Wednesday, 23 July 2014

What's best? Trailer vs. panniers

Panniers or trailer? That's the question many potential bike tourers will ask themselves. There are many a few options and they've all got advantages and disadvantages. As part of your planning you need to make a decision on what you would like to use. I can't tell you what to choose, only what my experiences are.

Pannier advantages

  • Easier to group you luggage into categories. So for example front left pannier with food, rear left pannier with clothes and so on. It makes it a lot easier to find.
  • Less parts = less chance of something breaking. Panniers are essentially bags with a few hooks on them that go onto a rack. That's it. No extra wheels or other parts needed (normally).
  • When you're finished for the day, it's a lot easier to carry single panniers into your room or tent, compared to having to unload a trailer.
  • Many panniers come with shoulderstraps, allowing them to be versatile and can be used as a day-bag
Pannier disadvantages
  • More weight on the bike itself, means more strain on it. Especially on the back wheel. Your weight plus two panniers puts a lot of weight onto the wheel and can possibly cause broken spokes.
  • You need to balance the panniers well in all directions, left, right, front, back and centre. Uneven weight distribution can cause instability and also uneven wear of tires. Good idea would be to use a scale when packing the first time.

This was my first set-up, a "Bob-like" aka single wheel trailer. I ended up having an accident 14 km outside Perth, trashing both myself, bike and the trailer.

The set-up I had from Perth to Quorn (Port August), over 2800 km/1700 miles. A two wheeled trailer containing my food, water and some clothes.

Trailer advantages
  • Makes packing easier since you can simply chuck it onto the trailer, without having to worry too much about compressing it.
  • Good for carrying food and water in remote areas (like the Nullarbor)
  • Cars and other vehicles will generally give you more space on the road, since you are a bit wider than a normal cyclist.
  • Easily unhooked allowing you to ride without too much weight on the bike.
Trailer disadvantages
  • Will slow you down because of tire friction and wind resistance.
  • The need to carry spare parts such as spokes, inner tube and tires.
  • If you're going off-road, it can be a challenge to navigate in tight and narrow space (unless you have a bespoke off-road trailer)

I've tried it all, single-wheel trailer, two-wheel trailer and just panniers. Like listed above, there are many advantages and disadvantages to it all. So what would I recommend? Based on my experiences, I would recommend only using panniers if you can. A trailer means you need to carry more spare parts and chances of something going wrong is likely. For example, in Australia you have to get off the road entirely quite often because of the roadtrains and lack of road shoulder. As a result, in my case, three spokes on the trailer wheel broke and in return caused two spoke on the back wheel to break. In addition a trailer will add more friction, causing you to travel at a lower speed.

I recommend getting front and rear panniers. Try your very best to limit yourself to only panniers. Then, if you have to after adding panniers, get a trailer by all means, but make sure you REALLY need it. I personally find it easier to navigate and control a bike with panniers compared to a trailer. The weight distribution is much better. I know that when I'm going touring in the future, I will most definitely only be using panniers and pack a lot less. Next week I'll try and cover what stuff I brought with me, what I used, what I could have left behind and all those quirky questions about packing.

An alternative

You could always get a extra back wheel and panniers instead of a trailer. I personally haven't tried this set-up myself, but have heard a few good reviews about it.