As a relative newbie to the world of bike commuting, I quickly realized that while you can stick with just the bare bones, your bike commute can go from doable to nearly perfect with the addition of a few key accessories. Beyond a bike and a helmet, it’s helpful to have lights, a bell and a pannier. All these add-ons make commuting fast, safe and convenient.
While there are a variety of bells, headlights and taillights that have all worked for me, I’ve had the most difficulty finding a durable pannier. It needs to clip on and off easily as I lock my bike up outside overnight, keep my laptop safe over bumps and terrible road conditions and have plenty of storage for all of my work clothes if I bike to the gym first. Convertible backpack straps are a bonus. While some people can swing a messenger bag or backpack over their shoulders and ride, I’ve found that I can carry much more on the bike if I just attach my bag to it — and (bonus) I don’t show up to work with a big sweat stain on my back from said bag.
Here are four panniers (and an additional pack) that hit all our prerequisites in terms of durability, storage and design.
Brooks England Suffolk Rear Travel Pannier
The roll-top closure ensures that you can stuff this bag with extra sneakers, your lunch and even your laundry if you’re a drop off and pick up kind of guy. The leather accents elevate the bag so it can go with you from home to office — and even to important business meetings. The detachable shoulder strap is clutch, and the Ortlieb attachment system is the be all, end all of attachment options.
North St. Woodward Convertible
This pannier and backpack comes from the Pacific Northwest, so you can bet that it’s waterproof. There’s a lifetime warranty on the Woodward, which backs up its craftsmanship (each bag is made by hand). It comes in three colors — deep green, bold navy and black, each with reflective detailing so you don’t have to worry about riding at night. The internal laptop sleeve is a must-have, and the external pockets make it easy to stash your phone so you can check directions at stop lights. Attaching it to your bike is a breeze: just slide the hooks over your rear rack and connect the bungee cord. The hide-away backpack straps are a huge convenience as I hop on and off my bike frequently along my route. Velcro seals all the external pockets, so while loud, I’ve never once worried about my keys flying out mid-commute.
Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic
If you’re looking for simply the best pannier on the market, look no further than Ortlieb. Since 1982, these bags have proven themselves exceptionally durable, waterproof and easy to use. While not the sleekest-looking panniers on the market, it’s hard to find something as reliable. The back-roller classic comes in black, red, yellow and blue, with a shoulder strap to carry in and out of the office. The roll top guarantees water won’t sneak inside, and the QL2 closure is a breeze to attach the bag to your bike. Simply lift the handle to secure the two hooks around your rear rack and slide the hook over on the back to eliminate any bouncing while riding. You’re guaranteed to see these all over the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges as commuters make their way in and out of the city.
Arkel Signature V Urban Pannier
This bike bag built for a city commuter comes in three colors — copper, olive and black — and offers an impressive 28-liters of storage. The bag is made from 1000D Cordura and lined with a waterproof TPU laminate. Arkel makes all of its goods in Canada, and this pack is no different. You can run as many errands as you’d like post-work, as the bag will hold your laptop in a dedicated pocket, leaving room for groceries, tools and bike shoes.
Lululemon Surge Run Backpack II
While this is not a pannier, this has become my go-to bike commuting bag due to its sleek look, backpack first-design and ability to work like a stuff sack. I could easily fit three days worth of clothing in here, or a change of clothes, plus my laptop and extra magazines. The bag has a small footprint, so when the temperatures reach 75 and I don’t want to sweat through the back of my shirt, I can pop it in my basket. And for those times when I’m carrying something I don’t think can handle the shock of New York City roads (i.e., a photo frame, food or a recovery tool), the backpack straps are clutch.