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  1. #1
    Senior Member Giant Doofus's Avatar
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    Switching from Milk Crate to Panniers - quick question

    Hi all,

    I've been commuting for about five weeks now and love it. I've been using a milk crate zip tied to my rack, which has worked okay. My old rack was one of those seat post kind, which bounced around terribly when I went over bumps and sometimes even hit my fenders causing misalignment and tire rubbing.

    Just today I was able to switch to a regular back rack, which I expect to be much more stable. Now that I have the new rack, I have the option of using panniers instead of the milk crate. I like the idea because I could go back to swinging my leg over the back to mount the bike. Stepping over the top tube has been somewhat awkward, but not too bad.

    Here's the pannier set I'm considering, the Ortlieb Back Roller Classic: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000NWG0MW/...I1FU6A0QPEQW05.

    For a total newbie in terms of bike commuting, is there anything I'm not thinking of in making this switch? Anything that makes the milk crate a better option? Anything about panniers that changes how the bike handles? Or any problems with these particular panniers? Sorry to ask such basic questions. I've read lots of threads about panniers -- guess I'm just looking for reassurance.

    Thanks,
    Giant Doofus

  2. #2
    Super Moderator no1mad's Avatar
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    1. Not all racks are created equal. Some have no issues with panniers, other designs are more favorable for a trunk bag (or milk crate), while some can handle both at once with ease.

    2. Heel strike. This is when the back of your shoe hits the bag while pedaling. Bunch of different things contribute to this- chain stay length, rack length, size of your feet, size of the bag.
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    I like panniers, but they do take an extra few seconds to open and close as compared to just dropping things in the milk crate. As mentioned, some combinations of panniers and racks can have issues with heel strike, and a few don't provide enough support at the rear, lower corner of the pannier to keep it from contacting the spokes when going over big bumps and swaying the wrong way. But the Ortliebs allow for some fore-aft adjustment to avoid heel strike and are rigid enough to stay out of the spokes, so as long as you're ok with the premium price they should work fine - and provide better security and waterproofness than the milk crate approach.

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    I used to have a crate and switched to panniers. I prefer the panniers in all ways except that the milk crate was nice for just throwing my backpack in.

  5. #5
    Come here often? <wink> exile's Avatar
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    I made the switch from a milk crate to panniers and like another poster mentioned, there is a trade off. I liked being able to drop anything into the milk crate and not have to secure it (book bag, groceries, etc.). I also liked that it made the bike look less appealing to thieves (even though it was on a LHT).

    Panniers are nice since the load sits lower on the bike (although I never had much of a problem with stability). My Panniers can also fit my 17" laptop without a problem.

    Why such expensive panniers? I have Axiom Kootenays but they were about $70 on sale. In hindsight the $50 Nashbar Panniers would probably fit my needs.
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    Senior Member i_am_you's Avatar
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    I don't understand the advantage of panniers, I don't know why people use them other than because they look better than a milk crate, they look less 'ghetto'.

    Things I don't understand about panniers:

    - Won't they get stolen? It seems so easy to rip them off and they can be really expensive; yours are $150!!
    - What do you do with your briefcase or backpack? Do you take everything out and then put the backpack and the stuff that was inside of it in the pannier separately? For me, I take a briefcase to graduate school every day and the best option for it is to just throw it in the milk crate. It fits perfect, doesn't jostle around or anything.
    - If you take your bike to buy groceries (I do this every week), where do you put the grocery bag? I use a big reusable bag I got from whole foods a while back, I just load up my groceries into the bag in the store, pay for them, the bagger person puts them back in the same bag, then I go out to the parking lot and drop the whole thing perfectly into the milk crate. It's sturdy and excellent. I can't imagine this level of ease with a pannier setup.

    Aesthetically though, I really dig panniers. They make you look like a serious commuter, not some amateur. I know that doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things, but I can't help but notice it.

    I just don't get it. What is the advantage of panniers?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Giant Doofus View Post
    Here's the pannier set I'm considering, the Ortlieb Back Roller Classic: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000NWG0MW/...I1FU6A0QPEQW05.
    Excellent choice; I've just received my Backroller classics (Lime Green Splash) today, and can't wait to get them on the bike tomorrow! My old Avenir panniers weren't waterproof and were a bit small for the extra gear and bulkier work clothes I'm carrying in the rain.

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    I use a backpack or pannier, depending on the distance and load.
    I always remove panniers from the bike when I leave it. Ortleib have an instant QR, no faffing with hook and elastic. To mount, you drop the hooks onto the pannier and let go. To remove, you just grab the handle and remove. thats it,
    I take the panniers inside the shop, in the shopping trolly and fill them directly at the till, they ARE the shopping bag. You do need to pack panniers with a bit of care, esp sharp-edged items, not a job for a grocery packer.
    You can get grocery pannier bags, a big, simple over-loadable bag better suited to large loads over shorter distances.

    Spillage inside an Ortleib is not such a fail, you can hose them out. It is still a good move to bag spillable items.
    Ortleibs, and any pannier with a high collar, can be overloaded. Zip-closed bags cannot.
    Again, for commuting, the pannier is my bag. You can get commuter-specific panniers, designed for laptops.

    I use my trailer with a box for big shops and oversized loads, so I see the advantage of just dropping in a bag.
    I carry some extra clothing to use as padding and a length of chord for lashing toilet roll to the racktop or holding stuff in heavily overloaded bags.

    Don't bury your repair kit underneath all the groceries.

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    Quote Originally Posted by i_am_you View Post
    I just don't get it. What is the advantage of panniers?
    I've never used a milk crate; have always used panniers or a backpack, though personally I hate having a backpack on when I'm riding. I only carry a very small Camelbak pack on my back, but even that creates a large sweat spot underneath in warm weather. Anyways, a few advantages for me respecting panniers:

    - potentially waterproof
    - everything inside is secure when going over bumps/off curbs
    - quick & easy on/off and built-in carrying strap (for well-designed panniers)

    I do keep a Swiss Army canvas briefcase at work in case I am taking a taxi to a meeting and need to bring my laptop and other stuff with me where the panniers would not do.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MichaelW View Post
    I take the panniers inside the shop, in the shopping trolly and fill them directly at the till, they ARE the shopping bag.
    Love it. Excellent point that I forgot to mention.

    Quote Originally Posted by MichaelW View Post
    Don't bury your repair kit underneath all the groceries.
    I've heard the older Ortliebs were truly just one large pocket, but the newer ones have a mesh zippered pocket inside near the top of the bag so that you can store things like wallet, keys, phone, repair kit in a (safe and dry) place where you don't have to dig too far to access them. Personally though, my repair kit sits in a small bag under my saddle; always loaded and ready to go, and no messing around if I need it. I wouldn't want to open up my nice waterproof panniers in the rain and be fishing for my repair kit :-)

  11. #11
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    for me, weight being down low and being able to carry a bunch of stuff that is not quite visible. Also with 2 large pockets and 2 small I can keep things pretty organized
    while I never had anyone come up and say ....cool milk crate....where did you get it.
    I have had other bikers come up and say, nice bags.....where did you get them, do you like them

  12. #12
    Senior Member Slaninar's Avatar
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    Some good questions. As a sworn backpacker (on a rack) , I have come to the use of both panniers and the backpack tied to the rack.

    Quote Originally Posted by i_am_you View Post
    I don't understand the advantage of panniers, I don't know why people use them other than because they look better than a milk crate, they look less 'ghetto'.

    Things I don't understand about panniers:

    - Won't they get stolen? It seems so easy to rip them off and they can be really expensive; yours are $150!!
    Most definitely. The beauty of Ortlieb panniers is they take about 3 seconds to mount and about 1 second to dismount and take with you (they even come with a shoulder strap. Just like you would also carry your backpack from the rack.

    Quote Originally Posted by i_am_you View Post
    - What do you do with your briefcase or backpack? Do you take everything out and then put the backpack and the stuff that was inside of it in the pannier separately? For me, I take a briefcase to graduate school every day and the best option for it is to just throw it in the milk crate. It fits perfect, doesn't jostle around or anything.
    When carrying panniers, I can put backpack on top of the rack, or don't carry it - keep everything inside panniers. Backpack is more convenient to carry on you, but panniers are easier to pack on/off the bike, have more room and are watertight - so on rainy days it is the panniers.

    Quote Originally Posted by i_am_you View Post
    - If you take your bike to buy groceries (I do this every week), where do you put the grocery bag? I use a big reusable bag I got from whole foods a while back, I just load up my groceries into the bag in the store, pay for them, the bagger person puts them back in the same bag, then I go out to the parking lot and drop the whole thing perfectly into the milk crate. It's sturdy and excellent. I can't imagine this level of ease with a pannier setup.
    Panniers would be more complicated. You could either use them as gorcery bags (with shoulder straps), or carry them along with the grocery bag. My local market place is not too crowded so I just push my bike along and put stuff directly into mounted panniers.


    Quote Originally Posted by i_am_you View Post
    Aesthetically though, I really dig panniers. They make you look like a serious commuter, not some amateur. I know that doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things, but I can't help but notice it.

    I just don't get it. What is the advantage of panniers?

    For me: waterproof and more room. I use them as an addition, not a replacement for the top of the rack mounting method.
    Evviva il comunismo e la libertà.

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    Senior Member i_am_you's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Slaninar View Post
    Some good questions. As a sworn backpacker (on a rack) , I have come to the use of both panniers and the backpack tied to the rack.



    Most definitely. The beauty of Ortlieb panniers is they take about 3 seconds to mount and about 1 second to dismount and take with you (they even come with a shoulder strap. Just like you would also carry your backpack from the rack.



    When carrying panniers, I can put backpack on top of the rack, or don't carry it - keep everything inside panniers. Backpack is more convenient to carry on you, but panniers are easier to pack on/off the bike, have more room and are watertight - so on rainy days it is the panniers.



    Panniers would be more complicated. You could either use them as gorcery bags (with shoulder straps), or carry them along with the grocery bag. My local market place is not too crowded so I just push my bike along and put stuff directly into mounted panniers.





    For me: waterproof and more room. I use them as an addition, not a replacement for the top of the rack mounting method.
    Well, that all sounds good. In the rain, I guess I'd be kinda screwed. In the past I've dealt with heavy rain by either skipping class if possible, or taking the bus.

    I do like the idea of using the pannier as my school / grocery bag, although: if you have 2 panniers, do you take them both into the grocery store with you? Seems like if you only took one in there, then when you came out you'd have a very lopsided bike, potentially dangerous, even. And if you took both, well that would be a hassle, carrying two bags in the store and trying to hold them and shop at the same time. I dunno, I'm still not sold because of that reason...

    And even regarding rain, you could always just have a waterproof backpack or briefcase. But for getting groceries in the rain, yeah I can see the advantage. But I really don't think I could fit all my groceries for the whole week inside one pannier, or even two. With the milk crate it sticks out a lot but I've never lost any groceries even so.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Slaninar View Post
    For me: waterproof and more room. I use them as an addition, not a replacement for the top of the rack mounting method.
    The top of my rack is reserved for my Topeak MTX Office Bag on the rare occasion that I need to bring my laptop home. Thankfully Sugarsync has virtually eliminated the need for me to carry around my bulky 15" MacBook Pro all the time - files and folders are all synced typically before I even get my helmet & cycling shoes on

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    Senior Member Slaninar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by i_am_you View Post
    I do like the idea of using the pannier as my school / grocery bag, although: if you have 2 panniers, do you take them both into the grocery store with you? Seems like if you only took one in there, then when you came out you'd have a very lopsided bike, potentially dangerous, even. And if you took both, well that would be a hassle, carrying two bags in the store and trying to hold them and shop at the same time. I dunno, I'm still not sold because of that reason...
    I carry two if I need two. One if I need one. When carrying only one, it is the left one. My kickstand is a metal one - the cheap 3 euro one that mounts on the chainstay, right beneath the rear rack. So no tipping over. When I start riding it doesn't make problems.

    Panniers ARE less convenient than a backpack for me. But when it rains or I need more room - I love having them.
    I shop at the marketplace - that I can push my bike along with me, or at big shops that are on the way from work - there they have those big rolling shopping mall trolleys so I can put panniers inside.

    Still, when it's sunny and I don't carry too much things, I definitely prefer just backpack tied to the rack top.

    Quote Originally Posted by i_am_you View Post
    And even regarding rain, you could always just have a waterproof backpack or briefcase. But for getting groceries in the rain, yeah I can see the advantage. But I really don't think I could fit all my groceries for the whole week inside one pannier, or even two. With the milk crate it sticks out a lot but I've never lost any groceries even so.
    For bigger shopping, my wife uses the car. But many things can fit into panniers and a backpack. My job is an office one, so I love getting both excercise and saving 5 euros of fuel when going shopping - especially since because of trafffic jams, car is not much faster anymore.
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    To the OP
    The bags look fine. My issue in the past has sometime been with the rack. Unless the bags are particularly rigid, I find with the more common racks (single rear support forming narrow triangle to rear hub) the bags sometimes fall into the rear wheel. I have some racks with more support in back (Axxiom Journey, std rack on REI bikes) that keeps the rear of the panniers out of the wheel. Some panniers are also better made (metal parts to keep bag rigid, instead of plastic grid), but there all seem to be older bags and I have no idea where to find more.

    Panniers/Milk Crate/Saddle Bag/Back Pack

    I mostly use a saddle bag and panniers but did use a back when at shool in Philadelphia. The back pack was fine for small loads and short trips, and wouldn't be stolen off the bike. For longer trips (more than 2-3 miles) I really prefer having the load on the bike, or when carrying more papers or clothes commuting to work.

    The saddle bag and panniers can be water proof (check individual panniers) and many are easily to put on/take off the bike. They are designed for easy installation, unlike the milk carton. I imagine moving the milk carton to different bikes is more work than moving panniers. (I have a number of bikes, depending on weather, etc. - this won't be an issue if you don't plan to move the milk carton or panniers.)

    Some quick release methods exist for saddle bags, but I generally don't bother and just use a bag with 3 straps. The larger Carradice bag is water proof, has pockets to make tool kits easy to find, has an expandable flap for larger items (e.g. 6 quart pressure cooker), and is enclosed.

    I've never had a problem with a single pannier; even with 20 lbs in it balance is not a factor with a 30-40lb bicycle and 200lb rider. For more weight (50lbs+) there might be an issue, but I don't know if I can fit 50lbs of groceries in a single pannier anyways.

    Leaving panniers/saddle bag on the bike seems fine in suburban Wilmington; I don't do it in Philadelphia. Milk crates don't seem to be expensive to be a major theft risk.

    I gather milk crates are cheap and easy to install & leave on the bike, but are open to weather and losing small items. Panniers and saddle bags may cost more but can be water proof and hold items more securely. Easy removal makes it convenient to move panniers to different bikes or to carry them into stores/offices when you want to; leaving items in the milk crate may not be secure.

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  17. #17
    Super Moderator no1mad's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by i_am_you View Post
    Well, that all sounds good. In the rain, I guess I'd be kinda screwed. In the past I've dealt with heavy rain by either skipping class if possible, or taking the bus.

    I do like the idea of using the pannier as my school / grocery bag, although: if you have 2 panniers, do you take them both into the grocery store with you? Seems like if you only took one in there, then when you came out you'd have a very lopsided bike, potentially dangerous, even. And if you took both, well that would be a hassle, carrying two bags in the store and trying to hold them and shop at the same time. I dunno, I'm still not sold because of that reason...

    And even regarding rain, you could always just have a waterproof backpack or briefcase. But for getting groceries in the rain, yeah I can see the advantage. But I really don't think I could fit all my groceries for the whole week inside one pannier, or even two. With the milk crate it sticks out a lot but I've never lost any groceries even so.
    1. Place the pannier(s) into a shopping cart when inside the store. Load the pannier(s) up while shopping so you don't buy more than you can carry.

    2. People have reported having practically zero issues when using just one pannier, even with 20 pounds in that single bag.

    3. You should measure your milk crate and compare it to some of the bigger panniers on the market like the Arkel Utility Basket. The results may surprise you.
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  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Giant Doofus View Post
    Here's the pannier set I'm considering, the Ortlieb Back Roller Classic: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000NWG0MW/...I1FU6A0QPEQW05.
    Bear in mind that those are really big panniers, made to carry enough stuff to tour for weeks on end. Maybe you carry that much back and for the to work, but with only a milk crate now, I doubt it.

    For commuting, I use front panniers mounted on the rear. I prefer Ortlieb's "packer" series to their "roller" series, but it's the same idea and they're about the same size. For my four-day work week, on Mondays I'm usually packed with a library book, a pair of jeans, and four work shirts in one side. There's another library book with four days worth of lunches and snacks, my towel, and sometimes my lock in the other. All this in the smaller "front" panniers.

    Tools, tube, and patch kit, BTW, are kept in a regular seat bag for easy access. Good place to keep my keys too.
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  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by i_am_you View Post
    But I really don't think I could fit all my groceries for the whole week inside one pannier, or even two. With the milk crate it sticks out a lot but I've never lost any groceries even so.
    I couldn't fit all my groceries for the week into a milk crate, even with a backpack for the overflow.

    I use a pair of Arkel Shopper grocery panniers. Mine are the older model. There's a new 2014 model too. My typical load is 50 to 70 pounds, and I can usually still close the top.

    It depends on what you buy, of course. I seldom buy food in boxes, and most boxed foods come packaged with plenty of air inside. Fresh produce, meats, and frozen predominate (I have Celiac, and most gluten-free breads and rolls come frozen), with some canned goods too, and a gallon of milk every other week. I spent $97 on groceries yesterday and still had room in the panniers.
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    Senior Member Giant Doofus's Avatar
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    Thanks. I'll look at those options. Spending less is always good! I chose these as a first option just because the reviews were so good and they seem to be really waterproof. But they are probably more than I need. I usually carry a laptop or iPad, some books or files, a change of clothes, and lunch.

    Oops: Forgot to hit "reply with quotes." This is a reply to exile.

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    Senior Member Giant Doofus's Avatar
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    Thanks! I hadn't thought of heel strike. I checked at the bike shop when they installed the rack and the guy assured me it would work with most standard attachment systems. Guess I'll find out....

    Oops: forgot to hit "reply with quotes." This is a reply to no1mad

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    Senior Member Giant Doofus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by i_am_you View Post
    I don't understand the advantage of panniers, I don't know why people use them other than because they look better than a milk crate, they look less 'ghetto'.

    Things I don't understand about panniers:

    - Won't they get stolen? It seems so easy to rip them off and they can be really expensive; yours are $150!!
    - What do you do with your briefcase or backpack? Do you take everything out and then put the backpack and the stuff that was inside of it in the pannier separately? For me, I take a briefcase to graduate school every day and the best option for it is to just throw it in the milk crate. It fits perfect, doesn't jostle around or anything.
    - If you take your bike to buy groceries (I do this every week), where do you put the grocery bag? I use a big reusable bag I got from whole foods a while back, I just load up my groceries into the bag in the store, pay for them, the bagger person puts them back in the same bag, then I go out to the parking lot and drop the whole thing perfectly into the milk crate. It's sturdy and excellent. I can't imagine this level of ease with a pannier setup.

    Aesthetically though, I really dig panniers. They make you look like a serious commuter, not some amateur. I know that doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things, but I can't help but notice it.

    I just don't get it. What is the advantage of panniers?
    Good questions. I'm thinking about switching for a few of reasons. First, I don't like having to hike my leg over the top tube instead of swinging it over the back. Second, I do find that my rear end hits the crate when I pop in and out of the saddle going over potholes, railroad tracks, etc. I do this quite a bit because the Memphis roads are pretty bad. Third, the milk crate is a little crowded on days I need to carry lots of stuff.

  23. #23
    Senior Member Giant Doofus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tsl View Post
    Bear in mind that those are really big panniers, made to carry enough stuff to tour for weeks on end. Maybe you carry that much back and for the to work, but with only a milk crate now, I doubt it.

    For commuting, I use front panniers mounted on the rear. I prefer Ortlieb's "packer" series to their "roller" series, but it's the same idea and they're about the same size. For my four-day work week, on Mondays I'm usually packed with a library book, a pair of jeans, and four work shirts in one side. There's another library book with four days worth of lunches and snacks, my towel, and sometimes my lock in the other. All this in the smaller "front" panniers.

    Tools, tube, and patch kit, BTW, are kept in a regular seat bag for easy access. Good place to keep my keys too.
    Front panniers on the rear - great idea! I was a little worried that these would be too big, but I didn't know you could mount front panniers on the back. Thanks!

  24. #24
    Senior Member Bill Kapaun's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by i_am_you View Post
    .....if you have 2 panniers, do you take them both into the grocery store with you? Seems like if you only took one in there, then when you came out you'd have a very lopsided bike, potentially dangerous, even. .......
    I have folding baskets, but the concept is the same.
    I'll throw in a 25 lb. bag of garden lime/fertilizer on just one side and have no issues.
    You tend to "self adjust" when riding.
    The only time I notice the weight is a VERY slow speed turn.
    Since your milk crate has the weight located MUCH higher, you probably notice the same thing, or else aren't carrying much weight.

    Who says you have to get a whole weeks worth of groceries in one trip?
    My local store is having soup & chili on sale this week.
    I made 2 trips in one day carrying 24 cans each of soup & chili + other items. MONTHS worth!
    See how your milk crate would work with 40+ lbs. located that high.

  25. #25
    Senior Member Papa Tom's Avatar
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    >>>Why such expensive panniers?<<<<

    My question, too.

    Before you go buy a set based on the reviews or the perceived quality, consider exactly what you need to carry. I went the same route and purchased large, expensive Ortlieb panniers because I figured I could use them not only for commuting, but for the couple of overnight tours I take each year. It turned out they were total overkill for commuting, a magnet for thieves, and not so practical for storing and retrieving the small items I carry on my commute. After returning them and getting a credit of over $200, I accidentally found a Schwinn rack trunk with fold-out panniers that cost me $25 at WalMart. I expected it to be of limited use and to last a few months at most, but so far, it has been perfect for my commute.

    To protect items against rain and snow, you will either need a water-resistant pannier or a box of plastic baggies in which to wrap contents; but, for fair-weather commuting, this Schwinn bag is my choice.
    Papa Tom

    "I just need a rest...and by 'rest' I mean a really long bicycle ride."

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