Laura’s Preliminary Gear Notes
This recent bike trip was really a wonderful shake-down ride for me. Not only did it push me through some difficult terrain and show me that I can actually do it – it was a great test of my packing. I put a lot of thought into what I brought on this trip and how I carried it, so that I would come back knowing exactly what I wanted to change. And, I have some tweaks to make…
My plan was this: Use two rear panniers (one for food, one for clothes), and strap the sleeping bag, tent and folding chair on to the tops of each pannier. A small-ish handlebar bag would hold wallet, phone, maps, snacks, etc.
Of course, reality is never as streamlined as your plan. I ended up carrying everything the way I’d intended through the entire trip, but I noticed that it was a less-than-ideal situation when I started cramming my panniers full of food for three days of being in the middle of nowhere. Stuffing the sleeping bag under the top straps on my pannier only worked well when the pannier was half or 2/3 full. When the pannier was full, it became almost more trouble than it was worth to get the bag under the straps. I started thinking that maybe Russ was on to something with his rack bag, except that I really liked having my rack open for carrying water.
I also noticed (duh!) that food is a heck of a lot heavier than clothes – and I had to split the food out into both panniers and effectively pack my other stuff around the food.
The other thing that I’ve been pondering is how to carry a portable metals studio. After slogging up a 5-mile climb, I started to reconsider my plan to lash my Pelican case to the front. That case weighs a couple pounds on its own, so I’m thinking there must be a more lightweight solution (like, perhaps, a custom-made bike burrito?).
Which leads me to wondering about front panniers. I’ve always looked at tourists with front and rear panniers and thought they were crazy for carrying so much stuff. Now, I’m tempted by the wiggle room that a pair of front panniers would provide. Does anyone have experience using front and rear panniers on a long trip? What did you like or dislike? Did you have much trouble hauling them onto trains and such? I will happily take any and all thoughts on the matter.
As far as the actual items that I packed, I have to say that I’m pretty happy with my selections and there are only a few changes to make in that arena. (Hooray for me!) We’ll start updating the gear page in a short while with the items that we know we’re going to carry, so keep an eye out for that.
Bryan June 2, 2009 at 11:39 am
Sounds like a fun shake-down cruise. I rode across the country on the ACA Norther Tier route. I used front and back panniers. On my shakedown ride, I found that only having only back panniers made my bike a bit unbalanced and made the front tire wobble a bit on downhills. I traveled pretty light (about 40 lbs of gear, total), but found that having front and back panniers worked better for me. The only thing I had on my back rack was my tent.
Good luck on your adventure!!!
Don Koch June 2, 2009 at 11:48 am
When I saw your set up prior to your most recent trip, the first thing that came to mind was that you would sooner or later come to the realization that the best way to carry gear for a trip such as you and Russ are about to embark on is to have both front and rear panniers. I had someone tell me this in 1962 before I did my first long tour (5000 km circle of Western Canada)and although I have experimented with other arrangements and trailers, my favorite way to carry gear for a long ride is still front and rear bags. I have had many people say what you voiced in this post–poor you carrying so much gear–but most of the time my bags are not full so I’m not carrying much more weight or even less than someone with two overflowing back bags. Part of the fun of this game is learning from trial and error. Good luck on your trip. That will be me riding on your wheel (in spirit) enjoying your adventure vicariously.
Cyclin Missy June 2, 2009 at 11:53 am
I believe that Pat of http://bikepat.blogspot.com/ used both rear and front panniers for his trip from Pensacola, FL to Owen Sound, Ontario. He would be a great person to talk to about that!
alan June 2, 2009 at 12:34 pm
ah, the internal space vs. spartan battle begins. I like more space. And weight? I give you 3 weeks until you start buying 5lb peanut butter jars to save money.
Regardless of the amount of stuff you have, having front panniers has 2 big advantages: (1) it allows you to put your heavier stuff up front, which helps to distribute weight across your 2 wheels (good for wheel longevity) and, (2) depending on your bike, can definitely improve handling over building the mountain on the back.
Lots of folks use the smaller front panniers for dense stuff like food and extra water, leaving the bulky stuff for the larger rear panniers. “low rider” front rack would keep that weight down closer to the ground where it’s more stable, too.
I suppose the disadvantage is the weight of the rack/panniers and the urge to fill up all that extra space.
Laura June 2, 2009 at 2:04 pm
Hey Russel – Sunscreen, and lots of it! I’ve been burned to the point of blisters and peeling too many times – so I’m pretty cautious these days. I use SPF 45 or higher and lather it on several times during the day. This trip, I also rode a lot with long-sleeves (lightweight, breezy shirts), to keep the sun off.
And to everyone who’s commented on the pannier question, THANK YOU! The wheels in my head are a’turnin’.
Eric June 2, 2009 at 2:19 pm
I end up with my sleeping bag in one front pannier and thermarest in the other. I carry my tent on the top of my rear rack, which makes access to the back panniers a bit difficult on the road, so I’ll also stow my cable lock and rain gear in the front panniers. I second (or third of fourth) the sentiment that some weight on the front helps with stability and wheel happiness.
I probably divide the weight roughly 30/70% between front and back of the bike.
Blake June 2, 2009 at 7:27 pm
What metalsmithing tools are you planning on bringing? Jewelers saw/blades, Pliers, snips and a riveting hammer? anything more exotic? A burrito sounds like a fine option, though I would figure out a system to minimize rust forming… perhaps a hand full of desiccants and stick everything in a few plastic bags. Oiled rags wrapping the important bits would help too.
Jim June 2, 2009 at 7:35 pm
Front panniers are the best. I have used both low riders and standard mounted panniers and the low riders are the absolute best. The balance your weight great and can still handle high speeds without any issues. If I had the option of putting everything in the back or splitting the weight 60/40, I’d invest in a set of low riders especially since your going for more then a week.
Gary K. June 2, 2009 at 7:53 pm
So jealous of your adventures right now. Saving up the vacation days, can’t wait to do a longer tour. My friend Marcus toured from LA to NY, and he swore by just keeping rear panniers to keep from wanting to carry too much, but I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to go about it. His friend Brad who did the same trip used a bob trailer, so what ever works.
Laura June 2, 2009 at 9:43 pm
Hey Blake – I’m still narrowing down my tools that I’ll be taking – but it’ll probably just be the basics – jeweler’s saw (and blades), files, sand paper, a couple hammers, brass brush, etc. I figure I can swing through some community colleges with metalsmithing programs and use their torches, pickle, drill, vise, etc.
Wayne Myer June 3, 2009 at 9:11 am
Is a trailer out of consideration? I ask because I am of the understanding that you will be stopping along the way and possibly spending time with people in various places. The trailer affords you gear opportunities not otherwise available. For example, you get to a hotel/host/camp and you can take off the trailer and have a sprightly bike for tearing around town. Then there is drying out wet gear, arranging different gear for greater accessibility.
Hopefully I won’t incite a religious argument, but I have tried both rack and panniers and trailer and trailers win out in my book. I prefer two-wheeled trailers to one-wheeled (specifically the BOB), but I still like my BOB for most things.
And now, if you read this far, if you want a BOB trailer, I will send you mine. You can have it. It’s slightly older, and if you have 700C wheels, you will need to get the longer fork. But I would be happy to pack it up and contribute to the cause.
Laura June 3, 2009 at 1:01 pm
Hey Wayne – Thanks for adding some diversity to this discussion with the offer of a trailer! We actually have a Burley flat-bed 2-wheel trailer that is quite handy for schlepping stuff around town (I’ve gone to many a show this way!). But, I have to admit that I’m not particularly keen on using it for traveling (partly because it’s too easy to become a pack-rat, which I obviously am, partly because I just feel extra sluggish with the drag from a trailer, and partly because of the added complications when utilizing the train or bus to go multi-modal). You make some excellent points, though, and I thank you bringing it up!
Patrick June 3, 2009 at 8:37 pm
Laura, What kind of bicycle are you riding?
Errin June 3, 2009 at 9:34 pm
I built up my LHT with the intention of using front and rear panniers. When I bought my bike I also bought an OMM Ultimate Lowrider. I’ve just installed a different front rack (OMM Cold Springs), so the Ultimate Lowrider is just sitting on a shelf in the garage. If you want to borrow it to see if you like using panniers up front for your trip let me know.
Laura June 4, 2009 at 8:16 am
Hey Patrick – I’ll be riding a Long Haul Trucker by Surly – it’s a good sturdy steel-frame bike and I like her! 🙂
Errin – Thanks so much for the offer! The rack that I just bummed from Russ and put on the front of the bike will actually allow me to attach front panniers so that they’re set low on the wheel.
James June 4, 2009 at 12:31 pm
When we camp in Australia we use front and rear panniers. Sleeping bag and pillow in one front back, other camping and cooking stuff in the other. I usually carry the tent and mats on top of the rear bags. Al travels a bit lighter than me !
The clothes and food thing does become more of an issue when you really load up. Personally I think it’s much easier to travel with 4 not that full bags, than two rear bags that are really stuffed. The bike handles differently setup both ways, but you get used to it either way. I think I prefer the bike balanced from the back too.
Betty June 11, 2009 at 5:51 am
I am actually in that exact packing dilemna for my first big trip next month. I am thinking about just doing back panniers, but I have to try packing them a few times and see if that is realistic for me. 🙂 great post!
Toni June 19, 2009 at 8:12 am
I too am packing & deciding for my first long trip next month (Pacific Coast)! I did a short trek using only rear panniers and the bike handling was not much fun (and that was light packing). I would recommend front & rear bags, and make the front low riders if at all possible.
I love your post. Anxious to see your gear list!!
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I’m curious what you do about sun protection – it looks like you’re keeping your fair complexion even with all your time in the sun.