Some things are built to last. These panniers are one example.
I’ve been using my Axiom Champlain touring panniers for four years now, and I’m happy to say that familiarity hasn’t bred contempt. In fact, I’m impressed. The Champlains retailed for just under USD100, and while that’s not cheap, many “trophy” panniers cost two or three times as much. Better yet, Axiom’s workmanship left nothing to be desired, and the panniers themselves are well appointed. I’ve written up my initial impressions, so now I’ll be subjecting the Champlain’s mounting hardware to a close inspection. After all, a pannier’s suspension hardware is the crux of the system. If that’s not up to the job, it doesn’t matter that the fabric bag is well designed. Here’s a look at both sides of the subject:
Mounting bicycle panniers isn’t rocket science. The requirements are pretty straightforward, if somewhat contradictory. Panniers should be easy to mount on the rack at the start of the day and just as easy to remove at day’s end. Yet they also have to hang tight when you’re under way, both on (and off) the road, whether they’re lightly loaded or filled to bursting.
And now for the good news: The Champlains deliver the goods under all conditions.
Each pannier hangs from a pair of robust plastic-coated metal hooks that clasp the outer rail of your rear rack, while a third hook, suspended from the bight of a sturdy bungee cord, clips to the post or ring at the bottom of the rack, thereby providing the necessary counterforce tension to keep the pannier in place. A rotating “Posi-Lock” (it’s the rectangular object between the two upper hooks) clamps the bag to the rack rail, providing a second line of defense and insuring that you and your panniers won’t part company unexpectedly on some rutted gravel road:
And if the Posi-Lock doesn’t do the job out of the box — rear racks vary tremendously in their architecture — you can easily alter its axis of rotation by moving the mounting bolt to one of the two other predrilled holes. Simple and good. What did I tell you?
But that’s not the last of the Champlain panniers’ virtues. In the unlikely event that any part of the mounting systems fails, all the hardware is easily replaced. Moreover, the panniers come with a selection of spare parts, including fasteners, washers, an extra rack hook, and a spare Posi-Lock. I’m mightily impressed. I’m more impressed, still, that I’ve not needed to replace any parts, but if that becomes necessary, replacing the parts is easy. What’s required are 3mm and 4mm Allen keys and 7mm and 8mm open-end wrenches — the smaller sizes are required for the cap screws and locknut securing the Posi-Lock toggle — but except for the 7mm open-end wrench, these are probably in your road repair kit already.
As you can see, the nuts which secure the suspension hooks’ Allen screws protrude into the panniers’ main compartments. I wanted to pad them to avoid wearing through the inner fabric, so I cut an old foam sleeping pad into rectangles sized to fit in each pannier’s backing sleeve…
…where they fit perfectly:
The foam pads also insure that I’m never without a cushy seat to park my butt when I want to take a rest alongside the road.
What about weatherproofing? The Champlains came with bright yellow rain covers sized to fit over full bags, and they do a great job in showers and intermittent rain, but in sustained downpours I like extra insurance, so I line each pannier with a Ziplock Big Bag:
OK. How do the Champlains perform? In a word: Well. In two words: Very well. I’ve hauled 55-pound loads over badly rutted and potholed roads with no problems. The panniers don’t sway or bounce, yet they come off the rack in a flash at day’s end. They’re still in fine shape, too — despite having been stuffed with hard-edged objects like canned food, cooking gear, and tent poles. In short, I can’t see why they’ll ever need to be replaced. And that’s a good thing, because Axiom has now discontinued them. This won’t affect me, of course. My Champs will probably serve me for years to come. But anyone just starting out will have to look elsewhere. If this troubles you — it troubles me, I admit — blame Alfred P. Sloan.
And then get a sewing machine.
- “Axiom Champlain Rear Panniers: First Impressions”
- “Don’t Have Enough Sense to Come Out of the Rain? Then You Need Ziplock Big Bags to Keep Pannier Contents Dry”
- “Sitting Pretty on the Roadside: An Unlikely Solution for Tired Cyclists”
This article updates one originally published on October 16, 2010.
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