Bicycle panniers are basically bike luggage. They’re designed to load your gear onto the front and rear racks of your bike and keep it safe from damage. I use panniers because I hate touring with any type of bag or pack on my body. I even went so far as to ditch my water bottle in favor of screwing on a box to my mounts so I wouldn’t have to carry a backpack.
If you want that kind of freedom, you need panniers. There are a bunch of pannier manufacturers, each catering to their own niche of customers. Ortlieb panniers are some of the most famous bike bags in the entire industry. Famed for their waterproofing, Ortlieb offers a truly extensive line of panniers. Arkel panniers are also quite famous. They’re known for their superior organization and number of pockets. We’re going to look at panniers in the upcoming posts, but now I’ll provide you with some simple things to remember when choosing bicycle panniers.
Panniers buying guide:
Before buying panniers, make sure to remember the following:
- The first thing to remember is these things come in pairs. You wouldn’t want to be riding around with 8kgs of food in your front right pannier with nothing else on the others, that would be a disaster. Although you can usually ride with only one rear pannier, I wouldn’t recommend it. 99% of the websites you see, the panniers come in pairs.
- Secondly you need to consider if you’re going to ride with only front panniers, only rear panniers, or front and rear panniers. This totally depends on how long your bicycle tour will be, if you’re camping, and how much you’re gonna haul. On a long weekend, it should be easy enough to get by on two smaller panniers. If you’re camping, just stick the bag, tent, and pad on top of the rear rack. On extended tours, where you may have to bring cooking tools, replacement parts, and lots of maps, you’re going to need all four bags more than likely.
- Next, consider the size of your panniers. Looking at a couple of different models, we can see that most front panniers range from about 1,400 cubic inches to 3,000 cubic inches. The lower end of that scale is equivalent to roughly a medium-sized hiking backpack. The larger end being a large-sized hiking backpack. Rear panniers tend to range in size from about 2,000 cubic inches to 4,000 cubic inches, although Jandd and Arkel have models of 5,000+ cubic inches. Use that to help you decide how big to go. The size stat usually includes both panniers.
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- Are the panniers waterproof? There are good things and bad things to remember about waterproof panniers. The good things are that they ARE waterproof and usually can float. So if you go careening off of a cliff into a river, your bags will safely float downstream without you. Some of the bad characteristics of waterproof bags are the lack of ventilation. Usually the type of fabric and design of these panniers inhibit airflow, making things stinky and moldy if you put any wet items in your panniers. This can be solved with exterior pockets that have ventilation (like on my waterproof Ortlieb panniers).
- Mounting systems widely differ between brands and can be a real important issue. I definitely prefer the Ortlieb QL-2 mounting system, it is ridiculously easy and customizable. Some racks use metal hooks to attach to the top of the rack and are then tightened to the rack with a strap (Jandd). Others have quick release systems that allow you to take your panniers on and off quickly, in case you want to store them in your tent at night, or convert them to day packs (Ortlieb & Arkel have pretty similar systems here)
- Are you a pocket person? Do you like to be organized? Do you plan to access your bags often each day? If you answered yes, you should look into bags that have sections and/or pockets.
- How are you going to load the panniers? I prefer a 45/55% weight ratio on my front and rear panniers. I say this just to be different. Here’s a tip; before you do a 5,000 mile tour, test out the bags once or twice! If you feel like you’re about to go head-over-bars on downhills, you’ve got too much up front. Sluggish steering? Weight not loaded properly up front, try getting it lower to the ground.
Now that we’ve done a little research on the differences in panniers, the next post will look at some of the different brands available.
Check out my new website www.theultimatetrek.com to read about my upcoming cycling trek from South Korea to Portugal.