Discussion: bike commuting panniers, waterproof
in: Orienteering; Gear & Toys;
I'm looking for panniers to buy for bike commuting (up to 1.5 hours ride). I'd like it to be waterproof (or at least have a good waterproof cover to put on for the rain) and great for a laptop (a macbook).
Additionally, I want to be able to carry some clothes to change into.
I'm not sure if I should be looking for one or two bags (maybe one for laptop, office stuff and one for clothes/shoes)?
What have AP-ers tried? What do you like and recommend? What features are especially important or irrelevant?
I've heard that bike commuting can be tough on laptops... any thoughts on this?
When I commuted, I would have shoes and pants at work. Then the clothes to carry is a lot less, and lighter. Never had to worry much about rain as I would not go in if it was raining, and on the way home, didn't matter.
So I only used one pannier, and it was a cheap old Raleigh thing, made of something like canvass!
I guess if I had my laptop in there, a good feature would be a solid pannier attachment.
Number one item to have.....fenders. Big wide, all encompassing fenders. Your bike will stay cleaner and the water will stay off you and your panniers.
I have the Ortlieb panniers i bought from REI. (for several c-notes, i might add). They are a thick waterproof material that can be folded over and latched at the top at the top to make them waterproof.
I had not had panniers before, and since I go food shopping, etc. on my bike, it was great not too ride with that heavy back on my back.
Pluses: They work great, are really waterproof, and disengage easily with quick release clips by pulling a strap which doubles as a carry handle, so you can take them into the store and load them up without intermediate bags, or use them as a satchel.
Minuses: (besides the price) they require a rack to fasten to, and that can be a pain if you dont always want a rack on your bike. I dont know if its because they are made in Germany, but some of the fasteners for adjusting support clips require special tools. And I have had a couple of the screws and fasteners fall out and get lost.
I have a brand-new, never used, set of panniers + rack that I'd like to get rid of (they're part of an estated that i'm admin for). They're from REI. I'll check the details if you are interested.
I use plastic bags for everything one for shoes, one for clothes and one for my other stuff like wallet, flash drive, pda, etc. and shove it all in a backpack. If I just rode a bike, I would probably get some waterproof panniers.
My first thought with respect to putting a laptop in a pannier is yikes! Think about the shock that the laptop would get when you hit a pot hole, branch, rock, or curb. I suggest at least putting the laptop in a little backpack.
With respect to fenders, get some that go half around the wheel. Most of the ones that they have out now are too small to do any good.
There are some cheap dry bags available (for example at REI
) which would let you get away with non-waterproof panniers. The ones I mean are cylindrical and close by folding the open end in a specific manner.
I looked into using panniers for my computer, and came to the same conclusion as JeffW - just too many shocks and bumps down there. So, I put the computer in a backpack when I need to move it, and put other things as much as possible in a simple racktop trunk bag (650 cu in.). I leave a few pairs of clothes at school, and replenish the clean clothes supply using the backpack, or by car when I need to drive in. One laptop in a backpack is not really a problem on my 10-12 mile roundtrip, but a full backpack definitely is less comfortable, and would be more trouble on a longer commute. Yes, fenders are great!
Like Rudy, I use Ortlieb panniers too. They are great when you really want to be watertight. I put them on my low riding front rack and can mostly get by with just using one of the two bags. Like Jeff says, going light is great to the extent that it's practical for you--I could get shoes, shirt, pants and a few other things into just one bag. In cold weather, I might use both if I expect to be carrying other things too.
Designed like the waterproof sacks used by canoe and kayakers, one drawback of Ortlieb panniers (there are a couple models and I have the small ones) is that they don't have lots of nice compartments--you basically get one waterproof compartment. They probably are slightly heavier than other brands too. The Ortlieb panniers can expand to some extent. They also lock on/remove quickly and easily to/from the rack. Unless you have lots of padding, I'd be concerned about putting a laptop in one for the shock reasons. I don't go back and forth with one every commute. I'm able to just use the laptop bag it came with (it's from work) and sling it around my back on the rare occasions when I ride with one.
If there's a computer at work you could use or a place to store a laptop, you could take data back & forth with a thumb drive or similar. Even if you carry the laptop in a backpack, there's still some bouncing & always the risk of a fall, so make sure your files are well backed up!
Don't put a laptop in panniers! If you must commute with it, get a bona-fide laptop backpack with good shock absorbtion. I have such a bag (made by Targus) which works well, but I still don't make a habit of it. If you tote it around enough, sooner or later something will happen to jack it up.
I wonder how sensitive the laptop's hard-drive system might be?
If it is no more sensitive than a portable CD player, I think a well-padded position inside a pannier would provide enough shock-absorption. Which of course is the advantage to the Ortlieb system - plenty of room for protective padding in that single large compartment.
Ortlieb also offers a serious back-pack Carry System
for an extra $35 which allows converting a pannier to a reflectorized backpack.
I can't offer anything on laptops and I'm not familiar with the Ortlieb panniers mentioned above but I will chime in to say that Mountain Equipment Co-op Aqua-Not panniers are the best waterproof ones I've ever used. They're pricey but apparently not quite so much so as the Ortlieb ones.
A hard drive is waaaaay more sensitive to shock than a CD or DVD player. Even when the heads are parked, there is very little space between the heads and the platters and even if a shock doesn't cause a head crash, it doesn't take much deformation of the bearing surfaces to render the drive useless (when running, the head clearance is in the 5-10 nanometer range). Optical drives, on the other hand, read from a fair distance and correct for small tracking errors.
Thank you for all the info (and warnings)!
Does anyone have experience with the Timbuk2 messenger laptop bag? It looks great, but I'm concerned that the flap over with no zipper leaves a small area for rain to get in the bag over the course of a 30 minute commute. Any comments? Thanks!
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