Avaghon touring bicycles in India

Did we make a mistake choosing panniers?

    One of the toughest decisions we had to make with choosing our bikes, was panniers or bikepacking bags. We’d read countless blogs, peaked on every cyclists instagram feed and asked around in different stores. We chose panniers, but did we choose wrong? The thought of bikepacking never let us go.

    What are we even talking about

    For the non-cyclists who somehow ended up on this blog, first let us define the difference between the two options. Panniers are simply said bags that hang on the side of a rack. The word panniers originally refers to bags slung across the back of an animal (such as a horse or a donkey).

    The load in the bags would be hung down on either side of the animal. This way the distribution of the weight is lower so that the animal, or in our case the bike, won't be as off-balance, and distributes the weight evenly.

    The deal with bikepacking

    Bikepacking bags, which can also be referred to as a bikepacking set-up are kind of like a backpack for your bike. Like a backpack, where you attach the bag with straps close to your body, you strap the bags to the bike. There are multiple ways to do this. You can attach a frame bag within the frame of the bike, using up the whole triangular space or just a part of it. 

    A bag can be attached to the seat post underneath the saddle, referred to as a saddle bag. The tubes of the frame on your bike all have their own names, and for every single one of them, a bikepacking bag manufacturer has thought of a way to attach some storage room.

    We took a chance

    We had numerous reasons for our decision to go with the good old panniers. Stability, easy packing and mounting and dismounting of the bags. Enough place to carry all that we need, the ability to store stuff on top of the panniers. Besides, it looked like (almost) everyone else on a trip as long as ours was using panniers. And it’s a lot cheaper than those expensive bikepacking bags. Because they look cool, but they do come with a price.

    We were absolutely happy with our choice. Right upon the moment we left Tbilisi and had our first climb with a fully loaded bike. On top of our fully packed panniers, and the bike weighing 18 kg, we also had an extra big dry bag on Sabina’s rear rack. It didn’t take long for her to convince Robin to take over this bag, making his already heavy bike even heavier. Right there, at that moment we started to think of things we were going to scrap.

    Are you a gatherer or a shedder?

    You see, there are two types of bicycle tourists, gatherers and shedders. Some people find treasures along the way and carry them with great pleasure. These gatherers may even care about grams, but just cannot resist the temptation of having that special extra thing. Some might just be strong beasts, with legs that pedal as if they are made of steel. Not caring about the weight.  You guess which kind we are. 

    Listing and shipping

    In our minds we were making a list, what things do we really need and which are just nice to have. How many pairs of underwear does Robin really need? Well at least more than one, we found out. We decided on a list of things we would ship home, lifting almost 4 kg of our bikes. In Tajikistan we again shipped a parcel, ahead instead of home this time. Clearing space in our panniers for food and water, which we were told we would need on the Pamir Highway (we brought way too much).

    A good bad decision

    Having finished this difficult route, we are now sure we made the wrong decision. Which actually happened to be a good one to make. Having panniers, gave us enough space to bring practically everything we wanted to bring. It also made it easy to carry plenty of food on the Pamir. The past couple of months we have figured out what stuff we actually use, and which we could be without. This makes it a lot easier to decide what’s going and what is staying.

    We also got to see how other cyclists carry their stuff, some very minimal and some a bit more comprehensive. Sabina got ‘lucky’ her panniers fell apart halfway. This way we could get a refund and spend that money on the new bikepacking bags she wanted. Bikepacking bags are not cheap, so we are changing to our new set-up in steps. Sabina is now halfway there and Robin is still in the market. Our current set-up:

    Sabina's set-up

    Frame bag Apidura expedition full frame pack 7,5 liter
    Saddle bag Apidura saddle pack 14 liter
    Front panniers Vaude aqua front 2 x 14 liter
    Food pouch Apidura backcountry food pouch 0,8 liter
    Handlebar bag Ortlieb ultimate six urban 5 liter

    Still on the wishlist is exchanging the front panniers and handlebar bag with a handlebar pack and fork packs.

    Robin's set-up

    Front panniers Ortlieb sport roller classic 2 x 12,5 liter
    Back panniers Ortlieb back roller classic 2 x 20 liter
    Handlebar bag Ortlieb ultimate six urban 5 liter
    Top tube Apidura backcountry top tube pack 1 liter

    Still on the wishlist is exchanging the rear panniers and handlebar bag for a frame bag, fork packs and handlebar pack.

    Winning by losing

    Being light means being able to cycle on more challenging terrain. It makes uphills faster and off-road more fun. As you might have learned from how we prepared and saved money for this trip, we don’t need much. So it won’t be as if we’re giving up stuff. We feel like we are actually winning big time here.

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    Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

    Chriss taylorvreply
    4 January 2020 at 20:43

    You’ve done ok , keep lite , enjoy the ride well done

    5 January 2020 at 01:56
    – In reply to: Chriss taylorv

    Thanks Chriss!

    Dermot Meaneyreply
    5 January 2020 at 11:37

    You should never have to struggle uphill with the choices there are in modern day gearing options.

    5 January 2020 at 14:05

    You should check out aliexpress, you can get a whole set for under £100. Check out rhinowalk or newboler have nice saddle bags and frame bags.

    1 February 2020 at 23:16

    Since you already have a rear rack, an Ortlieb rack pack would be easier to access than the bike seat pack.. I went with the rack pack after I had gotten the seat pack.. So much easier to load, unload, and remove from the bike.. Good Luck..

    The broken gear list – Farawayistanreply
    26 April 2020 at 01:28

    […] Midway the Pamir Highway Sabina’s Vaude panniers ‘popped’ open on the seam. The glue came undone so we had to tape the bags shut with duct tape. Luckily this temporary fix lasted all the way to Almaty where she could swap here panniers for brand-new bikepacking bags. […]

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