Updated August 2017
This spring and summer, our expert testers put a range of bike panniers to the test to find the best match for your adventure. What was the outcome? For the second year in a row, the Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic earned our Editors' Choice award, snagging the award for being the Best Overall Model. The Seattle Sports Titan was not far behind, scoring high across the board, cinching its position as our Best Buy. The Green Guru Dutchy and Brooks England Suffolk Rear took home a piece of the pie as well and are models that are worth checking out.
Best Overall Bike Pannier
Ortlieb Back Roller Classic
Easy, secure attachment
No outer pockets
Once again, the Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic
takes the Editors' Choice Award with ease, boasting the highest overall performance score. Geared more towards touring than commuting, this model had stellar waterproofing, burly construction, and the largest combined storage capacity amongst all the contenders. It has a mounting system that is easy to install and remove while also allowing for on-the-go adjustments for a wide variety of rack sizes and configurations. No matter how rough of terrain we rode on, the Ortlieb remained securely attached with minimal noise from vibration. We were very fond of the roll-top design that was easy to access, while the bright colors, complete with reflective materials, aided with on-road visibility.
Read full review: Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic
Best Bang for the Buck
Seattle Sports Titan
The Seattle Sports Titan
won our Best Buy award for the second year in a row. Not only did it earn a high-performance score, but it is also easy on the wallet. This model received high ratings throughout all of our testing, performing similarly to our Editors' Choice Award winner, but at nearly a third of the price. We were impressed with how easy it was to install and remove without any special hardware or finicky adjustments. During our waterproofing test, it kept all of its contents nice and dry, and it handled the abuse of our durability tests well. Also sporting reflective patches and an outer pocket for easy on-the-go access, this model has features geared towards avid cyclists. We loved the Titan for its road-worthy versatility and affordable price tag.
Read full review: Seattle Sports Titan
Top Pick for Townie Riding
Green Guru Dutchy
Insecure mounting system
The Green Guru Dutchy
was easily our favorite townie model. It was easy to get on and off the rack, and even though it wasn't the most secure of the entire lineup, it handled a full load of groceries and beer without any major mishaps. We liked the boxy dimensions that allowed us to easily slide in 12-packs, boxed goods, and folded laundry without having to get creative with our packing. Additional features like a shoulder strap, an external storage pocket, and reflective embellishments gave us the confidence that this model is built with the avid townie rider in mind. As a bonus, this pannier is built from upcycled billboard materials. Whether you're running errands or just hauling cruising around with your picnic goodies, the Green Guru Dutchy is a reliable choice.
Read full review: Green Guru Dutchy
Top Pick for Commuting
Brooks England Suffolk Rear
Easy, secure attachment
Not fully waterproof
No reflective material
When it comes to daily use for commuter riding, we were quite fond of the Brooks England Suffolk Rear Pannier
. This model has a large storage capacity and several external pockets to keep all your items for work or school well organized during your commute. The waxed canvas construction is not only stylish but also durable, water resistant, and provides a great feel when toting the bag to and from your bike. The mounting system that comes on this model is intuitive and highly adjustable, making it easy to use on a wide variety of racks. The roll-top closure gives you easy access and secure storage, all while maintaining a stylish, classic design. For commuters who use their panniers every day, the Brooks Suffolk Rear Pannier is a reliable choice.
Read full review: Brooks England Suffolk Rear
Analysis and Test Results
Not all bike bags are created equal. In fact, there are some pretty clean-cut categories when it comes to selecting rear-attaching panniers. Depending on how and where you intend to use them, your ideal set will match your needs and riding style. For the most part, cyclists can choose between two types of panniers: touring or commuting. But in this review, we sought to include another demographic by opening the dialogue to include what we're calling "townie" panniers.
With so many different options, there is a pannier for every breed of cycling enthusiast.
When it comes to schlepping your gear around on a bicycle, how the load secures to your rack is of utmost importance. That is why Mounting System was our most heavily weighted testing metric for this review; because it's not just about how easy it is to get on and off your bike, but also how secure it is once in position.
Though both are vaguely similar with two 'hooks' at the top of the bag, the respective mounting systems of the Thule Adventure Touring Pannier (left) and the Brooks Suffolk Rear Pannier (right) are unique.
After putting each pannier's Mounting System to the test, we were left with a resounding impression: simple isn't always better. In particular cases, simplicity allows for easier attachment and removal, but not necessarily a secure load. On the other hand, overly-engineered mounting systems may offer high security but were often trickier to get loaded on the rack right away.
This adjustable hook on the Ortlieb allows the pannier to stay secure no matter how steep or bumpy the terrain.
Overall we found that hook-and-latch style panniers were the most secure and also easy to use. These are panniers that clip onto the top of the rack with additional stabilization hardware on the bottom to help keep it in place. This type of mounting hardware was most common but could be found in slightly different configurations—sometimes with mechanical assistance. We were especially fond of the Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic
and Books Suffolk
for their stable and easy-to-use mounting systems.
A "saddlebag" style pannier drapes over the rack and usually has securement points only on the bottom part of each bag. Ultimately, this style is less secure than hook-and-latch style panniers.
The Thule Adventure Touring Pannier
certainly had the unique and complicated mounting system in the lineup. Utilizing rotating mounting hardware, a tensioned cable, and a magnet that you mount to the lower part of the rack, there is quite a learning curve to using this pannier. However, once you've got the nuances dialed, this style of mounting system is excellent and very quick to remove.
Saddlebag style panniers like the Blackburn Local Cooler
or the Timbuk2 Tandem
were intuitively designed but ultimately not reliable on rough roads. This style of pannier was the least secure in our experience. Because they didn't attach to the tubes of the rack, heavy loads and bumpy rides left us feeling vulnerable to losing a pannier while on the move.
We tested not only how much storage each pannier had but also how well it kept our gear secure and organized while on the move. Total capacity is no doubt a primary consideration, though we had a preference for bags that were also able to keep their contents orderly and protected while on the move. Even one extra pocket in addition to the main storage compartment can be a huge bonus for keeping stuff organized. Furthermore, we had a preference for bags that included some sort of compression strap or gear loops on the outside for additional hauling capabilities.
We broke the storage tests into separate segments to accurately reflect the packing you would be doing with each pannier. For touring panniers, we chose camping and backcountry specific gear like a sleeping bag, camp stove, fuel canisters, rain tarp, and hammock. For commuter panniers, we used a 15-inch laptop, a hardcover book, rain gear, sunglasses, and a change of shoes and clothes. And for townie panniers, we used exclusively food and beverages—stuff you'd typically bring home from the farmers market or pack up for a picnic.
Sometimes, you gotta get creative with how you're packing your pannier. Maxing-out the Thule (left) with a 20x30 tarp, 200 feet of rope, handsaw and hammer while the equally-burly Banjo Brothers (right) carries a box of 4-inch round head nails.
For touring panniers, the standout performer for storage was the Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic
. Not only did the dual-bag setup offer the greatest amount of storage, but it also had internal sleeves, mesh pockets, and compression straps that keep gear secure and would allow for additional equipment to get strapped on top. If you were only to compare the volume of a single bag, the Thule Adventure Touring Pannier
had the greatest storage capacity, but only two tiny external pockets to organize gear. By comparison, the Axiom Monsoon
and Seattle Sports Titan
had seemingly small overall storage and weren't able to store all the touring gear.
The Adventure Touring Pannier comfortably toted a hammock, tarp, underquilt, bug net, sleeping bag, bear spray, fuel canister and cookware: nearly all the essentials for an overnight tour.
Out of the three commuting panniers tested, we found the Timbuk2 Tandem
had the most storage with its dual-bag volume that also had laptop sleeves, external pockets, and internal buckles to secure contents. However, the Brooks Suffolk Pannier
came in a close second with a large main compartment and three external pockets for stowing away extra gear. Ultimately, we thought the Brooks Suffolk was much easier to pack than the Timbuk2 Tandem
, despite its marginally smaller overall volume. The Detours Fremonster Flap
also had features like external pockets and a laptop sleeve, but we found its shape and closure type to be a little difficult to pack.
Even though it's a pain to install, the Blackburn Local Cooler fared better than we expected once we took it off the beaten path. It was also a top scorer in terms of storage capabilities.
With minimal pockets and larger overall dimensions, the townie panniers were notably boxier than all the others. This is intentional to fit a standard sized grocery bag in the main pocket (aside from the Blackburn Local Cooler
, which has a depth of a 12-ounce beer can). We preferred the size and closure of the Banjo Brothers Market Pannier
. While it is only marginally larger than the Green Guru Dutchy
, it also has two extra storage pockets that can fit its shoulder strap as well as your wallet and keys. But for straight-up volume, the Blackburn Local Cooler
takes the cake. It was able to fit all of our food and beers (including the oddly shaped cantaloupe) with room to spare.
Even though it is seemingly smaller than some other touring panniers, the Seattle Sports Titan was able to accommodate all the gear we had selected for our storage test.
We felt that it was critical to assess the overall longevity and quality of each model. Having spent the better half of a summer in Alaska, these panniers were exposed to all kinds of conditions and got their fair share of abuse from long rides and rugged conditions. We intentionally pedaled through gnarly thickets of soap berries and black spruce to test their resistance to abrasion. Similarly, we monitored how each model would perform after receiving a fresh coat of silty mud.
Our initial assessment of durability happened as we took each pannier out of the box. We very diligently examined the fabrics, hardware, and construction quality of every model and took careful notes of features we found to be weak or flawed that may pose a problem after repeated use. Furthermore, we did a similar inspection of the panniers after we had used each of them for the duration of our trial period to document how they stood up to our rigorous testing.
Touring models like the Thule Adventure Touring Pannier are more durable and better suited for off-road travel through harrowing terrain.
Out of the box, it was apparent that the touring specific panniers were engineered to withstand the elements. The Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic
and the Seattle Sports Titan
are both reinforced with a nylon coating, while the Thule Adventure Touring Pannier
used a more lightweight sail type material that seemed very abrasion resistant. Additionally, the touring panniers had dimensional reinforcements and robust mounting hardware that was clearly designed to take a beating.
Details like quality stitching and solid reinforcements are important for a longstanding bike pannier. We weren't that impressed with the construction of the Fremonster Flap, the closure of which is pictured above.
Commuter and townie panniers, while offering multiple other features, were not designed to be abused as a touring pannier would. For instance, the Detours Fremonster Flap
seemed to have weak stitching in places and didn't have any reinforcements for its mounting hardware. On the other hand, the Brooks Suffolk
had durable canvas, bomber hardware, and a high-quality construction that gave us the confidence to put it through the ringer.
A little larger in capacity, the Seattle Sports Titan is a touring specific model that easily crosses over for daily commutes. Not only that, but it was a well made and durable model.
If you're a hardcore cyclist, you no doubt need a pannier that will take you through rain, sleet, and possibly even snow. Thus, we took this metric very seriously in our testing by putting each model through a multi-phase weatherproofing test aimed at determining the relative level of protection. We believe that there is a distinct difference between water resistance, waterproofing, and weatherproofing.
We were so confident in the Ortlieb's waterproofing that we sent it for a ride down the creek. This bag was the only model to earn a 10 out of 10 in the waterproof metric.
In our eyes, water resistance insinuates that the pannier can handle a spitting rain while keeping your contents mostly dry. Waterproofing means that no matter how hard it rains, or even if you drop your pannier in a puddle, your materials will remain completely dry. And weatherproofing suggests that the pannier will also handle mud, sun, and other extreme conditions in addition to its relative waterproofing.
Our rain test subjected the lineup to a thorough overnight soak in classic Alaskan spit. It was clear that roll-top style bags had superior protection with fully-enclosed storage.
Every bag we tested in this review could be categorized as water resistant. Even the Brooks Suffolk Pannier, made entirely of waxed cotton canvas, will bead water on its exterior in a light rain. But not all of the models in the lineup can be deemed waterproof or weatherproof. Bags that lack complete closures, like the Green Guru Dutchy
and Detours Fremonster Flap
, will eventually let the elements into their main compartments.
Even though it managed to keep out rain and road spray, the Monsoon let some moisture into the bag when we sent it for a swim down the creek.
In our experience, roll-top bags like the Thule Adventure Touring Pannier
and Seattle Sports Titan
offered the greatest protection from water, keeping their contents dry even after a 15 dunk in a creek eddie. Additionally, these bags remained functional after getting caked in silty mud we encountered on the trails. Alternatively, the Banjo Brothers Market
Pannier and the Timbuk2 Tandem
had the worst scores of our weatherproofing tests. These scores were primarily because neither of these panniers have complete closures - despite their waterproof fabrics.
Ease of Use
When testing each panniers ease of use, we had three primary considerations: ergonomics, user-friendliness, and overall satisfaction with the product. We paid attention to additional features that were designed to enhance the functionality of the pannier. Furthermore, we took note of how accessibility, visibility, comfortability, and the relative ease of cleaning and/or fixing the bag after use.
Overall, we thought that the Seattle Sports Titan
had the greatest ease of use out of all the panniers. It was ready for use out of the box without any adjusting and has a straightforward construction that allows for easy cleaning and repairs on the go. We were also fond of the Brooks Suffolk for its straightforward design and quality construction that not only looks good but feels good in the hand as well.
Even when cruising to your next Ukulele/Mouth-Harp jam, the Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic is a very functional choice that keeps you visible on the road.
Most of the bags we tested had extra features like shoulder straps, hidden pockets, additional hardware, or reflective materials. For the most part, we valued these features and assigned value to them accordingly. But in certain cases, these features were superfluous and didn't enhance the overall experience. The Green Guru Dutchy
and Blackburn Local Cooler
, for instance, have shoulder straps that cannot be removed and stowed away. In cases like this, we found the additional features to be poorly executed and not worth the trouble.
The removable shoulder strap of the Banjo Brothers Market Pannier made it a functional choice off the bike as well.
In our eyes, the least user-friendly panniers in the lineup were the Detours Fremonster Flap
and the Axiom Monsoon Hydracore
. Both of these panniers were finicky to get on and off the rack, usually requiring a closer look and adjusted body position. Furthermore, both of these bags came with loads of extra features like gear loops and hidden pockets that didn't seem to add much to the overall user experience.
With three bonus pockets and an ergonomic design, the Brooks Suffolk Rear Pannier has a very user-friendly construction that is evidently geared towards a breezy commute.
Types of Panniers
Touring panniers are designed to haul lots of gear for great distances in all kinds of inclement weather. They will most often have a fully waterproof construction and are built with materials that can withstand a beating. Because weight and storage are paramount considerations while biking long distances, touring panniers typically employ a minimalist design that gives the cyclist only what they need and nothing more. That being said, most touring panniers can also suit the needs of a commute, though they may not have all the trimmings of a proper commuting bag. In this review, we categorized the Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic
, Thule Adventure Touring Pannier,
Seattle Sports Titan, and
Axiom Monsoon Hydracore** as touring-specific panniers.
The Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic is an oft-seen style of touring pannier that features a waterproof roll-top closure similar to what you'd find on a dry bag.
Commuting panniers are less burly but more ergonomic than touring panniers. With features like laptop sleeves and integrated shoulder-straps, they are designed for daily use by folks who ride their bikes to work, school, the library, etc. Usually, commuting panniers are rated as water resistant as opposed to waterproof. Though, because these bags are preferred by folks who use their bicycles frequently in transit, a good commuting pannier should be built to withstand the wear-and-tear of repeated daily use. We chose the Brooks Suffolk Rear Pannier
, Detours Fremonster Flap
, and Timbuk2 Tandem
as our commuting panniers.
The Fremonster Flap is a colorful choice that may suit the needs of a casual commuter in fair weather but would leave you feeling soggy during a long haul in the rain.
The townie category of panniers is less niched than touring or commuting but is generally aimed at riders who use their bicycles for outings at the grocery store, farmers market, or local park for a picnic. These panniers are intended to carry bulky objects for shorter distances when compared to touring or commuting models. They aren't typically very stout when compared to fully-waterproof touring panniers, though they can often withstand a small amount of wheel spray and precipitation. Recreational and hardcore cyclists alike often travel by bike while running errands, thus we felt it necessary to showcase panniers that are designed explicitly to get you around town versus to and from work. Our townie panniers include the Green Guru Dutchy
, Blackburn Local Cooler
, and Banjo Brothers Market Pannier
The Banjo Brothers Market Pannier is a dependable choice for cruising to and from the grocer, mercantile, or other establishments that sell oat sodas and the like.
Choosing the right pannier can be daunting with how many options are out there. Depending on what type of cycling you primarily engage in, you will likely have different needs and expectations from a pannier. But whether you use it to commute, go shopping, or to get out in the wilderness, you undeniably want to choose a model that has ample storage for the task at hand, quality construction, and useful features. We hope that our expert research proves valuable to you in selecting the best pannier for your bicycle outing!