Category: Panniers

A while back, I previewed a new commuter pack/pannier that I would be putting to the test – the Detours Ballard Market bag.

Detours Ballard Market Bag/Pannier

Now that I’ve commuted (almost daily) with this bag for 2 months, I must say that I really like this bag/pannier! Though not as voluminous as my Market Pannier from Banjo Brothers, this bag proved large enough and has been wonderfully convenient for a daily go-to bag regardless of my bike choice/option for the day.
On one day when I needed extra toting capacity, I used both the Detours and Banjo Brothers bags and they balanced me out well.

Hauling capacity to the max with two panniers

Per the Detours site, this bag’s specs are:

Best uses: Around Town, Commuting
Volume: 920 cubic inches
Dimensions: 11 x 5.5 x 15 inches
Average Weight: 1.8 lbs

On my debut ride with this pack a few months ago, I was impressed and this bag has continued to impress me in this summer of riding.

One of the greatest attributes of this bag is its versatility and ability to go with me for any commute – regardless of the rack set-up or lack thereof. As stated in the name of the bag, this bag pulls triple duty as a pannier, as an over-the-shoulder market bag and as a backpack! How convenient for someone who has found herself toting this bag nearly everywhere these past couple months and never feeling out of place with it…. as it does not “scream” bike commuter bag and can be a nice fashion accessory (girlie plus from someone who tends to value practicality over fashion).
When I borrowed Dottie’s bike Coco (after Toro’s theft), the rack tubing was too thick for the clips on this bag – but I was still able to use the backpack feature!

Detours Ballard – as a backpack

Another day (while test riding a bike from Heritage Bicycles) – I simply strapped the bag to the front rack and went – both with and without the rain cover.

Finally a bag that can do all the heavy lifting of the bags designed to be for guys or gender neutral but with some flare.

On more than one occasion I managed to STUFF this bag full of well…”stuff” – groceries or bike to work week goodie bags or just the build-up of daily commuting stuff.

Stuffed with stuff!

The Detours Ballard bag held it all. More importantly, it offered enough pockets – one internal zip pouch and multiple exterior pockets – to conveniently store small items that might otherwise get lost in a large open bag. It also offered a hi-vis waterproof cover (that packs down and fits easily in a pocket and did keep the water out) for the few times I had to commute in the rain. One nice upgrade would be to have a built-in pouch to hold the cover with a tether to hold it in place and from getting lost/separated from the bag.

Hi-Vis Waterproof Cover

Hi-Vis Waterproof Cover on the Bag

When the waterproof cover is on the pack, it leaves the clips accessible for use as a pannier.

Waterproof cover fits to provide access to use as pannier or backpack

When not full, this bag does flop over (but not in a bad way). I tend to not travel that lightly, so it was never an issue for me. The drawstring cord to cinch the top closed always was sufficient to keep things in the bag. The lack of a zipper or flap initially concerned me, but the drawstring was fine, with the waterproof cover doing its job when the rain fell. It’s just too bad there wasn’t an easier way to shield the bag contents from lighter rainfalls … without having to put the cover over the entire bag.

The bag’s rack attachment is a clip system that kept the bag securely fastened to most racks I encountered:

Rack attachment via plastic cllps

This clip system is similar to those I’ve seen on other panniers. To detach the bag, it is a bit cumbersome at first – since you have to undo each clip separately. I learned to put the shoulder straps on my shoulder and that freed my hands to get the clips free. It would be much more convenient to have a strap attached to the clips that would release their grip when pulled up. But – props to Detours for making a zippered flap that covers the clips when off the bike, so they don’t snag you or your clothes when just carrying the bag over the shoulder; very practical feature!

Detours also sent me one of their small waterproof Coffee Bags to review. I’ll be posting separately about the versatility of this clever little bag…

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

It’s springtime and time for new product lines… Our friends over at Detours sent me a couple new bags to review and I will be putting them to the test over the coming fine weather months.

I’ve already had the opportunity to take the new Ballard Market Pannier on a very bumpy maiden voyage commute last Friday am sharing my first impressions. Still to come will be my first impressions and review of the waterproof Coffee Bag which is designed to keep some smaller items dry and secure.

The Detours site provides the following description of the Ballard Market Pannier:

Seattleites flock to the Ballard neighborhood every Sunday for one of the best farmers market in the Northwest. If you’re rolling up on a bike, this is the perfect pannier to take with you. An easily hide-able padded shoulder harness lets you wear the pannier as a backpack when browsing the stalls, and two simple yet sturdy pannier clips attach to your bike rack for the ride home. A lightweight waterproof base keeps your bag dry from street spray, and a removable raincover protects your goods when the skies open up. Interior organization and a laptop sleeve makes this a great option for a casual office commuting as well! Distinctive prints make this bag just as beautiful as the fresh produce you’ll haul home.

Available in Black, Red or our exclusive Herman Yu Dahlia print.

Best uses: Around town, commuting
Volume: 920 cubic inches
Dimensions: 11 x 5.5 x 15 inches
Average Weight: 2 pounds
Price: $69.00

I rode with this Ballard Market Pannier on a long commute last Friday.

Ballard Market Pannier attached to my bike

It fit more than everything I needed for work and for my bike, and it felt so much less clunky than the Banjo Brothers Market Pannier that I’ve been using (that RL also reviewed a while back).

A peak inside the Ballard Market Pannier

Part of it could be that it’s because I finally packed only what I really need. My bags tend to accumulate “baggage” over time and I end up with quite a hefty load after a while.

My commute followed a lot of bumpy roads and the pannier remained securely in place on my Blackburn rear bike rack.

Ballard Market Pannier clips securely to bike rack

If I ever chose, I could also wear this bag as a backpack via nicely padded straps that easily pull out to make backpack straps.

The Ballard Market Pannier becomes a backpack

No more need to decide between a backpack or a pannier!

I also received a few compliments on the bag – bonus! :-)
Being chic on a bike goes a long way towards making this my new “go to” bag.

Stay tuned for the full review after I’ve put in a few more commutes with this bag.

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
close-up
(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.

laptop

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.

reflective
raincover-reflective

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 1,975cu.in. (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.

Overview:
Pros:
* capacity
* reflectiveness
* easy mounting on the rack
* rain cover

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

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

Just in time for the holidays and hauling around all those gifts, Santa delivered a package to my doorstep – a set of very reflective Bontrager Interchange Urban Commuter Panniers.


Now that I’m on the mend – again – from being ill, I’ll be putting these panniers to the test. Last year at this time I was using a backpack and a single pannier to haul around all my stuff – clothing layers, lunch, books, tools. This year I’ve ditched the backpack (to save my back and shoulders) and look forward to the organization that this set of panniers offers.

The interchange hardware means that I should have no problem using these panniers on any of my bikes.

Look out roads – here I come!

FTC Disclaimer

On my personal site, I finally got around to writing a proper product review for the Axiom LaSalle panniers I bought more than a year ago. While they’re not without their quirks, they’re probably the second thing I would purchase if I had to start from scratch and buy all-new bike commuting gear. The first, obviously, would be a rack to mount them to.

… the LaSalle seemed like the more appropriate choice for my daily, year-round commute and errands due to its size and price. Overall, the workmanship and construction of these bags seems very good. In over a year, they are only showing minimal wear down where the QR skewers have caused some damage. I have seen similar Axiom panniers (not sure of the model, but all part of the Journey Series) in use by other commuters and tourers and they’re still going strong after several years of use. I’d definitely buy these again, if I had a chance.

Continue Reading: Product Review: Axiom LaSalle Panniers