archival and resource material for human powered recumbent tricycles

Arkel GT-52 Panniers? Really?

The only pair on Planet Earth:

Beginning with my first overland trike journey in 2009, I have used the Arkel pannier system as my main cargo solution. Currently, I use the Arkel TailRider trunk that sits atop my rear rack, and the Arkel GT-54 panniers, which are placed on each side of the rear rack, next to the rear wheel. In addition, I use the Radical Design side seat pods to fill the triangular void that is formed behind the pilot’s seat. I have found these cargo solutions to be top notch. Arkel products are made in Canada, and Radical Design products are made in the Netherlands.

The Arkel TailRider trunk has a maximum volume of 11 liters, as it is expandable when more items are placed inside. The Arkel GT-54 panniers have a total volume between the two of 54 liters. The Radical Design side seat pods have a total volume between the two of 25 liters. Thus, when taken as a unit, my cargo volume is 90 liters, which is sufficient for an experienced overland triker who has refined his cargo paradigm over the course of a couple extended trips.

Arkel TubeNotice the long tube sticking up on the right side GT-54 pannier.

Recently, in preparation for my 2013 Pacific Coast Tricycle Adventure (PCTA), I have modified the right hand side GT-54 pannier, and I will relate the details here. On a standard right side GT-54, there is a long tube that attaches vertically to the rear of the bag. This has been a necessary part of the bag for many years, as it held the traditional ThemaRest sleeping pad when rolled up, along with the long tent poles common on many tents. The typical sleeping pads and tent poles would not fit anywhere else in a convenient manner without having to be strapped on externally, which was not a good option, so Arkel designed the long tube to answer this cycling need.

Arkel GT-54The Arkel GT-54 right side pannier with long red tube for tent poles and rolled sleep pads.

Well, as things always do, products have evolved over the years, and now I have found that the long tube is absolutely unnecessary. In an effort to greatly reduce my overall cargo load, both with respect to volume of space necessary to pack it, and the weight of the gear, I have evolved into using products that are much lighter and much smaller. As a result, that long awkward tube had to go, or, in my case at least, had to be redesigned and modified to meet my current overland triking needs. The tube has always been removable, held on by huge velcro strips, so I removed it from the bag and had some professional surgery performed on it.

NEMO TentThe NEMO Obi one-person tent next to the ICE Qnt trike

My solution to streamlining the setup began by shortening the tube, as can be seen in the accompanying photographs, thereby reducing my GT-54 total volume by about 2 liters, so now my GT-54 bags are actually GT-52 bags, roughly 52 liters of cargo volume. But that is fine because as I refine my packing strategies, this is plenty of space for all my gear. Why have I done this?

Arkel GT-52With the shortened red tube, the GT-54 system now becomes a GT-52 system.

I now use a NEMO Obi one person tent, which has a single pole array that folds down very short, and thus can fit anywhere, and I also use the ThermaRest NeoAir Fast ‘n Light sleeping pad, which instead of rolling to a large size, folds down to a very manageable size of 7x4x1.5 inches. Compared to the old ThermaRest sleeping pads that rolled up to a size of 7×20 inches, this new product is superior. It is also superior in sleeping comfort, providing a luxurious 2.5 inches of inflated cushion for my weary triker’s body each night. The old traditional ThermRest pads pale by comparison! The extra money spent for the new pad is well worth every penny.

Arkel GT-52 PouchThe new modified rear tube, shortened so it doesn’t extend past  the top or bottom of the pannier

The tent, poles, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag are all placed in my Radical Design side seat pods, meaning that my house and bed are stored along side my reclined trike seat, thereby rendering the long rear tube obsolete. There is another aspect to the long tube as it was, and that is when the yellow, high visibility rain covers are placed on the bag, the tube scrunches forward, looking rather bulky, giving the appearance the bag is way overpacked. The right side rain cover was made extra large to accommodate this long tube, thus since I have shortened the tube, I had to order a left hand side GT-54 rain cover to place on the newly resized right hand side bag – the old rain cover is simply too large and baggy to use now on the modified pannier. I run the high visibility yellow rain covers on all my Arkel bags even in the sunshine, as it increases the safety factor by a huge order of magnitude – I stand out like the proverbial “sore thumb” in the eyes of petroleum powered humans. My Radical Design side seat pods also have high visibility yellow side inserts, so I am awash in a sea of yellow, a trick I learned well from fellow trike gypsy Gary Bunting (the Yellow Beast Triker).

Radical Design BagsThe Radical Design bags from Holland sport yellow inserts for maximizing visibility.

Keep in mind that if you still are using the older technology of long unwieldy tent poles and bulky roll-up sleeping pads, the modification I am describing here will not be something you wish to do, as you will need to keep that long tube to hold your poles and sleeping pad. But, if you advance to the newer technologies that incorporate space saving and efficient tent poles, along with the far more comfortable and compact sleeping pads, you may wish to consider shortening the pole/pad tube as shown here.

To do this job, I hired the lady who performs all the gear repair and modification work for REI of Eugene, Oregon, the second largest city in the state. Marina knows her stuff, and is kept very busy year round by referrals from REI. When she does a job of repair or modification for your outdoor gear, it is always a thing of beauty, and the result looks like it came from the original factory. Actually, sometimes her modifications or repairs exceed factory appearance and specs, and you end up with a product that is superior to what you originally had. And the unbelievable part is that her prices are very modest for what you get in return. For this job of shortening the tube, she charged me $32. Arkel could not have done it any better.

Marina Stitch in Time

Marina, in her home “office”

Her business is called Marina’s Stitch in Time, and here is how she advertises it: – Zippers, Alterations, Repairs & Custom Sewing – Specializing in outdoor gear – Gear pick-up from REI on Fridays – Most  repairs returned the following Friday. Her telephone is 1-541-343-3050, and she is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 to 2:00 for calls (the other hours she is always busy, either working on gear for folks, or tending to her garden). I realize most of you do not live in the Eugene, Oregon area, but her counterparts can be located anyplace on Earth where there are serious outdoor adventure stores like REI. I also had Marina modify my Radical Design side seat pods, as described in a former article I have posted on Trike Asylum.

Arkel GT-54 GT-52Before & After: the old GT-54 becomes the new GT-52

So now I have ended up with what is essentially a pair of Arkel GT-52 panniers, which give a compact look on both sides, without the ungainly long tube sticking way up above and hanging way down towards the pavement. The long tube doesn’t look too bad on a bicycle, which is what the original GT-54 panniers were designed for, but since my ICE Qnt recumbent tadpole trike sits so low to the ground, it always appeared that the tube was about to drag on the ground, almost like the right side pannier was severely overloaded and tipping the trike towards that side. Now however, it’s a clean and symmetrical appearance, using the same size rain cover on each side. And the good news is that losing that 2 liters of cargo volume from the shortening of the tube allowed me the perfect excuse to further refine my packing paradigm to bring less gear – remember, on an overland trike journey, less is always more … better! Stay light – Pedal far – Have fun!

Arkel at NightNotice how the old GT-54 tube extends far below the level of the left side pannier – no more!

Note: Arkel does not currently make a GT-52 pannier system. The GT-52 panniers shown in this article are unique on Planet Earth. If you want a set, you must have your GT-54 panniers modified as shown and described here. I have made Arkel aware of this modification, and word is that they may offer a GT-52 option at some future date – no guarantees however, so stay tuned. For the time being, if you make your own pair of GT-52s, you’ll have a definite “cool factor” when you roll into the annual recumbent conventions held around the country – everyone will want a pair! See ya’ …

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This article also appears permanently HERE.

14 responses

  1. Gary W. Bunting

    Great work, Steve.
    Thanks for the kudos,

    Gary (alias: YELLOW BEAST TRIKER)

    August 12, 2013 at 7:16 am

  2. shirley

    what do you use for a sleeping bag and pillow?

    August 12, 2013 at 9:03 am

  3. Down Wind Dan

    Steve, those reflectors and the yellow cover are ,indeed, out standing. Very well done.

    August 12, 2013 at 10:49 am

  4. Hi Shirley, I use a Berkeley TrailWise sleeping bag, a four-season bag made in the early 1980s. The company produced the best bags money could buy back then. It is bulkier than many of today’s bags, and a tad heavier, but it has served me well, and I didn’t want to have any more geese sacrificed by getting a new bag to save the weight. It is a down mummy bag, but not as slim in the foot area as many backpacking bags. For a pillow, I use my own clothing/jackets stuffed into the small pillow area of the sleeping bag liner I use – nothing fancy, but at least it doesn’t require any more storage area. – steve

    August 12, 2013 at 10:54 am

  5. YELLOW – the ONLY way to go! Gary knows his stuff when it comes to safety and visibility.

    August 12, 2013 at 10:55 am

  6. Alonzo Savage (Trike rebel)

    Just a note for trike riders contemplating buying the Arkel RT60 that are designed specifically for recumbents. I might be wrong but I don’t think, looking at mine on my trike, that the rather expensive Radical side pods, like those on your trike Steve, will fit in front of the RT60’s. Can anyone verify this as I’d like to be sure before I buy?
    Alonzo (Trike rebel & black sheep)

    August 13, 2013 at 4:39 am

  7. Mike Swierbut

    Thinking of making across USA tour. Doing much research at this point. Plan on training and conditioning this year and making the trip next year. Researching panniers. Was going to purchase the GT-54’s but just learned of the GT-60’s. I am riding a Terra Trike Tour II Elite and would appreciate any words of wisdom as to pros and cons of each set of panniers. GT-54 appear to be 3300 cu in while the GT-60 appear to be 3650 or there about. Please advise. Thanks so much.

    March 28, 2014 at 8:56 pm

  8. Howdy Mike,

    Any of the Canadian Arkel bags would be a good choice with regards to product quality. The difference between the GT-54 and the RT-60 is pretty minimal as far as total volume is concerned. The 54 is taller (originally designed for an upright bicycle), while the 60 is longer and shorter in height (designed specifically for recumbent cycling). Quality construction is the same in each set.

    For me, it would come down to what looked the best on my particular trike, and whether the color available suited my fancy. For trikes with 20 inch rear wheels, the RT-60 might edge out the GT-54 simply because the 60 would not hang down quite so low to the ground. If your TerraTrike Tour is the Sunset Gold color offered by TerraTrike, then the RT-60 Arkel panniers would match pretty well, while providing you a tad bit more storage volume over the GT-54s. Either pannier set you choose, you will be well satisfied.

    If you want the easy answer, here it is with no reservations: Get the RT-60s (more ground clearance for 20 inch wheel size, matches trike color, has more volume so you can carry even more junk up every mountain range). When you call Arkel to order, tell ’em steve the trike hobo from Trike Asylum recommended their bags! Toll Free: 1-888-592-7535

    See ya’ …


    March 29, 2014 at 1:27 pm

  9. With all the time that I have had to research for the same purpose. I totally agree with Steve. I’m getting closer to my goal for being able to purchase a trike for returning to traveling the roads again. And I will also get a chance to visit Coventry Cycles in Oregon to get an even better idea of what I might want to choose for my tadpole of choice.

    March 29, 2014 at 3:19 pm

  10. Mike Swierbut

    Thanks Steve. Having been through all of this yourself, I feel confident that I can’t go wrong with either set of panniers. By the way, what are your thoughts on the Terra Trike Tour II. Is this trike capable of making this type of extended journey??
    Or would I be better off purchasing another brand?

    March 29, 2014 at 3:51 pm

  11. Mike Swierbut

    Thanks for your input Zach. When it comes to this type of research, I enjoy becoming somewhat familiar with the various products available and then I start to pick as many brains as I can find out there. Good Luck on your trike purchase.
    Mike Swierbut (MoCoffee)

    March 29, 2014 at 3:57 pm

  12. Hi Mike,
    Yes, your trike is certainly capable of making this type of an extended journey. My friend Dan Price rode a TerraTrike 4,265 miles, from eastern Oregon to the Pacific Coast, south along the coast, and then east along the southern border areas of the USA all the way to the end of the Florida Keys. It was quite a journey, and he rode what you now have. Here is some info about Dan and his trike:

    Glen Aldridge used to have a TerraTrike also, so perhaps he can add his ideas about the trike to these comments.

    March 31, 2014 at 8:56 am

  13. Mike Swierbut

    Many thanks Steve. Well, from this point on I will be training for my epic journey across the U.S. Really looking forward to it. Haven’t decided on which set of panniers I’ll be purchasing yet, but i seem to be leaning in the direction of the GT-54. If they won’t be too long for my Terra Trike, I think i will prefer the modular system it seems to offer. I’ve purchased your book “The Overland Triker” and would highly recommend it to anyone thinking of trike touring. One of the many things I’ve picked up from the book is the importance of traveling LIGHT. It is my intention to do exactly that. i prefer to learn from other’s mistakes and hope to avoid some of the issues you encountered on your tours. i just found a great tent which weighs in at just 1 lb. 12oz. (And it’s a 2-person tent). Oh I neglected to mention that I will be joined on this trip by my very special friend (Sue) She also has a Terra Trike II. We’ve both been looking for this type of adventure for some time now. Originally, she tried to talk me into walking the Appilation Traill. i told her hell, I can’t even spell it, let alone walk it. So we’ve decided on the trike tour across the US. Thanks again for all the help, You web site and the many tips I leaned from it will certainly help us get prepared for this exciting journey. Anyone wishing to join us on this trip or any part of it, simply give me (Mike) a call. I can be reached at (616) 791-6511.

    March 31, 2014 at 9:43 am

  14. Traveling light on a trike tour is one of the Prime Directives! Yes, it has taken me several rides to learn this well, and even though each ride was lighter than the previous one, I still realized I was hauling more junk along than I really needed. Heavy overloaded trikes make for struggling up mountains, which very quickly removes the fun factor from the trek. Each trip I take is another learning experience, and I am constantly evaluating what I have with me, and whether another option exists, one that can save even more weight. With the setup I have for the new trike, I have 74 liters cargo volume, nearly 20 less than what I had with the GT-54s. I love challenges! This August I’ll be testing all my latest ideas during an 11 day outing along Oregon’s northern coast, and I’ll keep you posted here on TA with my assessments.

    March 31, 2014 at 9:58 am