The pannier lifestyle

Panniers. Probably the most basic “bag on bike” seen today, yet something I’ve largely eschewed over the past decade. Oh yeah, I started using panniers on my bikes around 2003, but since I got back from the Big Tour in 2011, I started moving towards Carradice styled saddlebags, handlebar bags, and baskets.

Why? Well, I liked the aesthetic of saddlebags. Classy and British. Plus you didn’t need to use a rack. While baskets may not be as aesthetically pleasing as a saddlebag, the ease of use and amount of stuff one can carry with one is nothing to sneeze at. Plus, the payload is in front of you, so you can keep an eye on it. (How many of you have had a pannier bounce off mid-ride?)* And a nice handlebar bag is handy and cool.

I think I got over panniers during the Big Tour of 2011. I had four panniers plus saddlebag plus handlebar bag. I could carry a lot of stuff, which was the pro and the con. Schlepping all those panniers off and on the bike, off and on buses or trains got old fast. When I came back from the trip, I immediately removed the rear rack from my Long Haul Trucker. I would only use front panniers for the last couple years I had that bike. When I replaced the Surly with first the Bridgestone XO-3 and then the current Bantam, I didn’t even use panniers.

For the longest time, my three speed has been the token bike in the fleet that could take panniers, as I’ve had a rear rack on the Raleigh Wayfarer and then the Raleigh Superbe. Even then, I hardly used it for panniers. The very nice Pletscher rack on the Superbe became more of a saddle bag support than anything else.

I had gone through many sets of panniers over the years, first those made by Axiom and then finally locally by North St. I kept a token set of North St bags that I had Curtis custom make in 2011. To me then they represented the acme of my pannier needs: lots of compartments, and one bag converted into a backpack. Despite it all, I rarely used these uber panniers in the last few years, but kept them if I truly needed them. Finally last month I sold them to a friend.

Was that the end of panniers? Not quite. Around the same time, I bought a pair of Carradice Kendal panniers from GravelDoc. These were more simpler panniers, just a main compartment with a pouch in the rear. Neither converted into a pannier (or even have loops for a strap, much to my chagrin.)** Why buy another set of panniers? Couldn’t I have just kept those uber panniers?

The problem with the departed North St panniers was they were just too big for my needs anymore. I wanted smaller panniers. A smaller pannier would cause less grief with the drive side of the Superbe (where the indicator chain and cable stick out of the Sturmey Archer AW hub.)

Also, I forsee adding pannier capacity to the Bantam at some point, at least in the front. The last tour I did on the Oregon Coast? I had maxxed out my capacity. It wasn’t too bad since I knew I could find food easily each day. This is not always going to be the case, so having panniers will help. These panniers should be small enough to work in the front, which would be my preferred setup.

I’ve been using the Carradice panniers on the Superbe the last couple weeks, and I’ve been liking it. It took a little while to get used to the locking mechanism on the pannier hooks, but now I can load and unload with ease. They look small, but do hold a lot. With the “rat trap” on the Pletscher, I can carry quite a bit of stuff! It’s not the most ideal setup for lots of hauling, but it will work when needed. Now I have a decent amount of capacity on the Superbe for bike camping and small tours!

One of the things I do like most about panniers is the ease of removal. As much as I love a nice looking saddlebag or strap attached handlebar bag, they are not designed for quick on and off.*** As such, I’ve left them on the bike when I go into a store or restaurant. There’s always the worry that it won’t be on the bike when I come back out. (And yes, I have had a handlebar bag stolen.) With a pannier there’s none of that. Of course you’re going to take the bag off when you go into the store, why wouldn’t you?

I still love my baskets, saddlebags, and handlebar bags. But now I’ve got a renewed appreciation for panniers. Of course, panniers are the least cool of these bags,**** especially since “bikepacking” has taken off. Maybe we need a rebranding effort? How about the pannier lifestyle? 🙂

*Yes, please tell me about lockable pannier mounting systems a la Ortlieb.

**Of course, that can be remedied.

***Unless you get something like a Bagman which acts like a quick release for the bag.

****Though I will note, trunk bags is the king of dorky bike bags.


3 thoughts on “The pannier lifestyle

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  1. Pannier Lifestyle? I’m all in, in fact I’ve always been all in. It’s my preferred method of carrying. I have multiple racks and sets of panniers/saddlebags (def: two panniers connected at the top) for most of my bikes. I even have a blog post draft that sings the praises of panniers and racks. Never posted it. The tone is too curmudgeonly. What I most like about panniers is how it keeps the weight loaded down low. I don’t like the feel of a top heavy bike. (Even on my motorcycle I don’t like to top off the gas tank because it gets so top heavy and effects the handling.) I never went the basket route because I don’t like weight on top of my wheel when it gets snowy and icy, which is six months out of the year here. And….I love a good trunk bag. I don’t care for the look, but as a shorter rider who rides smaller frames a trunk bag on a rack makes more sense than trying to fit a seat bag under the seat. Often it requires a rack anyway to keep it off your rear tire.

  2. I’m heading back to at least one bicycle with rack, rack trunk bag and panniers when needed. I recently outfitted my SUV with a 2inch tow hitch and a bicycle carrier that has two arms that go under the top tube of the bicycle. This makes my big frame bag on my Schwinn Sports Tourer into a big hassle when mounting the bicycle on the carrier. So it is being converted over to a rack and pannier getup. I love the handlebar, seat bag, frame bag way of doing but I only ride locally and these bags have been adequate for jackets, vests and the like. I also carry a full set of bicycle tire and tube repair tools. The bicycle carrier has been much handier than I had imagined and is used almost every day. I love your older Raleigh 3 speeds. Too bad they never made one my size. My size is finally being made by a bicycle company named Dirty Sixer. Good luck with your new pannier setup.

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