Gravel-packing with panniers

A big part of the bike-packing style of bike touring that really took off in the last 10 years was strapping bags directly to your bike, whether on the handlebars or seatpost, or within the main frame triangle.

For touring routes that have a high proportion of rough off-road tracks, or even some single track, this approach can be really good. It mean that most of your load stays within the usual dimensions of the bike.

This post was sparked by a promotional article by Tailfin, who make lightweight racks and luggage, which were originally focused on adding luggage capacity to road bikes. They have now worked out that their market is mostly your “bikepackers”, hence “Do pannier bags have any place in modern bikepacking?”.

I broadly agree with the Tailfin crew, even though they are touting their new product. Panniers are a great way to store stuff, if you can get them mounted securely. Yes, they do have a place.

On my Sholto touring bike, I have a lowrider front rack. It is the one universally regarded as the market leader by long-distance tourists, the Tubus Tara.

And the panniers that everyone uses on the Tubus Tara are Ortlieb Front Rollers (there are about four or five different models, I have the cheapest ones with no bells and whistles).

All Ortlieb panniers have a very secure mounting system onto the top rail of the Tubus rack. So they aren’t going to bounce off (despite what Tailfin says).

But the lower plastic hook(s) that provides added stability is admittedly a rattly kind of system. My first attempt at silencing the rattle was quite successful. Rokstraps are a kind of bungee on steroids. I attached the stretchy part to the top rail of the rack, and the webbing half to the bottom attachment point, and held the pannier by strap lengthwise from top to bottom.

The only downside was that the strap stayed on the rack when the pannier was removed, and at that point it flapped around and got in the way. So mounting and unmounting the panniers was a bit of a faff because the straps had to be put on the rack each time.

The next iteration was to attach the Rokstrap to the panniers rather than the rack. This involved unscrewing the attachment rails at the back of the Ortliebs, and sanding away a section of the plastic rail to make space for the Rokstrap to wrap around. So now they are attached to the panniers, and the mounting/unmounting is a breeze.

The panniers are now nearly silent on even the roughest gravel road. The downside is that I’ve modified/hacked/damaged them, so I suppose I’ve reduced their resale value. Probably not a big deal for panniers that cost $110 for the pair.

And the answer to the question: ‘Do panniers have a place in modern bikepacking?’

Well I don’t know what ‘modern bikepacking’ is, or why I should care if I’m doing it, so I might not be the right person to answer. But I think I’ve solved to my satisfaction the question: How do I carry touring gear on my bike on rough roads?

And to Tailfin: so many straw men in your article. The idea that small panniers are some sort of revolution just cos you can also buy large panniers is laughable.

See also:

Our favourite bicycle YouTuber Russ Roca had the same issue, but solved it in a different way.

Andrew Demack @briztreadley