Tom Bowden is a bike commuter from Richmond VA, a “suit” – a corporate lawyer with an MBA, and a conservative – You betcha! He chairman of Bike Virginia, a bicycle advocacy organization in Virginia that raises money to promote cycling, walking and active lifestyles.
Whenever I tell someone I’m a bike commuter, one of the first questions they usually ask is, “How do you get your clothes to work?” My answer used to be “I don’t, I leave them there.”
When I worked at Sands Anderson, I was fortunate to have an office with enough space for me to store at least a weeks worth of work attire in a makeshift wardrobe I created between a tall filing cabinet and the wall.
I find it interesting that so many people raise the logistical questions about bike commuting, even before they shake their heads, roll their eyes and start talking about how hard it must be. I try to dispel their reservations with helpful hints like “you sweat less if you go slow” or “you don’t have to wear those silly pants” or “any old bike will get you there, as long as it’s in reasonably good shape.”
You can usually tell pretty quickly whether there is any serious chance they will ever ride a bike to work. For those few who show more than a casual interest, I like to be able to offer more detailed suggestions.
This review of the Hyalite Swingline Pannier is one such suggestion.
Hyalite designed this clever and sturdy product to carry a complete change of clothes, including shoes, socks, shirt, tie, trousers and jacket on your bike without putting wrinkles or creases in the wrong places, or allowing water, whether it comes down from the sky, or up from the road, to reach your clothing or accessories.
They largely succeeded, but I have some observations and suggestions for them too.
Let’s take a look at the design of the product to see what makes it work.
First, its a one-piece design. You basically drape it over the rack on your bike. In this way, your clothes do not have to be folded sharply to fit into a standard size pannier. Inside pannier are various pouches, straps and zippers to keep your clothes shifting around.
The material feels tough and durable. Hyalite claims it is PVC-free for environmental reasons. I really don’t know if that’s a big deal or not, but if it matters to you, its a plus.
What I Like
What I really like are the zippers. They are made by YKK and they have a feature I had never seen before. Basically the zippers disappear (mostly). A thin flap of flexible material on either side of the zipper covers the teeth but is flexible enough to allow the whatzis to do its thing and bring the teeth together or separate them when you pull the doodad up or down.
When the zipper is closed, the seam is virtually imperceptible. This, plus the hydrophobic properties of the material itself help to repel water in droplets before it can soak through to the teeth of the zipper and then into your clothing. It’s not waterproof, but it is highly effective.
The pannier is also designed with most of the main zipper facing backward, so that the force and direction of the rain and spray will not be driven into whatever gap there is. For extra protection, an internal flap helps to prevent any water that gets past the zipper to get to the clothing.
It seems likely that whatever gets through the zipper should flow downward before getting around the flap. Overall, its a clever and remarkably effective system.
How do I know this? Well, lacking any recent opportunities to ride through monsoons on my way to work, and with no plan to attend the Republican National Convention, where Hurricane Isaac threatened to literally (and liberally–yuk yuk) dampen the spirits of the Romney/Ryan fan club, I did the next best thing: I loaded up the bag with a set of clothing, including sport coat, slacks, shirt, shoes, tie, underwear, socks, a laptop and some miscellaneous junk, put it on a bike, and gave it a shower.
Now, admittedly, this is not a perfect simulation of riding to work in a hurricane, or being splashed by an SUV careening through a deep puddle as it passes you, but I think its a reasonably good test of the overall effectiveness of the panniers.
I let the whole rig stand in the industrial showers at Plant Zero, a converted factory that now serves as a beehive of artists and crafters, and the odd bike-commuting business lawyer. How long? I’m not saying, because someone would probably get on my case about wasting water, but long enough to give the water a fair chance to infiltrate the seams.
The result? My stuff stayed (mostly) dry — even the stuff in the outside pockets. Not a drop on the laptop, which was nestled in its own flapped pocket. I give the Swingline an “A” for water protection.
How about wrinkles? On that score, I left my clothes in the Swingline for about three hours, and they emerged quite wearable. The sleeves on the suit coat have a few extra creases, but no worse than if they had been in the type of folding suit bag you take on a business trip. “A-.”
- Its stiff and bulky when loaded it doesn’t exactly drape over the rack. Possibly this has to do with the way I packed it, or maybe it needs to break in a little. Repositioning my shoes seemed to help, but the shoe side still seems not to want to hang straight. This is a fairly minor quibble, but it matters both when you are riding (because it creates a little more wind drag), and because its bulkier when you carry it. Only time and practice will tell if this is a permanent issue.
- The bungees that hold the pannier close to the frame seem out of place somehow. The only things that they easily reach are the fender stays, and these are not very sturdy. Also, the plastic clips on the bungees look like they are designed to clip on the chain stays, but the stays on the Breezer are far too fat for that, and in any case, the inherent position of the clips, at the vertex of the bungees is actually behind the rear axle, so getting them to attach to even a more svelte pair of chain stays would be quite a stretch, literally.
- The rear flap looks like it was designed to go around the rack in some way, but its not easy to see how that works. For one thing, the flap comes from the top of the pannier, so you would have to stuff it under the rack and then tuck it under the pannier, and its really too wide for that. If you just let it hang down, the reflective tape may enhance your visibility, but on the Breezer, that would actually block the tail light, so I just tucked it under the pannier before loading.
- Because of the width or depth of the pannier, the rear section shrouds the taillight on the Breezer. This is not an issue if your taillight mounts to your seatpost, but it definitely cuts down on side visibility. The easy solution is an extra light mounted to your seatpost. You really can’t have too many lights, so I don’t judge this to be a major issue.
- The zippers on the outside pockets face upward, which makes loading and unloading easier, but possibly increases the chance of your stuff getting wet. Some rain flaps might be nice here, but then you can always put the outside pocket stuff in plastic bags.
- I think Hyalite should re-think the attachment system. I like the double Velcro straps, but they should be adjustable. I might be tempted to cut off an inch or so to make them lie flat when the panniers are rigged tight against the front of the rack.
- I would redesign the rear flap so that it wraps the other way. That way, you might be able to bring it through the rear of the rack and secure the whole apparatus more firmly.
- A D-ring or an S-hook would be nice for hanging the bag vertically when not in use. Or they could get really fancy and add some alligator clips on the inside so that you could load the pannier while it hangs. As it is, you need to spread it on the floor or another horizontal surface (your bed maybe) to load and unload it. Not so much of an issue at home as at work.
- Although the zippers are probably about as waterproof as zippers can be, some outer flaps with Velcro, at least on the front facing seam, might help protect your valuable clothing should you be caught in a really torrential downpour. Of course, under those conditions, you should probably pull over and seek temporary shelter.
Overall, I was impressed with the Swingline Panniers. They work as advertised. For those who do not have the space to store any clothes at work, they could make the difference between choosing to commute by bike or falling back on the motorized option. For folks who already commute, they provide an option for those days when weather complicates things.
As Sir Ranulph Fiennes once said “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” Or, in the case of bike commuting, I am sure he would have added and lack of appropriate gear.
The Swingline Bike Pannier (BSW) from Hyalite Equipment sells for $199.99 US.
The are out of stock on the Hyalite Web site, but are available for $159.00 on Amazon.com.