Aug 06 2013
If you want to know how to keep your cycling kit dry, just ask a canoeist or kayaker. Thirty-odd years of backcountry paddling have given me plenty of practice keeping water in its place, and the mainstays of my defense against both rising and falling damp have been the heavy, roll-top bags known, logically enough, as “dry bags.” Of course, such bags would be overkill on most cycle tours, though at least one retailer sells a rucksack that doubles as a pannier with a dry bag at its heart.
Be that as it may, I’m not too worried by the need to immersion-proof my cycling gear. Whenever I have to cross water that looks like being deeper than my bottom bracket, I carry my bike or find another route. But that’s not always good enough. Water falls from the sky more often than rivers surge over their banks, after all, and a driving rain will find its way into most panniers sooner or later, even panniers advertised as “waterproof.” And while it’s bad enough to have to wring out your spare clothes before donning them, there are worse things in store for the waterlogged cyclist: saturated sleeping bags, for example, or soggy maps.
Don’t get me wrong. Well-designed panniers — and I number my Axiom Champlains among these — should protect your gear against intermittent hard showers and road splash. But sustained, heavy rain is something else. It’s best to take precautions. Many cyclists resort to lining their panniers with trash bags, and these are better than nothing. Still, trash bags are designed for one-time use, and they’re usually made of rather flimsy stuff. Some incorporate rather cloying scents, too, on the questionable premise that a New Jersey chemical company’s idea of a floral essence smells better than the uneaten remnants of your Sunday lunch.
In any case, I save my trash bags for trash. I prefer pannier liners that will last for more than a few days. And now I’ve found just what I’ve been looking for in the local HyperMart:
As the package makes abundantly clear, these are Ziploc Big Bags. And while the cost is higher than a roll of generic trash bags, a box of four Big Bags in the extra-large size costs less than a Buster Burger Meal from your neighborhood Cholesterol Café. Don’t be misled by the Ziploc label, by the way. These are not your everyday sandwich bags:
Each one is 2 feet wide and about 19 inches deep, measured from the double zip closure to the squarish stand-up base. A broad border at the top boasts three precut holes. One is a grab handle; the others allow you to hang the bag from a couple of wall hooks. These are nice touches, even if few cyclists will need either one.
Are Big Bags up to job? In a word, yes. The plastic is robust, and the bags are plenty big enough to line the largest pannier. If you have any doubts, check the scale printed along the right edge. (Why is there a scale there? I’ve no idea, though I suppose you could use it to measure a fish if you like to combine cycling and angling.)
Here’s a Big Bag in situ, so to speak:
Note the generous collar extending above the Champlain’s main compartment:
Now let’s start packing…
Full up! But there’s still plenty of room to spare in the Big Bag:
All that remains is to zip the bag closed (expelling as much air as possible first), …
Then fold the top over and cinch the pannier flap down:
That’s it. Your gear is now protected against the heaviest rain. And the Big Bag will keep road dust at bay, too. This can be important. If it’s not raining, and if it hasn’t rained in the last couple of days, chances are good that each passing car will be trailing an all but invisible plume of fine dust — dust that can infiltrate almost any pack. But the double seal on the Big Bag will keep your clothes (and your electronics) dust-free.
Bottom line: Ziploc Big Bags are a cost-effective solution to a problem that bedevils all cyclists, whether they’re commuting to work or riding for pleasure. Best of all, Big Bags can be found in almost any HyperMart, so if you lose or tear one, you can readily replace it when you stop to buy the makings for dinner.
What’s not to like? Sturdy, lightweight, waterproof (and dustproof) liners for your panniers, all for the price of a Buster Burger Meal. Peace of mind seldom comes this cheap, does it?
This article was originally published, in slightly different form, on January 25, 2011.