Choosing panniers can be a bit of a minefield. What fabric to choose? How much literage will you need? What attachment system to pick?
By far the easiest way to hack your decision is to ask yourself the question: what do I need them for? Touring, commuting, or nipping to the shops? This will guide your decision making when weighing up which fabric, size and attachment systems.
Cheaper panniers for short distances will be made from water-resistant material, whereas those needed for longer trips will be made from more durable waterproof fabrics.
Literage is also an important feature. Commuting will require around 20 litres whereas touring will necessitate up to 50 or so litres.
All panniers will feature varying attachment mechanisms. Depending upon your use, you may want to consider how easy they come on and off for bikes when used for shopping and commuting, and how securely they fit to the frame when touring.
We’ve rounded up the best panniers for you by taking them out on the roads shopping, on our commute and on a long distance cycle.
Most panniers made for long distance bike touring and are designed to hold your luggage, keeping it both balanced on the back of your bike and safe from the elements. They tend to have a more robust attachment system that fully clasps onto bike rack poles.
Ortlieb Back Roller Plus Panniers: £126.99, Evans Cycles
Ortlieb is the go-to brand for most tourers thanks to its panniers’ waterproof and tear-resistant Cordura fabric, as well as the handy roll-closure mechanism. In addition they have small reflective patches on the sides. When it comes to storage, this pannier pair has a capacity of 40 litres, and there’s a nifty inside pocket to keep important documents in place. The rest of the bag, however, is a bit of a black hole for your belongings, so these really are designed for touring rather than commuting, which might necessitate easy access to your stuff. This bag only comes in one size, but the brand has a range of other styles, made from the same hardy fabric. The best thing about Ortlieb is that you can order replacement parts, so the bags really are a long term investment.
Vaude Aqua Back Plus: £130, Vaude
These panniers are quite similar in design to the above, but come with an added outside pocket for easy access to your essentials, which make them more suitable for dual use as touring and commuting panniers (especially if you have a tendency to carry the kitchen sink to work and back). The two combine to give a roomy 51-litre capacity, and the rubbery canvas-style fabric makes them waterproof and durable.
Carradice Originals Kendal: £100, Carradice
Carradice has been making panniers in the UK since 1930, so it knows a thing or two about a cyclist’s needs. The waterproof Kendal panniers are a great option for either short-weekend touring or commuting, as they feature a very useful front pocket for your mobile or wallet. Together, the bags have a capacity of up to 32 litres. They are made with heavy-duty black or green cotton duck canvas and features a drawstring top, deep oversized lid and buckle straps. The only downside is that the buckles can seem fussy when compared to the Velcro or quick-clip fastenings of more modern designs – but what they lose in ease, they make up for in durability. They were also the easiest to attach to the bike, empty or loaded. The panniers have a small reflective patch on the sides.
Altura Arran 36: £48.95 per pannier, Formby Cycles
At the lower end of the price range is the Altura Arran 36. It’s a great entry-level pannier for those wanting to try them out for the first time. Similar to the Carradice Kendal panniers, it is a reasonable size (36 litres) for a commute or overnight tour, but there aren’t any outside pockets or separate compartments inside. Also the fabric isn’t waterpoof, but will survive light rain. The Rixen Kaul Pressure Fit hooks clip onto bike racks in a simple but secure fashion, and can be fitted on the right and the left hand side.
Commuting can mean nipping around the corner with your packed lunch or making a 10-mile trek with a gym kit and laptop in tow. However, the most important factors to look for are ease-of-access, organisation and protection from the weather.
Thule Pack ’n Pedal Commuter Pannier: £100, Thule
This slick-looking, 19-litre pannier is a great mid-size option that packs loads of features into a light and beautifully functional package. A concealable rack mounting system allows for easy transformation from pannier to cross-shoulder bag and the included strap is comfortable for short journeys off the bike. The compartments are plentiful too, with a laptop pouch, a small waterproof valuables section and an elasticated front pocket alongside two transparent light pockets. Durable, waterproof, and with high quality components used throughout, the bag is clearly built to last.
Blackburn Wayside Backpack Pannier: £59.95, Bike Inn
This 19-litre pannier is water-resistant and has a canvas roll-top. The smart design means that bag straps fold into an integrated pouch, and webbed straps are pulled apart to be easily attached onto the top and side of the bike rack. The bag is easily expandable or compressed depending upon your needs and has a laptop sleeve and two external pockets, as well as two side mesh pockets. There is also daisy chain webbing on the front of the bag to attach bike lights.
Goodordering Picnic Pannier: £58.50, Evans Cycles
This retro-style pannier, inspired by Japanese school bags, comes in four colourways. It fixes to the bike rack using two straps and which are attached together with a buckle. For carrying off the bike shoulder straps can be attached or it can be held using the grab handles. They are constructed from a water-resistant material and have a padded internal laptop compartment as well as plenty of other pockets for organising your work or weekend items. It has a capacity of 18.5 litres.
Pendleton Single Pannier Bike Bag: £40, Halfords
This 13-litre satchel comes in at the smaller and cheaper end of the spectrum. It has a magnetic closing system, which isn’t the most durable if you are cycling major distances each day, but, much like Victoria Pendleton’s range of bikes, it works for those who prefer the odd weekend adventure on two wheels. It is made from water-repellent canvas fabric, so not one for getting caught in a downpour with.
Shopping panniers are specifically designed to hold your weekly food shop with flat bottoms and wide open tops for easy organisation and storage so your items don’t get crushed. They usually do not feature inside compartments as the utility is derived from the maximised inner space with these panniers.
Basil Blossom Roses Shopper: £22.52, Athlete Shop
Unlike double panniers, this single 19-litre water-resistant shopper easily comes off and has shoulder straps so you can pop your fruit and vegetables straight into it as you shop, and then load it onto your bike using the concealed hook on system when you’re ready for home. There are also handy outer pockets where you can store your purse.
New Looxs Bisonyl Dubbele Tas: £30.94, Athlete Shop
These 66-litre panniers come as a joined pair in black and space age silver. There is plenty of room for the big weekly shop. They attach using Velcro, at the side and back of the luggage rack, meaning they are not the easiest to remove and will have to stay put on the bike once you’re parked up and load your shopping bags into it, rather than taking them around the shops with you.
Alban Tote Bicycle Bag: £70, Alban
Alban is an independent, London-based company making bags in the UK for urban and lifestyle cyclists. This single 18-litre pannier mimics the style of the casual canvas tote bag, ideal for picking up the odd item as well as using as a commuter bag. It can also be worn across the body when cycling or off the bike. The fabric is waterproof British Millerain canvas and the carry handle or optional shoulder strap is leather and brass. Interestingly, so are the pannier hooks that attach to the rack, to prevent interference while carrying, a feature not seen on many carry-on-and-off panniers. The bag comes in olive or black.
Overall, the Ortlieb Back Roller Plus Panniers are the best for long-distance touring due to their durable design and longevity. For shorter adventures, the Carradice Kendals are compact and balanced. The best commuter pannier goes to Thule for the smart attachment design and slick city aesthetic that makes them perfect to take into meetings. A neat hybrid between the shopper and the commuter bag is the Alban bike bag, which impressed us with its heritage design and clever brass and leather fixings. The shopper pannier that impressed most was the Basil Blossom Roses Shopper as it was easy to take on and off the bike and had useful side pockets for ease of access.
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