Do-It-Yourself Panniers/Saddlebags

Sebastian D. Toney provided the following article describing how he built some panniers for his touring adventures.


On tour!

On tour!
Click to enlarge.

A test ride!

A test ride!
Click to enlarge.

Bicycle panniers can be expensive. A good set of front and rear panniers can run $300 – $600. But there is a way to get a quality set of panniers for a reasonable cost, BUILD your own!

I'm a graduate student and I wanted to get into bicycle touring, but I didn't even have $150 to spend on a set good rear panniers. So, I decided to build my own. My Buckets of Doom have served me well for the past year and a half. I'd like to share my findings with you.

There are 2 systems of home built panniers: buckets or bags. The bucket system uses rigid square buckets as the storage container. The bag system uses converted military style bags, or hiking backpacks as the storage container. Both systems are reliable.

I made a pair of square bucket panniers called the Buckets of Doom. I first wrote about them on my blog year and a half ago. Total personification. I even made a spoof on Lord of the Rings involving Bill (the pony), the One Ring, and the Buckets of Doom.

When I built these bicycle panniers I had several goals in mind:

* Must serve at least 2 or more purposes while touring
* Attachment system that wouldn't fail even when partially unhooked
* Highly visible
* Plenty of storage space(at least 2,500 cubic inches)
* Water proof
* Less than $50
* Adequate heel clearance

Well, I blew past all those goals, which destroys the #1 Theory of Outdoor Equipment: light, strong, and cheap. Pick two out of three. With the bicycle panniers you'll build you can have all three.

Let's get started!

The parts that you will need.

The parts that you will need.
Click to enlarge.

Step #1 – Gather Materials bicycle saddlebags, bicycle panniers

* 2 Square, four or five Gallon Buckets from U.S. Plastic
* 2 Square Bucket Lids from U.S. Plastic
* Arkel's Hook Kit
* Four M6 Lock Washers
* Four M6 Flat Washers
* Four M6 20mm length screws. (either flat head, Philips, or allen will do)
* Drill
* ½ inch drill bit
* 5/16 inch drill bit
* Screw Driver/Allen wrench (depends on which 20mm screws you buy)
* Foam (optional)

Step #2 – Chunk Stock Screws

Get rid of the stock M6 16mm stock screws that mount the Hook kit to the buckets. They are the silver ones in the second photo. The stock screws are too short because you'll be adding 2 washers this changes the shaft length needed from 16mm to 20mm. It's hard to believe 4mm makes all the difference, but it has to done.

Step #3 – Drill Holes in Brace

Take the 5/16 in drill bit and drill bigger hole in the Aluminum Brace. Because the buckets have round edges they aren't completely flat. If you only drill the hole the same size as the M6 screw, it'll be harder to drill a perfectly straight hole. You will put the screw in a bind.

My dad says, “You gotta give a little room to play with.” Making the hole a little bigger will eliminated bind and make it easier to tighten.

Step #4 – Drill Holes in Buckets

Drill two ½ inch holes in each bucket. The same “give it a little room” principle applies. Use the aluminum brace to determine the correct hole spacing. The easiest way is to place the aluminum brace on the bucket. Mark the holes with a Sharpie and then drill.

Drill the holes as high as allowable on the buckets. I drilled mine just under the support ribs. Remember measure 30 times and drill once!

This picture shows the finished result.

This picture shows the finished result.
Click to enlarge.

Step #5 – Mount Brace to Bucket

Assemble aluminum brace onto the bucket. Here's the order:

* Take the 20mm screw
* Slide the Lock washer on
* then the flat washer
* Stick this through the bucket
* through strap
* through aluminum brace
* Thread it onto the D-bolt.
* Tighten. That's it!

When finished it should look like this: bicycle saddlebags

Step #6 – Attach Bicycle Panniers to Rack

This is easy since it mounts just like any Arkel Pannier.

Here is their instruction guide:

How to Mount and Adjust Arkel Panniers

Adjust the pannier to suit your rack.

Adjust the pannier to suit your rack.
Click to enlarge.

Step #7 – Make Necessary Adjustments bicycle saddlebags, bicycle panniers

Once again this works just like any Arkel Bicycle Pannier. Each rack is different. Some have as many as 2 support struts in addition to the main strut. This hook system is fully adjustable so you can make changes as needed.

These bicycle panniers are huge. If you're riding a traditional diamond frame bicycle, foot clearance becomes a problem. However, Arkel's Hook System is infinitely adjustable. So, move the S-hooks and locking mechanism as necessary to compensate for foot clearance. Arkel's instruction guide is pretty thorough.

Step #8 – Road Test, Again, and Again...

I read a book by a mountaineer named Louise Lindgren. She makes all her own gear. Clothing, backpacks, rain gear, tents, mittens and everything else you can imagine. She stresses the point of field testing your homemade gear well in advance of your planned event. That way you'll have plenty of time to make changes. No need to be in middle of the desert just to find out you forgot the lock washers and your bicycle panniers keep coming lose every 2 miles!

At this point you may want to add the optional foam. I use foam to line the bottom of my bicycle panniers to eliminate rattling and other noises.

So, TEST RIDE, make changes as you see fit, and HAVE FUN!

Submitted by Sebastian D. Toney


Additional information about bicycle touring can be found at Sebastian's web site called Recumbent Touring Bicycles. Well worth a visit!


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