Oct 01 2011

Vade Mecum: Delta Compacts — Panniers for the Short Haul

Panniers convert a bike from a show horse (or a race horse) to a work horse. Which is why I own three sets. Nashbar Townies carry the freight when I go shopping. Axiom Champlains haul mass on tours. But neither is ideally suited to local rides for purposes other than shopping. The Champlains are too heavy for short trips, not to mention unnecessarily large, while the Townies lack pockets for small, hard-to-find items. They also generate a surprising amount of wind resistance at speeds over 16 mph, a consequence of their boxy profile. Which helps explain why I acquired a third set of panniers some years back: Delta Compacts. They’re the perfect complement to my handlebar bag and saddle pack. Here’s a photo of my LHT with one mounted on the rear rack:

Delta Compact Pannier in Action

The Compacts live up (or down?) to their name: They are, in fact, compact. But they’re plenty big enough to haul a full set of warm clothes for blustery fall and early winter days, along with a generous picnic lunch and my extended tool kit. And I’ll still have room to pick up a squash or two from a roadside stand on my return trip. When I don’t need to carry as much as this, however, I can just mount a single Compact. Each pannier has only one mesh pocket tucked away under the flap, but it’s large enough to hold a pair of gloves and a neck gaiter, along with a rain shell or a sweat-soaked jersey. The pockets do have one potential shortcoming, however. The zippers are located near the outer edge of the flap. So if you forget to zip up after stuffing a pocket, and then cinch the flap down, the contents may jump ship as you ride along. This hasn’t happened to me. Yet. But I admit that I worry about it. On the plus side, the straps for cinching down the flaps are generous to a fault, and there’s a small strip of reflective material on each pannier. It’s certainly not enough on its own to guarantee that you’ll be seen, but every little bit helps.

Delta Compact Pannier Details

What do I carry in my Compacts? Well, you’ve already had the executive summary, but here’s a more detailed list of the freight they’ve hauled over the years:

  • Clothing that I shed after I warmed up
  • Foul-weather gear
  • My cold-weather cycling survival kit
  • Turtles who needed a lift to a safe place
  • Produce bought at roadside stands
  • Last-minute purchases from HyperMarts or ser-sta-gros
  • Litter collected from the roadside
  • A handlebar bag whose bracket had failed
  • My extended backcountry tool kit
  • A picnic lunch and thermos (and sometimes a cooker, too)
  • Extra water bottles for long, hot rides

You’ll have your own list, of course, but this gives you some idea of the panniers’ versatility. Adding to the Compacts’ convenience is the simplicity of their mounting system: two plastic snap-on rack clips per bag, with a single shock-cord mounted hook to provide the counterforce needed to keep the panniers on the bike on bumpy roads. (The two bags can be joined together with a hook-and-loop fastener, too. That makes them as easy to carry off the bike as they are to mount on the rack.) Despite the simplicity of the mounting scheme, however, my Compacts have never come adrift, even on badly rutted gravel tracks. They’re equally happy mounted on my front rack, too—a handy option on shopping trips and tours, when the rear rack is taken up with either my grocery-hauling Townies or my home-from-home Champlains. What with one thing and another, my Compacts have become my (almost) constant companions, accompanying me everywhere I go on my bike, in all seasons.

Any downsides? Just one (other than the gotcha! pockets, that is): price. I got mine on sale, and I don’t think I paid more than USD30 for the pair. Now Amazon is selling them for nearly twice that. Would I buy them at the new, much higher price? I’m not sure. Probably. But I’d rather take care of the set I have. And another thing—the Compacts don’t have rain covers. Mine have weathered some pretty heavy showers without soaking through, but I still put anything that has to stay dry in a plastic bag. Peace of mind has seldom come cheaper.

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