9. Turning your bike into a U-Haul – The Beginners Guide to Touring


Here there are a few options to choose from, and again, never let yourself feel confined to what you read, your imagination gives you an idea that your skill, or your neighbors skill can put into reality, by all means, go for it, I was not blessed with this know how, ergo, I stick to whats available and call it a day.  You do not have to do this any way but your own, I have seen bikes welded to the top of another bike and ridden from Mexico City to San Francisco and there I was wondering simply how to get on the thing!  The sky is the limit and you are the maker of your own world.

Panniers.  This is a tricky French word that means bags on the side of your bike.  You may see people in your town cruising the streets with just one on a side doing their grocery shopping.  You may see them only on the sides of the front wheel.  The usual long distance set up on a conventional bike is 4 panniers.  Two on either side of the rear wheel and two on either side of the front wheel.  This is done in conjunction with a rack system.Flying Mapache with Panniers front and rear

The rack will connect at the same place, roughly, where the hub of either wheel connects with the bicycle, and there will usually be at least one other point of connection, in the case of the rear wheel this will be somewhere near your seat post and in the case of the front wheel, at some point usually midway on the front fork.

At this point I will give my first product placement pitch.  Ortlieb and their rack company Tubus.  I have seen a plethora of various bag/rack combinations, mine included which is not Ortlieb.  The combination of these two will equal satisfaction and they even have a 30 year warranty on their bags.  To my knowledge they are the only company out of a vast host of potentials to do so.  That alone will tell you something, who gives you a warranty simply for buying the product these days, its even printed onto the bags!!!  They are expensive, but only for the initial purchase, after that, as the years tic by, the reason for their initial cost becomes evident, I don’t know his first hand, but if they have a 30 year warranty, someone does.  My partner Diana has them and yes, I am a wee bit jealous.  They truly thought of every detail in their bags.

That being said, there are a host to choose from.  Further, I have seen panniers in the form of used kitty litter buckets, used commercial food storage buckets, again, the sky is the limit if you have your thinking caps on.

Go online, see various possibilities there.  Never fret, there will always be a way to carry your things!

To carry this stuff, you’ll need racks, again, a host of companies to choose from and based on mine compared to Dianas, if you can afford it or you find it used, Tubus.  So much thought went into this system, the bags are separated from the top of the rack by enough space that you can EASILY remove your panniers without having to mess with whatever you are carrying on the upper portion of the rack.  This upper portion, which will be looking up at the rear bottom of your seat, is where many people carry longer bulkier items such as the tent, sleeping bag etc.

bike-rider-with-bob-trailerAnother method of carrying is a trailer.  Here we get a bit more specific, I know of two companies off the top of my head, Burley and B.O.B.  I personally decided to not go with a trailer as some of the cities I was coming to would be very unsafe, like Tijuana.  The drivers are very “quick” in their decisions and this can be bad.  For instance, I’m cruising along with my trailer, tis is a fictional story to make a point, it didn’t actually happen, so this non existent driver sees me and the trailer I don’t have because this is a story, He/she sees me pass and immediately shoots forward as drivers in some areas do.  What happens next is bad for both me and the driver.  The driver saw the complete package of myself and the trailer, but only I registered, when the driver shot forward and hit my trailer, as it is really connected to the bike, it brought me down into potential traffic.  Not a good scene… again, this is MY thinking.  I know of plenty people and have met plenty who use a trailer, they absolutely LOVE them!  It makes riding infinitely easier, of course, I recommend a flag be attached to it for increased visibility.

You can build your own trailer if you know how, and again, attach a flag.  Maybe you could even figure out a way to make a quick release mechanism if the trailer is torqued in any one angle too much and then patent it and sell it and live off the royalties for the rest of your bike touring days [and since you got the idea here, Ahem…. You dig=].

The panniers and bags for the trailers will give you the option of waterproof or non.  That choice is entirely up to you.  I find the waterproof to be more sturdy, but then, there is a cost associated with that.

The kitty litter buckets/food service buckets – waterproof, just make sure you get the hook system sealed well.  The hook system is what attaches the bag to the rack.  Again, Ortlieb has a rad one.  If you make your own, you will have to figure it out, GOOGLE!

This is your basic set up, now you have what I consider to be ancillary bags.  You have the frame bag, which webs between the upper tube and lower tube, the under the saddle/seat bag, the handlebar bag, there are many, many bags, many styles and designs.  At this point, I leave it to you kind reader to decide what is best for you.  As a note, Diana loves her “Lunchbox” from Ortlieb, super functional, holds a lot, and comes with a quick on shoulder strap and lock system and mounts to the front of the handlebars.

Keeping your bags safe.  This is a bit tricky as many do not have a lock system, nor would it do much good as they are made of material, usually non Kevlar, which I don’t even know if that is cut proof, so it may be useless conjecture anyway.  What we have done as a preliminary pre-caution is use our little ninja locks from MasterLock to keep them micro chained to the bike if we are to be away for extended periods, such as in a restaurant where we have poor visibility.  This is merely a peace of mind thing, though, if a person were to try a snatch grab, they would topple the bikes and cause a commotion at which pint Chris Ninja would enter the scene.  At least, that’s what I tell myself.

I write that last part for two reasons.  The places where you think you will be robbed, you probably wont, being robbed is rare in my circumstance and happens when you least expect it.  Example, I walk into Peets coffee in Santa Cruz, suddenly remember I forgot something, come out to my bike some 2 minutes later and BAM, my under saddle bag and lights were gone.  Santa Cruz is a very wealthy city, in the U.S.A.  We have left all of our things completely unattended for HOURS in Mexico and nada, zip, nothing happened.  Let it be a lesson and never let the negative thought of what could be prevent you from the adventure of that could be!  Capisce?

Backpacks.  I am on the fence when it comes to these wonders of man.  Which they truly are, though certain African tribes seem to be more effective using the same basic system but attaching it to a strap that comes round the head.  Turns out the head is better suited to weights than the back, which is why our children these days are having chronic back problems and African tribes are carrying staggering loads easily.  But I digress.

On a short ride no worries, on longer more intense rides, even a light pack will become a burden to you.  The position of the body does not lend itself well to having a weight of any sort.  At least mine does not.  So keep this in mind, if you have all your other bags filled and you still have more stuff, you may want to re-examine what’s really going on and reduce.

I do have a ninja compactible bag from the Chico-Bag company which I swear by, it is part of my must have kit whenever I am separated from my main gear.  This is where I carry the things that should everything be stolen, I’ve got the important stuff – i.d., IPad/charger, Passport, Wallet, pic of mom and dad, headphones, sunglasses [we use Kaenon which seriously reinvent the way you view the world] and other little this n’ that’s.