Packing Panniers for Cycle Touring - How Much Weight to Carry
The above image is not of my bike, I would love to know who's bike it is though. Someone on a very long journey without travelling overseas no doubt. The image below is of my touring bike, still pretty loaded.
Here is my advice based on my own experience on how much gear and weight to take on a really long cycle tour for months or even longer
1 Firstly, get the best pannier bags you can afford. I use Ortlieb Roll Top waterproof bags, but there are no doubt many other good manufacturers. My first 9 days of my cycle tour pounded down with rain constantly, day and night and not a drop of water in my bags. You don’t need extra covers with those bags either as they are fully waterproof once you have rolled the tops of the bags properly shut. I’m told you could even float them if you had to get across a river, turning you bike into a raft, well not quite :)
2 Take as much as you can carry that won’t cause you problems. Seriously, you are better taking more than you need than not enough, as you can call into a Post Office or Courier Depot and send stuff back that you find you don’t need. It really is easier to get kitted out in your own town than it is while cycling around.
3 Its really hard to properly secure pannier bags from theft and you can get all kinds of gadgets to try to secure them, but your best just keeping a good eye on them during the day, not taking them off your bike, then at night put them in the tent with you.
4 Don’t fill all your panniers and Rack-Pack to the brim, because one thing I found out pretty quickly is that with everything full, I had nowhere to put extra food and especially extra water out of reach of the sun, and at times I needed to carry about 6 litres or more through the middle of Spain. Not only that, but it’s a major pain in the arse packing and unpacking every time you want the smallest thing. Plenty of room means you can dip your hand in a bag and feel about. Wet clothing too can be a problem, so make sure you have room and bags to put that in out of contact from things that you don't want wet. I’ve had my bags so full at times, that I have been unable to roll top the pannier bags properly, and if I had zips, they would be long ago broken.
5 Carry enough gear that you can easily transport from country to country on a plane, if you are travelling by plane that is at any point. Expect to pay for the bike as your baggage limit as least, then allow for the cost of 2 more really cheap suitcases filled with your panniers and all your gear, then put cheap straps around the suitcase to secure them. So besides the cost of the bike which could be anything really, as all airlines have their own charges and views on bicycles and you can’t usually pack your panniers with your bike, you also now have the equivalent of 2 suitcases of gear as well, that’s if your packing fully loaded of course.
6 Make sure to balance things out. Stick some of the heavier items in the front panniers to take some of the weight off the back, because the back is going to be taking the most weight. Try to keep the weight in each of the front 2 bags pretty even, and the same with the rear 2 bags, as this will be easier on the cycling.
7 If your going to need things during the day like cooking gear, food, tools, documents and so on, keep them in the front panniers and bar bag, and leave some room in one of the front panniers for stuff you might pick up during the day.
8 Keep things like wallets, small cameras and documents in the bar bag and make sure its secure. Bar bags usually have a strap too, so when you get off and leave your bike out of sight for a minute, you can take those most important of items with you over your shoulder.
9 Keep an order to your bags. Know exactly where everything is and put things away in the same order. If your an untidy git now, you will be more orderly after a long tour, you really have no choice. I know which bag everything is in and where in the bag too. This is important and will save you loads of time and messing around. Can you imagine getting a flat tyre and not knowing where that puncture kit is, while stuck out in the rain at the side of a busy road?
10 On my next leg from Marseille to Rome, I’m going to try to go a lot lighter. I want to know if I can cope with a load less luxuries, especially now that I have now done my practice lap. I’m think I’m ready for putting in more km’s a day, I’ve done my easing in and now I have the rest of the world to navigate.
After this world tour, I would love to visit other countries for just sort tours travelling ultra-light. I can let myself go without a shave or even a wash for a few weeks, and sleep relatively rough if I know I will be back home in a short while, but to be away for many months and years, packing those comforts is important I think.