I've been experimenting with mounting front panniers for my upcoming Thailand trip instead of using a rear rack like I've always done. The impetus for this came from researching the wisdom of experience tourers such as John Schubert who writes:
"It is somewhat counterintuitive that putting weight on the bike’s steering would improve the bike’s handling, but it most certainly does. For proving this, we owe thanks to Jim Blackburn, the since-retired founder of Blackburn Designs."
He adds that ideally, the load should be spread between front and rear of the bike but my touring load is light, max 7-8kg. Therefore, just the need for 2 Orbs is sufficient for me.
Pic fm javageno.blogspot.com
I discovered the following advantages with front panniers:
1. Handling of the bike is more sturdy and I feel confident to ride hands free. This is more apparent for foldies which uses smaller 20" wheels. Because it is carried lower than a rear rack, the centre of gravity is lowered.
2. Stability seems better especially during downhill descents. One tourer used the analogy of an arrow - where the head and weight of the arrow is placed in front not the rear. It tracks better that way. Same when making a paper aeroplane where you need a weight in front to fly better.
3. Small advantage when climbing hills as the front is more planted. I've climbed very steep gradients with a heavy rear load and the bike have tended to do an unexpected wheelie.
4. Easier packing. Standard rear racks especially when packed with foldies into Samsonites can be a real pain to squeeze into those super tight confines. Not packed properly, they can cause deep scratches on the frame. Front racks on the other hand, are very easy to pack as they are flattish, and also easy to fit onto the bike.
5. Zero heel strike. Point added by Pat. Noticed too often on our recent ride down to Margaret River in late Oct last year by a few riders. Thanks Pat!
The main disadvantages I sense seems to be:
1. It is less aerodynamic with 2 squarish bags in front punching through the air. Not so much a problem riding slowly but for those fast descends, it does have a negative effect.
2. A heavier steering feel. Your foldie won't be so nimble and takes getting used to.
The verdict is still not out yet, and I will be able to give a more comprehensive and conclusive report after my Northern Thailand ride next week. Stay tune!