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Panniers VS. Trailers – Bicycle Touring

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Panniers VS. Trailers - Bicycle TouringThis is an old and classic debate: Panniers vs. Trailers. It is a hard choice to make and a very personal one.

Some people prefer panniers; other prefer trailers. I will compare the pros and cons by assuming that we are comparing good quality panniers (Ortlieb, Vaude, Topeak, Arkel, etc.) set on good quality racks (Tubus, Racktime) vs. good quality trailers (BOB, Burley, etc.) with good quality dry bags (Ortlieb, BOB, MSR, SealLine, etc.).

One should note that pros and cons might vary from 1-wheel and 2-wheel trailers (but this is another debate entirely).

Panniers

Pros:

  • Overall, the pannier system is lighter (2 racks and 2 panniers weigh less than a trailer and a dry bag)
  • Are more compact than a trailer
  • 2 panniers and a rack are cheaper than 1 trailer and a dry bag
  • Cause less drag and less rolling resistance
  • Allow the separation of gear into 2 to 4 bags (and usually a 5th dry bag on top of the rear rack)[/li][/list]
  • It is easier to find what you are looking for because your things are separated into several bags as opposed to one bag
  • It is possible to carry more gear (volume-wise) if you use 4 panniers
  • Are accessible while riding
  • Easy to carry (to your tent, to your room, up stairs, over a fence, across a river, etc).
  • Are mechanically simpler, therefore more reliable
  • Require little to no maintenance
  • Usually cause less broken spokes

Cons:

  • Need to be well-organized in order to retrieve things easily and to balance the weight between the left and right sides
  • Require sturdy racks
  • Cause more rapid wear of tires
  • Raise the center of gravity
  • Are less aerodynamic
  • Cause the ride to be more readily affected by side winds
  • Make the bicycle very heavy, which affects the balance
  • Need to be taken off when fixing a flat, adjusting derailleur, cleaning the chain, etc.

Trailers

Pros:

  • Can come in handy to carry heavy/bulky items around camp (wood, ice, groceries, case of beer, etc.)
  • Depending on the design, at the campsite, it can be used as a piece of furniture (table, seat, etc.)
  • Can be attached to almost any frame
  • Are a good option for tandems
  • Are better suited to the carrying of longer or larger items
  • Are easier to pack
  • The large opening of the dry bag allows for easy access
  • Take the weight off the bike
  • Has a lower center of gravity, making for an easier ride
  • Much less stress on the rear hub
  • Because the bike does not require racks, it is lighter once the trailer is removed, allowing for an easier ride around town or camp
  • Don’t get in the way of the feet/pedals during the ride (although a properly-designed touring bike should not have this problem with panniers)

Cons:

  • Trailers add momentum to a bike, especially downhill, which can be dangerous in case of a sudden emergency stop
  • Might take longer to get used to riding with a trailer
  • Bike and trailer can shimmy, which can be dangerous, especially at high speeds (BOB recommends not accelerating in excess of 24 mph / 40 km/h)
  • Can be a real hassle to carry aboard airplanes, buses, trains, etc.
  • You might need to carry extra tools and extra spares
  • Spares for 20” wheels (or worse, 16”) can be hard to find
  • The bike/trailer system takes a lot of room lengthwise
  • Are more troublesome to park, move around, and move backwards
  • Are arguably heavier
  • Allow one to carry less volume (unless 2 front panniers are also used in conjunction with the trailer)
  • Broken parts can be a real problem, especially in remote areas
  • Broken spokes are more common
  • Need a lot of room for storage
  • Suffer on bad roads, especially in the long-run
  • If front panniers are not used, it can be inconvenient to have to open the big dry bag in order to grab things during the day
  • It is almost impossible to ride off the saddle, especially with a one-wheel trailer
  • 2-wheel trailers add extra problems. You end up with 3 tracks instead of one, which causes much more drag. It is also harder to avoid potholes and other obstacles.

You can see the responses from our forum members on the following link:
Panniers vs. Trailers – CycloCampingForum.com

Note: www.traveladventures.org is the exclusive proprietor of the image of the man and the loaded bicycle in Kathmandu (first picture above)

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About Stephane Marchiori

Owner of Cyclocamping.com
Bike touring since 2003, including:
a 5-Year Bicycle Journey Around The World!

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