How to attach panniers?

Susan Fernandez November 11 2021

Make sure the pannier fits on your bike

While choosing a pannier you have to consider such things as:

  • Size of your rack

You can choose a pannier for a rack that is 3, 4, or 5mm thick.

  • Weather conditions

If it's going to be raining during the tour then buy panniers with covers. Panniers for mountain bikes should have a zip on the side so it will be easy to take things out from the top. It can also have a special place where you can put your helmet while stopping in some cafe.

You have to think about what kind of riding you do and how often. If you go for a ride every weekend in summer then consider buying one set of panniers and using them in all circumstances. In the wintertime when roads might be slippery you can use one set of panniers for biking and the other for shopping. At the same time if you go an only couple of times a year then it's better to buy good quality pannier with all possible additional equipment that might be useful during your tour.

On the other end if you ride very often and you're going to commute a lot then consider buying cheap panniers instead of expensive but poor quality ones. It's important not to overdo things, don't spend money on something that you will never use or is too heavy or difficult to attach on your bike.

  • Shape of your pannier

It should be big enough to accommodate all your stuff but not too large so it will bounce or sway when you're riding. You should also remember that the larger the pannier the harder it is to handle your bicycle around.

  • Design of your pannier

If you have any special requests then consider them first. It's a good idea to choose a place where you want a reflector, strap for helmet, or light on your bag - maybe there are straps inside so you can attach things more securely inside.

  • Material of the pannier

A very important part is how water resistant do they have to be to suit your needs? Some people are happy with cheap plastic which isn't waterproof at all and some prefer something more resistant like nylon or even rubber.

  • Wheels size for your pannier

You can choose a pannier for 26, 29, or 700c wheel.

  • Pannier can have a different side

Left or right, it depends on your bike and the model you choose. Some models are compatible with both sides so it's not a problem for them

  • Additional features

You can get a bag that is lockable so no one will steal your stuff while you're away from the bike, reflective panels for better visibility especially in wintertime when it's dark very early, or a place where you can attach a helmet while stopping in some cafe.

What equipment do you need to attach panniers?

A bicycle rack or 'rack' (saddle and frame holders), panniers, and a means of attaching the pannier to the rack. Some racks come with clamps for this purpose; you can also make your own from hose clips, cable ties, or length(s) of bungee cord.

A rack is a device that supports panniers: it attaches to your bicycle's frame or saddle and provides mounts onto which you can clip your panniers. The most common types are clamp-on racks, which attach via adjustable brackets that slide over your bicycle's frame tubes, or bolt-on racks, which attach to threaded mounts that are attached directly onto the frame.

Less common designs include rear rack trays, which can be used with a variety of panniers and cargo baskets, and strap-on systems, such as Randonneur bars, which provide two small platforms from which you can hang your panniers.

Clamps are probably the most common type of rack mount: they consist of a simple metal loop affixed to a clamp head. The clamp head is adjustable so that it may be attached securely to your bike's frame tubes. There should also be a means of adjusting the tightness of each clamp - typically by tightening an Allen key bolt in a hole at one side. Clamps may be relatively cheap, but they can also be quite fiddly to attach and detach.

Two common types of rack mounts: clamps and bolt-on mounts

Bolt-on racks are less common than clamp-on racks; these consist of metal brackets that bolt onto threaded holes on your frame. The bracket faces should allow some adjustment so that they're correctly positioned, and once in place, you tighten them by turning the bolts with a spanner or Allen key. Bungee cord - yes, you read that right! - maybe used to provide extra stabilization, although it's important not to rely on such measures as you risk damaging your bike if there is too much weight applied near the top tube.

How to attach panniers?

With panniers attached to your rack, you're ready to begin the packing process. There are two main options for fitting panniers: try out a few different configurations until you find one that works best for you, or follow these steps.

First of all, however, make sure that your rack is at the correct height (important!) and not tilted forwards or backward (also important!). If it's too low, you'll have to bend over uncomfortably; if it's too high, it will be unstable. The general rule is that your pannier should be around 8 cm beneath the top of your seat. Also, check that the weight of each pannier is fairly balanced - this can be particularly difficult if they're full.

Having said that, the best way to learn how to attach panniers is simply by trial and error: work out which arrangement suits you best and stick with it!

Ideally, your pannier should be easy to remove and replace (this will make things easier when you come to detach them at your destination). To this end, there are a couple of possible methods:

'Tying down': Bungee cord is commonly used for this purpose. Simply loop one end around one handlebar or frame tube, pulling it through itself so that it forms a tight loop; secure the bungee cord in place using a fastener such as an S-binder or carabiner. Repeat on the other side.

Attaching a single cord to each pannier: this is a more secure arrangement that uses your bicycle's frame, rather than contact with the ground. To use it, you'll need to find the position on your bike where two of its tubes cross one another (the lower tube and seat tube are good places to start). Tie the cord through the holes in both tubes so that it passes across your front wheel, and attach each pannier at either end of the cord.    

Attaching multiple cords: many cyclists also tie down their panniers using three or four nylon straps. Cut these into 72-inch strips and thread them through each corner hole of one pannier; pass them around your bicycle's front wheel and through the holes of the remaining pannier, as well as those on your other side. Tighten each strap using a screwdriver or Allen key.

The final step is to attach your bicycle's rear reflector - typically by clipping it into place. Not only does this keep it out of harm's way when you're cycling, but it will also make sure that cars are aware of the presence of your bicycle on the road at night!

Final word

If you are still unsure about how to attach panniers, talk to some experienced cyclists in order to get more advice on the method that works best for them. You can then experiment with attaching them according to these guidelines, adjusting their position until they're at an angle where they won't rock too much as you ride.