I have actually started commuting to work on the bike (Day 1 today) and have decided that panniers would make life a lot more pleasurable. so what I need to know is:
I'll only be on the bike two days out of five at the mo. Bike is a 29er mountain bike if that makes a difference.
Laptops do weigh something, they will alter the balance of the bike if on pannier - but then again may be better than on rucksack on back - if you go for pannier get two to distribute weight a bit better
I've done both, pannier and rucksack over the last 15 years of cycle commuting - currently back on rucksack as easier to swap bikes with that than have pannier rack on all bikes
Whatever system you go for make sure you also have a carrier bag to stick laptop/lunch/clothing in as whatever system you go for will not be water proof for that long.
my concern with having a laptop on a pannier is the vibrations and potential for getting bashed. If it were me Id use a small backpack for the laptop and a large saddle bag / handlebar bag / frame bag for food and clothing.
I like panniers for commuting. Less sweaty back and generally comfier as the weight is taken by the bike. Most days I ride with just one with shirt and trousers for the day. I don't notice the balance issues unless I have one very heavy one.
My laptop seems to cope fine, but I only bring it home ~ once a week, and it is a newish laptop with SSD hard drive so essentially no moving parts. I guess vibration might hurt an old style hard drive more.
I have an older version of these bags https://www.wiggle.co.uk/altura-dryline-2-32-panniers-pair/
They've done well at keeping stuff dry for 1 hr which is all I need.
I gave up using a backpack as it covered most of my reflective jacket.
Currently using a heavyweight basket on the front.
I'd be concerned that a laptop would get damaged in panniers in the event of a crash or bump.
I find wearing a backpack really uncomfortable if I'm cycling any more than an hour. My girlfriend got a pair of cheap panniers off ebay, around the £10 mark. They needed a little stiffening up to stop them from being able to touch the wheels but they've been great apart from that and do the job fine. I imagine when you get into the more expensive ones you have the option for waterproof ones, you can unclip them easier and they have stiffening inside.
You might find that some shorter bikes are trickier to fit panniers to without cracking your heels on them when you reach the rear part of your peddle stroke.
I wrap my laptop in a jumper and put it in a drybag in my panniers. They are reasonably rain proof but I don't risk it. I don't like to have a backpack if I can avoid it.
I have a pair of Deuter rack pack uni's I believe, they didn't break the bank and I have had them for at least 7 years now and they still look pretty tidy. I don't find the laptop unbalancing and generally put my breakfast and lunch in the other side anyway.
I use them for commuting now but have also done tours with them, so they are plenty big enough.
Enjoy your cycle commutes.
Short reply as on phone.
If you are commuting, then you want stuff that works, is a pleasure and easy to use, and will last. With those things in mind, go for Ortlieb panniers, loads of sizes, designs, fitments and adaptors/spares etc. Putting a laptop in one won't be a problem. Ortlieb aren't expensive - it's others that are cheap.
Worth looking at Tubus racks if you don't have something decent fitted already.
Edited to add: Have seen you are in Manchester so would recommend a visit to Keep Pedalling on Hilton St up near N Quarter, you'll get loads of good advice on what to go for.
Panniers all the way and Ortleib. They outlast the others by a long, long way. Buy a neoprene sleeve for your laptop. Try and get a spare charger so that you don't have to cart that around all the time too. Ortleibs have a slot inside (unpadded) into which a laptop in a sleeve will fit. Pack your clothes in a rubble sack (it keeps them in a tidy block and keeps everything dry if it all goes wrong. A single pannier should go on the right side - protects the rear mech and makes you look bigger to traffic.
In addition to avoiding the horrible sweaty back, it means that you can wear a thin gilet until you warm off and take it off quickly and easily at the lights.
Same here, commuted for years with laptop in ortlieb pannier with no issues, laptop goes in neoprene cover and into bag. Ortlieb will not let in any water (unless you close it badly).
You will not really notice the weight imbalance unless you stuff the pannier like my wife does, but even then you soon adjust.
If you are using it every week or daily then I'd say the most important bit of a pannier are the fixings that have to be reliable and easy to take pannier on/off bike.
I use Altura Arran, a bit worn after 4 or 5 years of 150-200 days use per year but still going strong so on that basis I reckon they're very good. I don't carry laptop but for complete waterproofing of tablet I use carrier bag and don't carry liquids in pannier that day.
I have TorTec Ultralite Rear Rack on two bikes so I can transfer panniers between them with no adjustments, depending on where frame fixings are this rack works with disc brakes too.
When you notice rack getting abraded by pannier clips wrap plastic cable ties around the worn aluminium - nothing else withstands the wear & tear due to road vibration.
Weight imbalance - you get used to it but so used to right hand pannier that left hand pannier only feels really wrong!
Can type a bit more now as I'm not on the phone.
Have seen that a few have recommended Ortlieb panniers, they really do set the standard, well worth it. The fixings are well-designed and (if properly adjusted) will keep the pannier secure with no rattling or vibration but still allow you to lift it off easily.
On re-reading your post, you say you are using a mountain bike: do you have pannier fittings on the frame or are you using some type of retro-fit clips? Also, do you have fittings and clearance for mudguards as full guards make a huge difference to comfort if you end up commuting regularly and often.
Also, good on you for bike-commuting. Where are you going to and from? (just general locations, not specifics).
I commute with my laptop inside a protective sleeve (inside a plastic bag if wet) inside a rucksack.
I don't like panniers at the best of times and for an hour each way, a sweaty back isn't too much of an issue when there's a shower at work.
I find a rucksack is narrower and the bike lighter for nipping through traffic.
I have duplicate docking stations and so on at home, keep a spare lock, shoes and trousers at work and take shirts and so on in on the days I drive in, so reduces the amount I need to carry as much as possible - mainly, it's just phone, wallet, bike tools, waterproof and lunch.
I much prefer a panier system as I hate cycling with a rucksack. I bought a light slim fitting rack which I've never take off my commuter/winter bike (even when that was my only bike !) - its neat and weighs hardly anything. The pannier itself is a pretty standard Altura pannier. You would need a padded laptop bag to go inside, I guess.
I've been forced into it due to my van failing its MOT. Just two days a week at the mo, 6 miles across the south of the city (Manchester), half on roads, half on the NCN 62 and 55 routes. I used to do it regularly but two children, currently at different locations for childcare, had hampered that but this morning (45mins door to desk inc shower at work) shows it's viable more often than i had realised.
It's a 29er with rack lugs on it, I'll need a disk compatible rack/pannier set up though.
Hmmm Ortlieb aren't cheap are they!
Thanks everyone for the thoughts. It seems panniers are generally but not universally preferred. It does look like a bit of an investment though.....
> It's a 29er with rack lugs on it, I'll need a disk compatible rack/pannier set up though.
^ You can get extension bars that allow the pannier to be fitted clear of the brake calliper - Tubus make some (that do actually work, not sure about any other makes).
> Hmmm Ortlieb aren't cheap are they!
"Quality is remembered long after the price is forgetten".
Same applies to Tubus racks. "Buy cheap, buy twice" and all the other similar sayings... One way to look at it, you will probably soon recoup any cost of good quality panniers and racks just by doing your 2 days per week. Those short distances won't have done your van any good and probably won't have been fuel-efficient. If you end up cycling more than 2 dpw then you'll be saving even more and feel better - and be glad you bought decent kit.
Changing from a backpack to panniers was a massive improvement on my commutes. Much more comfortable and no more sweaty back. I have these decathlon ones:
Absolutely no complaints about quality, completely waterproof and have used for a while with no appreciable wear. Have used them for touring and for commuting
I usually just use one and don't find it unbalances me (I carry clothes, lunch and a heavy D lock). I use the second if I've ordered parcels to work or anything like that.
I liked panniers but I have stopped using them as I have to carry my bike up and down a flight of steps and they made that a real pain. I don't like a sweaty rucksack either, so now I use a courier bag. It's fine for laptop and lunch, a little overfull but doable if I am carry spare clothes too. The one I have has a waist strap to stop it swinging out as you go round corners.
If you don't have a carry, I would stick with the panniers - just something to bear in mind.
I’ve got Vaude ones: they’re not bad, I wanted heavy duty waterproof ones with a seperate front pouch to seperate away wet gear. They’ve lasted well, 3 years daily use so far. Downsides are the useless, non-padded shoulder straps, and the movable clip that holds the bags in against one of the vertical bars is prone to fall off.
I do very much like the Vaude convertible pannier bag, easily converts to back pack, nice for non work use, shopping etc.
> It's a 29er with rack lugs on it, I'll need a disk compatible rack/pannier set up though.
Not necessarily - depends on where the rack mounts are, the rack you're using and the caliper design.
I've got one of these fitted on my touring bike with disk brakes and it clears the calipers with a couple of mm to spare - just makes it slightly fiddly to adjust the brakes.
You might get away with something non-disk specific with just a couple of spacer washers.
> I gave up using a backpack as it covered most of my reflective jacket.
I thought this so bought some panniers.
And then gave up with them because they made the bike feel so sluggish and unresponsive.
So no I've gone back to using a rucksack but with a yellow reflective rain cover.
Maybe, come summer I'll go back to the panniers.
You can buy (or make) an extra sleeve for your laptop if you’re worried. I bought a zip up padded one and then made a cardboard insert to go inside it that stops the laptop from sitting at the edge of the case as I was worried about putting the pannier down roughly and effectively dropping the laptop end on on the floor.
Re pannier choice.. get one with some external pockets! I have the roll top waterproof ones and while they work great I reckon 99.9% of journeys involve me reopening and reclosing the bloody things atleast once because i forgot to put something (keys, lights, phone, cycle gloves..) in or out.
A friend of mine has a bikepacking machine he calls The Bagger which he assembled for less than £120 — a very second hand rigid mtb frame with replacement/additional bits courtesy of eBay, Aldi and various skips. It's done duty for numerous mountain trips and as a commuter in Edinburgh, and although not a massive pleasure to ride it does a job and has proved reliable.
The only item he bought for it from eBay that he's felt compelled to scrap was a cheap steel pannier rack that was a nightmare to fit and had all the stability of a jelly. He replaced it with a Topeak Super Tourist rack similar to the one I have on my bike. They're much cheaper than Tubus racks and other top tier ones, but are rock solid and easy to use once properly fitted, which can take anything from five minutes to half an hour. They are a bit on the heavy side compared to ones costing three times as much, but on a commuter bike this shouldn't be a big deal. How much you carry will be much more significant.
As for panniers, my friend uses Aldi specials held together with cable ties and duct tape. He says they're fine, but I prefer my Altura Arrans which still work perfectly despite much use.
I have an ortlieb pannier going on for 20 years and still using it fine, material looks a bit worn and the straps a bit tattered but still does the job.
Ortlieb, but not the normal pannier bags but the specialized office bags with the laptop bag. Also, best if your laptop has a SSD drive.
My Ortlieb bags are from the first series ever produced (1983ish) and still in use at least weekly, and they are still waterproof. I just fitted the more modern carrier system ten years ago.
When I was cycle-commuting regularly, work bought me an Altura Urban Dryline 15 for my laptop. Has a separate padded bag for the laptop and a handy roll down cover for the pannier clips so it can be hung over a shoulder without catching once you're off the bike. Never had any issues with the laptop in 4 years of riding 10 miles each way. Work clothes went in a standard pannier on the other side.
Not sure if this has been mentioned but I've been able to repair my Ortleib bag when straps broke on top. Clever design which brought it back to 'new'. I guess that's partly what you pay for.
Carradice super C are excellent and will last a lifetime if well looked after. They can be repaired with a needle and thread and mine have never let water in yet.
I use the 'front' panniers on the rear for cycling to work. Used to have the super C 'rear' panniers but they were enormous, too big for commuting.
These are the ones I have, highly recommended.
As an alternative, I have read great things about the carradice courier bag also, thinking of getting one myself for short journeys around town as easier to carry about off the bike than panniers (can also be used as an everyday bag when not cycling).
I would think if your commute is only a few miles this may be a good comprimise?