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I’ve been trying to figure out where to mount my panniers. Front or rear, low or high, a mixture of both? I see all kinds of systems being used for touring, bikepacking and whatever else, but I can’t find a definitive guide to where and why.
Why is it we need to be sure of anything or everything? Is your bike going to spontaneously combust and eject you into a tar pit if your bags aren’t placed exactly to the whims of the latest Internet adventure stud/Peter Pan/Instagram hero? No it won’t.
You have all the evidence you need to decide on this. Thousands of dudes (both male and female) that dressed and groomed like it was the ‘70s, because it was ‘70s, crossed the U.S. with heavy military surplus gear stuffed into rear panniers and a handlebar bag. Is this an ideal system? Probably not. Does it work. Hell yes! There is tall-tubesock and running shorts bedecked evidence everywhere you look.
Look, if you load up a bike, it will change the handling, no matter where you mount your bags. Maybe your bike has the proper combo of bar height, fork offset, frame stiffness and head tube angle (and any number of X-factors no one can quite figure out) to make it ride like a dream with low-mount panniers. The problem is, you won’t know unless you try.
And most people load up their stuff the way that seems the most practical/affordable/cool-looking and over the course of a tour become so attuned to the vagaries of the bike that a Zen-like calm replaces the worry that bags mounted someplace else may be the final key to cycling nirvana.
It is much more important to keep your kit clean, dry and secure. Make sure your bags are attached to your rack well enough to bomb down that rocky two-track to that hidden swimming hole.
Buckle your buckles, tighten your straps, keep heavy stuff low, your camera close at hand and your cell phone buried deep under that big bag of gorp. The rest will take care of itself.
This Q&A originally appeared in Bicycle Times Issue #37. Support your favorite independent cycling magazine and order a subscription today. Beardo is counting on you.
The hinterlands are the area just beyond your reach. Past the horizon. Around the next bend.
Those are the places Swift Industries hopes you’ll explore with its new line of bags and accessories. All of Swift Industries’ bags are made by hand in its Seattle workshop, and the new Hinterland Collection switches out the traditional Cordura construction in favor of the lighter and more water-resistant XPac material.
The centerpiece is the updated Ozette randonneuring bag that is available in three sizes, each of which mounts to a rando-style front rack. They feature a flared flap for water protection, a new closure system that offers better durability and versatility, and an internal organization system to keep your items close at hand. The small carries 10.5 liters, the medium 12.5 liters and the large 15.5 liters. It is only available in black XPac with orange accents. Prices range from $230 to $260.
Matching the Ozette is a pair of Hinterland Jr. Ranger Panniers, also made from XPac and perfect for carrying on front lowrider racks. They carry 20 liters per pair and use a traditional bungee hook attachment system for universal fit and durability. In addition to the external pockets, the dual-closure main body is lined with waterproof textile to ensure it is extremely weather resistant. They retail for $260 a pair.
Also new is the Roanoke Backpack Pannier, a modular backpack that attaches to your bike via traditional hook-and-strap pannier hardware. The two adjustable straps are made from seatbelt webbing for comfort and clip on and off to stow in the front pocket. Still made from Cordura for a classic look, it is available in either a Mini or Roll Top version, and the backpack conversion can be added to custom pannier bags, as well. The Roll Top measures 23 liters and the Mini Roll Top is 15 liters. The Roll Top sells for $205 and the Mini Roll Top for $180.
The Hinterland Collection, the Roanoke backpack panniers and all of Swift Industries’ classic bags are available now at Swift Industries’ redesigned website.
Read our review of the classic Jr. Ranger Panniers.
Photos by Emily Walley
Marina Mertz, founder of Anhaica Bag Works, creates unique waxed canvas bags for both on and off the bike. The business is located in what we know as Tallahassee, Florida, but the name hearkens back to the city’s early roots as Anhaica, home and capital city of the Apalachee people.
Marina started small, sewing bags in a work space she rented from Tallahassee’s community bike shop, but soon her days were filled with crafting the Anahica collection, from bicycle touring bags to everyday totes.
The resulting product is beautiful. I was immediately drawn to the muted color palette and vintage aesthetic of the Anhaica line. I had the pleasure of testing out the Convertible Backpack Pannier: a versatile carryall for wherever your bike takes you.
The hand-waxed nature of the canvas gives the bag an aged appearance without sacrificing strength and regular use only enhanced its “weathered” style.
I have never bought a single yard of waxed canvas but instead spent months testing different mixtures of wax and application processes. We use 100% local beeswax for all of our bags. – Mertz
As stated in the name, this particular Anhaica bag converts from backpack to pannier for convenient carrying on your back or on your bike, and it does so quite well. For use while riding, the shoulder straps are designed to tuck under a large velcro flap and the bag attaches to the rack via two sturdy plastic hooks. There is not a lower rack attachment on the bag so if your ride involves fast-rolling, rough terrain I’d recommend using a zip tie or two at the top, for some extra security.
When worn as a backpack, the flap lives behind the straps. With the full bag length extending to 25 inches when open, 12 inches wide and 4.5 inches deep; it easily stows a 15-inch laptop in a padded case, a change of clothes and a lunch with room to spare. With the roll top closed, I had 18 inches of interior height. For grocery getting, it fits about one paper bag’s worth of goods. The straps are sewn below the pannier hooks, so they do not interfere with the bag’s wearability, and have a light padding making them comfortable even when loaded.
Between the wax coating and nylon lined interior, the bag can tolerate a bit of steady rain before your gear becomes wet. In a light shower, the water beaded up and brushed off. Anhaica recommends using the provided beeswax to keep the bag water-resistant and looking nice. The side seams are not sealed but they are covered by a layer of nylon helping to trap any moisture that could seep through. If you’re concerned about moisture, you could seal the seams yourself for a few dollars and a little time.
The two side pockets with reflective accents aren’t quite a standard water bottle size, but they are right-sized for tools, a map, or a thermos. The large 8″ x 10” front zipper pocket works well for a phone, wallet and keys.
I used the Convertible Backpack Pannier for toting stuff around the city. It’s a great commuter or book bag and could be easily be used for a light overnight. The Convertible Backpack Pannier is available in grey/brown (tested), blue/brown, and black for $220.
Born below the sandy pines of North Florida, on the sun softened pavement of canopy roads, under the deluge of southern thunderstorms and from the desire to create bags that don’t sacrifice style for function. – Anhaica Bag Works
Brooks England is of course best known for its bicycle saddles, but in recent years the brand has expanded well beyond with all manner of accessories that perfectly match the classic style of the bikes that so often bear its saddles.
Norfolk and Suffolk panniers
This pair of front and rear panniers might look like they’re made from a classic cotton canvas material, but they’re actually a lightweight and waterproof synthetic. The material is Bluesign certified, meaning it is manufactured in an environmentally responsible way. They all feature an external pocket as well as stretchy side pockets for water bottles or small items. The Norfolk front panniers hold 10 to 13 liters of cargo each and the Suffolk rear panniers hold 18 to 22 liters. They are built around the Ortlieb QL2 attachment system that features an integrated handle for carrying them off the bike. They are each available in three colors: black, green and dove. The Norfolk sells for €100 each (which is about $109) and the Suffolk is €120 each ($130).
Isle of Wight saddle bag
A classic saddlebag for tools and tubes, the Isle of Wight is made from the same synthetic material as the panniers with genuine Brooks leather accents. It has twin zipper access in each of the three available sizes: 0.8 liters, 1.2 liters and 1.8 liters. Also available in black, green or dove it is made in Italy and sells for €50 to €60 ($54 to $65).
Isle of Skye handlebar bag
Rounding out the package is the Isle of Skye handlebar bag, also made from the Bluesign waterproof material. A great option for carrying the basics with you on the bike and easily taking them with you off the bike, the Isle of Skye attaches with the Ortlieb KlickFix system. The detachable shoulder strap means you can detach it from your bike and take it wherever you need to. It holds approximately 9 liters of gear and retails for €145 ($158). It is only available in the dove color.Tweet Print
There’s a reason Ortlieb is the gold standard in touring panniers, as seen on countless bicycle expeditions around the world for more than a decade. Built to last, entirely waterproof, and available in a few iconic colors, they are instantly recognizable on or off a bike.
But let’s face it, not all of us are going on extended, cross-country journeys—most of our trips are to the office and back, and I would imagine the vast majority of Ortlieb’s products are actually used for commuting rather than touring.
In the past year or so we’ve seen many brands adding more and more reflectivity into their products, and some, including Ortlieb, have gone as far as making the entire product reflective. The new High-Vis series uses the standard reflective patches found on all Ortlieb panniers, but also uses a reflective yarn woven right into the cordura outer to cause the whole bag to pop under a streetlight or car’s headlight.
Since these Back-Roll bags are of course mounted on a rear rack, the huge amount of reflective real estate makes you and your bike much more visible from both the rear and the sides. During the day the neon yellow color is so bright that it’s difficult to photograph, and at night it’s like a pair of glowing orbs floating above the road.
If you’re familiar with the classic Ortlieb roll-top bags, you’ll instantly recognize the main features, including a universal fit that is super-secure on nearly any rack ever made using the QL2.1 fit system.
The hooks come with spacers so they can tightly grip nearly any diameter of rail (up to 16mm)—and they latch on, only to be released by pulling on the grab handles.
Inside you’ll find a zippered pocket that hugs the wall of the bag. It’s a good place to tuck smaller items that would otherwise filter their way down to the very bottom. The outside is reinforced with plastic bumpers on high-wear areas.
Because the body of the High-Vis bags is made from a PU laminated, water-resistant Cordura instead of the PVC-coated polyester, they are actually a bit lighter (850 grams each) than the Back Roller classic bags (1,900 grams claimed weight, per pair). They all share the same 20 liter capacity per bag, and they can be used with the same compatible accessories.
The extra visibility does come at a price. A pair costs $260, compared to $180 for a pair of classic Back-Roller bags. To round out the High-Vis line, a smaller Front-Roll set, as well as a handlebar bag and briefcase are also given the reflective touch. For 2015 they will also be available in an all-black version, if you want the reflective material paired with a more subdued look.
I’m always searching for a ways to look fashionable, yet remain practical on a bicycle. Those two things are often difficult to mesh. Purses are especially troublesome; if they’re not stored in a pannier or strapped to a rack, they’re simply in the way. For evenings out on the town I’m guilty of filling my boyfriend’s pockets with accoutrements, so I can leave my purse behind.
Enter the Athena Clutch, a cycling focused clutch design by Kyla Burnet of Green Guru, the Boulder based maker of bags and accessories. As with all of their products, the Athena Clutch is made from repurposed materials; the slim, lightweight, design is crafted from a brightly colored banner on the exterior and a fabric lined interior, with two pockets. A large magnetic flap and zipper closure keep the elements at bay and reflective accents help with visibility.
The clutch hand strap, made from a bike inner tube, runs tightly across the back of the bag and the tube’s tackiness makes the clutch easy to hold on to off the bike. Two reflective hook and loop straps clip to the bag making it easy to attach the clutch to the bars, top tube, or rack, and suitable for use with any bike.
In addition to carrying my smartphone and a small wallet, I managed to store a tube, patch kit, and tire levers without too much effort. I own very few bicycle focused products that I use while not biking, so I love coming across a product that is suitable for a well-rounded lifestyle. When I look at the Athena Clutch I see a trendy purse that happens to work very well on a bicycle.
The Athena Clutch is prepped for production but Green Guru needs your help launching the Athena line, which will be 100% constructed in Boulder, Colorado. Take a look at their Kickstarter campaign (ending October 13th!) and receive your own Athena Clutch for a pledge of $58 dollars or more.