I used a trailer for my cross country bike ride from Santa Monica, CA to Indianapolis, Indiana this summer. I also use the same trailer for my GAP & C&O Canal bike ride from Pittsburgh PA to Washington DC this past spring. This blog is to share what I have learned about the differences of using a trailer -vs- panniers.

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Keep in mind I’ve never done a cross country trip with panniers before but have spoke with many who have while on the road. This is my opinion about the pros and cons of both. I am a disabled Veteran with back and neck issues and I have Parkinson’s Disease. I am 42 years old and not as able as your average biker. But I do manage well enough.

I use a BOB Yak trailer which is a single wheel inline trailer. They come with or without suspension. It attaches to the axle of your rear wheel very easily and can be removed at any time just as simply. It can carry up to 75lbs. You can also connect multiple inline like a train. My wife uses a 2 wheel trailer or cart. It is much wider like a trike and carries the same amount of weight.

My bike:


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Pros for using a trailer:

  1. keeps all your stuff in one bag and easy to organize
  2. tracks nicely and maintains stability with ease
  3. balance is great
  4. the single wheel trailer fits on narrow passages with nothing sticking out to worry about hitting obstacles
  5. faster down hills and easy on flat terrain
  6. goes over obstacles with ease
  7. easy to secure your gear from theft with cage locks (wire mesh that wraps around gear bag and locks to prevent entry)
  8. can carry more gear and water bottle holders
  9. can be used to give your best 4 legged friend a ride
  10. easy to keep everything dry
  11. can select gear/equipment freely

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Cons for using a trailer:

  1. transportation in vehicles (cabs, trains, planes, etc…) is complicated
  2. shipping is more costly
  3. turning around sharp switchbacks is hard
  4. uphill is a drag, more resistance
  5. tendency to over pack
  6. weighs more than average panniers
  7. bike is longer, trailer is easily overlooked by vehicles, need a rear flag
  8. learning curve for parking bike and keeping it upright when parked

My bike:


With a trailer I find it really easy to just grab my waterproof North Face duffel bag, which seems as though it was made for my trailer, and pack whatever gear I want then toss it in the trailer and go. Very simple packing. No worries whether the gear I want is going to fit. I don’t have to worry about two way traffic in tight places like narrow bridges and sidewalks or crowded lanes. Going downhill is lots of fun with a trailer in my opinion. However going uphill is the worst 😦 . Pulling a trailer uphill creates a heavy drag. You get a lot more attention with a trailer from everyone interested in your travels. If you need to hop a train or cab though, you might run into some difficulty transporting it.

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Pros for panniers:

  1. easier to transport in vehicles etc…
  2. multiple gear bags so if one is damaged it wont be a total loss
  3. less likely to over pack
  4. less weight than a trailer
  5. easier uphills
  6. flat land weight is hardly noticeable
  7. easy to organize with the right bag setup and practice
  8. bike length not extended
  9. able to be more highly visible
  10. easy to park and keep upright when parked

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Cons for panniers:

  1. balancing is difficult
  2. need front and rear bags for stability
  3. stick out from sides making you wider
  4. difficult to secure from theft
  5. downhill is easier to lose control
  6. learning curve
  7. need to select gear/equipment wisely based on panniers
  8. obstacles more difficult to cross over (matter of personal opinion)
  9. less water bottle attachments than trailer provides

My knowledge of panniers are from experiences described to me by fellow bicyclers. I’ve been told there is a learning curve to getting the bike balanced so you don’t flip yourself going over bumps etc…. They can make packing difficult in deciding what to take based on will it fit and where. Plus, they are harder to keep your things secure from theft. When traveling in tight passages it can be a squeeze to get by. Apart from that though they do have some great advantages. For one, obtaining public transportation is simple when you are not worried about a trailer. Shipping your bike and gear is cheaper and less of a headache. Riding your bike with panniers does take a little practice with getting your balance but going uphill is way easier than with a trailer. Downhill however is a bit more scary. Getting around tight switchbacks and weaving through traffic is a breeze.


I guess it really comes down to what it is you want to do and where you want to go. If your trip is through the countryside then perhaps a trailer. If it is taking you through the city and uphills then panniers may be the best option. Want to go cross country then it may come down to ease of packing, amount of gear, average terrain, and what you are willing to put up with or not. One thing is for sure though, there is a need for both and you can always use both at same time…

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My next trip I hope to get the pannier experience for myself 🙂

Quick tips about trailers:

1. if bike is full suspension then don’t get a trailer with suspension, you will get a wave going and bounce everywhere

2. if no rear bike suspension and rolling through trails or downtown then I suggest the BOB Yak trailer with suspension and single wheel

3. get a good waterproof bag or use a trash bag to cover it

4. use a rear wheel wrap around fender to keep mud off trailer

5. add a 3ft flag to rear end of trailer and a flashing light

6. inspect trailer daily for frame cracks specially after a ruff ride

7. the walk uphill is generally worth the ride back down it 🙂

There is always the option of a new meaning to mobile home as well 🙂

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Search google images for bike trailers, BOB Yak, and panniers for more info and pics 🙂