If you are looking to bring your stuff with you on bike rides, you have a few options. You could get a bike basket, a bike rack or even wear a backpack. Even better, you could invest in a set of bike panniers.
Panniers are great for hauling gear on daily commutes such as gym or work clothes, water bottles, tire repair kits or bike pumps, rain gear, a laptop or even a lunch. They also work great for grocery store runs and sure beat trying to hang the plastic bags over the handle bar grips, which can be dangerous. Some are even insulated like a cooler for food or drinks.
What exactly are bike panniers?
Panniers are a type of bag or storage that attaches to a bicycle. Most often the are attached over a bicycle’s rear wheel, most often sold in pairs. Panniers are available for the front wheel as well, but they are less common. Think of it as like a trunk for your bicycle.
Bike panniers contain and protect your gear better than a bike basket or bike rack ever could. Biking with a basket you risk your stuff getting wet in the rain and also small items falling through the basket and becoming broken or lost. Riding with a backpack can be hot and hard on your back. Bike panniers have a low center of gravity, are often rain or water-resistant and your bike carries the weight, not you.
Shopping for Bike Panniers
There are choices to consider when shopping for panniers. Characteristics such as the design, materials and the capacity and weight ratings are important.
Panniers are often made from a range of materials including Nylon, canvas, leather or synthetic leather, some being weather resistant.
Many panniers come with a metal or plastic framework that attaches, or are permanently attached, to the inside of the bags to maintain the bag’s shape and rigidity.
Some panniers are made with quick release connectors to be easily detached from the bicycle and have handles on top to carry them with. Other panniers are more permanent and are made to be forgotten about until you are ready to use them. The advantage to detachable panniers is that it allows you to carry them into the store when shopping or into the house for packing or unpacking. You can also remove them when they are not needed to make it easier to ride through crowded environments and make storage easier. The larger panniers can often hold 4 gallons of milk total or 2 large paper shopping bags filled with groceries, while others are smaller and more compact.
If you plan on purchasing quick detaching panniers, you may want to research if the bag can be collapsed or if it is permanently rigid due to a permanent framework and if the design allows the bags to separate in the middle.
Avoid Cheap Panniers
When shopping for panniers, you have many options. The best panniers for you will depend on how you plan to use them. But the most important consideration, that is often overlooked, is the quality of craftsmanship.
Cheap panniers are often poorly designed and just don’t last. It is not uncommon to have attachment straps permanently detach when tightening them and seams on the bag to separate when riding on bumpy roads or hitting potholes due to poor stitching. Cheap bags also tend to become permanently stretched out and sag even when the rated weight capacity has not been exceeded.
Not only do you want your panniers to last, it’s also nice to arrive at your destination without losing your gear. It only makes sense that you would want to invest in a decent set of bicycle panniers.
Buying the best bike panniers does not mean that you have to break the bank, but don’t cheap out either. The old adage rings true, you do get what you pay for.
Panniers and Safety
Many panniers come with reflective tape or markers to help increase visibility in low light conditions. That great and it helps improve cycling safety, but there is something even more dangerous to consider.
There are many scary stories of either the bike panniers or the attaching straps getting caught up in the wheels spokes. At this point typically one of two things happen, either it rips a hole in the corner of the bag and practically destroys the panniers or the bag doesn’t give and it brings your bike to screeching and skidding halt with the possibility of bent and damaged spokes. This usually happens when you least expect it and often when leaning into a curve when the bag swings into the wheel.
When panniers get caught up in the wheel, there is a good chance that you’re going to fly off of your bike. Even if you are lucky enough to remain on your bike or uninjured from your fall, people traveling close behind you (cyclists or cars) may not stop as quickly as you did. Coming to an abrupt stop and being run over by a tailgating car could really ruin your day.
So how can you avoid this scenario and be safe? As far as the panniers, they often have rigid inserts or a framework to help keep the bag out of the spokes, but that may not be enough. Most bike panniers mount over an existing bike rack. You would think just about any bike rack would work just fine. There are a few different styles of bike racks on the market and using the wrong style bike rack could prove to be dangerous.
The best advice I can give is to stay away from bike racks that mount in a V-shape, racks that just attach to the seat post or any racks that would not physically block the side of the bag from swinging in and touching the rear wheel. Racks that have three mounting brackets on each tend to not allow the panniers to contact the wheel. Some suggested bike racks would be the Topeak Super Tourist, and Axiom Bike Rack racks as they work well.
Make sure to try to balance the weight of the load between the two bags and place heavier items to the bottom.