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The Best Pannier for Bike Commuting

by Josh Lipton

Via Email:

Recently purchased a Focus Maleta Disc (2011) bike. I have not taken delivery just yet, but was looking for advice on best panniers for commuting. I need to carry my lunch bag, and occasionally a change of clothes, and would also like to keep my lock and tools in the bags as well. The bike comes equipped with a bike rack.

We would be hard pressed to choose what the best commuter pannier for everyone would be given the variety of conditions and situations people face. Here is a brief list of questions you might consider when choosing the pannier that is best for your commute.

  • Would you benefit from a waterproof pannier?
  • How much stuff will you be carrying and will you be carrying a laptop or picking up groceries on the way home?
  • Do you want a pannier set or will single pannier do?
  • How much will you be carrying the pannier off of the bike?
  • Are you interested in other uses for the pannier such as bike touring?

This list can go on and we’d be happy to discuss these and any other nuances here at the forums or over the phone (1-800-717-2596).
Taking a look at the Focus Maleta, you shouldn’t have any trouble mounting any of the panniers that we offer to the rear rack that it comes with.

Via Another Email:

I’m trying to decide between 2 similar panniers for both my daily commute (change of clothes, rain jacket, big lunch and snack, an odd object or two) and farmer’s market trips.
I’m currently stuck between the Ortlieb Bike Shopper and Ortlieb’s Pelican shopping pannier.
They seem pretty similar and like they would be able to handle what I want to use them for, but since I can’t look at them in person, I can’t tell if there are features that would make one easier or better to use than the other.
I was wondering if someone could tell me details that aren’t immediately obvious from the product pages. Things like rigidity of the panniers or if there’s anything about one that might make it more annoying to use than the other (more difficult to fill or harder to use the available space). I just want to be able to drop my stuff in, close it quickly, and go!

These two panniers are similar in size, mounting style and that they are both waterproof. Beyond this, there are several important differences affecting usability.

The Bike Shopper is basically a large dry bag with a rigid back plate and a waterproof zipper. The material has some built in rigidity, but it does not have any real structure.

The Pelican on the other hand does have built in rigidity that even allows for it to stand up on its own. It also has a flap closure which is quicker to get into and allows much more access to what is inside. The shoulder strap system is very user friendly as compared to the Shopper which does fine, but tends to flop around a bit in bike mode. I’d say the Pelican is a nicer bag for your uses but at quite a bit higher price as well.

Ortlieb Bike Shopper PannierOrtlieb Pelican Shopping Pannier


Via another Email:

I am interested in buying either the Ortlieb Downtown Commuter or Office Bag Large Pannier bag and I have two questions.
1. Do both versions come with complete QL3 mounting systems? the downtown mentions it in the features, but the Office doesn’t
2. I’m curious why the Downtown is more expensive since the Office is bigger.

  1. Both the Ortlieb Downtown and the Plus and Classic versions of the Ortlieb Office Bag Large come with the option of the QL3 mounting system. This is selected at the same time you are selecting your color option.
  2. The slight price difference I believe may be to the more user-friendly lid closure setup and top handle.


Via another Email:

Hey I have a question about some of panniers bag, cause I went in store too look on a ortlieb office bag and ORTLIEB Back-Roller CITY, and I have to have my Peli 1090 laptop bag in my pannier just in case I crash with my laptop. The bags seems to be to small or shall I say I couldnt close it because the straps where not adjustable to the sides. The dimensions is Dimensions (L)38.1cm X (W)28.7cm x (H)4.9cm for the Peli bag. I just need to be sure if I can put my Peli back in these I written under and it should be easy to put it in?
Is the strap adjustable enough and is it too narrow in the button or is fine???
Can you also please tell me if get an insert for the button for making it more open for things?
One more thing when biking with these panniers do I hit them with my backside of my foot?

Having a look at the specs of both of these bags, it looks like your peli bag should fit in either of them, though I think that the Ortlieb Office Bag Large will be an easier fit.

If you decided to go with the Ortlieb Back Roller Classic, the top roll closure does allow for some flexibility in the size of the items that can go inside.

Ortlieb does not make any inserts for propping open this pannier.

Any panniers can potentially have conflict with heel clearance.

Ortlieb Back Roller Classic Panniers


Via another Email:

I carry a laptop, sometimes a pair of dress shoes and lunch. I have a Blackburn Expedition rack. Can you recommend a couple of briefcase/panniers that will work?
Here is list of the top Briefcase panniers that we carry, all of which shouldn’t have any issue working with your rack.

Via another Email:

I am a college student in the NW that currently commutes 5 miles each way by bicycle. All of my stuff (lunch, laptop, clothes, textbooks) goes into a medium timbuk2 bag which is beginning to strain my back. I’ve just begun my search for a pannier and have found some great stuff but a recommendation would be so appreciated. I love the idea of a waterproof pannier/backpack. Any tips would be appreciated

There are a couple bags I would recommend. Both will mount to your bike like a pannier and can easily be carried around when you are not riding. The Ortlieb Downtown is a single shoulder option with a little less volume than a medium Timbuk2 bag. It mounts to the rack using either the QL2 mounting system (hardware stays on the bag) or QL3 system (hardware stays on the bike) and has a padded shoulder strap.

The other bag you might consider is the Ortlieb Vario Backpack. It uses the QL3 mounting system to attach to the bike and can be converted to a two shoulder strap backpack for use on foot.

Personally I think the Downtown transitions from bike to shoulder more smoothly than the Vario since the shoulder strap can stay attached to the bag while it is on the rack.

Via another Email:

I am looking for a pair panniers that have outside pockets and can carry clothing to commute to work i saw Timbuk2 Especial Viaje Backpack Pannier and Ortlieb Bike Tourer Panniers.
How are these for size and waterproofness (is that a official word?).
Are they sold as sets ?

The Timbuk2 Especial Viaje is probably going to be better as a commuter bag. It will have pockets, inner and outer, for organizing your stuff and can be used as a backpack but is only water resistant. The Ortlieb tourer is going to be completely waterproof but will not be as comfortable to carry or offer you the same internal organization options.

The Timbuk2 is sold as a single and the Tourer is sold in pairs.


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