One of the most important accessories when travelling are bike panniers and choosing the right ones isn’t easy or taken for granted: purchasing bags which are too small will cause a lack of space for the luggage; purchasing bags too big, vice versa, will invite us to fill them often transporting useless weight and items that will remain unused on the bottom of the bags themselves. Hereafter we’ll see in short how to choose the right ones, which characteristics to take into consideration and how to understand if they’re suitable for our needs.
Not only... bicycle panniers
Before going into detail it’s only right to make a preamble we already made also in the case of camping tents for cycle tourism which is valid for almost all cycle-tourism and camping accessories: perfect bike panniers don’t exist. A different bag has to be matched to each trip and to each traveller. It makes no sense to spend hundreds of euros to have an equipment suitable for a round-the-world-trip by bike if your aim is to cycle for a few days on the cycleways close to where you live, as well as it makes no sense to save ten euros and buy an accessory which we’ll have to replace after a month of travel if we’re facing a very long journey. Therefore, first of all, you’ll have to understand which kind of cycle-traveller you are and which trips you want to face: once these concepts are clear you’ll be able to focus on the preparation of your equipment, bike panniers included.
Capacity, material and connections: three key elements
The main characteristics you have to pay attention to when buying bike panniers are the following:
Capacity is, in other words, the maximum volume you have available to fill your bags. When you buy bike panniers generally the technical data you find attached refer to a couple therefore if a capacity of 60 litres is indicated, it means that each bag will have a capacity of 30 litres. For travels of two or more weeks, maybe in cold, rainy countries, the minimum capacity we suggest you is of 40 l. Having 30/40 l on the rear luggage racks and 10/20 l on the front one is ideal, loading the heaviest items in front, but since we know how much bags cost, also having at disposal only rear panniers will be enough to travel for a long time: we spent our 10 months in Asia just with our rear bags of 60 l. In the case of shorter trips mainly in summer, don’t exaggerate and make do with bags of 30/40 l fastened on the rear racks: the little space available will help you to reduce weight and will allow struggling less to reach tour destination. In one week you won’t need much! In summary, I suggest you:
50-60l rear panniers and 15-30l front panniers for long distance travels
30-40l rear panniers (and eventually 15-20l on the front) for short tours
It’s necessary that your bags are waterproof or equipped with a bag-cover which is waterproof. The material the bike panniers of the main companies are made of is nylon fabric (polyester), covered with polyurethane which makes it waterproof. Alternatively, given the poor resistance to abrasion of this material, you use bags with the exterior in Cordura, a material which is much more resistant to abrasion but less to water. In such a case make sure that your bags are covered internally with waterproof polyurethane. In my opinion, the latter is the best choice to grant resistance in case of scratches or abrasions but make sure of water protection. I advise against buying bags which aren’t waterproof which are covered with a bag-cover: they’re less handy and more easily subject to losses. Bags which aren’t waterproof and don’t have a waterproof bag-cover aren’t an option to take into consideration. After a day spent in the rain, finding out that your spare clothes are wet can be quite frustrating! An extreme remedy could be to use black trash bags, but only if you already have bike panniers and you don’t want to face a new expense to buy new ones. Make sure that your bags have a stiff frame on the rear part, which protects them from impacts and allows you to anchor them better to the luggage rack. What’s more, the presence of some reflective inserts in the rear part will increase visibility when the light is low.
One last key detail is important to take care of when buying bike panniers is rack connections. In this case, you have not to focus only on the connections but also on its compatibility with our luggage rack, another accessory to choose with care. There are cheap bags with connections made of cloth or Velcro… forget it! The two most efficient alternative options in our opinion are the automatic connections on many models by well-known companies and metal clips with anchor hook below. The first system is the most innovative but has still some flaws: claps are equipped with a hook that releasing the handle of the bag closes enveloping the pipe of the rack. The main problem is that often these connections are made of plastic and therefore are weak and deformable. The second one is the simplest, but in my opinion also most convenient, you may have: upper metal hooks aren’t closed but must be simply inserted from above on the horizontal pipe of the rear rack. What grants to avoid removal of the bags in case passing on dirt or bumpy roads, is the elastic hook which must be applied (upward) on the lower pipe of the rack itself, adjusting its length so to supply a good tension to the elastic band which will keep the two upper hooks in their place. In both the aforementioned cases it’s important to take care there are some thicknesses to adapt the dimension of the hook to that of the rack pipe, to prevent the bags from swinging and slipping back and forth so becoming annoying when pedalling.
How to choose your bike panniers
In conclusion, before buying a bike pannier you have to consider various aspects:
side bags are ideal for my travel style or it is better to prefer a trailer?
Do I need a lot of space or is it better to focus on lightness?
Will I travel easily and on wide roads where polyester is enough or is it better to have bags made of Cordura because I will pass through paths where it’s easy to scratch the external envelope?
Do I want to spend something more and have long-lasting bags or I’d rather save a bit because this will be my only trip by bike?
Well, all these questions need to have an answer before choosing... Once doubts are resolved, it’ll be clear also the type of bike panniers suitable for your needs and you’ll be able to choose among many models on the market.
I'm from Piedmont and I'm 30 years old, I have been living and working in Lombardy for a few years. After a start without any competence in this field, I then approached the bicycle world more and more. Today I can call myself a bicycle traveller and videomaker who would never ever stop. I ride my bike trying to understand why it is so beautiful, rich, therapeutic. And every time I try, I do not understand it. So I must leave again...
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