If you’re reading this it means you’re probably interested in using panniers for commuting or perhaps completely new to commuting in general. Bike experts need not read on; you probably know more than I do 😉 I’ve been commuting by bike for years and it only occurred to me this year that I really, REALLY needed a pannier. Ever since I started commuting in university, backpacks and messengers bags toted all of my essential stuff to school and beyond. Usually, I’ve never really had to worry about anything more than a few books, some lunch and the occasional badminton bag, so that suited me just fine. Though once I did barely manage to cycle to school with a trombone strapped to my backpack, it wasn’t enough motivation to get panniers.
So let’s talk about panniers – bags that allow a bike to carry your stuff by clipping onto a rack attached to the bike. This could either be at the front or at the rear of the bike, over the wheels. Sometimes, racks can also attach to the seat post but generally they don’t hold as much weight and are prone to shifting. There are tons of panniers out there ranging from large, fully waterproof touring panniers to weekend shopping-at-the-farmer’s-market basket panniers. Here are some of the considerations I thought about for my purchase:
- Intended use – Where are you going? How long is your trip? Is your bag going to take a beating? What size of bag do you need? The pannier you take to the office will likely require less space and be easily carried whereas a touring pannier will need to be spacious, sturdy and compartmentalized. Some bags like Arkel’s Bug doubles as a backpack or Ortlieb’s Downtown messenger/briefcase pannier.
- Waterproofing – Will you need to cycle through rain? Usually, a sturdy rain cover and decent pannier waterproofing will keep most people’s stuff dry. But if you plan on cycling rain or shine in wet climates, it would be good to get a pannier that’s roll-top with a PVC-type material that resembles dry bags used by kayakers and canoeists.
- Bike frame – Is your bike strong enough handle a large load? Some people put racks on road bikes but they won’t seriously load it up because the frame isn’t designed for the weight. People with small bike frames may find that large panniers will get in way of their heels when pedalling, which makes it dangerous to cycle.
- Features – Side pockets, laptop sleeve, roll-top closure, internal organizer, shoulder strap, light attachments etc. Features aren’t as important and really depend on your preference.
Any one of the above categories could change your choice of pannier.
How I Chose Mine
Here were my considerations:
- Intended use – Commuting to school, grocery shopping and short trips to the gym, beach etc. The storage capacity I want is between 20-30L.
- Waterproofing – A must in Singapore where sudden monsoon rains can leave you drenched in minutes.
- Bike Frame – I have a hybrid Scott Speedster 55. The frame is more like a road bike and is a XXS frame, so the pannier can’t be too big.
- Features – A pocket for keys and other small items, definitely a laptop sleeve, and a roll-top closure in case of thunderstorms.
What I ended up settling on was Arkel’s Signature V urban laptop pannier. It’s a 28L roll-top pannier that’s waterproof with a laptop sleeve and a small organizer pocket on the inside. It has a shoulder strap and shopping bag type handles when fully open. I did think about getting one that transforms into a messenger bag or backpack but I was sold by the simplicity of a roll-top pannier and my deathly fear of getting things soaked by water made me avoid zippers altogether. It’s double layered (if one layer is punctured, no probs), with the inside being a waterproof zip-out liner and the outside, tough-as-nails Cordura fabric. Another thing I was sold on was Arkel’s Cam-Lock attachment system. As the name describes, when in place, a cam keeps the hooks in place so that the pannier won’t become air-borne over a large bump. The part that attaches to the rack is solid aluminum and it doesn’t use a bungee. Take a look at the following pictures:
Before you start suspecting I’m a secret salesperson for Arkel, I’ll have you know I did debate over several panniers before finally deciding. I looked at a lot of panniers from Mountain Equipment Co-op when I went home for the holidays. I also checked out Ortlieb panniers in Singapore because I’ve heard great things about them but they are very expensive here. Another thing I like about Arkel is that their products are Canadian-made from Sherbrooke, Quebec (support local companies!). Their panniers are even signed by its maker! Thanks, Pauline!
In Hindsight … Some Observations You May Find Useful
After using my pannier and new rack for a few days, there are some aspects of cycling with a pannier that only occurred to me after the fact:
- Balance – I got one pannier, which I attach on the right side of my bike, and felt that the lopsided weight was awkward at first to get used to. When I’m cycling it doesn’t feel off balanced but the pannier is noticeable when pushing my bike and when turning. Just have to take it easy at first. Many people ride with one pannier but if you prefer to be more balanced, consider getting two. I might just do that myself.
- Speed and manoeuvrability – With the added weight, the bike is not as fast as before and I’m not expecting to squeeze through traffic like I used to. Maybe that’s why bike messengers have shoulder bags?
- Bulkiness – My pannier has a pretty wide profile which takes getting used to when mounting the bike. I’m the type who swings my leg over the bike while the bike is in motion, so I need to swing further out than normal. I prefer to place my pannier away from traffic (they drive on the left side of the road here in Singapore) because I’ve heard of stories where cyclists get their pannier clipped by a car and go flying. Some people advocate panniers on the traffic side to increase visibility.
The commuting conclusion for myself is this: light load = messenger bag; heavy load = pannier. Anything I’ve missed out? Check out the next post on choosing a bike rack. Cheers! -J