Monday, June 28

Back to Back Panniers

Timbuk2 Bulitt Pannier
Some of you may know that I've developed an unhealthy interest in panniers. Receiving sage advice, I've concluded that a robust, reliable, and simple means of attaching the pannier to the rack is an area of great interest. Conveniently enough, bike school was located very near our local REI, and even more conveniently, I had an REI rebate check burning a hole in my pocket - and REI has a good variety of panniers. Less conveniently, I was a bit low on other funds, but it doesn't cost anything to look and do research. So I did. Most times, you see photos of the outside of panniers. But here are a comparison of a number of the inside that will make you love the pannier for the way it stays on the bike - or not. First up was the Timbuk2 Bulitt Pannier, shown above. It had some real serious looking steel hooks. They looked, however, like they'd start working out of the fabric if ever the pannier was overloaded. At $75 per pannier "on sale" (remember, this is an REI sale), they seemed a bit spendy, considering the suspicious looking hooks and the lack of other gew gaws.

Next up, was a stylish looking pannier; the Detours Grassy Pannier. That looked like it might work for a sunny day on the right kind of bike and the right kind of rider, but none of those three describe the way I'd use such an article. Besides looking silly on my Tricross, can you imagine getting that grass clean after running through a mud hole? Also "on sale," this article cost $60 for a pannier. That seemed steep for a straw bag.

Detours Toocan Grassy Pannier
Proving that style costs money, as well as that Detours knows more about panniers than their first candidate let on was the fourth bag, a Detours Toto Pannier, costing a mere $45 per bag even without claiming a "sale." Besides not using grass to encourage a mud buildup, the latches looked a lot more businesslike than those on the Toocan.

Detours Toto Pannier
Fourth on the rack to catch my eye was an Ortlieb Classic Backroller Pannier pair. I shall have to go back and revisit Ham's photos to compare the latch design with the ones he thought were lousy. This Ortlieb appeared to have a different configuration of latch. These puppies look well built and I know that Rantwick has been pleased with his, or at least he was until he went all tubby on us. He claims that the tub only gets used in the winter, but Ortliebs seem expensive for the one-day long Ontario summer. These particular Ortliebs didn't even make a pretense of being on sale at $165 for a pair of panniers. Still, that's only $7.50 more than the Timbuk2 bag on a unit basis. REI had 22 reviews of this bag on their site, with only one bad review. The problem with that bag was a clip that broke repeatedly, as Ham reported.

Ortlieb Backroller Red/Black Panniers
Which brought us to the last bag I remembered to take a photo of, the REI House Brand Novara Commuter Pannier. At $84.50, it seemed the most rugged of the lot, but it was also the most expensive. The "buzz yellow/carbon" is something I think I'd have a hard time learning to love. Still, carbon panniers - they MUST be light, eh?

Novara Commuter Pannier in "Buzz Yellow/Carbon"
Oh, I did see one other bag. It looked and felt a lot like the charcoal ones and I don't recall the brand. The price? $50 for a pair. Hmm, what's the catch? They aren't on the REI website, either.


Chandra said...

You "ought to" check out Arkel bags.
Arkel bags are extremely well-made.
It is good karma!!
Peace :)

Rantwick said...

Arkels were the only serious competition for the Ortliebs after a sick amount of research on my part, and they are made here in Canada.

I paid $118 US for my pair of front rollers, which I use on the back rack. "One day Ontario summers"... sheesh. I'm not even going to justify that with a response... although I guess I just did.

The mounting clips have shown none of the problems Ham reported yet and they remain bone dry inside in the heaviest rain. They are just over a year old now, and are in use about 7-8 months of the year... so far I've gotten what I paid for. I just hope they don't let me down in the long run.

danc said...

Two another factors in considering panniers:

1) Ease of securing or removing. Up North of the River Jordan, one appreciates quick on/off when it's 10F while wearing wool mittens.

2) Ease of carrying. How far of walk between the parking rack and restroom/locker/showers. I make a wood handle for a Bushwhacker touring pannier.

What about the Trek panniers? I like the interchange rack system.

Oldfool said...

Yes you do have an unhealthy interest in panniers. Panniers remind me of fishing lures at the tackle shop. They are best at catching the customer.
Hang thrift store bags from your rack. Save your money.
Or seek counseling.

Steve A said...

REI doesn't have the Arkels. I shall have to examine Chandra's more carefully instead of his handlebar bag. It is interesting to hear that the "front rollers" work on the back. It didn't occur to me that they would, though it makes sense.

Danc, er, actually, I usually take my bike in the restroom/shower room with me, so the walk is pretty short. Still, I think when I get more serious about purchase, I will test the finalists while wearing ski mittens. My LBS has the Trek panniers. I shall have to examine them again in light of my newfound knowledge. Wouldn't putting Trek Panniers on a Specialized bike result in accelerated corrosion damage or a tendency for the bags to try to get away from the bike?

Steve A said...

I also kind of like those wire baskets that Velouria at Lovely Bicycle uses. They keep the thrift store bags from getting caught in the wheel.

Best of all is to avoid either panniers OR thrift store bags. They tend to get filled up with stuff you have to haul around...

Ham said...

Those Arkel's look good. For sheer waterproof-ness the Ortleibs seem to be tops, but that is also a source of major gripes for a lot of people, came across this Interesting that none of the panniers you've seen have the Altura fixing, which is on many European brands and is amongst the best.

Steve A said...

Ham's link is consistent with the REI reviews. The REI reviewers, however, saw the lack of zippers as a virtue. The Ortlieb is also heavy due to the extensive waterproofing.

cycler said...

I have the older version of the Ortlieb "office" bag that I bought at one of REI's "Garage Sales" for something like $50 which is really cheap.
Very waterproof and a generous carrying capacity. I really like the easy on and off clips, but I also take my bag off every time I park it, so if you don't remove it all the time you might not need the nice clips.

My big beef with it was its interior pockets setup (smallish very deep pockets in which things tend to get lost. Also it has an internal stiffener, and my keys are always getting stuck way down in between the stiffener and the bag where I can't see them/ have to dig for them.

It's my largest bag, and I still take it out if I'm doing a big grocery run, or if I know I'm going to get wet.
I bought mounting hardware from Ortlieb, and made my own everyday bag using a leather satchel. It's smaller, which is sometimes a good thing, and has a couple of exterior pockets that are perfect for camera/ wallet/ keys/ phone.

Based on my experience with my "office bag" I would definitely start with the Ortliebs if I intended to buy a set of touring panniers. Although I would sneak a covetous look at the Rivendell bags- I suspect they're too pricy, and if I were touring, I would want the serious waterproofing of an Ortlieb.

Apertome said...

I have Ortlieb Back Roller Plus panniers. I just got them earlier this year and only use one for commuting. I intend to do some camping trips and possibly touring with them at some point, but I'm not sure when that might be. I have had no problems whatsoever with them so far.

I must have gotten a great deal on mine. I don't remember what I paid, but I'm thinking it was $120 or $130, for a pair of Back Roller Plus. The only differences between the Classic and the Plus are different material, and slightly different mounting hardware that's easier to adjust and accommodates a special lock.

Before that, I had some Banjo Brothers waterproof panniers. I think I paid $40 apiece for them and they worked quite well, especially considering the price. I even did a couple of loaded camping trips with them, even though they're not really intended for that, and they worked fine. After 3+ years, they got pretty beat up, though. On one, the buckle didn't hold as firmly as it used to. Also, the rubber coating on the hooks came off.

I'm thinking my Ortliebs will last longer. They better, given the price!

Oldfool said...

Check out Brian's work on
You might get what you want custom made.He and his bride have a Blog called LifeCycle at
They are bicycle people

waco said...

I am on my second set of Novara "grocery bag" style panniers. The first set attached with some simple hooks of plastic or rubber coated metal at the top and a spring with a hook at the bottom. I discovered the hard way that the rivets on the top hooks were weak and lost a bag and it's contents in the middle of the intersection of Houston and Elm on my way to work. Luckily it was the pannier with my change of clothes and not my laptop. As the bag fell, it did manage to go into my rear wheel and dislodge the chain (despite a chain guard). Not fun.

This must have been an issue as REI has updated the clips on the current version of the bag--they now look just like those shown in the last photo of your post. Anyway, I bought them and so far they seem to be holding up reasonably well after a couple months of use. I don't like or have much faith in the lower clip design. With my rack, it just doesn't seem to want to stay in place. In that regard I prefer the old style spring and clip. Also on one bag, one of the blue piece that rotates to lock the upper clips seems to be a bit loose compared to the others though I have not had any issues with it unlocking on its own. Also, there was a defective snap one of the new bags, but REI swapped it out no questions asked (of course).

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