Seriously? A Bike Bag for your Dress Clothes?

Writing this review has been very difficult for me. Ordinarily, I like to inject a bit of levity into my contributions to Commute by Bike, but this product from Two Wheel Gear has frustrated me at every turn.

Two Wheel Gear
Have you ever noticed you never see Clark Kent and Commuterman in the same place at once? | Photo:  Two  Wheel  Gear

There’s really just not much funny about panniers in general, let alone panniers designed to carry work clothes. And are these panniers, or is it a garment bag? How can I even begin to write a review if I don’t know whether I’m writing about a single product or a pair? It seems imperative to at least establish the cardinality of the product before embarking on a qualitative review.

And is the word panniers plural (like tires) or singular (like scissors (and is it just me or do we all agree that those people who say "Cut it out with a scissor" are seriously disturbed, not to mention grammatically effete?)?).

Clearly, {a} product(s) that pose(s) such serious questions, and questions within questions, is/are a very serious product for very serious people(s). You have to be serious about bike commuting to buy such a product, and you have to have a pretty serious job to worry enough about what you look like when you get there to justify the expense of this essentially single-purpose product.

There are lots of jobs you could have where it just wouldn’t matter if you had some wrinkles or wet spots on your shirt or if your trousers were not properly creased. But this review is not written for such people "“ it's for all you serious bike commuters out there.

Raliegh Sprite with Two Wheel Gear Panniers
All dressed up and no commute to show.

I should add that in writing this review, I have been doubly challenged because, since leaving the law firm where I used to work, my commute consists of walking down the stairs in my apartment from the loft where I sleep to the lower level where I work.

Biking Down Stairs
No thanks.

Sure, I could ride down the stairs like those idiots in the face-plant YouTube videos, but it would take a lot of practice to be able to ride back up, and that still might not qualify as a serious commute.

Yes, I still ride my bike to do errands, visit clients and go shopping but I no longer have the luxury of a 20-mile round-trip daily commute.

I’ve even wondered, from an existential perspective, whether I’m still qualified to write this review or contribute to this Website. After all, if I am not commuting on a daily basis, what business do I have here, and who cares what I have to say about these/this product(s)?

As you can see, the TWG panniers/garment bag have/has provoked soul searching introspection at a level that no other product that I have reviewed or read about has done before…

Yet, I am happy to report that, in the face of these very serious obstacles, I have nevertheless, persevered and I offer you this very serious evaluation of a very serious product for very serious people.

In light of this, I trust that you will read this review with a serious, sober and mindful attitude.

But enough with the lighthearted chit chat, I am sure by now your inquiring minds are eager to dive into the minutiae of what makes this/these such {a} serious product(s).

Well first, let’s start with the construction: The Two Wheel Gear pannier(s) is/are made of some seriously heavy duty ballistic nylon. It’s fairly stiff, which does pose an issue in some respects. The fabric appears to be coated on the inside to make it highly water resistant if not actually waterproof.

Seriously stiff internal panels help maintain the shape and probably also add an additional level of protection for the contents of the bag. The internal seams are covered to reduce fraying and leakage, and I suspect they would last a long time in continuous serious use.

The zippers work smoothly. However, on the outside pockets, the stiffness of the fabric coupled with the overlapping flaps (to discourage water from entering through the zippers) can make it difficult to get the zippers started if you open them all the way. The simple solution is to turn the flaps inside out exposing the zippers, zip them up and then fold the flaps back down again.

This seems a small price to pay for what appears to be well thought out and serious approach to moisture protection. In contrast, the Hyalite panniers that I reviewed previously rely on a nearly invisible zipper gasket which, while clever, was probably not as effective as TWG's “suspenders and a belt" approach.

All things considered, I prefer the serious approach taken by TWG to the clever, but bordering on frivolous, gadgetry of the Hyalite product(s).

The most distinctive thing about these panniers is the attachment system.

Classic Commuter Pannier by Two Wheel Gear - Attachment System
Attachment System: Suspenders and a Belt

When hooked into the rear rack, the clips are positioned so that there is space underneath the center section. You can put something there, though I'm not sure what it would be "“ maybe a rolled up poncho?

Yoga Mat Storage?
Maybe Yoga mat storage?

This also has the effect of angling the whole thing backwards somewhat creating a little bit of additional (and very welcome "“ because not everyone rides an Xtracycle or a custom-made Bob Jackson long wheelbase touring bike) heel clearance.

The straps are not elastic. So to mount the pannier(s)/bag tightly, you have to cinch up the straps and secure them with the Velcro ® pads. It took me a while to figure this out.

At first I tried to make the straps just tight enough so that I could attach one side, and then stretch the strap just enough to get the D-ring on the second side over the prong on my rack. Somehow I could never get it quite tight enough and a few times the D-rings or the clips came loose leaving the panniers to bounce or flap back and forth against the seat stays and the rack.

Toe strap threaded through the shoulder bag clip.
Toe strap threaded through the shoulder bag clip. Seriously wrong.

I even improvised a secondary attachment with a leather toe strap threaded through the shoulder bag clip, and used this to secure the front end of the panniers/bag more tightly to the rack.

Once I learned the proper technique for tightening the straps, this improvised add-on, while quite clever on my part, became unnecessary and inconvenient. I understand TWG has an improved — and presumably even more serious — version of this product coming out, and that they intend to address the mounting system with a new approach. I'm really not sure that they need to change anything, but one suggestion would be to make the straps longer, so it's easier to pull them tight "“ and maybe add some extra Velcro ® so they can attach to each other and not flap in the breeze.

Breeze-Flapping Straps
The breeze-flapping strap

I haven’t actually weighed them, but these panniers are significantly lighter and much less bulky than the Hyalite panniers. Once they were mounted on my bike, I hardly knew they were there. Because they are relatively slim I didn’t detect much additional wind resistance and they fit very closely against the seat stays and rack supports.

They have large side pockets on both sides of the bag, with additional pockets mounted to the outsides of the side pockets. There’s enough room for shoes on one side and a small laptop, tablet or netbook on the other, although there is no special padding.

The very handy center pocket becomes, in effect, a small trunk bag when the whole contraption is mounted. There’s more than enough room in there for a serious emergency tool kit, some tubes, and possibly even a lightweight rain poncho, for serious weather.

On the inside, it's very basic, but seriously functional.

A strap in the center will hold your clothing in place, aided by two lighter straps at the opposite ends. There’s even a small strap that you can use to secure a hanger which you might use if you fold your pants before you put them in the bag, but because the bag is relatively narrow, you probably won’t use normal size hangers.

The Torture Test. Of course, the real reason for this serious product is to keep your serious clothes dry and fresh despite serious weather.

Plant Zero's Serious Pannier Testing Facility
Plant Zero’s Serious Pannier Testing Facility

I’m sorry that I didn’t have the opportunity to test these panniers on the road in really bad weather, as they arrived only after Hurricane Sandy passed through.

Lacking a natural downpour and gale force winds, I did the next best thing by attaching them to my Sprite and rolling it into the industrial showers here at Plant Zero, the art studio complex where I reside.

I wasn’t expecting 100% protection, but I was very pleased with the result, and as you can see from the pictures, it/they did a remarkably good job against a very thorough soaking directed at them from the front and sides.

I left the shower on for at least five minutes, so although I can’t vouch for their performance in an extended commute in a downpour, the volume and force of the water I directed at them was probably more severe than anything in which you should be riding.

You can see that there was just the beginning of some seepage through the needle holes on one of the seams, but you might be able to address that with some seam wax, the kind you get for tents.

TWG Pannier Seepage
Seepage, but not serious.

Other droplets may have been left when I unzipped the main zipper, as opposed to representing actual moisture infiltration.

Water Drops

My shoes got a little bit wet, but not seriously so. The paper bag that I put in an outside pocket was intended to represent a laptop or a tablet (my thinking was that moisture would be easy to see on the paper and less damaging than if I used a real laptop), and the result suggests that you might want to put your device in a plastic bag or protective sleeve of some kind before putting it in the outside pocket.

Wet Grocery Bag
Surrogate Laptop

The material in the top compartment, which does not have any protection over the zipper, got wet, but here again, plastic bags for anything that might rust or decompose would provide a simple solution.

Contents of Top Compartment of TWG Pannier
Contents of the top compartment

Overall Evaluation. This is a seriously well-thought-out product. There is a certain elegant simplicity to the design that translates equally into usability and effectiveness.

The pannier(s)/bag offered excellent, dare I say, serious, protection for my clothing, and it/they are easy to mount and dismount (once you get the hang of it). They are light and versatile enough that you may even consider using them as touring panniers for short trips, or shopping, provided your purchases are not too bulky.

All in all a serious effort.

Tom BowdenTom Bowden is a bike commuter from Richmond VA, a "suit" – a corporate lawyer with an MBA, and a conservative "“ You betcha! He chairman of Bike Virginia, a bicycle advocacy organization in Virginia that raises money to promote cycling, walking and active lifestyles.

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