I'm going on a bike trip and need the extra storage supplied by front panniers. But my bike has front suspension. I can replace the fork with a solid one but that will increase my costs. Is it A) possible, B) a good idea, to attach panniers to forks w suspension?
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Yes, it's common. Many low rider racks come with oversize U bolts specifically for this purpose, and the better ones bolt on to the brake posts like the Old Man Mountain rack shown below. If you're really lucky your suspension fork will have mounts for standard low-rider racks already (that's very rare though).
There are a few caveats. First, try to put minimal weight in those panniers. Suspension forks are not as strong as solid ones - they're designed to take a specific set of forces and avoid others by being suspension forks. I'd fill the front panniers with low density stuff (clothes, sleeping bag etc). Second, don't overtighten the clamps. If you crush the wall of the fork even slightly it is very likely to fail.
You can also put a handlebar bag on as usual, but those are designed for small, light items and are essentially a big wallet - cash, phone, camera.
I have an Old Man Mountain Pioneer mounted on a Cannondale Fifty-Fifty (Headshock Fatty suspension forks). I use Ortlieb Front Roller Plus panniers.
I do pack the panniers with light items only (Therm-a-rest mattresses, sleeping bag, clothes). I don't have a handlebar-bag, I use the left side front pannier for that.
I chose the OMM Pioneer design for two reasons (vs. OMM Ultimate Lowrider):
After several long tours, I can say they work well.
Yes but there are questions often raised about the handling effects and the way they are mounted. My understanding is that the approach taken with the Tubus Swing which I have is considered less optimal than the approach adopted by Old Man Mountain illustrated above. That said I have a Tubus Swing rack on my Giant XTC 2 and have found that it works well, but then I am not a technical off road rider :).
One point to note but is that you may see that I was not able to get it horizontal so the panniers do tend to slide back towards the bike if not fitted tightly. Also the Swing is probably best with smaller front panniers only.