Mar 25 2009

How NOT to Load Shopping Panniers

It’s fun to thumb through bike catalogs that come through the mail. What’s new and shiny in the shoppe is always of interest, but I also take heart when I see old stand-bys for sale—freewheels to replace the ones I wear out in the gritty saline slush of winter, reasonably priced lycra shorts for everyday rides, and inexpensive fingerless gloves. And of course, good, solid, shopping panniers like my favorite Nashbar Townies. That’s them in the catalog picture to the right. I’ve been using the same pair of Townie panniers for seven years now—that’s probably about 7,000 miles of shopping wear-and-tear—and they are still going strong. I’ve had to patch pinholes in the neon yellow rain covers from having scraped against the rough sides of buildings where I lean the bike, or from dragging the pannier against concrete sidewalks when loading and unloading. But the Townie panniers themselves are in fine fettle. They’re rugged, very well designed, keep the dust and rain out of your groceries, and fold flat when you’re finished unloading. I’ve never seen a better pannier for shopping, and best of all, they’re reasonably priced. I strongly recommend them to anyone who is taking up utility cycling.

However, novices looking at the catalog photo will be deceived. You won’t get ten yards from the grocery store with your goods intact if they’re stashed the way the catalog photo depicts. I don’t dispute that you can get a bag-full of stuff into your pannier, because the Townies DO hold a great deal, especially after you’ve learned how to pack efficiently. But no groceries loaded like in that photo will stay put, especially if one of the items is a glass bottle.

Here’s how to stuff a Townie pannier:

Pack it Right

The photo to the left above is equivalent to one brown bag of groceries, yet I got more under the rain cover (shown to the right). After shooting the photo on the left I put a long Italian loaf of bread on top, then covered the pannier. The rain cover keeps food in, and keeps dust, rain, and snow off. And the bright color of the rain cover is an eye-catcher for motorists.

Don’t be deterred from carrying heavy items. Distribute the weight so it’s concentrated on the bottom and rack-side of the pannier, if at all possible. Here’s how a box of wine is stowed:

Pack it Right

A five liter box of wine is heavy, but it fits just right into the Townie, and lighter items on the outside half of the pannier keep the wine from shifting, thus keeping me on an even keel when riding.

>Whatever panniers you buy for shopping, know how to pack’em. Don’t be fooled by the catalog pictures showing groceries sticking up out of an open bag. Keep your load securely-contained, balanced, and protected from the elements. Read more on shopping with panniers.

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