Recently I received an e-mail from an up-and-comer, a newbie biker training to take on the heavy-weight roadway of the world, the one, the only, the formidable Panamericana. Jab, jab, feint. Yeah, Alaska to southern Argentina like it’s its job. Jab, jab, uppercut. Spit.
In an all-out brawl against the 30,000 miles of paths loosely defined as highway, this novice cyclist wanted to know, pound-for-pound, who would be the best corner man: the trailer or the pannier?
Before beginning my South American bike tour I asked the same question to experienced rider and inspirational author Andrew Morgan of Teacher on Two Wheels. This was his response:
The trailer is the bomb—it’s bulletproof, takes lots of stress off the bike (haven’t had a single broken spoke yet), and makes the bike ride more like a bike and less like a tank. It’s very easy to detach from the bike (takes about 5 seconds) and allows me to hold my things in a more easy-to-access way because the dry bag opens down the middle and lets me easily see all the gear spread out. So far, I’m really pleased with it. The BOB Yak, the model I use, comes with an expedition-quality wheel, tire, and dry bag—all have withstood immense amounts of stress over the last 15 months. Also, the trailer wheel tracks the back wheel of the bike so I never worry about it running over stuff that I don’t expect it to (for this reason, and also because in many places you are forced to ride on the white line at the edge of the road because there’s no shoulder, a one wheeled trailer is superior to a two-wheeled one).
But, lots of cyclists still use panniers. If you go with panniers, don’t mess around—buy Ortliebs. They’re the only pannier that long-distance cyclists all agree upon in terms of waterproof-ness and durability. They are so waterproof you can dip an empty one in a lake, fill it up with water, and carry water in it. My two friends who I traveled with in Colombia (along with almost every other long distance cyclist I’ve met on the road) use them and love them.
So, it’s up to you. Both options get the job done. I think the steering on the front end of my bike feels more natural because there are no bags weighing it down, but there are lots of cyclists out there who dig panniers. With the right racks and bags, panniers are just as strong and reliable as the BOB. Don’t get hung up on this facet of planning—you can’t go wrong with either option.
Having now pedaled much of South America my teacher pet of choice is the same as the Teacher on Two Wheel’s: Bob. Monosyllablic name, scary left hook.
I have no complaints. In fact, we’ve become best friends.
However, to skew public opinion in my friend’s favor under a thin guise of impartiality, I’d like to introduce Bikeforums.net, a cyber hangout where unemployed and single cyclists argue endlessly about gear. On the site you can sift through the bickering for pros and cons about how to carry your stuff.
My main reason for choosing Bob over panniers—besides his superior wingman skills—was the ability to transport my regular backpack within the yellow dry bag and use it for hiking trips when off the bike. Below, a past journal entry says it best:
I’m cycling but I don’t consider myself just a cyclist. I’m pedaling but that’s not the point of all this. The bike is my transportation, an affordable way to travel that forces me to slow down, talk with people that a regular vehicle would shut out like a border, and see South America without letting my natural, sometimes self-destructive desire to live faster get in the way. Though others may see me as strictly a cyclist and associate me with spandex despite my owning none, I want to experience many realities and am ready to leave the bike at anytime should the road become unrideable or uninteresting and a path must be forged by other means.