Sunday, November 11, 2012

the great pannier hunt

I'm not sure how many of you out there use your bicycle (or motorcycle) to run errands. If you do, then you know that the size but more often the shape of the bag/pannier/sidecase is often more important than the total volume. Same for closure method. A great everyday pannier should not only be voluminous but also possess a large, rigid opening and a quick-and-easy closure. Those fab leather straps on your Gilles Ber-Brooks? Trying fiddling with them at each store on your shopping run. And getting them wet. There's only so much Proofide in the world.

You're so beautiful

Let's face it, if you're going to be using your bike as true transportation, it's going to get wet. It's also likely to get rather soiled. All that magic oil and dirt mixture gets flung from the road upwards onto your rear rack and panniers, if not from the rear wheel (because you've already fitted sensible fender, yes?) but from the front. That spray gets everywhere. We must admit that as pretty as they are, we really don't want any leather on our bags. And we probably don't want the luggage to cost more than the bike.

Everyone is quick to point to Ortlieb. Yes, they make rockin' touring panniers. They are the best in the biz and absolutely weatherproof. They're also super-bright and frankly overkill unless your Harris Teeter in on Mount Rainier. I also find the roll-top closures a bit putzy for everyday use.

We know that we've spent a lot of time making our bike look good. I know you have. So we can't put on some black plastic tumor of a pannier. We need something with a wee bit of good-lookin. There's also the theft factor. I really like to leave the bags on the bike while shopping. In this case, large, double-bags are great because they seem to be a permanent part of the bike.

The Dutch have this all figured out. They have a plethora of functional, stylish double-panniers (the holy grail: connected boxy panniers that never leave the bike). After an expensive, unsuccessful attempt to import some, I started looking at made-in-USA models.

She doesn't know how good she has it

There are a lot of great bags made here. There are a bunch of fabulous, custom, and spendy bags from Swift Industries. All the panels, trim, and straps can be custom-colored. They're super-functional and I especially like the front bag built for the VO porteur rack. They also make some options with shoulder straps, adding more function to the bag (possibly great for the office-commuter types).

Colors! (from Swift's blog)

Banjo Brothers' Minnehaha bags are also swell and unique looking. Banjo also does some more standard black utility panniers that are very well put together, sturdy, and black. Also super-duper if you like black are Timbuk2's bags. Apparently only the custom bags are made in San Fran but I've been using a Timbuk2 messenger bag for years and love it. It's too bad that their custom program doesn't include the panniers.

Ironweed's two models, from their site

Ultimately, I think that Ironweed out of Iowa City has the best blend of style and function. They only make two models but both are pretty much big rectangles, the perfect shape for swallowing groceries. They come in only a few colors but at least they're not all black! I hope they'll fit well on my Trek; I need to check heel clearance once the Tubus rack is installed.

Finally, I want to also mention Axoim's "Dutch" panniers. They're a connected double-bag that comes in a cool rust-red, if you can find it in stock somewhere.  They're also a bunch less expensive that the custom/made in the USA bags. 

I hope this is helpful to others searching for great panniers.

Finally, a bunch of pretty bag pics courtesy of Ironweed.

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