The Best Bike Panniers for Commuting and Touring
What's the best set of bike panniers available today? We bought and tested six of the best models to find out. Whether you're planning to ride across the country or simply to work or school, you need a place to stow your belongings. Rear attaching panniers are an ideal way to transport the things you need, but with all the options available how do you know which ones are best? Our testers used these models for months, taking them on short rides around town, down highways and even on dirt roads and bumpy terrain. Then we ranked them on Installation and Removal Systems, Capacity, Water Resistance and Ease of Use. Keep reading to find out how these contenders compare to each other and which were our favorites.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Bike Pannier
Ortlieb Back Roller Classic
Best Bang for the Buck
Seattle Sports Titan
Analysis and Test Results
Typically speaking, there are two types of rear attaching bike panniers: commuting or touring. Your desired use and activities will dictate the type you're in the market for, but beside your main objective, there are a few other things to consider.
Weight and Volume
The size you need depends mostly on your main use. If you're going on a multi-day tour, you'll want to make sure all of your essentials fit into them. However, if you're just going to and from work, you might be able to get away with a smaller option. More frills equate to more weight, and this is something to be conscious of because you will always be lugging around more weight whether the pannier is full or not.
Waterproof vs. Water Resistant
Some models are designed for heavy rains for touring and a daily commutes. Others are designed for fair-weather grocery and commuting excursions. In general, the most waterproof models also take longer to access.
We tested six different models in this review, and they all use different closure systems, from roll tops, to Velcro and zipper combinations. None of the panniers used a zipper to close the main compartment; however, some of the outer pockets use this type of closure. Zippers have a higher probability to wear out over time than a roll top or Velcro. You'll want to consider the type of closure as it relates to how often you will get in and out of them as well as exposure to dirt and other elements.
Whether you're looking for a commute option or one that's touring specific, you'll at least be taking them on and off twice a day. Make sure these systems are easy enough to manage for you and your activity, while remaining secure while riding.
Types of Bike Panniers
There are two main options: Touring and Commuting.
Touring models are typically larger in volume so you can cram as much stuff into as little space as possible. These models are typically waterproof, but don't assume that's the case just because one is labeled "touring." You also want to make sure that they are well made, as they will need to withstand various terrains and weather. As weight is a concern while touring, these types typically have a simple design with fewer bells and whistles. The touring specific designs we tested are the Ortlieb Back Roller Classic, Seattle Sports Titan and Thule Pack 'n Pedal Adventure Touring. Touring models can also cross over for daily commuting use.
Commuting models are typically smaller in volume, and tend to be more water resistant rather than waterproof. These models may have more pockets on the outside for quick access to smaller items, and more organizational compartments on the inside to keep things like a laptop secure. The models that we tested that fall into this category are the Ibera Bike Panniers, Timbuk2 Tandem and Green Guru Carbon Cooler.
Criteria for Evaluation
Installation and Removal System
Our testers used these products for months, constantly taking them on and off several racks in order to figure out which ones had the best and most secure attachment systems. We tested a full array of installation systems, from ones relying on gravity to those with mechanical assistance.
We found that the most secure systems were the ones that use a hook over the rack with some sort of stabilization attachment at the bottom. Ortlieb Classic is the clear winner here, with hooks that automatically release when you pull on the handle and a lower adjustable hook to reduce movement on varied terrain. Seattle Sports uses a non-mechanical hook that is quite similar to the Ortlieb Classic and it worked almost as well.
The Thule Pack 'n Pedal Advenutre Touring had the most complicated attachment system initially. By pulling on a tab, the attachments rotate, allowing you to to place it on the bike carrier and lock into place by releasing the tab. Although it does not include a hook or strap to secure the base, you can easily attach one if you find it necessary. One unique feature of the Thule Pack 'n Pedal is the vanishing hardware. The rack attachments retract into the pannier when not in use, thus quickly turning it into a professional looking messenger bag.
The most insecure system that we tested was the one on the Timbuk2 Tandem. This model is a saddle bag style, relying on gravity and a hook connected to an elastic strap that is snapped to the bottom of your bike rack. The Timbuk2 Tandem also comes off the rack and turns into a messenger bag. However, we would have liked to see more attention to the security of its attachment to the bike. Unfortunately, the elastic band that this system uses began to stretch out toward the end of our testing and we had to start clipping the hook lower and directly to the bike frame in order for the system to stay tight.
To measure capacity we performed a multi-day touring test, toting a few essential camping items. This test was done with the assumption that all systems would be used with a pair. Although we did not include any clothing, food or water during the test, we did take those items into consideration after each was full. While several of the panniers tested are not specifically designed for touring pursuits, we feel versatility is important and wanted to see which could also take us out of the office and into the wild.
Here are the camping essentials we chose to use during testing:
1. Big Agnes Cabin Creek 15 - a synthetic double wide sleeping bag.
2. Black Diamond Firstlight - a compact four season tent for two.
3. Big Agnes Air Core - a non-insulated sleeping pad.
4. JetBoil Flash - a basic camping stove that boils water fast.
We also suggest taking a first aid kit and a water filtration system with you while touring. You can check out The Best Backpacking Water Filter and Treatment Systems if you don't already have one.
The Ortlieb Classic excelled during this test, easily accepting all of the items with plenty of room to spare. While both the Ortlieb and the Seattle Sports held all of our camping items in one single pannier, it was a snug fit and compromised their ability to shed water. We recommend breaking up this gear so you can roll the tops at least three times to optimize waterproofness. The Ibera and Timbuk2 Tadem were the two smallest bags we tested and barely held this list of camping essentials. These two models are better for urban commutes.
You don't want to overstuff while packing for longer tours. Not only does this compromise the ability to shed water, but you also want to leave room for extra things you may pick up along the way, such as a souvenir or even extra food.
We also tested capacity by placing a 13-inch laptop inside along with a change of clothes and shoes for work commutes. All of the models we tested easily held these items, but we felt that the Green Guru Carbon Cooler best served city usage. The Timbuk2 Tandem has a separate sleeve to keep laptops secure, as does the Carbon Cooler. Also, what we really loved about the Carbon Cooler was its flat bottom design complete with plastic cutting board. Not only is it the perfect picnic companion, but the structure that it provides to the bag also helps keep your clothes wrinkle free.
Whether you're commuting or pedaling cross country, you don't want to find out the hard way that your bike panniers don't keep everything dry. Most waterproof models are made from a treated or rubbery material, notably the Seattle Sports Titan and Orlieb Back Roller Classic. These models have fewer outer organizational pockets, since those tend to compromise water resistance. While water resistant models like the Ibera have more pockets for organization, they may not seal completely and cannot promise to keep your belongings dry.
In order to test water resistance, we packed all six models with towels in their main compartments as well as the outer pockets and placed them under a sprinkler for 20 minutes to simulate a moderate rainfall. All of these panniers passed this test but there were some major differences in our dunk test.
We filled a child-sized swimming pool and dunked each pannier, leaving it submerged for a ten count. The clear winners were the Ortlieb Back Roller Classic and Seattle Sports Titan models. The towels in the Ortlieb stayed completely dry, while the Titan leaked slightly through the seams. However, neither the Carbon Cooler, Timbuk2 nor Ibera models seal completely and consequently all of their contents were completely soaked through.
If you're really worried about keeping things dry, especially with electronics, most companies offer a tight fitting rain cover to accompany the bike panniers.
Ease of Use
We took three things into consideration while scoring ease of use: accessibility, visibility and durability. The most accessible panniers are ones that have extra pockets on the outside where you can quickly get to a phone or snacks However, in some instances these pockets may not shed water as well. Many critics of the Ortlieb model complain that there is not an accessible outer pocket for small items, while the Ibera has plenty of extra pockets for organization.
Visibility is important because accidents can happen when an oncoming vehicle does not see you. The most visible options are brightly colored with large reflector patches. That describes the Ortlieb and while The Green Guru Carbon Cooler is bright and noticeable, we would have liked it to have larger reflector patches, like those found on the Seattle Sports Titan. The Thule, Timbuk2 and Ibera models we tested were the least visible due to their dark colors. However, Thule and Timbuk2 also come in optional bright colors.
Lastly, we considered durability. While we did not experience any major issues, the elastic strap on the Timbuk2 set began to stretch out by the end of our testing, which greatly compromised the security of the attachment system. We felt that both the Ortlieb and Seattle Sports models could definitely withstand the test of time.
The main deciding factor in selecting a pannier for your bike is whether you will be using it for commuting or touring. In addition, important factors such as weather resistance, capacity, and ease of use will differ in the varying models. We hope that this review has helped you to sort through the different features and point you towards the best available option for you.
— Gentrye Houghton
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