Panniers or trailers

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Panniers? trailers? One wheel or two?

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Panniers or trailers?

Consider these factors before you make your decision

Cost:  The biggest factor, may be cost.  Inexpensive panniers and racks may be purchased for less than most trailers.  However, the inconvenience of poorly made panniers will diminish the enjoyment of your tour.  Well-made panniers may cost nearly as much as a trailer.  If you insist on panniers, do not settle for less than the best you can afford.  They will definitely be worth the cost if they prevent you from being stranded on the road.  

Balance:  While many pannier tourists insist that their bike handles better loaded than empty, bicycles were designed only for the weight of the rider.  Adding extra weight may stabilize the bike as it moves forward, but add a crosswind or the need to adjust your direction quickly and the extra weight can easily create an unsafe situation.  The added weight makes the bike difficult to maneuver quickly, and may result in disaster.  Having toured with both, panniers would never be our first choice.  A well-designed trailer always places the center of gravity lower than even the best pannier setup. 

Weight vs. carrying capacity:  A rack and the lightest panniers may save a few pounds.  A full capacity setup, with four bags and two racks, may weigh as much as 8 to 10 lbs. empty, pounds with a high center of gravity, and often behind the rear axle of the bicycle.  Lightweight two-wheel trailers are available that have very little, if any,  effect on the balance of the bicycle.  Pannier sizes vary, but even the largest set cannot match the carrying capacity of a good trailer.  You are often limited by your bags' size limitations, rather than their weight capacity.  Typical touring gear includes many bulky items (sleeping bags, pads, food, clothes, etc.), so the extra space of a trailer is a definite plus.   Many cycling tourists dangerously load their bikes beyond the capacity of their bags.  If you want the ability to handle both the weight, and the day-to-day changes in your load size, it is important to have a trailer that is designed to accept those changes.

Wind resistance:  Ride a fully loaded, pannier-equipped bike in a crosswind, and then do the same with a trailer before you decide.  The extra wind resistance experienced while pulling a trailer is rarely more than that of a fully loaded pannier equipped bike.  The sail effect of the pannier in a side wind can be a disastrous thing.   Ride safely.

One-wheel trailers:

The one-wheel trailers have the advantage on single-track trails.  A narrower trailer is less likely to clip a tree or catch on a shrub.  The lower center of gravity makes it easier to control the load than a higher pannier setup.  With one-wheel trailers, low ground clearance may be a problem on uneven surfaces or riding over an obstacles.  Placing all the weight on one trailer wheel and the bike means that the bike carries at least one half of the weight.  Since a one-wheel trailer does not balance the load on its own, the rider must always balance both the bike and the load; making it more difficult to lift the bike and the trailer from a resting position, or to move the bike and trailer while stopped.  One-wheel trailers also create a machine with a longer wheelbase. This may make the bicycle/trailer combination difficult to control.  Quick maneuvers, crosswinds, or an unstable bike can create high-speed shimmy and make the bike impossible to control.  Many Quik-Pak customers tell about a friend who crashed while trying to control the bike with a loaded one-wheel trailer.

Trailer and bicycle frame stress can also be an issue with one-wheel trailers.  The side-to-side motion created while riding is transferred directly to the frame of the trailer and bicycle, sometimes causing frame struts to break from metal fatigue created while riding with a heavily loaded trailer. 

Hooking up a one-wheel trailer is a job for any individual.  Balancing the bike while attaching both sides of the trailer hitch and slipping those little pins into place can be a challenge.  It helps to have a strong friend or the perfect wall to support the bike. 

When traveling with the one-wheeled trailer it is difficult to fold, carry, or to store them as luggage.   Walking with any one-wheeled trailer requires both hands to balance the load and move the trailer.   At camp it is simpler to just leave the trailer in one place and tote your gear to and from your tent.

Two-wheel trailers: 

A two-wheel trailer, such as the Quik-Pak, can be quickly attached to,  or unattached from, the bicycle by one person.  Just hold the bike with one hand, pull the self-balanced trailer up to, or away from, the hitch mount, and slip it on or off the ball.  The Quik-Pak can also be easily moved about camp with one hand.  With two wheels balancing the weight, the rider never has to lift the weight of the bike and the trailer as a unit. 

Parking the bike when the Quik-Pak is attached is a no-brainer.  Simply lay the bike down on its side parallel to the trailer. or lean it against any wall.    The trailer supports its own weight and never requires special balancing skills either on or off the bike.  

 Two-wheeled trailers may widen the width of the bike slightly, however most trailers are about the same as the handlebar’s width and rarely create a problem (you may not be able to store your unfolded trailer in the bathroom).    The tongue weight on a two-wheel trailer rarely exceeds one third of the load weight, reducing the adverse effects created by your load under extreme situations.  Any weight supported by the bike is supported at the bike's axle, creating no increase in the effective bicycle length.  The Quik-Pak is equally at home behind a light weight racing frame, a mountain bike, a recumbent, or your favorite touring machine.  Because two wheels support the load there is no bike or trailer frame fatigue created as the bike moves from side to side.   I know my trailer is behind me only because of the road noise created by its wheels, and the weight added to my bike.

Can a two-wheel trailer push you down the hill?   

The total weight of a bike and trailer will coast faster than either one on its own.  Separately, the lighter load (trailer and gear) would have a slightly slower rolling speed than the heavier bike and rider down a hill.  Any "pushing or pulling" effect may be created only when the bike or trailer accelerates or decelerates in relation to the other.  A correctly designed hitch mounts at the center of the rear axle negating the "push" effect.  You may feel the presence of the trailer during sudden stops, but it has never created a problem for any of our customers.  In fact, all customer comments indicate that their Quik-Pak trailer has little or no negative affect on the handling of the bike. 

By:  Ray Quick



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