Someday I will have a bike that has mounts to support a real rack, and then perhaps I will travel with panniers. Until then, I have my Burley Nomad, which so far has allowed me to travel even with a racey-light bicycle that is totally not meant for touring.
I can’t honestly break down pros and cons of trailers-vs-panniers since I’ve never actually used panniers, but there are a few things I love about my trailer:
- The only thing I need to have on my bike to attach the trailer is a low-key hitch (find a picture of it here) that connects through my rear hub–which means that when I’m not using the trailer, the weight on my bike is minimal (as opposed to having a whole rack mounted back there)
- Since the trailer pulls from my rear hub, the weight is centered in the middle. No matter how much I’m pulling, the balance of my bike is never off-kilter and it always handles the way I’m used to
- It’s big and waterproof. Especially in crappy weather, I appreciate being able to stuff everything in there willy-nilly so as to minimize the amount of time it’s out in the rain. I may be wrong, but with panniers I imagine having to carefully pack everything in just so (and maybe even strap the bulkier items onto the top of the rack), meaning more time out in the rain and more things that have to be carefully covered in something waterproof
- On the negative side, I could see how a trailer might tempt you to overpack–you can just keep stuffing things in there! But since I’m acutely aware that I have to actually carry everything I include, I’m usually pretty good about not expanding to fit all available space. But then if I do end up needing it, the space is there
There is one annoyance, which is that the trailer means two extra wheels. It’s not a huge deal, but it is two more tires that can potentially go flat, and since my trailer and bike wheels are different sizes it also means that I have to carry two different sizes of extra tube. (And changing a flat on a trailer is super annoying when your trailer is full of camping gear). Also, though my bike tires have presta valves, I’ve only been able to find schrader valves for my trailer. Though my hand pump can handle both, it’s still one more thing to think about.
But that all being said, my Burley has worked really well for me, not just for touring but also for random things like bulky groceries, large loads of classroom supplies, big bags of fertilizer and pots of raspberries from the nursery, and all manner of other things. And despite the abuse I’ve put it through over the years, the only thing that’s really run down about it is the rubber rings that hold it closed in the back–easily fixed with zip ties.
The trailer is a bit of a liability unless I leave straight from my house, though, since it’s big enough that once I put my gear in it, I can’t really fold it up on a bus or the train. If I’m smart about hours, I feel okay taking it on Portland’s MAX train, but that still means that all of my bike travel begins in the Portland Metro area. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes I dream about putting my bike on a train, say, out to Glacier National Park, and starting a trip out there. And for that, I’d need to at least have the option of panniers.
So yeah. Like I said, having never had panniers I’m not really sure how they stack up, but until I make myself a new bike with a rack and head out for further-away adventures, I’m pretty happy with the Burley. It’s been good to me:)