Bike Bags

Touring Bags & Panniers

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Rear Expedition Pannier

Expedition-style panniers allow plenty of room to stuff your stuff. A simple top-loading bag, closed with a draw-cord, avoids the horrors of zipper failure. The rear pannier on the right has one zippered front divider, a zippered top pouch, compression straps, and handy tabs on top for strapping accessories—such as a self-inflating sleeping pad.

Generally speaking, the more gizmos, zippers and pockets a pannier has, the more water-resistance is compromised (see “packing” below).

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Front Expedition Pannier

Overall, look for sturdy construction, including high thread count materials, lap-felled and sealed seams, reinforced strap attachments and quality Fastex buckles.

Front panniers are simply smaller versions of the rear with similar features.

These front panniers, like their rearward counterparts (above), share the same extendable tops and compression straps, allowing overstuffing of the main compartment. This feature is useful after a supply stop on a remote Alaskan highway, or to pack out the hind quarter of a moose.

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Pannier Extended

Handlebar Bags

In addition to panniers, handlebar bags come in handy for commonly-used items, such as cameras, sunglasses, snacks and documents. Many handlebar bags include a map case. Unless your bike is built specifically to carry a front load (see below) keep the handlebar bag small and light.

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Small Handlebar Bag

Touring Racks

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Sturdy Rear Rack

Racks are not the place to skimp—they must survive plenty of abuse. Anyway, good aluminum racks are not expensive.

If your budget allows, tubular chromoly steel racks, like those from German manufacturer Tubus, are light and very strong.

A variety of harware kits are available to attach rack struts to frames lacking braze-ons, either to the seatpost, or frame seat stays.

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Lowrider Rack

Front panniers are traditionally installed on “lowrider” front racks that keep centre-of-gravity low, improving handling. These attach to special, threaded bosses on the fork and to eyelets at the fork dropout. Clamp kits are usually included for forks without bosses.

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Front Rack

Front racks are also available for use with forks lacking lowrider bosses. These usually attach to the calliper brake bolt on road bikes. Rear racks are made that mount in the same way. Note: carry spare rack attachment bolts in your repair kit.


The idea is to maintain the natural/neutral handling of your bicycle. Different bikes require different weight distribution regimes to achieve stability. It’s possible to actually improve steering, particularly if lowriders are used and the correct amount of weight is loaded up front. If you’re traversing gravel roads, particular attention should be paid to the weight on the front wheel. Too much, or too little, makes turning on loose surfaces interesting.

Unless you’re confident bags are completely waterproof, it’s a good idea to organize gear in waterproof stuff sacks. In any case, this is an ideal way to keep track of things. Colour code sacks for easy identification of contents.

Light Touring & Randonnées

Luggage requirements of the credit card tourer are modest in comparison to the camping expeditioneer. The randonneur need carry only a small toolkit, personal effects, and clothing to get them through a change in weather and night-time temperatures.

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Gilles Berthoud Front Bag

Two packing strategies are generally followed for “sport touring” and randonnées: the French front-loading approach and the British rear-loading tradition.

The former is most often represented by the classic Gilles Berthoud bag and its imitators, while Carradice of Nelson, UK holds the longstanding distinction of building the ultimate saddle bag. Both are constructed with leather and hard-wearing cotton duck canvas.

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Carradice Saddlebag

Handlebar bags have the advantage of putting commonly used items—cameras, glasses, clothing, etc.—within easy reach, but special racks and mounting systems must be employed with specific fork rake and “low trail” front end geometry if significant weight is to be carried up front. French-style bags are designed to rest on racks that hug the front wheel, keeping weight low and stable. Often, a combination of the two approaches are used, especially on longer tours and randonnées.

For an illustration of a packed, rando-ready bike, using rear-mounted luggage see the Marinoni Ciclo page. French front-loading is featured on the Rivendell Bleriot.

Another way to carry a small load or touring accessories is on the top of the rear rack.

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The sleek Arkel “TailRider”

There are a variety of padded racktop “trunks,” from minimalist bags, to large volume affairs, with drop down mini-panniers that zip from the side pockets. Most randonneurs opt for something in between, like the one opposite (left). This kind of bag can be useful touring, in addition to panniers, as a place to store smaller, often-used items, like rain shells, personal items and photographic gear.

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Saddle Pouch

Finally, small accessory bags can be used to carry items such as tools, spare tubes/tyres and snacks. These come in a variety of shapes and sized, designed to fit on areas of the bike, such as beneath the saddle or on frame tubes.

Now that you’ve decided which randonneuring bag(s) to use, consult the Rando Tackle page to prepare your kit.