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  1. #1
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    Panniers vs. trailer for a very lightweight rider

    OK, the words written on trailers vs. panniers could completely circumnavigate the Earth, but I have a slightly different angle on it that I haven't seen addressed here:

    I'm a small guy (5'3", 105 lbs., 48kg) so changes in weight distribution on my bikes really make a difference in their handling. Given a typical touring load (say, 20-50lbs?) would I be better off hauling it on the bike or on a trailer? I have some experience with panniers, none whatsoever with a trailer. Thanks for your opinions!
    Last edited by rnorris; 01-07-10 at 01:03 PM.

  2. #2
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    Panniers for me. I had 28 flats last year. No need to have more tires on the road.
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  3. #3
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    I'm not sure your size matters. You sound like my wife and she uses panniers. I weigh over 220 (not being coy no scale at home) I still work on keeping my load light. All my regular gear, like clothing, tent sleeping bag, come in at less than 10 pounds. Add to that any gear to keep the bike on the road, and the big variable, food and water. Keep the weight down (doesn't have to be expensive), and you will have no worries about how you carry it. As far as that goes, the rack and panniers are in the same ballpark as the trailer and bags. The big variable against the trailer is the rolling resistance of the wheel. The way I break it down is that it varies as to capacity (mostly the size) of stuff being carried. I would use rear panniers; then rear and front; then trailer alone; then trailer and front paniers; then trailer and all 4 panniers. But so far I can get by with panniers alone.

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    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rnorris View Post
    OK, the words written on this topic could completely circumnavigate the Earth, but I have a slightly different angle on it that I haven't seen addressed here:

    I'm a small guy (5'3", 105 lbs., 48kg) so changes in weight distribution on my bikes really make a difference in their handling. Given a typical touring load (say, 20-50lbs?) would I be better off hauling it on the bike or on a trailer? I have some experience with panniers, none whatsoever with a trailer. Thanks for your opinions!
    Both have advantages, but panniers win out in my opinion. One big thing to me is the hassle of shipping the trailer to or from your tour.

    Also it is usually possible to go a good bit lighter with panniers. It isn't a slam dunk though because some panniers and racks are pretty heavy. Also the bike can be lighter if you don't need to carry the load on it.

  5. #5
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    If I didn't have a touring bike and I wanted to tour for the least amount of money.. I'd go trailer. This would be if I already had a bike that would work with decent gearing for touring.

    If I didn't have a bike already I would go panniers.... everytime.

    This coming from somone who has both and has used both. YMMV
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    I have personal experience with this - trailers are bad for small people.

    I'm about the same size as you. My first tour I started with a BOB trailer on a rigid titanium mountain bike that fit me very well.

    My trailer tried to kill me. Whenever it was a little on the heavy side, it would get a very bad slow-oscillation at moderate speeds - not a shimmy, but more of a swerve. One day, I had a lot of extra weight in it, because we had 80 miles with no water source. In the morning, I kept getting the swerve, but managed to keep it controlled by braking and gripping the top tube with my knees.

    In the afternoon, I was descending a long, very moderate grade hill, maybe 2 or 3% downhill. I let the speed get a little higher - maybe 25mph (yes you should be able to go more than 25) - and the swerve came back. I couldn't control it, and I high-sided, crashed, and was pretty badly hurt.

    Anyway, later, I heard lots of stories of people who had trouble with their trailers, mostly smaller people, and mostly with heavily loaded trailers. I'm not an engineer and don't pretend to be, but have had several people tell me that the weight ratio between the rider and the trailer is an important factor in handling, and it's bad when the bike/person is light and the trailer/load is heavy.

    Since then I switched to panniers on a tour bike, and am very happy with that setup - it handles like a bike only just heavier.

    I wish I had more evidence than this one anecdote, but would advise you that if you do try a trailer, pay very close attention to the load balance, don't exceed the weight or speed limit, and if it feels wrong, it IS, so don't ignore it like i did.
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  7. #7
    Senior Member BigBlueToe's Avatar
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    Quick answer: I've toured with both and prefer panniers. I don't know what effect your size would have (I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum,) but I would think your gear might weigh a tiny bit less than mine if you buy stuff to match your size. My sleeping bag is extra long, my clothes are extra large, my tent is longer than most people would need, etc. However, my stove probably weighs the same as yours; my tools, my cookware, my book, etc.

    My Bob is acceptable and I'd use it again if I had a reason, but all things considered, I prefer panniers.

  8. #8
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    I`m a lighter, medium-sized guy. I've used both, but after 2 tours with a trailer, i gave it away and have always used panniers only since.

    Because of the handling and extra weight, i could only recommend a trailer if you had to have more gear than you could fit otherwise; say if you were a professional photagrapher and just had to have 30 pounds or so of photo gear in addition to 4-season outdoor gear and a week's worth of food.

  9. #9
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    Thanks for the replies so far. Valygrl, your post is exactly what I was looking for. I have had thoughts that trailers might prove more difficult, if heavily loaded, for smaller/lighter folks, but wanted to hear some real world evidence. Have any other small riders experienced similar difficulties with trailers?

    Quote Originally Posted by valygrl View Post
    I have personal experience with this - trailers are bad for small people.

    I'm about the same size as you. My first tour I started with a BOB trailer on a rigid titanium mountain bike that fit me very well.

    My trailer tried to kill me. Whenever it was a little on the heavy side, it would get a very bad slow-oscillation at moderate speeds - not a shimmy, but more of a swerve. One day, I had a lot of extra weight in it, because we had 80 miles with no water source. In the morning, I kept getting the swerve, but managed to keep it controlled by braking and gripping the top tube with my knees.

    Since then I switched to panniers on a tour bike, and am very happy with that setup - it handles like a bike only just heavier.

    I wish I had more evidence than this one anecdote, but would advise you that if you do try a trailer, pay very close attention to the load balance, don't exceed the weight or speed limit, and if it feels wrong, it IS, so don't ignore it like i did.

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    Quote Originally Posted by valygrl View Post
    I have personal experience with this - trailers are bad for small people.

    .
    that makes sense, just like a small car or pickup towing too heavy of a trailer, the tail wags the tower.

  11. #11
    eternalvoyage
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    Quote Originally Posted by rnorris View Post
    OK, the words written on trailers vs. panniers could completely circumnavigate the Earth, but I have a slightly different angle on it that I haven't seen addressed here:

    I'm a small guy (5'3", 105 lbs., 48kg) so changes in weight distribution on my bikes really make a difference in their handling. Given a typical touring load (say, 20-50lbs?) would I be better off hauling it on the bike or on a trailer? I have some experience with panniers, none whatsoever with a trailer. Thanks for your opinions!
    Panniers.

    I've tried trailers (I'm fairly light -- typically about 128) and don't like them. Try going down a fast downhill run with some rough asphalt or bumps on it. The trailer will fly all over the place. Same road with good panniers on a stable bike: zero problems. Very stable.

    For me panniers win hands down.

    It takes a little time (depending on the person, but typically within a few hours or days) for you to feel more at ease riding a loaded touring bike. After a while it becomes second nature. Keep the loads reasonably low, inside, and balanced, and on stable racks, and you'll be fine.

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    I've heard of people having the same problem with trailers when they were large. Seems to be a design issue. My wife weighs under 100# at one point our (then) two kids were near the child trailer limit of 100# about 60/40. Never had a problem. Even if one did have a problem, one could solve it by using the trailer for the super bulky stuff, loading light, or mounting bakes. But I still agree with the idea of panniers.

  13. #13
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    I used a carbon road bike and Yak for my first couple of years of touring, but then bought a touring bike and set of panniers. I had no issues with the trailer apart from the occasional flat, but I just prefer panniers with no articulable objective reason why.....

  14. #14
    Day trip lover mr geeker's Avatar
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    panniers, i would think a person would be tempted to carry too much while using a trailer. then again ive never used a trailer and am easily tempted to take things i dont realy need.
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    Every day a winding road spinnaker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mr geeker View Post
    panniers, i would think a person would be tempted to carry too much while using a trailer. then again ive never used a trailer and am easily tempted to take things i dont realy need.

    Ditto!


    I have never used one but trailers seem a pain to me. On my tours to Italy, I used trains as a part of the tour. Sometimes you have just minutes to get on the train. I think it would be difficult having to load the bike and the the trailer.

    I just simply loaded the whole rig on the train. But then again I am 6'1" 190 lbs. I would imagine a smaller person might need to off load their bags anyway, but it still seems to be easier. Take your bags off and you have 1 light item and two small and fairly heavy items as opposed to one light and bulky item and 1 heavy and bulky item.
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    I prefer panniers and have never considered a trailer (extra hassle, extra width, extra length, nuisance on ferries). BTW, I'm 5'2" and 105lb.
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  17. #17
    Senior Member Cyclebum's Avatar
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    This has been a very useful thread. Ought to be read by anyone considering a trailer. I'll add that to my 'fiddle factor' list, to be avoided. Already contains anything electronic, except a cp.
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    It is very important to keep the bike balanced. Often it's recommended to load 60% of your touring load in front panniers and 40% in the rear. With a smallish load this can easily be done with front panniers and a large saddlebag or rack pack. Larger riders like myself like to do this to help move some weight off of the already stressed rear wheel, but a smaller rider may wish to do this because they would likely not have enough weight forward and may unload the front wheel with a rear biased load.
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    Quote Originally Posted by barturtle View Post
    It is very important to keep the bike balanced.
    Why?

    I'm a small rider who prefers rear panniers only (although I also use a handlebar bag) and balance has been a non-issue for me. If I'm not having problems, why should I mess with a 2nd pair of panniers and an additional rack?

    valygrl, thanks for sharing your interesting trailer story. It makes me wonder whether shimmying is more likely to be a problem for smaller riders? I suspect not, but I wonder about it now.

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    Good thread so far. I'm an engineer who has designed and fabricated their own trailer and Vlygrl's advice seems spot on. When the rider is a lightweight, proportionally more of the total weight is in the trailer and this can lead to further decreased stability on downhills.

    Axolotl, shimmying IS more likely to be a problem for smaller riders. Also, weight distribution becomes more important the heavier your gear gets relative to your weight but it is still possible for a lightweight rider to use only rear panniers and be stable. There are many other influences, but rider weight does have an effect.

    This is all due to decreased damping and the relationship between the centers of resistance and mass. I know this isn't much of an explanation and I'll go into more detail if someone is interested.

  21. #21
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    In my experience, there is no need to worry too much about balancing the weight of the left and right rear panniers. But if you have a lot of weight up front, an imbalance would seem to possibly aggravate any tendency to shimmy. If one doesn't have problems, then one doesn't have problems.

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    rnorris, just to stir the pot a bit more, I think I'll mention that changing the amount or distribution of what you carry will affect your handling the LEAST if you use a trailer instead of panniers. This is what you originally inquired about, but the discussion was sidetracked by some of the other issues with trailers.

  23. #23
    eternalvoyage
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    Quote Originally Posted by Enthusiast View Post
    ...This is all due to decreased damping and the relationship between the centers of resistance and mass. I know this isn't much of an explanation and I'll go into more detail if someone is interested.
    Yes, it would be very interesting to hear more about centers of resistance and mass, and any other related issues.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Niles H. View Post
    Yes, it would be very interesting to hear more about centers of resistance and mass, and any other related issues.
    +2 I would love to hear more explanation. Especially if any of it lends itself to advice about how to deal with a trailer if one MUST use one (like MTB touring).

    Thanks!
    ...

  25. #25
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    I'm somewhat surprised at the degree of agreement in this thread so far. I've used both methods and agree with the others here that I find panniers to be more enjoyable for most tours. There have been two situations where I've chosen to use a trailer instead. The first is when flying into one city with my Bike Friday and leaving from another city after the tour or when using some public transit in the middle of the tour that requires the bike to be packed. In this case the Bike Friday system of a trailer/suitcase works very well since you always have the case for packing the bike along with you. The second situation is when I take my kayak along on the tour (only for rather short tours so far). It doesn't fit in my panniers and if I'm going to have the kayak on a trailer I may as well put my other gear there as well.

    Although I've never had any handling or other issues with a trailer, I still prefer panniers for most trips. The main advantage is that it reduces the total weight to be carried. I try to minimize the amount of gear and using a trailer adds a substantial amount of unnecessary weight.

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