A big drawback to using a pannier that doubles as a messenger bag is that, at some point, without thinking about it, youre going to throw it over your shoulder and smear road-dirt and dried mud all over the back your clean work shirt.
Winner of the 2012 Eurobike and 2013 iF Design Exhibition awards, Thules Pack-n-Pedal panniers borrow a number of key features from other well-known bike-bag designs such as off-bike portability via an amply-wide shoulder strap and handle, roll-up drybag-style top-loading access, a detachable rain-cover, a translucent pocket for your tail-light, and a snug interior laptop pouch.
However, the Pack-n-Pedal panniers also incorporate a number of unique, innovative features as well, such as a very cool, stowable, partially magnetic rack mounting system, exceptionally high-quality materials and flawless assembly, and a set of truly beautiful brushed aluminum compression buckles.
From the get-go, however, Thules written instructions to mount these rather unique bags to the vintage rear Blackburn rack on my aging commuter bike left something to be desired. The instruction booklet stuffed into each of the right- and left-specific bags felt lacking. It showed the basics of how to operate the stowable (vanishing) mounting brackets and install the lower magnets (in three languages, natch), but thats about it.
Nevertheless, while a bit obtuse, the instructions eventually aided me in getting the bags and unusual magnetic hardware mounted to my old Panasonics rear rack. I had to do some
minor refitting of the mounting brackets to size them to my old Blackburn rack, but because the mounts click and slide easily within the larger vanishing bracket, this was a simple 2-minute procedure per bag.
The fancy vanishing brackets installed into each bag are easy to operate. To stow them away in order to hide the pokey bits when portaging the bag on ones shoulder or back, you simply press in each corner of the bracket and push. A quick click and theyre gone. Do it again, and theyre back again. Slick!
When in rack-mode, the brackets and the powerful rare-earth magnets mounted, per the instructions, to the lower region of your bikes rack keep the bags securely on-board with nary a bounce.
To install the bag on your rack, you just pull up on the little blue rubber tab. As you do so, the mounts rotate about 15-degrees, allowing the bag to clip easily to the rack. The bags rack-facing side is a fabric-covered metal plate; it automatically affixes itself to the rare-earth magnet. Release the blue tab and the clips rotate back into place and, voila, the bag is securely installed. Pull it again, and the bag comes off with ease. No loose, wobbly panniers here, even on my bumpy, mostly dirt-path route to work. Likewise, no clips or bungees to disengage for removal. Hands down, the easiest and most secure on-off of any pannier Ive ever used!
Size-wise, the Thule Pack-n-Pedal commuter bags are rated at around 1200 cubic inches each, which, in my case, was enough to carry my laptop, rain-shell, Nalgene bottle, a book or two, and a few other sundry items like pens and reading glasses. Theres a small zippered pocket sewn into the top exterior section of the bag, near the grab-handle, which was large enough to fit my wallet but not my keys (I have a lot of keys).
And there are a couple non-zipped outside pockets, one for your tail-light thats made of translucent plastic, and the other I used to stow the rain-cover. Otherwise, except for the interior laptop pouch, the Thule commuter panniers have no other pockets, inside or out, so your stuff is going to rattle around some in the hard-shell plastic bottom of the bag. No biggie in my case; were just talking about a few small mostly unbreakable things. But your mileage may vary.
Fit-wise, heel clearance is good on my very traditional 19 commuter/mountain bike and old-style rear rack. I regularly commute in my Chaco flip-flops in the summertime, so I did mount my bags as far back on my old Blackburn rack as possible in order to provide maximum clearance with room to spare. Likewise, when using the pannier in messenger-bag mode, both the bag and wide Thule shoulder strap are comfortable and stable.
Despite the dirty shirts and obtuse instructions, Im duly impressed with Thules Pack-n-Pedal pannier bags.
John Coe has been an everyday, four-season bike commuter in a four-season town for almost 20 years. He blogs, when he blogs, mostly about bikes and skis and stuff at rockychrysler.blogspot.com.