Ultalight Bicycle Panniers
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Justin Ling
(ling_jd) - F

Locale: columbus ohio
Ultalight Bicycle Panniers on 08/27/2007 15:37:32 MDT Print View

Lately I've been staying up at night thinking about making ultralight bicycle panniers. Has anyone made any panniers on par with the SUL packs a lot of us are strapping to our backs? There aren't any truly ultralight options available that I've seen.

As I see it, the main weight-limiting factors are (1) the rack-attachment hardware and (2) the need for durable fabric on the backside. I want each pack to securely hold about 8 lbs. So they can be fairly small. I'll need the extra space for tools/repair kit and I'm thinking I will need to carry more clothes than when backpacking (extra pair of padded cycling underwear, and non-cycling shoes).

I have a few random questions that I am hoping some fellow backpackers can help me with. The hardcore cyclo-touring folks on bikeforums.net seem to have a slightly more traditional culture with regards to carrying gear compared to the weenies hear at BPL ;)

1. Is a framesheet absolutely necessary for structure? If my panniers are packed tight like my backpack will it sit firmly against my rack? Any thoughts? If a frame IS absolutely necessary, what are some ultralight options?

2. What fabrics might be appropriate? Silnylon is my starting point, but will it work for the backside where debris from the road will be pounding the bag all day. I was thinking about the dyneema that golite uses, but I have no idea where to find it.

3. Can anyone think of rack-attachment solutions that might be lighter than the hook and loop replacement hardware available? I've seen the lace-up type attachment on some site (I can't locate it at the moment), and I don't think it's for me. But I'm definitely interested in hearing any ideas.

Any thing else I need to take into account for the design?

Thanks guys!

Edited by ling_jd on 08/27/2007 15:51:55 MDT.

Neil Bender
(nebender) - F
Re: Ultalight Bicycle Panniers on 08/27/2007 21:36:09 MDT Print View

I made a front pair: 4 oz packcloth against the frame, remainder 1.4 oz silnylon. Corroplast stiffeners (recycled campaign signs), 3/4" grosrain tie downs for the rain flap, draw cord top closure, 1/8" shoe-lace style compression cord run through grosgrain lash points. 12 oz for the pair including mounting 'hardware' which was 2" velcro flaps mating to the rack just about all along the racks members. Not easy on/off but they stayed on for a 400 mile loop around the San Juan mts in SW colorado over (mostly) paved roads.

Without a stiffener the bag will want to puff into a cylinder; the stiffener keeps shape beyond the rack supports. My stiffener just slides into an internal silnylon pocket.

I wouldn't trust silnylon against the rack. 4oz packcloth (oxford cloth?) is plenty durable against the rack, but my velcro method of attachment was with 'flaps' made of grosgrain webbing so primary wear is against velcro and then into substantial pack cloth or webbing. If you custom make it to attach to your rack you can sew in reinforcement patches at contact points that may be a problem. I relied upon the weight of the bag holding it down, but the velcro against the vertical rack struts also prevent much up and down motion.

I've used 3/8" eva foam pad (bevalite from outdooer wilderness fabrics) in place of corroplast and it isn't as stiff but does double duty to augment a short sleeping pad.

As a road tourist I used a bright color and made them to mount low. If you are a mountain biker riding on trails then low may not be as useful and maybe something more brush worthy than silnylon would be better.

You should be able to make durable panniers for under a pound a pair; after all the rack probably weighs a pound or more. I'd like to build a lightweight rack out of carbon fiber arrow shafts but so far I think that would involve fabricating metal joints and bonding it together with epoxy. So far store bought racks are good enough and too easy. Plus carbon doesn't handle abrasion well. If your design only needs a few stiffening spars inside then carbon fiber from kite or recycled arrow shafts might be useful.

Some netting outside pockets are useful; also reflective tape.

Justin Ling
(ling_jd) - F

Locale: columbus ohio
There's that velcro again! ;) on 08/27/2007 22:34:39 MDT Print View

I'm getting the Tubus Fly rear rack. It's steel and it weighs 11.5 oz. Not bad, eh?

Do you think I could get away with something lighter than the oxford cloth? If you were to make another pair Neil, what would you use, or are you happy with the oxford? I would be using it for road riding, so it wouldn't have to be as burly as one for mtn biking.

Also, what other ways have you found to cut weight when cyclo-touring?

Neil Bender
(nebender) - F
Re: There's that velcro again! ;) on 08/28/2007 08:47:18 MDT Print View

Well a 12 x 18 inch piece of 4 oz cloth with burlier fibers weighs maybe 0.8 ounces (includes bottom in 18 in length as well as sides). The same piece of 1.4 oz silnylon weighs 0.25 ounces. So to save a half ounce I don't think its worth the loss of abrasion resistance at a likely higher wear area. When I make a rear pair I'll use oxford again, and not just because I have material on hand. Ounce you sew the mounting hardware making patches and repairs are harder so making it more robust up front makes sense to me. But if these are a one shot item or the goal is the lightest possible, silnylon with designed in reinforcements might work ok.

In terms of assembly, having a sturdy stiffer fabric to sew the silnylon too actually makes sewing easier. The silnylon stil wants to slip around, but you only have to chase one piece of fabric instead of two.

I use an 11' by 11' 1.4 ounce silnylon catenary ridge tarp that weighs 17 ounces instead of a tent. It covers me and 2 bikes and my buddy slept in a small tent he carried. Bike touring I never camp above treeline so poles aren't needed, I just guy it between trees, or whatever is around. A mosquito headnet is useful even with a tent. The other big weight save is a down quilt or top bag.

Being able to plan water stops allows one to minimize water weight. Alcohol stoves are great for bike tours as fuel is available in lots of places, but usually more than you need unless you have a big group. But make sure you test the stove for pot stability and windscreens are absolutely necessary with alcohol. I find myself bringing a canister stove just to minimize fiddle factor and wow my cycling friends with a titanium stove. Well, I'm pretty sure there's titanium in there somewhere, and way more impressive than a titanium tent stake.

I haven't needed a puffy layer when cycle touring in mountains in summer. A base layer, LS jersey and wind layer with gloves, booties, and ear covering allows riding down to freezing and stops usually involve a warm shop for hot coffee or grease supplemantation. I use a very breathable windshirt (cycle cut) for all but downpours and a Rainshileld O2 propore 'disposable' rain jacket for riding in heavy rain. They work well for cycling since the only abrasion to worry about is a crash, which will mess up any jacket, and are more breathable than just about anything else waterproof. Very fashionable in a macho way too; just tell the fashionistas you work for the CIA and it wards off terrorist scare weapons and second hand smoke. I always keep one on hand when yellow rain is in the forecast.

I only carry windpants and leg warmers for legs. Rainpants for cycling have never been comfortable. Athletic windpants aren't the best for cycling (wind flap) but double as town wear.

I've made 1.4 oz silnylon rain booties and rain mitts; they add a lot of comfort for very little weight. Usualy I try to wait out storms but sometimes early afternoon mountain squalls sneak over a ridge on you.

I carry minimal tools: allen wrenches, tire irons, a kevlar replacement spoke and spoke wrench, patchkits, spare tubes, one brake cable, one derailleur cable, a small squirt bottle of chain tool, and a mini crescent wrench.

One thing about touring, if you leave something behind it's always possible to buy it somewhere. So one can err on the side of taking too little with less consequence than on a backpack trip. Also weight is carried on the bike, so balancing the load has the most benefit for handling and is probably more important than going as light as posible. Weight only really takes its toll on long mountain climbs.

Neil Bender
(nebender) - F
Typos on 08/28/2007 08:50:44 MDT Print View

Small squirt bottle of chain LUBE; I do have a worthless mini 'prayer' chain tool. I'm pretty sure I could use it summon up smaller more useless chain pieces in the event of a broken chain. It looks like it's made out of the same metal they use for chewing gum wrappers or those trick magic shop spoons wizards can bend with their chi force.

Justin Ling
(ling_jd) - F

Locale: columbus ohio
Re: Typos on 08/28/2007 14:02:48 MDT Print View

haha. I purchased a tool kit with a spin doctor chain tool in it from performance. I think it's made at the same factory! It bent after one use. Total trash.

Thanks for that post! I'm impressed at how well you've thought out the clothing. I hadn't even thought about making silnylon booties, but that's a great idea. What does that o2 jacket weigh? I think I came close to buying one in the REI sale for some insanely low price, but ended up passing.

It sounds to me like your fabric construction is very minimal. 12 oz. for the pair seems pretty light. Do the velcro straps follow the rack bars down to the bottom? I was a little confused about your attachment method. Pictures might help. If this is so, it seems to me like most of the weight is going to be in the velcro and webbing. Is that right? If the velcro straps function as a stiffener as well, would it be possible to use a slightly heavier stiffener and fewer velcro straps? It seems like it might be more weight-efficient.

I was trying to think of a good way to use my pad as a stiffener. I thought of cutting it in puzzle like pieces so that I could take it apart into two equal pieces that slide in and out of sleeves. This would be a torso pad to be combined with a thinner insulation full length pad, which would probably go on top of the rack with tarp poles.

Neil Bender
(nebender) - F
Re: Ultralight bicycle panniers and gear on 08/28/2007 18:48:10 MDT Print View

I think a large O2 jacket is 5.5 ounces. I don't recall if that is before I added adhesive velcro spots to make the outside zipper flap useful so it would lay flat. I also added a pull-back cord to pull the hood away from my eyes, but have never used the hood since I also made a silnylon helmet cover.

The hood mod consists of a loop of grosgrain sewed into the center back seam of the hood (back anchor point). This doesn't penetrate the hood, but hangs off the inside seam allowance. The drawcord ends are bar tacked to the hood opening near my temples. The loop this forms is stuffed through the back anchor point and secured with a draw cord adjustemnt clamp. You have to preadjust the drawcord clamp before putting on the hood. Works fine for hiking as the hood turns with the head, but when I ride I like my ears uncovered so I can hear cars and bike/road noises.

My front panniers are very minimal; basically shaped stuff sacks with a stiffened flat back with a buckle-down overflap, and exterior lash compression cords. The vertical velcro mounting straps do follow the struts almost down to the bottom. Those are only maybe 1" by 8" pieces, 3/4" velcro on 1" grosgrain. They minimize the inside panel rotating/rocking because the bottom of my front rack comes down to a fairly narrow rounded section that bumps out. The top horizontal mounting flaps that take the load are two 2.5 " by 6" pieces. The base for those is packcloth with 2" of velcro.

Putting the second pannier on is a pain to get all the velcro pressed down. I just reach in and do it by feel. Less attachment area might work; I just didn't trust velcro so over-built that part. Velcro is fairly light. My design isn't too good for ease of removal and install, but once I'm touring the bags usually stay on for days at a time or more.

I don't know that stiffness is the primary concern as the problem for me is getting the plane of the bag to stay mated in a fixed plane to the rack. Unfortunately my rack isn't a flat plane but has protrusions from the vertical plane. If your rack is better made with essentially 'flat' sides then smaller straps at key points should work.

Foam pads that are comfy to lay on really aren't stiff enough for front panniers when you are going down a mountain at 40mph the foam will curl, usually away from the spokes but maybe into it. Might be OK for back panniers. A lot depends on the rack and how well the bag is made to mate to the rack. Commercial bags are heavy because they have to be stiff enough to mate to many brands of racks, and have convenient but heavy mounting hooks, tracks, bungees or spring hold downs, etc.

If you want to try some kind of tensioning mechanism (bungee cord and a hook) then maybe plastic snap hooks (or old school metal hardware) could be used to hang the bag on the horizontal rack tubes. My experience with bungee is it doesn't tension enough for bumpy roads though. So even on commercial panneirs I've added a velcro safety loop.

Sorry I don't have any pics; when I'm building I'm usually too manic to stop and document the process.

David Laurie
(bushwalker) - F

Locale: NSW Australia
Cutting weight? on 09/04/2007 08:53:36 MDT Print View

Don't forget the number one way to cut weight is still to drop your own body weight, (while still maintaining healthy muscle mass, and adequate fat layers..).
For anyone whose body fat is as high as the average American, Australian or German these days, they could afford to lose 10 -15 kgs of lard, before they start aiming too obsessively for UL gear..
So let's assume you have your bodyfat % in that 12 - 16% range to start with?

Justin Ling
(ling_jd) - F

Locale: columbus ohio
Re: Cutting weight? on 04/14/2008 14:06:31 MDT Print View

I'm 6'1, 160 lbs. I think I'm ok. I'm still in the planning stages of these panniers. I want to do portland to san fran at the end of May, and still haven't landed on a design. Neil, if you're still there, have you seen the Tubus Airy yet?! crazy light titanium rear rack.

Derek Goffin
(Derekoak)

Locale: North of England
panniers on 04/15/2008 12:48:38 MDT Print View

Lightness is good but if you are going 10mph or more aerodynamic drag is more important. So minimizing volume would be good. Making your panniers slim with a rounded front end would be good. Even better is to put bulky stuff in a vertical waterproof bag on your rack top. It is now in the slipstream of your body. I have 2 x 40mm plastic tubes fixed from racktop to saddleback. I put my tent poles in these tubes. This makes a stiff upright to which I lash a canoe closure bag. This carries tent,sleeping bag and mat and anything I will not need during the day.I often walk from my bike so I use this bag, like my body, to carry my daypack, clipping hip belt and chest strap round the bag, (waterproofs and spare warm clothing in this). I have tools and water in frame mounted bottles and a frame bag for the most dense stuff. I use small back panniers with rounded front ends for other dense stuff. These are no wider than my legs.
I use aerobars. I think I have a small frontal area for touring.

Justin Ling
(ling_jd) - F

Locale: columbus ohio
Re: panniers on 04/15/2008 16:08:20 MDT Print View

I like the idea of more aero panniers, I was already thinking of using a smaller front panel (closer to feet) which widens in the rear and narrows at the bottom.

What is a good way to keep the bag from inflating into a cylinder when packed? would retaining a triangular profile keep that in check? I would rather not sew in an inner panel.

Derek Goffin
(Derekoak)

Locale: North of England
Re: Re: panniers on 04/16/2008 11:39:32 MDT Print View

I started from standard "universal" panniers with a stiff back and just stitched up half the front panel. This does make the front rounded. A vertical membrane would make a figure of 8 plan rather than a cylinder but I think that is what you mean. that you dont want. Compression from the bottom of the pannier frame to the top would squash a cylinder a bit. Recumbent riders sometimes have rigid aerodynamic tail "cones" that carry luggage. That is a bit beyond the "weight is not important" position than I would go. They are not hill climbing. I did see someone who had used a rigid rounded front panel pannier

Justin Ling
(ling_jd) - F

Locale: columbus ohio
I finally finished my panniers on 05/08/2008 21:51:16 MDT Print View

7 oz. total for a set of two rear bicycle panniers! I'm VERY happy with the weight. No time to post pics and details, but I will soon.

Arapiles .
(Arapiles) - M

Locale: Melbourne
Re: Cutting weight? on 05/09/2008 05:19:57 MDT Print View

"Don't forget the number one way to cut weight is still to drop your own body weight, (while still maintaining healthy muscle mass, and adequate fat layers..).
For anyone whose body fat is as high as the average American, Australian or German these days, they could afford to lose 10 -15 kgs of lard, before they start aiming too obsessively for UL gear.."

That's kind of true but .... the last thing an obese person getting into outdoor pursuits should be doing is adding even more weight to the load on their joints by using conventional bushwalking (or cycling) gear. So I'd actually go the other way and suggest someone who is overweight SHOULD go UL.

Arapiles .
(Arapiles) - M

Locale: Melbourne
Re: I finally finished my panniers on 05/09/2008 05:25:00 MDT Print View

"7 oz. total for a set of two rear bicycle panniers! I'm VERY happy with the weight. No time to post pics and details, but I will soon."

Please do. If I can find the time and materials I'd been thinking of making a rack top bag to use on Audax-type rides since my rack is basically built into my bike so removing it's not a simple option.

Arapiles .
(Arapiles) - M

Locale: Melbourne
Re: Re: I finally finished my panniers on 05/09/2008 07:34:37 MDT Print View

"If I can find the time and materials I'd been thinking of making a rack top bag to use on Audax-type rides since my rack is basically built into my bike so removing it's not a simple option."

And then I found this site ....


http://carouseldesignworks.com/CDWpage1.html