Duct Tape Panniers

Panniers and Kent

A Simple Way to Carry Stuff on Your Bike

by Kent Peterson

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.

When I loaded up all the stuff I took with me for a week up on Vancouver Island, I had a bit too much gear to comfortably fit in the Rubbermaid tote I'd been using as a bike truck. Also packing too much weight up high changes the handling of the bike, so I wound up using panniers when I rode the VanIsle 1200K. The panniers worked well, even though they weren't really a set of panniers -- one was a an old single Madden pannier I picked up at Bike Works for $8 and the other was an old Mountainsmith Knockabout pack I'd modified into a pseudo-pannier. But I liked the way the Kogswell handled with the weight down low and I spent some of the long dark hours of the VanIsle thinking about what I'd like in terms of a set of panniers. 

I'd seen panniers made from oyster buckets, but I was thinking about something a bit smaller and sleeker. I was thinking about something made from plastic trash cans fitted with some sort of cover made from an old coroplast campaign sign. But I knew that I'd want good heel clearance and then I realized that if I tilted a rectangular trash can so that one corner of the can was at the base of the rack, I could then cut the top part of the can sort of diagonally, parallel with the top of the rack. I'd then fit a cover along the top. In my mind, late at night on a Vancouver Island road, the design was perfectly clear.

I finished the VanIsle at 2:02 PM on Saturday July 8th and then caught the 3:00 PM ferry back to Port Angles. I camped at Sequim Bay State Park Saturday night and rode home to Issaquah on Sunday. I'd wisely scheduled Monday as an extra vacation day and after having morning coffee with my lovely wife, I went shopping.

I didn't find garbage cans that quite matched the dimensions I'd pictured, but I did find a couple of plastic containers designed to store dog-food that were just the right shape. I also bought four metal towel hooks, a bunch of duct tape, some nylon zip-ties, reflective tape and a package of ball-end bungie cords. I lugged these raw materials home and set to work.

Raw Materials

I held one of the plastic containers up to the rack to figure out just where I wanted things to go. I used a fine point marker to draw a diagonal line indicating where I would be cutting away the excess plastic from the top of the container. Once I was certain I had the line where I wanted it to be, I measured things to make sure I drew an identical line on the second container.

Can with diagonal line

I used the sharp blade from my Gerber multi-tool to make the initial cut and then used a fine hacksaw blade to cut off the top of the container. The exposed, cut edge was a bit rough, so I covered it with duct tape.

Cut down can

I got so busy with the process of making the panniers that I forgot to stop and take pictures of the intermediate steps, but the process was pretty straight-forward.

I used a coroplast campaign sign cut in half lengthwise to make the lids for the panniers. I folded the coroplast along the flutes to make a hinge on one side and a lip about 3 cm wide on the other. I folded a tab over on the front edge to form a box end and secured the corner with a zip-tie. I also used zip-ties to secure the lid to the pannier.

Next I mounted the towel hooks to the pannier. I test fitted things against the rack to make sure I had the hooks in the right spot and then locked everything down. I had a number of old toe-straps in my pile of bike parts and I cut a couple of slots that would let me use the straps to lock the pannier hooks to the rack.

Once I had the basic panniers done, I covered everything in duct tape. The tape blocks UV rays from the plastic so it shouldn't become brittle over time. Also, if the plastic does ever crack, the tape will hold things in place. As Red Green would say, this duct tape is structural! Finally, the gray color of the tape matches my Kogswell perfectly.

Finally, I added some reflective tape to the back of the panniers and I used several ball-end bungie-cords to hold the lids closed and keep the panniers snug against the rack.

I test rode the panniers today and they worked great. They hold a lot of stuff, have tons of heel clearance and I think they are pretty spiffy looking. My collegues at work were impressed and my pal Mark took a bunch of pictures of the finished product.

The total cost for this project was in the neighborhood of  $40 = $20 for the containers, $4 for the hooks, $4 for the bungies, $5 for the reflective tape,  and a few dollars worth of tape and zip-ties. The coroplast and toe-straps I scrounged, so I basically count those as free. I guess I spent a couple of hours working on this project but I don't bill myself for my time.

If anybody reading this wants to make similar panniers, go for it. Remember what Red Green says, "If the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy."

Pan Side

Pan Open

Pan Kent Back

Pan Back Open

Pan Top Open

Pan Back

Pan Hooks

Pan Side Heel

Pan Heel

Pan Away