Three Easy Ways to Find the World’s Best Bicycle Saddlebags for You Needs!

Elvis Elvis

Bicycle saddlebags are actually called bicycle panniers. It is derived from the French word panier, which means basket or container. It’s pronounced ‘pan-yer, like PAN/ear. In other words, just pronounce it the way it looks. It surprises me that we don’t use the term bicycle saddlebags because they function more like saddlebags on horses than little bread baskets at the grocery store. Oh, well, the point is moot. Anyway, let’s look at the best way to choose a set of panniers for your needs.

Step One

First you need ask yourself, “What will I use them for?” Commuting, touring, world expeditions, hauling books for class, groceries, laundry are all options.

Step Two

Once you decide on a purpose, determine the storage capacity you need. This can be challenging, especially if you’re like me: I pack everything I’ll never need.

If you buy panniers that are too large you’ll carry around a bunch of dead space. Buy too small and you won’t have enough storage capacity to haul your stuff. Thus, making your panniers useless.

Three Easy Ways to Find the Worlds Best Bicycle Saddlebags for You Needs!

I tend to go a little larger than the bare minimum I need. For most commuting one 23 liter/1400 cubic inch pannier is plenty. That will give you lots of space for groceries or books if you’re in school. Two 23. liter/1400 cu. in. bicycle saddlebags would give you lots of space.

Here is a chart which give general estimates on storage capacity need for each type activity. Keep in mind this is only a guideline. So don’t be obsessive compulsive about it.

Also, for commuting, you’d be surprised at how much stuff you can pack into just one bicycle saddlebag. A fully loaded single pannier won’t change the way the bicycle handles. It’s strange, but that’s how it works.


Storage Capacity Guidline
Daily Commuting: 1200 – 1700 cu. in. 20 – 28 liters
Credit Card Touring: 1500 – 2000 cu. in. 25 – 33 liters
Light Touring: 2000 – 3000 cu. in. 33 – 50 liters
Self-Contained Touring: 2700 – 5500 cu. in. 44 – 90 liters


Step Three

Chooose from the two available options: buying a commercial set of panniers, or make your own.

Commercial Systems:

Go with Ortlieb or Arkel. They are the best commercial bicycle saddlebags money can buy.

Ortlieb makes more than just bicycle saddlebags they make motorcycle saddlebags, racks, bicycle mirrors and other accessories.

I’ve never used them, but many cyclists swear by them. It would be an insult not to include them.

Arkel is a Canadian company. They have the world greatest customer support. I think they rate up there with Apple Computer Company because they treat each customer like a gem.

I’ve ordered 2 sets of bicycle saddlebags from Arkel over the years. Their product is just as good as their service. Each set of panniers is packaged well and they give you lots of brochures and info.

The best thing about Arkel pannier is their Hook System. It is the STRONGEST in the industry. The best way to describe it is like unto an I-beam on a construction site. They just don’t break. I’ve done bunny hops and jumped curbs. Once I the pannier half on and it still didn’t fall off. It’s nearly impossible for these panniers to become unhooked.

Three Easy Ways to Find the Worlds Best Bicycle Saddlebags for You Needs!

Homemade Pannier Overview:

Make your own panniers! It isn’t hard. I’ve built a set for myself over a year and a half ago using Arkel’s Hook System. I called them the Buckets of Doom.

Homebuilt panniers have two categories: bags or buckets. The easiest way to make panniers is to find an already made bag or bucket and convert them to saddlebag duty.

The hardest way would be to sew up your own bags together from Canvas or Cordura. Many hikers, backpackers, and mountaineers make their own outdoor gear including backpacks, tents, stoves, even clothing and rain gear! So, if you have experience in sewing, GO FOR IT. If not, stick with the conversion idea.


The best thing to do find an Army/Navy Surplus store and buy an A.L.I.C.E. (All-purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment ) Pack.

The military uses these to carry all their gear. They can be used with or without the frame or straps. They come of 3 basic sizes: small, medium, and large.


ALICE Pack Size Comparison
Small/Mini 14.5 x 12 x 7 1218 cu. in. 20 liters 40 liters 2436 cu. in.
Medium 19 x 20 x 11 4180 cu. in. 68 liters 136 liters 8360 cu. in.
Large 22 x 20 x 19 8360 cu. in. 167 liters 334 liters 16720 cu. in.


They range in price from $24.99 (Mini Alice Pack) to $89.99 (Large ALICE Packs) each. So, this is a very cost effective solution for bicycle saddlebags.

Also, with 2,436 cu. in. (40 liters), a pair of small ALICE packs would do for most touring.

In all, It would cost approx. $70 to build a 2,436 cu. in./40 liter set of panniers. Arkel’s T-42 costs $149 and have a 2500 cu. in/42 liter capacity. Ortlieb’s Bike Packer Plus 2,441 cu. in./40 liter costs $200. Talk about savings!


Some people use old square Cat litter buckets to make their bicycle panniers. Some have even used Rubbermaid Containers

These are fine, but the best buckets to use are square buckets made of High Density Polyethylene manufactured by Ropak Central. I used these to build the Buckets of Doom. Polyethylene is a very dense plastic which can take the rigors of touring. It’s really stuff stuff.

You can get them from U.S. Plastic

U.S. Plastic sells them in 4 and 5 gallon sizes. That’s 1075 cu. in. and 1,344 cu. in. (17.6 and 22 liters) respectively. With two pannier that totals 2150 cu. in. and 2688 cu. in. (35.2 and 44 liters) respectively. Plenty of storage space!

Three Easy Ways to Find the Worlds Best Bicycle Saddlebags for You Needs!

Hook System:

I used Arkel’s Hook System when building my hardshell bicycle saddlebags because the hook system was already made. All I had to do was bolt them onto the buckets! Simple. Easy. You can also order the Ortlieb hook system. At any rate, buying a prefab. hook system is the easiest way to go.

I hope this article helps you decide which bicycle saddlebags are right for you!