help me find saddlebags to help me lose my saddlebags
August 10, 2017 2:36 AM   Subscribe

I am seeking recommendations for saddlebags/panniers for bicycle commuting.

I am riding my bike to work more and want to make it my primary mode of transportation. I would like to find detachable bags to help me do it less sweatily than my backpack. I carry a slim laptop, lunch, folded clothes and sometimes shoes. I pass a grocery store on the way so maybe a few groceries as well.

A front basket would probably be easiest but I already have a rack on the back. Plus I am too lazy to keep taking a basket off for non-commute rides. Open to suggestions though!

I would prefer two bags rather than a one-sided grocery-type one because I am clumsy and unbalanced enough already.
posted by headnsouth to Shopping (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Target has a Schwinn basket for $25 that hooks onto your rear rack. One on each side will run you about $50. Super easy to slide on and off as well as roomy.
posted by tilde at 2:56 AM on August 10, 2017

I rocked collapsible baskets for awhile and eventually took them off because they added just enough bulk on the back of the bike to make it a pain in the butt locking up to a lot of the bike racks around town.

While I'd like to eventually get some custom-made Black Star Bags for it, right now I'm using a set of these Ortleib. They work fine, and my usual load is the same as yours.
posted by curious nu at 4:25 AM on August 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

When I used to bike to work, I used two of the Ortleib front-rollers that curious nu linked. They were pretty much bomb-proof, and held more than I usually needed to carry.
posted by minsies at 5:12 AM on August 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Another shout-out for Ortleib. The rack mounting system they use is completely bullet-proof.
posted by jacobean at 5:13 AM on August 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Bucket panniers. Put a pair of buckets on your rack using hardware from the store.

Straightforward, easy to remove, waterproof, and the most inexpensive pannier around. Reuse before recycle - used square buckets are everywhere. I never bought a saddlebag that didn't sag into my wheels, and buckets never sag. Truly 'bomb-proof' and great carrying capacity.
posted by aniola at 6:24 AM on August 10, 2017

I highly recommend Axiom panniers. They have incredible customer service, and their panniers last really well. I have a pair that are waterproof and I use them to carry my clothes, lunch, etc., back and forth on my 15K commute every day. I'm not sure what kind you'd like best, but there is a range on their site, and a link to find a dealer near you.
posted by sabotagerabbit at 6:41 AM on August 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I wish I had something to recommend in between buckets and Ortliebs! I have an old pair of Novara (REI house brand) panniers that they apparently don't make anymore. I've been using them for close to 10 years now and they are still going strong, and I love the way they attach to the rack (very fast, with a satisfying click). If you can find those on eBay or craigslist or something, I would recommend them very highly (mine have a rain cover, too, which is nice).

I would also say maybe don't write off grocery-bag panniers just yet - most of the weight comes from what's in the panniers rather than the panniers themselves, so it's still possible to be very unbalanced with two panniers (if, say, you're buying a box of wine and a package of toilet paper). And of course you can use two grocery-bag panniers if you want and distribute accordingly.

In my experience the only problem with grocery bag panniers is they're bad in rain.
posted by mskyle at 7:02 AM on August 10, 2017

If you care about waterproofness, Ortlieb is what everyone in Seattle (including me) uses.
posted by quaking fajita at 7:12 AM on August 10, 2017

Ortlieb is kind of the gold standard. They're super waterproof and really durable. In terms of bang-for-buck, they're hard to beat.

If you'd really like a front basket, the PDW takeout is pretty sleek and doesn't look bad on most bikes. Nor does the Soma Porteur. I have the latter mounted on one of my bikes, and kind of love it. Removing both of them, however, is kind of an ordeal.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:21 AM on August 10, 2017

I have the back panniers by Ortlieb with the rollable closure. These things are amazing. I was skeptical that there's no zipper, but it really does work better than any zipper could. You can ride with a laptop through a downpour and it's completely dry.

If it's not raining you can leave them unrolled and you can fit more stuff in. Large groceries like leeks or herb plants can go on top.
posted by cotterpin at 7:58 AM on August 10, 2017

Another vote for Ortliebs. The rolltops are truly waterproof, in that I think you could completely submerge them. Mine are not those—they're the "bike packer" which are still sufficiently rainproof. They're well-built, easy to adjust to your bike, easy on/off, and secure.

If you don't already have a good-quality rack, I'd budget some money to get one. You don't want a rattly rack aggravating you during your ride.
posted by adamrice at 8:16 AM on August 10, 2017

I love the Banjo Brother's panniers. Affordable, but very durable. Their backpack pannier is my go to bag and is really a decent backpack when not on the bike.
posted by advicepig at 8:46 AM on August 10, 2017

I have Axiom panniers (Cartier series), they're about 10 years old and I've used them on two bikes. I have a set of two, but I really only use one for commuting. They have reflective binding on them, which is a nice feature and an little bottle pocket (I don't have a bottle cage on my bike itself).

My big tip for bike commuting is compression packing cubes. I use the compression ones because they flatten nicely without wrinkling (fold carefully), slide in and out the pannier and have a little carrying handle.

Part of what I like about these is that they're soft and low profile, so they don't protrude any further than the handlebars. What I don't like about them is the carrying handle is very small, which is fine if I have only one of them, but a pain if I'm trying to carry both. They're easy to take on and off (as I don't leave them there when my bike is locked up) and stay put even on the bumpiest street. I don't ride in the rain, but the odd sprinkle has been fine.

For your purposes, it sounds like one is fine for the normal laptop/clothes/lunch task and carrying the second empty for any shopping would work. I have to admit, though, putting things in the bag is a pain, since it's a top load and with groceries there's the hazard for smushing.

I have another pannier which I didn't buy and don't know the brand, which looks just like a tote bag and is awesome for toodling around because it's so much easier to carry off the bike because it has normal handles and looks normal. However, the top is open, so it can get wet and things aren't as secure in it.

I don't find that I feel unbalanced with only one, I'm probably toting about 5-8 pounds on a usual day.

I absolutely agree that panniers are less sweaty than a bag, I feel much freer and safer.
posted by typetive at 9:30 AM on August 10, 2017

I like my Ortliebs but I also really like my Vaude briefcase. When it is off the bike it does not look like a bike bag.
posted by latkes at 9:33 AM on August 10, 2017

My friend R. commutes 15 miles one way ~3-4 days a week here in Houston, where it rains frequently. Her choice is the Arkel Bug plus the laptop sleeve and "rain fly", and she's VERY happy with it.
posted by uberchet at 10:21 AM on August 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

+1 Ortlieb. I've been using mine daily, year round in Portland, OR weather for 8 years and they are still like new.
posted by outfielder at 10:40 AM on August 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've been pretty happy with a bag from IKEA of all places. I'm a Family Member (IKEA's loyalty card thing) so mine cost me 20 bucks. I only have one. The elastic inside the bag is stupid and I keep meaning to cut it out. It's not built for heavy use with heavy things forever. But I've put heavy stuff in it and so far so good. Not as good as a collapsible basket, in terms of bottom support, but I always bump into those baskets and hurt myself so I much prefer this. I'm not a serious cyclist, however, so this may be inadequate for your needs.
posted by Bella Donna at 4:45 PM on August 10, 2017

Bucket panniers. Put a pair of buckets on your rack using hardware from the store.

Came in to say this. Not all laptops fit well in common buckets, though, so I put the same hooks and strap on an old aluminum briefcase that was perfect until I got a larger laptop.
posted by sibilatorix at 10:29 PM on August 10, 2017

I'm a Portland bike commuter who will pile on with another Ortlieb suggestion. I was just thinking the other day that they might be one of the best value consumer products I've ever purchased. I've been bike commuting year-round for several years, and they are so reliable I never have to think about them.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:13 PM on August 12, 2017

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