Skip to content

What is a Pannier? The Definition & Purpose of Bike Panniers!

Written by: Reid Hemsing



Time to read 7 min

The demand for panniers is on the rise in the US, UK, and Canada, reflecting a growing consciousness about eco-friendly and health-conscious bicycle commutes. As some seek reliable methods to carry their valuable items to work, others hunt for cost-effective storage solutions for their outdoor adventures. Panniers offer the ideal answer to these needs.

What is a Pannier?

A pannier is a basket or bag used as an attachment for your bicycle or beast of burden. It's either slung over both sides of your bicycle or fastened to one side. 

In terms of practicality, it offers extra space and safety for items that you cannot place in the rack or front basket of your bicycle, like a laptop, shoes, or an extra change of clothes.

Modern panniers from Two Wheel Gear come equipped with straps that allow them to be transformed into backpacks. This feature not only provides versatility in how the pannier can be carried, but also ensures comfort for the user when worn on the back. 

In essence, a pannier serves as an invaluable companion for outdoor enthusiasts, cyclists, and adventurers alike.

A row of three bicycles with panniers attached.

Where Does The Word Pannier Come From?

The origin of the word “Pannier” can be traced back to the Latin word “Panarium,” which translates to “bread basket.” 

Following the Norman conquest in 1066, the French language began to influence English, especially within the Anglo-Norman courts.

Over time, the word “panarium” evolved into “panier” in Old French. This transformation didn't happen immediately after the conquest but occurred gradually over the centuries.

By the 13th Century, “Panier” was used to describe saddlebags, large baskets, or bags that were slung over the shoulders or on the back of a beast of burden. The term has somewhat retained its original meaning, as today it refers to bags or baskets attached to mechanical beasts, such as bicycles.

What Uses Does A Pannier Have?

Over the centuries, the use of panniers has changed. Nevertheless, a pannier still serves the purpose of decreasing your burden and making your journeys through the great outdoors more effortless. Some modern uses of panniers are:

  1. Protection of Items : Panniers safeguard your belongings from external elements. Whether it's shielding electronics from rain or preventing food from getting overheated, they offer a protective environment against rain, heat, and even dust.
  2. Carrying Extra Load : One of the primary uses of panniers is to provide additional storage space. This is especially useful for long journeys where you need to carry essentials like food, water, and camping gear.
  3. Increasing Comfort : By distributing weight evenly across the bicycle, panniers prevent strain on the rider's back and shoulders, which can be caused by backpacks. This ensures a more comfortable ride, especially over long distances.
  4. Enhancing Rider Safety : Panniers lower the bike's center of gravity, providing better balance and stability. This is particularly beneficial when navigating through rough terrains or windy conditions.
  5. Organization : Many modern panniers come with multiple compartments, pockets, and pouches. This helps in organizing items efficiently, ensuring that everything has its place, from tools to tech gadgets.
  6. Versatility : Some panniers can be detached and used as backpacks or shoulder bags, making them versatile for various activities, be it shopping, hiking, or a day at the beach.
  7. Eco-friendly Commuting : For those conscious about reducing their carbon footprint, panniers support eco-friendly commuting . They allow riders to carry groceries, work essentials, or school supplies without the need for a car.
  8. Aesthetic Appeal : Modern panniers come in a variety of designs, colors, and styles. They serve functional purposes and add to the aesthetic appeal of the bicycle, reflecting the rider's personal style.
  9. Security : Some panniers come with lockable zippers or compartments, providing an added layer of security for valuable items.
  10. Durability : Made with robust materials, panniers are designed to withstand the wear and tear of regular use, ensuring longevity and reliability.

In essence, panniers have transformed from mere storage solutions to multifunctional accessories that cater to a wide range of needs for today's cyclists and adventurers.

What Types of Panniers Exist?

There are two main types of pannier bags, the front and rear-mounted ones. Most modern pannier bags are designed for the rear bike rack, like touring panniers. The rear wheel can handle weight more easily, without compromising maneuverability, which is why many people prefer these over the front panniers. Panniers are further subdivided according to their usage.

Bicycle Panniers

Bike panniers are more advanced versions of traditional panniers. These are made from durable, waterproof material, and are slung over the back wheel of a bicycle like the Garment Pannier – Classic 3.0.

Some panniers are attached to either side of the bike, like the Boundary Duffel Pannier or the Alpha Pannier Backpack . These panniers are attached onto the bike using a special rear rack.

With enough protection against the elements and convertible off-bike backpack functionality, these panniers are perfect for commuters and outdoor enthusiasts.

a bicycle in the woods with a pannier

Motorcycle Panniers

Motorcycle panniers usually come in the form of durable boxes created using deep-drawn manufacturing processes. These panniers also come with the essential heavy-duty pannier racks that hook onto the rear wheel of your motorcycle.

Motorcycle panniers are designed to have more storage capacity. You can use them to carry heavy luggage, cargo, or essential repair items on long drives and expeditions.

Equestrian Panniers

Equestrian panniers are special, one of a pair of bags made for mounts and steeds. These are slung across the back of the beast of burden, usually near the saddle and girth straps.

Compared to saddlebags, these have more storage capacity and are more durable. These are great for long-distance rides, outdoor camping, or packing.

What Materials Are Panniers Made From?

To keep things sustainable, modern panniers are often made with recycled synthetic plastic. Many bicycle panniers are made with 600D polyester and TPE waterproof backs for extra comfort and durability. Motorcycle panniers are made with stainless-steel alloys or other deep-drawn plastics.

How Were Panniers Traditionally Made?

Traditional panniers were made with wicker, leather, or canvas. Although these materials were durable, they weren't strong enough to withstand the elements. With little to no protection against rain and heat, traditional panniers weren't ideal for storing sensitive items like food, paper, or clothing.
traditional pannier

How Are Panniers Made Today?

Modern panniers are made from ripstop fabric or another synthetic plastic alternative. Many panniers are TPE-coated for waterproofing and thermal safety. Each pannier is stitched and attached with durable strands to ensure longevity and versatility.

How Are Panniers Attached?

Generally, panniers are used with straps or hooks that keep the pannier locked to the rear carrier.

However, Two Wheel Gear panniers use high quality adjustable hooks with a secure locking mechanism to keep the pannier securely mounted to the rack.

The adjustable hooks also allow the rider to turn the pannier into a detachable backpack or handbag.

Read more about what a pannier rack is in our article.

What Are The Benefits of Using a Pannier?

Using a pannier offers three major benefits for people commuting around town or on long-range journeys. You get increased storage, better weight distribution, and a more comfortable commute.

Here's a rundown of what you can expect with modern panniers.

Increased Storage

Pannier bags allow you to store more items more securely while you commute to work or soar on a bike trail in the woods. Pannier bag capacity is measured in liters, and some offer up to 35 liters of storage space.

Some pannier bags also come with special slots or pouches for modern electronics like laptops and mobile phones, that you cannot carry as easily in a backpack while riding your bike.

Weight Distribution

Panniers are usually attached to the rear rack of your bike. The rear wheel can bear the weight of the load more easily than the front wheel, handlebars, or the biker's back. This increases your weight distribution and allows you to carry everything more easily without breaking your back.

Easier Commuting

Instead of carrying your gym clothes, shoes, laptop, or other items in a bag on your back, you can store them in a pannier for easier commuting. The best panniers also come with extra padding and comfortable straps for off bike usage.

Great Panniers For Bikers

Panniers come in all sizes and shapes for different purposes. Here are our 3 top Panniers for bikers and riders, ready to make their commute easier:

The Garment Classic 3.0 comes in a pair to be slung across the rear rack of your bicycle. It's an all-weather-protected bag made from Ripstop fabric. 


With seal-tight zippers and a 25-liter storage capacity, the Garment Classic is perfect for biking and commuting.

The Pannier Backpack Convertible comes in two storage sizes, 22 Liters (Lite) and 30 Liters (Plus). These waterproof panniers are made with durable Ripstop fabric and have extra pockets for organization. 


The KLICKfix pannier system allows them to latch onto most racks. The durable straps turn them in to backpacks that you can carry around with ease.

The Boundary Duffel Pannier offers 35 liters of space and a tight zipper to keep everything secure. This collapsible duffel can store all of your items with ease. 

It's made from a reflective, durable material and comes with rolling luggage handles and straps for easier transport. The Boundary Pannier is perfect for camping enthusiasts and adventurers.

These were our top choices, but you're welcome to browse the extended list for more options. Find a pannier that can make your life easier and ride on!

Key Takeaways

A pannier is a basket or bag attached to a bicycle or beast of burden for carrying items

The term “pannier” originates from the Latin word “Panarium,” meaning “bread basket.”

Panniers provide benefits like increased storage, better weight distribution, and a more convenient commute for cyclists.

Leave a comment