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Commuting with a Pannier

June 27, 2011

This started out as a product-review but in the end I thought I’d just share my thoughts on using a pannier bag for a work commute. I’d wanted to try panniers for some time but the price of entry had put me off. The fancy-pants ones I’d considered would be great for touring but were probably overkill for my short commute and quite expensive. Besides, I wanted to test the concept before getting spendy on something that might not suit.

My old backpack had been doing an admirable job, but on muggy Auckland mornings it was almost impossible to avoid a damp back, no matter how slow I rode. I got around that by installing a rear-rack and more recently a front-basket. The backpack was never uncomfortable but I cycle in my work clothes and wanted to stay dry.

Zero Commuter Pannier

It looks enormous in this photo. Not so dominating in the flesh.

When this Zero came on special at $45 (I’ve since seen them at $25!) it seemed like a good time to jump-in and give commuting with a pannier a try. It certainly looked the part in stylish black and grey and seemed well put-together for the price. Attaching to the rack at the top with two hooks and a sprung-clip, the bottom is secured with a rotating-arm that prevents it bouncing around. These fittings are adjustable as racks all differ somewhat. I tweaked mine so the pannier is positioned as far rearward as possible, that way I don’t clip it with the back of my heal as I pedal.

The first thing I liked about pannier-use was how fast I could get it on and off the bike, a 2 second exercise. Attaching my backpack to the rear rack involved 30 seconds of bungee-macramé and I was always paranoid about a strap wandering into the spokes. On and off in a couple of seconds was much more convenient.

The other nice thing about having a dedicated commuting bag is you can leave the regular stuff in there, no need to re-pack each day (and forget things). I have a raincoat, lock, pump, notebook, pen, MP3 player and flash-drive that live in there permanently. There’s also a mesh bag with a buff, gloves and some ankle-reflectors for my cold/dark ride home. In the morning I just add my wallet, phone, keys and FOOD and I’m good to go.

Because I work a 12-13 hour day the pannier is pretty much filled with food. If I required extra clothing or work-shoes I’d need a bigger pannier or a matching one for the other side. Lugging around two panniers would kill the convenience for me, I’d opt for one large one.

Commuter models like the Zero often have a detachable shoulder-strap. I don’t bother with that and simply carry the bag by the top handle. A roll-down flap covers-up the attachment hardware on the back if you wish but that is too much fuss for my liking. It still looks neater sitting beside my desk than a scungy backpack ever did, despite the exposed hardware.

So I’m enjoying my time with the Zero. It’s not a must-have by any stretch of the imagination but if you already have a rack on your bike a pannier is a good commuting option.

And now for the review bit:

A glaring omission from what is pushed as a “commuter” model is the lack of any reflective material. If they couldn’t use reflective fabric for the pannier construction itself  it should at least have a strip of it on the side and facing the rear. I don’t know how that one got through, most bike accessories I’ve come across light up like a road-cone at night, almost by default.

The other small problem I have with the Zero is the mounting security. On it’s first outing I knocked a bench maneuvering the bike out of the office and the pannier unclipped and fell off. I suppose that’s a safety-feature of sorts but it hasn’t given me a great deal of confidence riding down steps, popping wheelies or hopping curbs. Despite these reservations it has stayed put ever since, even with some bumpy off-road riding, so I’m hoping it was a one-off occurrence.

Although the fabric doesn’t “look” waterproof my gear has stayed dry in some moderate rain. I think it would eventually soak through but If I’m carrying something that “must” remain dry I just put it in a plastic bag. Thirty years of riding motorcycles taught me that one!

This pannier has small zipped pockets both inside and outside the bag, this is a great feature that I highly recommend. The inside one is great for keeping my wallet, MP3 player and small items separated from the main compartment. The outer pocket is convenient for my lock, phone and keys.

The Zero, despite its failings is a pleasure to use and for my short 4 km commute it does a fine job. If I’m ever in the market again I’ll know what other features to look for but as an entry-level pannier it was money well spent.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 28, 2011 7:43 pm

    $25! Where’d you see them for $25?!

  2. June 29, 2011 9:19 pm

    Lol, ‘girly one’, really? They have some good specials on that site sometimes. I should keep more of an eye on it.

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