Panniers or trailer?
We hesitated for a long time! Panniers are more convenient on public transport but they put a lot of stress on the bicycle (especially on a recumbent where all the weight is born by the rear wheel).
So we bought a trailer and a pair of Arkel 40L for each of us. After Sylvie had problems with her knees, we decided to take off some the weight on her bike (a Bob Ibex weighs between 7 and 8 kg). We sold her trailer and bought her a pair of Ortlieb 40L (Ortlieb had a shorter delivery time and we changed our mind a week before leaving on our trip).
After 8 months of travelling, we concluded regarding the trailer:
- It tends to slow down the bike (3rd wheel effect + weight of 8 kg)
- It is dangerous downhill when there are holes and bumps on the road
- It takes more space than a pair of panniers on the bus, the train, the plane (extra weight), the hotel room
- Difficult to go backwards, the trailer goes in the way (the other person has to lift the trailer and make it turn).
Some cyclists still ride with a trailer after a few years of cycling so it could be the right solution for you.
For us, a trailer is useful and even essential for a tandem (it’s hard to put 8 panniers on a tandem). Also when you travel with toddlers. Cyclists who ride a mountain bike (without luggage rack) also use a trailer.
We sold the 2nd trailer in Bangkok and for more than a year we have been cycling with:
- A pair of Arkel 40L under the seat
- A pair of Arkel 54L at the back
- Tent and sleeping bags are fastened on top of the panniers, at the back. The sleeping bags are stored in waterproof bags. The tent is packed in plastic bags when we cycle in rainy regions.
If you carry a lot of weight, you can reinforce your wheel. We changed our rims for 36 spokes and put 2.3 mm spokes. You can have up to 48 spokes. We carry 35 – 40 kg each and haven’t broken one spoke yet in 2 years and 20.000 km (of which 1.500 km of dirt roads).
Panniers: Arkel or Ortlieb?
Each type of pannier has its advantages and drawbacks. Even though Arkel bags are not waterproof, we favour them because it’s so easy to find anything in our bags. And, except in Patagonia, it actually doesn’t rain that often!
- Convenient: panniers open with a zip on 3 sides which enables you to access a single thing without rummaging through all your stuff. Side pockets are very convenient to store small items like head lamp, lighter, knife …
- Hard-wearing: the bags are made of Cordura, very strong fabric. The zips are super strong. Our Arkel 40L have 20.000 km and work just as well as on the first day.
- Waterproof: they are not completely waterproof. The rain covers protect from a drizzle but not from a persisting rain over a few hours. In Patagonia, we put our bags in rubbish bags and the rain covers on top of it to avoid making holes in the over-bags. It is mostly the RT-40 under the seat that take the water (they are closer to the ground and the fabric seems less waterproof). The GT-54 seemed more water-resistant but the rubbish bags were protecting the panniers from all the mud.
- Price: much more expensive than Ortlieb or Vaude.
Don’t wash the rain covers! They lose their waterproof coating. Shake them to remove the dust and they will get their flashy yellow colour back.
Protect your bags: we always keep the rain covers on to protect the bags from the dust and dirt. It also discourage curious hands to open the zippers. The yellow colour makes you very visible on the road.
Ortlieb / Vaude
- Strong and waterproof: the old model (Classic) is made of truck tarp, very strong and totally waterproof. So waterproof that if you put a wet towel inside in the morning, in the evening, everything is wet with condensation. Very easy to clean inside and outside with a sponge.
- Not very convenient: all the things are stored in one big pocket that opens on the top and of course, you always need what is at the bottom…
- Price: affordable.