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DIY. Make your own pannier. From scratch.

September 5, 2011

For the last few weeks panniers have really been on my mind. With my Basil pannier breaking after just 2 weeks use (and almost causing a laptop disaster), I have been befuddled about what to do with the new semester about to start.

I’ve looked up all kinds of panniers. I like these the best so far, but ordering from Aussie is a bit tough. I’m pretty picky about a few things. I want a pannier that also functions as a bag and comes off the bike easily so I can go from commute to library or teaching easily (so more bag than pannier basket). It needs to be mostly waterproof. Not too big so I don’t carry the library with me, but big enough to hold my laptop and small enough to not let it rattle around. But I also, apparently impossibly, want a bag that looks like something I want to carry under normal circumstances. I don’t want it look like I ripped it off Holly Hobby (cough Basil) or like I’m about to go canoe-ing (it’s great that the ortleib can float down a river, but honestly, if my bag ends up in a river on my commute home, I’m going to assume I didn’t make it). I don’t want it “chic” NOR “sporty.” I want a bag that looks like a normal human being would carry it, and doesn’t scream “I RODE MY BIKE SO I HAVE TO LOOK CRAPPY OK?” You know what I mean? Oh, and it has to match the bike. tee hee.

I don’t get why everyone waxes on about wearing normal clothes on a bike and then all the selection of bags are pretty ridiculous. Do I need to “dumb down” my cycling side by adding daisies and lace?

But the worst part is, even if I can find something good online, I don’t really want to drop a lot of money on something I’ve never seen for real.

So, eventually, it came down to the obvious. Make my own. I’ve made quite a few bags in my time. This is my favourite and the one I use the most:

I’ve been wanting to make a new pannier myself for some time, but with all my sewing gear all in Vancouver, that too was a problem. But sometimes, it just all comes together.

I had a messenger bag I made a year or so ago that  I never really took to. And then I had the pannier hooks I bought at Mountain Equipment Co-op thinking I might try and fix the Basil pannier.

I actually took great joy in ripping out the guts of the Basil pannier. It kind of looked unfortunately like a diaper bag anyway. I wouldn’t have gotten it but it was on sale for 20 bucks. Got what I paid for I guess. In ripping it apart, mostly what I wanted was that plastic cardboard stuff that is sewn in for rigidity. I repurposed it into the messenger bag by reopening the lining and then, with the help of the Boy and his dremel, putting the holes in the plastic for the rivets and attaching the pannier clips from MEC. (In my defense, I have my own dremel, also in Van, and I have other good tools like a strong leather punch which would have done the job, but also in Van so I’m not a total wilting daisy in reality) For the final attachment of the clips, we actually needed 4 hands to hold bolts, screws, screwdriver etc in place.  The sad side of this story is one of the rivets that came from MEC was not manufactured properly so the job is not quite done. But I will ride down there next week and get a replacement. They are good with fixing problems like that. I’m pretty happy with the results and looking forward to trying it out on Florence when she comes back from loan.

I mis-measured a bit. Actually I was very careful about the distance, but it turns out the distance is too tight for the black cord loop (that works as a latch release on the clips) and I had to snip it in half into two pull tabs. I can fix that later though…

I used the other guts of the Basil to add some form to another bag I had made as a handle bar bag for the fold up (Paris) a few years ago. It’s worked well, but now I think I can use it as a back pannier on the bigger bikes too. I like that it’s just velcro–super strong velcro–that holds this one on. So far I’ve had no problems with it and I don’t really know why no one makes something like this. It’s already a bit beat up, but a decent, if plain, bag.

So there you go. Two panniers for school for less than 7 bucks. I have to give the boy kudos for talking me out of the big online purchase and pushing me to make my own. And I actually like the messenger bag better now that it has something making it hold it’s form.

I’ll post pics once I have a bike back to put them on.

Now I know how to do this, I see a world of pannier opportunities opening up to me…

DIY hints:

any bag with a flat side can be a pannier in my mind, but it’s better if it has a some kind of reinforcement in there. There are several web tutorials on turning cheap shopping bags into panniers, but why not go nicer? You can but the clips at MEC online or instore. They also have a more complicated attachment system available for sale. Have an awl or strong leather/plastic punch on hand.

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