Gear Shed

Q:

Panniers or a Trailer for Bike Touring?

I’ve always used panniers for bike touring in California, Montana, and Wyoming, but I'm beginning to wonder if a trailer is a better option. What do you suggest?

Ortlied's Backroller pannier

Ortlied's Backroller pannier     Photo: Courtesy of Ortlied

A:That’s a great question. I’ve toured with both, and the bottom line is that each have their advantages and their drawbacks.

I like panniers for their relative simplicity: they're easy to use and they're hard to break or wear out. And in a pinch, they can double as day packs or duffels when you're off the bike.

The downside is that panniers aren't aerodynamic and add weight, stressing your bike's tires and rims. They also make handling a little wonky. If you decide to stay with panniers, make sure to use both front and rear racks to evenly distribute the load.

At the high end, Ortlieb’s classic Back-Roller panniers ($170 per pair) are completely waterproof and carry roughly 2,400 cubic inches of gear. With a roll-top design, they're rugged, reliable, and practical. The optional carrying system ($37) makes for an easy conversion into a backpack.

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