Last summer I started biking to work, I found it was a great way to start and finish my day. The ride each way is pretty long so it would get uncomfortable wearing a knapsack with my laptop and change of clothes inside. This year I decided I would add a rear rack to my bike and get a pannier-style bag to attach to it. I ended up buying and testing 3 different panniers that they sell at MEC. In this post I’ll share some of the things I noticed with each of them and which bag I ended up keeping.
I started out with the MEC World Tour 20L Pannier. I really liked it. The best feature is how easily, quickly, and securely the bag attaches to your rack. The clips work by pushing down on them and then forward which latches them on to one of the top bars of your rack. There’s also a clip on the bottom that you configure for your rack and then it prevents the bag from flying outwards at the bottom if you hit a big bump. I liked that it comes with a rain cover too. The one thing I don’t like is the vertical zipper that’s on the front. I find it hard to put things into and I worry about things falling out.
Another thing I felt was missing was some kind of a shoulder strap that you could use for carrying the bag when you’re not biking.
I didn’t really think about the balance of this bag though since I only needed one to fit my stuff for work. With the bag filled completely I felt a bit off balance.
This led me to look into the Timbuk2 Tandem Panniers. I liked the look of these bags and found them easy to carry when you’re not biking. It comes with a shoulder strap or you can use the two handles. The pockets that come on this bag are really well designed: there’s a big pocket on the front flap, the main pocket, and an interior mini pocket that’s within the large main pocket. The main downfall with this bag is the way that it attaches to your rack. There’s two long velcro strips that run the length of the rack portion of the bag and you’re meant to attach them to your rack. On my rack there’s a platform which prevented my from attaching the velcro strips perfectly straight. On the inside face of each bag is another velcro strap that is supposed to be used to attach to the lower portion of your frame and prevent the bags from flying outwards if you go over a big bump. I found it difficult to reach in and attach these pieces on both sides. So ironically this bag is very comfortable to carry once you’ve gotten it off your bike but it’s pretty annoying and slow to attach and detach from your bike. Plus, even when it was attached to my bike I didn’t really feel safe that my bag was being held only with the velcro. I know velcro is a lot stronger than it might seem but I still didn’t like it. Also I found that the bag would bounce more when going over bumps than with the World Tour bag.
In the end I decided to buy two MEC World Tour 12L Panniers—one for each side. I was worried that the 12 L bag wouldn’t be able to fit my laptop (15″), but it fits perfectly. With this setup I’m able to balance the weight on both sides, the bags can be attached and removed very quickly and easily, and I feel comfortable that they’re securely attached. This setup also has a lot of versatility since I could go with only one bag if I wasn’t carrying a lot.
One of the things I was really surprised about is that there aren’t many options for pannier bags that can convert into knapsacks. There are a few out there but not made by the better brands. Vaude has one model but I wasn’t able to find it easily in stores or online.