If you want to carry any sort of load on your bike, a pannier is a great place to start.
A backpack is fine for anyone only riding a few miles to work with bare essentials. But if you plan on travelling further or need to carry more – shopping for example – letting your bike take the weight makes things a lot more comfortable. Having that load lower down makes it more stable too.
Make sure to check that your bike can take a bolt-on pannier rack, otherwise you may need to buy a rack that grips the seat post instead. The very best panniers have fittings that hold them securely but allow you to click them off and on in seconds.
Whichever brand you buy, make sure it has either a solid plastic fin or a Velcro loop at the bottom – they fit behind your rack and stop it swinging about while you’re riding. If you’re planning on running just one pannier, place it on the right side of your rack. That way, if your fully laden bike topples over the bag will protect your expensive and fragile rear gears from damage.
You can buy panniers singly or in pairs. You’ll be fine with just one if you just need to carry a few bits and pieces. If you fancy giving bike touring a go, you’ll be surprised how much you can fit into a pair.
We hit the road – and headed off-road too – to see how our choices performed. We didn’t just ride with them in the dry, we also made sure we put in the miles in the rain too, so you know they will handle whatever the British weather throws at you.
Most are aimed at commuters and shoppers, although they should adapt perfectly well if you fancy taking your bike away on tour for a few days.
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The best panniers for 2021 are:
- Best overall – Ortlieb back-roller urban line: £80, Ortlieb.com
- Best for retro fans – Carradice kendal: £115, Carradice.co.uk
- Best tough pannier – Chrome industries barrage: £130, Velorution.com
- Best for commuters – Altura thunderstorm city 20: £79.99, Altura.co.uk
- Best eco credentials – Upso potters pannier: £65, Upsobags.co.uk
- Best for carrying bottles – Brooks suffolk: £96.99, Amazon.co.uk
- Best for touring – Thule shield 25l (pair): £131, Thule.com
- Best for versatility – Madison RT20 rack top: £57.99, Freewheel.co.uk
- Best budget buy – LifeLine adventure waterproof pannier 22l: £44.99, Wiggle.co.uk
Ortlieb back-roller urban line
Ortlieb offers a five-year warranty with its panniers, so it’s no surprise this is a quality bit of kit. This commuter-focused design is made from tough fabric that looks great and is 100 per cent waterproof. A couple of reflective patches on the sides will catch drivers’ eyes at night too.
You can use it as a standard roll-top or attach a strap and carry it over your shoulder when off the bike – in this format the strap stows across the front of the bag when you’re riding, with the strap tucked into a little plastic loop to stop it flapping.
It’s got 20l of space inside, with room for a sleeved laptop or tablet plus a mesh, zipped pocket where you can stow smaller items. You can also buy a separate insert allowing you to organise all your office essentials.
There are no outside pockets but it’s got a brilliant tool-free fixing system which you can adjust to your bike in minutes.
If you’re eco-minded, you’ll be pleased to hear it’s made from PVC-free materials, and it comes in grey, blue and green options Ortlieb calls pepper, ink and pine.
Best: For retro fans
Wind back the clock to the 1950s with this traditional-looking pair. With leather straps and buckles they look equally amazing on an older-style tourer or a modern hybrid machine. They are handmade in Lancashire from waterproof waxed cotton duck – a fabric with fibres that swell when damp to stop the rain sneaking in.
Carradice’s attachment system is robust and easy to set up with a screwdriver and hex key. Extra features include outside pockets at the back for items such as spares and water bottles, plus anchor points for lights.
Whether you are using them for work or leisure, they offer excellent value and should last for decades. You will find them in black, a classy dark green and a pleasing burgundy.
Chrome industries barrage
Best: Tough pannier
We previously tested and really liked the Chrome barrage backpack – and this is essentially that bag in pannier form. It’s got the backpack’s roll-top closure, waterproof lining, laptop sleeve and cargo netting where you can carry oversized or soggy items such as a jacket.
Fitting it to your bike is straightforward and it’s got little plastic switches to secure it, although you will need a Philips’ screwdriver to adjust the attachments. Chrome have included a shoulder strap, so you can easily carry this 21l lugger into the office when loaded up.
Though expensive, it’s a tough offering that will stand up to daily abuse. It looks great too and while a bit heavier than others we tested, you don’t really notice that extra bulk on the road.
Altura thunderstorm city 20
Best: For commuters
We have been using this excellent bag for a couple of years now and it’s been brilliant, both around town and on all-day trips into the country. It has lived up to its thunderstorm name and never let in water despite being used in some horrendous showers.
The bag uses the excellent “Klickfix” system to attach to a rack and is released simply by pressing a big red button beneath a heavy duty carrying loop. That 20l main body has a roll-top closure that is closed off with a strap and simple buckle.
Commuters will love the high-vis yellow and black version as it really stands out on the road. There are three sleeves inside including a padded one for a 13in laptop and another with a zip. You also get a holder for a bunch of keys and there are loops for lights on the outside, plus reflective details for extra visibility.
Upso potters pannier
Best: Eco credentials
If one of these carriers catches your eye on the website you had better buy it quickly – each one is unique and whole batches can sell out within hours of going on sale.
They are made from sections of truck tarpaulin that have been cleaned, cut and stitched together in an eco-friendly factory in Lancashire. With a piece of old fire hose protecting the base, this design is certainly the toughest we have tested and will cope with everything from commuting to touring.
There are no separate sections inside, just one chamber with a capacity up to 21l. You roll up the top, secure it with side straps that form a handy grab handle and then lash it all down with a single belt that secures at the front. It comes with a shoulder strap plus fittings for a variety of rack tubing sizes.
Best: For carrying bottles
Brooks is best known for its saddles, but it makes great luggage too. This simple and traditional roll-top uses a waterproof polyester with the look of old-fashioned cotton duck woven fabric.
Along with the main 22l body there is an extra, flapped section at the front with a velcro closure. There are also a couple of mesh pockets at the sides where you can carry water bottles or items such as a wet jacket or gloves.
Brooks also use Ortlieb’s excellent tool-less fixing system which you can release with a quick pull of a handle. There are no pockets inside, so if you plan to use it for commuting you’ll have to buy a sleeve to keep your laptop or tablet safe.
Thule shield 25l (pair)
Best: For touring
Whether you are crossing continents or riding to work, you’ll love these huge panniers with their welded nylon construction. As long as you fold over the tops and lash them down properly with their side straps they should cope with the heaviest downpours.
Thule has ditched its old fixing system with its magnet bottom rack attachment and gone for a more conventional tool-free set up. We think it’s a step in the right direction as it makes it much easier to swap the bags between bikes should you need to.
Extra details include reflective patches at the sides, some little zippered sections inside the bags to store valuables, plus clip-on shoulder straps for carrying. As they come in pairs, they are great value too.
Madison RT20 rack top
Best: For versatility
Panniers pop out of the sides of this handy pack that sits on top of your rack and is held in place with hook and loop straps. It’s only got a 14.6l capacity, but the versatility makes up for the shortage of space. You can use that main section for your day-to-day carrying and then unfold the panniers as and when you need them.
For carrying extras such as a waterproof there’s a bungee cord zig-zagging across the top. When you unzip the lid you’ll also find internal pockets for valuables, along with a key holder.
LifeLine adventure waterproof pannier 22l
Best: Budget buy
If you plan to go adventuring on a budget and need something waterproof, this could be the one. It’s a nylon number with welded seams to keep the rain out.
The fixing set up isn’t tool-free, so you’ll need to get busy with a 4mm hex key for a few minutes, but that’s a minor quibble at this price.
The capacity is 22l so there is plenty of room for overnight kit, and you can always buy another bag if heading further afield. Off-road riders will appreciate that shiny finish as it makes it really easy to clean when spattered with mud.
It rolls closed with a couple of clips to keep it shut. There are no internal pockets but that extra zipped section on the front is very handy, as are the loops where you can fit lights. You can sign up to be notified via email when this one is back in stock.
The verdict: Panniers
Ortlieb make some of the very best bike bags on the market so it’s no surprise they won our best buy – the back roller is a simple but stylish and useful pannier which should give you years of service.
If recycling is high up on your agenda, check out the tough Upso offering – you’re also guaranteed to get something totally unique. While the high-vis Altura has a great attachment system and will help commuters stand out on our busy roads.
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We’ve found the best cycling water bottles to pack in your new pannier so you can stay hydrated on every ride
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