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  1. #1
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    Trailers vs Panniers for Touring

    I'm a newbie to touring, but have been a roadie for over 30yrs. Have a Surly LHT on order at my LBS, but am also converting a GT Backwoods for road touring (higher pressure tires, rigid fork, trekking bars, etc.). However, my real question addresses trailers vs panniers. I had planned to go the trailer route, and was leaning towards the Burley Nomad rather than a BOB. All touring will be on-road. I have experience towing a child carrier behind my road bikes, but would like opinions and experiences of those who can compare the two methods of hauling gear.

  2. #2
    Senior Member john bono's Avatar
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    I've done some trips with a BOB(not a tour yet), and I've done a tour with panniers. A trailer is heavier than panniers before you load anything, but the advantage of a trailer is that you have much more space, and much more overall capacity than a bike w/panniers. You have a little more rolling resistance with a Bob, but not all that much more, as long as you keep the trailer tire fully inflated. I'm a little more partial to the Bob and other single wheel trailers v. two wheel trailers, because the trailer wheel tracks the rear wheel of the bike, and the width of the trailer is no wider than myself on the bike.
    Ride a bike. It makes your legs stringy, and less tasty to our Kanamit friends.[SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]

  3. #3
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    This topic has been discussed over and over, but i Just did a search, and it is kind of hard to search for.

    My vote: Panniers.
    - handles like a bike - ok, a big heavy one, but still 'normal'
    - easy to maneuver / park
    - easy to organize stuff / always know where it is
    - if you want to travel light, you can remove a pair of bags and a rack, and you have also lost half the non-luggage weight

    Trailer
    - handling is horrible "the tail wagging the dog"
    - hard to park / maneuver (your bike is 7 feet long)
    - you can't get on elevators/trains, or through doors unless someone holds them for you
    - whatever you need out of the bag, it has trickled down to the bottom
    - packing it for travel is horrible - you end up with two oversize pieces of luggage
    - if you want to travel light, the trailer still weighs the same amount

    Total weight is about the same, if you count racks & bags vs trailer & bag.
    For the trailer, you have to carry at least one separate tube. Maybe even a tire, depending on where you are going.

    I hated my trailer for the two weeks before it tried to kill me...

    (can you tell i have a strong opinion? )
    ...

  4. #4
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    Oh, and yeah, i used the bob for about 3 weeks total, and my panniers for about 8 months... definitely speaking from experience here...
    ...

  5. #5
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    Trailer vs. paniers

    I have a Burley Nomad, a BOB, and panniers. My personal preference is four panniers, then the BOB, and then the Nomad. That said, I just completed a 3150 mile tour towing the BOB and had no trouble what so ever. The BOB towed straight with no swaying and I enjoyed towing it. I used the BOB for this tour due to an issue with my bike and rear rack. I had been planning to use the four panniers until this problem presented itself. The roads I traveled were just too narrow to tow the Nomad. I have gone back and forth on the trailer vs. pannier issue myself. For me, today, my choice is the four panniers.

  6. #6
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    I prefer panniers. I've met a bunch of people towing different trailers. Some liked the trailers and had no problems others complained the whole setup is tough to park, is difficult to handle during descents, and is a pain to tote on a bus or train or plane.

    Also, why did you buy an LHT if you're not planning on using panniers? That bike is made to carry loads of crap.

  7. #7
    Senior Member chrisch's Avatar
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    I've done separate tours with panniers and a Bob Yak, and both had their advantages. However, the reason I prefer panniers is due to the handling of the bike. With the Bob Yak everything feels heavier, and with panniers my bike still feels like a bike. The Bob Yak is now for sale. chris
    TrackMyTour.com - An iPhone app for Bike Touring! See who's touring now and where.

  8. #8
    Senior Member BigBlueToe's Avatar
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    I recently did a tour with a Bob. I'd always toured with panniers before, and I wanted to see what it would be like. I wasn't favorably impressed, although there were advantages. I felt the handling was excellent. When first starting out (on level ground) I often found myself checking my rearview mirror to make sure I hadn't forgotten to attach it. However, when climbing hills, there was no question it was back there, because of the weight. I came to refer to it as "the anchor." I was carrying pretty much the same load as I always do - the same tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, clothes, etc. But the weight of the trailer made it seem as if I was pulling a much heavier load up hills. The added rolling resistance of a third wheel, plus the added friction of a third hub, was probably a factor, but a very small one - like adding a can of soup to my load. I think the major factor was simply the weight of the trailer itself.

    There were added hassles - parking was a little more difficult. You really need a long stretch of wall to lean the whole rig against while you are messing with the load - like after you've bought some groceries. Finding a good place to lock it up was a bit of a hassle. I often resorted to just locking the trailer and the bike together, thinking that it would be too much trouble to try and pick up the whole rig to steal it. Another hassle was that the trailer's tube had a Schrader valve, so when I pumped up my tires in the morning I had to change the nozzle on my pump. Also I had to carry a different sized spare tube (and it was a good thing I did, because I suffered a puncture on it.

    One advantage it had over panniers was that it was easier to pack. I didn't have to remember what went in which pannier, or worry about balancing the load. Just throw everything in the big yellow bag and I was ready to go. I didn't have to worry about waterproofing my sleeping bag, sleeping pad, or tent. That big yellow bag is plenty waterproof. And you really can carry a lot of stuff in it. If you have to carry a big load - like if you're going to be away from civilization for a few days and need a few days' worth of food - it can handle it.

    One big advantage, I think, is that you're less likely to break spokes with a Bob. A smaller advantage is that you are more streamlined in a headwind, althoug I was carrying front panniers too, so I kind of negated that.

    My final decision was that I'm going back to panniers. I will still use my Bob around home, and if I ever go on a tour where I don't have too many big hills to climb, and want to carry a big load. Another guy wrote that a Bob makes more sense if you're going to be riding a lot on dirt roads, gravel roads, or trails, and that makes sense to me too.

  9. #9
    Left OZ now in Malaysia jibi's Avatar
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    Take a look at the BOB Ibex, totally different to the YAK due to the suspension which solves a lot of the "tail wagging the dog"
    I toured with panniers for 20 years and have used the Yak and now for the last two years I have the Ibex.

    I have pulled the Ibex across the "roads" in Patagonia for 5 months, 3 months across Europe, and quite a lot of other little tours, in England, Scotland and Ireland.

    Whichever method one chooses is personal, the experiences one has is personal.

    I personally would not consider ever using panniers again.

    george
    ---------------------------------------------------
    https://sites.google.com/site/imjibi/home

    Photos of present tour of South East Asia
    http://picasaweb.google.com/georgeidf50/southeastasia

  10. #10
    Senior Member lighthorse's Avatar
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    Jim,
    I have only toured with rear panniers but have met a lot of fellow tourers towing trailers. Two things stand out in my discussions with them: a. bring along spare spokes for the trailer, and b. be careful on the downhills until you are really comfortable with the trailer.
    As Toe said: the trailer can carry a lot of stuff. And if you have the capacity the tendency is to pack too much stuff.
    Having said that, there are a lot of folks touring happily with trailers.
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  11. #11
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    I have used both. The only times when the trailer is an advantage is when you need to carry something large and when your bike can't accommodate racks or your wheels cannot take the load. Superior aerodynamics (downhill and in a head wind) is negated by the drag of the third wheel. If your bike is set up for panniers get them. If not, get a new bike that can or get a trailer.

  12. #12
    Hooked on Touring
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    Thank You Valygrl -

    I was actually contemplating getting a Bob trailer for the fall and have now decided against.
    The only reason I would was because I like to take a mid-sized backback along for hikes.
    I've always stuffed all my camping things inside it and slung it crosswise across the back rack.
    What that meant was that I could set up my tent and be inside in about 3 minutes if necessary.
    When I went for a hike - I'd carefully repack the pack as a hiker. I
    t always has worked. No need to change.

    Hope you is well.

  13. #13
    eternalvoyage
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    Quote Originally Posted by Island Jim View Post
    I'm a newbie to touring, but have been a roadie for over 30yrs. Have a Surly LHT on order at my LBS, but am also converting a GT Backwoods for road touring (higher pressure tires, rigid fork, trekking bars, etc.). However, my real question addresses trailers vs panniers. I had planned to go the trailer route, and was leaning towards the Burley Nomad rather than a BOB. All touring will be on-road. I have experience towing a child carrier behind my road bikes, but would like opinions and experiences of those who can compare the two methods of hauling gear.
    I haven't read the other replies yet, but here is my experience: I listened to both sides, weighed the pros and cons, leaned toward panniers . . . , and then decided I would just go ahead and try both.

    Verdict: panniers. Hands down.

    *******
    Some of the reasons: most trailers do not handle nearly as well at higher speeds. When going down hills and hitting bumps, they flail around. And they sometimes do much worse than that.

    With a good set of panniers and racks, the bike is surprisingly stable and solid on the same hills, even at higher speeds.

    Trailers have other disadvantages as well, including more weight, more bulk, more drag, more things to go wrong, and more complications and cumbersomeness when traveling on trains, ferries, planes, etc.

    Making use of good strong racks, and the two (fine and reliable) wheels that are already on the bike -- this has been a much better way to go.

  14. #14
    Year-round cyclist
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    I have used panniers for many years. Two at first (front lowrider racks were non-existent in this part of the world 25-30 years ago), and four in more recent times. With a fairly rigid bike, it's fairly easy to forget the load in panniers.

    I have often used trailers, both a 2-children trailer (with one child and/or cargo) and a Nomad, but not that much for touring. Last year, I did a serious tour with my two children on the tandem + trailercycle + Nomad.

    Verdict:

    - For single-bike touring, I definitely prefer panniers. Even on a straight highway, I'm slightly faster on a fully loaded bike than on a bike with a loaded trailer. And if you add hills and curves, bike with panniers is definitely faster.
    - I would probably think the same way for tandem touring.
    - For 3 persons on the same bike, I tried 6 panniers in 2005 and that definitely was shakey. For such extreme loads, the 2006 configuration, with a trailer and 4 loosely packed panniers was definitely better. Bear in mind that one adult and 2 kids need lots of stuff, especially when riding in remote areas under unpredictable weather.

    P.s. I always tour door to door, so packing the bike is not an issue.
    Michel Gagnon
    Montréal (Québec, Canada)

  15. #15
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    My wife and I tour on a tandem - and use both lightly loaded panniers and a bob.

    We have ridden with the bob only - and it wasn't a problem.

    I think that most folks are correct in their observations - and the real answer lies with the type of touring you are going to do. I personally think it is easier to lock and secure the bob with a lock and a mesh luggage "lock" ( like this) then it is to try to secure 4 panniers. Also - if you are going to ride around the destination - I think the bob lends itself better to the "dump and run" approach to setting up camp. The bob also makes a sweet grocery wagon if you are touring with multiple people - the beer you can transport back to the site alone will make you very popular.

    Parking with the bob can be a pain - but there is trick that allows you to use the bob to hold up your bike by jackknifing the trailer 45 degrees. In some places it is actually easier to park this way then to find a wall.

    I also like the flag and extra visibility the trailer provides. It makes me feel a little safer in traffic. But my touring is in a rural area - and if you need to cut through a city - the trailer can be a PITA.

  16. #16
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    Panniers

    I think it depends on how much you want to haul with you as much as anything. If you have the space/capacity you will only take more. You should base your decision on what you really need to take. Make a thorough list of what you need being very critical (another person helps by asking the question - Why do you need that?) and gather up your gear. Box the gear up to get a volume and weight (use compression sacks for bulky soft items to reduce volume) and you will be able to see if panniers or a trailer will suit you best as far as carrying capacity. If you can get the volume down to pannier size, beg/borrow some panniers and do a short trial ride. If you can't get your gear down to pannier volume, then the only alternative will be the trailer. We have just finished a one week tour (450 miles) with two panniers on a tandem with a total weight (rack/panniers/gear) of 39 lbs. This included tent, stove, etc. This was a dry run for a six week trip to NZ next Feb. and we only plan to add a couple of items of clothing for colder weather. Our goal is to be no more than 40 lbs. for the trip. We did not skimp on comfort but were very conscious of the weight and volume of what we selected. We had to pare back on non-biking clothes but found we still had items we did not wear.

    Based on what we took, I think it would be reasonable to get down to ~25 lbs for a single rider in which case the trailer would not make sense.

  17. #17
    Senior Member john bono's Avatar
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    Also, a plus for having a trailer is it takes a lot of stress off of the bike and onto the trailer. For us clydes that is not a minor issue. I did a mini-tour this weekend(25 miles out to the campsite and back), and my gut feel from this first mini-trip is that a trailer can cause you to overpack a bit. However, space is far less of an issue. I was able to pack a sleeping bag, tent, and a 30" wide sleeping pad easily in a trailer. Also, the utilitarian aspects of a trailer at a campsite is definitely a nice-to-have. I wanted to make a campfire, so I went to the supermarket, bought hotdogs, rolls, and two bundles of firewood, along with a sixpack of beer and 10 lbs of ice, and had a nice big fire when I got back to the site. I wouldn't dream of doing that kind of errand if I only had panniers to do it.
    Ride a bike. It makes your legs stringy, and less tasty to our Kanamit friends.[SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]

  18. #18
    Tinkerer since 1980 TheBrick's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Michel Gagnon View Post
    I have often used trailers, both a 2-children trailer (with one child and/or cargo) and a Nomad, but not that much for touring. Last year, I did a serious tour with my two children on the tandem + trailercycle + Nomad.
    Wow I would like to see that convoy!. How big was the turning circle and how did your legs feel towing all of that.
    Travelling without inertia

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  19. #19
    Senior Member FlyingAnchor's Avatar
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    This is the first thread to make me reconsider my decision to take a trailor cross country. I am really going to try to find out what I NEED as opposed to what I think I need.

    I had been planning on getting a nomad as soon as possible so I could load it up and start towing it around to help me get into shape.

    Stop making me rethink stuff.

    Steven

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by FlyingAnchor View Post
    This is the first thread to make me reconsider my decision to take a trailor cross country. I am really going to try to find out what I NEED as opposed to what I think I need.

    I had been planning on getting a nomad as soon as possible so I could load it up and start towing it around to help me get into shape.

    Stop making me rethink stuff.

    Steven
    Instead of just loading it up, start with smaller trips to help you adapt to the oddities of towing a trailer. Try going out to the grocery store with it and picking up groceries. Then you can learn some how to lock it up, load it when in the field, etc etc when you aren't far from home. Not only do you learn how to ride with it, but you learn how to live with it.

  21. #21
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    I don't think that anyone has mentioned it, but another consideration is what type of a bike are you using.

    If you are using panniers, then all the weight goes directly onto your bike. For fully loaded touring, that can be 30 to 40 pounds, so your bike needs to be built to handle the extra weight (like a touring bike or mountain bike).

    If you are using a trailer, then most of the weight goes on the trailer with little weight on the bike itself. So, I'm comfortable touring using my road bike with a trailer, but not panniers.

  22. #22
    vintage tourer
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    i bought a trailer ages ago, used it for 1 tour, and sold it.

    whether to go with panniers or a trailer essentially boils down to whether you want to enjoy the time you spend on the bike or off it.

    if you're the type who likes to call it a day early on, sleep a little later, do some cooking, brew up some fresh coffee & and generally enjoy the camping aspect of self-sufficient touring, maybe go with a trailer and bring along all the creature comforts. expect hill climbing to take more time and energy, less milage per day, as well as some handling problems.

    if you want to enjoy your time in the saddle more, as well as go further with less effort, go with panniers and leave the self-inflating mattress, dutch oven and guitar at home.

  23. #23
    Senior Member Newspaperguy's Avatar
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    So far, I've been camping with rear panniers, a handlebar bag and a small front rack. I have plenty of room for what I need. It might appear I'm traveling spartan but I don't think I'm lacking anything when I'm on the road.

    There may be a time and place for a tour with a trailer but so far, I haven't encountered it.
    Life is good.

  24. #24
    Senior Member FlyingAnchor's Avatar
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    Cmon you guys, stop it.
    I wanted to go on a small 100 mile tour this week but I don't have a trailer or panniers and was planning on a supported tour, camping with my sister but she said NO. As of yet I don't have a way to carry my gear, so that is my first priority. I my get underseat panniers/rack and a trailer. Just gets expensive for right now.
    Aw well, school starts for me next week and that means more bike money. Yahoo.
    Steven

  25. #25
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    Thanks to all that have offered their opinions and experiences. As I suspected, there is no one definitive answer to whether one is best with panniers or a trailer. Like so many other options, its personal preference. Though I was leaning toward a trailer, after reading all responses, I'll probably start with rear panniers and a handlebar bag for a few short tours. If I have the opportunity at some time, I'll pull a trailer and see how that goes. Again, thanks to all.

    Jim

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