Why You Need 4 Panniers On A Bicycle Tour Instead of Just 2 1


I gave you my reasons why I prefer to bike tour with 2 panniers in my previous post. Just to make things interesting, here are the reasons why I also bike tour with a full set of panniers, that is, with all 4 (2 rear and 2 front) panniers. It’s not always black & white, so throwing a little gray in here should spice things up.

Balances Your Touring Bicycle

Titty Totter of Terror
Titty Totter of Terror by Jason Eppink, on Flickr

With 4 bags, you are able to distribute the weight of your load to balance the bike evenly between front and rear. It is recommended that you have 60% of your total weight loaded in the front and 40% in the rear. With rider weight accounted for the rest of the rear weight, your bicycle becomes a smooth rolling vehicle, albeit heavy. Once you get the hang of riding a well-balanced bicycle, it is hard to just ride with all the weight in the rear.

Kiss the Downhill Shimmy Good-bye

Downhill by Bruce McAdam, on Flickr

Have you ever tried going downhill with a 2 pannier bike and feeling the “shimmy”? If you have, you know what I’m talking about – that uneasy feeling of the bike wanting to wiggle its way down a hill. With an uneven load in the rear, the burden to keep traveling in a straight line is up to the rider’s attention and focus. Even the slightest mistake on steering can veer you in every which way. With a balanced load, you eliminate the “shimmy” effect. Heck, you may even be able to ride with no hands (please do not try this as I am not suggesting it) because it’s so stable.

Better Organization of Your Stuff

organization by Greg Wagoner, on Flickr

The advantage of having 4 panniers allows you to group similar items together. This will help you locate things quickly. For example, if you need to pull a bag to cook your dinner, you know which one to take. If you need to go in for lunch at a restaurant, you know where all your valuable electronics are and just take that bag to minimize catastrophic loss due to the possibility of having your bike stolen. When it’s time to bunker down at the campsite, just take the pannier with your clothes and bedding needs in your tent and leave the rest on your trusty steed. I’ve also learned that it’s much more convenient to pack things you need quick access to, such as rain gear or food, on the dominant side that you dismount your bike (that’s the left side for me).

More Space Means Flexible Packing Options

Packing for Vancouver

What Johnny will be bringing down the coast. Click on the image for a larger view in Flickr.

Moving from a 2 pannier system to a 4 pannier system obviously gives you more space to bring other things. Just don’t fill each bag to the brim. Many people have the Classic Ortlieb panniers where you need to roll up the top and fold the sides down to be buckled shut. This was designed so that your bag remains waterproof during downpours. People who have their bags stuffed, usually are not able to roll their bags shut resulting with a pannier completely drenched by the rain. I have heard of this from other seasoned bicycle tourists, and that is why I would rather spread my load out to more panniers, so I can use them correctly.

You Can Bring “Nice-To-Haves”

Goal Zero Nomad 7 + iPad Mini

On bicycle tours, there’s always that one thing you would love to have, but can’t because you don’t have space for it. With 4 panniers, you’ll have the opportunity to bring things that will make life better on the road. So go ahead and bring that iPad with you to enjoy reading and browsing on WiFi. Pack that Bananagrams game with you. Or, if you don’t want to do laundry every night, bring another set of clothes with you. Just make sure you don’t over do it (See above, “More Space Means Flexible Packing Options”).

You Look More Legit

Made it to California

Made it to California

This reason is superficial, but there are a few of us out there who want to look the part of a seasoned bicycle traveler. Just make sure your bags are well-used and not new like how my bags were during my Pacific Coast trip this summer. Nothing says, “I’m a newb,” like clean pannier bags.

On our Pacific Coast bike tour, we had people compliment us on how neatly packed our bikes were as they sheepishly pointed to their 2 panniers overflowing with their stuff. That’s right, I know what I’m doing (fake it before you make it).

It’s a Matter of Preference

Bandon Pier

Like my last post, when it comes down to it, it’s just a matter of preferences. I personally use a 4 pannier system for longer trips on the road. On the tour down the Pacific Coast, I could not have imagined coming down with fewer than what I had with me. Being able to haul my stuff from Vancouver to San Francisco on the bike was priceless. The bottom line is: it doesn’t matter if you like touring with 2 panniers or 4 panniers, just get out there and ride. It’ll change your life!

What are your pannier preferences? Are you a 2 or 4 pannier person? Which bags do you use for your bicycle tours? I would love to hear how you do it in the comments below. . Thanks for reading!

RELATED: Why You Need 2 Panniers On A Bicycle Tour

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

About Johnny Lam

Johnny is an avid cyclist who enjoys bicycle touring as well as anything bicycle related. Johnny has traveled the entire Pacific Coast by bike from Vancouver to the border of California and Mexico. He’s also toured through-out locations in Southern California. Johnny is also a League of American Bicyclists League Certified Instructor (LCI) and also completed the Adventure Cycling Association’s Leadership Training Course (LTC). He is an active member in Los Angeles bicycling community being involved in organizations like the Los Angeles County Bicycling Coalition (LACBC), C.I.C.L.E. (Cyclists Inciting Change through Live Exchange), and Bike San Gabriel Valley (Bike SGV) by taking part in ride marshaling, pedestrian & bike counts, and other volunteering opportunities.

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