Do Pannier Bags have any place in ‘modern’ bikepacking?

According to the ‘rules’ of bikepacking, pannier bags have no place on a modern setup. But why is that? Is it a fair assumption that you should never consider this form of load-carrying if you are planning on riding on anything other than tarmac?

Common opinion is that pannier bags are simply not ‘cool’ and their popularity has waned. For many they are intrinsically linked with the old world image of bicycle touring alongside the Dawes Galaxy, SPD sandals and carrying everything including the kitchen sink. Look up any image of a tourer and you will no doubt see a bike festooned in boxy, oversized pannier bags.

Pannier bags have followed a design that saw its inspiration come from the centuries old practice of slinging a pair of bags over a beast of burden in order for it to carry a load. The shape and style of the ‘modern’ cycle pannier bag was itself first patented nearly 140 years ago in 1884. So not exactly cutting edge then…

Like any commonly used object the humble pannier bag has had the rough edges chipped away and modern versions have been refined considerably. The modern equivalents are a world away from the rough canvas originals – although you can still get canvas panniers if that’s your bag (pun intended). 

What makes a pannier bag a pannier bag?

In general, all modern pannier bags share similar features such as a relatively large volume (how much space it has for a load), an attachment mechanism consisting of upper and lower connectors designed to work with standard metal rack systems and in many cases an internal frame or back panel to aid structure. And in general they work very well. Most use some form of hook or strap system to hold the pannier in place of a rack and this works to keep them in place when riding whilst making them easy to remove when it comes to arriving at your destination. And of course as this is the cycle industry, with its multiple industrial standards, most pannier bag retention systems are built with enough adjustment to accommodate the differing tubing diameters of front and rear racks.

So far so good, but the things that make pannier bags so universally popular, namely their capacity and ability to fit most bike racks, can also be their downfall when it comes to operating far from the beaten track. 

Most pannier bags tend to operate on the principle that ‘more is more’ when it comes to volume and carrying capacity. Great for loading up a week’s grocery shopping, carrying your work stuff or when off on a round the world trip but a little excessive and cumbersome when trying to finesse some narrow singletrack. Given the extra capacity of a standard pannier bag the temptation to over pack is always present and it can be very easy to turn a light and nimble bikepacking setup into a lumbering juggernaut.

As anyone that has attempted to ride with panniers down a rough trail can attest to, the biggest issues with running a traditional setup are not only the incessant rattling but also the ability for a pannier bag to be ejected from the rack at any given time. This stems from the fact that most pannier bags have a less than secure hook style mounting mechanism combined with the aforementioned wide fit tolerances that are needed to make the bag a ‘universal’ fit. The result can be a very stressful ride experience when off-road.

Tailfin mini panniers
Panniers offroad? Noisy and with the personality traits of an ejector seat usually.

So why are we even talking about anyone seriously wanting to use pannier bags for bikepacking?

Well the key reason is panniers are without doubt far more practical and user friendly for carrying extra kit than the widely adopted cargo cage/dry bag/Voilé strap method. A pannier bag’s most practical feature is it can be opened and access gained to its contents without needing to undo straps and/or remove it from its mounting point. 

Pannier bags also provide a single, more fool proof method of mounting and removal thanks to a specific mounting mechanism. Shifting contents, an irregular shape and open sided cargo cages mean a drybag and strap combo won’t always attach in exactly the same position and with the same reliability. 

Finally pannier bags will also have a longer life as there are no fixing straps that can wear through precious dry bags when faced with mud and other trail debris.

Panniers are great! Quick access to your kit, reliable fitting mechanism plus no straps to catch debris.

But if pannier bags are not great for off-road use what’s the solution?

If you are reading this you probably are aware that we tend to create the sorts of products that are the solution to almost all of the problems faced by today’s bike tourer and bikepacker; the kit you wish you had bought first rather than trying lots of inferior equipment. So before you get downhearted at the lack of off-road oriented pannier bags, may we introduce the new Tailfin Mini Pannier range; possibly the best pannier bags for bikepacking on the market (in our opinion of course).

The most important consideration for this new range was to create a pannier system that can provide absolute reliability even when used on trails you would never take a ‘normal’ pannier system on. We wanted them to be stable, light, rattle free, provide dependable reliability, be easy to use and have the ability to service/repair in the field.

Our new Mini Panniers. THE solution for off-road pannier use.

How to make pannier bags suitable for modern bikepacking

The new 5 and 10 litre Mini Panniers all start with a completely redesigned X Clamp attachment system. The new mechanism is a triumph of engineering and manufacturing and follows on from the success and feedback from the original X Clamp (still found on the larger 22 litre pannier bags). The three key clamping components are CNC machined from 6061-T6 Aluminium, shot blasted, anodized and then screwed together with stainless steel shoulder screws and nylon bushings. The result is a rock solid clamp mechanism that creates an almost seamless connection between rack and bag. It is operated with a solid and satisfying single finger lock/release cam lever. The design of this lever provides positive feedback to the user when fully closed and fully released, resulting in an incredibly tactile feel for increased rider reassurance. 

The cam lever features a replaceable nylon bushing that eliminates any metal on metal wear and provides a uniform and reliable movement, ensuring a smooth action throughout the life of the clamp. We have also been at pains to protect all moving parts from dirt and water ingress to further enhance the reliability of the system – essential for a product designed to work anywhere in the world and over any terrain.

To complete the integration between luggage and bike, the X Clamp is screwed to a rigid internal structure found inside a false pocket within the bag. Like the X Clamp this internal frame is also CNC machined from 6061-T6 aluminium alloy. This allowed us to save weight whilst retaining strength to cope with even the worst crashes. Rigorously tested on our in-house fatigue and shock loading machines, the frame is strong enough for us to happily recommend both sizes of Mini Pannier for off-road applications. 

How do you make pannier bags off-road proof? Start with the most secure, rattle free clamping mechanism.

A thoughtful, waterproof bag with clever features

One of the key targets for the new Mini Panniers was to create a highly durable bag whilst keeping the weight as low as possible. This pushed us to follow the same dual material construction as our 22L Superlight Pannier. Durable Hypalon laminate material is used in all high wear areas of the bag and is matched with a lighter weight, more flexible ripstop nylon in the upper portion of the bag allowing for easier rolling and flexible load carrying. This material choice alongside the lightweight aluminium parts drops the weights of the 5L and 10L to 310 grams and 380 grams respectively – highly competitive compared to the competition and very appealing to gram counting racers and riders. 

The entire structure is high frequency welded, guaranteeing a completely waterproof bag. Being a British brand this is a feature very close to our hearts! Undertaking our testing in the damp areas of South West England and Wales we completely understand the importance of keeping kit dry and safe.

The wide top opening of the bags allow for easy and rapid packing even when attached to the bike and the subtle tapered shape ensures your load is cradled in a rattle free way without creating any potential dead space. 

Each Mini Pannier ships with four additional T-Hook compression straps (two pairs). These can be attached to the side of the packs either vertically or horizontally, and offer additional functionality. The pack can either be closed like a traditional roll top dry bag with a single clip at the top for simplicity and ease of use. Or, by utilising a pair of the T-Hook compression strap sets, the pack can be closed with a clip down each side – reducing load volume quickly and efficiently. The T-Hook compression straps can also be attached horizontally to provide further compression or for attaching additional items to the front of the bags.

Have it your way. Side closure, roll top or with added, included compression straps. One bag, three ways of using.

Designed for both Tailfin and generic racks

The Mini Panniers are designed to work best with our own range of Racks or AeroPacks, but they also play well with other brand’s racks – both front and rear. Included with every bag are a range of clamp spacers that allow it to fit to the industry standard 8,10 or 12mm tubing diameters – covering the majority of racks. The lower hook can be rotated through 360 degrees allowing customisation to ensure a safe and solid fit with almost any rack. Perfect if you already have a favoured metal rack setup on your bike but want to run the Tailfin Mini Panniers.

Tailfin system, standard rear rack or front rack. The Mini Panniers are designed to fit them all.

We might be bias but we think the Mini Panniers are THE perfect pannier system to convert even the most hardened bikepacker into a rack convert.

To keep up with Tailfin’s latest product releases like the Mini Panniers, plus handy features about bike packing and living with your Tailfin system why not sign up to our regular monthly newsletter?

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