Sunday, February 08, 2015

Winter break

While I was away from work on an extended winter break, I finally tackled a project that I've been wanting to do for quite a while - create some low front panniers for my commuter bike. Normally I use a large bag that sits on top of the front rack and it works just fine, but the handling starts to feel perilous in wet road conditions. I thought it would be a good idea to put the weight much lower and see how that affected the handling.
First, the rack had to be modified to hold the panniers where I wanted and also keep them out of the spokes. I added a portion to each side that would be a low attachment point and also keep the bags from bashing into the wheel:

Once these were attached I could start planning and building the panniers. Here they are in place with a typical work day load:

I didn't want to build hooks and have a rigid back on each pannier, so I used a combination of straps and tension locks, plus some heavy duty elastic to loop around the lower attachment points:

The interior of each has a floating liner of vinyl coated polyester, for maximum water resistance, and to keep them from being an unorganized mess on the inside there are dividers with two pockets and multiple pen/pencil slots:
I've only been using them for a couple of weeks but the difference was immediately apparent. The bike handles much better with the weight down by the axle, and the ride is much more nimble. I no longer feel like I'm wrestling with the steering. Also, this frees up the top of the rack, in case I need to lug something else around. There are a couple of downsides though. It's less convenient to carry two separate bags around, as I couldn't think of a way to utilize a shoulder strap with both of these that was clean and simple. Also, getting them on and off the rack is very finicky and slow, so I may reconsider putting hooks on the top instead of those straps. Overall, I think that, with all the time I spend riding, the improved handling outweighs the inconveniences.

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