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  1. #1
    Always planning a tour birvine's Avatar
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    Front vs rear weighting of panniers

    Since I started touring 20+ years ago, I only used rear panniers. I recently added a front rack and bought some Arkel panniers to ride 2x2 instead. From what I had previously read, I was going to load 40-60 front-rear. However, I am seeing the opposite opinion on this site. My question, then, is how do you prefer to load the bike when you tour?

    And finally, if this was recently asked, my apologies, but please don't throw nails in front of my bike.

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  2. #2
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    I don't really go by those numbers. I do believe that there is some technical reason for loading the front, that I have forgoten. It comes down to practical stuff. I need to be organized, and I need to be shimmy free. I try to put hard and heavy stuff up front. It normally seems to work out with my particular paniers that the front and rear bags are about equal, but there is a 5th unit more stuff on the top of my rear rack. At times, when I have a lot of food on, I may have a sixth unit of stuff on my forward rack top. I have good results with this approach, and I don't think I could easily load 40-60 to the front due to my panier size. I don't mind the slower stearing with a load on front, or the way the weight up front absorbs the road vibe.

    I think any time one reads about people who do something like load all to the rear, as was traditional, and then one hears about people who load almost all to the front, that the real answer is it doesn't mater since both systems seem to work. Some of this stuff probably comes from a time when they were trying to promote front racks. Imagine, someone managed to double the rack and panier business. They used to also say that front racks acted like a fairing, and reduced wind resistances.
    Last edited by NoReg; 09-08-08 at 09:39 PM.

  3. #3
    Senior Member robow's Avatar
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    I agree with Pan, no set ratio works for everyone. It will depend heavily on your specific bike, racks and bags, the weight of the rider and maybe even his/her riding style. Just play around with it a little bit before you head out and see if you can fine tune it while trying to create the most stable platform possible. Kind of fun actually.

  4. #4
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    Machika and I were discussing front pannier loading the other day. One thing to watch out for is a change in the steering on loose gravel, should you encounter roads like that. Both of us have had bad experiences with the front tyre washing out when riding with front panniers -- me with them set up with ones of the rear too, and Machka with panniers only on the front. In both cases, we were using low-rider style racks and our bikes are of entirely different sizes and designs, albeit with 700C rims ranging from 25 to 32mm diameter.

    We've both found the problem of wash-out -- something like the front tyre losing grip on an oily wet road surface -- resulted in us being dumped off the bike. The problem did not exist with just panniers on the rear and a handlebar bag up front.

    Sooo... I would suggest lightly loading front panniers if you are expecting to encounter distances on gravel roads with no alternative route on sealed surfaces, and on the style of bike described.
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  5. #5
    sport fanatic
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    I've done a couple of tours rear-rack only and I'll probably continue to do so. I have 3 different sets of rear panniers with the largest having more space than I'd ever need.

    I don't see the benefits of getting a front rack & panniers as worth the cost. Maybe sometime in the future I'll do a long distance tour in a very rural area and it'll be necessary, til then rear only suits me fine.
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  6. #6
    Senior Member foamy's Avatar
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    I have the smallest and next to smallest panniers Lone Peak make and put the heavy stuff up front. Enough room for everything. My bike handled better with the front nailed down. Weigh distribution was about even when the things that went on top of the back rack were added. The back tire still had far more wear than the front. Tire rotation worked well.
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  7. #7
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rowan View Post
    Machika and I were discussing front pannier loading the other day. One thing to watch out for is a change in the steering on loose gravel, should you encounter roads like that. Both of us have had bad experiences with the front tyre washing out when riding with front panniers -- me with them set up with ones of the rear too, and Machka with panniers only on the front. In both cases, we were using low-rider style racks and our bikes are of entirely different sizes and designs, albeit with 700C rims ranging from 25 to 32mm diameter.

    We've both found the problem of wash-out -- something like the front tyre losing grip on an oily wet road surface -- resulted in us being dumped off the bike. The problem did not exist with just panniers on the rear and a handlebar bag up front.

    Sooo... I would suggest lightly loading front panniers if you are expecting to encounter distances on gravel roads with no alternative route on sealed surfaces, and on the style of bike described.
    This may be more technique related than load related. The front wheel is loaded heavier than an unloaded bike, of course, and that will make it dig into a soft road surface more. However, you can compensate for this by leaning back on the saddle as you pedal through soft stuff. This lets the front wheel float (kinda) up on top of the dirt and puts a bit more traction on the rear wheel. A lower gear and higher rpm cadence will also help as will wider tires... 25 and 32 mm are pretty narrow for soft surface riding.

    If I were riding on soft surfaces for extended periods, I might change my load around a little but I'd still be pretty close to the ratio I usually carry but probably not by much. The eastern third of the Lewis and Clark includes lots of dirt riding (Katy Trail and Steamboat Trace) but I never changed my load distribution there.
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  8. #8
    40 yrs bike touring
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    Over the last thirty five years of bike touring I have tried most every permutation and variation of pannier placement and load. Around twenty years ago I settled on front panniers only and a dry bag stuffer on top of the rear rack for all road conditions including the Divide Ride. A 60/40 weight ratio.

    I have been using 700x47mm tires and have not had the handling problems even in soft gravel conditions that Rowan and Machka have had.

    An additional benefit comes from the lighter rear rack load where the rear wheel does not slam into potholes but bounces over them without spoke or rim damage. I can lift the front wheel over such obstacles to protect the front wheel as well.

    This combination of larger tire volume, weight placement and riding technique have worked extremely well for me over the years. The only time I seem to rebuild a wheel is when the rim braking surface has thinned over a very long time.

  9. #9
    Has opinion, will express
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    Yes, but you see I am not prepared to lug around 47mm tyres for a tour where the majority of riding is on sealed surfaces. It's bad enough with the new Schwalbe 32s I stupidly put on recently (give me the old TT2000s anytime). 28 is speedier and capable of handling the now much lighter loads I might carry both on sealed and gravel surfaces.

    If I was going to do offroad or extended gravel, I would go more for an MTB-type set-up, but still with rear loading but a generous-sized bottom-supported front bag.

    YMMV.
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  10. #10
    40 yrs bike touring
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    Yes, Rowan, the weight of the 47mm tires could be an issue on pavement but since more and more of my touring has been on unpaved routes I prefer having the option to ride any surface. When I first started touring it was on 28mm tires and I always wistfully rode past the unpaved routes wishing that I could ride them.

    I try to compensate for the heavier tires with a low equipment weight which seems to work for my needs and speeds. I should also note that I am a clydesdale by current definition but am considered petite in my extended family so I need the 47mm tire air volume.

  11. #11
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    As far as I can tell, loading the front heaver than the bike makes the bike more unstable at lower speeds and sharp corners.

    Loading the back heavier can cause the bike to wobble and be unstable at high speeds.

    Don't ask me what way works better. It's all personal preferance.

  12. #12
    duh-river foe
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    I think it depends a lot on your geometry. On my touring bike, the more upright geometry means that it handles decently with some weight on the front. Touring with my road bike, I don't put any more than 6 pounds up front (pretty much a handlebar bag with the lock, tools, and small dense items) since the geometry balances my body over both the seat and handlebars. Maybe the way to look at it is to see how much weight total, of both your body's position and of the luggage.

  13. #13
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    So in sumary there are compeling reason for designing the load distribution toward either extreme, and not a lot of pattern, so suit yourself.

  14. #14
    Always planning a tour birvine's Avatar
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    Thanks to everyone for your responses. Very interesting, indeed.

    As with so much in the cycling/touring world, much depends on personal preference and circumstances. Before we head to Cuba I'll experiment with various weightings -- I agree that it is fun doing this -- more riding! There will be two of us, one of whom is very new to touring, so I will take the majority of the weight in whatever ratio I settle on, and start my wife with a lighter pannier load -- at least to start.

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  15. #15
    Slowpoach
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
    This may be more technique related than load related. The front wheel is loaded heavier than an unloaded bike, of course, and that will make it dig into a soft road surface more. However, you can compensate for this by leaning back on the saddle as you pedal through soft stuff. This lets the front wheel float (kinda) up on top of the dirt and puts a bit more traction on the rear wheel. A lower gear and higher rpm cadence will also help as will wider tires... 25 and 32 mm are pretty narrow for soft surface riding.

    If I were riding on soft surfaces for extended periods, I might change my load around a little but I'd still be pretty close to the ratio I usually carry but probably not by much. The eastern third of the Lewis and Clark includes lots of dirt riding (Katy Trail and Steamboat Trace) but I never changed my load distribution there.
    I've found not having the gears too low is better on gravel, less likely to spin at the back when starting. I find steering hard no matter what, better to try to take a line and like you said try to let the front float while I try to keep balanced. Patches of soft dry sand are the worst.

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