The Quest for the Perfect Bike Pannier

You might think you’re a messenger bag person through and through, until you discover the un-bridled freedom of riding with a bike pannier. There’s no weight on your back, no sweaty spot and no strap digging into your summer-bare shoulder. At first it may seem like a heavy bag on one side will feel lopsided, but take it from this klutzy rider, you get used to it in no time – whether it’s a single pannier or double.

Not all panniers are created equal, and for the last year I tested three very different, quality panniers. I was rather rough-and-tumble with all of them, stuffing them full, stressing the straps, trudging through mud and rain, daily commuting, etc. I carried a laptop and intentionally rode over rubbled streets and potholes at high speeds.

Here’s what I found.


Classic indeed. These bags have stood the test of time and have been on the pannier scene for many years. I have a set of these that just might always be my go-to bike touring bags.


  • Durable as all get-out.
  • Because of their superior waterproof material and roll-to-close technology, they can double as water sports bags.
  • Reflective patch on the back side where you need it most.
  • There is a back pack attachment that makes it very easy to pull off the bag and walk in the store.
  • Extremely easy to wipe down, spray out, you name it.
  • Replaceable, adjustable, quick-release mounts, pull the pannier’s strap to release it from the bike. Never going to fall off your bike.


  • Without the back pack attachment, they’re very awkward to carry, though they do have a strap.
  • The standard bag is one large cavern. Can you keep your stuff organized in there? There is an optional outer pocket you can add on.
  • The bag does not stand up on its own.
  • They look like gear (they’re ugly).

    WEBSITE >>


    This is a very cool pannier, different from a lot of what’s out there. It is attractive, carries well and performs nicely. As a 15 year bike commuter, I really put this bag to the test and was pleasantly surprised. I’m on a continual quest for gear that offers a balance of style and functionality in Pacific Northwest weather, and I think this bag hits the mark. Off the bike, you can carry this with a shoulder strap or by using the handle. The bags are made in Seattle.


    • The fabric is attractive so the bag doesn’t look like gear. I have the brownish tone, but also comes in the funkier bright fabric pictured here.
    • Very slim though it holds a lot; it is surprising how much you can fit in this bag.
    • Extremely light weight.
    • The bag zips shut, then the flap folds over to close (unless you’ve filled it to the zipper; the flap part is space in the bag). This creates a nice look and a securely closed bag.
    • Exterior pocket is very handy – it fits a u-lock.
    • Padded material on the backside prevents the mounts from digging into your body and conceals the mounts when carrying the bag off the bike.
    • Built in lap top sleeve.

    Pro and Con:

    The mounts seem like they won’t do the trick, but they do. Magically, there is no bottom hook like on most panniers, and it turns out the Detours bags don’t need it. It takes a little use to get the hang of how the mounts slip onto your rack (mine barely fit, but they do). I’m at a loss for words to describe the functionality of the mounts, but trust me they work well and are solid once you get used to the system down.


    • Inside there is a convenient mesh bag at the top for easy access. If you have a few things in there, it’s hard to slot items into the main compartment of the pannier (such as sliding in a laptop). Because the bag doesn’t have any structure, the mesh pouch droops into the bag and you have to pull the bag open wider to slide things in. It’s just another step that can be frustrating, but I wouldn’t consider it a deal-breaker. Once everything is in there, it works nicely.
    • This bag is water resistant, and then fully waterproofed by using a neon cover that tucks neatly under the bag – you’ll forget it is there. But, NEON. No thanks.
    • Because the bag has no structure, your innards are not well protected if you knock over your bag. That just means it is a little more delicate. The bag does not stand up on its own, so you need to be mindful when setting it down.

    WEBSITE >>


    Thought you couldn’t have it all in one? Think again. This fantastic bag blends style, flexibility (built in back pack straps), personal choice (custom order), safety, durability, waterproofing and much more.


    • They’re locally made by Curtis, a skilled craftsman with a workshop in SE Portland.
    • Extremely well made and durable.
    • Perfectly waterproof so long as you close it well and open it carefully (you don’t want pooled-up water running inside).
    • Converts very easily from pannier to back pack – very sleek.
    • Excellent customizable features like a loop to mount a light, lap top sleeve, extra pockets, colors, and much more.
    • Nicely placed default pockets for easy access.
    • The bag stands up on its own! Very solid, not likely to fall over. It’s surprising how often this is a handy feature.


    • Not as low-profile and light weight as the Detours. This is a heavy, big bag. It holds a lot but you’ll pay for it.
    • Doesn’t slim down much when it is empty. You get what you get.
    • Converting to the back pack isn’t hard, but it does take a few motions to get there. It seems like there might be a better method to come in the future.
    • Metal hook and bungee style mounts which are good, but not great. My bag has bounced off more than once. Crimping the metal hooks to be tighter would likely prevent this.

    WEBSITE >>

    What do you want?

    A solid, durable, bag to use on the bike through all conditions. I don’t care about aesthetics. – ORTLIEB
    A light weight bag – DETOURS
    A nice-looking bag I can take to formal meetings – DETOURS
    One bag that does it all – NORTH ST.
    To be able to choose where my pockets and features are – NORTH ST.
    To choose personalized colors – NORTH ST.
    I’m not a mindful person and want the best waterproofing possible – ORTLIEB
    A locally-made bag – NORTH ST. or DETOURS
    To be able to use this for non-bike purposes – ALL OF THEM!
    To be able to use this for water sports – ORTLIEB IS YOUR BEST OPTION
    Something that doesn’t look like gear – DETOURS

    When I set down my bag, I don’t want it to fall over – NORTH ST.
    A durable bag – ALL OF THEM
    A well made bag – ALL OF THEM

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