When most of us think about bike-touring, we envision heavy-laden bikes being ridden under arduous conditions, usually in exotic or remote places. In reality, most bicycle touring opportunities do not require us to carry camping gear or a week's worth of food. In the case of the recent Almanzo adventure, I was out for three days with my bike equipped thusly:
If you squint and try to ignore the harsh shadows captured by my iPhone camera, you will see that there are three modest bags on my bike: a handlebar bag, a frame bag, and a saddle bag.
The handlebar bag is a boxy, quick-detachable unit from the Minnehaha Bag Company. It comes off the bike in two seconds and converts to a shoulder bag. I use mine for food, camera, phone, keys, money, small cable lock, etc - all the stuff I might want to access quickly while riding or when getting off the bike to go into a store or restaurant. The handlebar bag also has a detachable map case that allows me to read the map or cue sheet from the saddle for quick and easy navigation.
The saddle bag is also from Minnehaha Bag Company (they call it the Medium Saddle Bag), and is easily my favorite all-around saddlebag (even compared to some that cost MUCH more). I use this bag all the time, but when traveling I use it to carry extra clothes and other items that don't require quick access. On the Almanzo trip, I packed two t-shirts, two pairs of socks, two boxer shorts, and a plastic container of extra food. With all this, I still had room to spare.
The frame bag is from Jandd. I have taken to keeping these bags on all of my bikes (some of my bikes have two!). It makes a good place for the Topeak Morph pump of one's choice (I like the Mini-Morph) and a few extra tubes, patch kit, tools, spare nuts and bolts, zip ties, etc. These are the items that I keep with the bike at all times, so it's nice to have them tucked out of the way in the frame pack.
One thing to note about this set-up is that no racks are needed. The bike shown here has all the usual attributes of a touring bike, but there's no reason a light road bike, mountain bike, hybrid, etc, couldn't be adapted as a touring bike with a few modest-sized bags like these. The three bags shown here would retail for less than $200 total. Of course, for most of us, $200 is nothing to sneeze at, but it's pocket change compared to a bike's worth of Tubus and Ortlieb. If you don't plan to camp and can arrange to replenish your on-the-bike food supply every day or so, you can pack these bags with all you need to ride across the country.