Back? Or pack?

Backpack versus panniers … that’s what I’ve been trying out. Some folks have suggested a trailer; if that works for you, go for it, but there were many dirt, rocky roads I descended with panniers that would have been disastrous with a trailer. Same for some of the mountain descents. Monitor Pass at 50 mph with a trailer? No, thanks. In general when I think of the slowest, heaviest, clumsiest, ugliest vehicles on earth, they are somehow associated with trailers: U-hauls, RVs, semis, logging trucks, hay haulers, boats, shipping containers … I can’t think of any vehicle that anyone ever wanted to speed up or improve handling by hitching on a trailer.

Moreover, trailers invite more junk because they have more space. My goal is less. So on to the discussion of back or pack.

The weight of a backpack loses relevance as an impediment, as far as your back and body are concerned, in relation to its positioning and the surface area/dispersal of the weight being carried. Heavy loads, often much more than the body weight of the carrier, have been managed and moved long distances on the human back for hundreds of thousands of years.

It has been theorized that it was the transportation of heavy stone tools on the backs of the earliest Homo species that exerted a selective pressure on our biomechanics which facilitated the long limb, short torso mechanical efficiency  that we exhibit today, in opposition to the bent knee/bent hip locomotor system of Australopithecus. This change in physiology meant that early Homo species could load 15 to 40 percent of their body weight on their backs with almost no net energy cost compared to walking unloaded. We literally evolved for loaded movement.

The basic physiology is simple. The deep muscles of your spine and abdomen are postural. This means their function is to hold and support the weight above your hips, i.e. your head and torso, in a constant upright position during waking hours. Even while sitting, your postural muscles (erector spinae, longissimus, multifidus, transverse abdominals), are at work making sure your upper body does not flop over and fold at the waist. They are some of the most fatigue-resistant muscles in the body whose properties function to rapidly adapt to weight fluctuations occurring above the hips. In conjunction with your spine and lordotic arch, these muscles also help to provide the shock absorption and postural stabilization that protect your head from being jostled around as you walk, run, jump, or fall.

The key for load-bearing is positioning the weight so that it is yoked by, and spread widely across, the scapula and then loaded and compressed down and against the spine keeping the shape of the lumbar arch, thus transmitting and spreading the force directionally across the postural muscles. It’s a common misconception that weight on your back is held up exclusively by the shoulders. In fact, weight hanging on the shoulders pulls backwards and away from the spine; actual weight-bearing is supported by the entire surface area of muscles of the spine, back and abdomen, lower down towards the hips. This is where the bulk of weight-bearing occurs. The shoulders balance the weight and give the straps a place to affix, but the majority of the weight-bearing is done lower down.

This explains why on a bicycle or when hiking, the higher the pack the heavier the sensation and the more easily you tire. It also explains why a poorly adjusted pack that is too high, forcing the load-bearing onto the shoulders and neck, feels so awful. Likewise, it explains why, the lower the pack, the lighter the sensation and the more weight you can carry. So in principle, when properly adjusted and distributed, a pack works wonderfully in conjunction with the lower back to carry loads without tiring out the carrier.

Now consider a weighted bike versus a weighted rider and how that affects the propulsion of the bike. Although the weight is the same whether it is carried on the rider or the bike, acceleration, energy, and handling are affected by the weight’s location. 

With acceleration, the mass and the location of that mass make a big difference. Think about the acceleration of two different bike/rider systems, both weighing 320 pounds. 

Example 1: 300-lb. rider on a 20-lb. bike. The net weight of bike and rider is 320 lbs., but the downward pressure of the rider’s 300-lb. body mass only has to apply enough force on the moment arm to accelerate a 20-lb. bike. 

Example 2: 150-lb. rider attempting to accelerate a 170-lb. bike. The weight in the two systems is the same, but the action of acceleration of the bike and the rider is vastly different. The amount of force the 150-lb. rider needs to apply to the pedals of the 170-lb. bike is much greater than the 300-lb. rider with the 20-lb. bike.  

Each object, the rider and the bike, has its own mass and inertia. Changing the distribution of the weight changes how much force is required to accelerate the bike, but it also changes the weight distribution of the the bike/rider system. For the heavy rider the weight is distributed directly above the moment of inertia, and his weight actually facilitates downward force on the pedals. When the bike is weighted, the mass is no longer directly above the moment of inertia, but is now further away from the moment arm, creating a larger moment of inertia, which requires more torque to turn over each pedal stroke. It is much easier to control the acceleration of weight that is attached to your body than weight that is attached to an external object. In plain terms, the lighter the bike, the faster you go and the easier it is to start. This is exactly why, all other things being equal, bike racers go faster with lighter bikes.

With regard to energy, when weight is carried by the rider and not the bike, the energy used to support and move the weight is distributed throughout, and shared by, far more muscle tissue than when the weight is localized onto the bike. When added weight is carried by the rider, the work done to move the weight is transferred to many different muscles in the torso, both fatigue-resistant postural muscles and superficial top support muscles, as well as the hip flexors. Most of these muscles are Type One fibers and use body fat as a primary source of energy, one of the main reasons they resist fatigue.

When sitting on the bike, much of that weight is taken off the far more easily fatigued muscles in the quads and hamstrings. You can easily appreciate this if, while riding seated with a heavy backpack, you stand up on a climb. You will instantly feel the work shift to quads and hamstrings, which are now doing some of the work of bearing the backpack as well as pedaling the bike. Ouch and sit the fuck down.

While seated on a bike you are no longer using your legs to support the weight on your back, and that weight is further taken away from the workload of the postural muscles and shifted off to the bones of the pelvis, specifically the ischium and iliac crest, bones whose wide, slightly arching dimensions were designed specifically to disperse force and carry heavy weight borne above the hips. In other words, your postural muscles and pelvis are designed to disperse weight. It’s why the lower the pack rides, the lighter it feels, and it’s why sitting with a weighted pack is easier than standing.

When the weight is instead allocated to the body of the bike, all of the energy to propel the weight forward and overcome the added mass and inertia of the entire system must be generated by fewer muscles, isolated to the lower body, a/k/a the legs, which, unlike postural muscles, are easily fatigued and rely primarily on glycogen for fuel. From an energy standpoint, delegating the workload to postural muscle tissue that is highly fatigue resistant, oxygenated, and energy efficient, while at the same time decreasing torque demands on muscles in the quads and hamstrings for acceleration over the course of hours will result in the preservation of power and energy in the leg muscles as well as an increase in the speed of the entire system.

Of course once the bike is actually moving you have a whole new consideration, handling. As anyone knows who’s ever ridden a bike on anything other than a straight road, a heavy bike is not your friend.

When extra weight is carried by the rider as opposed to the bike, evolved shock absorbers in the hips and spine, aided by the fascial system, or interstitium, dissipate vibrations naturally throughout the body and direct them towards  stabilizers in the hips and lordotic arch, allowing the rider to maintain balance and control of the system with minimal corrective effort. Since the bike carries only the weight of itself, it behaves normally and predictably, with the rider accounting for just a slight change in center as long as the load is below 40 percent of body weight, which postural muscles have evolved to do.

When the weight is carried by the bike, the mass, inertia, and destabilizing changes in force vectors and momentum must instead be actively countered, corrected, and controlled defensively by the rider, as the bike has no stabilizing shock absorbers or counterbalances of its own to maintain control when encountering deviations in terrain. And deviations in terrain are exactly what bicycling is all about: rumble strips, potholes, bumps, gaps, reflectors, cracks, and the normal detritus you have to ride over.

Changing the road surface makes handling even harder. A loaded bike with either panniers or with frame bag/seat bag/handlebar bag is much harder to control when going on unpaved roads, downhill, or between paved and unpaved surfaces. A loaded rider, when encountering these obstacles, will react similarly to a non-loaded rider, with minor adjustments for weight, as the bike’s behavior remains constant and predictable.

Of course there’s a point beyond which the loaded rider begins to handle poorly, too, especially if the pack is heavy and badly adjusted, resulting in a swinging weight relatively high above the center of gravity. This is a matter for each rider, the way they adjust their pack, and how much they carry. In principle, your bike handles a lot better when it’s light.

A loaded bike will react with the force and acceleration of added mass and inertia, will be pulled off balance right or left,  launched upwards or sideways, or tip over based on the location of the weight and how it impacts the obstacle. The rider has limited means to control how the laden bike handles obstacles in the road, and is stuck with the primary tool of bike tourists everywhere: going slow.

This was my daily experience while touring the coastal and mountain route from LA to Canada and back. The pannier-laden bike was slow af and handled like a three-legged ox. Leaving aside the speed and handling, the panniers made it impossible to casually lay the bike down or even lean it. You had to constantly ensure that it wasn’t going to fall over with a huge crash and potentially damage the fragile rack, let alone the carbon seat stays.

And when we talk about handling, let’s be sure to talk about what it feels like climbing out of the saddle with a fully loaded donkey bike. It’s fucking awful. The imbalance caused by two leaden parachutes on either side of your bike makes climbing out of the saddle harder than walking a tightrope looped around your nuts. And dog forbid you take the panniers off and try to ride your bike normally. When you have to adjust from donkey bike to unladen frame, you practically have to re-learn how to balance.

All of these handling horrors are but a gentle summer breeze if you’re also unfortunate enough to have front panniers and a tent or other heavy bag on the handlebars. Suddenly you find yourself no longer riding a bike and now piloting a human-powered RV, minus the blender, mini-bar, and teevee.

Handling also sucked balls on anything other than the smoothest of roads, and even then too much bumping would jostle the lower pannier hook loose. These issues you can chalk up to wrong bike, wrong rack, wrong [your whipping boy here], but with a backpack it doesn’t matter what the setup is as long as the pack is low and well adjusted.

This of course is fine. Going slow has a world of benefits, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with dragging around 70 pounds of crap. You never know when you’re going to need a bottom bracket tool, a truing stand, and a rock collection all on the same day.

Likewise, a pack of any size is anathema to many people. In simple terms, they find anything on their back unpleasant and tiring. For others, there’s a contradiction in having a beast of burden and then putting any part of the load on yourself, to which I say, ride as you see fit. If you want to go faster, moving the weight onto your back will do that. It may make riding totally miserable; it certainly hasn’t for me. What makes riding miserable for me isn’t a little extra work or discomfort. It’s averaging 7 mph over a ten-hour day.

That is misery.

And by the way, don’t scoff at the speed. Unlike the fake bike computers that measure “moving time” (can one of you physics-inclined folks explain to me what “stopped time” is?), I calculate speed the old-fashioned way: Take the distance, divide it by how long it took me to get from Point A to Point B, and that’s my speed. One-hour lunch break? Oh, well. Flat tar? Oh, well. Shutter moment overlooking a gorge? Oh, well.

Combine a true mph with long hours and big miles and suddenly how fast the bike goes really matters. Three or four mph over 10 hours is massive, and if I can get that with no net increase in exhaustion, well, I’ll take it.

Which isn’t to say that a heavy pack doesn’t eventually result in tired back muscles. But guess what? Riding a donkey bike for ten hours eventually results in tired leg muscles. The difference is that one goes faster, handles better, requires less equipment, militates towards carrying less junk, and allows you to ride a wider variety of surfaces at different speeds. And don’t even get me started about changing a flat with fully loaded panniers.

Best of all, the fatigue in the shoulders, neck, and lower back goes away minutes after the pack comes off, and they are fresh as a daisy the following day. Wish I could say that for my legs when pedaling the donkey.

Nothing is perfect, of course. A heavy pack presses down on your crotch, and for some people that’s a deal-breaker. However, people have been using the bugaboo of erectile dysfunction for decades as a reason to scare men away from cycling, and until I see a peer-reviewed, double-blind, randomized clinical trial showing that cycling with a heavy pack takes the lead out of my pencil, I’m not buying any of it. I still remember back in the 80s when some quack announced that riding bikes would put paid to your sex life. Thousands of men quit riding; I had three kids.

To date I’ve only got about 500 miles of riding with a loaded pack. That’s not much, and it’s not conclusive, either. The older I get, the less bearable it may become. More realistically, what works in and around town may not work at all when cross-town becomes cross-country.

But what’s the fun of riding if you can’t figure things out for yourself?


64 thoughts on “Back? Or pack?”

  1. Time to re-read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
    Steel bike, rim brakes, low trail (allowing neutral handling with a load up front)
    Repairable. Durable tech. Friction shifting even.
    bye bye to carbon fibre. One trap you have already is a workaround to not break the frame a second time.

    1. I’m not sure that these things make a difference except to the person who enjoys old things for the sake of having old things. I don’t see a reason to get rid of a perfectly workable and repairable bike, go out and buy a retro rig, in the hope that it will be better. A lot of improvements in bicycles since the days of steel are exactly that.

      1. you wrote quite a bit about problem brakes, you were lucky to find a carbon repair guy. Independent you will be till you NEED the next bike shop with a savvy mechanic.
        How much absolute performance was gained in using a carbon bike?
        I assert if you had used toeclips and straps, and even left them loose you would have been way ahead with tiny inconvenience.
        And better safety. My son even reluctantly arrived to that conclusion.

        Leaving the Church of Carbon does not mean becoming a retrogrouch.

        1. Disc brakes are amazing when they work … but ditching them need not mean a new bike. Mechanical disk and caliper brakes are an easy and cheap replacement. Cracked seat stays was caused by cracked owner. Repaired stays are now stronger than when the bike came out of the factory. Toe clips and straps are inconvenient and bruise my toenails; my flat tennis shoes worked great and didn’t require a spare pair of shoes.

          Independence is a myth and I’m not chasing it. One buddy told me about not being able to get a replacement tire in Vietnam and having to search through a stack of 500 tires in a warehouse before finding one that fit. Touring isn’t about freedom or independence in an absolute sense, it’s about not relying on cars/planes/buses and using a bike instead, with whatever mechanical mishaps occur along the way.

          My broken seat stays resulted in the most serendipitous event of the entire trip, a friendship, and access to a wealth of touring knowledge by a world-class rider. It also resulted in a crazy bike ride through the Bay Area which would have never happened otherwise, not mention getting to pedal out of town with Vlad.

          I have enjoyed my carbon bikes. They have never failed me, although I have failed them. One of my favorite bikes, a Picchio Rigida, had a defective dropout, hardly something you can get fixed on the fly even though the frame was steel.

          Same with the various people and shops who helped me along the way. I met good people and was the beneficiary of a lot of kindness. That’s a lot more meaningful than having perfect equipment that never fails, or that can all be repaired with a bit of baling wire, duct tape, spit, and bubble gum. Fact is that shit breaks. How you fix it and continue on is where the story happens, at least for me.

          Another example: I had ongoing derailleur and brake issues until I let Dan Melkonian look at it. The derailleur never balked again and he got the rear brake working perfectly. The front one had a broken thingy in the whatchamacallit, but there’s a lot to be said for letting “amateur” mechanics take a stab at it, especially when they’re better than most “professional” ones. Or this: The guy I met outside a bike shop in Bellingham who offered to take my bike home and replace the brakes with a new set of mechanical disc brakes he was saving for his new bike build.

          I could go on … but it’s not really about the bike. It’s about the people. Right?

          1. be careful, that Lance guy claimed it was not about the bike, and he was correct… just not how most expected.
            Don’t extend my suggestion of clips and straps beyond that, I commute with sailing shoes, tennis shoes to most folk. Would prefer a stiffer sole for an all day ride, but cleats or full on cycling shoes are limiting off the bike.

            I think there may be a happy medium, distributing the load between a backpack and the bike could be a reasonable alternative.

  2. Excellent analysis! How about the handling of one vs. the other in strong crosswinds? Seems like the backpack would be more likely to tip over.

    1. I’ve had no issues with that; the panniers are incredibly non-aerodynamic and literally act as rear parachutes, catching even small wind and making it harder to pedal. The main problem with the backpack Is comfort. You have to either already have, or be willing to develop, stronger postural muscles, and the pack has to be positioned to minimize pulling on your shoulders/neck. Packing the pack is also important, as the location of heavier items up top improperly loads the weight. Bottom line is that there is no perfect way to carry crap on a bike, you just have to find what works with you and what you’re trying to achieve. Many tourists are totally happy to poke along as long as they can carry all the gear they need. Racing bike packers carry hardly anything. There’s a happy medium there for everyone, including people who simply sag the whole trip with a follow car.

  3. I am neither a mechanical engineer nor a physicist; however, your analysis of weight on the bicycle versus weight on one’s back seems erroneous to me. The amount of energy needed to accelerate a mass should be constant irrespective of where the mass is located. This is not to deny that your perception of the energy needed varies.

    In re handling of a loaded bicycle: Years ago (45!) I toured for a few days with rear rack and panniers. That made my bicycle very unstable and borderline dangerous — a tendency of the front end to oscillate at any speed above about 10 mph. Subsequent loaded touring I did with a lowrider rack in addition to a rear rack. That completely transformed the handling making 40 mph+ descents a pleasure rather than a terror.

    That’s my $.02. That brings me up to $3.03 for the month—still a bargain.

    1. The amount of energy needed to accelerate the two masses is the same all things being equal, but the moment of inertia requires more or less force depending on the location of the mass, even though the total energy requirement is the same. So the question becomes, what will the source of the energy be? For the cyclist this is the critical question.

      The 300-lb. rider on the 20-lb. bike has a much smaller moment of inertia and needs less energy to turn the crank. Even though the total energy needed to move the bike and the rider is the same as for the 150-lb. rider and the 170-lb. bike, it’s vitally different when the bulk of the mass is your body, which can engage its entire musculature to generate energy, as opposed to when the bulk of the mass is the bike, which generates no energy on its own and requires the 150-lb. rider to come up with the wattage to propel the 170-lb. bike. The masses may be the same but they function differently because the one mass is a human with muscles which can be brought to bear, and the other mass is a lump of carbon/steel/alloy/stuff.

      It’s not simply a matter of perspective. Try to pedal a loaded 60-lb. bike. Then shift 40 pounds to your back. You will absolutely need less force to get the bike going. This is because the load bearing is now being done by additional muscles, the postural muscles, which reduces the amount of work dumped off on the quads and hamstrings. For initial acceleration, having the weight over the pedals instead of down around the hubs probably increases the leverage over the pedal.

      There’s another issue, that of “all other things being equal,” which they of course are not. That “other thing” is wind resistance. The bike with front and rear panniers and handlebar bag creates tremendous wind drag even though the weight is the same were you to simply transfer the weight to your back. That wind drag demands much greater force in the real world to accelerate and maintain speed, even though on a blackboard, in a vacuum, the two masses should not require different energy inputs.

      Putting all the weight on back panniers can badly affect handling as you describe, although I didn’t have that especial problem. My issues were trying to make a heavy bike behave like a light one: responsive, quick, able to turn quickly, hop over obstacles, safely lean when I dismounted, and mostly, not wobble like a wounded elephant when the speed dropped to 3-4 mph in soft sand and/or on bitterly steep climbs.

      My bike now rides faster and handles better without the weight than with … but your ride may vary!

      1. Seth,

        Paul, in my humble analysis has a valid point. I’ll try and outline my thoughts below.

        Assumption 1: The total weight on the bike is the same for paniers and back packs.

        Assumption 2: The riders position doesn’t change regardless of paniers and backpack so his weight remains constantly spread between the seat, pedals and handle bars.

        Weight Distribution across the wheels.
        Weight distribution, front to back plays and important role. With rear paniers the weight of the load is clearly over the rear wheel. As you say, Seth, the rear wheel is the driven wheel and subject to acceleration from the effort of the rider.

        1. With the weight of the load on the paniers the force that weight exhibits downward on to the driven wheel is very large. Let’s say close to a 100% of weight is on the driven rear wheel. This load weight is added to the weight of the rider. In other words, most of the loads weight is over the back wheel and very little is transferred to the front wheel.

        2. When you wear a backpack on your back and remove paniers you have effectively move the weight forward on the frame. Your hips are over the seat which is well forward of the panier location. In this case the weight of the load is now distributed more evenly across the front and rear wheels. Let’s say for this argument that now 60% is on the rear wheel and the remaining 40% is now on the front wheel.

        Under these two scenarios you can now see that when you look at acceleration of the driven rear wheel that scenario #2 will allow for faster acceleration.

        As an excellent cyclist once told me, “cycling is basically a series of accelerations.”

        I would also suspect the handling may improve due to more front wheel load when wearing a backpack.

        And lastly, to wrap up, I would expect it to be much harder for a rider going up hill to get out of the seat with a back pack and the climb to be more unstable as the weight is held higher above the body and the back muscles strained more when moving out of the seta when wearing a back pack.

        OK, that is my two cents on the topic so you now have an extra $0.04, Seth 🙂

        The math of cycling will tell you how it works but speaks nothing to the fun of exploration and challenge on oneself.

        1. One thing you are absolutely correct about is climbing with a backpack It is more unstable and because you are now lifting the backpack with each pedal stroke as your body cannot remain perfectly still but moves from side to side, you are effectively doing leg presses as you climb. Exhaustion sets in quickly, which means you either keep doing it to get stronger or you learn to climb seated.

          My weight limit for climbing out of the saddle with a pack is about 35 pounds. More than that and it is very unstable and tiring. However, under 35 pounds, and especially anything in the 20-25-lb. range, is comfortable and easily accommodated. Again, a matter of personal preference.

          Climbing with panniers is total hell and there’s no good way to do it, although on the very steepest climbs standing out of the saddle and throwing yourself all the way forward gives pretty good leverage on the pedals. I’ve climbed local pitches such as Forrestal/Ganado with a pack; it’s doable. Not fun, but doable.

          With regard to the difference in speed and acceleration, I think you’re overlooking what happens when more leg muscle is freed up to propel the bike by shifting the weight from the bike to your postural muscles.

          Your back, spine, and abdomen are super pro at holding shit up and they do work bearing the load that was previously done by the bike, distributing the work that has to be done from the legs exclusively to these other, highly fatigue-resistant muscles.

          Moreover, adding front panniers and other trappings further increases wind resistance. The tale of the tape is ultimately speed (easily measured) and exhaustion (less precise but we all pretty much know when we’re wrecked and when we aren’t.)

          More important than the theory is of course the practice. I’ve been lucky to be able to ride with rear panniers over 3,600 miles, including long, sometimes steep, often challenging climbs over a period of weeks. My conclusion after short and imperfect testing is that the bike goes faster without them, even when the weight is transferred to my back.

          And you are right about the fun of exploration, not to mention getting to read a lot of different approaches to the same problem.

          1. Seth,

            The reason “you feel leg muscles are freed up” is because of the reason I stated.
            The driven rear wheel requires less input energy for the same acceleration when the mass is moved forward. Hence your legs muscles output less energy to get going, or you get going much quicker for a given exertion.

            And, we all know when we are on a bike and we get going quickly how fun that feels.

            1. Perhaps, if there were no such thing as wind resistance, if the panniers didn’t act as parachutes, and if the energy the postural muscles were expended could somehow be accounted for with the number “zero.” The rear wheel, when the weight is on the bike, might be noticeably easier to get moving if it weighed 3,000 pounds and you were distributing half that weight to the front wheel, but we’re talking about the difference between a few pounds if what you’re really doing is divvying up the weight of two rear panniers into four. In reality, four panniers for the average tourist doesn’t mean two rear panniers lightened so that the weight can be better distributed, it means leaving the rear panniers stuffed and loading up the front panniers with even more junk, ergo heavier bike, ergo harder to start, ergo harder to keep going, ergo slow af.

              If your analysis were correct it wouldn’t make any difference if the weight distribution between rider and bike were 300:20, 150:170, 80:240, etc. As long as the 240-lb. bike was well balanced, the 80-lb. rider would have no more difficulty than the 300-lb. one.

              Most critically, with the weight on the back and not on the bike, in the real world, over several thousand miles, the packs are demonstrably slow, clumsy, and massive wind traps, whereas at least initially the backpack is faster. What better metric than “It goes a lot faster and I’m not nearly as tired”? Theory is awesome. Practice is awesomer.

              1. This is fun 🙂

                I would normally want to meet f2f to discuss further. Drawings would help, also.

                I agree with you my model didn’t take into account wind. That wasn’t its point as I only tried to help convey the benefit of moving mass forward on the bicycle leading to improved acceleration.

                Also, I am not sure about the mechanics that allows a cyclist to use extra muscles when their back is loaded. I suspect that if that were a real phenomena that time trialists would have loads on their backs to help engage the extra power. I will look up that muscle group so I understand it.

                I believe you have experience when getting carbon wheels that acceleration feels much quicker and actually is when you see the data. that is a very small change in weight.

                As I said, coffee and diagrams would be helpful but it is all good, Seth.

                Be well.

                1. I’m not sure why you would put additional weight on your bike or your body in a time trial.

                  The point is not that you should add weight while touring. The point is that you should reduce it, first, and that you should transfer as much of the weight as you can to your back, second.

                  This is because a lighter bike starts quicker and maintains speed with less effort. Why? In part because when you have the weight on your bike, all of the work is being done by your legs. When you have the weight on your back, a big chunk of the work is being done by the muscles listed in my initial post–in fact, these muscles evolved to do exactly that: carry heavy loads.

                  Once those postural muscles are engaged to carry the weight, the legs have more energy to devote to propelling a bike that is lighter, more aerodynamic, that holds its speed more easily, and that handles better. This happens all the time, muscle groups working together to reduce the load on one particular group so that the overall work being done can be executed faster or with less fatigue.

                  I am not sure why the idea of muscle groups complementing each other to go faster on a bike setup that changes the moment of inertia and reduces wind resistance is such a radical idea.

                  But in any event, as you note, it’s a fun discussion.

                  Rather than coffee and drawings, your best bet is to test it yourself. There is no pleasure like proving or disproving something based on your own experience. 3-4 mph and not being completely wrecked after a long ride is a big deal …

          2. “Moreover, adding front panniers and other trappings further increases wind resistance.”

            This shouldn’t be stipulated. Something has to push the air aside so that you can go through it. And if it gently closes that gap behind you, all the better. Without front bags, your legs will be pushing the air. The front bags can be designed properly, and there are companies who’ve actually tunnel-tested their front bags to prove that the system becomes MORE aero with the bags than just with the rider. Once you consider how much a front fairing (and front fenders as well) can reduce air resistance, you can see that not *everything* you mount to the bike is going to slow you down.

  4. According to this logic (“Most of these muscles are Type One fibers and use body fat as a primary source of energy, one of the main reasons they resist fatigue”) I should NEVER get tired!

  5. Let’s try a different approach to this analysis, as Mark has somewhat laid out.

    First, let’s understand that Inertia is a resistance to a change in velocity (known as acceleration) of a mass, so I = mv which if you analyze the units involved, m is measured in kilograms, and v is meters per second, so Inertia is Kilogram meters per second.

    No matter where the weight is on the bike, the total mass of your 320 pound system, and for convenience let’s simply substitute weight for mass, so we can continue with your numbers.

    The resistance to linear movement, or a change in linear acceleration, is the same.

    Now, linear inertia isn’t all that is in play here. You have two wheels in which all the mass of those wheels is constrained to keep changing direction. What does that mean? Velocity is a Vector, meaning it has a magnitude, and it has a direction. In the case of linear movement that direction is in the direction of travel, and the magnitude/amplitude is the speed.

    When you change that velocity, you can changed it in two ways:
    1) You can change the magnitude, or
    2) You can change the direction.

    Thus acceleration is a vector as well, with amplitude and direction. Gravity is a force, that when applied to a body in free fall in a vacuum, produces a constant acceleration of 9.8 meters per second squared in the direction of the center of the earth.

    So, back to the wheel. The mass in the wheel, all of it, is constrained by the axle, when in motion, to keep changing direction, hence a rotating body is always accelerating. Now, since the wheel is rotating, and it’s mass is changing direction, you find yourself in the world of rotating inertia. The moment of Inertia. Now here is the key thing. A moment of Inertia is a rotational concept that applies only to the mass being rotated. So, neither the mass in the panniers, nor the mass in your backpack goes around the wheel, so, the moment of Inertia of the wheel is always the same.

    Now, consider that when you go through a turn, you are changing direction, sooooo, there is a moment of inertia for your entire system in that turn, but again for your entire system, it makes no difference to that moment where the weight is, because the axis of rotation is perpendicular to your direction of travel at any moment.

    So, that really leaves one items that is affected by your analysis, and which Mark has alluded to, and that is where is your Center of Gravity, and how does that affect the handling of the bike.

    Oh wait, let’s go back to linear changes in velocity. You, Seth are mounted on your bicycle in three places: Seat, pedals, and handle bars. The seat providing the stabilizing vertical force to your gravitational downward force. Certainly when you stand on your pedals, you shift those forces to the pedals, and maybe if you could do handstands on the bars, then the handlebars could carry the weight, but that is besides the point.

    However those three connection points also have horizontal forces associated with them. So, when you press down on the pedals and turn the wheels, thus propelling you forward in translation, the bike wants to slide out from underneath you, however, the seat is between your legs, and your hands are wrapped onto the handlebars, and since you are not clipped in, there is friction between the pedal platform, and the bottom of your shoe. All this combines to assure that you move forward, or that you slowdown when the magnitude of the velocity changes. Think about an idiot on a motorcycle who accelerates so fast, that those frictional forces fail to keep him (because you know it’s a him) on the bike, and the bike accelerates out from underneath him.

    So, now we get to some of your analysis that is still pretty valid given my mansplaining. When you put the weight into panniers, attached to the bike, then the mass of the bike becomes higher, and its resistance/Inertia increases, and then the horizontal forces that act on you Seth, to keep you on the bike, are less, so your bodies Inertial resistance to movement change is less. Flip that around, and with the weight on your back, the Inertial resistance of the bike to changes in velocity is lower, however, Seth’s resistance to movement is greater, so the horizontal forces that keep Seth on the bike are greater.

    What role does Center of Gravity play into all this? Mainly it will play out in a couple of ways. As Mark as noted, with the rear pannier approach, your rear wheel carries the lion’s share of the weight, and so you need to be more vigilant about maintaining adequate rear tire pressure so that you get the most life out of that rear tar (Sethism). Shifting the weight forward with the backpack, transfers some of that weight and wear to the front tar. The other shift is whether there is an advantage to having a high center of gravity vs a lower one. I am not going to expound any further, but I think most would agree you want that center of G lower, but, you make some very good points about the ability of the all the muscles in the back to handle loads, and I think those are all perfectly valid points. The high Center of Gravity, simply means, don’t ride no-handed.

    So, in closing, I wonder if you thought about a seating change. The old racing seat is very taint centric. Maybe it’s time to look at spreading the load upon more of your gluteous maximus.


    1. I don’t think your analysis of inertia is correct. If two rolling objects have the same total kinetic energy (weighted bike v. weighted rider), then the object with the smaller moment of inertia has the larger translational kinetic energy and the larger speed. This explains perfectly why the bike accelerates and goes faster when unweighted. It explains perfectly why bike racers try to lighten their bikes, not simply redistribute the bike’s weight.

      The point about muscles is also more than the structural ability of the body to carry heavy loads. It is about how having a completely different set of muscles doing load-bearing work frees up more power in the quads and hamstrings to propel what is now an even lighter and more aerodynamic load. Unless that energy is somehow zeroed out, you are left with more muscles doing more work = more watts = faster bike.

      1. I think, potentially, where the confusion arises, is that the term moment of inertia, is a reference to a rotational paradigm, and not a translational one.

        Moment of inertia applies only to the wheels, and we can include the crankset, as it rotates as well, but we aren’t changing anything in that as well. So, again, there is no moment of inertia change when it comes to translational energy.

        So, I think, and I can certainly be wrong here, that when the Mass of the bike is less, as in no panniers, then it is easier to get the bicycle, itself, moving than if it had the panniers. So you can “Feel” the bike wanting to go. However, the bike also has to move you, Seth and pack, forward, so it exerts a force in the direction of travel, and you, Seth and Pack, resist that force with your own combined inertia, which pushes back against the bike. You can probably “feel” that in the interactions between the bike and yourself. I would certainly think you can feel the difference in where the weight lies.

        Energy wise, your total mass/weight is going to require the same amount of input from your legs to get your entire system moving, as well as to raise the potential energy, (read climb) of your entire system when you go up hill.

        I do need to correct something. Momentum is Mass Times Velocity. Inertia in linear terms is Mass Times Acceleration. A body in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an external force. So in a vacuum, once in motion a mass will continue at a constant velocity. To stop or speed up that object, a force has to be applied. Well, the mass of the object will determine how that force reacts on the mass. A greater mass will react less to the force, or better yet, a greater force is required to move the object at greater speed.

        So, the total mass of the system, you, bike, gear is the same. Moments have no place in this discussion. You have to apply a downward force to the pedals to translate that up and down energy into rotational energy which is carried by the chain to the wheel, which reconverts that energy into translational energy at the point where the wheel touches the ground. Nothing about that energy transfer has anything to do with where your gear is.

        It has been awhile since I ever had to think about these things. I wish I had had more discussions with my professors back in the day, because my department had all the tools and skills to be involved in the revolution that overtook cycling in the years that followed. That, was an opportunity missed.


        1. Yes, it’s all about moment of inertia. As you say, removing the panniers makes the bike start faster and with less energy. That’s because the moment of inertia has changed. Your next point, that this is equalized because the weight has simply shifted to the rider, is where we differ.

          If the weight were simply shifted to another inert object incapable of expending energy and doing work, the bike would not go any faster. But once the weight goes onto your back, you engage a set of muscles that are doing nothing when the weight is all on the bike. On the bike, the only thing that can propel the weight is your legs. These fatigue quickly and are limited in size and number.

          Once the postural muscles begin expending energy to carry the weight, your legs have additional energy to propel the bike that they were hitherto using to propel the bike and carry the weight. You use more muscles for the task at hand so you go faster.

          Most telling, the actual act of riding with panniers v. riding with a pack results in more speed and less exhaustion. The typical bikepacking setup is no panniers, as few items as possible on the bike, and a small backpack. As Deb says, your shit minus water should equal the weight of the unloaded bike.

          1. It is not my intention to deny what you feel. I am just caught up in the terminology, and when It comes to terminology, moment of inertia doesn’t apply to your situation because moment of inertia is rotational, and your situation is translational in two directions forward and up/down.

            When I was in engineering dynamics/statics classes the thing we always did was draw a free body diagram and indicate where all the forces are. Every force is a vector with components in all directional space. For this discussion, it’s safe to consider only horizontal and vertical forces.

            I didn’t factor wind into anything I said before because it is simply easier to think about the problem without wind, but wind only affects your horizontal progress, whether you are aided or hindered doesn’t really matter.

            I think I agreed with you that fatigue in the muscle groups could be different. It’s been a long time since I rode with panniers, so I really do forget what it feels like, but I accept that there is a different feel to your problem here. I am just hung up on the reasons, story behind the difference, and you have certainly sparked one hell of a discussion.

            1. Most importantly, why tf does WordPress keep putting you in spam jail? Are you hanging out with Darrel again? I’ve already had to spring him twice even after going through the WP parole board process.

              If turning the crank isn’t rotational force, what is it? I don’t see how you can explain the motion of a turning crank as up-and-down rather than as rotational force, ergo moment of inertia well explains the phenomenon of unweighted bike pedaling easier than weighted bike.

              As much as I wish I could take credit for sparking the discussion, I’ve basically been led by the nose by a girl who has patiently walked me through the physiology/physics, then helped me design the right backpack setup, then ridden with me using various configurations to test the differences.

              Some of her observations: “It sucks having you ride with a backpack because now you are flying.”

              “When you ride with panniers your movements are unpredictable and I have to keep a big gap off your rear wheel. With a backpack your pedaling motion, body motion, and bike handling are identical to when you are dressed up in a clown suit and riding #fakefast.”

              “Taking riding advice from a woman isn’t any fun, is it?”

              1. Of course I have to reply. Ha!! Spam Jail I hope someone courtesy flushes before I get there.

                So here is the deal with the crank. You are correct in observing that the crank is rotational. However look at your legs as pistons. Effectively your feet are traveling up and down in vertical translation. Again you aren’t clipped in, so any horizontal forces you apply during pedal motion have to be less than the force of friction or your foot would fly off the pedal. So really all the force on the pedals is translational linear forces. Because the pedals are attached to a wheel, you create rotational action which transfers the energy to your chain, then to the cassette, and then through the three or four doohickies inside the cassette, drive the hub which turns the rear wheel which intersects the ground and forward you go.

                Now, no where in that description is the mass of you or your gear, no matter where it sits, involved. So while there is a Moment of inertia in the wheel, and one in the crank, their values are unaffected by anything on the bike.

                So, I have no beef with your observation, and that of your lovely riding partner that carrying your weight is better than putting it on the bike. I am simply calling out “Dodgy” (a term used by the English to politely tell you, that they aren’t buying your argument), with regards to the “Why” it feels that way wrt the physics involved in the bike itself.

                Keep experimenting.

                Let’s add a little more fodder. Depending on where you ride, our discussion has been about straight line motion and on the road, where is the road ever all that straight. I know, out west there are some. Pretty Damn straight sections of roadway, but let’s ignore those for a moment.

                As I have said, moment of inertia applies to mass in rotation around an axis. Any change in the direction of Seth, bike and gear is, even small changes, operates around some axis point. Now, analyzing that, riding a bike, is all about the micro adjustments that your brain makes while you ride. Think about the first time you rode your bike on your summer journey without the gear. Your brain was tuned into the adjustments of having the gear and now there was none. You had to learn to ride without the gear. You had to retrain. The point here is to acknowledge that you make micro adjustments all the time to ride a bike in a straight line. That is work. Put a load on the bike, and depending on where that load is, will affect just how much you have to adjust. It may be that load on the bike, heavy adjustments, where as load on back, not so heavy adjustments. If your adjustments are not so heavy, that can Imply less work.

                I don’t know the answer. But I am pretty certain it isn’t moment of inertia, but I will keep investigating.


                1. I love this, Eric! Physics is my jam. And you keep spreading the peanut butter. Or something.

                  Also happy to be spending so much time in WP Spam Jail with you…. again. We should have our own private jail discussion group.

                  Where’s my soap gone again?!

                2. Eric is correct here. “Moment of intertia” has nothing to do with the linear acceleration of you, the bike, and the cargo, but moving the cargo from the bike to your back will change the horizontal coupling forces between the bike and you, the rider. Seth, you’re obviously free to use whatever load-carrying strategy you desire, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that carrying the load on your back is somehow decreasing the force necessary to accelerate a given mass at a given rate, or the amount of energy that will have to be converted from stored chemical potential energy within your body to kinetic energy in the moving mass of you, the bike, and the cargo.

                  As for the rotating cranks and wheels: Take the chain off the chainrings and “flick” the cranks with one finger. Observe that the cranks spin up to a typical cadence with _very_ little force or energy input. That’s all the force or energy that is ever needed to overcome the crank’s moment of inertia. Perform the same sort of experiment with your wheels: lift the wheel off the ground and spin it with one finger. That’s all the force or energy that’s required to impart that much angular momentum to the wheel. It’s negligible. When you stomp on the pedals when riding the _vast_ majority of that effort is going into the linear acceleration of the bike/rider/cargo mass, increasing the gravitational potential energy of the bike/rider/cargo mass, or overcoming the aerodynamic drag on the bike/rider/cargo.

                  1. Just when I thought it was safe to go back in the water!

                    I don’t think anyone has said that the amount of energy changes, I certainly haven’t. I’ve said the contrary. Since the amount of energy required for a 300-lb. man to move a 20-lb. bike is the same as the energy required for a 150-lb. person to move a 170-lb. bike, why is the one harder than the other?

                    This has sparked a lot of discussion, especially since I concluded that the 300-lb. rider has more muscles and energy to devote to moving the danged thing, and is more aerodynamic than dual parachutes.

                    From there I wondered why a backpack is faster than panniers. Because it is. I have actual data proving this, charted over several thousand miles. The data is real speed–distance traveled divided by the time it takes to get to the destination–and is also what for me is even more meaningful but subjective data: How exhausted I am at ride’s end. A backpack allows you to either ride faster for longer, or it allows you to ride the same distance and not be a fraction as tired. A typical 70-mile day on the donkey bike was exhausting. I knocked out 140 miles on hilly terrain with the backpack setup.

                    This is shocking to some people, none of whom have done the experiment, all of whom have advised me that I’m wrong.

                    My understanding of moment of inertia may be incorrect. I was a history major. However, it appears that the greater the torque required to turn the crank, the greater the moment of inertia. This would seem to explain a phenomenon that I challenge you to try: Not taking off your chain and twiddling the crank with your finger, but putting on 55 lbs. of panniers and then trying to get the bike started, then doing the same thing with a backpack. If this getting started thing isn’t related to the moment of inertia, and the moment of inertia is only an infinitesimally small action that can be calculated by spinning an unchained crank, and it is something that doesn’t change even when the crank is loaded with ten or ten thousand pounds, then mea culpa. But your explanation above doesn’t flesh that out, so I’m standing on my point until corrected. And I suspect I soon will be …

                    Moment of inertia aside, here is my conclusion: When your aerodynamic 45-lb. backpack is being carried by the muscles in your back instead of being laden on your bike, you are bringing more muscles and therefore more energy to the task. Since the amount of energy required is the same regardless of where the weight is placed, my real world experience demonstrates that using postural muscles makes you go faster and tires you out less. It’s kind of like using two arms instead of one to lift a dumbbell. Somehow, the two arms make the dumbbell go up faster and you’re less tired when they get there. Do two legs pedal a bike faster than one?

                    I dunno. Maybe.

                    Or maybe we should stick to Free Men, Free Soil, Free Labor: the Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War. I’m good either way.

                  2. Harry, “Coupled Forces” that is the term I was looking for. Also good example to demonstrate how little energy it takes to overcome the crank and wheels moment of inertia.

  6. Back in the day before I was too old and decrepit to ride, I loved my DeRosa Idol road bike with the light carbon frame. I loved the lightness of the frame, even though there were those that said the total rider+bike weight made the low weight of the carbon frame almost immaterial.

    But riding the bike, I just could not believe that. The frame was light and right there on the bike I could feel that that made a big difference, logic be damned.


    I know that your prolific detractors in this thread are wrong because I could FEEL the difference. May I suggest to them some real-world experience, then explain that.

    1. Right.

      People who are concerned about the weight of their bike and who spend time + money to make them lighter generally conclude that lighter = faster, especially when combined with better aerodynamics. Bikes continue to get lighter because it makes them faster. They do not continue to get heavier because, I think, that makes them slower.

      I believe there is even a category of people intimately invested in the relationship between bike weight and speed called “professional bike racers.” Every gram may not matter, except that the lighter the bike, the more it does. And what’s most interesting is that anyone who thinks that there is no difference between a perfectly balanced, heavy af donkey bike and a very light bike with a backpack can test this immediately and at no cost.

      They can go to the local e-bike dealer and do a test ride with the power turned off, pedaling their 50-60-lb. behemoth along a variety of road surfaces and grades. Then they can take their 20-lb. road bike, put on a 30-40-lb. backpack, and do the same ride in the same conditions, and see which one is easier and faster. Theory is great. Practice is greater.

      1. Just note that in your comparison the un-powered motor drag is a significant factor in making the un-powered e-bike feel dead. MUCH better to test the same bike loaded vs unloaded.

  7. A good rule is not to let your baggage, minus water, outweigh your
    naked bike – Drew Walker, bikepacker extraordinaire

    1. Bryan Kevan, bike tourist badass in his own right, has a similar rule: “Your bike better not be too heavy to carry up the stairs.”

    1. “Let’s go for a fun spin on a 70-lb. bike with a trailer,” is not something you hear often.

    2. I am pretty sure we all have a fond memory of the first time we sat upon a really nice bike and said “Wow! This bike feels like it wants to ride itself. It’s so easy to pedal this”. At least that was my reaction. Heavy bike :(, Light Bike 🙂

  8. Paul Thober has it right and a lot of words and interpretation of bodily sensations will not change the physics of experiments.

    Good on you Seth for trying to prove physics wrong and in the end … it is your deal to live with … so if you like it … physics be damned.

    It would be interesting to see what some ‘measurements’ revealed …. like Watts to provide different speeds with different setups.

    And to arrive at the greatest speed in class there is nothing like competition.

    We need races …. faired conventional bikes (including TT bikes) with panniers vs. backpacks vs. front packs vs trailers and see what wins … fastest speeds with least Watts ….. for hauling 35 to 45 lbs. of camping gear (and other weight classes and cubes)

    New camp gear that folded, nested, and compacted into a denser form factor would be useful for packing/unpacking and reducing aero drag.

    This is probably a small niche market at best … how many long distance cycists do you see on the roads?

    Maybe establish a division in RAAM that is self suporting … no SAG wagons except for safety and observations…..

    …. with a large purse and some media coverage it would be interesting.

    Also we could have ePostal swim type competitions …. ePostal bike for Los Angeles to Austin?

    Or Seattle to Miami? Perhaps it already exists …

    1. I’m not sure why you’re criticizing the use of words to make a point. Arm wrestling is out, for me at any rate. I’m not trying to prove physics wrong. I’m looking for a physical explanation of why heavy bikes with large panniers go slower and take more energy than lighter bikes with the load shifted to the human back.

      I have real world speed data and real world fatigue data that strongly suggest one is faster and easier than the other. You don’t need a bike race to test this theory; you can do it at home with your own bike and your own power meter.

      However, the races you speak of already exist. Bikepacking cross-country races are a big thing, Please take a moment to check out and the way that people riding for speed accommodate their bikes. Guess what? No trailers. No front panniers. No rear panniers.

      Why is that? Are these bike tourists trying to explain away physics with their personal predilections? Or are they seeking to go faster using physics? Where are the panniers? Where is the unconcern with weight? Where are the trailers?

      All of the aero camping equipment you mention has been invented and is in use by competitors; for the most part the eschew stuffing it into panniers.


        Seth wrote in part: No trailers. No front panniers. No rear panniers.

        And no large back pack?

        Do any of these BigSky racers use a backpack too?

        ‘Simplicate and add lightness’ ,,, Bill Stout

        Would be interesting to know which of those three bikes won …. but of course in a race the bike does not win … the rider does … but still would be interesting.

        Except for no fairing on the front of the bike (possibly a racing rule) these setups (those above from BigSky and those below) look fairly aero and some have aerobars for a better relaxed aero position on the bike.

        If using aerobars …. a smallish chest pack is very aero and is supported by your arms on the aero bars with very little effort … same for supporting a small back pack … but a backpack is not nearly as aero according to tests I ran at SD Low Speed Wind Tunnel …. long ago.

        I saw some photos of bikepacking racers without backpacks
        …. and some with very small backpacks.

        I was not aware of these bikepacking races … great place to see real world good ideas for going faster … but you will not be constrained by race rules and so you can improve on their ideas.

        Possibly the reasons we see so few trailers is that nobody has tried it yet with a very light aero trailer towed very close to the bike and inside the bike wake area.

        I have noticed that tandem bikes are fast (on the flats) … sort of like riding on someones wheel … imagine a trailer could likely enjoy that same aero advantage.

        Maybe someone has run that simulation ….

        There are few original ideas it seems.

        You may have heard the phrase ‘the plural of anecdote is not data’. It turns out that this is a misquote.

        The original aphorism, by the political scientist Ray Wolfinger, was just the opposite: The plural of anecdote is data. … Sometimes this person is a scientist, but she also could be a journalist.

        Good luck in your quest …..

  9. This is great fun. In no particular order, a few thoughts come to mind…

    No offense, but we need to get an actual physics major or mechanical engineer to weigh in.

    When (not if) it gets hot you’ll be wanting your load anywhere but on your back.

    Your backpack may feel superior to the high rear panniers you used for your recent trip, but I’ll wait until you compare it to an evenly distributed load with low mounted front and back panniers over a trip of at least two weeks.

    Feeling faster does not always mean actually faster.

    Into the wind a backpack will be fastest.

    For your next trip I would consider leaving the rear rack on your bike and bringing the panniers. Minimal added weight and it gives you the option of moving your load around as your mood suites you each day.

    Going faster doesn’t help if you can only do it for 4 hours a day (see turtle and hare).

    I’m looking forward to your excursion to Texas!

    1. I totally agree that the jury is still out. And that 100 degrees and a backpack might not be fun.

      However, the speed measurements so far are actual. Whether they will be consistent over a period of months is another story.

      And yes to the fun!

  10. Warning. Tangent Ahead.
    I’ve ridden for over 40 years with a large “fanny pack,” in fact a small Jandd lumbar pack. ‘meant I could quit stuffin’ my jersey pockets, carry more shit (not for me, usually for ride mates and doofusses on the road who don’t carry spares, pocket food, or tools), and keep my bottles easily at hand. Jandd still makes lumbar packs, most with stabilizing shoulder straps. They keep the load riding on your iliac crest where your bod wants it, and where it’s also aero ’cause your torso is already frontal area Check ’em out.
    Lowrider front panniers are awesome. A great alternative to rear panniers, affect handling almost not at all. But they do triangulate your fork and create unsprung weight at the front axle which makes sharp bumps like RR tracks annoying. You have to use a wider front tire at lower pressure to compensate, but that actually doesn’t slow you down much. (See Gary Z’s ride vids with Orange). Even loaded my ol’ Rickert still felt fast with LowRiders.
    So I’d suggest LowRiders with a large lumbar pack to appease the “screaming cat.”
    “Bike Packing” has changed the touring dynamic. The old British cycletourist used a seat bag which, even when large a’la Carrimore or Brooks, limited how much stuff he could carry. Then the French pannier, bigger and bigger, became the model for 1970’s touring. Now bikepackers are returning to in-line packing up high on the bike. But how many of the die-hard back country gravel guys are using backpacks? I dunno.
    FWIW, when I carry a lot of weight on my bike, I feel like I have to mash the pedals and “pull” the bike to accelerate. When I carry weight in a backpack and mash the pedals, I feel like the bike “pulls me” forward. All subjective.

    1. Not a tangent. Minimize weight on the bike, find the carrying limit on the back, take the remnant and stick it in a frame bag or a large seat bag. The screamin’ cat is a whole other bucket of oysters!

  11. Please Please choose the backpack ! I want to see someone other then me suffer and pretend how great it is ! 🙂

  12. I don’t know. I want to believe it…how cool is it to arrive (or take a break) and just drop your pack? There will be a huge market for improved backpacks, specifically designed for all the physics involved…

    I followed the career of Nicholas Carman (Gypsy by Trade) who came down from Alaska on a converted Schwinn (drop bars on a mountain bike) with a big Carradice saddle bag. That seemed to work pretty good. Last I heard, he was lost in the Balkans on his custom made bicycle and full custom bikepacking kit.

    His girlfriend (ex, actually) Lael Wilcox won that cross country race, across the United States, unsupported. This was just after she won the Divide race, again, top to bottom unsupported.

    I don’t remember what she carried. Not much.

    That’s what it’s all about. Not having anything to carry. But at what cost? I really like looking at those skillet shots of good food, and those pictures of an idyllic camp site.

    But then I’m not the one pedalling them around, either.

    1. I think if I have to give up cooking fresh camp food and quit pitching a tent by a gurgling brook, I’m going to toss the backpack into a deep ravine and buy a pannier 12-pack.

  13. Gee Seth, you’re right… again! Next, you will find that the most enjoyable tour, er, “life” on a bike will be with one lycrakit including shoe covers and gloves, a pair of flip flops and a tshirt/running short outfit for the pm. Of course, you will need a credit card……smirk🤪

  14. You really should be putting your water bottle in your pocket, too!

    Have fun, however you do it.

  15. Interesting conversation. Now I’m thinking of ditching the front handlebar bag I use on recreational rides and switching to a fanny pack. But then where would I put the words for the songs I sing? “I came here looking for something, I couldn’t find it anywhere else…”

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