Ode To The Humble Pannier Bag

Cycling and the bike industry, like most others in this capitalist environment, are highly susceptible to and reliant upon the forces of ever-changing fashion. The industry is forever manufacturing new trends in bikes, apparel and accessories which render current products obsolete or, at the very least, unwanted and force consumers to make often irrational choices to purchase items they don’t actually need. It’s how capitalist industries keep increasing profits and we all (including me) fall under their marketing spells to some extent at some time.

Some of the changes driven by fashion represent genuine innovations while others are simply changes for the sake of change to create revenue. The discussion regarding the ethics behind such practices is far beyond the scope of this blog post (imho, I would prefer a world where industries were prevented from behaving this way) but it’s safe to say that, amongst the plethora of marketing induced garbage, there is also a core of products that have stood the test of time and which continue to ride out the hills and valleys of fashion because they are perpetually useful and reliable.

Bicycle with pannier bags and fenders

One such product is the pannier bag. Originating at least a couple of hundred years ago for use on animals like horses, donkeys and llamas, modern panniers are still used on both motorcycles and bicycles. Depending on the type of pannier, they can provide enormous carrying capacity, they keep weight off the rider’s back and provide a low centre of gravity on the bike when loaded.

Setting up camp at Lions Boulevard Park

Mt Nebo western side near Dundas

As testament to their enduring usefulness, we only have to look a few years back to the rise in popularity of bikepacking. Desiring to distinguish itself from bike touring, the bikepacking industry had always encouraged the use of frame bags and highly oversized saddlebags for portaging all that one needs on a multi-day or longer bike trip. And while frame and handlebar bags make sense for these types of journeys, the oversized saddle bags have always been problematic because of their tendency to sway side to side, to sag and rub on the back wheel if not loaded correctly and to have a relatively small capacity. (Re) enter the pannier bag. And while the bikepacking industry had always shunned the use of pannier bags because it claimed that they are too cumbersome and unsuitable for use over rough terrain (and because – for marketing purposes – they effectively constitute bike touring instead of bikepacking), it seems that the waggy, saggy supersized saddle bag has finally succumbed to the forces of reality and practicality as we see more and more bikepacking specific pannier bags becoming available. The marketing departments, of course, still want to maintain a distinction from bike touring so the bike specific pannier bags are almost always smaller in capacity (though still larger than any oversized saddle bag) and made from some sort of “earthy” looking material.

Yuba Boda Boda cargo bike
Carrying a lot of groceries on the Yuba Boda Boda cargo bike

Beyond bikepacking, the pannier bag has always been a staple of bike commuting, cargo biking and more generally for anyone who wants to enjoy a level of self-sufficiency on any recreational ride. Having pannier bags allows you to serendipitously stop and make unplanned purchases of, say, fruit at a roadside fruit stall or to carry a little extra gear like a towel, swimmers or even a small chair for mid-ride swim stops. For carrying anything from a laptop for work to groceries after work and fishing gear on the weekend, it’s hard to go past the simple, effective and great value pannier bag.

Ride in comfort with all you need and see you out there sometime.

Header image under Creative Commons via Wikipedia

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The producer of the Velo Moda website acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land where I create and publish content from, the Turrbal and Jagera people, and pay my respect to Elders past, present and emerging. I recognise their continued connection to the land and waters of this beautiful place.
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