Introduction: How to Make DIY Bike Panniers

Picture of How to Make DIY Bike Panniers

Make professional looking panniers from mostly re-used materials. As an added constraint for me, it has to work with my recumbent bike AND your traditional diamond frame bike.

At a Glance

Total Cost
$20 - Costs vary based on price of bag and quality of hardware (if you have a bag already, cost is ~$5 for new hardware)

1-2 Hours

Cargo Capacity
15.4" Laptop, Charger, Mouse, Fleece Sweater, Brick Digi Camera, Multi tools, cell phone, wallet, city maps, spiral notebook etc. etc.

The bag can accommodate 2L bottles (3) and even gallon (milk container form factor).

Step 1: Choosing Your Pannier Style

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There are many resources available for DIY panniers. Steven E. Pav has an awesome write up on sizing and making custom panniers from the ground up - this is excellent reading.

Of course, there's your DIY standard "bucket pannier" made from old cat litter buckets (or similar) as seen here or [ here] or even here. While utilitarian and high capacity, these lack a certain sense of sexiness. You can make the panniers seen in this instructable for the same price as these bucket panniers if you use some recycled material.

There's also the surplus army bag conversion - [ as seen here by Peter Moore].

You could, gasp!, buy panniers... Arkel makes some great bags - the one closest to my DIY version is the Arkel Bug Pack. It's convertible - it goes from pannier to backpack easily. It also has a quality engineered mounting mechanism. The price isn't something I get excited over, $165... But I've met a happy customer, and will vouch that it is quality.

Photo Credit (Buckets): Brian Huntley

Step 2: Supplies

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*1 Messenger Bag - I'm using Kensington Saddlebag - $15 from Craigslist.
*2 Mirror Hooks that can hook onto your rack
*4 Machine screws that fit mirror hooks*
*4 Lock washers
*4 Nuts
*4 Nylon acorn nuts
*1 bungee cord (with at least 1 hook)
*1/8" Plywood (I recommend cheap Lauan aka door skin aka thin 3 ply plywood) OR 1/8" (or 3-4mm) acrylic

For all hardware, cost depends on quality. I went for stainless steel where possible. While I won't be keeping these outdoors, I won't need to worry so much about corrosion.

*I used button heads with a hex key slot. I carry a hex key set with me and there's a suitable amount of engagement to prevent stripping.

Step 3: Things to Look for in a Bag

Picture of Things to Look for in a Bag

All of this can be improvised. You don't need all of the features you see here, some help - but not having them doesn't make the bag unsuitable.

Inner Pocket
This is a super thin pocket used to store something like a map. In the case of my bag, it stores the backpack straps when not being used as a backpack. This is very helpful to have as it keeps your backplate separate from the main storage compartment. This pocket should have a zipper to keep it closed.

Comfy Handle
As you'll probably be mounting and dismounting this pannier, it's a good idea to have a handle to carry your bag with. It serves another purpose by providing a nice sturdy grabbing point to remove and mount the bag.

If the bag is too small, it probably won't be very useful. By the same token, bags that are too big are easily overloaded and don't make for easy travel. Ask yourself what you need - what you really need.

Extra super nice features include buckles, hooks, etc. My bag has two hooks near the bottom where the backpack straps mount - this is a perfect mounting place to secure the bottom of the bag.

You don't want a bag with too many dangley bits. These are liable to get caught in your drive train or spokes unless managed.

Step 4: Backplate

Picture of Backplate

Measure the approximate dimensions of the inner pocket (should you have one). Then cut a slightly larger backplate. Cutting the four corners off will make wiggling it in a little easier and reduce any stressed points inside the bag as bag corners tend to be rounded, not square.

If you absolutely can't fit the backplate in, trim it down.

The backplate is necessary to hold the bag's shape. Without this, the support hooks are free to move making the bags insecure.

If you don't have an inner pocket - follow the same instructions, but don't make the vertical dimension as tight. The difference in manufacturing bags with inner pockets versus without will be start in the following steps.

Step 5: Hooks

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Place your hooks on the top of your rack approximately where you would like them to live. Measure this distance and check if this will fit on your bag - centered.

I used double sided tape to quickly mock up where my hooks would be placed and make sure my bag would fit properly. Fit was important for me as my seat slings over my rear rack.

Once you've found where you want to place hooks on your bag, slide your back plate in your bag where you would like it to stay. Then mark and cut through your bag material.

For Nylon (and probably other synthetics)
Ladies and gentlemen, start your soldering irons. Cutting the hole with heat is highly recommended to fuse the material together such that it doesn't unravel. It also melts a little bit of plastic (or burns wood) on the backplate to mark where you'll need to drill.

For Natural Fabrics
Cut with a knife of scissors. It's likely a good idea to get some grommets to hold the edges together and keep it from unraveling.

If you don't have the inner pocket - you'll want to add more support. You don't need extra hooks, but add a couple bolts to give extra holding ability. Perhaps one right in between the hooks and one near the bottom of the bag.

The reason for this is that if the backplate is stored in an inner pocket, it's technically resting against the top of this pocket (and perhaps the zipper). If there's nothing to push against it in the main part of your bag, you won't be able to mount your bag without it sliding off.

Step 6: Drilling

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Remove the backplate and drill through the hole marks. Use a drill bit that just barely fits your fasteners. Then replace your backplate in your bag.

If you're adding more support bolts - now'd be a good time to drill out those holes too ;)

Step 7: Fasten Your Nuts

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Now bolt on your hooks. Use a washer between your backplate and nut and then cap the end with an acorn nut to protect the bag and it's contents from damage.

Step 8: Bungee Time

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Now it's time to attach your bungee.

I cut the end off my bungee cord and then used a match to sinter the ends closed (to keep it from coming apart). I then removed the two hooks. I strung it through the first of my bags plastic loops, added a hook, then through the second plastic loop.

I then mounted the bag on my rack and eyeballed just how much bungee was needed to secure the bag down. The idea for the lower bungee is to hole the bag down - so you'll have to mount to something that is below the bungee, not above (otherwise you'll be pulling the bag off the rack rather than holding it down).

Once I had my length, I knotted the end with a simple overhand knot. The extra bit of bungee was tied up with a bowline knot. Why knots? Because knots are easily adjusted ;)

Step 9: Reap the Benefits

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Now you're all set. Load up your panniers with a picnic and go riding with a friend. Or, toss your computer and books in and head to school. Or, find a vehicle that matches your bike and take gratuitous photos.

As a note... Yes, I am attaching my bungee to my swing arm. Yes, the distance between the bag and swing arm changes when going over bumps. No, the bag doesn't jump off. I've added a little extra tension to make sure, but the act of the bump will tend to push the bike up and newton's law will tend to keep the bag where it was (at that point, below the rack). No problems thus far riding on the streets (and off the sidewalk curbs) of San Francisco.


velvet green (author)2011-03-03

Oh, these are lovely! I recently made my own paniers as well and I'm in love with them :P Details here! I'll probably upload another version for instructables when I find the time :) 

BradyC (author)velvet green2017-04-30

broken link^^^

If anyone's interested, we have uploaded some kind of pattern in our site, bit of green, I'll try and make another version for instructables; I just don't have many photos from the process so it's not that easy! :)

BradyC (author)velvet green2017-04-30

links are broken

NanR (author)2015-01-08

For all fabrics, an awl is the best choice for making the holes. Slip the point into the weave, making sure you don't sever any fibers, and slowly widen the hole by rocking the awl and pushing it farther in. This way, you don't have to worry above the weave coming apart.

xenobiologista (author)2012-04-12

Later when you take the bag off the bike and carry it around, don't the hooks poke into your body?

Whales (author)2011-01-28

Recumbent bike i believe it is called. It's just as hard to balance as any other bike. Pretty fun to ride around in, get to lay back and pedal instead of sitting up.

hguvg (author)Whales2011-01-31

Wow, I need me one of those...

kiwinewt (author)2008-09-12

How is it possible to do it on the gears side as well? I'm a bit stumped at the moment on how I can attach the cord to hold it down on that side (everything else will work fine)

CybergothiChe (author)kiwinewt2010-09-13

this can be easily done on the gears side, the rack goes outside the cogset (gears) so the bag never touches the cogset.

As long as there is sufficient clearance between the dérailleur (the arm holding the chain) and the bag, the gears will work perfectly.

Dariuza (author)2010-07-15
David Cousins (author)2008-08-08

I just made Panniers about 2 weeks ago. Neat instructable.
I had the easy job. I cut the frame and hooks. My wife did all the sewing.

jclaw (author)David Cousins2010-06-23

these are sweet. any chance your wife would be willing to share the sewing pattern?

4airtime (author)David Cousins2008-08-12

Love those monster panniers... add a splash of color with boot laces (your favorite color) through the 'exterior bungee loops'. They would act as compression straps, that could be cinched down after you're all loaded. just a thought...

Those are some monster panniers - for touring? Or Mega groceries (and similar)? What material are they - just curious. I should say - awesome monster panniers :p

They are for touring, carrying camping gear, sleeping bag and clothes. Material is a medium/light canvas. The bags are for my daughter. My wife had the hard part, all the sewing. I cut the structural back plate and made the hooks to hang it. I like your recumbent bike. I'd love to try one. You know, try before I buy. Anyway, thanks for posting your Panniers.

Thanks :) If you're ever in the central Florida (Orlando) area - let me know. My 'bent isn't the easiest to learn on (short wheel base and very sensitive steering), but you can go for a test ride :)

RideCentral (author)2010-04-17

 Thanks for the info.  My husband just bought a recumbent (Lightning P38) and we have been researching racks and panniers.  Did your rack come with the bike, or did you purchase it?  its a very interesting design.

trebuchet03 (author)RideCentral2010-04-17

 It came with it ;) The bike and rack were designed for each other :p Have fun with your P38!

leander37 (author)2009-05-13

Here's mine!

leander37 (author)2009-05-13

I don't understand how you get the bag to keep its shape. It seems that the bungee would pull the bag corners together... Perhaps your backer board goes all the way down?

leander37 (author)2009-05-13

I think the mirror hook is better because it does not have a tapered profile and it has 2 holes for more secure fastening (though I guess one hole might do the trick, and be lighter at that).

leander37 (author)2009-05-13

I used an old LP as a backer board... Make sure no one wants to listen to it anymore, then it is effective reuse! It is easy to shape if you score the surface and then snap it. I then sanded the edges so as not to poke through the bag.

povertyonwheels (author)2009-04-11

i just realized that the defective bag i picked up from the bike shop i work at has the same inner pocket to store the backpack straps. i can totally use your design! thank you!

trebuchet03 (author)2009-01-12

It does not have an impact on balance whatsoever - even when fully loaded ;)

You don't need to have a matching set (one on each side), but that doesn't mean you can't do it :p

velos (author)2008-10-20

Love your "bent"..what is it?

mister_e (author)2008-10-05

I have these "Drupa" cutting boards from IKEA:

$1.99 for a pair. I think they'll make a decent backing plate. They fit the laptop bag that I have perfectly. They are made of polyethelyne and are slightly flexible.

I'm going to look into an alternative for the hooks, maybe straps...

Thanks for the idea!

--Mister E

scottredd (author)2008-08-08

Very nice! I've just started bike commuting and have been mulling over ideas for some home build panniers. It's great to see different methods, choice of hardware, etc. Do you have any problems with the shallow, square angle of the mirror hooks versus the sometimes rubberized, deeper hooks used on manufactured panniers? Again, nice job.

trebuchet03 (author)scottredd2008-08-09

I originally planned on plastic dipping the metal hooks - but my hooks just barely fit my 10mm rack. As far as shallowness - Nope, no problems with them coming off. Getting them on has given me trouble a couple times - but nothing to remake everything over. I've even gone riding without the bungee (accident) without a problem - but that's not recommended. The bungee really keeps everything secure.

Not to mention, replacing the hooks withsomething different only requires unscrewing what's on there now.

gmgfarrand (author)2008-08-13

What is the brand and model of the bike pictured??

bujurqui (author)gmgfarrand2008-08-28

Its a challenge distance from holland

trebuchet03 (author)gmgfarrand2008-08-13

The company that made that bike is called Challenge-< that's their model list.

The model is "Distance" - which is no longer made (it was replaced by the "Seiran." I bought the bike, used, on eBay ;)

nhaberman (author)2008-08-28

I found some fantastic hooks from Ikea (named Blecka, meaning "pannier hooks" in Finnish, I think) that work perfectly, and are easy to come by:

dalesd (author)2008-08-16

This is great. I made two already. One from a bag I got at my local army navy store, a "Musette bag" for $15 (it looks a lot like the bag used by Peter Moore), and the other was an attache bag I got free from somewhere. I used 1/8" luan for the backer board. I used cable clamps for the hooks instead of mirror clamps. They're aluminum and cost $2 for a pack of 15 at my local big box hardware store. 1/4" brass grommets and cheap 10" bungee cords.

altomic (author)2008-08-11

very cool. Hmmm, I have some nice african hessian coffee bags that I could cover some old laptop bags. thanks for the idea.

dave13 (author)2008-08-09

Clever use of acorn nuts. Provides a smooth interface (as compared to a hex- or pan-head) when putting the pannier on the rack and will offer some protection from the hook bouncing off the rack when in use. (The counter sunk flat head screws on my installation don't provide the anti-bounce feature. I guess you could call my self-releasing hooks a "feature".)

trebuchet03 (author)2008-08-06

Here's the Manufacturer

The model is Distance - which was discontinued and replaced by the Seiran. It's a touring 'bent - which is why it has such beefy racks - but, it's geared for both high torque (pedaling up a hill - like the ones in San Francisco) and high speeds (pedaling downhill and flat out).

I bought the bike on eBay - used.

bedbugg2 (author)trebuchet032008-08-07

hmmmm...i dont trust a recumbent bike going high speed downhill...

trebuchet03 (author)bedbugg22008-08-07

Why not? I've hit 42+ mph without any stability issues - I'm still here :)

dave13 (author)trebuchet032008-08-07

My Bacchetta Strada was rock solid at 67 mph. I won't do it again, though, I started doing mental calculations of how long my skin would last if I had to lay it down. (And, I knew that the brakes were not going to be stopping me quickly.)

trebuchet03 (author)dave132008-08-07

Wow! Where was that? My measly, by comparison, 42 was in the hills of Florida (a place not known for altitude :D). And I think I'll agree with you, 67 is fairly dangerous without any safety devices... Nice choice in 'bent too :)

SeaLion (author)trebuchet032008-08-07

Don't those things give you neckaches after a while...cuz you haven't got much support for your head and you have to keep a positition to look out in front of you whilst lying down...?

wingbatwu (author)SeaLion2008-08-09

I had more neckaches riding my roadbike, bending my neck the other way

trebuchet03 (author)SeaLion2008-08-07

Most retail sold 'bents don't have you in an incredibly supine (laying down) position. It's more of a slightly reclined office chair. The nice thing is, a 'bent rider has the option to install a headrest.... Something you can't do with a road bike where you're head is in front of your body (and must be held up and/or tilted to look forward).

dave13 (author)SeaLion2008-08-07

Some people buy neck/head rests, but I don't have a problem holding my head up. I find that a diamond frame road bike is tougher on my neck. The "neutral" position on a road bike has me looking at the front wheel. On my recumbent, I get to look ahead and around. One difficulty is turning your head to see behind. When leaning forward, it's easier to turn to look behind you. Many recumbent riders overcome this by installing mirrors.

dave13 (author)trebuchet032008-08-07

I was on the 'bentride 2007 in the Finger Lakes region of NY. I was going down a long hill. The speed picked up...and just kept on increasing. When I saw the 67 on the speedo, I started braking: SQUEEEEEZE....release; SQUEEEEEZE...release. I kept doing that hoping that I wasn't going to melt my brakes or need to stop quick (that wasn't going to happen).

bedbugg2 (author)trebuchet032008-08-07

its just the high centre of gravity aspect that makes it seem daunting i think.

trebuchet03 (author)bedbugg22008-08-07

Naw - my Cg is about the same (maybe a tad bit lower) than diamond frame bikes ;)

wingbatwu (author)2008-08-09

somehow I expected aerodynamic carbon/kevlar panniers from you... ;-)

About This Instructable




Bio: Engineer making renewable energy products for African entrepreneurs.
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