Friday, January 15, 2010

Pannier Dreams

In the ongoing effort to transport my stuff in comfort and style, I have been thinking about low center-of-gravity rear containment systems. Usually called panniers. "Pannier" evolved from the French word for "bread bag", as in something with which to transport your baguettes. In modern usage, it refers to any sort of open or covered bag that mounts on the side of the bicycle next to the wheel (front or rear). By being on the side, it is lower to the ground. For heavy loads, this makes it more stable than a basket over the wheel. I also refer to baskets mounted in this location as panniers, although that may be incorrect. (PS this is just my accumulated information - feel free to fact check!)

I have seen many types of panniers and they have never seemed quite right to me. They look floppy, bulky, snaggy, vulnerable to theft, awkward to use, and simply not compatible with my style. Obviously, if I were to take a bicycle camping trip, they would be ideal. But, for the same reason that I don't walk around town with my backpacking pack, I felt that the typical pannier was not particularly suited to city cycling. In the city, I need to be on and off the bike frequently, and to lock down or carry all belongings. I will carry many different items - file folders, groceries, books, spare clothing, maybe a bag of cat food or a laptop - sometimes unexpectedly. And of course, I will be in professional and social situations where I need to make a good impression.

Key pannier criteria for me:
  • Either totally waterproof or totally porous. No damp and moldy situations please.
  • Rigid to prevent flopping, but also...
  • Collapsible to save space
  • Secure: either easily removed and carried, or totally locking (onto bicycle and to secure contents), or able to be equipped with separate bags that can easily be placed into the pannier or carried with me.
  • Simple to use. I am impatient, and easily frustrated by clips and zippers and such.
  • Matches my personal style
  • Appropriate size and shape - I haven't decided if a six-pack should determine the width....
As I have started to pay more attention to them as a practical, perhaps necessary, item, I have identified certain things that I do like. For instance, Brooks makes a very appealing bag for only 280€ (about $400) each. Sure, I'll take two! Allegedly one local guy got a pair and had them promptly stolen. What I like about the Brooks is the tidiness, the outer pockets, the rigidity, the size, the alleged water-resistance and the thoughtful shape which will keep it out of the way of my pedaling feet. I don't like the side zipper, lack of water-proofness, and how awkward they would be off the bike if I needed to take them with me. Of course, Brooks's reputation for quality is very good. Their roll-up bag is kind of cool too.

Another item I like are the Clarijs panniers. This Dutch product is waterproof, semi-rigid and semi-collapsible, available in lots of cute colors and patterns,  and comes in different sizes. It has a wide mouth that would be easy to toss a shopping bag into, and appears to have a simple closure system (if any). They even sell a shopping bag designed to fit perfectly into the pannier.

Trial solution: wire baskets
Well anyway, I found something I like. Folding baskets - $7 on Craigslist. They are chrome Wald baskets which match my front basket and rack perfectly. They rattle a little, but not as bad as I feared. They fit my bag just right - maybe could be a little deeper, but fine. Not sure what I will do about rain, but I'll figure something out. The weight distribution is great. Even my big tote bags fit perfectly. Then they fold up for tight parking situations. I love it!

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