Let’s Compare Bike Panniers and Baskets

This post compares the advantages and disadvantages of panniers and baskets (front and rear) in relation to one another.

The Advantages of Panniers

1. Huge Capacity

Panniers offer an enormous carrying capacity. There are models reaching 90L of volume (e.g., Ortlieb Back-Roller Pro Classic) allowing the transportation of gear, clothing, and other objects that you may need on a long trip.

Another good side of panniers is that they can be rolled down to a fairly small package when you don’t need their full capacity. The result is a neat cargo compartment with an extension option.

If you have lots of luggage to transport, panniers are hard to beat. Hence why serious touring cyclists crossing continents continue to rely on panniers.

2. Waterproof

A good set of panniers will be waterproof or at the very least extremely water-resistant. Conversely, a basket does not offer protection from the elements.

If you want to protect your cargo from dust and water, you will have to invest in a separate bag.

3. Lower Center of Gravity

A basket is attached to the handlebars of the bike or mounted on top of a luggage rack. Subsequently, the cargo sits high on the bike. The higher center of gravity increases instability, especially when maneuvering.

In different, panniers attach to the rails of the rack and sit closer to the ground. The result is greater stability thanks to the lower center of gravity.

Some racks even have dedicated pannier rails placed under the main ones. The goal is to bring the panniers even closer to the wheel’s axle and further lower the center of gravity.

4. Quick-release

High-quality panniers have a quick-release mechanism which makes it a lot easier to get the panniers on and off the bike. This feature greatly facilitates commuting.

Some baskets have a quick-release mechanism too. Hence why they’re so nice for shopping. However, the handlebar models in that category usually have a small weight limit (e.g., 10lbs) and cannot be used for the transportation of heavy cargo.

If a basket is attached to a rack, the weight limit increases to that of the rack.

However, not all basket models that mount on top of a rack have a quick-release mechanism.

5. Completely Sealed

Panniers are fully sealed. The user can just toss stuff in without worrying that an item will fall out.

A basket, on the other hand, has an open structure allowing small items to “escape”. This could be prevented by covering the bottom and the sides of the basket with a plastic or metal sheet.

It’s also worth noting that panniers are a roll-down closed system. Thus, an item cannot jump out when riding on a bumpy road.

Baskets, on the other hand, are an open system. Unless you use a basket bag or a cargo net, the chances of a small object falling out are fairly high. And if the basket is positioned on the rear, you may not even notice that something is missing until it’s too late.

6. Reflective Elements

Most panniers come with reflective strips which make the cyclist more visible to motorists and other riders.

The Disadvantages of Panniers

1. Expensive

Unless you get a good second-hand deal, a new set of panniers will set you back a couple of hundred dollars.

The high price tag is worth it because you will get a product that will serve you well for decades. However, not everybody can afford such a purchase upfront.

Conversely, a basket is fairly cheap and costs a fraction of a pannier’s price.

2. Unstable/Uneven loading

Panniers’ high capacity has a negative side too. If you can’t evenly fill out an entire pair of panniers, and one unit is empty or close to it, you will have an imbalanced bike (more on the topic) pulling you to one side. This outcome is annoying and potentially dangerous. Hence why it’s of utmost importance to have the load evenly distributed between both sides.

A basket does not come with a similar problem because the weight is centered by default.

3. Difficult to Carry

Panniers aren’t the most comfortable bags to carry around. This applies even to the models with shoulder straps. Thus, if you frequently have to get off the bike and walk around with a pannier, you may consider investing in a larger saddle bag with a quick-release mechanism (e.g., Carradice SQR slim) or a trunk bag.

Of course, the aforementioned options do not apply in situations when you really need the capacity offered by panniers.

4. Drag

Panniers are known to noticeably increase drag by acting as a pair of parachutes. On the other hand, a basket is more aerodynamic because it has a slimmer profile.

Also, rear baskets are behind the rider and have little to no effect on the bicycle’s aerodynamic properties.

5. Pedal Strike

If you have a bike with short chainstays, you may experience a phenomenon known as “pedal strike” when riding with panniers. Or in other words, your heel may hit the panniers when pedaling.

The Advantages of Baskets

1. Cheap and Simple

Bicycle baskets are a cheap accessory. Some people even buy baskets from supermarkets and zip-tie them to a front or rear rack to keep the cost down.

2. Suitable for Wide and Bulky Items

If you transport very wide and bulky items which cannot fit in a pannier (e.g., huge water bottles), a basket strongly attacked to a rack will get the job done.

3. Suitable For Dirty Objects

If you contaminate a set of nice panniers with dirty cargo, it will take you a fair amount of time to clean the mess. Conversely, a basket can be sanitized in a couple of minutes.

4. Speed

Baskets are great for shopping because you can put groceries in without having to open and close anything. Also, handlebar baskets allow you to see the cargo at all times.

The Disadvantages of Baskets

1. High center of Gravity

Baskets hold the weight high in relation to the wheels’ axles. This position increases instability.

2. Non-protected Cargo

Unless you use a bag or some sort of cover, the cargo will be exposed to water and dust.

3. Higher Chance of Losing an Item

Baskets are an open system. This greatly increases the possibility of losing cargo due to bumpy roads (items jumping out) or theft (somebody stealing the contents of your basket while you’re looking away.)

4. Limited Capacity

Even a large basket cannot match the total capacity of a pannier set. Hence why touring cyclists do not rely solely on baskets to transport the gear needed for long trips.

5. Low weight limit

If the basket isn’t firmly secured to a rack, its weight limit will be fairly low.

When to Choose Panniers

Panniers are a good choice in the following situations:

  • You plan on transporting a large number of items that must be protected from the elements at all times.
  • You carry enough stuff to justify the use of two panniers.
  • You want to quickly get the cargo off the bike.
  • You carry a high number of small items that may easily fall out unless placed in a completely closed system.
  • You have the necessary funds to buy a quality set of panniers.

When to Choose a Basket

Baskets are a good choice when:

  • You plan on transporting odd objects that just won’t fit in a pannier.
  • You want your cargo to be as centered as possible.
  • You want a cheap solution.
  • You will use the basket in conjunction with a waterproof bag to increase cargo protection.
  • You like the simplicity of throwing stuff inside the basket and riding away.

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