- by David Halfpenny
- Published: 4 October 2012
The right tool for the job is something my Dad always impressed upon me, and using the right tool goes even as far as bike accessories. It’s not enough for me that it looks good, it has to have a functional advantage as well. Fortunately, the Timbuk2 Tandem Panniers both look good and have a bike specific design; they fill my daily commuting needs perfectly.
I’m never going to win any sort of award for (good) style, but I do need to look presentable for work, and when I venture between work sites I prefer to ride. For me this means putting my carefully rolled work shirt, pants and shoes into my panniers and riding in my lycra (for long distances, anyway). I get where I need to go, lock my bike up, freshen up and change – but then I’ve got to carry my panniers around with me for the rest of the day. My touring panniers, while great for touring, basically look like Santa sacks and they’re certainly not something that are easy to carry. I was desperate for something that looked good on and off the bike.
Timbuk2 seem to specialise in solving these sorts of problems. The Goody Box and Shift Pannier Messenger bags that we recently reviewed are great examples of this, but for me the Tandem Panniers fit the bill. As the photos show, the Timbuk2 Tandem Panniers are conjoined bags and require a rear rack to carry them. You can tell they were made by people who understand cycling, and it’s in the little details that this is shown. Firstly, the bags are stitched to the joining piece at an angle, which means that they’re tilted back slightly when they sit on the rack. This gives you clearance for your feet so you don’t get “heel strike” against the panniers while riding. The bags also have a small rear reflective strip on each side, which are quite inconspicuous until light is shone on them, but these strips are also “loops” that allow you to mount small rear lights on each pannier. You probably won’t need these, however, since the bags sit with a low profile on the racks, which both lowers the centre of gravity and allows your seatpost mounted lights to be seen quite clearly. Little touches, but they make things so much more convenient.
When you get to the end of your trip you pull the panniers off the bike and “clink”, the two halves join together with a magnet and you have a single two sided bag. The joining piece tucks neatly and invisibly between them and you can carry the bag either by the handles or by attaching a shoulder strap. The magnet holds it all together quite well and it takes a bit of intervention to get them apart to reattach them to the bike. It’s not a hassle though, far from it, since it means that your panniers now look something like a Gladstone bag. There have been many times when I’ve walked into an office and been asked if I had caught the train in that day, basically because they couldn’t see anything “cycling” about me (though they all know I cycle). I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not, but it does make me look a little more professional (though I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not, either).
I guess by now you want the tech specs, but they’re best viewed on Timbuk2’s website. On it you’ll also find the dimensions for the laptops that the panniers can carry as well. According to the sales literature, the tandem panniers can carry up to a 15″ laptop, though I didn’t try this out. Inside each bag is the main compartment, which takes up most of the space, and a pocket at the rear of each bag, which I believe is where they suggest you carry your laptop. There is no extra padding in this section, so you would probably want to encase your laptop in a protective sleeve before putting it in.
The material the panniers are made from is waterproof, but the panniers themselves are noted to be weather resistant. The contents of the bags are protected by the main flap on each one, but water could get in if the rain was coming at the wrong angle. The internal compartment can be drawn smaller at the top, but this won’t cover all weather contingencies. Given that, I have ridden with these panniers in the rain and didn’t have any problems with water getting in. I have a couple of plastic bags in there just in case, however. I won’t be riding with these through rivers, so I don’t even think about it if it rains – they haven’t let me down yet.
Despite using these every day for the past 6 months (with every intention of using them for all of my commutes until they wear out), there is a catch. Actually, the lack of a catch, or I should say too much catch – let me explain. The panniers did not have any mounting instructions with them when they arrived, nor did their web site that I could see. You wouldn’t think that mounting panniers would be a problem (I’ve been using other panniers for years), but I was a bit confused. There are velcro straps on top of the joining strip – are you meant to attach these to the rack or is there a clip somewhere that I can’t see? I searched YouTube and found a Timbuk2 video of how to mount these panniers and it’s done using hooks.
The panniers have, on the back of each bag, an elastic strap with a thin metal hook on the end. According to the video, you put the bags over the rack (that was always obvious) and you attach the hooks to the chain stays on each side of your bike. If you just raised one eyebrow and made a strange noise, then you’ll understand my similar reaction when I saw that. I thought, however, that these guys obviously know what they’re doing and so I went ahead and mounted it exactly like they suggested. Going downhill out of my front door was fine, but on turning left and heading uphill I quickly found the panniers had shifted back and the hook on one side had come off and lodged itself in my spokes. I’m glad this happened as I was starting to accelerate after a hard turn since the sudden stopping of the back wheel almost caused me to crash. I thought I had done something wrong when I mounted the panniers, but having a look around on the Timbuk2 site I found that many other users had a similar experience. Either the hooks went into the wheels or the panniers simply slid off the back of the rack and onto the road.
The solution to this was simple – remove the hooks and use the velcro straps to hold the panniers to the rack. Apparently these straps are meant to hold items on the top of the rack, which is a great idea, but they now also stop the panniers falling off. Fortunately, I had the ability to do that on my rack, but I have seen racks where you can’t do that and I don’t know how you would mount them in that case. I asked Timbuk2 about this and they acknowledged a problem and have re-designed the mounting. I haven’t seen the modified design, but I was impressed that (a) a company would keep negative consumer feedback on their site and (b) they respond positively to that feedback. So not only do they make good looking bags, they try to make the bags suit the consumer. Timbuk2 also offer a “lifetime guarantee” on the materials and workmanship, use ethically treated labour and have a bag recycling program which will get you 20% off of your next Timbuk2 bag.
After using these daily for six months, they still look great and they’re holding up very well despite being put on and taken off at least twice a day (usually more). If you have to carry a bit of kit around with you while you’re off the bike and you want to do it with a bit of a casually professional look, then this bag is for you. If this isn’t your thing, then Timbuk2 probably have a bag that will suit you and solve your carrying problems. I’ve been impressed by both the bag and the company and I’ll be looking at their range when I’m next in need of a good cycling specific bag (though I think that may be some time off, since it will take a while to wear this one out).
The Tandem Panniers retail for around US$129. Timbuk2 bags are available through your local bike shop, or give the importer, Phoenix Leisure Group, a call on (02) 9552 6900 or send them an email: firstname.lastname@example.org