Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Rack vs Rackless: How to Carry Your Stuff

The Old Man Mountain Elkhorn rack
 Another "Guitar Ted Podcast" dropped yesterday (Link Here) and we were yakking about bikepacking. In that discussion the subject of "rack vs rackless" came up. If you don't understand, this describes the means by which you carry your essentials on a self-contained bicycle trip where overnight sleeping somewhere is part of the plan. 

You need clothes, you need food, you need water, you need toiletries, you need to bring a shelter, (optional) and/or a sleep system (again- optional), and how you plan on transporting that "stuff" on your bike (self-contained) is what this is about. 

Actually a lot of what you want to carry is maybe more of an option vs a "need", depending on who you plan on relying on. Credit card touring is one thing, a fully self-supported, self-contained tour is quite another. And there are all shades of those in between. 

Back to carrying the "stuff". Okay, there are various "strap-on" or maybe even bolt-on, bag solutions these days. But there are also bags that rely on metal, (or carbon sometimes) racks that bags either hang from or sit on. I've used all manner of bag systems and racks over my time in cycling and doing things in a more self-sufficient manner. I've got a lot of experience with front/rear rack/pannier type riding and with fully bagged out set ups too. 

Which is "best"? 

Well, to my way of thinking, neither way on their own is "best". The extremes are fine, but I think the savvy bike packer these days takes advantage of both ways. 

This is me with a rear pannier set up touring self-contained in 1995 somewhere in Nebraska.

I tested this bagged set up several years ago with 2.8" tires on my Gen I Fargo.

In my experience, there are a few things to think about here when it comes to using bags, racks, and being self-contained. in no particular order....

  • Weight: The big concern, for several reasons, is weight. Weight of your racks, bags, cargo, and how that all affects wheels, racks, bags, and even how your bike will handle stopping, turning, and climbing.
  • Wheels & Tires: You aren't going anywhere if your wheels and tires are not up for the challenge. Dealing with recurring issues like flat tires, broken spokes, or ill-handling wheels is a ride-killing thing.
  • Comfort: You also are not going anywhere if you are not comfortable with the obvious things, (saddles, handle bars, overall positioning on the bike), but you also won't go far if you are not comfortable mentally with your set up. Dry runs, trying different things well before the trip, and just general tweaking is good to arrive at a place where you are going to be settled mentally with how you are approaching carrying the "stuff". 

My set up I tested for my proposed two day tour on gravel that I planned last year.

As I said earlier, I think the best way to go, in my opinion, is somewhere in between fully racked out and fully rackless. I used a combo of racks and bags in last years testing for a two-day gravel tour which didn't pan out. Hopefully I'll get that done this year, but for this article the point is that I mixed racks and rackless bag ideas to arrive at a really good place for carrying the "stuff" I wanted to take on this trip. 

If the two-day gravel tour happens, this Gryphon Mk3 will likely be the bike I use.

The pink BMC was a bit of a handful in terms of handling loose crushed rock under that load, so now that I have the Singular Gryphon Mk3, that bike with its more stable 700 X 2.8" tires will likely get the call for that trip. 

So, it all matters: The bike, the way you want to carry the stuff, and if you are okay with all of that and can just concentrate on riding. How that all works when actually loaded up and going is a test that needs to be done long before you leave on that trip. So, now that I plan on using the Gryphon, I have to get it set up with the actual load I plan on using and then I have to ride that set up. I'll make adjustments, if necessary, from that point. 

The "rack vs rackless" thing is the least of your concerns. Actually trying things out is better, and I am betting that if you do try things out that you may arrive at a completely unique set up that is custom-made for you, be that with some racks or just bags, or more likely, something in between.

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