Introduction: Hack Your Messenger Bag to Make a Bike Pannier

Picture of Hack Your Messenger Bag to Make a Bike Pannier

I have a couple of messenger bags that I don't use very often (coincidentally, i also live in San Francisco). After some doctor-says so, I decided to lighten the load on my back and shoulders so I converted the bag to a pannier.  The whole process took about 1 hour and cost me less than $30.  The project uses only basic tools and all materials can be found in your local hardware store.  The grommets are actually carried at my hardware store but if you can't find them, try a craft store.  I started by making only one pannier.  I actually find it very easy to ride with just one, even when it is weighted down.  You could always make a pair if you like feeling balanced.  It is also designed to be easy to snap on and off so you can carry the bag with you.  This is roughly based on other folks ideas but I tweaked it with the addition of grommets, rope clips, and the "chain quick snaps".  I've been using the bag for about a month and it is working perfectly.  Also, my landlord says I look cool.

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials


One messenger bag (re-purpose an old bag!).

3/4" Stainless steel machine screws (#10) - 2     $1.50 ea
#10 Stainless steel hex nut and washer- 2 - $0.50 ea
3/16" rope clips - 2     $0.88 ea
Grommet size "0" - 6     $3 dozen
Grommet size "2" - 2     included with grommet tool
Blue Hawk 3/4" Chain Quick Snap - 2      $7.00 ea
One bungee cord (24" length) - $1 
One key ring (about 1") - $0.20 
1/4" Plywood - 13.5" x 17" (may be smaller for some bags) - $5

Saw (handsaw, jigsaw or bandsaw)
Hand drill and bits
Hex wrench
Grommet tool   

Total cost: $29
Obviously this would be cheaper if you already have some unused bolts or plywood in your garage. You could also save some $ by using a carabiner.

Step 2: Measure Your Bag

Picture of Measure Your Bag

1. Your bag might look like mine or it might be a bit more squarish.  Either way, it doesn't matter. You'll feel just as self-satisfied.  Lay it down and measure across the top seam and the bottom seam like in this picture.
2. Grab your plywood and use a straightedge to cut a piece that approximately matches the footprint of the back of your bag. You don't have to be very precise here.  Your cuts don't even have to be pretty.  This is going to be on the inside of the bag.  A semi-famous man once said, "don't make your project into an anal retentive neurotic nightmare".  I try to keep this in mind when I am designing my projects.
3. Round the corners and test the fit.  This piece just needs to sit inside the bag to keep the back stiff when hanging on your bike rack.

Step 3: Prepare Your Bungee

Picture of Prepare Your Bungee

1. Trim the ends off your bungee with a strong scissors, leaving a 24" piece.
2. Use a lighter to melt the ends so that they don't fray.  Be smart about fire.  This worked really well for my bungee which I think has some sort of nylon housing.  If you have a cotton-housed bungee, don't try to melt the end!
3. Measure the diameter of the bungee and make sure you pick a grommet that fits over it.
4. Tie a knot in one end and make it tight.

Step 4: Drill Holes in Your Wood Like So.

Picture of Drill Holes in Your Wood Like So.

1. Grab your rope clips and trace little circles near the two plywood corners .  Drill holes so that the rope clips can slide in an out.   Mine were 1/4" diameter.
2. Drill two holes for your bungee to pass through (mine were 1/2").  Check that your bungee can fit through these holes.  The holes will be located about halfway down the length of your board.
3. Drill holes near the bottom two corners for your machine screws.  Make sure the screws easily pass through your drilled holes.   

Step 5: Trace Little Holes and Cut

Picture of Trace Little Holes and Cut

1. Using your drilled wood piece, trace the holes onto your bag, holding the fabric taut.
2. Make small cuts in the fabric at these spots.  This is where you will place your grommets.  Cut the holes just big enough to slide in the grommets.
3. Insert your grommets and set them in place using your grommet tool.  There are many grommet variations.  The easiest for this project is the hammer-in type of grommet.

Step 6: Assemble Your New Pannier!

Picture of Assemble Your New Pannier!

1. Pass the bungee through the grommet and plywood inside the bag.  Attach the key ring to the outside and loop the bungee back through to the inside of the bag.  Pull as tightly as you can and tie the other end on the inside of the bag.  The bungee should be taut but stretchable.  This loop is going to attach to your bike rack at the very bottom.
2. Insert screws and rope clips with "Chain Quick Snaps" in place. Tighten on the inside of the bag.
3. You are done!  Now snap it on and go get some groceries! (and look cool doing it!)


non-instructed (author)2012-11-18

this is fantastic! no wonder your landlord thinks you are cool: you are! you give such easy-to-read instructions on a fun yet complicated process (at least complicated for a novice like me). this is a really creative and easy-to-follow way to repurpose an old purse or bag for the daily bike commute. i look forward to your next shared genius. oh, and thanks for the reminder on the no-fire with the cotton bungee cord bit.

ChrisC8 made it! (author)2015-01-04

Just did this yesterday as a little Saturday project. I was wanting to carry my bag on my bike for a while now since my commute sometime turns into a 15 mile ride if I decide not to use the city bus. Also, I'm in central Oregon and the weather now is such that waterproofing my personals was a must. Long story short, I was able to get a refund on an old dry bag from north face and got a new "base camp messenger bag" (small size if anyone cares). This bag keeps water out but I didn't want to puncture a new bag in case I messed up and I also didn't want to compromise the waterproofing by putting holes in the fabric. I found upon receiving the bag that it had an exterior slip on the back side for use with rolling luggage for people that want to make transformers out of their suitcases. So I modified your instructions to fit only this slip, which was 9" by 6". Since my fixture would be completely on the exterior of the bag, I didn't want to use plywood, and my local hardware store offered a fiber glass alternative that was 1/4". At the store they cut the size for me, .let me trace holes on the piece, and then drilled into it so I really had my work cut out for me. I will say my price tag was around $40 because of the grommets. I had to by a set of 12 for each size with their own tool, so those each were about $12, but I wasn't too discouraged. In the last picture from the top side you can see the inside of the 'slit' where I put the fiberglass piece. This did make a tight area which was not very unforgiving when tightening or adjusting the diameter of the drilled holes so that my rope clips would fit. I also modified my quick snaps by taking out the spring loaded 'clip' which left something more similar to a hook, but the taut tension from the bungee ensures that there is no movement at all when the bag is secured on the rear rack. This modification also makes for a really fast attach and release, which is nice. Thanks for paving the way! and much luck with future projects!

grammers (author)ChrisC82016-01-27

Cool! I like the pictures and thanks for your comments!

JanG37 (author)2016-01-27

Hello, looks good. Don't you encounter problems with heel clearance while pedaling?

grammers (author)JanG372016-01-27

I haven't had any heel clearing issues. But you should check your bike, bag and heel fit before starting. A smaller bag, little adjustment toward the rear of the bike, could easily solve any problems.

johnz6 (author)2015-08-20

I fouled up some of the grommets because I had a shoddy tool, and ended up using size 2 for some of them where they should have been size 0. I compensated for this error by using larger washers.

I also believe (though I've yet to test it) that by adding neoprene washers to each of the attachment points, sandwiched between the metal washer and the inside of the bag, you can help restore some of the waterproofing that's lost by putting holes in your bag.

Emilyorelse (author)2014-08-29

What size grommetts would you folks recommend?

flamesami (author)2013-11-24

how much weight do you think this bag could take? I have done different mods to a back pack, but on the second mod, when I'd stuffed it full of laptop+bag+lightweight stuff I usually take, I noticed a tear, so I re-modded it and have been very cautious about weight

rustytoy (author)2013-09-26

Well done. I will try this just for fun. Thank you.

studash (author)2013-05-19

Really lovely idea, and very neat. I have a nice tweed bag I'm going to try this on.

Wilmette (author)2012-12-06

I was thinking of something like this myself when I saw some other pannier design. Then I checked what was there already and saw your work Yours is much more elegant because you are using grommets and hardware.
I have obtained thin plywood from discarded furniture. For instance the back of a desk or bookcase.
When I do grommets I sometimes like to treat the area with some type of glue to make it stringer I have also used a soldering gun to melt a hole and fuse it.But those are trifles. excellent design and crafting..

VivaBarista (author)2012-11-26

Great overall design. Just keep in mind where you cut your top holes to put in the rope clips to hang the Quick Snaps. You'll need to give your heel clearance in your pedal stroke. Essentially you'll want to move the "front" clip (depending if you want a lefty or righty) toward the center a bit, but be sure the rear clip can now still attach. I'd then probably put another grommet and anchor in the top/front corner for support to compensate for the other one you moved back. Good job though!

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