For those new to bike camping or touring things can seem a little daunting. In many ways this can seem to be a pretty far cry from car camping but at the end of the day it’s really about proper planning, prioritizing gear and packing smartly. Traveling solo can present the biggest challenges because you will find yourself carrying 100% of your gear, but riding with a friend or group of friends lightens the load quickly and makes for a more enjoyable trip.
There are are many ways to go about packing and carrying your gear on a bike. From traditional racks and panniers to “bikepacking” bags to trailers there are no shortage of ways to get your needed gear to your destination. While preference and length of your trip can dictate some of these choices, a big part of the decision has to do with the type of bike you will be riding.
While a bike with features purpose-designed for touring can make things easier overall, many other bikes can be adapted to use for overnight trips as well. From fairly casual hybrid bikes all the way up to a road racing bike just about anything can be used for a short tour with the right planning and equipment.
The easiest way to look at things is to break them into three main groups.
For the types of trips we have planned this year all three options can work.
This is, for the most part, considered the standard when it comes to bike touring. From day trips to cross country rides racks and panniers offer the most capacity, versatility and weather resistance. A surprisingly large number of bikes have provisions for rear racks and just about all touring bikes and many hybrid/commuter oriented bikes can as well. Racks themselves run in the $50-100 range for a decent front or rear rack. If your bike has provisions for one, a front rack is usually a good place to start. Putting panniers low on the fork with what is referred to a “low rider” rack is ideal. With the weight of the bags/gear low and in line with the front axle, bike handling is minimally altered. If you need to carry more (or you don’t have provisions for a front rack) a rear rack works almost as well. The weight will be a bit higher and on some bikes there are potential issues with interference between the bags and the back of the foot while pedaling so a little extra care should be taken when selecting the right rack and bag combination. The upshot of packing gear this way is you can typically carry the most volume and there are reasonably priced pannier bag options that are essentially waterproof.
Bikepacking bags, randonneuring bags and other atypical bag options:
If you like to travel light or you are using a bike with little to no provisions for a rack there are still some good options for carrying gear. Off road “bike packing” events like the Tour Divide have driven the development of many types of rackless bags that keep your gear higher on the bike away from obstacles on the trail. For on road touring this is less of a concern but the ability to put gear on a bike without racks does make even a road bike somewhat viable for tours where less gear is being carried.
Companies like Revelate Design have pioneered this style of bag and continue to innovate.
For bikes with what is referred to as “low trail” geometry, there is the option to use a large “boxy randonneuring bag” like the Ozette from Swift Industries. On my primary commuter / light touring bike the Ozette has proved indispensable for all kinds of trips and forms the backbone of my load planning. The ability to keep certain items literally at your fingertips is a great feature on all kinds of adventures. The only draw back is that putting more than few pounds high above the front wheel on a bike that is not intended for this type of load will start to impact how the bike handles. Most off the rack touring bikes do not fall under the “low trail” umbrella, so putting anything heavier than a bedroll or sleeping bag above the front wheel is generally not suggested.
Often overlooked and sometimes maligned, trailers offer some unique advantages and disadvantages. Personally, I have used a BOB trailer and under specific circumstances it can be a VERY good option. If your bike lacks provisions for racks and you need to carry more than bikepacking bags allow, this is probably your only option. BOB trailers are great because overall capacity is very high. I was able to carry everything I needed AND a small dog. The drawback is the same for all trailers though. “Pulling” the weight behind the bike means climbing and other out of the saddle efforts on the bike have to be done with more care taken to keep the bike stable. If the bike rocks too much the trailer will start to wag back and forth some and can create a very disconcerting feeling. It’s not a safety issue at all but it does mean adjusting one’s pedaling form on the bike at times.
Once you know how you are going to carry your gear, the next step is to make sure you are packing everything you need and nothing you don’t.
Part 3 “Gear Selection” is coming up next week.
If you have questions or want to get prepared for our upcoming Adventure Club overnight trips...
SIgn-up for our Bike Camping Clinic.