The One with the Panniers

A couple of weeks ago I decided to grit my teeth and invest in some panniers for my bicycle: I suddenly realized that my bike could become a much more useful tool if I could carry things with it in a fashion other than the tricky and dangerous “balance plastic shopping bags on the handlebars” method.

I remember once being in Quebec City when I was about 19 years old and needing to comb my hair. But I didn’t have a comb. And I didn’t know the French word for comb, and I was too embarassed to walk into a pharmacy and ask for “a little thing for which to make my hairs come together.” So I had unkempt hair all the way out to the coast and back.

The same fear had kept me pannier-free all these years: I’d a vague sense that those bags you slung over the back of a bike were called something weird that started with “P,” but darned if I was going to walk into a bike shop and ask for them by name; what if I pronounced it wrong in front of the cool bike guys… oh, the shame!

It was Cynthia Dunsford who helped me over the hump: she got me in line on the prounciation front (thing “pahn-yeh” rather than “pan-ear”), and once said panniers had been acquired (from the actually-not-too-intimidating Smooth Cycle), she came over and helped me affix them to my bike (if you ever find yourself needing to rebuild the transmission on a 1970 Chevy Nova I’m pretty certain that Cynthia has the tools to help you in her kit bag).

So I’ve been riding around a veritable cargo-bike for two weeks now. So far I have managed to squeeze the following into them (although not all at the same time): my 12” iBook laptop, several copies of The New Yorker and a paperback book, a complete take-out meal from The Noodle House, a 5-pound bag of flour and a litre of orange juice, and several library books.

It’s remarkable how much more has become possible since I’ve strapped on a couple of pretentious-sounding bags to the bike; I’ve had the car out once in two weeks, and might make it a couple more completely car free.

Need an extra incentive to (a) work close to where you live and (b) drive you car as little as possible? I’ve filled my car up twice since Christmas. At least on the car side, I’m almost completely isolated from “peak oil.” It’s a great feeling.


Rob Paterson's picture
Rob Paterson on July 27, 2006 - 01:57 Permalink

All you need now is a pair of really rude bike shorts like mine Peter

Dan Misener's picture
Dan Misener on July 27, 2006 - 04:18 Permalink

Congrats on the paniers, Peter. I’m partial to the bright red milk crate strapped to my rear rack. I tried a panier experiment last summer. They worked great for trips to the grocery store, although I occasionally got looks from store employees as I used one of my bags as a shopping basket, placing food items directly into the bag before paying for them.

I did a short radio piece not long ago called “How to Carry Stuff on Your Bike.” It’s on PRX at

Olle Jonsson's picture
Olle Jonsson on July 27, 2006 - 11:11 Permalink

I saw a guy riding a regular bike with a cool crate on his rear bike rack yesterday. (In Copenhagen, Denmark; a large bike-culture, here.) It was made of that durable “naval plywood”, and had 0.5 cm metal rods for siding on two sides.

It looked vaguely French, agricultural, and rough. Perhaps if you combine those two adjectives with something military, you’re there.

My bike’s been upgraded with a very ladylike front-mounted metal basket, which is so handy I can’t believe it. Otherwise progressive biking men look at it, and sneer. They don’t get it.

Sam's picture
Sam on July 27, 2006 - 13:45 Permalink

I can’t tell you how much of a relief it is to see the words “peak oil” written out there for anyone local to see. Perhaps I’m the only one worked up about this, but I’ve been paralysed by the fear of saying the words out loud and being chased out of town (although I’ve raised it with a trusted few). So kudos on the relaxed and off-hand manner of presenting it. And I may bring myself to consider a panier as well, so far my backpack is serving me well.

Ann's picture
Ann on July 27, 2006 - 13:57 Permalink

I, too, am trying (successfully so far) to have car free days. It is made easier by the things you mention — living near work etc. It would be nice to see more thought given to this as we design our municipalities in the future (who lives near Sears, for example).

But in the interest of full disclosure, Pierre, I think you should think about the fact you were away for more than two months since Christmas — and you burned a whole lot of fossil fuel in your travels. Sadly, I think we have to consider that, too.

Heather Patey's picture
Heather Patey on July 27, 2006 - 15:44 Permalink

We have had large and small ones from the MEC for years, and can fit an enormous amount of groceries in them. (A bungy cord on board for the odd time I don’t have the panniers, or they’re full, is also a good idea.) I used to commute with a laptop, but don’t any more, since I don’t need to take it to the office. I used to make sure I put in the left-hand pannier, since I reasoned that I’d be more likely to fall to the right in case of mishap.

Olle Jonsson's picture
Olle Jonsson on July 28, 2006 - 12:59 Permalink

OK, Pierre: To make up for all them fossil fuels, you’ve got to pedal everywhere from now on.