Panniers versus trailers, the battle royale

Your trip is going swimmingly. You’ve seen truly beautiful places, enjoyed great weather, no flats so far, and met some amazing people. In fact, you’re sharing tonight’s campsite with some fellow tourists, nice people from some far flung land. Dinner’s been eaten, the dishes washed, and you’re digging into the evening’s conversation. Then it happens. From nowhere, things take an ugly turn. By morning, you’re no longer speaking and are staggering your departures so as to never meet again. How did it come to this, you ask. You made the rookie mistake of broaching the one subject that isn’t discussed in polite touring company: bike panniers versus bike trailers.

Ok, relations may not be that bad yet, but there’s some bad blood and more than a few misunderstandings surrounding this issue. For every person who claims to have been in a trailer-induced wreck there’s someone who was, equally violently, taken out by their panniers on a fast descent, and both would cross their heart and swear that the other system is better. Having used both extensively, I humbly offer up my experiences as a bridge, to divide two halves of a bruised and divided family. In the interest of fairness, I’ll flip a coin to determine which I cover first: heads, panniers; tails, trailers. [Actually flipping coin.] Heads.


I actually started using trailers and panniers at about the same time, and for a long time was blissfully unaware of the simmering conflict between the two clans. For me, trailers were for work and panniers for everything else. Panniers carried my lunch and change of clothes to and from work and books back and forth from class. And when I started leading bike tours, they carried trip gear. They have been around forever and, as a concept, have been tested over and over in numerous configurations.



  • Your system is light-weight
  • Relatively low rolling resistance
  • Low system complexity


  • Your things end up scattered between two, four, or more bags
  • Panniers are often awkward to load/unload
  • Bike racks have a high center of gravity (lowriders alleviate this problem)
  • Your system is heavily dependent on rack quality
  • Loads are generally hard to secure
  • When you remove the bags, you’re left with cargo paraphernalia (racks)


While bags are great for carrying your trip gear, they don’t do so well with, say, a lawnmower. Bike Trailers offer versatility in ways most cyclists never imagined.


  • Trailers are easy like a car trunk
  • You can keep everything together in one place
  • Loads are relatively easy to secure
  • Removing the trailer removes almost all cargo paraphernalia
  • You can carry larger, heavier loads


  • They add a lot of extra length
  • Riding with a trailer requires some getting used to
  • Heavy trailer + fast, steep descent = potentially scary handling
  • Trailers have slightly greater rolling resistance
  • Parts may be hard to find/replace on the road

So, which side am I on? I guess you’d say I’m doomed to pedal the no-man’s-land between panniers and trailers, sometimes using both at the same time [gasp!]. But this is just one cyclists’ experience. Which side are you on?  Maybe both?

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