Bicycle Touring Shop
Shopping cart  Shopping cart
0 Product(s) in cart
Total $0.00
» Checkout
Merchant Services

Summary: The decision to use panniers vs. a towable trailer when touring is not as straight forward as it may seem, and your decision will likely come down to personal needs and preferences rather than compelling reasons.

I’ve read many articles and web postings regarding this subject. Much of the information is good, but some of it is anecdotal, and often incomplete. To perform a proper analysis the attributes of each method should be compared analytically, if possible. You should then add your personal needs and preferences to come to a final decision.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of the attributes are not quantifiable. In the discussion that follows I have tried to be as objective as possible, listing the pros and cons of each method.

When you tally the score you’ll see that there is no right answer. In the simplest terms, it gets down to the type of tour you are doing, how much you are taking, your budget, and surprisingly, the type of bike you want to ride.

For the sake of this discussion let’s compare Ortlieb’s Roller Plus Classic front and rear panniers + Ultimate5 Classic handlebar bag vs. a BOB Yak trailer. Both are very well made lines, have great reputations in the industry and are excellent choices for touring. Let’s start with weight.


The weight of a BOB Yak trailer with dry bag is approx. 15.0 lbs. When touring with a trailer it is always going to weigh 15.0 lbs because, unlike panniers, trailers are not scalable to satisfy the required capacity. Throw in the essential handlebar bag and the weight goes up to approx. 16.4 lbs.

A large set of front and rear panniers + handlebar bag + racks weigh approx. 11.8 lbs. For most folks this is enough capacity to meet their long term, fully self contained, touring needs, with a little left over for groceries or extra water. If the rider decided to go ultra light she could lose the front panniers and rack. This option would weigh 6.9 lbs.

So, the weight comparison is as follows:

  • Trailer: 16.4 lbs (BOB Yak. Includes trailer bag and handlebar bag)

  • Large Capacity Panniers: 11.8 lbs (front & rear panniers + racks + handlebar bag)

  • Ultra Light Panniers: 6.9 lbs (large pair of rear panniers + handlebar bag)

But wait! This does not tell the whole story. When pulling a trailer one does not have to have a full blown 30+ lb hardcore touring machine. Because the weight of the load is now on the trailer, you’re able to ride a sport bike that can weigh pounds less but still hold up to the rigors of long distance cycling. Also keep in mind that a significant amount of the weight the bike is shedding is rotational mass. Losing rotational mass means that not only is the bike lighter, but it also feels more responsive and accelerates better.

On the other hand you’ll need to carry spare parts for the trailer that will add weight and volume to your load. Not much, but worth mentioning.

Conclusion: Score one point for panniers for less weight, in some cases significantly less.


A BOB trailer has approx. 40% more capacity than a full complement of panniers (5,600 cubic inches for BOB vs. 4,000 for the panniers above). For those that want to take everything with them this is a significant advantage. With so much capacity it is easy to pack in the morning and you are more likely to have excess capacity when stopping for groceries at the end of the day. But for those that live by the rule “load expands to fill all room available” the luxury of space can become a liability as the temptation to bring too much is … too much. I have never seen a bicycle tourist using panniers start a tour with excess capacity. I never have!

Conversely, panniers by virtue of their limited capacity dictate how much can be taken along. I’m not saying that you cannot take all the essentials for life on the road. What I am saying is that the limited room forces you to make choices; choices that ultimately result in bringing just what you need.

Also as I mentioned above, if you are interested in doing a credit card tour, or an ultra light self contained adventure, you don’t need the capacity of a trailer. Just take a pair of small panniers and a handlebar bag and you are good to go!

Conclusion: If you want to take the kitchen sink and don’t mind the extra weight, go with a trailer. If you want to go light and the desire the flexibility to adjust the capacity to fit the tour, go with panniers.


The average weight of gear that folks take on a self contained tour is approx. 25 lbs. Add in the weight of the panniers, handlebar bag and racks and you are hanging almost 37 lbs on your bike! Does this weight affect handling? You bet! Quick maneuvers at speed and doing anything while going slow is dicey. But if you distribute the load properly (heavy items low, 60% weight in the rear) it’s easy to get used to and very stable once you are rolling.

Riding with a BOB trailer is a piece of cake. You know it’s there, but after a few laps around the block to practice you’ll forget about it. Like with panniers the weight needs to be kept low and low speed maneuvers can be tricky, especially tight turns due to the overall length of bike and trailer. But unlike panniers there is very little weight on the bike so it feels lively, especially compared to a fully loaded beast.

Wind resistance is an attribute that most don’t consider when comparing panniers to a trailer. This is resistance to straight ahead travel and side resistance. Panniers dramatically increase the frontal area exposed to wind. If you have not experienced panniers in a head wind take my word for it.

In a side wind they are also problematical. I was once blown from the road shoulder across a lane of traffic into the oncoming lane by a single huge gust of wind in Wyoming while riding with front and rear panniers. Front panniers, if large, can also affect steering in a side wind. Be careful! Keep your front panniers small and position them so that the center of the pannier is in line with a line extrapolated down from the head tube.

Regarding high speed stability, I’ve never had a problem with panniers or a BOB. Again, word on the street is that weight distribution is the key. If you are getting high speed wobbles, move some weight forwards or back until the wobble disappears.

Trailers also have wind resistance but they are so low and close to the ground that it is much less than panniers. Side winds do not seem to upset them much and the force is not transferred as readily to the bike. Also keep in mind that if you are not riding alone but pulling a trailer, the rider drafting you does not enjoy the same advantage as if you were using panniers. This may sound trivial to the uninitiated but I assure you that when you are fighting a headwind at the end of a long day, getting a good draft from your partner is physically and mentally uplifting.

Let’s call rolling resistance a push. Even though BOB adds a third wheel with the weight of the load off your bike you can run narrower tires at higher pressure.

Conclusion: With a trailer the bike feels better and is easier to maneuver. Score one for BOB! You are one sweet handling machine!


Even though touring is very liberating and relatively stress free, convenience counts. Touring, being a leisure sport, means that we like to stop frequently to take in the sights, rest and eat. For the uninitiated it may not seem like a big deal to find a place to park your mount and trailer but I assure you it is. It’s like trying to find a parking place downtown for your Hummer; good luck! Now try to back the whole rig up and you’re starting to feel the pain. All kidding aside, parking a bike + BOB and backing the pair can be a challenge, but it’s not a deal killer.

Another down side of BOB is if you have to take public transportation before, during or after your ride. Getting the pair on a bus or train is a challenge but can be done by treating each piece individually. Airline travel is particularly difficult, and expensive, as BOB counts as a separate piece of oversized luggage. Count on $100 bucks minimum for BOB to fly with you.

Where BOB shines in the area of convenience is for the extra capacity to haul groceries or water to camp and the ability to unhitch from your bike in an instant to ride without a load. Very nice!

BOB is also easy to pack due to his single cavernous compartment. It’s not deep so the contents can be packed and retrieved without drama. The single bag can be easily removed at the end of the day and brought into your tent without. Much easier that unhooking and moving four panniers.

I’m going to lump maintenance under this topic. Most of us would agree that maintenance on the road is a pain. BOB, although almost maintenance free does have moving parts and a tire that has been known to deflate. No big deal but something to consider

Conclusion: It’s easier to load and unload a trailer but BOB’s length and public transportation issues can be a bummer. If these concern you, score one for panniers. But if you don’t mind driving a big rig, and consider packing a hassle, give the nod to BOB.


A BOB Yak paired with a good handlebar bag runs approx. $400, while a set of quality front and rear panniers with handlebar bag and racks costs about $600. You can go cheaper with panniers and racks (RackTime bags and racks approx. $400) but the retail price of BOB does not vary.

If you want to tour with rear panniers only you’re talking about $350 for a high end set-up and approx. $225 for RackTime if budget is a concern.

Bottom line is that if you want to/need to run with a trailer the cost difference is not likely to be a deal killer. If, on the other hand you are a budget conscious minimalist tourist and don’t need front pannier and rack, $225 sounds pretty darn good.

Also keep in mind that the bike used to pull the trailer does not have to be a full blown touring machine. Therefore, if you have to buy a bike for your tour you can spend less and if you already have a reasonable quality sport bike you may not have to spend any money on a bike at all!

Conclusion: This is a toss-up. Both the trailer and pannier options are a deal considering what you get and the opportunities they provide.