Cheap Bicycle Panniers




About: I am an American teaching English at Shangluo University, Shaanxi. I like making machines that do interesting but fairly useless things - I call them Quixotic Machines.

I traveled to Hainan,China to go on a biking trip and needed some panniers. Didn't want to spend a lot of money so I went to a local market and bought two backpacks ($7 each - should be the kind that also have a strap that goes around the waist). I simply pulled the straps out of their buckles and put them in the respective buckles of the other backpack. Then I draped the two backpacks over my tent on my fender rack. Secured the bags to the side of the rack by using the waist-belts.
I could put the packs on and take them off the bike in about 30 seconds and I had no problems with them interfering with my biking. I secured everything to the bike with one long bungee cord.
First photo shows how I used them for 600 kilometer trip around the island of Hainan, China.
Second photo shows the two bags hooked together. 
Third photo shows the waist strap is wrapped around the bike rack spar and then cinched tight so that the bag will not move around or get caught in the spokes.
Video of my trip around Hainan:

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    9 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    I didn't want to spend $$ on real panniers until I knew that I would be making a habit out of commuting by bike. I have the same type backpacks in your photos.. they have the side compression straps etc. For the last 3 months I have been using a "mommy hook" (large carabiner) or anything else... hooked through the top to carrying handles on the backpacks...hooking bungee cords in various places to keep the bags out of the spokes. This morning about 20min before I was to leave for my commute (which includes meeting a ferry) the carabiner broke on me. I remembered this post and went to work quickly weaving the shoulder straps as shown above. I used one long-ish bungee cord from the front facing side compression strap around the back of my bike rack to the other front facing side compression strap. This kinda pulls part closest to my heals out and away from the bike/spokes. I took zip ties and wrapped up the straps closest to the spokes on the rear the of the bike. This set up worked better than any other configuration that I have come up with in the last 3 months. The only down side is if you need to use them as a backpack again.. it's gonna take a moment to un-weave everything. Other than that.. I think you would be hard pressed to find another bicycle pannier instructable that offers a higher functionality to construction time ratio.

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Fantastic! Good idea about the zip ties and bungee . I have used my packs for 3 long trips and they work great. I just had prostate surgery so no biking for me for a few months but can't wait to get back to touring.. Rock on, bike on!

    Wow, I really like this idea. Does this work (with common school student type backpack) unloaded or with load in only one side? How does the bag stay centered? I saw on another Instructable, using vinyl plastic campaign signs to make boards to reinforce the insides of the bags. It used hooks to mount the panniers. Your idea looks much stronger though, since it uses the padded straps already sewn on the bag. Good job!

    2 replies
    JimRDYard Sale Dale

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Hi and thank you. You need two identical bags, one on each side, take the straps out of the strap buckles and put them in the other bags buckles. Then strap the two bags (that are now hooked together) over your rack (or over the tent on the rack). They are balanced by putting equal weight in both bags - if you dont do that you will have trouble. I use a bungee to hold the bag straps to the bike rack and this also keeps it centered. The bag waist straps are hooked to the bottom side of the bike rack to keep the bottom of the bags out of the wheel and away from your feet while you are peddling.I had no problems with this setup and in fact on Dec 28th, 2011, I am flying back to Hainan to do it again.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    That's pretty cool, but I am not totally sure how you attached them at the bottom and without hitting the spokes. Sounds like a great hack -- if you have more pictures detailing the process that would be great to see!

    1 reply