DIY Ten Buck Pannier: Ortlieb Beware!

This guest post is from regular reader, sometimes contributer, year-round commuter, transiteer and Milwaukee all-rounder Dave Steele.  Dave showed me his DIY pannier, and I was quite impressed.  Thanks for sharing your project Dave.  It opens up a whole new world of innexpensive pannier options. Find a sweet vintage Puma bag at a rummage?  Pannierify it!  This could be the new bedazzler of the bike commuting set.

My commuter.

I love panniers. A well-made set of panniers can turn a bike into a Volkswagen, allowing the cyclist to transport a surprisingly large amount of stuff. Panniers allow the bike commuter to run everyday errands or to stop and pick up the makings for dinner on the way home. I like them more than a messenger bag since they don’t weigh on your back or leave a sweaty spot on the back of your shirt or a stripe of sweat across your chest like a bandolero.

The only thing I don’t love about panniers is the price. A nice, well built set could cost upwards of a Hundred Bucks or more. I once purchased a used set from eBay for $25, but they were flimsy and ended up falling apart. For a long time I went without panniers, carrying stuff in a messenger bag or attaching heavier loads to my bike rack with bungee cords.

I started noticing panniers made out of kitty liter boxes or other containers, which got me thinking about making my own set of panniers. I googled “DIY panniers” and discovered several examples of homemade panniers fashioned out of things like plastic tubs, army bags or messenger bags. Drawing upon a few of these designs, and my own limited handyman skills, I decided to see if I could make a pannier that would be functional and also look cool.

I knew that a trip to my local hardware store would get me everything I needed to turn an ordinary container or bag into something I could securely attach to my bike. The challenge, then, was figuring out what kind of container to use. I wanted something that would be big enough to hold a bag’s worth of groceries, but not something so big it would tip me over when full. I wanted something durable and mostly waterproof, but not something with a lot of its own weight, so that it wouldn’t weigh me down even when empty. I wanted something that looked nice, but not overly so.

I hit all of my local Goodwill outlets, focusing my search on the many messenger bags and vintage suitcases they have available. After several visits over a few months, I found a few bags that would work OK, but none that were perfect. Finally, on one visit, I found the perfect bag, a bag once used by a participant on a package tour. It was lightweight, had a large main compartment and a few exterior pockets.

The plastic board gives the bag structure.

To give the bag the structure it needs to hold up as a pannier, I took a piece of sturdy plastic board, the kind used for rummage sale signs, and cut a piece to fit inside the bag. I slipped this piece of plastic board into the bag’s back exterior compartment. I punched four holes through which I attached nuts and bolts to secure the plastic board firmly to the fabric of the bag. This gave the bag a sturdy backplate.

This view shows all of the hardware needed to turn a bag into a pannier.

I bolted two tarp hooks to the back of the bag to hang from my rack. To keep the bag from falling off when I hit a bump, or when I hit it with my foot, I attached a small bungee cord to the middle of the back plate with a small U-shaped piece of hardware that I found in the door section of my local hardware store.

This view shows how the bag secures to the rack.
I tuck the bag’s shoulder strap into the bag when I ride, then take it out to carry the bag around while off my bike.

When the pannier is hung with the bungee cord strung around the lower part of my rack, it is quite secure. It’s a snap to quickly undo the bungee cord to remove the pannier when I park my bike on the street.

Making this pannier was surprisingly easy, once I found the perfect bag to make it out of. It’s versatile, durable, it looks nice, and, best of all, it only cost me Ten Bucks from start to finish.


About daveschlabowske

Cyclechic advocate from Milwaukee
This entry was posted in commuting, Equipment and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to DIY Ten Buck Pannier: Ortlieb Beware!

  1. Craig Posselt says:

    Speaking of do it yourself. Has anyone seen some of the bicycles around lately with the two stroke engines? Seems bizarre to me especially this morning while riding in to work. I saw a gentleman struggling with one of these machines. A perfectly good bike with a small engine that he couldn’t get going. I thought I’d help me out, I told him to just pedal, better for us and him, meaning his pocket!

  2. dedhed says:

    Great bag! I did something similiar for my old Raleigh. Didn’t like the $$ of a Brooks bag for the seat. I bought a leather chain wallet from the thrift store for $1, removed the chain, cut a couple slots in it and hung it with a couple leather straps I had in stock. It’s not as big as I’d like, but holds the adj wrenches, patch kit and levers I need it to.

  3. Andrew Haug says:

    I was inspired by this post to try making a few panniers of my own, but I’m still looking for some of that sturdy plastic sign material. A recent post on craigslist returned precisely zero responses! Maybe I started my search in the wrong place.

    Hoping for better luck here: Anyone have a stash of old lawn signs they’d like to put to good use? Or could anyone point me to a better forum to find a likely source?
    (As long as I’m posting this request, let me mention that I’d be happy to take any DIY pannier components off your hands. If it’s collecting dust in your storage, let me try and put it to good use!)

    Thanks much!!

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Andrew, did you try just going to a hardware store? They sell all those signs for cheap.

      • Andrew Haug says:

        I’ve considered it, but I wanted to first see if any reusable materials could be found before buying new. I’m sure that I’ll end up at the hardware store eventually, though.

  4. Nina says:

    Really good explanation-many thanks for the idea!

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