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Review: Timbuk2 Tandem Panniers

Hot weather + biking with a backpack = sweaty back. Around this time last year, I started looking for panniers to carry my stuff to avoid the large, damp patch on my back when I arrived at work.

I decided that I needed some capacity in order for the panniers (aka those bags that attach to a bike’s back rack) to also be useful for grocery runs. They didn’t need to be huge since I didn’t foresee touring in my future. They did have to at least meet business casual standards for meetings. Cost was a concern, but I wanted a product that would see me through several years of riding.

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I ended up picking the Timbuk2 Tandem Panniers. If had written this review six months ago, it would have been glowing. At this point, however, I wouldn’t recommend these bags to anyone.

What I like about this design:
Two sets of D-rings convert the panniers into a shoulder bag. The clips on the included shoulder strap seemed a bit flimsy at first but have held up well.

Each side has magnets inside it that grab onto each other as soon as the bags are removed from the rack, making for a slimmer bag that isn’t too awkward to carry, as long as both sides aren’t stuffed full.

With strips of Velcro that fasten over my rack and elasticized hooks that hold the bags to the bottom of the rack, these panniers are pretty fast to attach and detach – not as fast as my housemate’s Ortliebs, but not bad.

Style-wise I liked the simplicity of the design – plain black to go with both my bike and my wardrobe. There are some adorable, brightly colored floral panniers out there, but I just can’t picture them on my sporty bike.

When accompanied by a small backpack, I can shop for a week’s worth of groceries (for one person) with these bags, but not much more than that. I like that a certain amount of space limitation keeps me from going too crazy at the store.

The hook on the left looked like the one on the right before an unfortunate meeting with my spokes. Both have been removed for my safety.

What I don’t like:
The biggest negative is the elastic on the hooks that connect to the bottom of the rack, which is dangerous. This elastic couldn’t handle the ice and salt of half a mild winter’s riding. By February it was stretched out and the hooks were a bit loose. One of them jiggled itself free from my rack on a commute and latched onto my spokes, which was terrifying. Fortunately, I was on a bike path at the time and could stop immediately. I am so glad it didn’t happen while I was riding in heavy traffic and couldn’t stop. I assume that if it had, the hook would’ve snapped a spoke, possibly several of them.

I removed both hooks and have since fashioned Velcro loops to replace the hooks, but this makes attaching and detaching the panniers from my rack cumbersome and time-consuming.

Timbuk2 states that they guarantee all of their products, but the claims process was a pain. When they asked me to return my bag for inspection with no promise that it would meet their definition of a product failure, I decided not to bother since it is currently obnoxious to use but still serviceable. My only option for carrying stuff while my complaint made it through Timbuk2’s system would have been a falling-apart backpack that I didn’t trust, and funds for a new bag were non-existent. I also did not want to have my panniers replaced with the same model, as it would be a matter of months before the elastic became an issue again.

Besides the puny elastic, the bags are water-resistant but not water proof. Quick errands in light drizzle are OK, but an hour and a half ride in a steady downpour left everything inside the bags wet, and the bags themselves took two days to dry out afterwards.

Timbuk2 also noted that the internal pocket in the backpack fit most 15” laptops. I do not consider my 15” MacBook Pro to “fit.” I can buckle the strap with the laptop inside, but I can’t really put anything else in that side since the computer is pretty tall. With the laptop inside, there’s also a gap that welcomes precipitation into my bag and onto my precious cargo.

Bottom line: there are some cleaver features in this design, but the elastic is a huge and potentially dangerous flaw. Buy something else.

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8 comments on “Review: Timbuk2 Tandem Panniers

  1. […] bought shorts (a process in itself, and a story for another post), replaced my dysfunctional panniers, tuned up my bike, and started going out of my way to bike up hills in fantastically flat […]

  2. I just purchased some panniers from a local woman who makes them herself. I’m not certain about their lasting power (though I use a backpack in winter because I don’t want to wear out my panniers) yet, but I do know that she worked with me on a design that I wanted and was significantly cheaper than local bike shops. Plus, it keeps my business local! She developed a convertible pannier-to-messenger bag which she hadn’t made previously. I picked out the fabric. She was quick to make them and helpful in coming up with something that I wanted. Her Facebook page is: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Nikkis-Panniers/131107736949979. Definitely worth checking out!

  3. […] the beginning of summer I replaced my dysfunctional panniers with the Orlieb Backroller Classics. After six weeks of heavy use of the Ortlieb panniers, […]

  4. Hi, just stumbled upon your site because I am searching information on the Timbuk2 Tandem Paniers. I was about to ‘click’ an on-line sale when I read your column. I appreciate very much your information. In my case, I don’ bike in the winter (its just too much snow here, north of the 49th parallel). Do you think the elastic fastener failed just because of the snow and ice? In other words, do you think this pannier set would survive well enough if not exposed to such harsh elements, or is it a shoddy elastic fabric that will give away quickly with normal use. This is pretty key point because the pannier does fit my needs, but I certainly don’t want to risk a situation being catapulted over my handlebars because of hook catching on some spokes. All the best, Cheers

    • Good question. It’s hard to say what really caused the elastic failure. I personally wouldn’t buy this product again, even if I didn’t bike in winter (which is maybe much more doable than you think – I’m in snowy Minneapolis!) The more bike gear I buy, the more I’m committed to shelling out for really high-quality stuff instead of replacing it in a few years. Sorry I can’t be of more help.

  5. Just wanted to post that I’ve purchased these panniers and it appears that Timbuk2 has updated their design. They are now using velcro straps instead of elastic to fasten the bottom corners to the pannier rack. Though I haven’t been through a winter with them yet, I’m really pleased with the few months of use I’ve had out of them so far.

    Happy to have found your site… lots of great information! Thanks! 🙂

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