Our other main DIY (or MYOG) project, besides our bikes, is sewing our own bike panniers. Panniers are essentially side bags that mount on the metal racks over our bikes’ back wheels. Panniers are great because they keep your gear neatly packaged, out of the way of your feet. They also keep the weight of your gear low down on the bike, compared to piling everything on top of the racks; a low, widespread load is easier to ride with than a high, concentrated one.
Several companies make very nice waterproof panniers by which many bike travelers swear. However, we had a few problems with the bags on the market. First of all, they were very expensive, about $150 over our budget. Weight and design were also issues. Most panniers tend to have a heavy structural back and layers of hard-wearing fabrics, lots of pockets etc. Since we plan on carrying a relatively small and light load we didn’t feel the need for complex and heavy duty panniers. Instead we opted for a simple design that we came up with ourselves, and are using a very light, strong and waterproof fabric.
We found inspiration for the panniers from designs for lightweight hiking backpacks that other people have made themselves, or made by small manufacturers like these or these guys. We were interested in a design that was adaptable — that could carry a lot or little gear — and was tailored for our gear and our bikes.
We designed essentially large rectangular sacks with reinforced tie-outs to mount the panniers to the racks, and other loops through which we can run thin cord to help compress the volume of the packs. We have a roll top closure (light, simple to sew, and very waterproof) with a Y-style top compression strap. There is a single back panel with loops for attachment to the rack. The panel has the upper,”V,” part of the Y strap and a carry handle. The panniers will be seam sealed to keep out all water.
A felled seam on the side of the pannier.
Check back soon for details of the finished pannier, and how we plan to adapt them so we can use them as a backpacks for hiking (or as a messenger bags for train and plane travel)!