When I originally thought of this trip, I pictured myself laden down with four saddle bags and a little rack pack just rolling down the bike highways of Europe. I also saw myself cycling solo. This image was confirmed for me during a recent excursion on foot to Northern Europe, all around me were spandex bound men or couples on roadsters rockin’ well ballanced panniers (Note: I did not see a single female solo cyclist). Thankfully my cycling companion, Blue, has a less narrow view. Bike-packing. At first I was unconvinced, so let me share with you some of our process to make this first of our many gear decisions.
Bikepacking wins this category. Smaller bags and a closer centre of gravity makes the weight feel like part of the bike instead of forces pulling the bike around.
Racks also add some tear to the bike that bags would eliminate. It’s nearly impossible to get panniers to balance perfectly, and even if you get close they still pull against the rack on every bump. Eventually the screws come loose, the racks break, and you end up constantly maintaining them.
Clearly the panniers are the winner in this category, assuming of course that you want more space. I’ll admit I debate this extensively with myself and Blue. I am a minimalist and I look forward to this experiment in discovering what little I need to survive, but also I’m going to EUROPE. Where there are cool spices and wines and clothes and beautiful things found nowhere else in the world (ok, I’m mostly interested in the food stuff), I just can’t imagine not collecting a few things to bring back to home base. Panniers also free up the frame for water bottle storage, a major issue with these long treks.
On the flip side, I also have to carry all the stuff I bring with my own person-power. Being from a relatively flat geographical corner of the world and hills encountered will be a challenge without being weighed down by quadruplets on my wheels.
Packing all the gear close to the frame and the rider is better balanced and allows for a much smoother riding experience. Removing variables and wear that more gear brings to the unit will allow us to be better prepared for less than perfect road conditions and weather.
Notice the difference in the weight placement, especially in the wheels. If we experience any rougher terrain or want to do any technical riding without leaving our stuff behind, we’ll want that front wheel freedom.
Often a deciding factor is costs, but unfortunately I don’t think that will help us out much here. Any decent pannier starts at about 80 plus you need a rack to put it on. Some of the bikes we’ve looked at come with racks (almost always a better deal), otherwise you’re looking at another 100-150 for a light, durable, high-quality rack. On the bikepacking side, one locally made seat bag runs north of 200 at a neighbourhood bike shop.
This has led us to consider building our own bags to fit our bikes. Blue has all kinds of ideas and I have the materials, we’ll let you know how that goes!
Finally, by far the most important quality to lead us to bikepacking is: Flexibility
While the panniers offer many extended comforts, one conversation with a Hungarian stranger about the incredible mountain biking in parts of Italy confirmed in my heart that bikepacking is the way to go. I would never forgive myself for going so far from home and accomplishing so much, only to miss out on off road experiences. Because when it comes down to it road biking is just our mode of transport, this adventure is a cycling trip and we want to do as much as we can.
Hope you enjoyed my thoughts, until next time!
– Bonni –