packing gear

How much gear do I need

Unless you are riding the 335 miles without changing clothes or sleeping, you will need to pack clothes for however many days, personal hygiene equipment, food, and possibly camping gear.  This can easily become a considerable amount of equipment which will require a storage strategy.  What are you going to pack and how are you going to carry all of this gear on your bike?


Attaching gear to your bike

The most common and economical way to transport your gear is to outfit your bike with panniers.  Named after the French word for baskets, these rear bags are a popular way for commuters and other cyclists to carry their gear. Panniers offer roomy storage, protection from weather and the ability to quickly disconnect from the rack so you can take your gear with you. They attach to racks using a simple system of spring-loaded hooks, clips or bungee cords. They can be used singly or in pairs.There are many different types of panniers and I have made some mistakes by trying to save a money on cheaper paniers.   You can't really talk about panniers without discussing bike racks (and I don't mean the type of rack that you lock your bike to when you go into the grocery store).  I will get into more details about racks and paniers in a moment, but first let's look at another storage option.


Front and rear bike racks

A rack provides a stable framework to hold gear on your bicycle. In good weather, items can be strapped directly to the rack without a cover. For weather protection or the ability to hold loose items together, rack trunks and panniers can be easily attached to the rear rack.  Most long-distance cyclist use a combination of front and rear racks.  Keep in mind:

    Rear racks are usually rated to carry loads between 20 and 50 pounds, which is sufficient for most uses.
    A few heavy-duty touring models are able to carry up to 80 pounds. These racks have 3 supports per side (others have only 2).
    Most bikes have braze-on mounts to accept the bolts that attach a rear rack. If your bike does not have these, you can still mount a rack using metal C clips that are included with the mounting hardware. These clips wrap around your bike's frame tubes and accept the lower mounting bolt.

A front rack offers an additional mounting spot for gear. It is a secondary option after a rear rack as it adds weight to the bike's front wheel and can affect steering and balance. Front racks are popular mostly with touring cyclists who carry large volumes of gear.


Panniers

There are many different pannier options for configuring a useful bike commuting or bike touring set up. One main point to consider is how much you want to carry. Some bags have distinct advantages over others when it comes to hauling specific items and load weight. For instance, experienced commuters usually prefer lightweight panniers with lots of organization pockets for a laptop, change of clothes, and small bits. The touring set up, however, is usually more simple, designed to carry larger items (tents, sleeping bags), and endure the daily beating of traveling through a multitude of weather conditions and over various terrain. When maneuverability and simplicity are key, racks and panniers are a good solution.

Waterproof or water-resistant?  Waterproof bike panniers are made from material such as treated, high-denier Cordura or waterproof, dry bag style PVC. These bags take a heavy duty, minimalist approach to maintain that none of your gear will get wet. By reducing features like pockets and zippers, you can be assured you will have a dry pair of socks to change into after a long ride in the rain.

Water-resistant panniers are typically made from heavy-duty, rip-stop Cordura fabric. With a plethora of features like outer pockets, zippers, snaps, and Velcro closures, necessity items are easily accessible, and organization is a breeze. To increase usability of water-resistant panniers in inclement weather, there is the option of tight fitting rain covers, which offer the best of both worlds.  I saved $75 on my current panniers by purchasing the water-resistant style over the water proof.  After one rainy day on the trail I wished that I had invested in the water proof style because everything I owned that was not in a zip-lock bag was wet.

C&O Bicycle shop located in Hancock, MD had a great selection of panniers.  One brand that I liked was Ortlieb.  They were not cheap but they make a beautiful product.  Check out more of their products here.


Bike trailer?

Another option is to attach a trailer to your bike.  This method is not as popular as panniers simply because the trailers are not as user friendly and they are several hundred dollars.  The most popular trailer which was once named the "Beast of Burden" was shortened to BOB.  There are a couple different models which are between $300-$400.  I was able to borrow one for my most recent trip and it certainly made packing easier.  The waterproof bag was thoroughly tested through two days of pounding rain.  The trailer does add a challenge to parking your bike.  You can no longer park in a bike rack...I found it best to find a wall or post to lean everything against.