I recently took an adventure bicycle tour partially along the Southern Tier where I jumped up north from the Tier in New Mexico.  This trip began in San Diego California and ended in the mid-United States Ozarks area.

I began my journey early November 2016 and arrived mid December 2016. The weather conditions began warm and sunny and drastically changed into cold weather once I crossed over Apache Summit in New Mexico..

Now let me explain the equipment I began with, concluded with, the sacrifices, and even the dangers and I’ll begin with a little about myself…

Yesterday as I was riding my bike on the edge of a highway shoulder when a seemingly humble, yet excited man got out of his jeep at the highway entrance and flagged me down – this scenario was safer than this sounds.  Being a bicycle tourist himself, he was enthusiastic to find out if I was on a tour (I got this a lot during my cross country bicycle tour I took a couple months back). But I don’t mind stopping and talking to people.  They usually find out that I’ll ramble on about very unimportant things that have nothing to do with their lives and will soon depart with something predictable like, “well I better go, I don’t want to talk your ear off.”  I digress.

To make a long story short, we got to talking about my bicycle’s setup and as I was telling him about the components, the upgrades, yadee, yada, it didn’t take long before the man interupted with the following statement, “I used to think I was the cheapest guy on the road.”

I thought this was funny because I really am a cheapo, though I prefer to us the word “frugal.”  That being said, I still manage to keep my quality standards up there good enough to get the job done and not have issues with stuff falling apart on me.  I ride my bike a lot and I still have the same equipment on the Gary Fisher Advance today that I made the tour with, this bike being one that I purchased used five years ago for seventy bucks on Craigslist.  I think that says something.

Now as for the equipment I chose to gear up the Gary Fisher with, let me try to give you a quick rundown…

I made two front panniers out of military sustainment pouches that I got for cheap on ebay… military surplus sustainment pouch bag image

These pouches fit perfectly on the rack system I had installed front bicycle pannier rack systemwhich I did the installation myself – I enjoy doing my own mechanical work as well doing my own bicycle maintenance.

Before I started using the pouches as my front panniers I coated them with plasti-dip spray plasti dip spray can imageCoating my military sustainment pouches was an idea I was playing around with and decided to give it a shot.  The effect this had gave the pouches an extra waterproof coating also making them more durable  than they already were.  There is also a video on this project : DiY Waterproofing USGI Denier Cordura Gear and Equipment (MOLLE Sustainment pouches)

Now let’s move on to the back of the bike, the rear panniers.  I had never owned a factory made set of panniers until I purchased a near new set of Avenir Excursion small (1,464 cubic inches) panniers for $20 from a lad on ebay.  Which I thought was a pretty fair deal considering they were selling new elsewhere for $40.  Yes the Avenir panniers are low-end and not completely waterproof (I use ziplock bags and dry sacs inside these cheap panniers to keep essentials dry.)  But these bags are still holding together.  So far these two sets of bags have been through a 1400 mile cross country tour and several 20-40 mile weekend bikepacking trip into the California deserts and mountains.  They’re still strapped on the sides of my bike and I can see them going through a couple more seasons no problem.

One tip I would like to share for the newbie cyclist who’s never bought a bicycle saddle bag of any type, is this: start out with a cheap to mid-range (entry level) set or, or two sets, of bags.  Find a good deal at a capacity/volume you think will work for you, taking into consideration the gear you’ve decided you will be packing into them; whether you plan on taking twenty mile rides into the mountains here and there on the weekends, or a 1400 mile insanity tour like I made.  The reason I recommend starting with a cheap set of panniers is that it’s going to take some time for you to figure out what size of bags you’re comfortable with.  Believe me, you will contemplate on this parameter of your bike’s setup for a while, so start out cheap because the value depreciates considerably on panniers once used.

Let me put it this way, I now know the bags capacity, that I have, create a balance that I’m quite happy with.  And that’s using the 40% weight in the front – 60% weight in the rear rule.  I think when these bags are worn out I will eventually upgrade to something the same capacity/volume (around 1,464 cubic inches) only the next set will be a fully waterproof and better quality panniers like you see in the following video:

Of course for beginners you’re going to also want to make sure your bags are going to fit and attach onto the racks (or vice versa) that you have before doing any ordering or purchasing.  Look it over well for a good fit so you can avoid having to make any custom modification.

Other than the front and rear panniers of the bike, the gear you decide to take, and what you strap onto the frame of the bike such as handlebar bags, sleeping bags, tarps, tents, spare tubes, tools, etc. you’ll find everything’s pretty much customized and handpicked through time, trial and error, an upgrade here, an upgrade there.

Now let me finish this story by telling you about my experience with my DiY bicycle trailer that I fabricated for the purposes of my cross country bicycle tour…

I made a bicycle trailer from a two wheeled dolly truck… yes, a dolly truck dolly truck hand cart trailer image

This was a bad idea, because of the way I mounted the dolly truck to my rear rack. I mounted in a way that gave all ranges of movement, up-down-left-right-and tilt, which I later realized is not the way to go pulling two pneumatic 10 inch wheels spread around 24 inches apart…

As I was cruising down the interstate’s shoulder going 30 mph, the initial shock of running over a gravel sized rock would get the dolly bouncing and tilting side to side to nearly laying down on its side 😨

What I should of done was mounted some DiY type of stabilizer bar that limited tilt movement to about a maximum of three inches on each side’s travel, but not limiting up-down-left-right travel.

It was kinda skeeery there in the beginning of the tour…

So as soon as I got out of San Diego, just past Alpine, I decided to ditch the trailer, a couple of fishing rods, also a large frame backpack I had mounted to the dolly’s frame, as well as a five gallon bucket half full of other odds and ends.  This was a sacrifice I had to make.  I decided to leave these things behind at the rest stop and pack what I could onto the bike where I could find room, it was a bungee cord party…but man was I glad to of gotten rid of that trailer.  I felt free again after peddling that ball and chain up 3000ft to that point.  Also relieved in knowing I could also stealth camp off to the side of the road much easier without having to drag that trailer through ditches, sand and brush.

If I were to bicycle tour with a trailer again, which ain’t gonna happen, I’d go with the single wheel sled type of trailer that are made for the purpose, or maybe think about another DiY project…hah

I tell you, I gained new respect for people that do cross country bicycle tours.  There is a code out there amoungst cyclists and it’s a pretty neat thing really.  I’ve found that other bicyclists were quick to look out for me, which reflects.  I traveled solo the entire trip, but would never do such a distance as 1400 miles by myself again.  A three person cycling tour sounds about right to me.

There for a while I got the BUG OUT BICYCLE bug and really got into building a bike for the purpose of deep woods get-out-of-dodge living with a camouflage paint job, you name it.  I’ve since come to realize that a simple any-color-will-do, yet reliable bike with some bags or panniers strapped to it, is pretty much all I need.  If you’re interested in seeing an earlier bicycle I converted into a bug out scenario type bike, I’ve got some videos on a project I did a while back…

this is how I converted my mountain bike into a complete camping vehicle

I’ve also got some videos explaining the gear I was carrying there in the Southern California foot hills around Pine Valley San Diego

Modular Bikepacking Gear to Backpack Transfer System image bug out survival bike gear equipment image




One thought on “A tour story…experience with bicycle panniers-DiY cargo saddle bags and a skeeery trailer

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