Pannier packing is an art. There are a million different ways to do it and no one way is correct, but there are a few commonly-held practices that, if you are aware of them, will help you out tremendously once you jump in the saddle and hit the streets.
1. Center Your Weight
Not only do you need to keep your weight as low as possible, but you need to keep it centered on your bicycle. There shouldn’t be too much weight in the front of your bike or too much weight in the back. On the same note, there shouldn’t be more weight on one side of the bike than on the other. Keeping your weight centered will not only help you keep control of your bicycle, but it will help prevent mechanical breakdowns, broken spokes, and stress to your body’s back, neck, shoulders, and arms.
2. Leave Some Extra Space
When you are packing for your trip, be sure to leave some extra space in your panniers for items you might need/want to pick up along the way. If you leave home and your panniers are already stuffed to the gills, you have too much stuff!
3. Everything Has Its Place
Living out of your panniers requires that you pack and unpack your gear on a daily basis. To make sure you don’t lose anything in the packing process… and to save yourself huge amounts of time, make it a practice to put everything back in the same spot each time you pack. This will prevent you from having to unpack every single pannier when you need to find a particular item.
4. If You Need To Get It While You’re Riding, It Should Be Up Front
While you’re riding, there are going to be a few items that you will want to access regularly. Packing these items inside your handlebar bag (or at the very least, inside your front panniers) will make reaching them much easier. Having your water, map, sunglasses, camera, and snacks for the day all within arm’s reach ensures that won’t have to get off your bike every time you want to check the map, take a photo, or get a quick snack.
5. Practice Packing Before You Leave Home
Before you ever leave your home, practice packing your panniers. Practicing will help you figure out what items you really need for your tour, and help you figure out how to distribute your weight evenly (see secret #1). I recommend living out of your panniers for at least two weeks before you leave home as this will make your first several days of bicycle touring that much easier.
6. Protect Your Gear And Secure Your Valuables
More and more cyclists these days are traveling with high end cameras, GPS devices, and pricey laptop computers. To make sure these valuable items are secure, I recommend packing them in your rear panniers and placing them on the non-traffic side of your bike. Front panniers are often less stable than rear panniers and more likely to bounce off their racks. Placing your expensive gear on the non-traffic side of your bike will ensure that if, for some horrible reason, you are clipped by a passing vehicle, the only bags affected by the accident are ones that contain dirty clothes and easy to replace food items.
7. Consider The Elements
Finally, consider the weather you might experience while on your travels. Waterproof (or water resistant) panniers help to keep rain and snow from soaking your clothes and computer. The sun and heat also need to be taken into consideration — especially if you are planning to travel with expensive electronics. If you are carrying a computer or camera, do what you can to place them on the shady side of your bicycle and consider packing especially important items inside additional padding, covers, or waterproof sacks.
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This article was originally written as a guest post for the Adventure Cycling Association blog. I wrote the article because I thought it would be good opportunity to share my simple and down-to-earth pannier packing secrets. Click here to read the original article and discover my “7 Secrets To Successfully Packing Your Panniers.”
One of the tips I give in the article is to leave some extra space inside your panniers before you leave home so that you can pick up additional items, if the need be, as you go along. However, the most important part of this tip was edited out (Maybe because Adventure Cycling disagrees with me on this particular point? Or maybe because the article simply needed to be shorter?)
Whatever the case may be, the part that was cut out stated that you should attempt to have at least half of a pannier empty when you leave home at the start of your tour. I personally shoot for having an entire pannier free if possible.
The point here is that if you leave home and you are already stuffed to the gills, you are simply carrying too much stuff. Having some free space (the more free space – the better), will really come in handy once you hit the road.
To read the full article and get some additional hints on how to pack your panniers for your next bicycle touring adventure, head on over to the Adventure Cycling blog and read my guest post titled, “7 Secrets To Successfully Packing Your Panniers.“