Review: Bontrager Interchange Urban Commuter Panniers

At the beginning of 2010 I previewed this new pannier set that I would be riding around town.

bontrager interchange urban commuter panniers

I mounted them on my bike – multiple bikes – with zero hardware or tools required. Just snap and go – literally. Note: I do not have Bontrager brand racks on any of my bikes but these panniers still worked with my set-up. For comparison, I visited a local bike shop along my daily commuting route and compared my set-up to a true Bontrager set-up:

on my rack
(My racks just happen to be by Blackburn and I was able to mount these panniers using one of the down-sloping posts.)

On Bontrager Rack
(On the Bontrager rack the lower clip attaches to the diagonal tube)

on bike - rearview

The interchange mechanism is all plastic and I question its reliability over time. I’ve already lost the yellow rubber cushions that help fit the pannier clamp to the rack. In all the on and off, the yellow fittings just fell out. I noticed they were missing one morning when I went to mount them for the daily commute.

Over the past month of riding with these panniers, I’ve really come to appreciate multiple panniers and complete independence from a backpack. When I first started commuting several years ago, I always rode with a backpack. My bike back then did not have a rear rack and the backpack just travelled easier. When I finally installed a rack, I also invested in a waterproof pannier and was more attracted to its waterproofness and the additional cargo space it provided than to having it fully replace my backpack. At the end of last summer, however, I decided to ditch the backpack entirely and rely solely on my single pannier. My back appreciates not carrying the weight, but the single bucket style pannier wasn’t always adequate. Enter – the Bontrager Interchange Urban Commuter Pannier (sold as a set). I compare one of the Bontrager bags to my bag:

width comparison
compare from back
You can see how these panniers compare in size to my old pannier. They are a bit narrower but about what I’ve been used to. But they offer a bit more height. Also, this set has a symmetrical design and are both soft shell so they keep their shape but do compress if needed. As noted by the company,

One bag is compartmentalized for daily needs: keys, glasses, music, phone, etc
One bag contains a large open compartment for clothes, shoes, etc

I’m used to the large open “bucket” concept; little stuff often got buried in my single bag. With these, I can use the one bag for extra layers and tools, while the compartmentalized bag carries my daily trinkets – camera, book, lunch and other papers (and even my laptop on occasion). A laptop up to 15.4″ should fit in this bag without a problem; Bontrager makes a laptop sleeve (sold separately) designed to work with their bags, but I just used my own neoprene padded sleeve and was fine.


It would have been nice if the interior of the compartmentalized bag was more like a briefcase and/or had some better ability to organize the big compartment. Since I often am a pedestrian during the day, I would slide a bag with a handle into the pannier and be able to just lift it out and go later. But I noticed when I just wanted to slide a few files or papers directly into the pannier itself that they would get lost in the openness of the single compartment.

On the exterior, both bags have an external pocket on the body of the bag, but only the compartmentalized bag has a small external pocket on the lid of the bag. These pockets simply served for small items – a set of keys or some papers, and they did come in handy without having to access the interior of the bag for something small.
external pocket

Reflective material abounds on this set, including a separate bright yellow raincover that each pannier stows hidden away in a back bottom pocket. I used the raincover only a couple of times and it did its job, including providing added visibility. I really like that the reflective strips on these bags appear all around the exterior so as to increase their visibility in all directions.


Accessing these bags did provide me with a bit of a challenge, especially since I’ve been using them in the colder weather when I’m wearing gloves or mittens. The bags each have a flip-down lid that clamps shut with plastic cargo buckles on each side of the bag. But releasing the buckles with cold fingers to access the interior contents of the bags proved difficult and cumbersome, especially since both buckles had to be unsnapped in order to open the lid. The adjustable straps that allow cinching of the buckle closure would flap as I ride and for my first few commutes with these panniers my right foot kept knocking one of the straps with each pedal stroke. Luckily I realized I could mount the bags a bit further back on the rack and avoid future interference.

Each bag comes with a detachable shoulder strap for ease of carrying these bags off the bike. However, I was never able to figure out a great way to efficiently make use of these straps. For one, the straps attach to the bags on the sides of the “lid” (not to the pannier side itself) so the lid must be buckled closed in order to carry the bag with the strap. Once back on the bike, there is no set means of stowing the shoulder strap from flapping around or getting caught in the wheel. I tried slipping the excess strap into one of the exterior pockets but that was not reliable. I could detach the straps each time but in the cold that was cumbersome, too. I finally settled for cinching them a bit and laying them under the lid before closing the bags up. That way the straps would be right on top next time I needed them and ready to go. But I do wish they weren’t mounted on the lid and that I didn’t have to open and then securely close the lid whenever I wanted to use the shoulder strap.

I do like the hauling capacity that this pannier set offers. Rated to carry a volume of 1, (32,364cc), I was able to schlup not only my daily commuting needs (and then some) but also to stop at the market on the way home and grab some groceries. I evenly distributed my haul between the two bags and was still able to latch the bags shut without a problem.
grocery haul

The interchange mounting mechanism allowed me to use the handles to quickly mount/unmount these panniers and carry my load up to my apartment – usually just holding the bags by the handles.

I will say that it wasn’t always convenient having two bags to carry around with me (since I usually don’t trust leaving a pannier on the bike for fear of the pannier or its contents getting stolen). But in the end I enjoyed the increased organization these panniers offered me as an urban commuter. They live up to their namesake.

Bontrager makes several other bags/panniers to fit nearly any cyclist’s needs – for utility, fashion or performance – on and off the bike. At an MSRP of $179.99, I’m not sure the Urban Commuter is perfect for every budget. But these panniers have introduced me to a whole new line of bag functionality that I certainly appreciate.

* capacity
* reflectiveness
* easy mounting on the rack
* rain cover

* cost
* plastic mounting parts – easily lost
* shoulder strap cumbersome to store/use

Please read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.


  1. Kagi February 15, 2010 6:55 pm 

    Panniers can be nice for touring, but as you’re finding out, they’re kind of a pain for the daily commute. I’m much happier with a pair of Wald folding baskets. I just throw my regular, non-biking briefcase/laptop bag into the basket, then pull it out and go. Otherwise, I just use plain canvas grocery bags. They hold lots of groceries with no trouble. When it rains, I just put my briefcase in a waterproof kayak bag (or a trash bag, if the rain catches me off-guard). You can even make quick-release mounting straps so that you can take the baskets off easily, whenever you want (search for “Wald basket quick-release straps” on if you’d like to see some pictures). The baskets are heavier than panniers, but unless you’re racing on your commute, that shouldn’t matter much.

  2. peteathome February 16, 2010 8:02 am 

    Great pannier review. BTW – I like panniers like these that hold their shape when empty. The ones that sag just look sad…

    What’s the safety triangle you have attached to the rear of your bike, and how’s it attached?


  3. Elizabeth February 16, 2010 8:27 am 

    @peteathome – Thanks! I really had a lot to say about my experiences with this pannier set. One thing I left out was how pleased I was that they remained securely in place even while riding over bumpy (read pot-holed) roads. My old pannier would sometimes go flying off the rack if I hit a bump at any kind of speed. Not good.

    Also… that safety triangle was a gift from my friend who actually built up my commuter bike – El Toro. :-) The tag on it says it’s from Aardvark Cycle Accessories; made in Richmond, UT.

  4. Mike Myers February 16, 2010 5:39 pm 

    $179 is pretty expensive for these. You can get Ortlieb Back Rollers @ for $155. You’re guaranteed durability with Ortlieb. Bontrager? Who knows?

    They seem nice enough, though. Still, are they appreciably better than panniers Performance or Nashbar sell under their house brands? I’m not averse to paying a bunch of money for panniers. I have Carradice Kendals on my commuter. They’re not high tech, at all. Just canvas and leather. But I know they’re made to last, so the extra cost was justified, to me. Bad weather commuter has Nashbar ATB panniers. They cost TWENTY BUCKS, and they work just fine.

    Fancy panniers on a commute bike is just overkill. How much do you carry regularly? My panniers are never even close to full. Most times I run one bag.

    The panniers that convert to backpacks seem like a good idea for an urban bike. Quick detach it and go. But leaving flashy expensive bags on the bike is asking for theft.

  5. Elizabeth February 16, 2010 5:49 pm 

    @Mike – having no familiarity with the Performance or Nashbar brand panniers, I’m not sure how these compare. Most days I do not fill these panniers, but some days I do find myself carrying more stuff one way or the other and it’s nice to have the room. This morning, for instance, it was nice to have the added capacity to carry a couple of boxes of paczki safely to work.

    Other days – especially when the weather fluctuates – I carry more layers without a problem.

  6. Raiyn February 16, 2010 6:23 pm 

    Try being a bit more specific Kagi There’s a LOT of stuff on Bikeforums

  7. Kagi February 16, 2010 9:34 pm 

    Sorry ’bout that… here’s that Bikeforums thread with the pictures:

  8. Jeffrey Sinnott December 29, 2010 12:25 pm 

    This is a very good review of the bag with ample illustrating photographs (You might tone down the reflective elements by not using a flash, though). I agree that plastic mounting elements may fatigue over time. I personally am not a fan of black panniers, though that seems to be the standard color for most pannier manufacturers. I agree that detachable shoulder straps are a challenge on most bike bags. A system where they can remain attached, as on the Detours Toto pannier is certainly more handy.

  9. Danno July 19, 2011 4:51 am 

    Thank you for your excellent product review. Have you sent a copy to Bontrager? I am sure they would appreciate your comments as it would assist them in improving their panniers.

    I purchased a Bontrager rack along with a removable basket-style pannier. It has the Interchange® feature which allows you to simply slide the basket into the rack and it clicks into place. My only issue is the button sticks a bit.

  10. Jennifer Crain July 20, 2012 8:22 am 

    CAUTION: Bontrager Interchange Waterproof Pannier. One of mine fell off while riding – twice (and only after a couple of months of use). The second time it caused me to crash my bike and sustain nasty open wounds on my left knee and elbow. Thankfully that was the worst of it. The clips at the top which hook on to the rack are not reliable, and that’s even after double-checking they’re secure, before beginning my ride.

  11. Elizabeth July 20, 2012 8:27 am 

    @Jennifer… for how long have you been riding with these panniers? We will pass your comment along to the manufacturer.

  12. Black Jaque November 7, 2012 8:48 am 

    I just got a set of these panniers. For commuting I like the fact that they hold their shape when empty.

    I’m having trouble getting the lower clip on the rack bar. It seems like it doesn’t stick out far enough and some other part of the pannier pushes against the rack before the clip reaches it. I’ve tried a number of different positions but nothing seems to work.

    From the looks of it, I’m guessing Bontrager imagined commuters could simply hold the bag up to the rack lining up the bottom clip and push it onto the bar. Then once the lower clip is on slide the bag up or down to align the top clips.

    In reality I have to push the bag up to the rack, squeeze my other hand between bag and rack and grab the clip to force it onto the bar. This is not easy since my hand also tends to push the bag away from the rack.

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