It’s a strange phenomenon that riding a bike laden with panniers seems to earn you more respect on the road than even the most expensive carbon fibre machine. I’ve noticed it before, cars give you more space, pedestrians smile at you and small children look on in wonder.
I guess people assume you are some kind of mysterious world-traveller, living the nomadic life, where-ever you lay your hat (or helmet) that’s your home. When I rode Land’s End to John O’Groats, riding with panniers was akin to walking with a dog – everyone wanted to stop you and chat.
Except today, as I return the smiles, I feel a bit of a fraud because the panniers are merely stuffed with a variety of old clothes and towels as I practice loading up the bike with four panniers. My tent is strapped on the back rack, but it won’t even come out of the bag. Today’s world tour comprises of no more than an 18 mile loop to the flatlands of Wallasea Island and back home.
I’m feeling great. Yesterday I left the BBC after 20 years. I’ve had a fantastic time producing radio and television programmes and the last two decades have been a real privilege. But for the first time since my twenties I’m now able to clear my mind entirely of work and concentrate on more interesting pursuits – such as the ride across America.
With only a month to go before the off I finally sorted out the front panniers – I’ve gone for Ortilieb to match the rears and have fitted them to a Blackburn front rack. Ortilieb provide a selection of spacers to fit different types of rack and you need to use the thinner one of these for the Blackburns. The tricky bit was getting the bottom sliceable bracket to fit on the left-hand side as it is obstructed by the quick release, but the problem is easily overcome by sliding it to the front.
With all four panniers on and packed, it felt like I was lifting up a small car rather than a bike, but once out on the road it’s amazing how easily the Surly copes with the weight. Pretty soon it was easy to forget I was carrying several machine-loads of laundry – and once again the stability of the bike is extraordinary. Completely comfortable (although the Brooks is taking some getting used to) and so well-geared it climbs effortlessly, despite the on-board luggage trying to drag it back down-hill.
So there we go 18 miles done – merely several thousand to go…..