Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Back to Front?

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

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!


PatKhaw said...

Al, after our tour down South with foldies and rear panniers you would know about the problem I had with my heels hitting the panniers because of the geometry of small wheel bikes. Since then I have been riding with panniers at the front of my P8 and I find this option a much more convenient. I cannot say specifically that handling is better nor the aerodynamics are compromised. But it works.

Oldyonfoldy said...

Yes Pat, heel strike can be a real pain and front panniers solve this problem. Will add this to the list of advantages. Do I hv the privilege to ride with you here in Spore these next few weeks?

Unknown said...

Wow.... it' always fun to get quoted! Kudos to you for giving so much thought to this and presenting the thoughts so clearly.
On the subject of aerodynamics: front pannier actually _can_ provide a benefit. 30 years ago, the aerodynamics expert Glenn Brown designed really sleek looking front panniers that functioned like a fairing. They were briefly offered by Specialized. But now they are long-forgotten.
Conventional front panniers may be less of an aerodynamic drawback than they look, but you'd have to test each bike/rider/pannier combination individually to know for sure.
On the subject of steering: I've done all my touring on large-wheel bikes, and I have not minded the effect that front panniers have on their steering. The steering feels slower than an unladen bike, but not hard to control.

Unknown said...

I don't know why the computer calls me "unknown," but just to be clear, this is John Schubert from Limeport[dot]org.

Oldyonfoldy said...

Hi John

Thank you so much for leaving your very informative post on my blog. You certainly are not an unknown in the cycling world.

It would be interesting to see an aero front pannier instead of carrying block shape panniers, available in the market. Seems your experience about steering feel or the lack off, is not so pronounce on bigger wheel bikes, and that is expected. In my recent tour to Thailand, the difficulty to see where my front wheel is pointing was a big liability especially going off road where its important to choose the best path. I actually ran into one of those steel manhole on the road and that nearly threw me off.

However all in, I had a very positive experience with front panniers.

Alvin Lee

bikeodyssey said...

It's very interesting to know the aerodynmics happenings in a pannier, rider and bicycle touring. Nice sharing.. I hope you can post more of this kind in the future.