After three weeks of bicycle touring in Iceland, and with the bicycle touring season really getting its start this month in most of the northern hemisphere, I thought that now would be a good time to share with you some of my secrets for packing your panniers.
Here are my 8 biggest tips for packing your bicycle touring panniers:
1. Keep Your Weight Low
When packing your panniers, do what you can to keep your heavier items on the bottom of your bags and your lighter items up on top. Not only will this prevent you from squishing your lighter and more delicate items as you travel, but packing in this way will also help to increase your control of the bicycle as you ride.
2. Center Your Weight
In just the same way that you need to keep the weight of your gear as low as possible, you should also do your best to center the weight of your bicycle panniers. 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 control your bicycle, but it will help to prevent mechanical breakdowns, broken spokes, and stress to your body's back, neck, shoulders, knees and arms.
3. Practice Packing Before You Leave Home
Before you ever leave home, practice packing your panniers with everything you are going to need for your travels. You should pack and unpack your bicycle panniers multiple times before you ever leave home. Packing and unpacking your panniers will help you figure out which items you really need for your tour (and which items you don't).
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 on a regular basis. Packing these items inside your handlebar bag (or at the very least, inside your front panniers) will make accessing these items that much easier. Having your 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 bite to eat.
5. Everything Has Its Place
Long-distance bicycle touring 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 your gear. This will prevent you from having to unpack every single pannier when you need to find a particular item.
6. Protect Your Gear And Secure Your Valuables
More and more cyclists these days are traveling with high-end cameras, GPS devices, mobile phones, and pricey laptop computers. To make sure these valuable items are secure, I recommend packing these items in padded cases that then go inside your rear panniers. Then, place these expensive electronic items on the non-traffic side of your bicycle. 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 other personal items. 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 high-end camera, do what you can to place these items on the shady side of your bicycle and consider packing especially important items inside additional cases, covers, or waterproof sacks.
8. Leave Some Extra Space
Finally, when packing for your travels, be sure to leave some extra space inside your panniers for items you might need or want to pick up along the way. If you leave home and your panniers are already overflowing, you have too much stuff! You should have at least half a pannier empty when you start your tour. That way you have room to pick up additional food, drink, and personal items once you hit the road.
I hope these packing tips help you as you prepare for your next bicycle tour.
Another one for those of us with cycling wanderlust: Download the latest copy of Bicycle Traveler magazine!
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