How to haul your stuff

Mr. Coffee

Well-Known Member
Probably the two biggest questions for the beginning bicycle tourist are (1) what in heck should I bring? and (2) how to haul all of that stuff? Bringing too much stuff is unlikely to end up being very fun and bringing too little stuff is also unlikely to be very fun. So you need a balance. Typically bicycle touring is done by folks from the richer countries in the world who usually wildly overestimate what they need to go out and have fun. A quick survey of any outdoor store will show you that the modern world has a pretty wild definition of what "essential" things you need to engage in most any outdoor activity. My advice is to try to be pretty zen and minimalist and you will likely have more fun. Remember everything you take with you is purchased by the pound and paid for by the mile.

There are four basic approaches to carrying stuff while cycling:
  1. You can carry everything in a backpack. For all but the shortest trips and lightest loads this isn't likely to be very fun or comfortable. So I won't further discuss it here.
  2. You can use a trailer. Trailers are great if your bike doesn't have eyelets to allow the attachment of racks and if you need to carry lots of stuff. Trailers are not so great because they give you the ability to carry lots of stuff. Sometimes finding a decent place to park a bike with a trailer can be quite awkward as well.
  3. Traditional bike touring, at least since the 1950's, have used two or four panniers attached to front and rear racks, possibly with the addition of a handlebar bag (or other front bags like rando or porteur bags) and a rear saddlebag. Such systems are highly evolved and generally work quite well for bicycle touring.
  4. Bikepacking style bags have evolved in recent years to solve some of the limitations of traditional touring systems. A lot of modern bikes that are otherwise suitable for touring are not well-suited to carrying a rack or panniers, and racks on bikes with suspensions are at best still problematic. A further problem is that if you are traveling on narrow trails panniers will often get hung up on obstacles and otherwise not be very fun. Bikepacking-style bags generally strap onto the handlebars, frame, or seat post with velcro straps. Two big disadvantages of bike packing bags is that generally you have a smaller volume to work with than panniers, and that volume is often awkwardly shaped so it can be challenging to efficiently pack your gear. Another minor disadvantage is that the velcro straps can be quite abrasive, especially when wet and/or dirty, and can do quite extensive damage to your bike frame unless precautions are taken.
One thing I have learned is that your gear will rapidly expand to take up the available space. So if you buy huge panniers or front and rear panniers or a trailer that can haul 40kg you will in all probability fill all of that space up. So do yourself a favor and start off small. In general you should be able to do just fine for most trips with rear panniers and a handlebar bag. If you find yourself needing more space than that I suggest reviewing the videos at the end of this post and thinking extremely hard about bringing anything that they aren't bringing.

Modern lightweight camping gear is very light and very compact and can be had for quite reasonable prices. It is quite plausible with very little effort to put a basic kit together (tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, camp stove, cook pot, &c) that weighs less than 7lbs and with a little effort and research and perhaps spending more money less than 5lbs. Since on a bike tour you have quite a bit of flexibility that a backpacker does not have (namely, you aren't committed to camping out every night and there isn't any reason to not flop at a motel if the weather is lousy miserable) you can go a little thinner on the camping gear than you otherwise might if you were backpacking. My experience on bicycle tours on acoustic bikes was that most bicycle tourists sleep in a bed one night out of four on the average.

Here are a few videos that are pretty good presentations on what to bring and how to carry it:
 
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Ian Moone

Active Member
I use a just loop a Modified fanny pack on my stem for short commutes and that works great. Not much in it, C02 Cartridge, Allen tool, shop rag, Multitool, Chaintool, Dry lube and that's it ! ??
 

Mr. Coffee

Well-Known Member
I included all of those videos on the original post in this thread because there is no one right way to pack your gear. What there are in fact are a lot of right ways and an infinite number of very wrong ways to pack your gear.

There are a couple of things I've learned along the way. Often these lessons came the hard way:
  • No matter how waterproof your panniers or other bike bags are, if you have things that absolutely have to stay dry (down sleeping bag, clean dry socks, electronics) you would be very wise to have a backup system. For clothing and sleeping bags the best bet is to put them in good stuff sacks and have the stuff sacks in a good-sized kitchen trash bag inside the pannier. Some folks like trash compactor bags, which are heavier but much more durable. Plastic laundry bags found at some hotels are also a good option and that makes it possible to reorganize or replace bags over the course of your trip. For electronics like laptops and tablets the neoprene cases are nice, especially if you wrap them in bubble wrap or another plastic trash bag. I've also learned that for best results your electronics should be stowed in your panniers on the side closest to your bike.
  • No matter how waterproof your panniers are, they won't be very waterproof when you have to open them up in a howling downpour. So I try to organize gear so that one pannier (usually the drive side pannier) doesn't have anything I'm likely to need over the course of a day. The other pannier can have things like rain gear, the bike pump, layers I might put on or take off, an extra battery, a roll of toilet paper, and the like. Ideally I'll pack so those things are easily accessible rather than have to dig through the whole pannier.
  • No matter how waterproof your panniers are, when you put wet things in them other things in them will get wet too. So I carry a small mesh laundry bag so I can put a soaking-wet tent, soggy rain gear, or dripping wet stinky socks in that laundry bag and attach it to the top of the rack (I bring along a couple of spare straps for exactly that purpose).
  • As much as possible, try to put heavier and denser items towards the bottom and inside of your panniers.
  • Stuff sacks, dry bags, and ziplock bags are great for organizing your gear. It is much easier to pack all of them if they aren't full to bursting. Full stuff sacks and dry bags tend to be very rigid and have odd shapes that pack inefficiently.
  • Pay attention to weight distribution. Ideally you want your left and right panniers to have roughly the same weight. Note that because various items have different densities one pannier or the other may look "fuller" but what you really care about is the weight. Be patient with yourself and allow time to experiment and reorganize to get things nicely balanced.
 

Mr. Coffee

Well-Known Member
A couple of other things:
  • If you do the international travel thing, the amenity bags airlines give first and business class travelers make awesome toiletry bags for your bike tour. And some of them come with amazing travel hairbrush/comb combos and very nice folding travel toothbrushes that also are great for your bike tour.
  • These little travel pouches make a great billfold/document holder, and the largest ones are great for a Kindle or tablet. If you find the North Street ones too insanely expensive, similar ones are available from Eagle Creek. Pro tip: glue strips of velcro to the back of a small one of these and to the inside of your handlebar bag so you can secure your cash and id yet pull it (your cash and ID) when you need it.
  • Speaking of ID and credit cards, clear plastic ID holders can easily hold your driver's license and a couple of credit cards. Put a keeper loop on them and tie it off to that travel pouch so you won't drop it.
 

BBassett

Active Member
One thing one seems to talk about when doing heavy touring is how bad trailers can be in side-winds, when the load isn't properly balanced, trying to slow/stop the extra mass (even on dry surfaces). Moving an excess of 200 lbs. of gear (in addition to the bike, motor, batteries and your ass) on a bike is a tricky situation and requires constant attention. It's not "fun" riding that heavy, but it's doable and once camp is set-up, the bike stripped down, the rides can be fantastic. You can even have a warm shower waiting when you get back to camp if you like... I do.
 

Over50

Well-Known Member
One thing one seems to talk about when doing heavy touring is how bad trailers can be ....
I knew someone who took summer vacation to bike tour in NZ. She opted for a trailer but admitted to me later she didnt have experience w a heavy load prior to the trip. She got flipped off her bike early in the trip in a fairly serious accident. If I recall correctly, it was either a strong crosswind or combination of a turn and wind...
 

BBassett

Active Member
I knew someone who took summer vacation to bike tour in NZ. She opted for a trailer but admitted to me later she didnt have experience w a heavy load prior to the trip. She got flipped off her bike early in the trip in a fairly serious accident. If I recall correctly, it was either a strong crosswind or combination of a turn and wind...
It's a scary, long, steep learning curve and like I said, not really fun. But... the payoff is worth it when you are doing day rides out of the middle of nowhere.

One quick addition: I don't recommend carrying anything on your back. I carry a bota bag most of the time and even it gets annoying. Bike Touring is so you don't Have to carry s*it on your back. Cheers.
 

Mr. Coffee

Well-Known Member
@BBassett

200 lbs? Ouch. That is an amount of weight I'd associate with getting dropped off by ski plane on a glacier in Alaska for a month rather than bike touring. Good on you for sucking it up and hauling that much tonnage!
 

BBassett

Active Member
20 lbs. in each pannier = 80
10 to 15 lbs. in the bar bag = 10
5 to 8 lbs. in a double-ended bar bag = 7
30Ah. lithium triangle pack X 2 = 34
Motor = 13
300W Sola Panel = 17
Camping & living gear/locks/food/water/etc,etc,etc = 50++++

It is all spread out as far as possible and balanced on the bike and trailer as low as possible. What I love best is when I have been somewhere for a couple of days, having just cleaned my bike and taken a shower, washed my dirty clothes, am cooking a meal, and have topping off every battery and electronic device I have with me when some backpackers drag in hot, tired, dirty, hungry and find me reclining drinking a Martini (w/olive of course, I'm not a savage) out of a silicone Martini "glass" and listening to my FuGoo XL. The looks of incredulity are priceless.

Your reference to glaciers in Alaska:
In the late 70s I helped drop hundreds of pounds of gear out of the belly port of an Alaska Island Air Dehavilin Beaver for 3 climbers that went to the top of Devils Thumb NE of Petersburg Alaska. It was a one of a kind experience that I will never forget. I also won't forget Lloyd Roundtree (the owner and pilot) smiling at me as he pulled on a heavy jacket and told me to pull the belly port. I pulled the panel and the temp dropped about 50 degs, I had not anticipated that. I froze my ass off! It was great. ;)
 
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