Here is a list of some of the features you want to consider when purchasing bicycle panniers. Bike panniers are the bags that bicycle tourists and commuters use for carrying their needed gear. It depends on the exact nature of how you plan to use your panniers as to which of these features may be more or less important to you.
Even though you should look at purchasing panniers for a specific purpose, remember that a good set of panniers can be used in many different settings. Bike panniers are not just for long distance travel. You can use them when traveling to and from work or for trips to the grocery store.
You may not find all the features you want in one set of panniers. The goal is to get as close to your ideal set of requirements with the money you have available. To an extent, the more you pay for a set of panniers, the more you will be pleased with their performance.
You need to know that the panniers you are considering purchasing will fit on the racks you already have, or will buy for your new bags. There are several pannier companies that make bags to fit a particular line of bike racks. Their bags may fit on other racks, but maybe not. Read as much information as you can about the particular rack requirements. If you will be purchasing racks at the same time as the panniers, get recommendations from the seller as to which racks work best with that particular set of bags.
The panniers need to lock into place and not jostle around while riding down a bumpy road. The last thing you need is to have them fall off while going down a steep unpaved trail.
Panniers come in various sizes. If you own a touring bike then you will have the most room available between the pedals and the bags. However, if you are putting panniers onto a road bike, you need to realize that there is not as much clearance for your feet in this condensed bike frame. Get bags that are appropriate in size for the amount of room you have for your feet while pedaling.
Getting panniers that are much larger than you need will tempt you to carry more weight and unneeded equipment than you should. Everything that goes into the panniers have to be transported down the road by your own power. But don't buy bags that are too small either. It is hard to say what an appropriate size for any one person would be. Much of this depends on the way you plan to use the panniers. For commuting around town you can use a much smaller pannier than you would for an extended bike tour. If possible, you want to buy a set of panniers that will serve you in all situations. You don't want to buy two sets of panniers for two distinct purposes if possible.
Different pannier companies measure their bags in different measurements. Cubic centimeter to cubic inch conversions are as follows:
- 1 cubic inches = 16.387064 cubic centimeters
- 1 cubic centimeter = 0.0610237441 cubic inches
Panniers can be used for much more than bicycle travel. There are many bags that have carry handles so that you can carry them like one or two briefcases. Others have backpack style straps that make it easy to carry one of the bags on your back. The easier the bags are to carry off the bike, the more likely you will use them for the short trips on your non-bike touring days.
The lighter the bags the easier they will be to transport on the bike as well as at the office. However, you trade some durability by having lighter bags. If your bags will be on and off your bike regularly then you want to consider a more durable construction. It the bags will be semi-permanently attached to the bike, then you can go with a lighter bag.
Having bags with expandable pockets is a big bonus. Or, they may have compression straps which will let you cinch down the straps when you don't want the contents shifting around. These straps can be loosened to add "just one more thing."
Pannier Organization and Protection
Having options when organizing the contents of your panniers is important. You need some large, open pockets as well as smaller compartments for tiny items. Look at panniers that will give you more of what you personally need.
While you probably should not be digging in your bags while driving down the road, you also don't want to have to completely get off the bike to grab a banana out of your pannier. Easy access to at least some compartments is important. When packing your panniers you should also consider what items you might need and how to access them easily with the system you have.
Zippers, drawstrings, straps and bungees. Which is best? Zippers are prone to break over time. The best quality zippers will still take a beating on tour. Panniers with drawstrings have one less element to break, but they are cumbersome to work with. The positive side of drawstrings is that if it breaks, it is a simple matter to replace. Whatever the closing system of a set of panniers is, you need to be comfortable with your ability to access needed materials quickly and confidently.
Panniers should be as waterproof as possible. When carrying your clothes and electronics, you don't want more moisture getting into your panniers than is necessary. Even if you choose not to travel on wet days, you still have to try to keep your contents dry while at your campsite. This is one area where the cost of the bags goes up considerably with the quality of the waterproofing.
There are panniers that look like nice leather corporate bags. Then there are panniers that are nothing more than two 5 gallon buckets strapped the rear rack. You may feel a bit strange walking into your stock-broker office carrying a 5 gallon plastic bucket.
Panniers come in many different colors. While bright yellow bags may be safer on the road, they also seem to be more attractive to thieves. The more you can blend in while on tour, the less likely you are to become a target. The more you look like you are just passing through the more appealing you are to the casual thief. Muted colors are usually a better choice. However, you still want as much reflective material as is practical.
Taking time to browse your local bike shop for panniers is a great way to see what is available. Looking at bags attached to bikes will help you see how big a bag really is. There are also many panniers available at Amazon.