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Front vs. Rear Panniers

Panniers are very handy on bikepacking. This article discusses the importance of panniers and explains the features of front and rear panniers.

A person biking with his mountain with Panniers.

When it comes to bikepacking, the subject of front vs. rear panniers is going to come up. Panniers are the pouch-like packs that hang on the front and back of bikes to carry gear for long bikepacking or bike tours.

There are pros and cons to each, and a lot of consideration needs to be put into their use to ensure efficiency with the bike on the roads. The wrong pannier in the wrong place is a bad day. Here is everything you need to know about front panniers and rear panniers when you are packing up for the next adventure.

What are Front Panniers?

A woman on stop opening her front Panniers.

Front panniers are the pouch like bags that are attached to the front of bicycles to carry gear and personal items for bikepacking. These are typically used for longer trips on the bike. There are many different kinds of panniers, and these will attach to the front of the bike.

Panniers are typically rectangle-shaped pouches that are weather resistant and made of tougher materials to hold biking gear in all weather and all terrains. They are racks that are mechanically attached to the bike so that they stay on in a way that you don’t lose your items.

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Before you worry about front-flipping on a weight-laden bike, know that these are made with the front suspension of bicycles in mind. The front panniers will connect to the lower section of the bike so that your bike suspension is not impacted.

There are a few different kinds of front baskets, pouches, and racks for bicycles. Those include the low riders, that attach to the lower front fork of the bike. Randonneur racks will carry some bags, but not front panniers. Front racks are still useful when it comes to bike touring and bikepacking though.

Another kind of front holder is the traditional basket, where larger items can be placed. However, these are not going to offer the same kind of durability and weather resistance that a front pannier would.

What are Rear Panniers?

A mountain bike attached with rear panniers.

Rear panniers have the same function as front panniers, but are attached in a different location. Generally speaking, the rear suspension of a bicycle is not the same as the front, so rear panniers can do some of the heavier lifting when it comes to bicycle gear.

These are excellent tools for bikepackers, tours, and even people that commute with their bikes. Depending on what you put in them, rear panniers can be connected with bungee cords or mechanically attached.

Panniers will be attached to the bike with a rear rack, and they can ultimately carry anything. Baskets or folding pannier baskets are one kind of rear-pannier. Baskets help to add capacity for items without the weight, and rear-panniers are made in pouch-style fashion in order to carry a lot without bulking up the lines of the bicycle.

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Rear-panniers can carry a lot of items, from laptops to tents, and everything you need if you are using them as a work commuter. They are useful for everyday items, including a change of clothes and even some sundries. They are a must-have if you are doing any bikepacking in your day or life.

Features of Front Panniers and Rear Panniers

A mountain bike with Panniers parked near the beach.

Both front and rear panniers are useful, but their functionality needs to be carefully weighed before you re-do your bike. The wrong weight in the wrong area of the bike is going to through your entire trip off. You have to play with your panniers, and what you plan on using them for to make the most of their features. Any inch or ounce of imbalance will throw the whole bike off.

Due to front suspension, using both bags in the front, and one large one in the back will help you to accomplish this goal. Most panniers are made of weatherproof and waterproof material, which makes it easier to pack without worrying about the integrity of your belongings. Panniers will strap on, or be connected and can be adjusted to suit your needs.

Materials

Panniers are constructed with strong polyester weather-resistant materials. They are usually double-stitched and manufactured to withstand both weight and environmental pressure. They also need to be constructed to be able to stay on a bike without too many problems. These are designed so that hooks and bungee cords can attach them to bikes easily.

Many come with Velcro straps that allow you to go in and out of the bags easily, while still securing your belongings. Wire racks made of stainless steel or aluminum are the ideal ways to attach them to your bike.

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You need a rack that will give you the clearance that you need for your tires and also the diameter of the wheels. The key here is to get lightweight hardware to attach the pannier bags so that it is not heavier than the bag and your contents combined.

Design Features

The front panniers are smaller than the rear panniers due to suspension issues. This helps you to put more in rear-panniers, and also have more panniers in the back. It also helps you to ride your bike easily, which is the point of panniers, to begin with after using them for carrying items.

Some panniers are made with a slimmer design to keep the contours of the bike lines clean when touring and bikepacking. Others can be wider and shorter and that will keep you from snagging ground, bushes, or other objects when you are riding your bike with panniers on.

Zippered pockets and mesh materials are other design features of a pannier that you will appreciate. This keeps your item secure, even if there is the slightest change your pannier is not. A good pannier will be able to fit your laptop, all of its adapters and accessories, and still have room for notepads and pencils.

Durability

The durability of panniers is renowned, which is why they are so appreciated and useful for tours, commuters, and bikepackers. When mounted properly to a rack, they offer a wide range of functionalities for the biker. You can use panniers to carry almost anything. Many panniers will hook over the rack on the bike and others will clamp onto the racks.

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Either method offers durability. This is also a product you don’t want to be afraid to spend money on, especially if you are putting valuables such as a laptop or a mobile device in the pannier.

These are bags built to work with the suspension features of your bike, and meant to withstand weather and environmental conditions when biking. Durability is built-in, but read the reviews before you make your purchase.

Cost Differences

A cyclist opening his wallet with his mountain bike.

There are a wide range of bike panniers, for both front panniers and rear panniers. In some cases, you can get item-specific panniers such as garment panniers or laptop panniers. Prices can be as low as $40 for one pannier, and as high as $200 in some cases.

The material, brand, and size of the pannier should be the only factors determining the price. If the price appears unusually high, or low, check the reviews and the quality of the design and features. You are putting valuables here, it is worth a little investment.

Benefits of Each

A tent pitch and a mountain bike parked on a pine tree.

The benefits of front panier are that they offer a lighter weight for bikers that go on rough roads or terrain. Rear racks are designed for heavier loads and for city riding but can be very useful on rougher terrain as well, particularly if you are going for long durations that span days or nights and you need extra items on your bike.

Front panniers will give you the heel clearance you need when you are cycling, and you’ll never think about the load you are carrying. Rear panniers offer the same if you are attaching them or mounting them closer to the rear.

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Another benefit of front panniers is that they add easy access to your belongings. You can put the things in there, like drinks and mobile devices, in the front to access them easily when you want to stop for a moment and pause on your trip.

Rear panniers offer the benefit of giving you a lot of room to carry a lot of things for your off-roading adventures. The important stuff is there when you need it, and you won’t be reaching for it too many times.

Rear Panniers are My Favorite

A cyclist biking on a trail with his mountain bike.

Even when I am not cycling, I like to have big bags for my stuff. So, my pick here is going to be the rear panniers. And, I do like cycling and am a little paranoid about flipping the bike front forward with too much luggage or things carried on the front of it.

So a rear pannier system is a way I prefer to go. I don’t bike pack with tents, so I can swing just the rear pannier system and still carry everything I need in it, without seeing any impacts on my biking speed, travels, or timing. Panniers are a seamless way to bike with all of your belongings.