DIY Surplus Store Panniers
By Scot Hinckley
It’ll be a little while until I can save up for a set of Swift Industries panniers, so I thought I’d try my hand at doing a little DIY project. It’s all well and good since the touring season is pretty far behind us at this point and the nasty weather has taken over. I’ve actually had this idea in my head for awhile, but I got discouraged with the resources I found online; all the DIY panniers I’ve seen so far use a widely available bag from the surplus store that’s too heavy and too small. It’s great from a durability standpoint, but probably a little overkill. It took a little while to find the right one, but I think I’ve kinda struck gold.
GI Style Map Cases. I decided on these because the size is perfect for a set of front panniers, they’re made of canvas, and they already came with a hard backing. A bargain at $13 each.
Otter Wax. I just felt like doing these as waxed canvas, so good old made-in-the-USA Otter Wax it is. Maybe $4 or so.
Arkel pannier hardware. Since the bags were so cheap, I went for the really good cam-lock hook system Arkel makes. You could easily go cheaper by just buying hooks and bungees which would be fine. An Extravagant $25 each.
Various screws/washers/nuts/bolts/spare strapping material. Stuff you already have laying around the house. Free!
Decoration. You’re making them, so do whatever you want. I got a couple of Just Ride patches from Rivendell. Nice sentiment that’s worth remembering.
How it’s done
This is super easy; I don’t even have a sewing machine or a workbench. The most time consuming part of the whole process was the waxing, but it’ll be worth it when I get caught out in the rain. High quality canvas is pretty good in the rain without waxing, but these bags are cheap. When I was done with that, I measured from the bottom of the bag to the spot I’d mount the hook rails (for a consistent result) and then marked off the spot I’d mount the rail. Then I disassembled the pannier hardware assembly for mounting, leaving one intact just in case I got confused about how everything went back together. I punched holes in the canvas and drilled the backing just enough to fit my screws through. Next, I put all the hardware back in place (but attached to the bag) and double checked that I had everything in order before tightening the screws down. After the rail was tightened down, I cut two strips of nylon strapping to use as retainers for the lower panniers hooks. Instead of punching holes, I used a soldering gun to create holes with a nice burnt seal around the edge. The retainers were quick work to mark, punch, and mount which gave me a very secure pannier. Ta-Da! Seriously though, you could do this in your sleep. You could even do it for about half price if you went with a simpler mounting system.
Things to improve upon
I don’t really like the snap closure system. Instead, I think I’m going to put grommets in the flap, mount D-rings to the bottom on the bag, and have an adjustable strap system instead. Loosey-goosey works for me. The leather on the bottom will also give the bag a little bit of extra durability. Come to think of it, I don’t really know how the backing will hold up if I have something heavy in there. It would be easy enough to cut open the back, replace it with something better, and pop some velcro in there. We’ll see. I might even have some improvements by next week to tell you about.