Later this summer, I intend to make a ten-day travel. It is going to be mainly road touring with one-two-tree days of sloped dirt roads or forest trails possible.

I usually pack heavily, carrying a 60 litre pack, that I will probably fill up for this journey (tent, sleeping bag, beer will be restocked continuously). Both the backpack and bags have rain covers. However, my concern is that putting around 10 kg(22 lb), maybe 15kg(33 lb) directly over my rear wheel will ruin the rim at the first hole I bump. Which should I choose : the backpack or the system of rear rack mounted bags system?

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enter image description here Related: Why do cyclists prefer messenger bags over backpacks?
Gary Fisher Kaitai suffers from handlebar wobble at moderate speed with 10lbs on rear rack

  • Panniers, well-secured on a good quality rack, are far more stable than any other option. You want the weight low. Jul 2, 2012 at 15:46
  • So that's how they are called - sorry for my poor English - "rear rack bags". What worries me is that with a backpack I stand up and work to make the impact time long. With fixed bags I won't have that freedom.
    – Vorac
    Jul 2, 2012 at 15:50
  • Decent quality wheels are remarkably strong. The rim itself is quite weak, but in tension with the spokes it becomes much, much stronger. Your biggest hazard is almost certainly a "pinch flat", not rim failure. Jul 2, 2012 at 16:00
  • If using panniers, be aware of how the weight distribution is on the bike. For my rear rack to fit (for disc brakes), the rack is set back ~2 inches -- I don't know the specific weight, but have noticed that the front end gets light because there's too much over (or past) the back wheel. I personally prefer panniers/etc over using a backpack.
    – OMG Ponies
    Jul 2, 2012 at 16:25
  • It is more stable riding with panniers as the weight is lower down. Carrying a lot of weight in a rucksack puts extra strain on your back. I've just done a day ride off road (with my road bike) using panniers and towing my son on a trailgator.
    – DanS
    Jul 2, 2012 at 16:33

3 Answers 3


I'm a member of Warm Showers, and regularly host cross-country bike tourists and get to check out their gear. Except for the occasional monk with orange robes and a small backpack, what bike tourists choose has been surprisingly uniform.

It's usefully Ortlieb panniers on front and rear racks, and sometimes a handlebar bag. The details and presence of the handlebar bags vary some, but the choice and use of Ortlieb panniers has been a near constant. I don't own any yet, but I suspect they are chosen because they are waterproof and durable-- two key qualities for a long distance trip!

Here are a couple sample photos of bike tourists I've hosted (both with Ortlieb panniers)

Ryan - Riding from Indiana to Arizona

Ellis and Kirin, ready to roll out of Richmond, Indiana

I would add: don't worry about the weight-- with a proper rack, bike tourists sometimes carry 50 to 80 pounds of gear, much of it on the rear wheel.

  • Strosberg: thanks for that bit about the weight. Once that much weight is on the wheel, what would be the minimum width tire you would recommend in order to reduce the likelihood of a flat and to keep turning friction up? For instance, I'm on a pair of "slick" tires 35mm in width. Jul 4, 2012 at 5:57
  • 1
    I accept this answer, because the last sentence provides concrete numerical data (e.g. no, your rim will likely not be damaged by 25 lb of luggage). Actually, what was I thinking? With a backpack, the weight again falls on the rear wheel, except it has to go through me first. Thanks a lot for the answer!
    – Vorac
    Jul 4, 2012 at 7:31
  • Savanni, This page from REI suggests 25 to 28 mm for road touring. I would say there is no clear answer.. it's a balance between speed and durability. Bike tourists tend to error on the side of durable when in doubt. Besides going with wider tires, some people also put "slime" in the tires to help with punctures, or get tires with thicker outer walls. The Schwalbe Marathon line of tires is very popular with bike tourists for their puncture resistent and can be found in some narrower widths. I put Schwalble's on my families bikes. Jul 4, 2012 at 12:06
  • Keep your pressure high to avoid pinch punctures.
    – Mark W
    Dec 5, 2012 at 17:28

For a trip that you describe, I would actually recommend using both a rear rack system and a front rack system. I have not used a front rack system, but I understand that it changes the handling of the bike. Having basically four panniers, two on front and two on back, will allow you to distribute the weight around so that you are left/right balanced and neither of the tires is taking an excess. Then you can redistribute to get the handling that you want.

The people who run The Path Less Pedalled went across the United States with just such a setup before they bought Bromptons and changed everything.

For rear panniers, maybe one of the Topeak units that consists of a trunk and two side panniers. Alternately, an Ortlieb set of panniers, leaving the rack proper for you to rope on gear that doesn't fit nicely in the bags (I'm thinking, say, a sleeping bag or hiking poles). I'm not sure what to use for the front, though. Your bike shop should be able to help out with that.

I'll agree with all of the other comments in that a backpack will both put a lot of painful strain on your back and throw off your balance.

Finally, keep your tire pressure within spec and do be careful on the forest trails. If you are familiar with off-road biking, understand that your agility is going to be far less than you are accustomed to.

Good luck! Maybe also start a weblog and post your progress frequently. ^__^

  • 1
    "If you are familiar with off-road biking, understand that your agility is going to be far less than you are accustomed to." <- This part interests me the most. When carrying a backpack I have additional control over the bike - moving that weight around as I ride. Do you think the destabilizing effect of the high center of gravity offsets this e.g. is it easier to ride sloped dirt roads with heavy weight in a backpack or distributed in bags.
    – Vorac
    Jul 3, 2012 at 5:27
  • +1 to front and rear racks. To answer the question in the comments, I would not even consider riding with 22lb-33lb on my back for any appreciable distance. Accept that riding with gear will slow you down, and use due caution. Jul 3, 2012 at 14:47
  • 1
    Also, for an off road trip, I would strongly recommend steel racks vs. aluminum racks. They're somewhat heavier but infinitely more reliable. The bouncing and jostling from an offroad tour will likely chew through an aluminum rack extremely quickly. Jul 3, 2012 at 14:48
  • @Vorac: I am a very poor technical rider with little experience off-road. I was referring primarily to the difference between riding with a lot of gear and riding with very little gear, as I have experienced both. But I've not at all experienced 25lbs on my back vs. 25lbs mounted directly on the bike. I have only experienced the back pain of carrying an iBook and a change of clothes for 23 miles on my back. Jul 4, 2012 at 5:53
  • I'll check out your proposal about distributing the weight between front and rear rack. At the beginning of September I will be coming back try to share some of the experience. +1 from me.
    – Vorac
    Jul 4, 2012 at 7:33

Savanni makes a good point, the answer depends on your weight distribution.

Something else that will effect it is your tires. The fatter tires you have the more they will absorb (bumps and the like), and prevent these bumps vibrating up to your pannier rack.

Another point. You can get seat post racks (second link)

made popular by offroad tourers riding dual suspension bikes which can't accommodate the traditional back rack.

Another option is depending on your bike geometry (traditional touring diamond I guess?) you can get a pannier for this space, this is very common with long distance audaxers wanting to stay ultralight on 200-1200km rides: https://i.sstatic.net/ulCoK.jpg These used to be odd home made contraptions but are quite common now. They have two advantages, they don't need a metal pannier rack to clip onto so are a lighter solution, and are attached with straps which aren't affected by all the bumps in riding surface that a pannier rack would be (not to mention your pannier clips).

I've toured with 15 kg (30 lbs?) on the back rack and 25 kg + (50 lbs?) spread across front and back off road on 35mm tires: https://i.sstatic.net/3uafV.jpg using normal racks and had no problem what so ever. Just use your brain and don't go speeding along at 30+ km/h on bumpy sections.

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