Advanced Touring Method Phase Three: Important Designs in Front and Rear Rack/Pannier Systems for High-Performance Touring

“I'd rate them (Robert Beckman Designs) the best-built, most most intelligently designed panniers.”

(Cyclist Magazine)

I have not used front panniers on a tour for many years, but there are trips that I still plan to make in which I may choose to use them.  If I were to embark on an around-the-world trip, knowing that there would be many times that I'd be pressed into carrying additional food and water that could double my gear weight, I would likely begin the trip in Phase Two, but there is some possibility I may begin the trip in Phase Three, which is a setup utilizing ultra-lightweight front and rear racks, and panniers of an advanced, specialized, ultra-lightweight design.  For expedition-oriented trips into arid regions or for touring in remote places in which I've had to carry up to several gallons of water at a time and food for many days, I'd give in to necessity and use a Phase Three approach as well.  I don't own a tandem, and I don't ever plan to tour on one, but tandem touring is also another type of touring that is difficult in which to engage without loading gear on the front and rear of the bike.

Even though this expedition bicycle is set up with front and rear Hummingbird IFT rack/pannier systems, their combined weight is only four pounds. At four pounds they are extremely rigid and stable and have a dramatically higher level of performance than any other racks and panniers.
There are times, even when preparation for a tour is well executed and gear is carefully minimized, that the use of both front and rear panniers is simply difficult to avoid.  But even though a front/rear system is necessary for some types of touring it doesn't mean that there isn't a very high-performance solution.  Phase Three in the Advanced Touring Method, when combined with Advanced Touring Systems racks and panniers, is the easy answer to how to carry a full compliment of touring gear in a way that it has as little impact upon a bike as possible and one that affords much higher levels of efficiency, with dramatically less effort, than with any other combinations of racks and panniers.  An expedition bike that is carefully set up can be one that is often a joy to ride.  It can be an absolute thoroughbred that doesn't have to be turned into a pack mule.

Gearing-up for expedition-oriented touring or a world-rounder doesn't have to mean carrying 50 or 60 pounds of gear.  With careful gear selection and modification my gear for an around-the-globe trip adds up to about 17-plus pounds, and to that there would be times when traveling in remote areas, that I'd have to include the weight of additional food, fuel and water above normal amounts.   To my regular gear list, which adds up to 13.45 pounds of gear, I'd add a spare tire, spare tube, a few more tools (modified to weigh as little as possible), another spare pair of socks, an additional T-shirt, the hood from my expedition down parka to give me a bit more warmth on cold nights, a slightly heavier down sweater or jacket (possibly), a beefed-up medical kit with water purification and I might switch from my down sleeping bag to a very lightweight synthetic-fill bag.

My approach would be in great contrast with the couple that I read about in our local paper recently.  They have just returned from a 21,000 kilometer trip in which they both started out on mountain bikes carrying between 50 and 60 pounds of gear loaded into front and rear panniers.  It's not just that they traveled with so much more gear than I would, they were also equipped in a radically different way that would have always made riding very difficult, and clearly punishing at times.  I looked at the photos in the article and I could see in their gear-carrying systems, the amount of weight that they were carrying and overly wide, heavy tires (with a very inefficient tread design) that their travels would have often been agonizingly hard.  I know the panniers, which are typical of all panniers sold through bicycle stores, that they used quite well.  The panniers have a poor, unstable mounting system, no compression system, no fore/aft or lateral gear loading/distribution system, and they are very heavy.  There is absolutely nothing in the design of the heavy, unstable racks and panniers they chose that relates to even a modest level of load-carrying performance.  As I observed the photos of the panniers bulging out 8 or 9 inches from their racks, with no design to control gear, and thought about an everyday load of 50 pounds or 60 pounds, which would grow considerably at times, I could easily see how demoralizing it could be to travel day-in and day-out on such bikes.  There's a much easier way.  Actually, I'd have to say more accurately, that there is a radically easier way to travel.

The Importance of Rack / Pannier Weight Reduction

In Phase One and Two I discussed gear selection and the general placement of gear in two different gear-carrying configurations on a touring bike.  But I haven't focused yet on the critical role that the design of racks and panniers has in touring bicycle performance, or of how to very effectively carry touring gear on a bicycle.  Carrying even very heavy amounts of gear extremely well, so that it has very little impact on the riding quality of a bicycle, all gets down to the precise location of touring gear in panniers, on racks and on a touring bike, and the ability of racks and panniers to stabilize gear loads in an extremely solid, movement-free way. 

To illuminate how to set up a bicycle in an optimum way using front and rear panniers, I'll detail some of the crucial rack/pannier designs that contribute to high levels of stability, and the various important design elements that relate to gear loading and weight distribution within panniers.  To define some of the design features of rack/pannier systems that enhance the riding and handling characteristics of a touring bicycle, I'll describe how I design, and would set up the racks and panniers on a bicycle for an around-the-world trip as well as a tandem for long-distance touring.  For describing the carrying of gear on the single expedition bike I'll simply use my own compliment of gear (17 pounds plus a dozen extra pounds of food and water) as an example of a high-performance setup, and for the tandem I'll use 35-40 pounds as a moderate or median amount (25 pounds being a low end for high-performance tandem touring and 60 pounds a high-end amount) of gear to provide some insights into becoming well-equipped, in terms of rack/pannier systems, to carry gear on a long tandem tour.

Two different types of Hummingbird panniers are mounted to this bicycle. The ultra-lightweight Hummingbird 18 IFT panniers, with their unique internal frames, and the panniers which I would use in my example of setting up a tandem bicycle, are mounted to the rear rack. The Hummignbird 16 RP panniers, a few ounces per pair heavier, and the model that I would use in an example of Phase Three touring method for an expedition touring bike, are mounted to the front rack. Both types of panniers reflect very advanced designs that are a fundamental part of Phase Three touring in the Advanced Touring Method.

There is a lot of similarity in setting up bicycles for tandem touring and for expedition-oriented touring on single bikes in Phase Three.  In fact, the same types of racks and panniers could easily be used on both an expedition bike and a tandem.  The only required difference between the two is in direct relation to the amount of gear that would be carried.  There can be, at times, nearly twice as much touring gear used in tandem touring and therefore tandem panniers often need to be about twice as large.  But I'll describe setting up an expedition-oriented bike carrying some additional food and water so that it will require panniers that are more similar in size to those set up for tandem touring.  To present some ideas as to how expedition and tandem bicycles can be set up for high-performance touring, I'm going to briefly describe equipping each of the bicycles up with racks and panniers from my Hummingbird lines of products.  But just to make things a little bit more comprehensive, I'll describe the use of a different version of the panniers on each of the bicycles.  To set up the single expedition bike in my example, I'll use the Hummingbird RP panniers, which are ultra-lightweight panniers of a conventional design with a rear aluminum-plate stiffener (dual- or triple-relieved).  For equipping the tandem I'll use the ATS Hummingbird IFT panniers, which have tubular-aluminum internal frames and are even more lightweight.  

Each element in the description of rack/pannier design represents a distinct performance advantage.  Little by little the advantages in design add up, and up.  The performance sum of these rack/pannier features, when they are combined with  the overall performance of a bicycle that has highly efficient wheels, will help develop a bicycle that is extremely smooth and efficient for its type of touring bicycle.  There are many rack/pannier system design features that contribute to high levels of performance, but the primary ones that I'll focus on are in the great reduction of rack/pannier weight, a great increase in rack/pannier stability, and a highly pronounced increase in the effectiveness of rack/pannier designs that relate to the precise loading and the distribution of gear within panniers, and on a bicycle.  These features are generally not present in almost all rack and pannier designs.  Because they are almost entirely exclusive to my products, they are not recognized or understood, or are completely overlooked by touring cyclists, but they all in their own way have a very important impact in the design of high-performance touring bicycles.

Touring racks are the foundation of carrying gear on a touring bicycle.  How well they are designed ultimately sets the tone for how effectively gear may be carried and of how well a touring bike will handle.  In high-performance touring the racks need to be as lightweight as possible, but they must be much more.  They cannot merely be lightweight.  High-performance touring is all about an optimum weight matched with optimum performance.  Therefore racks must have a high level of rigidity, through triangulation and reinforcement, and dependability.  It is crucial that they have a side platform design that includes a very clear-cut, pannier-specific design to develop extremely stable pannier mounting.  It is very important that the racks have a top platform design that is very narrow to move loaded panniers as close to the centerline of the bike as possible, and that most effectively allows gear on top of the rack to be mounted in a lengthwise orientation.  High-performance racks are designed to maximize their fore/aft orientation as they are mounted to the bike frame and fork, through custom mounting, to aid in locating touring gear as precisely as possible.

There are many ways in which rack weight may be reduced without undermining rack performance. The custom fitting of racks, like the rear rack in the photo, helps in reducing rack weight. So does utilizing the structure of the bike frame itself, or pannier structure, like that of pannier internal frames, in the design of the racks to help minimize the materials in racks while maintaining a high level of rack rigidity. Minimizing the amount of materials in the top and side platforms of racks, through careful design, also helps reduce the weight of racks. Reducing rack weight through design is more critical in many ways than reducing rack weight through the use of materials. Minimizing rack weight is an important part of Phase Three design
If I were to set off on an around-the-world trip I would most definitely include, within the wide assortment of gear for the trip, custom-fit racks for my bicycle.  I would try to optimize each component for the expedition, and custom-fit racks are the optimum choice among racks.   A custom-fit attachment design reflects the best combination of the lowest weight, highest rigidity, dependability and simplicity.  My goals in choosing racks for expedition-oriented touring would be to select racks that are extremely lightweight, but that are also as complete in their design as they can be relative to the conditions in which they will be used. The Hummingbird Tandem High-Mount Front rack (short top-platform version) and the Hummingbird Tandem Rear rack, in a custom-fit version would be my choices among racks.  I'd build the racks as lightweight as possible, but I would definitely include in their design, because I know that at times I'd have to carry substantial amounts of extra food and water, very small corner bracing (the tubular braces only weigh four grams apiece) in the upper rear part of the racks.  The tandem versions of the Hummingbird IFT racks provide the widest spacing of mounting system fittings (8” top and 5.5” bottom) and would be the best fit for such a tour.  Set up for an expedition, the front rack in its custom-fit form, weighs about 13.25 ounces and the Hummingbird Tandem/Expedition rear rack (with a longer top platform and wider lower mounting-fastener spacing than in the Standard version of the rack) is about 13.75 ounces.     

For a tandem tour I'd set a tandem up with similar racks, but not exactly the same.  I'd lengthen the top platform of the front high-mount rack a couple of inches to better accommodate mounting a very lightweight sleeping bag and pad in a lengthwise orientation.  Just to present a slightly different approach, I'd select the Hummingbird IFT Tandem High-Mount Front rack with a Pivotmount attachment mechanism.  Among all of the Hummingbird racks it is the heaviest, but it is still extremely lightweight for a tubular steel rack that is very rigid and provides extraordinary pannier mounting stability.  It weighs about 15.5 ounces, and I would absolutely include small corner bracing in its construction.  I'd take the same approach with the rear rack, using a Pivot-mount attachment and corner bracing as well as strap guides in its construction.  It would weigh about 15 ounces and would perform in a radically different dimension compared with any other racks.

A Hummingbird IFT Front High-Mount rack with a highly adjustable Pivot-Mount attachment mechanism.
I cannot overstate the fact that optimum, practical weight is not the lowest potential weight.  I've built many racks that are much lighter in weight than the ones that I would select for expedition-oriented touring, like a world-rounder, or for tandem touring.  I would never use my mid-mount front racks, which weigh less than nine ounces as they do not provide adequate ground clearance for riding with long panniers.  I most definitely would not use the extremely strong types of aluminum front racks that I've built (that weigh less than six ounces) because I know that in expedition-oriented touring the chances of crashing and breaking a rack are far greater.  Even in the far corners of the world, finding the means of fixing a steel rack is far easier than repairing an aluminum one.

Well-designed and very lightweight racks are a very critical part of Phase Three design and methodology.  They will potentially reduce the weight of a touring bicycle by about one to three pounds and will dramatically, through careful design that is conducive to greater rack/pannier stability, improve the handling characteristics of an expedition or tandem touring bicycle.

I've talked a lot about the importance of carefully trimming touring-gear weight as much as possible.  If you'd like your touring bike to be exciting to ride, and handle as well as possible, it is equally important to reduce the weight of panniers to their lowest practical amount.  At the same time they must be extremely stable and be quite durable for trips that may take months or even years.  In a way that can be a tall order as low weight can be contradictory to durability and high stability, but all are present in both the Hummingbird IFT and RP panniers.  The Hummingbird IFT panniers that I would set a tandem up with may weigh as little as 18 ounces per pair, but the large capacity Hummingbird IFT Modular Transit panniers that I would use as an example as a rear pannier for a long-distance tandem tour, weigh 30 ounces per pair.  They are quite complex in their design, with their unique removable pockets, and are the heaviest of the Hummingbird IFT models.   However, they are still extraordinarily lightweight compared with conventionally designed panniers for tandem touring that can easily weigh six pounds per pair, or more, while functioning at a very low level due to a lack of design (highly effective mounting and compression systems, load supports and precise gear-location designs etc.).  For the front of the tandem I'd use a companion pair of Hummingbird IFT panniers that have a single lateral compartment (SLC) and weigh about 21 ounces.

Even the very complex design of the Hummingbird 18 Modular Transit panniers that would function superbly on the rear of a tandem, are extraordinarily lightweight. They weigh about 30 ounces per pair, yet are extremely stable and are designed to be long and narrow for tandem touring.
I'd set an expedition bike up with Hummingbird RP Sojourn models front and rear.  Having a very good idea of the volume of gear that I would need to carry, I would design the panniers to be extraordinarily narrow.  The Hummingbird RP panniers, with their dual- and triple-relieved aluminum plate stiffeners, opposed to the IFT models with tubular internal frames, are by virtue of their design a bit heavier model per model.  But they are still remarkably lightweight.  The front panniers would be 2.0” wide and the rear 3.25” wide, from the rack outward.  In terms of their length, the front pair would be the 16” model and the rear would be the 18” version of the panniers.  Either version of the panniers is very, very lightweight: the front 16" panniers tip the scales at 25.5 ounces and the rear expedition panniers weigh about 30.5 ounces.

Well-designed, exceptionally lightweight panniers are an integral part of Phase Three design, as weight at the ends of a bicycle is where its impact on performance is the most severe, and are a very easy way of getting rid of six or eight totally useless pounds (or even more) on an expedition bicycle, or tandem-touring bike, when they replace conventionally designed panniers.  A common front/rear combination of tandem or expedition panniers can easily weigh a total of 10 or 12 pounds.  Some combinations of panniers that I build for touring tandems and expedition bicycles weigh less than 2.5 pounds.  Intelligently designed panniers make a very significant contribution, weight-wise, to touring-bike performance.

The Importance of Pannier Dimensions

These Hummingbird 18 IFT panniers are designed to place gear as low as is practical. Designing the panniers to be long also allows them to be as narrow as possible. They provide about 9" of ground clearance.
When loading a touring bicycle it is very important to keep all gear as close to racks and the lateral center-line of the bicycle as possible.  The longer panniers are, the more narrow they may be relative to their overall size.  The panniers that I would use on a tandem would be Hummingbird 18 IFT panniers front and rear.  Both are 18” long, which is quite long.  The expedition would be set up with Hummingbird 16 RP panniers (16” long) up front and Hummingbird 18 RP panniers on the rear rack.  The long panniers ensure that gear can be loaded as low as is practically possible, which is especially important as neither bike in my examples will have low-mount racks.

I design panniers as narrow as 2" deep from the rack outward. By designing them to be wide, from front to rear, and long, from top to bottom, they will be as narrow as possible to keep gear close to the center-line of the bicycle.
Because I would know beforehand the amount of gear to be carried in the panniers, and knowing that I generally want the panniers to be as long as possible, I can calculate how large they must be, overall, and how wide that they will need to be from the rack outward.  I'd want to custom-design the panniers keeping them as narrow as possible.   Given the reduced amount of gear that would be carried, the panniers on both bicycles may be quite narrow, especially on the front racks to reduce their frontal area into the wind and to keep the weight of gear as close to the wheel as possible.

On the expedition bike the Hummingbird RP panniers would only be 2” wide, but they certainly don't need to be any wider.  Even at that width I could easily put a gallon of water in each pannier or a lot of extra food and gear.  The rear RP panniers on the expedition bike would be a very narrow 3.25”, and given their length they would be quite adequate, size-wise, for carrying all of my gear and food on any segment of a world-rounder.  The front Hummingbird 18 Solo panniers of the tandem would only be 3” wide, but as an option I could also make the panniers in a modular version in which add-on pockets may be zipped to the panniers to increase their carrying capacity, giving them an overall width of 4.75” to provide greater gear-carrying potential for times on tours that it would be required.  The zip-on, zip-off pockets provide a lot of flexibility in packing for various types of tandem trips.  The Hummingbird 18 IFT Modular Transit panniers that I would choose for the rear of the tandem are also 4.75” wide from the rack outward, with their inside compartments (closest to the rack) being only 3.25” wide, which is as narrow as I can make the inner compartment of the panniers and still accommodate my cooking pot.  In such a combination of panniers, almost all the weight of gear mounted to the tandem would be within 3” of the racks, or less, when the compression straps cinch gear inward.  Virtually all other panniers on the market a much wider.

Important Rack Designs

By always placing gear on top of a rear rack in a longitudinal orientation, the top platform of the rack may be very narrow, which moves gear loaded in panniers closer to the center-line of the bicycle. The top platform of this Hummingbird rack is 2.5" wide. 2.5" may seem quite narrow, but it is not. Top platforms need not be wide. To use top platforms effectively, never place gear, like sleeping bags, tent poles and foam sleeping pads across the rack. Strap such items very tightly together before attaching them to the top of a rack with straps. Never use bungee cords, as they are very heavy, clumsy and don't allow gear to be attached nearly as solidly as is possible with the use of nylon straps.
Another important element of design that relates to keeping touring loads close to the lateral center-line of a bike is the top platform width of racks.  I always try to make rack top platforms as narrow as possible.  On the rear racks of both bikes the width at the top platform of the racks is 2.5”, which is more than wide enough to carry all essential gear on top of the racks in a lengthwise position.  Front racks are also quite narrow but must allow panniers to be mounted on the outer side of the forks and brakes.  On the expedition bike the top platform is 2.5” wide on the forward end and 4.75” at the rear.  The tandem rack is quite similar but just a bit wider on the rear side.  For carrying gear on top of the front racks the platforms are much wider than they need to be but they are as they are because of brake- and fork-clearance issues.

Rack flare is an important element of rack design. The angle of flare in the side platforms of this rack is about 10 degrees. The canted side platforms allow the top platform to be narrow, eliminating the need for cross tubes in the top of the rack, reducing weight. The flare creates integrated triangulation which makes the rack more rigid laterally, and the flare allows panniers to be very long and quite narrow as they clear quick-release skewers and the rear derailleur.
The angle of the side platforms of the Hummingbird rear racks is about 10 degrees, sloping inward toward the top.  The 10-degree angle is a measurement of flare.  In most racks the angle of the sides is at 0 degrees, vertically.  The steep angle of flared side platforms allows panniers to clear hub quick-release skewers, and on rear racks, to clear the rear derailleur.  By clearing hubs and derailleurs, panniers can be designed much longer than normal, and consequently may be much narrower and gear can be mounted in a lower position.  The 10-degree flare also means that the angle of the integrated triangulation struts is the same, and that creates very high lateral rigidity in the rear rack.

By keeping the top platform of the rack quite narrow, the angle of the side, pannier-mounting platforms of the rack can be steeply canted inward forming integrated triangulation struts or stays, which increase rack rigidity, laterally. It's a little difficult to see from this angle, but the bottom of the rack is about 6" wide and the top is about 2.5" wide, which creates the steeply angled sides of the rack. The sides of racks should not be at zero degrees as almost all racks are.
Even racks that are built from materials that are not particularly rigid, relatively, can still be quite rigid through design.  One particular design is triangulation.  All Hummingbird racks are built from very rigid chrome-molybdenum steel tubing, but their functional rigidity is more a result of triangulation.  Each model of Hummingbird racks has integrated triangulation struts that are part of the side platform of the racks and are at a 10-degree angle inward toward the top of the racks (each inwardly sloping side provides lateral resistance against the opposite side of the rack).  Front racks and rear racks that have a V-shaped top platform have dual triangulation.  Triangulation is a very critical design element that contributes to very lightweight racks that are also quite rigid, laterally.  This combination is especially important in tandem and expedition touring in which greater-than-normal touring loads are carried.

Precise Pannier Loading

The width of Hummingbird panniers, from the rack outward, is not set to one particular width. The primary, innermost compartment is available in widths that may vary from that as narrow as 2" and as wide as 5.5". The panniers are always custom-designed to be as narrow as is functionally possible.
In loading panniers it's very important to keep the heaviest, most-dense gear as close to a rack as possible.  The extremely narrow inner compartments of the tandem panniers allows gear to be loaded very close to the racks.  The panniers on the expedition bike only have one lateral compartment, but the singular compartment is custom-designed to be extremely narrow.  This forces gear into a precise placement very close to racks.  As all of the panniers have very effective dual-compression strap stabilizing systems, gear may be cinched even closer to the racks to which they are mounted.  This is a very important element of design that influences, quite positively, the handling qualities of a loaded bicycle.

It is especially important to keep front panniers quite narrow as front racks must clear the bicycle fork and consequently must be wider than rear racks. Also, keeping front panniers narrow reduces their frontal area into the wind. These Hummingbird panniers project outward from the rack only a couple of inches.
In designing racks and panniers for any tandem or expedition bike I would always set the bikes up with high-mount racks.  It is important to keep gear as low as practical, but both types of bikes are far more versatile with high-mount racks that have platforms over the wheels.  In tandem touring, a top platform provides the place to mount the sleeping bag and pad of one of the bike's riders.  In expedition touring, the top platform affords a crucial place to accommodate gear that is placed on top of the rack by virtue of the ebb and flow of food and water on a tour.  But that doesn't mean that gear can't be loaded quite low on the bikes with high-mount racks.  Each of the Hummingbird panniers is quite long, and is specially designed so that all compartments reach to the very bottom of the panniers.  This design allows the heaviest of gear to be mounted at the very bottom of the panniers in each compartment.  Because the panniers are very long, this ensures that gear will be low, but not too low when they are mounted on high-mount racks.   On rear Hummingbird racks, the Hummingbird 18" panniers mount with their bottoms 3” to 4" below hub axles.  Front panniers are a bit lower.  This provides both optimum ground clearance, and in terms of gear loading on a bicycle, a very low center of gravity.   Proper ground clearance is especially important on expedition bicycles.

Fore / Aft Gear Loading

The heaviest, most dense gear is always concentrated at the bottom of area no. 1 in the panniers. This is where the precise gear loading in panniers begins.
The Hummingbird IFT panniers have a unique design, like all RBD and ATS panniers, in that each pannier compartment has a vertical divider.  In rear panniers the divider is located in a position to form two compartments in a 33/67 ratio: 33% of gear goes on the forward side of the divider and 67% to the rear.  Sometimes I set up the pannier divider to create a 40/60 ratio.  This allows the very heaviest items of gear to be placed and concentrated on forward side of the divider.

Panniers are always loaded from the rack outward. Once the heaviest, most dense gear is located at the bottom of the forward pannier compartment, more gear is loaded in loading position no. 2 in the panniers.
The fore/aft distribution of gear is a very critical factor in bicycle loading, especially as the weight of gear goes upward.  I consider fore/aft distribution to easily be as critical, and sometimes far more critical, than the vertical placement of gear.  Rear racks and panniers are cantilevered off of the seat stays of a bicycle frame, and in effect are part of a long lever.  Concentrating weight far forward in panniers effectively shortens the lever.  Such precise gear loading minimizes frame flex in the rear triangle of a bicycle frame.  A pannier design that allows gear to be concentrated in the forward 1/3rd space within panniers simply contributes to better handling characteristics in a touring bicycle.

All Hummingbird front pannier models have a vertical divider that bisects each compartment.  This 50/50, fore/aft loading design in combination with the lateral and vertical loading design of both front and rear panniers, allows gear to be very precisely distributed and located within the panniers to provide the best front-end bicycle handling.  The 50/50 design also allows a means of balancing gear loads to offset the effects of frame shimmy should it ever occur.  An anti-shimmy design is a very important aspect of overall pannier design in both expedition and tandem touring.  Also, this fore/aft mounting design allows for more precise gear loading in creating refined steering and bicycle-handling qualities.

The small, machined fitting that is attached to the bottom of each ATS rack is mounted to the bicycle frame (to the eyelet on the frame\'s dropout) in the most advantageous fore/aft position.
All ATS Hummingbird rear racks are available in four different fore/aft mounting positions.  The four different positions allow racks to be custom-fit to each rider relative to their shoe size and the chain stay/crank length of their bicycle.  This provides the fine-tuning of proper pannier/heel clearance, and at the same time it allows panniers to be mounted as far forward as possible.  As I have mentioned, keeping gear concentrated as far forward on the rear of a touring bicycle is a integral part of enhancing the riding characteristics of a loaded touring bicycle.  The Hummingbird rear racks of both the expedition bike and the tandem would be adjusted to the optimum forward position.

At the bottom of every ATS rack there is a machined fitting that is silver soldered to the rack.  When I am custom-designing each rack this fitting is placed in the most advantageous location.  On a bicycle frame that has short chain stays and will be ridden by a cyclist with large feet, the fitting may be placed as much as 4\\\" further forward on the bottom of the rack than it will be on a bicycle frame that has long chain stays and will be ridden by a person with small feet.  As the fitting is moved backward and forward, the top platform also has to be custom-adjusted to the appropriate length to accommodate the positioning of the lower mounting fitting.   

All Hummingbird front racks are custom fit in their fore/aft orientation relative to fork rake, head tube angle and steering axis to provide optimum front-end bicycle handling characteristics.  One of several fore / aft positions is chosen in custom- locating the rack.  The expedition bicycle and the tandem in my example would, of course, be located in the best fore/aft position.  Coupled with a pannier design which allows gear to be distributed within the panniers, by the weight of the gear in a proper fore / aft orientation aids in counteracting frame shimmy should it ever occur.  This design, in addition to a set of features that minimize the depth of panniers from the rack outward, and extreme pannier stability, develops far betting riding qualities than will be found in the inadequately designed rack / pannier systems of all other manufacturers.

I should probably add a few more thoughts about the positioning of racks relative to some important aspects of setting up expedition- and tandem-touring bicycles, and these relate to versatility, flexibility and very critically, ground-clearance issues.  I would never set up a tandem or an expedition-oriented bicycle for touring with low-mount racks, for several reasons.  One important reason, as I've mentioned briefly, is that a platform over the front wheel provides a convenient, highly useful overload space for gear on touring tandems and expedition bikes, and a space for a sleeping bag and sleeping pad on a tandem.  It has always seemed obvious to me that on a touring tandem one rider's sleeping gear goes on top of the front rack and the other rider's sleeping gear is secured on top of the rear rack.

These front ATS Hummingbird 18 Solo panniers, that are appropriately designed to develop the highest levels of pannier performance on a tandem or expedition touring bike, would touch the ground if they were mounted to a low-mount front rack that was mounted to a standard low-mount position on the bicycle fork. The bicycle in the photo has 26 in rims (559mm BSD) and 32mm tires. As far as I am concerned, no tandem or expedition touring bicycle should ever be set up with fittings to mount a low-mount rack.
Another very critical reason is that conventional low-mount racks are simply way too low (stupidly low) to properly mount well-designed panniers, and this applies to both expedition-oriented touring and tandem touring.  As a gear designer I am quite amazed to see how both mountain bikes (that are often set up as expedition-touring bikes) and “touring” tandems are sold to consumers.  Almost all touring tandems have fittings on the forks for attaching low-mount racks.  This is simply absurd.  On a tandem with 700c wheels, standard fork fittings for low-mount racks will be about 19” off of the ground.  To keep Hummingbird IFT and RP Tandem as narrow as possible, I design the panniers to be 18.25” long, optimally, which places them less than an inch off the ground on such “touring” tandems!  Even the shortest versions of the panniers that I build, which are 14.25\" long, are still way too low when mounted on conventional low-mount racks.  In my experience, 14.25\" panniers are on the short side, and especially so in large-capacity panniers. 

When I see tandems with fittings for conventional low-mount racks it tells me how engaged in, knowledgeable of, and committed to bicycle touring that their builders really are.  Obviously, they are absolutely clueless.  There has always been a much better approach to setting up tandems for touring than by using front low-mount racks and panniers.  When I build racks and panniers for expedition-touring bikes and tandem-touring bikes, I modify the forks (easy) and design a custom fitting in which to very rigidly mount a high-mount front rack.  A front rack/pannier system comprised of a very lightweight, well-designed high-mount front rack and long, very narrow, highly stable and extremely lightweight panniers affords a level of performance that is in an altogether different dimension.

High-Performance Mounting and Compression Systems

The fittings of the ATS Ultra-Lock Mounting System are always spaced as widely as possible. For tandem and expedition touring special ATS racks are designed that allow the fittings to be spaced up to 8.5 in. at the top of the rack and 5.5 in. at the bottom. Coupled with extremely rigid tubular aluminum internal pannier frames, the mounting system provides rigidity and stability that is completely in its own dimension.
The foundation of gear-carrying stability in any pannier, and rack/pannier system, is its mounting system.  In high-performance touring, establishing a rigid foundation to enhance bicycle handling qualities, is especially important.  Even though the Hummingbird Sojourn 16 RP and Hummingbird 18 Solo IFT front panniers used in my Phase Three examples weigh only 21 and 24-plus ounces, respectively, their overall designs are still complex and nothing is spared that could limit their performance.  Their design incorporates the most advanced four-point mounting system.  This system locks the panniers in place on the Hummingbird racks so rigidly that each of the four (two upper and lower fasteners) brass mounting fasteners of the system is connected as tightly to the specially designed rack fittings as tightly as a handlebar stem clamps a handlebar.  This ultra-solid connection provides an extreme level of stability in the rack/pannier systems.   The stability of the mounting system greatly enhances the stability and riding qualities of touring bicycles, especially in expedition bikes that encounter rough-riding conditions and touring tandems that carry twice the weight of touring singles.

As far as I am concerned, all panniers need, at least, dual-strap compression / stabilizing systems to effectively lock and compress touring gear within panniers to keep it from moving and to squeeze it tightly inwardly toward the rack. Compression systems are essential in high levels of gear control.
Once panniers are carefully loaded, all the gear that is precisely distributed within them has to be controlled so that it is solidly and rigidly connected to, and cannot move independently of, the rack or bike to which it will be mounted.  High-performance panniers are designed to eliminate the wiggling, jiggling and bouncing of gear.  In both tandem and expedition touring, highly effective dual- and triple-strap pannier stabilizing systems are a very critical part of Phase Three design.  In expedition touring ultra-stable panniers are highly desirable as riding will often be on dirt and in very rough conditions some of the time. In addition, there can be a need to carry extreme amounts of gear at times, so stable panniers with advanced compression systems are very beneficial to ensure high levels of bicycle-handling performance.  Even though the Hummingbird panniers that are to be used in my example are extremely lightweight and very narrow, they still have a highly effective, dual-strap compression system to lock gear in place and pull it inward as close to racks as possible.

The elegantly hand- and machine-made Pivot-Mount attachment mechanisms are made in literally dozens of slightly different designs to provide both a rigid and custom-type rack-to-frame connection.
The Pivot-Mount barrels of the mechanism are made in a number of lengths and are drilled to spread mounting tubes in increments of 1/8th inches. Pivot-Mount attachment mechanisms are designed for both front and rear racks and are one of five rack attachment designs that I use.

Another important design element that relates to providing a solid foundation for panniers and gear is rack rigidity.  Rack rigidity is the result of a number of separate elements of design, but consists of two primary ones: rack-to-frame connections and triangulation.  The Hummingbird racks that I would fit to the expedition and tandem touring bicycles are all quite lightweight ranging in weight from about 13.25 to 15.5 ounces.  Even at such low weights, for tubular steel racks that have top platforms, they will be very rigid.

The extremely rigid ATS Pivot-mount attachment mechanism would be used in both the front and rear racks on the tandem to make the rack-to-fork and rack-to-frame connections.  My rule of thumb in attaching racks is that any fitting or mechanism used to make the connection should be as rigid or more rigid than the material (steel tubing) from which the rack is made.  The Pivot-mount mechanism, which creates a tubular rack-to-frame mount, is much more rigid (and adjustable) than the conventional rack-to-frame mounts utilizing flimsy, flat stainless steel strapping material that is used by almost all rack manufacturers.  One way to recognize just how poor a material that stainless flat stock is is that it may very easily be bent with your own hands.  In contrast, you can't begin to bend .035" tubular steel tubes with your hands as it is a very rigid material.

To make the Pivot-mount mechanism most effective, the top platforms of the racks are extended as close to the frame as is practical to take full advantage of the rigidity of the rack tubing.  This custom fine-tuning of the rack platforms, combined with highly rigid rack tubing and rack triangulation, ensures the highest level of both rack-mounting rigidity and overall rack rigidity.

A rear Hummingbird IFT rack with a custom, direct-to-frame rack connection.
The best way to connect touring racks to bike frames is by extending the tubing in the top platforms of the racks to the frames.  This provides the simplest, lightest, and most rigid rack-to-frame connection.  To mount the racks to the expedition bike in my example I would custom-fit the racks.  The Hummingbird Expedition/Tandem High-Mount front rack would weigh about 13.5 ounces and the Hummingbird Expedition/Tandem rear rack would be about 13.75 ounces, and both would be extremely rigid.  In both cases the top platform of the racks would be properly bent and extended to frame and fork eyelets to make the rack-to-bike connections.

Unique Designs to Reduce Rack / Pannier Weight

I've cited more than a dozen rack and pannier designs that, when added together, create extremely high levels of rack/pannier stability.  I've also described the precise, highly tuned gear distribution designs of the panniers that have a marked influence on the handling characteristics of both expedition and tandem touring bicycles.  But I haven't gotten to the most interesting design yet, and that is the unique internal frames of the Hummingbird IFT panniers and their symbiotic relationship with the Hummingbird IFT rack design that ultimately reduces rack and pannier weight significantly.

When the tubular aluminum internal frames of the Hummingbird IFT panniers are rigidly connected to a rack, their form, in effect, provides the structure to take the place of missing rack tubing in the side platforms (which are commonly of trapezoidal-shaped form) of the rack eliminating about five ounces of (now) functionally extraneous rack tubing
Hummingbird IFT panniers have extremely lightweight and very rigid aluminum internal frames, instead of rear stiffening plates, to which their mounting systems are attached.  A highly specialized laminated fabric stretched over the frames, as in a drum skin being stretched over a drum (but not as tight), forms the rear side of the panniers.  When the internal frames/panniers are mounted to Hummingbird racks by way of four custom screw-type fasteners, their union is so rigid that the internal frames become part of the structure of the racks, and at the same time the rigidity of the racks reinforces pannier frame rigidity.  In effect it is a mutually beneficial design.  In this symbiotic design significant amounts of rack tubing may be eliminated in the design of the side platforms of the racks.  At the same time, as they are so tightly connected to the racks, the internal frames of the panniers can be made extraordinarily lightweight.  This unique, symbiotic design is an important, integral part in significantly trimming the overall weight of the rack/pannier system.

The brass pannier mounting fasteners that connect the aluminum pannier frames to the rack absolutely must create an extremely tight and rigid connection. When the fasteners are tightened in place they are fixed as rigidly as a handlebar stem clamp holds a handlebar in place. Without such a rigid connection the frames' strength would be severely compromised.
Weight in the racks is also reduced through the design of the very narrow top platforms, so narrow that they need no cross tubes in which to keep gear placed on top of the racks from making contact with the tire which it is perched above.

All of the Hummingbird IFT Expedition/Tandem racks that I build, which have top platforms, weigh in a range between 12.75 and 15.75 ounces, yet are stronger and more rigid than racks that weigh two or three times more.  Low rack weight, when coupled with low pannier weight, is an important element in the performance of touring bicycles and forms a critical element in Phase Three design.

There are a number of places in Hummingbird RP and IFT panniers in which the primary pannier fabric is reinforced with a single or double layer of fabric. The carrying handles at the top of the panniers receive two layers of reinforcement including a layer of 7.5 oz. Cordura.
Pannier weight plays an important role in bicycle touring.  At the beginning of my discussion of design elements in racks and panniers I alluded to a couple that had just returned from a 21,000 kilometer trip.  The panniers that they used on their journey weigh more than three times that of the panniers used on the tandem bike in my example.  A significant amount of the weight difference between their dry-bag panniers and the Hummingbird IFT panniers on my tandem bike is a result of the unique multi-fabric design of the Hummingbird panniers.  Five different fabrics are used in their construction, four of which are quite lightweight.  The primary fabric in the panniers is 2.4 oz. Ripstop nylon, which is reinforced in numerous places.  Small weight-bearing areas of the panniers are constructed of 3.4 oz. and 4.4 oz. Oxford nylon.  Only in the areas of the panniers that receive extreme stress is 7.5 oz. 500-denier Cordura nylon used.  Instead of using pounds of the heavyweight Cordura fabric throughout the panniers, only 1/4th ounce of it is used in the areas of highest stress: doubled as reinforcement at the bottom of the panniers and in reinforcement underneath the carrying handles (where there are three layers of fabric).

The Hummingbird IFT panniers, in terms of their fabric strength, are easily durable enough for an around-the-globe trip or two (ultra-lightweight rain covers are used to keep the panniers from being damaged by sunlight).  Virtually all other panniers on the market are extremely over-designed in terms of the use of fabrics.  Manufacturer's claims of great durability in fabrics like 500- and 1000-denier Cordura may be great for marketing and the sale of their products, but they are real performance killers.  A multi-fabric design, utilizing heavyweight fabrics only in high-stress areas, is simply a far more sound approach to design.  It requires dramatically more work and production time, but it contributes to extreme reductions in pannier weight that are an integral part of Phase Three touring design and methodology. 

A high performance-to-weight ratio in gear is developed through the refinement of every element or part of an overall design. The mounting system fasteners in this photo show a progression in improvement from the original RBD mounting hooks to the Hummingbird IFT brass fasterners. The brass fittings are far more functional and advanced in their design and weigh 1/7th the original.
I have designed and refined the Hummingbird racks and panniers over a period of about 10 years.  During those years I have consistently added weight to the products to enhance their performance.  The idea behind the products is absolutely not to design and market them as simply ultra-lightweight products, but to design them to perform at an extremely high level at the lowest practical weight.  There's a big difference.  The Hummingbird racks and panniers weigh extremely little, but they do much to elevate and enhance the overall performance of any touring bike.  Consequently, they have a very high performance-to-weight ratio.

On the contrary, the racks and very simple panniers used by the couple on the 21,000 kilometer trip to which I have alluded, have no individual designs that relate to the enhancement of the performance of their bicycles.  The lack of design in the products would significantly undermine the riding qualities of their bicycles in each day of their long journey.  Through poor mounting systems, a complete lack of pannier compression, very poor pannier dimensions, a lack of design to distribute gear systematically within the panniers and by extremely excessive weight, their panniers would function very poorly.  Coupled with less-than-desirable rack rigidity, high rack weight and poor rack dimensions, the performance of their bicycles would be very severely diminished by their rack/pannier systems.  The only design of the racks and panniers that is not executed poorly is the pannier weatherproofing, and this comes at an extreme price in that the panniers weigh nearly four times what they need to weigh to produce essential weather protection.

The panniers and racks used on the long trip by the folks from my community are very similar to all other racks and panniers sold through bicycle stores and online retailers in that they have virtually no, or extraordinarily limited, design that relates to or enhances touring bicycle performance.  Consequently, the performance-to-weight ratio of all touring gear sold through these sources is extremely low.  Any suggestion to the contrary would have to be viewed as absurd and would reflect the unfounded, somewhat fraudulent appraisal of gear that is generally projected on to bicycle tourists when it is objectively compared with comprehensively designed, truly high-performance gear.

Rack/pannier systems that have high performance-to-weight ratios are one of the essential foundations of Phase Three touring and of an Advanced Touring Method.

Each phase of the Advanced Touring Method reflects a simple process to greatly improve the riding qualities and efficiencies of touring bicycles in long-distance touring through gear design and individual preparation for tours.  I've been using, and fine-tuning the method for all of my adult life.  To me, the approach really gets down to being conscious and conscientious, and being open to a wide range of possibilities than can dramatically alter touring bicycle performance.

The Advanced Touring Method is really an item-by-item process.  Thoughtfully and carefully select and minimize your touring gear.  Experience will tell you what an effective minimum is.  Carry as little gear as is comfortably possible.  How can I put it more clearly?  Load and distribute your touring gear very wisely in the lightest, most stable and best-designed carrying systems.  Whenever possible, eliminate the need for a front rack and panniers.  Conscientiously choose wheel components to develop high-performance wheels that are consistent with the conditions in which you'll be riding.  These things, when added together, will define the performance and riding quality of your touring bicycle with regard to speed and efficiency far more than anything else.  They are the means of greatly reducing your effort in traveling on a bicycle.  All of the other stuff pales in comparison.  Invest your time, effort and money in the things that count.  Other than the wheels of your bicycle, don't place an inordinate amount of focus, when it comes to performance, on your bike frame or components.  That type of focus will not get you down the road with a lot less effort and energy.

Be creative.  Be innovative. Be thoughtful, and definitely be on the lookout to continually improve the gear that you carry.  Here's one last look at a gear summary of the things that I carry.  The 13.5 pounds of gear on the list allows me to travel very comfortably in all normal conditions. 

          SHELTER (2-person tent, stuff sacks, ground cloth)                                                       2.31 pounds

          SLEEPING GEAR (down sleeping bag, foam pad, stuff sacks, etc.)                                    1.98 pounds

          CLOTHING (down vest, pants, spare clothing, gloves, shells, tights etc.)                          3.61 pounds

          RAIN GEAR (rain parka and pants, shoe covers, pannier covers)                                      .80 pounds

          BATHING AND PERSONAL HYGIENE (tooth brush, shampoo etc.)                               .69 pounds

          COOKING GEAR (MSR stove, pot, bowl, cup, knives, sponge etc.)                                1.94 pounds

          LUXURY ITEMS (camera, case, I-pod, thermometer)                                                     .72 pounds

          TOOLS AND REPAIRS (cassette cracker, wrenches, patch kit, etc.)                                .45 pounds

          MEDICAL, PERSONAL ITEMS (glasses, lip balm, sun screen etc. etc.)                               .91 pounds