Cycle commuting #3 – Pannier Bags
Panniers are widely understood to be the best way to carry items on a bicycle, used by world tourers and occasional commuters alike they are found in every corner of our planet. The name pannier comes from a French term for wicker baskets slung on either side of a pack animal. This derived from the word “panier” of Middle English use, stolen from old French, in turn, taken from the Latin “Panarium” meaning “bread basket”. Amazingly, in 2017 I still return from the shops with a sourdough loaf peaking out of a fully loaded pannier regularly. Little did I know (until now) that this is the correct use of that Little rack and Ortlieb bag. There I am, keeping up a tradition from the 16th century, thinking that I’m, in some way smart for putting the bread on top so it doesn’t get squashed.
Pannier past, present, and future.
It’s time to talk about this vast area of cycling which is older than the bike itself. As long as man has had dominion over the beasts we have made baskets or racks for them to carry our burden. Once the bicycle appeared it wasn’t long before the pannier made its transition and the earliest version of our super tech Waterproof roll top bags was born. A history of refined design going back 11000 years, to when man first domesticated donkeys. Read more history here.
Pannier for life
So, you are beginning to get serious about this riding thing and of course, need to carry items with you wherever you go. Hopelessly over packing for every eventuality that may come to pass is a common sight. Whether you are riding 20 minutes to work or embarking on a world tour, it pays to be prepared. You will need spare clothes and shoes, laptop, lunch, cooking materials, water, tools, spare parts, it all takes up space and has a weight penalty. This is where the pannier excels, speak to any salty old road dog and their advice is to load the bike, not your body. They also say that their club runs were ridden fixed wheel only and that 10km time-trials were much further in their days, but trust them on the pannier advice! Weight on the body is damaging and strenuous as we know from Cycle commuting #1 – Backpacks
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Back to front
Rear panniers are by far the most common used today. Other than specific-use road or mountain bikes, the fixing points are found on almost every bike frame. There is a multitude of rear pannier racks to fit every bike setup available in all sizes and colours. When you do find yourself without the correct mount points then a seat-post mounted rear rack is the only smart option, and of course, there are hundreds of these to choose from as well. The current trendy bike accessory is the front pannier or porter rack which just screams “ I’m so utilitarian”, making your bike into the wheeled equivalent of a swiss army knife. They are useful and can offer easy access when stopping compared to the rear pannier. The feel when riding (as long as evenly loaded) is a slowed steering sensation but more stability when standing than the rear pannier. When used on a single speed bike, I actually prefer the front weight due to the poor bike movement when the rear is loaded. Hardcore “fronties” will cite overloading of rear axles as the main reason for loading the front but unless the rear has 80L of gear, there is little danger of damage here. Touring and now bike-packing enthusiasts often opt for a low-rider front pannier as this moves the bags down to the height of the hub which improves handling when loading the front wheel but does cause some issues on a mountain bike where you may find yourself with little ground clearance on the sides.
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The more commonplace panniers become, the more people will exchange their cars for the bicycle. The general population is beginning to realize that bikes aren’t just for middle-aged, overpaid, lycra lovers. Real people with things to do and stuff to carry can live a life on two wheels. The more the merrier I say, although the Bristol to Bath cycle path is beginning to look like the M25 some mornings. Whichever pannier you choose, depending on your unique needs, the benefits are many and the drawbacks few. The bike is the new millennium’s pack animal, and all you have to feed it is the occasional oil.