As you probably know, panniers are the bags specifically designed to attach onto your bike. They have special clips for this reason and sit nicely on the rear rack of a bike, also called a pannier rack. On certain types of bikes, you can get a front rack and put panniers on the front as well.
So, what size pannier do you need for bike commuting? At least 20 liters in volume is enough for wet-weather gear, lunch, spare clothes and even a laptop or similar items as needed. However, there are a few more points to consider before deciding on what is right for you, as we’ll look at below.
Size or Capacity
From researching online, most pannier bags appear to be anywhere from 15 to 22 liters in capacity. If you’re not sure how much this is, it’s just the size of a standard backpack for everyday use.
In terms of deciding whether this is right for you, try to check the size of any backpacks you already own and then gauge it from there.
You should be able to find the capacity or ‘literage’ of these backpacks by Googling them online and checking the product description.
Let’s now consider some of the more detailed points about what you will need to carry when bike commuting and whether you need small, large or multiple pannier bags for your ride.
In terms of clothes, think about whether you will be able to leave any of your clothes at your place of work overnight.
This could be in a drawer, hanging up somewhere discreetly or draped on the back of your shed pending on what kind of clothes they are.
In my open-plan office, I can usually get away with leaving some clothes and even shoes under the desk.
This means I do not need to fit them into my pannier bag and I simply change quickly he doing the toilet or just shoes under the desk when I arrived, without anyone really noticing or causing any problems.
Clearly, this means that I don’t need to have as much capacity in my pannier bags for my bike commute and can therefore get away with just one bag that is 22 L in volume on normal days.
What to do if carrying clothes in your pannier(s)?
If you are not as fortunate as this, and you will likely need to carry your work clothes in your pannier bag or bags, there’s a couple of things you can look into.
The first one is a garment pouch that inserts inside the bag. I say this because most of the standard roll-top panniers, and you might have seen by leading brands like Ortlieb, have simply one big pouch inside.
This means that if you have any other items like hens or food, then you will certainly want to keep your clothes in a protective bag or cover.
You might also be wondering what to do about keeping your clothes, especially if they are formal work or office close, free from creases.
The simple solution here is to get a folding board which is offered by many companies to insert inside the garment bag.
This not only gives you instructions on how to fold clothes properly so they don’t crease, but it also keeps rigidity and therefore your clothes will maintain their folded state.
Putting the folding board inside another garment bag inside your pannier is the best chance you have of keeping your clothes clean and in perfect condition on your bike commute.
Carrying a Laptop in Your Panniers
You might also need to carry a laptop in your panniers on a regular basis.
You can find some panniers with laptop pouches, but they seem to be rare. I better recommendation here is to go for a pannier backpack, which is what I currently use and absolutely loved it!
In terms of space, again a laptop is going to take away from the overall capacity inside so your panniers so this is something that would likely mean you need a larger bag or simply an extra pannier bag.
You’ll also ideally want to get a pannier that has the right size for bike commuting all year round.
I say this because obviously in summer and warmer weather you can get away with carrying fewer and lighter items of clothing.
By contrast, in winter you will need to carry bulkier items of clothing and therefore will need to use up more space in your pannier bags while you are commuting.
You can again try putting all of the wet weather and necessary gear into a bag and to see how much space it takes up.
Again, this should be a bag that you know the capacity of, which you can find online on the product description.
As well as having warmer items of clothing for winter, you will also need to think about waterproof trousers, jackets shoe covers and other items.
Clearly, you know the climate on your bike commute and you can assess how often you will likely need to carry these.
For me, being in an extremely wet and windy climate, I need to carry my waterproofs just about every day of the year because I never know if it’s going to rain when I set off!
This means that there’s a good amount of space in my pannier bag that is already taken up by these waterproofs, leaving me with less flexibility to fill the remaining space with other items.
In addition to having waterproofs, I usually take some spare socks with me because even the most waterproof overshoes can still cause my socks to get wet through my shoes and overshoes!
I must admit, I only generally carry these on days after it has rained because then I leave them at work until the next rainy day when I need them and can change.
Food or Lunch Box
If you are like me, you might also want to take a lunch box with you every day as you prepare packed lunch before you set off on your bike commute to work.
I have a slim and upright lunch box that fits perfectly into my pannier and would fit into just about any backpack.
However, this lunch box takes up yet more space in my pannier. Between the lunchbox and the waterproofs, plus items like keys, I generally feel my pannier bag most days without any additional items.
If you do not need to take a lunch box or you often buy your lunch at work, then this is one less thing for you to think about in terms of the right size pannier for your cycle to work.
You might also want to take a water bottle. In this case, check that the panel you are looking at has a pouch for this because otherwise it will be inside the bag, possibly with your clothes and food, even maybe a laptop and it will indeed take up more space inside.
If it’s on the outside, then it will not be a concern in terms of the space needed on your patio.
Multitool or Other Back-up Items
Something else I like to keep in my panniers on a daily basis is a multi-tool specific for cycling.
This is generally quite small about the size of a penknife or just a little bit bigger, yet it’s a really good thing to have in the bag for emergencies or quick adjustments en route.
You might also like to consider an instant puncture repair spray. These come in canisters which are again quite small but very useful pieces of kit. Although some of these come with straps so that you can put them on the frame of your bike, somebody might also steal it if you leave it on your bike every day.
Despite both of these items being small, the additions still add to the space used inside the bag, if you are going to carry them.
Now let’s have a quick look at some of the most common pannier designs to see what kind of things you can expect in terms of size and capacity as a commuter traveling by bicycle.
Set of two
Often panniers are sold in sets of two. Although you can buy them separately, I would suggest that you buy a pair because, not only is it slightly cheaper than buying them individually, but buying two also gives you the added flexibility of having a second bag on days when you might need a little more capacity.
For instance, for me, I play basketball with colleagues once or twice a week.
I therefore need another bag for my sports kit because I carry basketball shoes a change of clothes, towel and so on.
Having this flexibility is nice because then it means I don’t have to worry about trying to cram everything into my paneer and then overflowing with some kind of backpack or carrier bag on my handlebars!
Most of the common panniers you will see online also have what’s called a roll-top closure. This is common for many dry bags and waterproof bags, as most panniers are.
This simply means that you roll the top down, and then clip buckles in to hold it in place. However, this kind of closure can also take a little bit away from the space listed on the product description.
Although most of these are a good design, just think if you will be filling it most days then you will certainly want a second one of these because filling a roll-top bag to the brim is not a great idea as they work best when folding down a few times.
Most pannier bags also only come with shoulder straps. I say ‘only’ here because I find that carrying these bags when they are full, and possibly quite heavy, means that you have a lot of weight on one shoulder.
Some of the cheaper pannier bags I’ve bought have really chafed and rubbed my shoulder, causing some pain and discomfort when carrying them.
As such, when deciding on the right size pannier for you, try to think about how often you will need to carry the bag, or whether you could leave even a bag work that you could use during the day.
As I work on a university campus, I’m often walking back and forth across campus with documents, books and other items. Hence, I need a good quality bag, with many shoulder strap panniers not being enough for my needs (keep reading to see the type of bag I currently use!).
Type of Bike
Another thing to think about here is the type of bike you have and will be commuting on.
This is because different types of bike can handle different loads and therefore will be suited to carrying more or fewer pannier bags.
Panniers on a Hybrid Commuter Bike
You can carry two standard panniers on a rear rack on a hybrid bike.
This is my current set-up and it is plenty for me with a regular 9 to 5 job and a fairly short commute of about 2 1/2 miles.
Unfortunately, local bike mechanics told me that I can’t add a front rack and have more panniers on it as it would likely affect the handling and the geometry of the bike as it is not designed to carry pannier bags on the front.
Panniers on a Touring Bike
If you have a touring bike, the good news is that you can actually have racks on the front and back wheels of the bike.
This therefore gives you the capacity to have up to four pannier bags, which seems unlikely foremost working conditions but if you need this kind of capacity in your panniers, then this is the kind of bike you will have to get!
Touring bikes are designed to go on long journeys, or tours, and therefore can handle the weight and are designed to take a load on the front wheel as well as the back.
I’m not sure I’d like going to work with four pannier bags but if it’s a needs-must then go for it!
Panniers on a Road bike
If you have or are planning to commute on a road bike, then unfortunately you can’t attach a rear rack because these are designed for speed and not to carry extra weight.
However, you can buy a rack that attaches to the seat post on a road bike, which you can then fix panniers onto so all is not lost!
The only catch here is that you cannot put as much weight on a seat post rack as you could on the rear rack.
That said, it’s best to check the product description on any seat post rear racks you are planning to buy for your commute.
So there you have it, I hope you can now identify a pannier that has the right size for your commute.
As mentioned in this article, I’d recommend getting a pair of panniers because more often than not you will want the option of having extra space. It’s also little bit of a cheaper way to buy them. If you don’t think you will need the extra bag, you could also try and find someone else who wants one so you can share the cost and save a little bit of money!
Personally, I recommend looking into a pannier backpack, of which there are far fewer than standard panniers but it has been really good for me and my bike commuting.
I like this kind of pannier because it attaches to the rear rack, but it also converts into a standard (and comfortable) backpack in a few seconds, meaning I get to have the best of both worlds.
If you’d like to know more, search the site for more detailed articles on my pannier backpack as I will be adding them soon!
So, that is all from me.
It looks like it’s time to hit the road and load up your panniers!
Ciao for now,