One of the many joys of riding a bicycle is transportation. Whether going to the corner store for a couple things or going on an extended tour, you need to carry stuff. Although the simplest way is a pack on your back, there are many other options worth considering. Using bags mounted to the bike increases your capacity, lowers the center of gravity thus increasing stability, and does not get your back all sweaty.
If you are going to have one rack, start with one over the rear wheel. Rear racks are generally larger than front, and the bike will more stable with the weight in the rear.
Better quality racks will support more weight, be more adjustable, and often have an additional strut, which keep the panniers from contacting the spokes. Clarence between your heel and panniers is an issue with many road bikes, which have a shorter rear triangle than a traditional touring bike. To avoid this, choose a rack, which sits further back or can be adjusted backwards. Bikes with disc brakes pose problems when mounting racks, but many models easily accommodate these brakes. Some specialty features you may find on rear racks include a built in spring clamp, “U” lock storage, and multiple places to hook the bottom of the pannier.
Front racks generally come in high or low mount, although a few incorporate both. This refers to where the bags mount. If carrying a significant amount of weight in front, the low mount will provide more stability because the weight is lower. A small high mount rack, or a basket can be very handy to toss a couple things in on the way back from a store. Front racks and forks have some restrictions in mounting options.
On an extended bicycle tour with full camping equipment most people will use both front and rear bags and racks. You can find confusing advise on the ratio of weight front to back. Some recommend more in the back, some more in the front. My experience is that any set formula will not work well in all cases. Bicycle geometry and riding style can vary widely and both affect how a bike handles with a load. Spend some time experimenting with your load to find the optimum set up for you. The ratio of weight on each side is not as significant as one may assume.
Bags to mount on racks come in two general categories. Rack trunks mount on the top of a rack and are very handy for small loads, as in a day tour. Bags that hang on the sides of the racks are called panniers, sometimes referred to as saddlebags, but this is often confused with bags that mount under the saddle.
Panniers come in a wide variety of sizes, qualities, colors, and features. Size is the easiest to evaluate. However, do not assume that bigger is always better. Human nature tends to use the space that is available. The less you carry, the easier the bike is to ride. For me, one of the joys of bike touring is the minimalist life style.
Panniers can use several different mounting systems and closure systems. Some are quick to remove whereas some are intended to stay on your rack. A feature, which I really appreciate, is a latching clip which keeps the pannier from bouncing off if you hit a big bump or clip it with your heel. Zippered closures, also referred to as panel loading are fast to close, but have finite capacity. They make it easier to get at something in the middle of bottom of your bag. Top loading panniers use a closure system similar to many backpacks with a roll over flap over the top. You can always squeeze in one more item in these.
Some panniers are waterproof. The advantage is obvious; however they prevent moisture transfer both ways. Sweaty clothes will not dry. One good idea for touring is to have one pair waterproof and one pair not.
Small pockets, both exterior and interior are very helpful to keep things organized. When I am on tour, I like to have rain gear and tools readily available on an exterior pocket.
There are many varieties of panniers designed for specific loads. At County Cycles we stock garment bag panniers, grocery panniers, and brief case panniers with more organizational pockets than you can imagine, including a lap top sleeve.
Wherever your ride, remember: you can take it with you!