How to carry it all!

A bicycle is marvel of engineering and practicality: by adding some simple panniers and a rack you are ready to travel the world with all your gear. Safe, robust and inexpensive - it’s all been worked out!

What you can carry on a bike is much more than what you will actually want to cycle up the hills with!
There’s really only one way to carry your camping gear on your bike and that’s on a rack. That’s the sort of rack (known as a "rear” rack) that fixes to your seat stays (the bits of the frame that run from your saddle to the middle of the rear wheel).

And there’s a very simple arrangement that follows from that: throw two panniers on the rack (one either side) and your tent can be strapped to the rack itself. It’s a relatively inexpensive, well balanced and robust way to keep your gear safe, dry and handy on your bike.

It’s a tried and trusted method used by thousands of camping cyclists. And it works.

You can buy a rear rack for your bike from about £25.00. Some are lighter and stronger than others and will cost up to about £80.00 (you can see some in the cyclecamp shop here). But what you will need are pannier rack eyes on your frame. Nearly all bikes have these except real road bikes (racing bikes) and even some of these do as well.

It’s easy to fit a rack but make sure you get one that fits your wheel size (700c or 26”). Many racks though will fit either. Screw the bolts in at the seat stays and the drop outs tightly and check them from time to time – they can work loose.

Position your panniers on your rack a bit further back if you have large feet but as near to the saddle as you can so they don’t swing the bike about.

Then you need panniers. These range in price from about £30.00 a pair upwards to about £150.00. About £70 will get you a pair of very good ones for cycle camping. They’re usually made from nylon but a traditional Carradice pannier is made from cotton duck – a tough waterproof cotton material.

It’s almost always best to get two separate panniers rather than a throw-over type – these can be fiddly to fit and awkward to carry off the bike.

The most popular make these days is Ortlieb, a German firm that takes panniers very seriously – check them out in the cyclecamp shop. Their panniers are waterproof, tough, and - here’s the best bit - come in bright colours to cheer
up a rainy day (there’s also black for those who prefer it!).

You can carry a surprisingly large amount of gear like this: all your spare clothes, sleeping bag and cooking gear in the panniers and then your tent on the rack with a pair of straps. For ordinary summer camping you won’t need more than this, even if the panniers are well stuffed.

But if you really must take a few extras (a radio, a camera, more food and some extra clothes, then you might want front racks and panniers as well. These will add to the weight of you bike in addition to the stuff that you will put in them so better if you can do without them.

But when you do have racks and you are fully loaded then you will certainly feel like the real thing – Mongolia here I come!

The big no-no is to carry stuff on your back. If you are doing a lot of off-road cycle camping and fear that panniers will cramp your style, as well as make it difficult to get down narrow lanes and paths, then OK, go for a rucksack (walkers have to do this anyway).

But the great luxury of cycle camping is that the bike does the work. You can carry more on a bike than you can on your back and it won’t hurt your neck and shoulders. For camping, carrying stuff on your bike means carrying more than you would take for a day ride so panniers are even better in this respect.

A bar bag can be useful too for your necessities like wallet and map. But they can interfere with your brake cables and lights and may take a bit of wiggling to get right. However a bar bag may just give you the extra space you want without the need to go as far as front panniers.   

Various other things such as fuel for your Trangia stove and water of course are carried on the bike, and your cycle lights will double as camping lights. Once you get used to packing a bike, you’ll not only find it simple but you will be amazed at how much you can actually carry: in fact, what you can carry on a bike is much more than what you will actually want to cycle up the hills with!


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